Feel the love

brownie

‘When we arrive in the world after a taxing journey into the unknown, the comfort of another human being awaits each one of us. Warmth, holding, safety, love if we’re lucky, are accompanied by and communicated through food. This is our first act on earth. ‘

This is how my post called ‘Comfort Eating’ began nearly a year ago and I want to revisit this intimate connection between food and how we feel inside because it lies at the heart of our obsession with food. It is implicated in the psychological knots we tie ourselves in about what we eat and what we should look like. If things go well in our earliest days, eating and love and the comfort of contact with another become inextricably bound together in our brains as they grow. This becomes part of what we call reality and however bad your childhood was, if you’re reading this you somehow got enough food to get by and you likely got enough love to get by as well … and maybe more. We are very good at feeling wistful for the love we yearned for and didn’t get. It is often difficult to feel the love we did get because we are angry and sad about what was missing.

Early on babies do not distinguish between love and food and what we learn about love and food we mostly learn unconsciously when we are newborn babies. Small wonder then that when we need love many of us look around for something to put in our mouths. There is no right or wrong here, just observation. This is how being human works. If we can stop punishing ourselves for eating the ‘wrong thing’ or ‘too much’ and just notice how much love we really need, that can help. If we can pledge to provide it for ourselves we take a big step towards forgiving the person who didn’t give us enough.

Promise yourself right now that whatever else you do you will not shame yourself around food and weight. That is a huge step towards bringing love and self-control into the same room. Refusing to shame yourself can liberate you from the tyranny of food : what should I eat, how much, have I ‘earned’ it? We don’t eat because we ‘deserve’ to. We eat because we need to. The more we listen to our bodies with an open mind the easier it is to find out what we need to eat and when.

We are not here on earth very long but long enough to find out how to feed ourselves with kindness. Does that sound like a good plan?

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.

 

 

 

 

Damsons and Foregiveness

Damsons and Foregiveness

A few days ago Summer was fondly kissing us goodbye. Today a powerful wind and the threat of rain are thrusting towards me like Autumn with an outstretched hand and I rush down the garden to pick the wild plums or damsons before they are lost. Here they are having a wash in my sink and when they were clean I rustled up some damson jam which is my favourite. There’s no easy way to stone damsons but they are worth it.

damsons 2

Here’s the lovely syrupy mess they become after a short while in a pan with two thirds their own weight in sugar. For me the stones never float to the top so I resort to ladling the jam from one pan to another via a shallow dish where I can scrutinise each spoonful and fish out the stones. With ordinary plums it helps to count the plums first and then you have a target for the number of stone. With damsons I usually have over 400 and invariably lose count at some point.

This ended up in seven lovely pots and in time would all disappear onto people’s toast but good damson jam is such a great treat IMO that I decided it should furnish an old fashioned jam tart for supper.

My mother was a Pastry Queen and I resolutely did not learn to make pastry for the first thirty five years of my life because I wanted to be different from her. In fact I was in a giant sulk or tantrum, truth be told, which I should probably have chucked in when I was about seven but I dug my heels in because I had been hurt and because my will power (or wilfulness as she called it) was second to none. Of course I achieved my purpose of hurting her but I see now I hurt myself much more. Since then there has been reconciliation and forgiveness although much of it only after she died. Death is never an obstacle to forgiveness luckily but if you have an opportunity, dive in and do it sooner.

Anyway … my mother used to make wonderful individual jam tarts, lemon curd tarts, treacle tarts, all in miniature so that they appeared out of the oven in all their colourful loveliness and I didn’t know which to eat first. (My tantrum extended to not making pastry but it didn’t stop me eating hers!)

So here is the recipe for Damson Jam Tart but I guess you could use any really delicious jam and needless to say the finished article is good with Ice-cream, cream, fromage frais or any other unsweetened dairy. damson tart

Sadly I am not a pastry queen but I can at last do an acceptable shortcrust. It is heavy on the fat which means it remains very soft and breaks easily when you pick it up to line the tin. But it also means you can just squidge it in in pieces with your fingers and it all sticks together well.

I get my best results with Stork margarine rather than butter but others disagree. So this tart was simply

115 g Stork soft margarine

165 g plain flour

a pinch of salt and enough cold water to bring everything together.

