When is a brownie kinder than a fruit salad?

Imagine you live in the stone age when wild animals were not just going through your dustbins of an evening but threatening to eat you and your children. The regime, we may surmise, was feast or famine. After a prolonged period of stress (how much fun do you think living off berries and roots and fending of the local bear actually was?) comes at last the day when the young bucks are successful and bring home meat for dinner. Party time. The big fire gets going, alcohol is unleashed, the resident shaman is warming up and at last there’s hot food, streaming with animal fat. General rejoicing. Nobody back then said ‘I only want a little’, ‘No meat for me’ or ‘I’m sorry I’m on the 5/2′. When there was food, everybody ate what they could get because who knew how long it would be before there was meat and fat again. Simple.

Now imagine you are a new baby, unused to being out of the womb, unused to being on your own, oh and you’ve never been hungry before. (The placenta used to deliver all of your needs before you knew you had them.) Suddenly you’re out in the world and hunger is pretty frightening. Warm sweet milk (our own animal fat), when it arrives, is an end to all suffering. Party time. Eat all you can get. This regime too is feast or famine because just a few moments’ hunger feels like a famine to the infant – witness the noise they make which rivals a fire alarm and produces just one desire in any nearby adult. Make It Stop. The milk almost invariably arrives with a caring person attached so you get company, physical pleasure and an end to some nasty feelings all in one hit. You feel great. Simple.

These two scenarios explain how it is second nature to cheer ourselves up and relax (or self-medicate as the psychs say) with ‘unhealthy’ food. It wasn’t unhealthy food back then (either in the cave or in infancy). It was just what we needed. Have you noticed that under stress the body effortlessly chooses high calorie foods? Bad morning? Before you can turn round the body will have hoovered up a bag of dried fruit and nuts from Pret. (Real food but high cal.) Adding insult to injury, it then tends to hang on to all the calories as long as possible, slowing down your metabolism, rather than burning them up efficiently. When the nervous system has been under threat and then that threat is removed the body wants to eat, eat, eat – and we’re not talking salads here. The body, in its wisdom, wants to restore its wellbeing by wolfing down the highest calorie food it can lay its hands on.

What was an intelligent response in the stone age isn’t so great today when the only threat has been a ticking off from the boss, a tube strike or a visit from your mother. Your nervous system does not distinguish between the agony of the working mother with a sick child and the heart-pounding flight from the sabre-toothed tiger. Your nervous system has all its alarm bells ringing (‘My office, now!’ ‘Can you come home?’ ‘It’s only me…’) just as if your life were in danger. When your break comes a doughnut or some chocolate or a Big Mac may feel like the very thing that will restore your sense of well-being because you feel as though you’ve run a marathon and it’s only 11am. But then comes the kick-back. The voice that makes you feel worthless.

That endless monologue about what you’ve ‘earned’, what you ‘deserve’ has no place in your food choices. What to do?

Back to basics. When we eat those high-fat, high-sugar things we are trying to restore our sense of well-being. They taste good in the mouth but they also signal to the body that the threat is past and the sympathetic nervous system (what a misnomer) can throw itself on the sofa and watch TV for a while. Chill, if you will. In a word, our evolutionary heritage is on the side of MacDonalds. Show it a burger, steak and chips, pancakes with maple syrup and butter and it rolls up its sleeves and digs in before you can say Weightwatchers. As so often, our evolution into human beings is in microcosm replicated by our journey from embryo to adult. If we call ‘bad’ the very foods that produce the sensations of physical safety and which mimic our earliest, sweetest experiences of love it is a short step to confusion, anger and eventual revolt. (The revolt will be high calorie, trust me).

So how can we drag our bodies out of the stone age, out of infancy and into the present where there is no shortage of food and where the ever-present danger is of ruining our health through over-eating? Here is a step by step guide.

