Terrific Tarka Dal – A Recipe

In the 1990s, we used to live in India and I developed a real taste for all sorts of lentil and pulse based dishes, and I still like them today. My ‘go to’ favourite has to be tarka dal because it’s relatively quick and easy and you can throw in whatever vegetables you have in the fridge. It’s definitely one of those meals that’s useful at the end of the week when you want to use things up. A slightly soft courgette or a bendy carrot languishing in the vegetable rack undergoes a complete transformation once immersed in a spicy lentil base.

This recipe is a real feast for the eyes as the colours jump out at you. Red peppers, courgettes, aubergines, onions and spinach – this is what ‘eating a rainbow’ is all about. Even better, this recipe is fat-free and therefore ideal for anyone on a diet. For Slimming World members, it’s all *free food* based around protein (lentils) and speed food (the vegetables).

Purists may say that my version of tarka dal isn’t truly authentic and they may be right. However, it’s a recipe I’ve adapted to suit my taste – not too ‘chilli’ hot but with lots of flavour. I think it tastes amazing and with any recipe, isn’t that what matters?

Recipe serves 4 – 6 people.

Ingredients

350g split, dried red lentils, washed and drained

2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 onion, sliced

4 plump cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

I medium courgette, aubergine, red pepper – all cut into bite-sized chunks

FryLight low calorie cooking spray

150g fresh spinach leaves

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsps black mustard seeds

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsps ground coriander

1 tsp jalapeno red chilli flakes – add more if you like your dal with more heat

Method

Spray a large non-stick pan with Frylight and add the garlic, onions, courgette, aubergine and red pepper and cook on a relatively high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Put pan to one side.

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In another large pan, add the lentils, turmeric and ginger to 1 ½ litres of water and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Skim off any froth as it appears. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring every so often.

Add the cooked vegetables to the lentil mixture along with the fresh spinach and stir together. Simmer for 10 more minutes to ensure everything is cooked through and the spinach has wilted.

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While the lentil mix is cooking, take a small non-stick frying pan, spray with FryLight and allow to heat up. Once the pan is hot, add the cumin seeds and the black mustard seeds. After a short while on a high heat, they’ll start to pop and splutter in the pan. At that point, add the garam masala, ground cumin, ground coriander and jalapeno flakes and stir for about a minute.

Add the spices into the lentil and vegetable mixture and stir them in. Add salt and pepper to taste and the dish is ready to eat.

 

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“Flexible” Thai Red Curry – a recipe

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to curries. Too much heat and my face turns an unflattering shade of purple and my nose starts to run uncontrollably. Not a good look especially on a lady of certain years!  So that means I’m usually limited to mild curries although since I’ve been losing weight I’ve intentionally stayed away from them because a lot contain coconut milk which is delicious but lethal in the calorie and fat department.

I fancied something other than a roast for our Sunday meal this weekend and finding a small jar of Thai red curry paste in the cupboard (not past its sell-by date, I hasten to add), I was inspired to create a “flexible” curry.

What is this, I hear you ask? Well, in my house there are some foods I like and other foods my husband prefers so sometimes, although we always eat together, there may be different things on our plates. After 31 years of marriage, we compromise, and it works for us with minimal food wastage.

Basically, a flexible curry is one that you can easily adapt during the cooking process. In this case, a vegetable curry becomes a prawn curry, or a chicken curry depending what you have to hand. I’m sure this is probably how a lot of restaurants do it but for me, it was the first time I’d really thought about it and it’s a really practical idea, especially if you’re cooking for a crowd and you don’t know their food preferences. I realised recently that a lot of my dishes are quite flexible – I seem to do it automatically these days.

I should mention that a lot of Thai red curry pastes contain fish or shrimp extracts (the Bart Spices paste I used did) and therefore you need to check before using them if you are cooking for vegetarians.

The good thing about the recipe below is that there aren’t many ingredients, it’s simple to make and it tastes great with just a little touch of heat to liven it up.

You’ll see that I added a very small amount of sweetener to my curry but this is optional. I find that it takes the edge off the spices (I told you I was a wimp) but you may prefer to leave it out.

I used FryLight in my recipe as it’s a Slimming World member’s saviour when frying food but if you are not particularly diet conscious, feel free to use some oil instead if you prefer.

