30 Aug 2012

A will of iron: take a bow, Tony

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned the BBC2 Horizon programme (Donks, fish and muffin tops) about how fasting can make you healthier, and slimmer, and  recklessly announced I was going to adopt the two day fasting/five day eating routine. And I did. For 2 days and 5 days. Then I promptly forgot all about it.
 
Tony, however, decided to hit the fasting ground running and for the last three weeks his daily diet has comprised of soup, a few grilled vegetables on some days and hot drinks. I think it was the combination of the Horizon programme with the Hairy Dieters' determination to reduce their weight and body fat (one of them reckoned he was the human equivalent of foie gras...) that propelled him into extreme action. But I have to say that Tony does have a will of iron once he gets into the right frame of mind. He also says that he finds it much easier to go with the draconian measures rather than cutting down. There's no such thing as, 'I'll just have the one boiled egg' in Tony's vocabulary. He used to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich man at heart although he's curbed his sweet tooth a lot in recent years. But he is still a Berton Valley High Eden Cabernet Sauvignon man at the liver though not even a dribble of wine has passed his lips since he started his fasting regime. I'm in awe.
 
To date he's lost 1st 3lbs - that's 17lbs across the pond, 7.7 kilos across the Channel - and is aiming for another 7 lbs, at which point he'll be around the weight he was when I first met him, getting on for 28 years ago.
 
I think another inspiration for him to lose weight was a photo I took in Florida in June, an unintentional unflattering side portrait on the golf course, that prompted him to try the Adobe Photoshop Diet. Now, there's a diet that brings instant results!
 
One of the things he is eating are grilled peppers, brushed with chopped garlic and a little olive oil. The farmshop down the road has been selling the long, sweet red ones at 3 for a £1. He asked me if I wanted to try them and I wolfed down nearly a third of them before he'd left the kitchen. That was probably 3 days supply for him.
 
It is such a difficult thing to change your diet, isn't it? Even deciding to eat only fruit for breakfast can take on the dietary proportions of climbing Everest after the novelty of the first few days has worn off and you get up in the morning and really fancy a thick slice of toasted granary bread, slathered in butter and orange marmalade.
 
Being sensible sometimes has all the charm and excitement of wearing support stockings and carrying a plastic rain mac, just in case. I suppose the trick is to make a change into a habit. And that takes effort in the early days when your mind doesn't want change; it wants roast chicken with the skin on, coconut milk in your curry sauce, a second chocolate eclair, cafe latte with sugar.
 
Me and Tony 1989
I remember what I had to eat the night I met Tony: grilled Lobster. I remember that we drank Mateus Rose.  It's a wonder we actually made it past that first date after he asked me what wine I'd like with dinner and I said, accompanied by what I imagined to be a sophisticated laugh, 'Anything as long as it's not Blue Nun or Asti Spumante!' And he said, without any trace of laughter, 'They're my two favourite wines.' The Mateus was a compromise.
 
I'm going to Wales on another research trip on 9th September by which time he'll have reached his target weight and we've promised ourselves a good bottle of red, some cheese and bread before I go. I like sharing food. I miss sharing it with Tony. But I also know how important it is to him to lose the weight, not just for how he looks, but for the associated health benefits too. Another 28 years together will do nicely, thank you.
 
Hungry writing prompts
Write about forgetting.
Write about a habit someone wants to kick.
Write about making a compromise.
Write down the phrase 'just in case' and free-write for 20 minutes.
Write about what you will be doing in 20 years time
 

22 Aug 2012

I heart tomatoes

I  Y tomatoes. Not in a salad where their seeds and juice run into the leaves and make them soggy but salted on a plate of their own, or chopped and cooked for a few minutes over a high heat in some olive oil and hot spice and served on toast, or stuffed with a savoury mince and topped with grated cheese and flashed under the grill. I like them sliced on top of a cheese and potato pie and sprinkled with oregano. (Does anyone make cheese and potato pie anymore?) I like them picked from the vine and eaten while they're still warm. I like them on a Margherita pizza. I like cherry tomatoes on the vine sprinkled with coarse sea-salt and roasted in the oven until their skins plump up but don't burst. I like them slow roasted. I like sun-dried tomatoes, sun-blush tomatoes, green tomato chutney, home-made salsa. And I think this tomato likes me.
 
 
My step-daughter grew this one - in fact she had three perfectly heart-shaped tomatoes from her father-in-law's greenhouse. John died last year and the tomatoes felt like gifts from him, she said.
 
I don't believe in an afterlife, or any future rewards from a higher being. I don't believe the dead can speak to the living. But I do believe that the connections and relationships we experience while we're alive become a part of who we are.  Acceptance, forgiveness, generosity, tolerance. Resentment, rejection, selfishness, impatience. Perhaps the trick is to learn from them all and become the people we want to be. 


Hungry writing prompts
  • Write a paragraph about one particular food you love to eat.
  • Write about your heart.
  • Write about what happens when you die.
  • Write something you really want to say to a person in your life.
  • Write about the person you are.   

 

13 Aug 2012

OMG - chips. Let me rephrase that. CHIPS!!


I interviewed BBC Radio Wales’ iconic gay radio presenter, Chris Needs, a week ago (for Real Port Talbot) and he has converted me. I can now stand up and say, proudly: my name is Lynne Rees and I am an Actifryer. 

