A Smart plan

My New Year resolution invariably has something to do with losing weight and it usually goes along the lines of the imaginative…’I’m going to lose weight’. Sometimes there’s a supplementary resolution to ‘eat more healthily’. I can’t say that I fail in the first because I do lose it. Unfortunately I also put it back on. The pattern of lose/gain/lose/gain repeats throughout the year and come January, I’m generally not far from where I started.  So far as the second resolution goes, I eat pretty healthily most of the time but whether it’s as healthy as it could be is questionable.

I had decided not to bother making a resolution at all, but then I got to thinking that perhaps the reason I don’t really achieve what I want is because my aims are too vague. Maybe I need to treat the issue as a work problem and make them SMART. I believe this acronym is now considered a little ‘old hat’ (meaning ‘out of date’ for my readers who are unfamiliar with our quaint English turns of phrase) but it’s fine for my needs.

Specific: I want to lose 28 pounds.

Measurable: I’ll weigh in at Slimming World every Monday at 5.30pm.

Achievable: Yes, if I plan my meals, shop accordingly and stay on the SW plan.

Realistic: I’d love to lose 5lb a week but that’s unrealistic. One pound per week is not.

Timebound: Six months i.e. by 30th June 2018.

Without going into the fine detail, Slimming World  advocates eating regular, balanced meals made from good sources of protein, unrefined carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit in reasonably unlimited quantities. The plan also includes two ‘healthy extras’ which ensure sufficient quantities of fibre and calcium, and allows from between five and fifteen ‘syns’ per day (each syn equating to roughly 20 calories though this is dependent on the fat and sugar content of the individual items which are ‘synned’).  When I’m in the right zone (i.e. on plan) I tend to use these to enhance meals rather than choose chocolate or biscuits, for example. I just need to be in that zone more often! The medical profession considers the Slimming World plan as one of the most sensible eating plans around.

At the group I attend there are around one hundred members including several life-members. These are people who have achieved their target weight and continue to say withing the range of 3lb either side of it. We have members who have lost six stones plus and continue to attend classes. The classes are termed IMAGE therapy (individual motivation and group experience) and they are key to staying motivated. Not everyone stays (usually around half) which is their loss, I reckon. A group may not be for everyone but Slimming World works, even though some people like myself are not very good at it. I know that when I really put my mind to it I can do well, but goodness, do I need that weekly shot of motivation! Our group also has a private Facebook page which is great for mutual support.

I weighed in on 1st January and had gained 3lb over Christmas.  I weighed in again today, and despite the cherry scone I ate when out with my daughter (which I counted as my syns for the whole day, I lost 4lb.

It’s a good start.

After the event

Well, it took its time coming (weeks of preparation), finally came and then went in the blink of an eye but we had a happy time. I had some fabulous presents from Husband, children and friends. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but here is one of the books I had specifically asked for. At almost 900 pages, it’s very heavy to hold and I’ve found the only way to cope comfortably is to rest it on the arm of the chair. Bedtime reading is an impossibility!  My fondness for hares prompted the gift of mug, coaster and small tray (perfect for a slice of cake).

 

I also had a pretty glass bowl containing money for pampering (a favourite activity), a pot of fabulous Filorga Time Filler face cream (which I am known to like a great deal but can’t always justify buying), a voucher for The Blue Lemon (for the foot balm I use)   https://www.thebluelemon.co.uk/ , Bare Minerals make up, Butler’s chocolate, Perfume, gift vouchers and lots of other lovely treats. From work we each received a very welcome £50 voucher from Love to Shop which can be used in several outlets including M&S,  Debenhams and other major stores.

I thought that the Christmas TV offerings were exceptionally poor. I watched Call the Midwife  which, although rather gloomy, I enjoyed, but I switched off the eagerly anticipated Little Women before the end of the first episode and didn’t even bother with The Miniaturist  despite the hype because I thought the book (aptly described by Margaret in her blog as ‘pretentious twaddle’) was boringly awful!

