It’s been two weeks since my last confession …

Smabz Sputzer at Flickr

I gained a pound and a half two weeks ago, and lost seven last week, so overall, a loss of five and a half pounds. The gain was pretty good going, considering that the final day at Betty’s (dessert day) was included, and I didn’t get back on plan until two days after that. Last weekend, my OH and I visited my family in Surrey, which would ordinarily have led to another gain, no doubt. However, I had to fast for two days earlier this week in preparation for (hopefully) the final of my various medical tests (see my previous post) so I got a loss that I would otherwise not have achieved. It’s definitely a silver lining, and the test showed nothing significant. Good results all round. :-)

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I posted that I’d been at Betty’s Cookery School for a week. The course, Advanced Kitchen Skills, was brilliant. It was a lot of work, and I came home every evening utterly wiped, but very happy, and feeling that I’d learnt a lot. The staff, from the tutors to administrators and housekeepers, are all friendly and efficient, and my fellow students were a great bunch. I was one of the slower ones (which I’d not expected), but I was far from the only one who got cross with themselves when they couldn’t get something perfect first time. I guess it’s that sort of course, and attracts that sort of person!

 

Monday was bread day – pretzels, ciabatta, croissants, pain au raisin with crème patisserie, and a sweet bread from Belgium called Craquelin, which was delicious. The croissants were too much work for me to try them again at home, I suspect. There’s a real skill to keeping the layers through all that rolling and folding, and I think I’ll leave it to the professionals. I will do the pretzel dough again, though, and probably the ciabatta and Craquelin for special occasions.

Tuesday was the hardest day of the lot, but we ended up (at about 7pm) with melt in the mouth oxtail suet puddings, red cabbage, and a nearly-finished hot water crust pork pie. We also made chilli jam and cucumber pickle to go with the pie, and red cabbage to accompany the oxtail puddings. Those are in my freezer, awaiting a visit from my Dad in May.

Wednesday was fish day – we filleted a whole salmon, then cured parts of it two ways (gravadlax was one, and the other was beetroot and vodka) and smoked some it over lapsang souchong tea leaves. The final part went into our lunch – a delicious mussel and langoustine broth, with bean sprouts, carrot and mange tout. I can see me adapting that one into a diet-friendly version. :-)

Thursday was butchery; we watched half a pig being expertly dissected by Brian Noon of Sykes House Farm, which supplies Betty’s with their bacon and sausages. We then had a go ourselves, but on a slightly scaled down level – rabbit! We stuffed the loin, rolled it in Parma ham, and served it with carrots, beans, fondant potatoes and some curly kale with pine nuts and raisins. Here’s one I made earlier! We also got to try making sausages, and I discovered that I am actually rather good at working them into those long ropes of sausages that you see hanging in butchers’ windows. If I ever lose the day job … :-) I’m toying with the idea of trying some home-curing in the garage. It’s not as hard as I’d have thought, and it would be lovely to have some decent bacon and ham. I hate how watery shop-bought bacon can be.

Day five, Friday, was my birthday, and it was such fun, one of the best birthdays I’ve had in years. My colleagues on the course surprised me with a card and flowers, and the tutors gave me a little cake with my name on it, which was really kind. We spent the whole day making desserts – six ways with apple, and some chocolate curls and spun sugar. What better way to spend your birthday than playing with chocolate and making puddings all day? I particularly liked the apple, vanilla and cinnamon ice cream and the apple and honey soufflé, but it was all yummy. :-)

I learned a lot of culinary skills from the course, and, as always, when trying a new thing, something about myself too. I forget, between times, how much fun it is to learn new things, and I will try to remember that more often. I think I will also try to practice getting faster at food prep whilst keeping some precision. I was unhappy that I was slower than most of my fellow students. On the other courses I’ve been on, I have been one of the quicker ones, and it’s clear this was a course for people at a different level. Being stretched is a good thing, though, and it’s given me something general to work on aside from just the recipes and techniques we were taught.

Thank you, Dad, Adie, Tan and James for buying me such a great present. I’ll be cooking you all something yummy from the long list of new and delicious scoffs I’ve learnt, promise. :-)

I’ve been at Betty’s Cookery School this week – of which more in another post – and they gave us a goodie bag when we left, which included two Fat Rascals. A name that reflects my feelings perfectly. :-)

I posted last week that I expected to gain, and so I did: eight and a half pounds, and I cannot bring myself to regret it!

Edgar Mueller - The Crevasse

I live in a tourist destination, which is an odd thing, some of the time. In the summer, we get street painters – I’m sure you’ve seen them – recreating famous pictures (which we get quite often here) or making 3D images on the pavement. I was thinking about those today, and went looking for one I recalled specifically. It’s by an astoundingly talented artist called Edgar Mueller, and his website has loads of really stunning images, and fascinating videos of him creating the works. Although, even when you see how it’s done, and watch it come together stage by stage, it still fools your eye.