Note for Slimming World members: this recipe could feed 4 people or 2 very hungry people! Count 1/2 a Syn each for four people and 1 Syn each for two.

Ingredients

FryLight or other low calorie cooking spray

1 large or 2 small red onions, finely sliced

1 large clove of garlic, crushed or finely chopped

2 level tablespoons Thai red curry paste of your choice

100g baby sweetcorn, cut in half lengthways

100g mangetout

1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced into batons

2 pak choi, roughly chopped

400mls vegetable stock

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon sweetener (optional)

Method

Spray a large non-stick frying pan or wok with a thin coating of FryLight and place over a medium heat.

Add the garlic and onion and gently stir-fry for 3 – 4 minutes until softened.

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Stir in the Thai red curry paste and stir for a minute.

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Add the baby sweetcorn and stir it around until its coated in the sauce.

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Slowly add the stock and soy sauce, bring to a simmer and cook for a minute then stir in the mange tout, red pepper and the pak choi.

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To make this dish “flexible”, at this point you could stir in some cooked prawns, chicken or any other meat of your choice. You could also add tofu but don’t stir too vigorously or it will disintegrate.

Bring back to a simmer, cover and cook for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are just cooked (and the meat or tofu has heated through). The vegetables should still have a bit of bite.

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Serve with rice and a refreshing salad if you wish. I added cooked prawns to my portion just before serving as you can see.

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Let me know if you make this recipe – I’d love to know what you thought of it.

 

 

 

 

 

JosephJoseph Spiro Spiraliser – Product Review

People who follow ‘The Little Pink Kitchen’ on social media are aware that in the last year I’ve lost a lot of weight at Slimming World – over 5 stone. As a result, I’ve recently changed the focus of my blog from baking (which I love but it isn’t good for my waistline) to healthy eating – although this doesn’t mean that I’ll never eat cake again!

When I say ‘healthy eating’, I don’t mean anything faddy just fresh food that is prepared from scratch in a healthy way (low fat / low sugar etc) but without compromising on flavour.

It was therefore very timely that I was contacted by JosephJoseph who asked if I’d like to try their new 3 in 1 hand-held spiraliser – called Spiro – and write a review. As I’m already a fan of the brand, I had no hesitation in saying yes and yesterday I spent some time playing around with the spiraliser and a selection of vegetables. Oh, and some cheese was involved too.

When you purchase the spiraliser, it looks like this:

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Out of the packaging, there are 5 components which include 3 different blades: a coarse and a fine spiralising blade and a grating blade. The soft grip lid is easy to turn and it has 2 guide arms that keep the food straight when you twist it.

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The spiralised or grated food is then collected in the clear container which means you don’t get bits of vegetables over the worktop. What’s really handy is how compact the gadget is: when not in use the three blades stack on top of each other and the whole thing takes up hardly any space in a cupboard or a drawer.

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I selected vegetables with different textures (courgette, peeled carrot and peeled butternut squash), washed them and trimmed them into straight pieces. JosephJoseph recommends that for the best results, the vegetables should measure roughly 3 inches x 1 ½ inches (8 x 4 cms).

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JosephJoseph provides clear instructions on how to use the spiraliser:

  1. Cut food into straight pieces with flat ends
  2. Select blade type – take care as they are sharp!
  3. Place food in the centre of the blade disc and push down onto the spindle in the centre
  4. Place the lid on top and insert the guide arms into the slots
  5. Twist the lid clockwise and push downwards to spiralise. (Try and keep a constant pressure as you twist.)

I started with the courgette and used the fine spiralising blade. While the courgette went through easily enough, the resulting spirals were very small and quite watery so I changed to the coarser blade and this gave thicker and very long courgette spirals. You can see the difference in the photograph below. I patted the spirals dry with kitchen towel afterwards as they have a high water content and I didn’t want them to go soggy.

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Next, I tried carrot on the fine blade and again, it worked well although I didn’t get very long spirals. On reflection, this was due to the fact that my carrot was a bit too skinny and once on the spindle, didn’t reach all of the blade. Note to self: next time buy fatter carrots! You can see the result of using a carrot that was too thin in the photograph below although of course it’s still edible.

