Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Money can buy happiness (probably)

This blog has been a bit food-heavy recently, reflecting my new year's resolutions to lose weight, and also spend less money! Whoever it was that said "money doesn't bring happiness" obviously wasn't into material goods anywhere near as much as me.

However, a girl can dream, and if I had to pick my top new season buys, these would be it.

Unfortunately I highly doubt any of these will be becoming mine any time soon, except maybe the blouse, but who knows, I must be due a lottery win soon...

French women don't get fat?

I think I mentioned previously that I received the "French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook" by Mireille Guiliano for Christmas. Although I'm following the 5:2 diet, I'm still trying to eat healthy on my days off - which is where this book comes in.

The premise of the book, to me, is all about portion control. Learn to control your portions, slow down your eating and enjoy your food. I also like the idea of making each mealtime an event by having three courses, even if that's simply a sliced tomato to start and an orange to finish.

I haven't followed all of the principles in the book - for example, avoiding processed foods (those Cadbury mousses are just too good!) but I have been trying the recipes and I like them very much. As well as being healthy, relatively low calorie - and can be made more low calorie with a few tweaks - they are quite unusual, such as the recipe below, which is adapted from "Curried chicken with cucumber".

Don't let the cucumber put you off. It does sound strange, warm (and curried!) cucumber, but think of how well cucumber raita goes with Indian food. It's also extremely low in calories (10 calories per 100g) and so it's good for bulking up a meal!

Ingredients (serves 1)
1 small turkey breast (about 90g)
Salt and pepper
Low fat frying spray
45g creme fraiche
150g cucumber, cut into 1cm slices
1 teaspoon curry powder
Juice of 1/2 lemon
25g basmati rice
25g peas

1. Slice the turkey breast into slices vertically and season with salt and pepper. Heat up the low fat frying spray in a non stick pan (you should only need a couple of squirts), and add the turkey breast. Cook until golden.

2. Meanwhile, cook the rice as per packet instructions.

3. Place the cucumbers in a bowl and add the creme fraiche and curry powder. Mix it all together well.

4. By now the turkey should be cooked. Add the lemon juice to the pan and deglaze it. Then add the cucumber mixture and cook for a few minutes until al dente.

5. Cook the peas quickly by pouring boiling water over them and add to the drained rice. Serve alongside the turkey-cucumber curry mixture.

It only takes about 20 minutes in total and it's really delicious. I think it would be even better with a little bit of freshly sliced chilli and a sprinkling of coriander on top.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

5:2 diet: Harissa chicken and courgette cous cous

Here's a quick, simple and tasty recipe suitable for those following the 5:2 (or any low calorie) diet. 
By making a few simple changes, such as using half fat creme fraiche, bulking up the cous cous with courgettes and getting flavour from herbs and spices instead of butter/oil, it's quite easy to cook healthy dinners for under 300 calories. This one comes in at around 267 calories  (see individual calories below).


(serves two)
1 chicken breast
1 heaped tbsp half fat creme fraiche
2 tsp harissa paste
1 courgette
75g cous cous
chicken stock (from a cube)
1 spray flora frying oil
1 lemon
20g mint chiffonade (sliced into strips)

1. Horizontally slice the chicken in half. Place between two sheets of cling film and hammer with a rolling pin, mallet (or in my case, a wine bottle!) until its nice and thin.

2. Place the creme fraiche and harrisa paste in a bowl and mix together. Add the chicken to the bowl and cover. Place in the fridge and leave to marinate for at least a few hours.

3. Grate the courgette and put aside. Make up the cous cous according to packet instructions (I use a chicken stock cube) - do NOT add any butter or oil. 

4. Put the chicken on a baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, or until cooked. Meanwhile fry the courgette in the oil until starting to crisp up.

5. Add the courgette to the cous cous, along with the mint, and a good squeeze of lemon juice.

6. Serve the chicken on top of a bed of cous cous, with wedges of lemon on the side.

Recipe adapted from

Calorie content:

1 chicken breast (139 calories)
1 heaped tbsp half fat creme fraiche (51 calories)
2 tsp harissa paste (32 calories)
1 courgette (18 calories)
75g cous cous (275 calories)
chicken stock cube (15 calories)
1 spray flora frying oil (3 calories)
1 lemon (negligible as juice only)
10g mint chiffonade (negligible)

So, I make that a grand total of 533 calories, or about 267 calories per serving. The cous cous is the big contributor to the calorie total here, so if you are really trying to cut back, either have a smaller serving or try to skip altogether. I think here it helps fill you up, and the grated courgette makes a big difference too.

