Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Lifestyle diet (currently in testing)

I am on a diet. 7 - 10 pound weight loss, asap, but while still being (relatively) healthy and being able to enjoy food. 
I've never been able to stick to a diet plan before, too restrictive, too boring, too expensive.. my main problem has always been how often I eat out; I don't want to be the person in the restaurant asking if their soup has double or single cream in it.
So, I have devised my own plan, taking bits of well-known advice, some less well-known (respected) advice, and a few things I'm doing because they suit me. Hey, maybe it will be the key to weight loss and I'll end up writing a diet book. You heard it here first.

Basic Principles

  • Your weight is mostly determined by how many calories you eat. Exercise helps, but unless you have time to spend three hours a day exercising, you are going to have to watch what you eat. Some people may disagree with this, but from personal experience, my body shape stays pretty much the same irrespective of the gym
  • Caffeine is not necessarily bad for you. A few cups of tea or coffee, or cans of diet coke, a day are not going to kill you. They might help you control your appetite and caffeine can have a fat burning effect. So just don't overdo it
  • Fruit is only good for you when consumed with something less sweet. Apples, oranges, berries.. they all make my blood sugar spike and rapidly fall, leaving me hungrier than before. I find apples are the worst. Fruit is touted as healthy when actually, it is full of sugar and acid that erodes the enamel on your teeth. Far better to have more vegetables and have fruit as a healthy dessert
  • Snacking between meals is also bad. For someone like me, it's easier to completely forgo the snacks and just deal with the hunger. Have a cup of tea. Drink a glass of water. Chew some gum. The snacks will likely make you hungrier
  • Wine is not all bad. Some days I really want a drink with dinner. Most diets cut out alcohol entirely but I think this is unnecessary. Instead, have a glass with dinner, but have at least a couple of days a week with no alcohol
  • Allow yourself a small, low calorie treat a day. This could be a few squares of chocolate, a nibble of cake (if you have the willpower to keep it to a nibble!), or for me, Shapers chocolate or caramel yoghurts. They're around 120 calories but super sweet. Mini Milks are also a good option and only 30 calories each
  • Know when to make sacrifices. If you know you are going for a big dinner, try and skip lunch to save on the calories. This is easier on the weekend when you can also breakfast later. Initially skipping meals may not sound sensible but emerging advice about the benefits of short-term fasting suggest this may not be completely crazy
  • Don't overdo it on the weekend. It's easy to be strict and ordered during the week when you're at work, only to blow it all on the weekend. Don't adopt an 'all or nothing' approach at the weekend, try and keep your diet healthy for at least two out of the three meals a day, and know when to cut back (see above)

Now, I'm not saying this is the perfect diet and that you should follow it. I'm only just testing it myself. I've listed some standard week day meal options below. On the weekends, I tend to eat whatever I fancy, but in smaller portions.


  • Greek yoghurt with mixed berries, a small handful of nuts and a squeeze of honey (Greek yoghurt is thicker than natural yoghurt and has more protein, so helps keep you feel fuller for longer. Nuts are also good for protein. Berries provide one of your five a day and make this feel like more of a treat. Honey is good for warding off colds and takes the edge off the berries)
  • Healthy carrot cake muffins (I'll try and get round to posting the recipe at some point. But basically, they're made with whole wheat flour, dessicated coconut and yoghurt. Whole wheat flour keeps your blood sugar levels more stable than white flour, the dessicated coconut adds sweetness and fat and the yoghurt provides moisture and fat. There is still some butter and oil in this recipe but less than in traditional carrot cakes)
  • Microwave scrambled eggs (super quick and easy, crack two eggs into a bowl, add a splash of milk and whisk with a fork. Season with salt and pepper, and add some seasoning if you like. I usually go for paprika or cayenne pepper. Stick in the microwave and zap on high for about a minute and a half, pausing halfway to give them a quick stir with your fork)
  • Low carb salad (basically, any fresh vegetables you have lying around the kitchen and some protein. I usually include some kind of lettuce, chicken / prawns / chorizo [please note: higher fat than other options] / tuna, along with cucumber, peppers, onion, spring onion, shredded carrots, avocado, quartered tomatoes... Also experiment with adding fruit for a sweet touch, such as grapefruit, pears, apples, mango. To dress, either use lemon juice, mustard, red/white wine / balsamic vinegar. Steer clear of shop bought dressings and anything using oil. That includes mayonnaise)
  • Omelette (two egg omelette, jazzed up with a filling such as chorizo, mushrooms, peppers or onions. Serve with a large green salad and balsamic vinegar)
  • Grilled fish / meat with salsa (try to get used to eating your regular meals but without the serving of carbs. For me, that means a piece of grilled fish wish a bit of garlic and chilli, along with a simple salsa made from quartered cherry tomatoes, avocado, spring onions and sweet corn. I would usually have rice with this, but instead make more salsa or have a green salad)
  • Soup (soup can be quite high in carbs however as this is primarily about eating lower calorie foods, I think soup fits the bill perfectly. I usually have it with some carrot sticks and low fat hummus on the side)
  • 'Spaghetti' Bolognaise (this doesn't have to be really high in calories. I use finely sliced courgette for the pasta, boiled briefly in salted water. Make sure you drain it well. For the bolognaise, use extra lean mince and tip out the fat as you brown it. Bulk up the sauce with lots of vegetables, such as fresh tomatoes, small pieces of pepper, celery, carrot)
So, that's a brief look at what I eat during the week. Weekends are far more varied - last weekend included pancakes, croissants and lobster. It's all about knowing when to make sacrifices, food-wise, to make up for calorie consumption later that day.
Anyway, if all goes to plan you will be seeing pictures of a newly svelte me... I'll keep you posted.