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After this, I used the butternut squash with the coarse blade and given that my pieces were not round, the resulting spirals were good. There were one or two shorter ones but on the whole, the butternut squash ‘spaghetti’ came out very well as you can see in then photograph.

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I had intended to try beetroot as well but I couldn’t find any in the supermarket but as in its raw state it is quite hard, I’m sure it would have spiralised well. I’m not sure if it would stain the gadget though so that’s something to be mindful about. Sweet potatoes would also be a suitable vegetable to spiralise.

I’ve eaten a lot of vegetables during my weight loss journey with Slimming World and it’s always good to find new ways to serve them. I really like raw veggies in salads and when they’re spiralised they look so pretty and are easier to eat and digest. Here’s a photograph of my beautiful spiralised vegetables just before I put them in the fridge.fullsizerender-19-copy

We had spiralised raw vegetable salad with our dinner last night with a little lemon juice and a sprinkle of herbs and red jalapeno flakes. My husband added some olive oil to his portion and I have to say, the glistening veggies looked extremely appetising. They would have been equally as good lightly stir-fried with some garlic and perhaps a dash of soy and / or sweet chilli sauce.

One of the latest food trends is to have spiralised vegetables instead of traditional pasta (giving a low carbohydrate option) and in this case, they just need a quick steam for about a minute. Any longer and they will turn to mush so don’t overcook them.

Finally, I tried the grating blade with a chunk of hard cheddar. The cheese went through the grater like butter – very smoothly indeed. You really don’t have to apply a lot of pressure at all on the lid to get good results which makes it ideal for people who don’t have a lot of strength in their wrists or hands.

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Overall, I was impressed with the JosephJoseph Spiro spiraliser and I’d rate it as follows:

 

Ease of use:                5/5

Easy to clean:              5/5

Easy to assemble:       5/5

Easy to store:              5/5

 

I have previously used another brand’s hand-held spiraliser – one that is described as being operated with a ‘pencil-sharpening’ motion. That one didn’t have its own container and I actually found it quite hard work turning it so it’s currently languishing in the back of a drawer.

I’ve also seen the somewhat clunky spiralisers that you have to assemble that then sit on a worktop, taking up a lot of space. While these might be quite useful for large households, they aren’t particularly attractive and they are quite cumbersome especially as you have to crank a handle to work them. These tend to be recommended by some of the high profile but not always nutritionally qualified ‘clean-eating’ brigade and are quite expensive compared to the Spiro.

In my opinion, the Spiro would be an ideal addition to your kitchen if you have young children as it would certainly encourage them to eat more vegetables. For a two person household like mine, I found it quick and easy to spiralise a few vegetables for us and the clean-up was also fast. The Spiro can be put in a dishwasher although it’s easy to wash it in the sink. I love the fact that all the parts stack up together into a compact little unit which can be easily stored. The Spiro will not be languishing in the back of my cupboards, that’s for sure.

 

You can find the Spiro spiraliser in good cook shops and online at: www.josephjoseph.com. The retail price is £16.

 

A note for Slimming World members (like me) – the Spiro will really encourage you to eat more speed vegetables so do think about buying one.

 

Disclaimer: JosephJoseph sent me a Spiro Spiraliser in return for an honest review. After thoroughly testing it, I was genuinely impressed with it and I will continue to use it. If you’re thinking of purchasing one, I’m happy to discuss my review in more detail with you via email: littlepinkkitchen@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posh Porridge? I don’t mind if I do…

On cold mornings there’s nothing like a hot, steaming bowl of porridge to set you up for the day. Except that porridge on its own can be a little dull. I’ve never been the type of person to make it with water as it makes it taste like wallpaper paste. Oh no, I like my porridge to be a little luxurious and so back in the days when I was over 6 stone heavier than I am now, my porridge often contained nuts, seeds, fruit and even a touch of cream. To think I thought the nuts and stewed fruit made it healthy. How deluded can you be?

When I started to lose weight, my porridge contained semi-skimmed milk, a grated apple and some cinnamon which tasted good but after a while became a little “samey”. That made me look at other additions that would also be good for me and fill me up. I’ve since tried “carrot cake porridge” using grated carrot in place of apple and adding nutmeg as well as cinnamon and also – somewhat surprisingly you may think – sweet potatoes and pumpkin. I highly recommend these if you want a really REALLY filling breakfast.