5:2 diet - A week's worth of food

I've been reading up a lot on the 5:2 diet recently, and I'm always curious to see what other people are eating, and whether they truly do 'feast' on the non-fasting days. 

To date, I've lost 2.9 kg in 2 weeks. I've still been trying to eat relatively healthily on the non-fast days, although this weekend I did blow it a bit, having a considerable amount of alcohol and a big scone! Although, to my amazement, I didn't put on any weight - not even 100g. So something must be working. 

I think that's the secret to success of this diet really, that you can still have 'naughty' days and yet it's still effective. The flexibility of choosing when to fast is great - if you're invited out to dinner you can just start it the following day. Of course, a certain degree of discipline is required, you can't continually defer your fast days!

Below is a week's worth of food for me, along with my weight, on the days I weighed myself. I  generally fast for a whole day, but I've colour coded the meals that were as part of a fast day as I have done it from 2pm to 2pm before.

Week 1: 2nd January - 8th January

Week 2: 9th January - 15th January

What do you think? I think I eat relatively healthily, although I was shocked to see how much alcohol I drank on Saturday night - probably a week's worth of units, and more calories than I care to think about! I think I probably need to think about finding a low calorie alternative to hummus too - and try to crack my habit of needed something sweet everyday.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Wellcome Collection

Like most people, in January I'm absolutely broke. I got paid before Christmas instead of the last working day of the month, and somehow all those wages got swallowed up over the break (the venison might have had something to do with it..)

So, as well as trying to earn a bit more money (ebay is my best friend right now), I've also been looking for some free, or cheap, things to do on the weekend. In London, this inevitably means museums and galleries, which are plentiful so there should be something to suit everyone.

Today, Harry and I went to the Wellcome Collection, a museum / exhibition centre that describes itself as "A free destination for the incurably curious", which I rather like! I went specifically to see Death: a self portrait, which is about how artists commemorate the dead and death.

No photography was allowed, so I have pinched a few photos of the Wellcome Collection website.
Calavera, Mondongo Collective, Argentina
Memento Mori, unknown artist, Germany
It's definitely worth a visit and isn't at all as morbid as the name suggests! I particularly liked the Mexican skeleton portraits and dolls. In Mexico they celebrate the dead on the aptly-named "Day of the Dead" a festival in late October / November, and one I would love to experience. Families set up shrines in their homes to loved ones and lay out their favourite food and drink for when they visit!

Also worth a look at the Wellcome Collection is the Medicine Man exhibition (so you can snigger at the Japanese sex aids and other bizarre paraphernalia, and the Medicine Now exhibition, with great art installations such as these:

Giant jelly baby illustrating human cloning and how we are all the same
Rather disgusting growth / tumour to illustrate obesity
Details on the Wellcome Collection are here. I can also recommend the cafe, Peyton and Byrne - they do excellent salads!

Monday, 7 January 2013

One week in

So far, the resolutions are still firmly in place. Or at least, if not firmly in place, not quite broken yet.

There was a moment on Friday evening when red wine nearly won the battle against diet coke. There was another close call on Saturday in Waitrose, when wine needed for cooking (that's allowed!) nearly turned into buy-a-full-bottle-and-drink-the-rest. Sparkling grape juice just about came out on top. Did I feel virtuous afterwards? Not really - not after looking at the calorie content of a drink that's basically just sugar. Oh well.

The intermittent fasting diet has been going well too; unlike many others following the diet, I've adopted a strategy of not eating during the day so that I can have a normal(ish) dinner. The first time was very hard; the second time, not so bad (although I was asleep for most of the day), and the third time (today), it was almost easy! Although having a manic day at work might have had something to do with that.

However, having seen the 5:2 diet recipes on blogs such as London Unattached, I'm tempted to have a go at cooking something low calorie. This in particular looks very good. I suppose when you make the effort, cooking something low calorie isn't too difficult - just don't put great big chunks of butter in the pan you're cooking in and stick to white meat and vegetables. Hopefully I'll have some recipes to share with you soon.

In the meantime, these chocolate mousse pots have been my diet saviour:

Quite simply, they are amazing. 60 kcal a pot, good chocolate taste, nice texture. Yes, I'm sure they're loaded with artificial sugars and other bad guys. But as an occasional (every fast day...) treat they're pretty ideal. I did try having a square of dark chocolate, but that made me crave more. At least with this, I can convince myself there's a reasonable amount of food.

Anyway, I am off to sleep now to dream of all the wonderful normal foods I can eat tomorrow, starting with Magical Breakfast Cream...

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The intermittent fasting diet (5:2 diet)

Like the rest of the world, it seems, I'm following the 5:2 diet. I won't go into the detail as there's already plenty of that around, here and here, but for the uninitiated, you eat normally for 5 days a week, and then fast for 2. Although on the fasting days, you are allowed up to 500 calories as a woman, 600 for a man.