The perfect watch

Is it too early to be making a Christmas list already? I think I almost like making a list as much as receiving some of the items on it! My friends and family know to never deviate from the list. It is usually long, expensive, expansive and includes pretty much every item I have seen and want. Not that I expect to get it all of course, but so that Santa can pick which gifts to get me!

Top of the list this year, is a new watch. I've wanted  a watch for years. I think the last time I owned one, it was a plain silver affair from M&S and it fell of my wrist when I was visiting King's College open day before applying to university. Since then, I've come to rely on my phone but it's increasingly annoying, and sometimes feels rude, to be constantly checking your phone, even if it is just for the time.
A couple of years ago, for my 21st, I spent a long time looking for the perfect watch - leather strap, rose gold, not too large but still with a decent sized face; not one of those bracelet watches 90% of women's watches seem to be. Sadly, it wasn't to be. I didn't find any watches I liked, except for an £11,000 Omega watch. Significantly over budget.

This last weekend, my parents were visiting and we decided to go to Selfridges to look at watches. And I found The One. It didn't have, as I expected, a leather strap, but instead a rose gold strap and a dark mocha-coloured face.  It's this one below, a reasonable (ish) price at £525, which, for a Swiss-made Burberry watch seems pretty good value.

Other items currently on the Christmas wish list include Jo Malone's perfume "Crisp pear and freesias" - which really does smell like pear - a new hairdryer (maybe the Hershesons one?), and the 'Jerusalem' cookbook from Ottolenghi.

No doubt nearer the time there'll be a fair few more books on there (I tend to pick seven or eight of the Man Booker prize long list), some make up (I get a top-up of Benefit 'Dallas' bronzer every year) and maybe some new bedding - my room is looking a little tired and having seen the beautiful sets available in Zara, I think it's time for an update.

How about you, do you write a Christmas list? How far in advance do you start thinking about it? And what's top of your Christmas wish list this year?

Columbia Road convert

Yes, yes, I've been a bad blogger. I've not got back into it properly since after holiday, a combination of being busy at work, and well, dare I say it, lazy. I've also been wondering about what this blog should focus on, and I think, as a life style blog it needs more photos of life, which, I guess, means more photos of me!
As I have lamented many a time, I don't have a (working) camera, and so most of the snaps are coming from my BlackBerry, the quality of which leaves a bit to be desired. However, I am going to make a more concerted effort to take more photos, if only because my Mum, possibly the only reader, will appreciate it.

In the mean time however, I want to share with you my new favourite shopping destination: Columbia Road. I've known about Columbia Road for ages, but just never got round to going. I thought it was just a flower market and a couple of shops. I suppose arguably it is just a flower market and a couple of shops, but the shops sell some really unusual things - like these coco bowls which I absolutely love - and there's a great atmosphere, with hipsters, students, families, and er, young professionals like me all mingling. There's even a little oyster stall.

Beautiful cabbage roses and delphi
More roses and only £5 for all of these!
There's lots of great galleries; I particularly liked this picture
Cute children's toys from Nom, I was tempted to get one myself!
There are a couple of clothing stores, plenty of home / garden stores and lots of galleries. Hands-down my favourite shop is Nom for its unusual home accessories all sourced from Cambodia and Vietnam. There were also several pieces of art I'd have liked in my home, mostly pictures of animals!