Guido Daniele - Elephant

The reason I was reminded of the pavement art was a feature on Trendland about a hand painter called Guido Daniele. His work recalled that of Mueller and the like. I particularly liked the elephant featured in the article and the dolphin (24 on this page of his website) but the two-handed ones are equally clever and the body art section also merits a visit [NSFW].

psd at Flickr

I missed weigh-in the week before last, and I feel a bit guilty about that. I knew it was not going to be good, and I wanted to give myself a chance to redress the balance. I also knew that I would not be back on track after weigh-in, and I don’t like going to my SW Group in the certain knowledge that I am going to be heading straight off plan immediately afterwards. It just seems wrong to me … or maybe this is all just a pile of self-justifying rubbish!

I was off plan for a great reason; I had a new kitchen fitted (of which more in another post) so we had dust, chaos, and no means to cook for most of the week. Yes, we could have had salad, but there was snow on the ground, and it was minus 10 at night – not really the weather for cold collations. Or am I still making excuses? :-) Anyway, we had a curry one evening, collected from our favourite curry house and pizza delivered (with an attempt to deliver the same again about 45 minutes later, which we declined) and two carpet picnics. All delicious in their own way, and the latter at least included some of my 5-a-day – I don’t count saag aloo, though it undoubtedly is green!

I was back on track from Monday of last week, and I think that restricted the damage done, but it was not great. Plus four. To be expected. I’d forgotten that it was a taster evening on Thursday, but a text from my consultant, the lovely Lou, reminded me in time. I had a bit of a bulk-cooking fest on Sunday – any excuse to be in the new kitchen – so I had some roasted Mediterranean vegetable soup in the freezer, which did nicely. It’s from the SW Little Book of Soups, £3.95 from your local group or an eye-watering £14.99 plus delivery from a couple of sellers on Amazon. We’ve had a few of the soups, and liked most of the ones we’ve tried so far, but this is the current favourite. Now that I have a freezer that will hold more than a few loaves of bread without being stuffed to capacity, and a microwave, last-minute changes become much easier to manage. :-)

I’m going to find it hard again this week, but for another great reason. I have a week-long advanced kitchen skills course booked at Betty’s Cookery School which is the very generous gift (for Christmas and birthday) of my Dad, and my brother and his family. Very timely, as the last day of the course is my birthday. I am a little nervous that some of it will be too advanced for me, especially the bread-making, as I have never done that before, but I am sure I will learn a lot. I’ve done day courses at Betty’s before, and thoroughly enjoyed them. Each time, I have ended up tired but very happy and with some new recipes and skills tucked away for future use. Oh, and dinner for that evening, ready to bung in the oven. The school provides food during the day, and you take away what you’ve made at the end, so I imagine the same will happen again. I hope so, as I know I won’t feel like cooking, although it would be easier to stick to SW if I did. We’ll see how it goes, but I fully expect to be reporting another gain next week. The week after is an unknown quantity – I will be away for work for three days, and I am not sure whether I’ll make it home to York in time for weigh-in. It’s out of my hands, as I’m not organising the agenda for the three days, but I’ll do the best I can to stick to the plan, and get to Group. Life is what happens when you’re busy doing something else, as John Lennon didn’t say. :-)

A fascinating article by Adam Gopnik in New Yorker magazine on the American penal system, including some scary facts and figures – like, that the population of the US prison system, if residing in a single city, would make that the second largest city in the US. It covers, very articulately, a lot of ground, including the historical, philosophical and political drivers of penal policies, relationship to crime rates, and what could help reduce the incarceration rate. Some of the last are really simple, like reducing the opportunities for crimes to be committed.

It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a few of my favourite quotes:

“Crime is not the consequence of a set number of criminals; criminals are the consequence of a set number of opportunities to commit crimes … Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.”

“Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures … Merely chipping away at the problem round the edges is usually the best thing to do with a problem; keep chipping away patiently, and, eventually, you get to its heart.”

“A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.”

Aurelien Breeden at Flickr

I’ve been fasting this week. Not by choice, I hasten to add; that’s not in the Slimming World plan, nor mine. I had a hospital appointment on Monday that included a strict preparation regime over the weekend. On Monday, there was a snag, so I had to return on Wednesday, and carry on with the fast in the meantime. From Saturday night to Wednesday lunchtime, I ate nothing but jelly, and drank only black tea (sweetened with honey) and water. Inevitably, it’s had an impact on my weight loss this week – 7½ lb. Far more importantly, the test results were normal. I need to have one more test, but things are looking fine. The hospital staff were lovely, too; I can’t praise their kindness and professionalism too much, and they made a fairly unpleasant experience much more bearable.

I was worried, seeing as I love my food a lot, that I’d not cope terribly well with fasting, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. I surprised myself with how little I minded seeing or smelling food, and I even cooked for my OH without qualms. After a while, the hunger becomes a background thing that you can ignore relatively easily, although I suspect that is very much not the case when you have no choice, and no end in sight. The advantageous side effects for me – a great weight loss and a shrunken stomach – in no way detract from the very real problems faced by those who don’t get enough to eat on a regular basis.