We were only four adults for Christmas day lunch and two little ones (29 and 15 months) who barely ate any of it (the elder one was far more interested in pulling crackers). Nevertheless I still bought and cooked too much, but not a single bit was wasted. The leftovers have been used thus:

Parsnip, potato and apple soup: Made extra thick (takes up less freezer space), it will need diluting before serving. These two containers will yield six generous portions. I usually add water, or if I have some left over from something else, perhaps coconut milk or even a drop of cider.

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Crustless quiche with ham, mushrooms and Stilton cheese. It made lunch today with plenty left for tomorrow.

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Also in the freezer now individually portioned:

  • several portions of thickly sliced ham which will be eaten with egg and chips or served with parsley sauce, mashed potato and peas.
  • a cheesecake from which only two slices were eaten – cut into wedges ready to be removed one at a time.
  • cherry & apple crumble
  • gammon and turkey pie filling complete with stuffing and gravy (mash or pastry topping required)
  • a large container of mixed grated cheeses suitable for making cheese & potato pies, quiches or sauces (and there’s still lots of cheese left in the fridge)
  • turkey & mushroom in peppercorn sauce – great as a jacket potato filling or topped with mashed potato

I haven’t bought a thing since Christmas eve (food or otherwise) and have no intention of going shopping over the weekend (though Husband will buy bread and milk when fetching his newspaper). It’s not often I go a whole week without even entering a shop! I reckon there’s enough in the cupboards and freezer to take us though January. I’ll buy fresh fruit and veg, of course, but I can’t imagine the need for a supermarket shop. (If I do, I’ve nowhere to put it anyway!)

For my final comment on Christmas 2017 – as requested by Theresa, here is the recipe for my Christmas cake. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t make a traditional one. This is a much used apple-cake recipe (more than 25 years old) which I tweak. The original is from the Bygones Museum (Babbacombe, Devon) recipe booklet. I’ve shown in brackets what I actually use

  • 10oz SR flour
  • 6oz butter/margarine
  • 6oz caster sugar (Billingtons golden)
  • 4oz sultanas and 2oz currants (6oz Whitworths mixed fruit. I like this one because it’s very moist and sticky)
  • 12oz cooking apples (red eating apples, cored and chopped but not peeled)
  • 3  standard eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk (3 tbs amaretto for Christmas version)
  • Pinch of salt (I never add this)
  • Half a tsp mixed spice (2 tsps cinnamon)

Rub fat into flour and cinnamon. Stir in sugar, fruit and apples. Add beaten eggs and milk/spirit. Baked in loose bottomed 8″ tin on 175c for …….here the recipe suggests one and three quarter hours but I find an hour maximum is ample time. Test with a skewer.

For the Christmas version, I spread top with icing sugar/water mixture and decorate with cherries, walnuts and almonds  but use whatever suits your tastes.

I have played around with this recipe using pears instead of apples or a mixture of cherries and pecans instead of the mixed fruit. I’ve made it with ginger instead of cinnamon and even thrown in a few halved grapes or blueberries when I’ve wanted to use them up. Experiment and enjoy!

And if you missed my earlier post – here’s what my Christmas version looked like.

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I do not like snow (but potatoes are good)

We’ve just made the national lunchtime news. Whilst gritters have been out in full force across the Midlands, in my local area snow ploughs have been deployed. I am not excited.

SNOW 5

It looks like a black & white photo. It’s not – it’s just the way my garden looked when I got  up this morning. There was already a light covering of snow left over from yesterday which didn’t stop us doing anything but last night’s snowfall topped it up, and getting the car out of the close today is a task not worth attempting. Thank goodness for our ample food stocks; I have no need to go anywhere. Even Tesco Express, a five minute walk away is too far for me, though husband has been to fetch his newspaper. So important is this to him that I can’t think of a weather situation which would actually stop him!