My latest porridge related recipe was inspired by Mullerlight yoghurts who have just introduced a “Cherry Bakewell” flavour in conjunction with Slimming World. The classic flavour combination of cherries and almonds is always a winner in my house but at the moment cherries are out of season and I tend not to eat nuts as I usually can’t stop until an entire packet has been emptied!

So I had to be creative for my next porridge extravaganza and turned to my baking supplies cupboard (not that I bake these days…. too much temptation) to get some ideas.

The result was a “Raspberry Bakewell” flavoured baked porridge breakfast that is *FREE* on the Slimming World plan (if you use some of your Healthy Extra milk allowance). A good quality brand of almond essence (I use Nielsen Massey) gives you the hint of “bakewell” without adding any fat, calories or Syns and adding the raspberries at the end gives a burst of flavour as you tuck in.

It’s porridge but definitely a bit posh.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

 

Ingredients

40g porridge oats

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon granulated sweetener

1 egg, beaten

175mls milk (I use 1% fat these days but semi skimmed or other is fine)

½ teaspoon good quality almond essence

Small handful of fresh raspberries

Method

Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 4, Fan 160 degrees C or 180 degrees C.

Mix the porridge oats, baking powder and sweetener together in a bowl.

In a jug, beat the egg and add the milk and almond essence. Mix well.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry and pour the mixture into a small ovenproof dish. The one in the photos is 5 inches (14cms) in diameter.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until the top is golden and no longer ‘wobbles’ if you wiggle the dish. You want it to be slightly firm – not like cement – although if you leave it for a while before eating it will thicken up.

Serve topped with the fresh raspberries.

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Just out of the oven!

 

 

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Mmmm. Delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

2016 -A Review

As we rapidly approach 2017, I thought I’d take some time to review my significant moments of the past year and consider what I learned from them.

As many of you know, we relocated to North Norfolk in December 2015 so for us, 2016 promised to be an exciting year. We bought a house in March and moved in just after Easter. After living in south London for almost 20 years and inhaling relentless diesel fumes, encountering the ‘angry brigade’ with alarming regularity – you know, the road ragers, the commuter ragers, the supermarket queue moaners – and being bombarded by constant noise, it has been a joy to live in a small, quiet village in the country.

We wake up to glorious silence, only broken by the occasional squawk of the pheasants or the singing of the gentler dawn chorus. What a change from our previous house which being on a rat run meant traffic noises started early, drowning out the sounds of any wildlife which dared to rear its head. Our Norfolk neighbours are friendly and always stop for a chat. Very different from say, Croydon, where if you caught anyone’s eye they’d look at you as if you were an axe murderer. Or maybe they were afraid you’d identified them as one. We support local shops and farm producers where possible and I’m sure things like potatoes taste more ‘potato-ey’ than if you buy them in a supermarket. I’ve attended various Farmers’ Markets in the area and have made contact with small, local food producers, deli owners, cafe and restaurant owners and others who are putting Norfolk on the foodie map of Great Britain. While we’re not quite leading the ‘Good Life’ (no goat called Geraldine in our garden), it’s certainly a vast improvement on our previous one.

We’re fortunate that following the move and the down-sizing involved, I’m able to work on a part-time basis while my husband stays at home as the ‘Domestic, Garden and Cocker Spaniel Manager’. In our early 50s, we’ve finally discovered the meaning of ‘work-life balance’ and it’s an excellent feeling. We bring home less money but we’re so much happier. So many well-known people have passed away in 2016 with some not that much older than us. Who really wants to work until they drop or drop before they’ve even had a chance to enjoy life? Hubby and I both had near death experiences in the last few years: he had an undiagnosed heart problem in 2012 that was almost fatal and in 2013 I was involved in a road traffic accident that nearly polished me off. As a result we decided that the time was right to take life by the horns and enjoy whatever time we have left. That’s why we’re now in Norfolk and loving it.