Sound easy? Well, on the positive side:

1. You can eat normally most of the time, so you don't need to feel guilty if you go out for dinner one evening, or fancy a glass of wine.
2. As well as weight loss, there are additional health benefits (such as living longer) that the diet brings.
3. 500 calories is a surprisingly large amount of vegetables.

As always however, there are some negatives:

1. Settling into a routine of only eating 500 calories is hard, and the hunger pangs are difficult to deal with at first.
2. It won't work if you spend your 'off' days downing wine and eating chocolate fondants, so self control is still required.
3. 500 calories pretty much means no alcohol, no sweet things, no bread and no butter.

What are my thoughts so far? Well, right now I'm pretty hungry (I had 70g of broccoli for dinner, along with a little garlic, red chilli and soy sauce. Approx 50kcal), but I do feel 'light' and 'cleansed'. Plus, knowing that I only have to fast until mid afternoon tomorrow, is good motivation to keep going. You can split the 500 kcal any way you want, I think I'm going to use mine on breakfast, to make the magical breakfast cream from French Women Don't Get Fat.

Anyway, here is a quick recipe for something I had last night, not on a fast day, but something that would probably be suitable, especially if you switched the salmon for a white fish.

As usual, my picture is less than appetising, but here's what it is:

Chilli Salmon with cous cous stuffed pepper

1 small salmon fillet
1/2 pepper
4 mushrooms, sliced
2 plum tomatoes, sliced
2 shallots, sliced
1/4 chilli, diced
25g cous cous
1 clove garlic, diced
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp chopped parsley
Lemon juice

Heat the oven to 200 degrees and put the pepper in a baking dish. Do not add any oil. Put in to bake for 15 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, make a little foil parcel containing the salmon fillet, and top with the chopped chilli and a garlic clove. Seal, and add to the oven.

Fry the onions, mushrooms and tomatoes in a pan with low-cal spray (I use flora, which is only 5kcal per spray. 2 sprays is enough in a non-stick pan). While they are cooking, make the cous cous according to packet instructions but with water only (no stock, butter etc).

When the cous cous is ready, add to the pan and lightly fry. Add the spices, followed by the parsley and mix. Take the pepper out of the oven and add the mixture to the middle of the pepper. 

Place the stuffed pepper back in the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes. Serve!

As you can see I had a lot of filling but I served that on the side of the plate and it was delicious. I'm not entirely sure about the calorie content, but I estimate it to be around 350kcal (170 for the small portion of salmon, 90 for the cous cous, and the rest for veggies). If I made it again for a fast day, I would probably skip the cous cous altogether.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Sale shopping: tedious but rewarding!

After a mixed Christmas, my mum and I decided to go to the Trafford Centre for a bit of retail therapy. Apparently 90% of sale stock goes in the first 48 hours, so not wanting to miss out on the good stuff we headed on the 27th.

I was amazed at how little there was in the sales! With the exception of Zara, where the whole shop resembled a jumble sale, there just didn't seem to be a lot on offer. Whistles had a tiny sale rail, and most items were only available in one or two sizes. From speaking to the sales assistants I think we missed the best stuff the day before, but I did manage to pick up a few things.

I've not linked the items as some are no longer available online, so if you fancy any of them you'll have the brave the shops.

A very happy New Year

I'm lying in bed in my pyjamas, having decided that getting dressed today was too much effort. I'm slowly accepting that I do have to go to work tomorrow, and that in hindsight, taking the next three days off work would have been a good idea.

The effects of last night's excesses are still well and truly under way; I had a dinner party for six people but shortly after midnight the fishbowl cocktails and drinking games came out. Ten bottles of wine, 2 bottles of gin and assorted vodka and whisky dregs later, I didn't feel too clever. So on to the resolutions...

1. No alcohol in January. I know some people think this is boring, and that as January is a depressing month anyway it makes it worse, but I like abstaining for one month a year.

2. Make packed lunches for work. I managed this for 8 months in 2012 but then got sent to Glasgow with work and then didn't really get back into it. So I need to try harder this year.

3. More exercise. I'm sadly still suffering from a sore foot so can't do an awful lot at the moment, but definitely want to get fitter this year. 

4. Do something positive for myself. For example, take some language evening classes, regularly play the saxophone, read more.

5. Save some money / pay off debts. I desperately want to go to Japan this year, so it's time to start saving. No more new clothes, lots of ebaying to be done!

What resolutions has everybody made? I feel mine are pretty boring, and the same as every year! Obviously I'm not very good at sticking to them!