Unlike most small children, from as far back as I can recall, I did not like snow. I considered it as too cold, too wet and too dangerous and was always afraid when my Dad went out to work in it. Of what, I have no idea but I can recall exactly how I felt. As an adult I detest it.  It is, I concede, one of nature’s prettiest decorations and I do not underestimate the magical atmosphere created by a (very light) sprinkling on Christmas Eve, but thicker snow worries me. I hate the thought of my children driving in it, of my grandchildren being driven around in it, of accidents and damage to cars and the associated costs. Snow makes me feel unnerved. I hate the feeling of helplessness, that I can do nothing to prevent it falling and, irrationally, I hate that snow covers up reality – it feels sinister. Yes, I get it – that’s weird!

I hear that my grandchildren are out enjoying building snowmen. Somewhere there is a photo of my very young sons with a snowman who even sported a snow-made top hat. Unfortunately I can’t locate it.  When my own children were young one of the books we most enjoyed reading together was this one:

Isn’t it odd that I should enjoy it so much? Written very much in the style of Dr. Seuss, it was really fun. I love reading with children as much as I hate snow!

My daughter watched The Snowman animated film (from Raymond Briggs wonderful book) endlessly as a little girl. I still watch it every year at Christmas. The pictures in the book are so beautifully drawn and the adaptation to film has been wonderfully done.

Enough of snow –  I just hope it melts very soon.  OH NO! No sooner did I type those words that it’s started again. The flakes are bigger than ever.

Meanwhile … … … I had the following pop-up onto my Facebook page earlier and thought I’d share it.  With the headline Potatoes – more than a bit on the side it’s a selection of recipes which showcase the potato rather than relegate it to the bit that fills up the space on the plate.  How fabulous does this look? Cheap, filling and nutritious, I often think that potatoes are overlooked when they can be used very successfully (and tastily) as the main ingredient of a dish. I shall definitely be investigating the site further.   https://www.lovepotatoes.co.uk/recipes/spanish-tortilla-with-paprika-and-parsley/

spanishtortillawithpaprikaandparsleyl

My blog-friend Bless always finishes her posts with a list of five things that she’s grateful for and today I am going to do the same.

Today I’m grateful for:

  • a warm home
  • well stocked food cupboards
  • that my family and I don’t have to drive anywhere
  • that my Christmas presents are all bought and wrapped
  • my cosy slippers

Good Food

Daughter and I have spent the afternoon at The BBC Good Food Show at The National Exhibition Centre. It’s something we’ve done a few times in the past and thoroughly enjoyed. I caught the train to Birmingham International at what I thought was a reasonable cost of £8 return. The line has recently been upgraded and we now get three trains an hour. The train interiors could do with an upgrade but they’re adequate, reasonably comfortable  and well heated, and it’s a lot better than driving there.
The first part of the journey is through the Worcestershire countryside and it always reminds me of what a lovely county I live in. Train stations, it has to be said, are not terribly glamorous, although Bournville  is a little more interesting than some. Cadbury’s is right on the doorstep and the station is painted in Cadbury purple. I did attempt a photograph but it wasn’t successful when taken through the train window. I changed trains at Birmingham New Street and caught the London train. Two stations along it stops at Birmingham International where daughter met me. From there it is a short walk, all undercover, to the NEC. I have no idea how many stands there were  – perhaps 250, selling all manner of food & drink and food-related products. Many are small independent companies but some of the multiples are represented too.

 

 

I don’t like crowds but by avoiding the weekend, it wasn’t bad at all. Past experience has allowed me to be well equipped for the shopping. The first time we went I arrived with just a handbag. What a mistake! My hands were raw from all the carrier bags and then I noticed that all the seasoned ‘Good Fooders’ were  using shopping trolleys. I can’t imagine using it anywhere else but the one I bought there and then has accompanied me to the show ever since.   In the past we’ve attended demonstrations by Dhruv Baker and Shelina Permalloo (winners of MasterChef 2010 and 2012) but I didn’t know the chef today – Paul Kelly. apparently he is something to do with Bronze Turkeys. Nevertheless, it was interesting to watch.