  1. Abandon the notion of good and bad. This is not about being good. Reward and punishment have no place in our diet.
  2. Focus on what the food represents for our physiology – that loving attempt to restore our well-being.
  3. Feel into the kindness of that attempt – this is love for ourselves, a way of looking after ourselves.
  4. As you feel into the kindness bring in the knowledge you have of your own situation and what you know about food so that something can emerge which will respect exactly where you are.
  5. ‘Your own situation’ means your health, how much running about you’ve done today, what the rest of the day holds. If you’re in ill health, can’t run about and tonight you’re out to dinner somewhere fun, you need to choose your lunch and snacks with a kind and light hand. If you’ve already done a work out, you haven’t sat down all day and tonight will be a boiled egg and soldiers (my favourite supper when I’m on my own) you need some energy and your lunch should reflect that.
  6. Never again think of things you put in your mouth as ‘treats’. Inherent in the word is that good/bad splitting which keeps us rebelling and eating heavy.

 

So here is the best brownie recipe I know of. It is also shamingly easy. Humour your body by making them and having a taste each day for a couple of days. Share them widely and you will be much loved and go straight to heaven.

Ultimate Chocolate Brownies (adapted from Gary Rhodes’ recipe)

10 ozs caster sugar

4 eggs

8 ozs unsalted butter

3 ozs cocoa

3 ozs plain flour

8 ozs plain chocolate

4 ozs hazelnuts or pecans, chopped

4 ozs white chocolate in chunks

Whisk eggs and sugar. Melt the butter and add. Then add flour and cocoa. Melt the plain chocolate and add that. Then the nuts and the white chocolate.

Grease a shallow tin and bake at 180 degrees for 25 minutes. Cool before cutting into very small rich cubes. Eat with creme fraiche and raspberries adjusting the ratio of cake to fruit according to your situation.

 

 

Detox Cooking

detoxThe Detox Kitchen has put its recipes into print.

This cookbook was on my Christmas list and I have tried out a good few of the recipes and whilst they are not quite as delicious as the food they sell in the Detox Kitchen in London that may be because they are even healthier! However what I have really got to grips with through cooking with this comprehensive book is that the use of fresh herbs and lemon juice is really underrated – at least by me to date.

What are the toxins I am trying to get rid of? My belief is that my body mostly expels things it finds toxic all on its own and that my job is to keep my body healthy enough to take care of itself. So I got curious. The toxin I identified with the help of this cookbook was the toxin of two double binds I hadn’t spotted previously.

  1. I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to use fresh herbs and lemon (unless other people were coming of course) because I hate buying those little packets of fresh herbs in the supermarket. For why? Because I feel I ‘ought’ to be growing them.  It won’t come as a big surprise that many of them grow best in hotter and drier places than an Oxfordshire garden so, to be clear, I was doing without because I had an idea that they should be perfectly sourced. Madness.
  2. The second thing that stood between me and cooking with finely chopped greenery  was a laziness I wasn’t conscious of. An aversion to the labour of chopping properly, a resistance to tracking down the lemon squeezer and and washing it up afterwards meant I was depriving myself of deliciousness and some health benefits too. Letting go of the notion that I had to grow the herbs myself means I can cook with herbs! Letting go of the notion that it is too much trouble to wash the lemon squeezer means I can cook with fresh lemon juice!

Just doing the things that seemed ‘too much trouble’ has sidestepped the double bind and this seems a radical detox to me. Try it because, as that woman on the TV says, you’re worth it.

In the consulting room I am always listening out for the toxin of undermining ourselves and punishing ourselves in the name of being better people. If there were one magic wand I would like to wave for my clients it is the magic wand that would dispel all these forms of self-hatred (because, yes, that’s what it actually is). Not thinking I’m worth taking trouble for is a form of self-hatred. Likewise there is no kindness in improving your diet out of a desire to be good. If you want to be a better person, start by weeding out the self-hatred which lurks behind some ‘good intentions’ and imposes a regime of self-chastisement which breeds rebellion.

Meanwhile back to the herbs. You won’t believe how great it is to have a beautiful pile of finely chopped parsley or coriander and garlic to strow over your simple sautéed chicken breast.

