The Humble Spud

Did you know that it was recently National Chip Week? Brought to you by the British Potato Council, of course. Chips are loved the world over but seem particularly celebrated here in Scotland. Some of my happiest moments in this country have involved chips… limp ones in a polystyrene box after a drunken night oot, with fish and mushy peas by the sea; gobbled down in the car after a hike in the hills.

A popular chip manufacturer currently has a billboard that truly shits me off. It features a big bowl of oven chips with the headline: EAT YOUR GREENS. Then there’s wee green icons that say: Low fat! Low salt! Low sugar! Etc etc.

A chip ain’t a green. A chip is a chip. It’s starchy, sometimes greasy, and usually delicious. Why do we have to pretend otherwise? Why can’t we just enjoy a food for what it really is? Why do food manufactures have to dress things up with flimsy health claims?

Recently a Nutella advert proclaimed that every jar contained, "52 hazelnuts, the equivalent of a glass of skimmed milk and some cocoa" and was a healthy breakfast for the kiddies. Never mind the fat and sugar and the fact you’d have to eat the whole jar to claim that glass of skimmed milk.

I wish there was some sort of regulation of food advertising. Right now you could stick a blueberry in a bucket of ice cream and scream, CONTAINS ANTI-OXIDANTS! Next thing they’ll put 5p coins into yogurt pots and claim they’re rich in… richness? Is it any wonder people are confused about what the hell is a healthy food?

I guess these companies wouldn’t make as much money if they said something sensible and honest, like:

Yep, this is Nutella. It’s brown and gooey and delicious. The Europeans are fond of it on bread for brekkie, but we don’t advise you eat the whole jar with a spoon like certain people used to do. Think of it as a Sometimes food.

Likewise the mighty Chip. I wouldn’t call them an everyday food, whether this be in their traditional soggy Scottish or pre-fried weird-coated freezer-to-oven incarnation. But they are tasty, and they are there to be enjoyed without guilt or apology.

I’m still immersed in a Heston Blumenthal-style search for the perfect homemade oven chip technique. When you’re married to Scot, chips need to feature on the menu. If you cut Gareth with a knife he would bleed starch. But we do try to keep them reasonably  healthy.

Most people say the Maris Piper potato makes for the best chips but I made a cracking batch with the good ol’ King Edward. The best batch yet involved cutting into wedges leaving the skin on, par-boiling them until JUST stab-able, then draining in a colander. Then I left ’em to dry completely and cool down quite a bit. This drying and cooling step seemed to make ALL the difference.

Then I put them onto an oven tray, making sure they had a reasonable space around them coz overcrowded chips don’t crisp up very well. Then I seasoned and sprayed them in olive oil, then put into a 230’C oven (which may be cooler as our oven sucks) for about 30 mins, turning halfway. They were bloody beautiful – crunchy outsides with tender guts.

Yeah baby. Chip week may be over but I will party on all year.

Tatties

One Size Fits All

I was in TK Maxx the other day. I know some people worship the place, but how come every time I rifle through those bulging racks it’s all lime green capris and Michael Jackson leather jackets? I was, however, very tempted by the glorious range of exercise gear. Check out these Sauna Exercise Suits.

Suit_2It says on the box:

"Shed water weight effortlessly! Wear it while you work, play or exercise. Body heat is sealed in to help muscles stay warm and keep you in top condition. Easy to carry and store. Hand washable. Elasticized – One size fits all."

Elastic at the waist AND neck… now that is sexy. Kind of wish I’d bought one now; I feel all desperate and lardy after two weeks without exercise.

I went to the doctor yesterday and I’ve got some antibiotics. Or andybiodics, which is how Dr G alleges I pronounce it. The ear pain has subsided but I still can’t hear a bloody thing. 

My doctor has a set of scales sitting right beside the desk. Why do doctors always have to put the scales, right there? I still have a residual fear that no matter how ill or injured I feel, they’re going to oh so casually ask me about my weight. I don’t see a doctor very often, but the last few times – shoulder injury, dodgy knee, Sinus of Doom – I held my breath waiting for them to say, "I’ll just get you to hop on the scales." Even yesterday when she stuck the ear-thingy into my ear and declared it severely inflamed I sighed with relief.

When I was seriously obese I avoided doctors because of that fear of not being taken seriously; that any ailment would be blamed on my size. And you know what? Part of me actually believed that was true. Part of me didn’t want to bother the busy doctors with my bulky presence. The only time I saw a doctor was in 1999, at The Mothership’s insistence, when she figured out about the depression. I was desperate to reach out but somehow felt it was my own lardy fault that I felt so shit; that somehow I deserved it.