Roll out as far as possible and line a greased loose-bottomed tart tin approx. 15 inches or 40 cms in diameter. Heat the oven to 180 degrees and do actually wait until it is hot! Put a circle of baking parchment inside the raw pastry and up the sides and fill with baking beans (porcelain or just dried beans). Give it 15 minutes in the oven and then remove the paper and beans.

Fill about half way up with really good jam and return to the oven until the jam is bubbling – about 20 minutes or so.

Not Hungry

 

cookies-2

Today, I want to talk about the temptation not to eat but to close the mouth and turn the head away. Are you one of those people whose strategy when things got difficult was to refuse things that came your way. The big ‘NO’. ‘No! I won’t open my mouth, swallow, let you hug me, receive the good things life has to offer.’ Perhaps your life is full of things you don’t allow yourself to enjoy?

The Big ‘No’

Have you seen a child do that in a highchair, spit the food out, turn the head away? Maybe you have seen your child do this. But what if mother doesn’t take the hint? She’s desperate to do the right thing. The spoon keeps coming. There are tears and tantrums on both sides and everyone feels bad. What does the child learn but that her needs are secondary to mother’s need to feed her that food at that moment. How, as we therapists say, does that make you feel? It makes me pretty angry to be in any position where I cannot influence what happens to me. Maybe you too. How does it make you feel as a mother when the organically grown, expensively purchased or lovingly made puree end up on the walls. Yep, pretty angry too. Two angry, helpless people. Ouch.

I believe each of us has chosen a turn in the road here. When things did not go well we learned either to comfort ourselves with the sweetness of a full mouth or to excite ourselves with the power of refusing. The mouth is the organ with which we first explore the world and a treacherous organ it can be, always ready to deny its connection to the rest of the body. If love (in any of its many forms) has been offered in an intrusive, unattuned way or if parents have attempted to override our will, we may just close our lips and lose touch with what we need to take in to keep ourselves alive, be it love or food. Our need to have some say in what happens has been set at odds with our need to survive. Often punishment complicates the picture still further.

Maybe you have no eating problem as such but you recognise in yourself a tendency to withhold things from yourself, to deny yourself, to write off the great pleasures of being human as indulgent and certainly not for you. This is a complex area but a common factor in saying ‘no’ is often a false feeling of power. Soon the longed for independence is no longer about other people. What is sought is independence from one’s own bodily needs and therein lies the danger.

What to do if you can feel the seductive pull of rejecting things your body needs or if your child is refusing to eat? What to do if the little one within has forgotten what it is to feel hungry and food frightens you? What to do if this is your child? The same love and compassion come into play as for overeating. Start by taking care of that starving little one within just as you would if s/he were sitting at your kitchen table. Make it safe to say ‘no’ and perhaps it will be safe to say ‘yes’. Safe enough to eat. And if you get as far as eating, be patient. The person eating needs to be in control of how much and what speed and how often. The parenting part (or the parent) needs to be in service of the little one.

NB If you are suffering from a serious disorder you may need medical help to reach a stable place from which to recover, so this article is not an alternative to counselling, therapy or medical help but a way to work kindly with yourself in addition to outside support. My concern here is to address the very earliest distortion of the tendency to say ‘no’ and to address it with kindness and wisdom.   If your problem is threatening your health you will find more dedicated help here and a whole community of individuals who will understand your dilemma online. So for someone who needs to be coaxed into eating, here is a recipe for the thinnest, most delicious, wheat-free cookie. It comes courtesy of Otto Lenghi via my friend, Mary, who first cooked them for me. (The method has been adapted slightly.)

cookies

Almond Florentines

260g flaked almonds

2 x egg whites

100g icing sugar

grated zest of an orange

vegetable oil and baking parchment

Method

  1. heat the oven to 150 degrees
  2. line a large baking tray with baking parchment* and brush with oil (use a paper towel or your fingers if you don’t own a pastry brush)
  3. gently mix together the other ingredients
  4. put teaspoons of the mixture onto the lined tray
  5. take a fork and flatten the blobs into any old cookie shape – the thinner the better
  6. bake for 12 minutes and cool before removing from the paper
  • a word about baking parchment – it is a revelation, no comparison with greaseproof paper or other things. Use it whenever things might stick (meringues, bread, cakes etc). Accept no substitutes!