 

 

Both daughter and I are more than a little in love with Joe & Seph popcorn. The company produces bags of savoury popcorn in numerous flavorful combinations, my favourites being Camembert, Goats cheese & black pepper and Stilton & walnut. They didn’t have the latter so I substituted Marmite flavour. I’m one of the ones who love the stuff. The offer price for six bags was 25% cheaper than usual so we split a bag of six. Above is daughter buying falafel – one of her favourite things to eat.
I still got my Stilton & walnut fix though – in a loaf of ciabatta. There were lots of different ones to try and I just know it’s going to be the perfect accompaniment to some of the delicious Lymn Bank Farm cheeses. Four of them are now safely stored in the freezer ready for Christmas. I’ve bought the ginger one in the past and I know it’s exceedingly yummy!
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Both great fans of flavoured oils we also split a selection of these It is a lot cheaper to buy them in multiples. I also bought a selection of ‘spice drops’. These are concentrated oils to use as flavouring. For example, one drop of the orange oil is equivalent to the grated zest of an orange. I chose orange, lime and rose. Another Christmas treat  – a bottle of Limoncello. First tasted in Florence (and again in Rome) this is one of the very few alcoholic drinks that stops me from being teetotal.
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Just before coming home we treated ourselves to marshmallows with white melted chocolate from the chocolate fountain stand. Shamelessly decadent but sooooo amazing!

 

 

Husband got a giant Danish pastry as a thank you for driving me to and from the station.
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A short post on mushrooms and toadstools

Mushrooms 1

WordPress, which is the platform I use to host my blog, offers a new word each day as a basis for a blog post. I guess it’s ideal for people who can’t think what to write about since the word always triggers some kind of thought process. Just as I have no trouble thinking of what to talk about,  I generally have no trouble in deciding on a writing subject. However, one of the recently suggested words was fungus and this prompted thoughts of some photographs I’ve taken recently. I’ve never had any particular interest in fungi (apart from eating it) so it was quite a coincidence that I sacame across three examples in a very short space of time.

A question for you: what’s the difference between a toadstool and a mushroom? I asked myself this but couldn’t come up with an answer. I did a little research and discovered that whilst ‘toadstool’ is generally used to describe poisonous or inedible fungi, there is actually no scientific difference and that the terms are interchangeable. Dictionary definitions don’t help a lot.

  • Mushroom: a type of fungus, usually shaped like an umbrella, many of which are edible.
  • Toadstool: any of several mushroom-like fungus, some of which are poisonous.

The picture at the top of this post is of Hairy Stereum and was taken a few weeks ago in my neighbour’s garden. These are just two of a number of clusters. He got rid of them once and was very annoyed by their return (and bemused by the fact that I described them as ‘fascinating’ and asked if I could photograph them). This particular variety grows on dead wood. They are right on the site of an old tree stump.  Some years ago I remember a fairy-ring appearing. I wish I’d photographed it but who knew back then that I would one day write a blog post on the subject?

This tiny specimen was found in Devon right outside the door or the holiday lodge we stayed in. I am unable to identify it from pictures, though it might possibly be a Porcellain Fungus. 

Mroom

And these, my favourite,  were found in a wooded area to the side of the car park at the Berry Head hotel in Brixham. A trawl through Collins Complete British Wildlife identifies them as Shaggy Ink Cap.

Mushrooms 3

Personally I would be too cautious to eat mushrooms (or toadstools) which I found in a field or a wood so mine tend to come from Tesco which I’ve found to stock the widest selection of  ‘interesting’ varieties.

One of my favourite snacks is mixed mushrooms with Stilton and walnuts on toasted sourdough/ciabatta/nice crusty bread. It is very simple: Fry the mushrooms, place on top of toasted bread, sprinkle with Stilton and walnuts and grill. I’ve even served this as a starter at dinner for friends and it’s gone down very well.

Cooking this week

There are times when, having taken time to prepare a dish, I can’t help but feel slightly annoyed by the fact that it took longer to prepare than to eat. I thought I would share with you a super-simple, super-tasty recipe that I made this week and which takes less than one minute to make…..mackerel pate. It requires just three ingredients.  Remove the skin from three medium sized smoked mackerel fillets and flake them.  I use the ones that are covered in peppercorns. Mix with two heaped tablespoons of Total 0% fat free Greek yogurt and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Blitz in the blender. Done.