Once we’d settled in to our new house, I thought I’d better find a job which wasn’t as easy as it would have been in London given that my area of HR is a bit specialised, but I persevered. After a couple of false starts in jobs that weren’t right for me (memo to self – never take the first offer or the second if it’s worse than the first), I found my ideal position working as an HR Manager for a local animal sanctuary. It’s a big change from my previous HR roles in corporate type organisations: I’m based in a shed on a farm, there’s a lot of mud, and I have to walk 200 yards to a portacabin loo which can be a challenge when it’s minus 4 degrees outside or bucketing down with rain! As I write this during my lunch break, I’m wearing a woolly hat, fingerless gloves, a thermal vest, a thin fleece, a thicker fleece over the top, tights under my trousers, thick socks and walking boots. This is ‘office chic’ Norfolk country style. No more early morning decisions about what shirt to wear or whether I need to iron a suit for meetings. I may look like a bag lady – the grey hair probably doesn’t help – but I’m warm (mostly) and still getting the work done. And, even better, I have an outstanding view across the fields: I see happy cows; horses; sheep; pigs; goats and I get frequent cuddles and licks from puppies in the dog rescue centre. Unlike when I worked for a well-known telecommunications company or an equally prominent clothes, food and home goods retailer (not just any retailer, you know the one), I feel I’m doing something worthwhile and not just increasing share-holders’ profits.

The other significant change in my life is ending 2016 almost 5 ½ stone lighter than I was in January. After 30 years of yoyo dieting, the odd cranky eating regime (I don’t recommend the grapefruit and hardboiled egg diet) and even the very low calorie liquid diet that knocked off 7 stone in 6 months (regained within 18 months), I found Slimming World and it has completely changed my life.

People who have never been overweight, fat, morbidly obese, or even slightly porky will never be able to understand quite how it affects the lives of people who are. I’m generally seen as an outgoing, lively person but underneath the formerly fat, seemingly jolly exterior was a desperately unhappy individual with low self-esteem and a high level of self-loathing. If I couldn’t love myself, how could I expect anyone else to? I was very fat, extremely miserable and a compulsive eater. All this psychobabble about ‘comfort eating’ is a load of tripe in my experience. I’d eat when I was happy (to ‘celebrate’), upset (to ‘compensate’) or stressed (to ‘calm down’). I’d eat when I was hungry and when I wasn’t. Eating didn’t cheer me up or comfort me – it made me feel even worse but I was caught in a never-ending cycle and genuinely believed it would never change. While I did lose weight on the ‘good’ diets I tried such as WeightWatchers and Rosemary Conley, I was always hungry. Calculating ‘points’ was time-consuming and you had to buy all the WeightWatchers paraphernalia in order to do it. I lost a stone in 2015 having attended WW for about 8 weeks but lost the will to live at that point and gave up.

When I joined Slimming World in Norfolk on 5th January 2016, I didn’t expect to have the success I’ve achieved. I thought I’d probably last a couple of months and then it would go the way of other fruitless weight loss attempts. How wrong I was. Once I’d got to grips with the plan I was off – and so were the unwanted pounds. I attended the group every week and made lots of new friends, all fighting the same battle as me. With Slimming World, there is minimal weighing and measuring of food and you can eat satisfyingly large amounts and still lose weight. Of course, over 30 years of bad habits don’t disappear overnight and I’ve had the occasional wobble when chocolate or cake has called to me very loudly but I’ve always got back on track very quickly and continued to lose weight. At the time of writing this, I’ve lost a total of 6 stone 4 ½ lbs since March 2015. By the end of March 2017, I’m certain I will have reached my target (1 and a half stone to go) and I know that I won’t ever be the fat, fiftyish, frumpy friend again because I have changed my eating habits for life thanks to Slimming World. If I can do it, anybody can. My only regret is that I wasted time and money on all those other diets over many years and ended up chunkier than ever.

One thing I’m disappointed about was not keeping up with my blog in 2016 as much as I’d planned. The house move, job hunting and the diet took up most of my time and the blog – which largely featured cakes and baking when I started it – took a back seat. I’m hoping to change that for 2017 as I enjoy writing and have quite a few ideas for new posts. I need to learn a few more technical things about WordPress and may need to upgrade so that I can do things with widgets and plug-ins (finding out what they are will be my first priority!). The focus will still be food – obviously – but geared towards healthier eating while not compromising on flavour. I plan to continue interviewing local Norfolk food producers for the blog and a Norfolk travel website, undertake product reviews and lots more.