Comfort Eating

risotto

When we arrive in the world after a taxing journey into the unknown, the comfort of another human being awaits each one of us. Warmth, holding, safety, love if we’re lucky, are accompanied by and communicated through food. This is our first act on earth. Instinctively we are able to nourish ourselves in all the ways we need. If you’ve seen a newborn turn its head towards the breast before it’s seen its mother you cannot ever again underestimate how important food is to us and how bound up with relationship. Comfort and eating are for that infant synonymous, as they are for most of us.

Using high calorie foods to comfort ourselves because we are miserable in ways too complicated to address easily is an attempt to be kind to ourselves. When warmth, holding, love are missing we can at least do this and for brief moments that fabulous high we associate with being held and being fed are there. We need those feelings. However, as we all know, grown adults don’t need that many high calorie foods in a day and the crunch of an apple (a much more grown up food that needs teeth) does not produce anything like the same feelings. My understanding is not very sophisticated in this area but I’m reasonably sure this is to do with the chemistry of our brains. Apples are very little like breast milk.

When I have worked with people whose overeating has come to dominate their lives they also have something else in common : shame. Now imagine the cruel cycle that even the moderate eaters amongst us may recognise : we feel a bit down, we follow our most basic cellular memory and head for the kitchen to try and cheer ourselves up with something tasty in the mouth. It works momentarily but soon comes the black shame attack within. So our inadequate efforts to cheer ourselves up lead straight to feeling worthless. (I exaggerate to illustrate.) The cycle gets worse when we then try to blank our the shame attack with more  food. The pleasure of the food is hardly tasted. The self-loathing and shame reach epic proportions. If you would like to read more about the psychology of shame look up Dr Phil Mollon on Amazon. (And needless to say this also goes for our other addictions such as smoking, drinking, drugs and spending money we don’t have.)

What to do instead, I am frequently asked? Tricky but it can be done. It’s about building self-worth. Catch the low mood as soon as it starts. Maybe catch what kicked it off. It can be as insignificant as the way the bus conductor looked at you. Something about that made you feel not so good. Or maybe you have money worries and a big bill has come in so you don’t feel safe. Catching the not-so-good feeling is a kindness in itself. You are paying attention to yourself. Kindness is all here. Start by not shaming yourself for feeling miserable. Notice what kind of miserable. Get curious as to what will make you feel better not for the next five minutes but later today as well. It might be a walk, a radio programme, a phone call, a swim.

This is a big subject but we will stop here today and squeeze in some real comfort food, risotto. If you want food that leaves you feeling loved I recommend risotto. It is cheap. It is an act of love to cook it as it takes time and it is the creamiest dish in the world with no cream in it. The creaminess is all down to the unfathomable mantecare process. In fact mantecare means to cream as in to beat or to whip but the magical thing here is no intervention is needed. Risotto achieves it all on its own, off the heat with the lid on at the end of cooking.

I find it helps to put a small and tidy mound in a large white dish. If you want a more slimming version replace half the rice with finely diced vegetables. Have a small helping with a large salad and if there is some left don’t worry! It will disappear next day or thereafter as it heats up successfully in the microwave and makes an excellent filling for stuffed peppers. The quantities are for 4-6 people.

 

Rosemary and Lemon Risotto with Spinach

500 g risotto rice

50 g butter

50 g olive oil

1 onion or leek finely chopped

80 g grated Parmesan

2 litres of beef or Marigold vegetable stock (hot)

2 glasses of white wine

lemon zest

Rosemary finely chopped

4 handfuls of washed spinach

  1. Saute the onion unbelievably slowly until it is translucent.
  2. Add the rice and saute for a minute or two before adding the wine.
  3. Stir until the wine is completely evaporated and the rice is dry again.
  4. Add the stock one ladleful at a time until it is all absorbed. This should take 20 minutes but I find it takes longer so be patient.
  5. Stir in the spinach as soon as the rice is cooked.
  6. Turn off the heat and add the lemon zest, butter, rosemary and Parmesan
  7. Leave to ‘mantecare’ for 3 minutes and then serve with more cheese and rosemary.

Alternative versions

Fish or Meat

Leaving out the lemon and rosemary and  use fish or vegetable stock instead of beef. Add cooked seafood during the ‘mantecare‘ process so that it gets warm. Alternatively you can fry some good raw prawns or chicken livers in chilli oil and garnish each serving with a few. Venetians do not add Parmesan to fish dishes but it is very good with chicken livers.