Here is the chicken with herbs and lemon juice shown with either lentils (I’m afraid they were tinned as I was in a hurry) or saute potatoes. The Spring cabbage is done in the microwave for four minutes with a knob of butter and a little salt.

Of course if you don’t eat chicken you can do the self-same thing with courgettes or carrots or roasted squash (when it comes out of the oven).

 

A Quick Supper

I am taking a sabbatical from seeing my lovely clients in the flesh just now because quite soon we will be moving house and it will be difficult to find a nice tidy room for a while. So we’re skyping instead and although I’ve done this before, I am always surprised by how well it works. Using the mindfulness approach to being present in my body and taking the same care I would usually do to light the candle and ground myself, it feels as though genuine, caring contact can be made. Seems to me really crucial to learn to combine being embodied with the amazing technology we have available. So much of our lives involves a screen and in front of a screen it is easy to become just a head with hands and miss out on most of our physical experience. I have heard tell that even artificial intelligence fundamentally alters its scope when it is provided with a firsthand embodied experience of itself.

Our bodies are our allies until they fail and then they can become en enemy we fight with but whether they are supporting us or challenging us, my experience is that it is worth inhabiting them. It really changes our moment to moment experience for the better. Anxiety and depression find it difficult to thrive when we remember to be embodied.

Which brings me to the humble scallop whose body is a bit of a non-event and for whom mindfulness is not an option. Last time I mentioned Coquilles Saint-Jacques as a starter but today scallops are the main attraction, providing a main course all on their own. what a fabulous, boneless gift to the fish-eaters among us. Grill them with asparagus and radicchio. A few new potatoes might sneak their way in because it’s hungry weather. Flecks of parsley and or thyme are all to the good if you have them to hand.

scallops

This is a one grill pan recipe. Put the asparagus and radicchio under a hot grill for a few minutes before adding the scallops. The scallops need a minute or two either side.

 

 

 

 

Sunday is Granola Day

granola-close-up

Hugely nutritious and easy peasy to make, granola makes you feel like Nigella in her prime even if it’s the first time you’ve ever stirred anything. You don’t really need a pinny to stir a dry mixture in a pan but put one on anyway. Indulge the part of you that might like to feed people. A gorgeous, warm and comforting smell comes off the toasting seeds and nuts pretty much as soon as you turn on the gas. By the time you’ve got it in heaping sackfuls on your larder shelf you’ve  written your winner’s speech for Bake Off in your head and you’re Ready For Anything.

Granola’s secret is that is is very very satisfying. Satisfying to make. Satisfying to eat. I expect a proper analysis would reveal that the combination of protein and fat (the nuts and seeds), the complex carbs (oats) and the sugars in the maple syrup and honey speak directly to our lizard brain about security and love. Can eating home-made granola make you feel loved? Take a look at an amazing book by Sue Gerhardt called Why Love Matters : How Affection Shapes a Baby’s Brain. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-Love-Matters-Affection-Shapes/dp/1583918175 and see what you think. The connection between nutrition and affection is not transparent but I believe it lies at the heart of our eating disorders.

Back to the granola! A large dessert spoon of home-made granola on top of your yoghurt or porridge can give you the strength of ten. It is definitely the thing to eat before you go in to negotiate a pay rise or ask your teenager to tidy his bedroom or run that 10k you’ve been working up to. If, like me on the other hand, you are stumbling towards your computer or an armchair, go easy. I have been known to have it for dinner when I was feeling low because it is a truly nourishing thing and the fact that you made it yourself makes it all the more so.  Keep it in your cupboard for days when you need a treat or extra feeding because, let’s not be coy, it is highly calorific. Treat it with respect. That’s why I keep it for Sundays.