Chris has a clutch of homes in different parts of the world and is so attached to the Tefal Actifry he has one in each of them. I quizzed him about the chips. C’mon, are they really that good? Are they as good as deep-fried home-cooked chips? Can you make enough chips in one of those things? Yes. Yes. And yes. 

There was only way to find out.

The secret to getting them crispy is to make sure all the starch is rinsed from the raw chips and they’re completely dry when you put them in.

I made 500gr of chips (about 2 decent sized, but not enormous, jacket-type potatoes) and used 7.5 ml of olive oil. Definitely enough for two people. Or one greedy one.

You can make up to a kilo adding a maximum of 14 ml of any oil you like. Even as I pressed the ON button, and heard the appliance blow into action and slowly start paddling the chips, I was imagining garlic and herb oils, or chilli infused oil, sweet potatoes, chopped potatoes, skinny fries.

It had a lot to live up to. And it delivered.

And listen to this. A 250 gr portion of these chips is about 230 calories. Your classic, deep-fried, home-made chips slap you, or your hips, with about 475. But my uncontainable delight wasn’t about the calorie intake. It was about the texture and the taste. Crisp, fluffy. Like the best, well-drained, deep-fried chip you’ve ever tasted.

If you get fed-up of the chips (as if!) you can make potatoes:



Or if you get fed up with potatoes entirely you can try this:


Stir-fry? Definitely going to try that. It’d be like having your own slave standing at the stove stirring your vegetables for you, but without the struggle with your conscience and the worries about the minimum hourly wage and compulsory health benefits. 

Can there possibly be any writing prompts to be extracted from today’s post? You bet. But have a chip before you start.

Hungry writing prompts
  • Write about being converted.
  • Write a list of things you would say a loud ‘yes’ to.
  • Write about rawness.
  • Write about something, or someone, who delivers what they promised.
  • Write about what pricks your conscience




7 Aug 2012

Donks, fish and muffin tops

Excuse me while I get this out of my system and avoid indigestion…

I’m a confident driver. I’m a safe driver. I’m not over-cautious or intimidated by motorway driving. I’m aware of other motorists. I consciously use my indicators. I’m not looking for applause here. It’s just that when I’m in the fast lane of the M25, overtaking a truck at just over 80mph and fully intending to pull into the gap in the centre lane once I’ve passed safely, I really don’t appreciate a donk in his shiny black 4x4 penis extension hurtling up behind me, lights ablaze, and clamping to my bumper. So I put my foot on the brake. And watched the slug back off. Slug and donk were not the terms of endearment I used in the moment. 

I’ve been in Wales for 22 days out of the last 30: pushing ahead with research for Real Port Talbot in an attempt to emerge from a state of controlled panic as the months count down. I think I’ve managed it… or I will have once I’ve written and shaped the 12,000 or so words I need to achieve by the beginning of September.

I’ve had no time for shopping and cooking recently but have still been lucky enough to eat well.

On Saturday, for my dad’s 85th birthday, we drove to Stackpole on the Pembrokeshire Coast in West Wales. The Stackpole Inn doesn’t need to announce itself loudly. There’s a discrete, black signboard board in the front garden but the entrance, apart from the food awards on the wall, could be the way into a private cottage. The food is good enough that word of mouth ensures the place is always busy.

I had one of their specials: grilled mackerel with a horseradish glaze and a cucumber salad. When I hear the word ‘mackerel’ my mind goes to the oily, dark smoked fillets the taste of which is often overpowering, although, a few years ago, a friend introduced me to granary toast topped with fruit chutney, a few fat flakes of smoked mackerel and a dollop of crème fraiche. Try it. Trust me. It works. 

I forget how good fresh mackerel is and this was good and some. A few creamy Pembrokeshire new potatoes was all it needed as a base note. 


I’ve only been back in Kent for 36 hours and cooking has reinstated itself into my routine yet so last night we had takeaway fish (and chips for some, salad for others) from Papa’s Barn in Larkfield, near Maidstone. Gavin at Papa’s knows fish: he could answer questions on cod as his specialist subject on Mastermind. And when I say cod, I mean glistening white, sweet flesh, without a trace of skin, wrapped in a crisp mitten of oil-free batter. To. Die. For. 



You don’t have to do takeaway at Papa’s: they have their own restaurant too. Ask for Gavin. Say the hungry writer sent you for the cod chosen and cooked by angels. You can like them on Facebook too. Gavin and the rest of the staff, not angels. 

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Horizon, on BBC2 last night, was all about how fasting can make you healthier, lowering all the factors that are responsible for diabetes, cancer and coronary disease. I’m going to give it a go but it’s not as extreme as it sounds: the two day fasts limit your calorie intake to 600 but on the other five days you eat as you normally would. At the end of five weeks Michael Mosley had lost a wobbly stone around his waist and said he felt much better for having stuck to the regime. I’d like to wave goodbye to a muffin top I’ve gathered since my Florida holiday in May so watch this space for the results at some time in September.

Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write a list of offensive terms for someone you particularly dislike.
  2. Write about speed.
  3. Write about not being at home.
  4. Write about angels.
  5. Write about a life threatening disease.