Low carb risotto

Replace half the rice with a mixture of extremely finely diced vegetables : celery, carrot, leek, broccoli (or what you have). You can only retain the authentic feel and look of risotto by dicing the vegetables so finely that they are practically indistinguishable from the grains of rice. Not a task to do in a hurry but a lovely meditative thing to do for yourself. Taking care of yourself in a wise way adds value – to you!

Stuffed Peppers

If you have risotto left simply halve the peppers, removing the seeds and soften 10 minutes in a medium oven. Fill with risotto and then turn up the heat for half an hour until the peppers are crispy around the edges. If you don’t mind a few extra calories, add mozzarella or Parmesan in the last ten minutes.

Chicken Soup

chicken-soup-1

Sipping once, Sipping twice, Sipping chicken soup with rice.

When my children were young I used to read them the lovely Maurice Sendak book, Chicken Soup with Rice, partly out of allegiance to my beloved, late mother-in-law, Angela and her Jewish heritage. It is a book of months with charming illustrations and a chorus that even the youngest can join in. Strangely enough, for a Jewish grandmother, Angela didn’t actually make chicken soup that I remember. Her duck with apricots was second to none, her salt beef was excellent and her wurstl with eggs as filling and fattening as you could wish but the iconic panacea of chicken soup never figured. So today’s recipe is not what you’d call kosher although for me it ticks many of the boxes.

It is comforting, easily digestible, cheap and home-made. Specifically it is a way of getting the absolute maximum out of your roast chicken once the meat has gone and that satisfies my need to wring the most value I can out of animals in the food chain. It is also a recipe that does not require any special shopping providing you have in your fridge an onion, some potatoes and a carrot or two. In common with most foods that are nutritious and extremely cheap, it is not a quick fix but it isn’t difficult or complicated and it freezes well once it’s made. What is more satisfying than being able to feed yourself healthily and deliciously on a few root vegetables and a chicken carcass that would otherwise go in the bin? If you have a mother-in-law to impress, this recipe is foolproof displaying, as it does, your frugality, ingenuity and creativity in one tasty bowlful. A couple of bowlfuls without bread make a slimming lunch. With good bread it makes a feast.

I promised a vegetarian version of every recipe and of course chicken soup ain’t chicken soup without the chicken. However you can make a very good vegetable soup by roasting the onions first and then using the same recipe minus the chicken. For either version you will need Marigold vegetable stock powder (organic, low-salt or the original) and if by any remote chance you haven’t already converted to this then I urge you to do so now. Keep a drum of this on your shelf to turn any selection of vegetables and onions into excellent soup. You can also add a pinch of it to transform your white sauce into a bechamel.

Home-made Chicken Soup

1. Pay as much for your chicken as you can afford and when you’ve finished with it pop it into a large pan with an onion (skinned) and as many potatoes and carrots (no need to peel) as you can cram in around the carcass. You can add every bit of chicken including the nasty bits you wouldn’t eat. It’s all good for making the soup. Any other vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, greens)* are welcome additions but potatoes and carrots are your starting point. Fill the pan with cold water leaving a sensible amount of space at the top so that it doesn’t boil over. If you haven’t chosen a big enough pan, transfer the ingredients to a larger one now before they are hot!

* a word of caution about broccoli. It has a surprisingly powerful flavour so if you add it to your vegetable soup it will in essence turn out a broccoli soup.

2. Bring to the boil with a lid on and then remove or tilt the lid, turn down the heat and simmer gently for about an hour.

3. Leave to cool with the lid on.

4. Pour off the stock into a jug or bowl that will fit into your fridge.

5. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl to go in the fridge.

6. Now put the chicken carcass on a chopping board and using your fingers take every edible scrap of meat off it and dice finely. Transfer to a saucer or dish and cover with cling film. Dispose of the bones, skin and anything you wouldn’t want to put in your mouth.

7. Put all three items, vegetables, stock and chicken, in their separate containers into the fridge overnight.

8. Next day, the fat will have solidified on top of the stock and you can remove it easily. (You can keep it for dumplings or roast potatoes if there’s enough.)

9. Now blitz the vegetables and the stock in a liquidiser (on slowest setting) or mill by hand. I like it when the vegetables are left reasonably coarse.