 

The soup maker needed another airing so I made pea and mint soup. The instructions say that frozen vegetables cannot be used so I cooked the potato and onion with stock in the soup maker, added a packet of defrosted petit pois and two teaspoons of mint sauce concentrate as per my blogging friend Margaret Powling’s recipe and blended it.  Quick, simple and very tasty.

 

I made another loaf of Rosemary and Seed Oat bread, the recipe for which is from an old Sunday supplement. It has a dense texture, quite heavy and scone-like than bread but goes perfectly with the pea soup. This is a photograph from a previously made loaf. Husband is not at all keen so I freeze it in individual slices.

This pear and almond cake was really moist and very tasty. Based on my oft-used apple cake recipe, I substituted pears for apples (I know … you guessed that bit!) and ground almonds replaced a quarter of the flour. It also contains sultanas. With a sprinkling of almonds on the top, it really was a hit.

Cooking 5

A vegetarian lunch was required today and I decided on Chilli potatoes, quinoa & feta salad, cauliflower cheese, beetroot, apple and onion salad and a ricotta and spinach pizza. The later was bought rather than home made. We rarely eat pizza but when we do I always wonder why we don’t do so more often. It was delicious.

 

Otherwise meals have been mainly chicken or fish dishes. As much as I enjoy creating meals as I go along, there are times when nothing tastes quite as good as a plump piece of M&S breaded plaice. I like this better than any plaice I have ever cooked from fresh.

Today’s cooking playlist included (as most batch cooking sessions do) the marvellous Juan Caldera, Spanish guitarist (actually he is Italian but spends most of his time in Madeira). We have come across this hugely talented man every time we’ve been in Madeira and always stop to watch his street performances. He also plays in the local hotels and is a very popular attraction. We have just one cd but at about an hour and a half long, its excellent music for the kitchen!

 

Just another day

Raise your eyebrows or even shake you head in disbelief, but do not underestimate the sheer pleasure derived from opening organised, tidy kitchen cupboards. Some might think ‘how sad’ but truly, the cathartic benefit of yesterday’s labours has lightened my heart. OK, maybe a little exaggeration there but it really was a good feeling, when opening the first cupboard this morning, to see how neat it looked. Mind you, it was the wrong cupboard…but hey, these things take time to get used to.

Today was a little more relaxed: off to the gym this morning where I paid for my ticket to the Christmas lunch. We’re off to the same pub that did us proud on Grand National day.  December is filling up – four Christmas lunches booked already. For one reason or another I haven’t seen a couple of my gym friends for a month or so, so it was good to catch up with a post exercise coffee room. It’s been a day for catching up as, after a quick change and make up touch-up at home, I met up with my friend J this afternoon. We have known each other since infant school but became friends when our eldest children were babies. We’ve shared high days and holidays, tears of happiness and painful despair, and have been there for each other through every milestone in the past thirty eight years. No wonder two and a quarter hours of conversation flew by.

In between these engagements I did a little shopping. I always mentally tot up the rough cost of purchases and it’s a good job I do. In Boots I handed over £40 and was expecting around £9 change. I was handed £1.04 because the till hadn’t been programmed to account for a 3 for 2 offer. In Dunelm I put two items on the counter. The cashier rang them through and asked for £42. I laughed out loud and told her that it was closer to £22. It turned out that she had rung one item through twice. Now, the discrepancies in both cases was obvious but it does make me wonder how often overcharging happens. If you have half a dozen items and are overcharged by perhaps £5, would you necessarily notice?

I picked up my car which I’d dropped off for a wash and wax earlier an went  home to make a start on dinner. A defrosted one-I-made-earlier lasagne for husband and a healthy option for me…a salad of various beans and peas, bulgar wheat, red pepper, onion and warm goat’s cheese.

Needing to use up various bits of fruit we finished the meal with a warm fruit salad (i.e. a thirty second blast in the microwave) I also made another banana cake, this time remembering to add the flour!

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Finally, a bit of television: Have I got news for you. 

Yet another day when the hours just flew by.