Next week is going to be as unusual as this week, although for a much more cheerful reason – I am getting a new kitchen, which is very exciting. This weekend, we’re clearing the contents of the fridge and freezer as far as possible, and next week we’ll have at least two nights when we can’t cook. My usual ‘plan and prepare’ approach doesn’t work, but I’ll try to make the best choices I can, and we’ll see how we do. :-)

 

 

Serves 2, ½ syn per person on Red/Extra Easy

 

 

 

Ingredients
400g extra lean pork mince
25g sun-dried tomatoes (not in oil) (1 syn)
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
3 peppers, mixed colours
200g cherry tomatoes
Handful of torn basil leaves
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Fry Light

Instructions
1. Finely chop the sun-dried tomatoes and one of the cloves of garlic, put in a mixing bowl and add the lean pork mince. Season and mix well, until all the ingredients are combined. Divide the mix into 16 parts, and roll each into a ball. Cover and put in the fridge for 20 minutes or so.

2. Heat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5.

3. Chop the peppers into cubes about 2cm square. Slice the second clove of garlic thinly.

4. Spray an ovenproof dish with Fry Light and heat in the oven for a few minutes. Add the pork balls, peppers and sliced garlic and bake uncovered for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven, and stir. Add the cherry tomatoes and return to the oven for another 20 minutes. If the pork balls start to brown too much, cover with foil.

5. Remove the dish from the oven, add the balsamic vinegar, stir well, and serve with veg of your choice or a side salad.

the bittenword at Flickr

 

 

 

Serves 2, 2¼  syns per serving on Red/Extra Easy

 

 

 

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts, all skin and fat removed
4 slices of Parma ham (½ syn per slice)
A tbsp of chopped fresh sage or a tsp of dried
Black pepper
225g mushrooms
300ml chicken stock
2 tbsp Marsala
4 tbsp fat-free fromage frais

Instructions

1. Flatten the chicken breasts to about 1cm thick – to do this, wrap them loosely in cling film first then beat with a rolling pin.
2. Lay two slices of Parma ham on a board, place a chicken breast on each, and sprinkle over the sage. Add a grinding of black pepper, but no salt, as the ham is salty enough. Wrap the ham round, then take the other two slices of Parma ham and wrap one round each of the fillets.
3. Spray a large frying pan with Fry Light and place over a medium heat. Once the pan is warm, add the chicken fillets and brown on both sides. In the meantime, thinly slice the mushrooms, and take the fromage frais out of the fridge so that it comes to room temperature.
4. When the chicken is browned, add the mushrooms, stock and Marsala, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer gently for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally and turning the fillets once, until the chicken is cooked.
5. When the chicken is cooked, take the pan off the heat. Remove the chicken and keep warm. Allow the sauce to cool for two or three minutes, then stir in the fromage frais. Do not return to heat or the fromage frais may split. This will affect the look of the dish, but not the taste.
6. Serve with plenty of green veg, and mashed celeriac (or potato if you’re on Extra Easy).

Alternative suggestion: use 2 tbsp half-fat crème fraiche instead of the fromage frais for a creamier taste. This adds 3 syns to the dish, 1½ per serving.

P.S. When I was looking for images, I came across this one, from ChrissyMorin on Flickr – what a great idea for party nibbles. :-)

ChrissyMorin at Flickr

from risensources.com

The train used to be a good opportunity to get some work done, but it is becoming harder, the more crowded the trains become. There is rarely an occasion when somebody cannot overlook what you’re working on, and people seem to have fewer inhibitions about doing so. And then there’s the problem of space – the world and his wife has a laptop now, and, seemingly, a divine right to have sufficient space for it, their papers, phone, coffee, fondue set, cuddly toy etc etc etc. The iPad is wonderful for many reasons, but the teeny footprint is definitely high on my list.

Trains have also become noisier; again I suspect that this is as much about people’s respect for others as it is the sheer numbers involved. Even in the designated quiet coaches, there’s background chatter. Today isn’t too bad, busy but relatively peaceful – partly thanks to some early enforcement work by one of my fellow passengers towards someone making a phone call. Does it count if the train has not set off yet? Probably, and the rapid intervention appears to have set the (silent) tone, so well done, sir. :-)

So here I am there I was, tapping away at my now silent keyboard, making the most of the chance to catch up on this blog. When I started, I did wonder how much time I would have to devote to it. Weekly updates on the diet aside, it’s not particularly easy. There is an inverse proportion between what’s going on in my life and how much time I have to blog about it. Probably best to be busy and behind than blogging about nothing, but I suspect more work is needed to achieve a happy balance. That might be the motto for my life, by the way. And so many others’ besides.

I wrote this last week, meaning to post it when I got home, but didn’t get a chance – makes the point for me, rather. :-)

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2012 by Eau de Nil. Please do not use my original text, recipes or photos without obtaining my permission in advance. Many thanks.

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eaudenil@mailhaven.com

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