10. Reunite the stock and the vegetables in a large clean pan and heat before tasting and adjusting the seasoning using the Marigold stock powder (or salt and pepper). Stir through the diced chicken just before eating so that it doesn’t acquire that unpleasant boiled texture. Fresh herbs finely chopped are a great addition if you have some lurking around.

 

chicken-soupVariations

You can make a traditional Jewish style chicken soup by leaving out the vegetables with the exception of the onions and making sure you don’t boil the carcass for hours. (That makes the stock cloudy). Simmer for an hour and then strain the stock into a clean pan. Now you can either resort to stock powder or reduce the stock you have by continuing to boil off the liquid until it tastes how you want it to. You can now add a little white rice and cook it in the stock.

Chicken Stock

Alternatively you can simply keep the stock or freeze it for use in risottos or soup another day.

Like Mother Makes

strawberry cake .jpegMy mother loved making cakes. It was one of the points where our difficult relationship was easiest. She made things I loved to eat.  Cauliflower cheese. Egg and chips. Bread and butter pudding. But above all she made cakes. The strawberry cake in the picture is one of the last things she made. I now own the cake stand, the recipe and the old Venetian table cloth in the picture. Only occasionally  is my sponge cake equal to hers but it’s always edible and there is something inescapably cheering about the magic you can create from flour, eggs, butter and sugar.

Generally our first encounter with Mother is our first encounter with food and frankly I think it is a wonder that we are as well balanced as we are. New mothers, I remember well, are caught between the fear of failure, anxiety that the child will starve and their own physical exhaustion. Fortunately children survive but feelings about food are not necessarily straightforward. Emerging, as we do, from the maelstrom of those early helpless years, things may have gotten a bit entangled. We may not remember much about our first year or so but our bodies remember. Our nervous systems remember.

If things go wrong early on eating can become a power game and we lose touch with our own needs. My clients often ask, so now what? Now that I understand what’s going on,  now that I realise what an impact the past has, how do I change it? My answer is, do nothing. Noticing things, bringing awareness to difficult areas, these things alone will allow change to happen. A natural unravelling is always waiting in the wings.

Are you in some kind of battle refusing to eat what you need? I have news for you. Mother is no longer holding the spoon. You are free to eat what you want. Really! So let’s celebrate with a cake recipe.

 

Sponge Cake

2 eggs

125 g/4 ozs Stork margerine (or another kind but Stork makes a great yellow cake)

125g/4 ozs self raising flour

125g/4 ozs sugar

0.5 tsp baking powder

your favourite jam

  1. Heat your oven to 180 degrees C
  2. Grease 2 x 18xm/7″ cake tins
  3. Cream together the margarine and sugar with a fork or in your mixer
  4. Add the eggs and beat well
  5. Add the flour and the baking powder and fold gently with a metal spoon
  6. Pour equally into the two tins and bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes
  7. Cool a little and then release from the tins
  8. Sandwich together with jam or jam and cream OR serve as a pudding with strawberries and cream

You can adapt this sponge to any recipe. Add cocoa and chocolate icing for a chocolate cake. Sandwich with lemon curd. Add pink icing and candles for a birthday cake. You get the idea.

The importance of eating.

bread-2Eating. It’s the first thing we do when we arrive in the world. It signals a healthy survival drive and a will to live. When we stop eating permanently the end of our life in this world is round the corner.

In between these two events many of us experience a lot of complication. What to eat? How much to eat? What should we weigh? These are all questions that clients arrive with and they have taught me how miserable dysfunction in these areas can make us.

Besieged by cookery programmes and cookbooks, we are becoming aware that we have forgotten how to shop, how to cook, how to eat. In this blog I will explore some of the reasons why and offer tips to unscramble your relationship with food. Also, because I am a keen cook myself, some recipes and food ideas.

And here’s another thing I have learned working with people. The self same things that complicate our relationship with food also mess up lots of other areas in our lives. So if you have an addiction or behaviours you’re not at ease with, relationships that don’t make you happy, read on. What you are and what you eat, or rather what you take yourself to be and what you eat are intimately connected.

So whether you want some ideas for supper tonight or some insights into why you stand staring into the fridge and doing deals with yourself, this is a place to come. And if you want to lose weight I know about the first hand, so we’ll be looking at that too.