I remember the doctor didn’t mention my weight. She just said she’d help me get help. I felt relieved, but I also like I’d gotten away with something.

She sent me off for some blood tests too, since I’d been feeling so run down. And this is the only real Fat Girl Horror Story I have. I was such a hermit at my largest, so I never had an opportunity to break chairs or to be yelled at by a carful of teenagers. All I have is a trip to a nurse for blood tests and they couldn’t find a vein. They wrapped my arm in the extra large cuff and had me squeeze my fist harder and harder. Then they tried the other arm. On and on it went for half an hour. The nurses frowned and clucked and said don’t worry dear, but I almost felt too numb to feel the humiliation. There was numbness and this low, rumbling anger directed at myself.

They told me to come back tomorrow to try again, and to have a really hot shower beforehand. And they managed to find the tiniest wee speck of blue that time. The tests came back perfectly healthy. I was always good on paper: perfect blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar. No bad knees.

I’m really wandering all over the place tonight, aren’t I? I guess it still scares me how much I used to hate myself. I read lots of fat chicks on the internet, all loud and proud and confident and and unapologetic and I feel jealous and ashamed that I wasn’t like that. I just hid from the world and wished I could rip my flesh off. But maybe half the reason I keep writing is just in case there is anyone out there that ever felt like I did. To show that is possible to crawl away from that feeling, even if it takes an age. Even if you still second guess yourself at the doctor’s surgery and sometimes find it hard to believe the feelgood is for real.

That’ll Do, Pig

Why is snot?
Where does it start and why won’t it stop?

I’m sure that statement could be wrangled into a totally brilliant haiku or something, but I’m too snotty and miserable to bother. It’s been a week and that cold is still hanging around. From Friday to Tuesday I was proper, Couch and Toast ill. Now it’s just the annoying dregs that aren’t quite horrible enough to justify time off work. Today all the symptoms have rushed to my head. I’m deaf in one ear, it feels like something is about to explode. I’m also treating my colleagues to regular nose-blowing concertos. Next up: The Blue Danube. Da da da da daaaaaaaa – HONK HONK! HONK HONK!

It’s not just my body that’s hopeless right now; my brain is below par too. Please excuse this substandard excuse for a blog entry. I know there are a lot of new people swinging by here lately who are probably thinking, Who is this snotty moron and what fool gave her a book deal? I assure I do have my articulate moments. Please don’t run away! I’ll come good again soon.

An example of my braindeadedness: Mistress Anne of Elastic Waist invited me to partake in their brand new Naked segment, all about beauty and body image. On Wednesday night I spent five hours in front of the computer trying to answer those five little questions. With the way I was gurning at the screen you’d think I’d been asked to solve the third world debt or the Brittney Spears Conundrum.

It just SUCKS when you brain and body won’t do what they’re told. I think I’ve taken them both for granted lately, assuming they’ll always perform. I’m doing my best to be patient and rest, but I have to admit there’s a wee bit of panic there. How long is this going to take? I got miles to walk and emails to reply to. And still the answer seems to be: Settle, petal!

I got stuck on one Anne’s questions: When do you feel most beautiful? I don’t know if I ever feel beautiful. Maybe it’s an Australian thing, but I’d feel like a turkey even thinking that, as though a pack of high school bitches would jump out of my wardrobe and say, "You’re SO up yourself!" (oh how I miss Australian phrases like up yourself) then flush my head down the loo.

Babe But I spose I do feel sort of mildly pretty, inside and out. The best way I can describe what I feel when I look in the mirror is like the end of the movie Babe when James Cromwell pats the wee pig on the head and says, "That’ll do pig. That’ll do."

Not that I think I look like a PIG, mind you. It’s just that I feel a quiet peace with how I look. At this very moment, with red eyes and half the skin sandpapered off my Rudolph nose, I don’t feel particularly gorgeous. But for the most part, especially with lipstick involved, I just nod and smile and think, "Yep, we’re doing alright, no worries. Let’s go out into the world!"