I didn't go home completely empty handed though, as well as the beautiful flowers I also bought this new oyster card holder, from Jane de Bono; check our her shop here. She doesn't have her own shop on Columbia Road, but there are a few stockists.

So, all in all I am a real convert to Columbia Road. There are plenty of nice cafes when you are tired of shopping, my favourite was an Italian deli, Campania Gastronomica, that did excellent coffees for under £2 and was the ideal people-watching spot.
There's also going to be late night shopping on Wednesdays for the last 4 weeks before Christmas, complete with mulled wine and mince pies, to really get in the festive spirit. More information here.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Great British Bake Off

I have some good advice for the workplace. Do not bake a cake to bring into work. Your colleagues will then expect you to do this on a regular basis. You might find yourself being made the 'designated baker'. You might even find that you are entered into a baking competition without your knowledge.

I have the dubious pleasure of representing my project team in the client's version of "The Great British Bake Off". I have been told to bring the biggest, fanciest, best cake I possibly can. After much deliberation, I settled for the Konditor and Cook "Curly Whirly" cake, which I made earlier in the year for a friend's birthday.

Unfortunately, it has just dawned on me that due to the cream cheese frosting, this is a cake that needs refrigerating. I need to get the cake to Glasgow on Monday morning, via a BA flight. Hmmm, possibly not the best choice of cake although a bit late now as I've already made it! I do feel that this competition is not on level pegging, given my offering has to travel 500 miles and hopefully come out the other side intact. The airport security people at London City had better be gentle with this!

The actual recipe is here. It's a little bit more complicated than my usual attitude of "stick everything in a bowl and whisk it", but don't let the steps put you off as it's actually quite easy. I won't repeat the recipe here but show some pictures instead:

Ingredients all lined up

Mixture before the melted chocolate, sugar and milk is added

Mixture afterwards - the batter is very runny, but it's supposed to be like that

Cake just after baking. I found they needed closer to 30 - 35 minutes

The iced cake

Finished cake, complete with swirls and "Deloitte" on top

Duck and kiwi Thai curry

Sorry for the absence, I disappeared for a week to sunny Cyprus. The holiday itself was great fun, although the destination left a lot to be desired (over run with cats, run down shops, terrible food). On the plus side I've come back tanned and thinner!

For the week I was away, I mostly ate plain chicken and chips. Apparently in Limassol, if you order "chicken souvlaki", what you have actually ordered is overcooked chicken on a skewer, with a big side of fries. So, when I did finally get back, I was desperate for some cooking.

As always, the Times proved to be an inspiration, with an unusual recipe for "Duck and kiwi thai green curry" (original recipe here).

The finished dish, it tastes better than it looks!

It was a real hit with my housemate and I, and if it wasn't for the fact duck is so expensive it would be added to be regular meal rota. The kiwi adds a sour tang to the dish, which complements the fatty duck. It tastes more savoury than a usual thai curry too, although that could have been because I was a little heavy on the fish sauce.

2 shallots, about 125g
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 Gressingham duck breasts
1 tbsp Thai green curry paste
1 tbsp Thai fish sauce (nam pla)
160ml can coconut cream
250ml chicken stock or cube and water
1 lemongrass stalk
2 kaffir lime leaves
50g coriander
200g fine French beans
3 firm kiwi fruit
1 lime
Rice or rice noodles to serve
Chop the shallots and crush the garlic, then add to a frying pan and cook until soft. Keep stirring to make sure the garlic doesn't burn. 
Meanwhile, skin the duck and slice into thick strips, across the grain. Add to the frying pan and brown the duck on all sides.
Next, add the curry paste, fish sauce and a dollop of coconut cream. Stir thoroughly to make a thick sauce. Then, bash the lemongrass to crush the root end (but keep in one piece) and add to the pan. Also add the rest of the coconut cream, stock and lime leaves.

Chop some coriander and add to the pan. Turn the heat on the pan down so that the mixture is simmering gently. The pan can be left for about 25 minutes now while the sauce reduces. Give it the occasional stir, but it should be fine.
Top and tail the beans, then halve them. Peel the kiwi and chop into chunky pieces. Add the beans to the mix and cook for 5 minutes, then add the kiwi and cook for another minute or two to warm through.
Add the lime juice to the curry (to your taste), along with salt and maybe a little sugar if, like me, you were a bit liberal with the fish sauce.
Chop a red chilli (if you have one to hand), and use as a garnish, along with some coriander leaves. I served it with plain basmati rice and it was delicious. I think next time I would serve it alongside a Vietnamese papaya salad, to make the most of the sweet / sour / savoury mixture.