So what did I learn in 2016? Firstly, that there is life after London and that moving to the country has benefitted my health, well-being and self-esteem enormously. Secondly, looking for a job can be challenging especially when one is over 50 (ahem!) but with some positive thinking and creative approaches, the right job is out there so never lose heart. Finally, you can change your life for the better, whether it’s a new house, a new job or a new body. In one short year, my life has improved beyond my expectations and I will be eternally grateful to every single person who has helped me along the way.

I wish you all an adventurous 2017 and hope that you achieve your dreams – they are within reach. They really are.

 

Beginning Our New Life In Norfolk!

I’m back! After taking the plunge and leaving London in December 2015 to move to the country, we’re now living in our new permanent house in a North Norfolk village. “We” means my husband, Millie the cocker spaniel and me. Our adult children remain living down south, our son in Surrey and our daughter in Hampshire.

And I have to tell you that I’m not the same person that I was in December. Not only do I feel more relaxed and much happier being out of London but I’m currently almost 3 stone lighter than I was when we moved. This is mostly due to the fact that I joined a local Slimming World group in January but also because I haven’t done any baking ‘for pleasure’ at all since we’ve been Norfolk residents. This wasn’t a conscious choice – our temporary accommodation before we moved had a very tiny kitchen and all our possessions were in storage – but it has certainly helped my waistline! However I also don’t have anyone to bake for as most of my cakes were previously eaten by work colleagues and at the moment I don’t have any of those!

There was however some baking that needed to be done. The village where we were living between leaving London and moving to Norfolk held a street party on Sunday 15th May in honour of the Queen’s 90th birthday. The date was mid way between her actual birthday in April and her official one in June and fortunately the weather was good. I ended up making a celebration cake for the event as the organisers thought they had been let down by the person who had promised to make one. On the day, the other person did in fact produce a cake which I have to say, wasn’t quite the all singing, all dancing, ‘showstopper’ they had promised as you can see from this photo.

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My cake was small but perfectly formed which was lucky as I only had a day’s notice to make it. I wanted to make it fit the theme so hence the red, white and blue colour scheme. I even made a little plaque by hand which I was quite chuffed with. Here it is – what do you think?

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The street party was attended by the local MP Norman Lamb who was very friendly and entered into the spirit of the event as you can see from these pictures:

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Norman is obviously a man of good taste as he thought my cake was delightful – I noticed he scoffed a large chunk once it had been cut up!

Anyway, between sorting out the house, baking for the street party and finding employment  (I’ve just got a job with a local hotel chain which will be very different to my previous HR roles) I’m focusing on losing some more weight and getting into shape while not neglecting my blog any more. I have to say that I’ve tried pretty much every diet going and if you love food, I can honestly say that Slimming World is excellent. Decent portions, nothing forbidden and no wretched points to count – what’s not to like?

I’ve really missed writing this blog and I’m glad I can now focus on it again. Watch this space for some tasty recipes, various reviews and of course, some random thoughts.

I’ve set up another blog where I’ll be posting things that are relevant to Norfolk such as local events, local foodie producers and so on. This will be at: www.midlifenorfolkwife.com – have a look in the next few days when it’s up and running.

If you press a button you can ‘follow’ my blog and you’ll receive an email as soon as I’ve posted a new article.

Tracy x

 

 

Never Say Diet!

My foodie interests are quite wide-ranging and in my time I have tried all sorts of eating regimes including vegetarianism, veganism, raw foodism, high protein and everything in between. Over the last 30 years I’ve been slim (ish) and I’ve been overweight. In fact, I’m on the rather generous side of the “Rubenesque” scale at the moment with the genuine intention of doing something about it this year. As I do every year (oh dear). In 2015 I managed to lose just over 2 stone (30lbs) and to date only 1 of those (stones) has gone back on. So, somewhat unusually, I start a new year lighter than I was at this point 365 days ago. Which is a good thing. But I want to do better.