UPDATE: Tis Sunday morning. I started this entry on Friday but got distracted. Today the snot has subsided but the deafness has morphed into the Excruciating Ear of Doom. Now it’s ringing like I’d been to ten consecutive Iron Maiden concerts. There’s also an oceanic whooshing sound. And PAIN like you would not believe. I called NHS 24, the government’s out of hours doctor service. The nurse told me to take painkillers and call the doc tomorrow. IF my eardrum hasn’t exploded all over the house before then

At least the nurse was nice. They should rename the service to NHS Virtual Mum, because when I described my symptoms she was all, Poor hen. Ooh I know. Ooh I know dear. An ear ache is never nice. Poor thing. Now THAT is what you really want when your real mother is on the other side of the planet. That is why I pay my taxes.

What concerns me more than the pain and deafness is that I went to a Curry and SingStar Night with my work pals on Friday evening. SingStar is that Playstation game that’s like fancy lounge room karaoke. Bolstered by about half an inch of wine, I really got carried away. I belted out I Should Be So Lucky, Hungry Like The Wolf, Parklife, Tutti Frutti, I Got You Babe, I Heard A Rumour and two Franz Ferdinand songs. The combination of half-deafness and that half inch of wine made me believe I sounded fantastic. But this morning I had a tentative warble in the bathroom and realised I sound like dog turds! My voice is pissweak enough in good health but right now it is a total drone. I can’t believe I subjected my colleagues to hours of that. There’s no way in hell I was hitting any of those notes. Especially in the particularly rousing sections of Total Eclipse of the Heart. At least if this earache does me in, I’ll never have to face them again.

Just in case I’m not back in a timely manner and you are looking for a means of passing the time, here is a nice interview I did with the Irish Examiner with only one swear word – click here.

You’d Butter Believe It

Last year in a post called Why Stripping Wallpaper Is Like Weight Loss I reckoned that you could pretty much turn anything into a crappy metaphor for lard busting. Sunglasses, chickens, bananas, etc. I’ve got another one for you today: Making Your Own Almond Butter Is Like Weight Loss. Ohhh… yeah!

Way back in July 2006 Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini fame posted a recipe for homemade cashew nut butter, or beurre de cajou as they so elegantly say across the Channel. You grind raw nuts in a food processor until the natural oils emerge and transforms into a preservative-free trans-fatless natural goo. I was dying to make an almond version, but was convinced I couldn’t be trusted not to gobble the whole jar with a spoon.

Eighteen months later, I try not to say that sort of thing. I don’t like to think of foods as dangerous or triggers or any word that implies that I am a powerless, out of control fruitloop that needs to be muzzled at farmer’s markets. So I felt I was ready to pulverise some nuts.

Almond butter is delicately grainy and almonds are very nutritious, don’t you know. But it is pricey. £1.80 for a tiny 170g jar! It’s a lot cheaper in the USA – I lugged a big jar of Trader Joe’s stuff back from Chicago. It had honking huge shards of almond that stabbed the roof of the mouth in a painfully pleasant way. But once that ran out I was back to the expensive one, which made me recall Clotilde’s recipe. Hmmm, I said in a tightwad tone befitting of one who has lived in Scotland almost five years, I could buy a half a kilo of raw almonds for the same price and make my own! THRIFT-O-RAMA!

Back in January, I bought my bag o’ nuts and prepared to churn out another shitty metaphor.

Making almond butter is like weight loss because…

1. You start out with a lumpy mess!

Ab4

Ho ho ho.
This is actually 500 grams of raw almonds, which I toasted in the oven.

2. The fundamental recipe is simple
Dump almonds into food processor, process at high speed until creamy. That’s all there is to it! Eat less, move more! EASY!

3. The reality is painfully slow and messy and tedious frustrating as hell.
I hit the button.
And I ground and I ground and I ground.
And nothing happened.
So I looked at the clock. Ground some more.
Grind grind grind.
Sweat swear sweat.
Nothing happening!
It’s not working! WHY ISN’T IT WORKING?! The recipe said it would work!
Twenty minutes of solid labour and all I had was almond clods!
This blows. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?!

Ab3

4. When you least expect it, it all comes together.
By this point the food processor was almost too hot to touch. I was waiting for the smoke to appear. But after twenty five minutes the first trickle of oil oozed out. BROWN GOLD! And then finally it started to take shape.

Ab2

5. The end product may not be exactly what you’d dreamed of. Might a bit rough. And lumpy.
Or look like complete dogs droppings. And I’d overtoasted the nuts – our oven has two settings: Cold Indifference or Cremains, so you can never get things right. But perfection is for… perfect people. This stuff had character! It was delicious too, subtle and creamy.