BEST DIETING TIP EVER

The voices of punishment and deprivation that show up when we feel overweight are treacherous. Think of them as Odysseus thought of the sirens and stop your ears with bees’ wax; have your men tie you to the mast. But how? I’m going to tell you. Silence them by refusing to start with denial and self-hatred. Refuse to deny yourself porridge or granola or bacon and eggs or croissants (what kind of a life would that be?) but ALWAYS, ALWAYS have a huge fruit salad first. I mean a large dinner plateful, albeit charmingly arranged. An apple, a pear, a banana, a few grapes maybe. Elegant slices of kiwi. Chunks of mango or pineapple. Your fruit salad will reflect your resources and the seasons but make it significant – not that unfilling expensive pot from Pret. And if your fruit bowl habitually contains old biro tops and Lego, at least make sure it also has a couple apples and some passion fruit as well. While we’re on the subject, passion fruit should indeed be mentioned in despatches for they are heroes amongst fruit. Unlike the prima donna pear or peach it appears to be impossible to keep passion fruit too long for however wrinkly they become, they can jazz up an otherwise uninspired breakfast salad into a exploding taste fest.

So here’s the deal.

  1. Reassure the hungry one inside that food is coming.
  2. Now take your time to make and eat your fruit salad.
  3. And pause. Take a moment to sense into yourself and enquire what you really want next.
  4. Have whatever that turns out to be. I guarantee it will be a smaller and kinder helping than otherwise. Now the recipe.

Granola Recipe

First what my Aunty Ruby (she was great) used to call the ingreediments :

Oats – any old kind will do including the unloved ones at the back of your cupboard

Seeds – sunflower, sesame, poppy, pumpkin, all are good.

Nuts – all kinds or whatever you have to hand. Blanched or otherwise. Flaked or otherwise.

Dried fruit – dried cranberries are especially delicious but sultanas work too as do apricots or prunes chopped small.

Vegetable oil

Runny honey

Maple syrup or the imitation from Tate and Lyle

1. Pour several cups of oats into a large, deep frying pan. Add seeds and nuts so that the oats ideally form about half of the mixture.*

2. Add a tablespoon or so of e.g. sunflower oil – enough for a scant coating of the oats and nuts and seeds when you stir it well.

3. Toast** over a medium heat stirring frequently until you can smell them and they change colour. Breathe deeply. Enjoy.

4. Turn down the heat and add a good squirt of runny honey and a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup. Keep stirring to prevent burning but make sure the mixture is really toasted..

5. Stir until the sugars are evenly distributed and the stickiness recedes. Remove from the heat.

6. Add the dried fruit when the granola is still warm but not hot and stir it in.

7. Let it cool in the pan and then transfer to a tupperware. Bash it up if it’s stuck together.

*Nuts and seeds and fruit are expensive so if you are a bit pushed on the cash front this week, increase the proportion of oats.

**If you are using sesame seeds or poppy seeds add these towards the end of the toasting as they burn easily.

 

granola-photo

 

Christmas

You can pop this in cellophane bags (Amazon) and tie with twine and a few orange slices (you’ve dried in the oven) for presents. We are all domestic goddesses now!

Apples are the answer

fruit-bowl

 

So what is the question?

When I was growing up ‘fruit’ meant apples, oranges and the occasional banana. Grapes were for the sick. Once a pineapple arrived in blue tissue paper from an uncle in South Africa but this was an exotic and unique encounter and I’m not even sure we knew what to do with it. It was bigger than the fridge. I avoided fruit as far as possible unless it was tinned fruit salad for Sunday tea at Grandma’s with thick cream unaccountably also from a tin. (This was the sixties but I guess Grandma was stuck on tins with all that rationing.)

Those of you too young or too posh to have encountered fruit salad in a tin, gather round. It is a fruit lite version of the fruit salad you might make. Indeed it has only a nodding acquaintance with real unadulterated fruit. For a start it comes in tiny, appealing (to a child) pieces and the stuff I ate was certainly in an unapologetic sugar syrup. It contained pieces of cherry (cochineal pink) and pear with its delicious grainy texture. The wee peach slices were like tiny dolphins swimming in my mouth. The little oranges had no pith to speak of and the grapes, no pips. Real fruit, I have to tell you, was a size 18 disappointment in comparison. My tastes moved on (eventually!) from tinned fruit salad to plum tarts and apple pies. Fruit as a vehicle for pastry and cream was close to the meaning of life in my book. Then I learned to make jam – now that’s a way to tame fruit!