My downfall as far as diets go is that I absolutely love food and if I’m not eating it, I’m thinking about it, reading about it or writing about it. I love cooking and experimenting with new ingredients and baking makes me feel really good. Unfortunately, with cooking comes eating and that’s my downfall. As a result, I’ve joined various slimming groups over the years including WeightWatchers and Rosemary Conley (RIP that company), and I’ve tried diets like Atkins (lost over 3 stone) and LighterLife (lost almost 7 stone). I’ve realised that all sorts of diets do work – when you stick to them. I get to the point when I feel I’ve done really well and decide I don’t need ‘the diet’ any more …… and I duly go back to my poor eating habits and pile the weight on again. Plus a little bit more for good measure.

In December 2015, I moved with my husband and our dog to North Norfolk to escape our busy, stressful, and traffic fume filled existence in south London and have a better quality of life in the country. We’re staying temporarily in my mum’s former holiday rental cottage on the coast – very “bijou” with a tiny kitchen – while we look for a house to buy. I’m also looking for a job. Lots of changes at one time so not ideal really.

I’ve decided to bite the diet bullet (here I go again) and join a local “Slimming World” group because their Jan/Feb 2016 magazine proudly claims that you can eat the food you love and therefore have decent meals. No sparrow sized portions. How great is that? Apparently, there are also “free foods” that you can eat in unlimited quantities which I’m curious about, seeing as eating food in unlimited quantities is what has made me fat in the first place! I’ll be toddling along to my first meeting on Tuesday 5th January 2016 – watch this space and I’ll report back on how it goes.

So, bearing in mind that I’ll be able to eat proper food while I’m on the Slimming World programme, I’m going to treat myself to some new cookbooks and write reviews of each one I buy. This will be an interesting project seeing as I seem to buy quite a lot (ooops) but I hope it will be helpful for other people who may be struggling with their weight as well as for people who just wonder what the XX cook book may be like.

I want to be able to eat the same food as my husband. I don’t want to be eating celery and lettuce or cutting out any major food groups while he tucks into a hearty chicken or beef dish. I’ll be looking for recipes that are immediately “diet friendly” as well as those I can tweak to make more suitable e.g. by reducing the fat or portion sizes. It has taken me a long time to appreciate that diets are only short-term fixes. If I’m ever going to conquer my 30 year history of yoyo dieting, I have to change my lifestyle once and for all. As we moved to Norfolk to improve our lives, this seems the ideal time to do it. Carpe diem, and all that.

When I buy books, I like to read reviews first but I’m never sure how reliable the ones are that you see on Amazon: there has been the occasional scandal of dodgy reviews posted by an author’s competitors or times when a writer’s friends and family post excessively positive reviews. People that know me appreciate that I’ll be honest and unbiased and also that I won’t be malicious or unkind.

The things I look for in any cook book are:

  1. Are the recipes “do-able” for the average home cook? Too much faffing or fancy / obscure ingredients put me off right away;
  2. Are there decent photographs? We may all know what a lasagne or chocolate cake should look like, but I’d like to know how the dish I’m making at any one time is expected to turn out. I tend not to buy recipe books with a lack of pictures;
  3. Are the instructions clear? Cook books are usually aimed at domestic cooks or people who wish to improve their skills in the kitchen. Too much jargon or vague explanations are not helpful nor are authors who patronise their readers;
  4. Do I want to eat the food or am I buying the book for another reason? This may seem to be a silly question but if you think about it, do we buy the recipe book or do we “buy” the person who’s written it? At the time of writing this piece, I’ve seen a couple of Sunday newspaper supplements and Davina McCall has a recipe book coming out and Bear Grylls – not usually known for his culinary skills – is also publishing a cook book. The extract from the book by Davina frequently refers to her “team of nutritionists” which does make me wonder who created the recipes that she’s selling. Sorry Bear and Davina, your books aren’t going to make my list of purchases this year.
  5. Nutritional information. This could be calories per portion or how much fat, protein or carbohydrate is in a dish. While Slimming World doesn’t work on the basis of calories, I find it helpful to know how much fat a recipe contains as this is something I can change when I make it.

During this year I’ll be reviewing newly published cookbooks by a diverse group of writers, including Anna Jones, Amelia Freer, Ella Woodward, Jamie Oliver, Fiona Uyema, Hemsley & Hemsley, Anya Ladra, and Natasha Corrett. Please be aware that these aren’t “diet books” as such but ones I happen to be interested in anyway that I hope will help me to lose weight while eating rather well.

 

Happy New Year!