Apples and Eating Less

So it wasn’t until I had to lose some weight later on in life (to improve my blood pressure and enable me to avoid specialist (euphemism) clothing shops) that I got to understand just how important it is to befriend the naked apple. What follows is about introducing more apples into your day to help lose weight but if you don’t need to do that, bear with me. Today’s final recipe is a nursery pudding involving apples and Calvados and you won’t want to miss that.

First the apple as the dieter’s friend. Faced with a big incentive (fear) I got creative and decided to test the oft repeated claim that apples are versatile and delicious, the original convenience food. I did not listen to the punishing part of me that said all I should eat was apples because I was fat. I knew that way led to misery and failure. Been there. Done that. But nor did I retaliate against that critical part by adding extra mayonnaise and croutons to my salad. I knew that eating like that was unkind to someone like me carrying extra weight and higher than desirable blood pressure. This is key. You may take notes. It had dawned on me that eating only apples was the same as over-eating the unhealthy stuff. It was abusing my body and being unkind to myself. Somehow I knew that there was a kinder, middle way and eventually I found it. Rather than cutting everything I liked out, I added apples in. This refusal to deprive myself really undermined the critical voices within.

And this is what I found about apples. You can eat as many as you like! They are extremely good at making a salad more filling and are happy bedfellows with chicken, ham, cheese , prawns and all sorts of other things you might put in a salad. I never learned to love an apple enough to just bite straight in (though this may come). They still have to be cored and sliced and made to look tempting – but why not? There are no prizes for eating stuff you don’t fancy. I will not palter with the truth, there was more to my losing a couple of stones than just adding in apples but they really did help and today when my weight goes up a few pounds I up the apple intake and reduce the bread.

 

Simple Apple and Roquefort Salad

Deconstruct a little gem lettuce onto your plate leaf by leaf and add a beautiful apple sliced elegantly.  Add as many other vegetables as you can lay your hands on also lovingly prepared. (If you have cooked broccoli or sugar snap peas or French beans in the fridge left overs you can add them too). Radishes look pretty sliced. Baby tomatoes halves for sweetness. Black olives add mystery. Cornichons whisk you to Paris. Fresh herbs if you have them. Now make a dressing by mixing two teaspoons of low fat yoghurt or fromage frais with a teaspoon of good mayonnaise or your favourite Caesar salad dressing. Add some water to thin it down; taste it for seasoning and spoon over the leaves etc. Be sparing. Add a few very thin slices of Roquefort and finally sprinkle some toasted nuts (crushed hazelnuts, flaked almonds) over the oeuvre. (Unless they are replacing the cheese you don’t want more than a very few). Welcome to your lunch.

Cooking Apples

Stew as many apples as you can at the beginning of the week and you can dip in whenever you need to. Cooked on high power in the microwave for ten minutes they need neither butter nor water. The important thing is to cook them until they are blitzed. They make brilliant puddings with or without ice cream, custard, cinnamon, yoghurt. But for times of special need try the next recipe.

 

Apples with Calvados

Spoon your stewed apple (as near puree as possible) into a nice Champagne glass (the fancier the better) and add a tablespoonful of Calvados if you have it, or cooking brandy. Now a dribble of Elmlea or cream. You’ll find the alcohol and cream float on top rather divinely. For the non dieters push the boat out and add sponge fingers on the side. Nursery food with alcohol and no cooking to speak of. Whenever I make this, I notice sheepishly that the effort is in inverse proportion to the chorus of praise and appreciation with which it is greeted. (If you’re channelling Nadiya you can always make the sponge fingers. LOL.)