I also managed to eat it in a sensible manner, spread over a series of breakfasts (with Bonne Maman apricot jam, CHOICE!) I didn’t attack it with spoons or write odes of longing when we were apart. There’s hope for me yet.

CONCLUSION
This mega jar of almond butter was a bargain at just £2. Of course that doesn’t account for labour and half an hour of electricity. But just like the lard busting, sometimes the most effective method is not the most efficient!

Ab

Total Eclipse of the Lungs

Bonnie_tyler Over the past month I’ve watched friends and colleagues be slain by various colds and bugs. I sailed along untouched, thinking the power of citrus and green vegetables made me invincible. But the wee tickle in my throat has turned into a bark and I’ve got a fever and more gravel in my voice than Bonnie Tyler. D’oh!

You know those adverts for flu tablets, where a red-nosed woman juggles three toddlers in one hand and a multinational corporation in the other while the voiceover sighs, In Today’s Modern World, I Just Don’t Have Time For A Cold! I would always snort, "Shut up, you overpaid martyr! Nobody’s that busy!" But this year, despite not having kids nor a briefcase, I’ve discovered such insane levels of activity. Which is fair enough because I’ve been coasting along for 30 years in a truly half-arsed manner. I only blog about the ACTION, which might create some sort of illusion of a wildly exciting life, but really it’s mostly been me faffing around and shouting at televisions.

Anyway, I feel like shite today. It’s a good excuse to put on my tracky dacks (that’s Australian for sweatpants) and my baffies (that’s Scots for slippers) and curl up on the couch with a book. I’m supposed to do an eight-mile training walk tomorrow but I might need to postpone until Sunday. I feel twitchy at the thought of NOT ticking off that box on the training schedule but I spose one should listen to ones body. Right now the body says: LET THERE BE TOAST.

. . .

In other news, apparently the Dietgirl book has flapped its way down to South Africa (thanks Moira!). I think it might also have made it to India, as there was a little mention in The Hindu that charmed my pants off:

"The concerns about obesity and how to beat it finds expression through the ‘Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl.’ … The interested may also Google their way to her blog for more information."

Bon weekend, groovers!

The Chocolate Gap

Creak… creak… creak. What’s that sound? It’s the sound of my Will To Live returning! It’s only four weeks until daylight savings begins. It’s getting lighter in the mornings. Birds are twittering again. For every minute of sun we gain each day, I will surely become one percent less crabbit! Right now my temper is short, especially when watching University Challenge and the students deliberate too long before answering the question.

"Hurry up FOOLS!" I screech at the telly. "This is not a pub quiz!"

If I was the producer of the Challenge, any hesitation longer than five seconds would be rewarded with a small electric shock to the buttocks. I’m sure we could rig up the chairs somehow.

Speaking of televison and chairs, Monday nights aren’t the same since Nigella Express finished. I used to scoff at Nigella’s sprawling adjectives and deep-throating of vegetables but I love her, really I do. Watching her show makes me ever more resolved to enjoy my food and never diet again. Yes there is the annoying Scoffing By The Fridge Light scene at the end of every episode but I feel she has the right idea. There’s a great chapter in her book How To Eat about dieting and healthy eating that is one of the most sensible things you could hope to read on the subject. She celebrates food. She doesn’t divvy it up into Good or Bad. She can wax lyrical about a bag of spinach just as much as a wodge of chocolate cake.

One time in the new series she made herself a tasty lunch of sourdough toast, chopped into three slices. One had hummus, one some avocado and tomato and olive oil on the other. It was a nice little meal on a nice little plate, but a year ago I would have freaked out… FAT! CARBS! PLEASURE! I used to restrict toast to a Weekend Treat, which of course made me pine for it from Monday to Friday, sputtering with resentment over a perfectly tasty bowl of porridge. These days I’m not breakfast bossy  – sometimes it’s toast, sometimes it’s yogurt, sometimes it’s leftovers, whatever I’m hankering for. The less restrictive I’ve been the more I seem to lean towards a healthy choice.

Anyway, The Nige has inspired me. I have a gigantic folder full of recipes I’ve saved over the years that I’d filed under Cook These Once I’m Skinnier. I’ve always loved food and cooking but I’d deemed most recipes off limits. As if I couldn’t be trusted with certain ingredients; as if one mouthful would be my undoing.

Why not just COOK what you want to cook? You don’t have to eat it all at once. You can share it with pals. What are you waiting for? I’m talking to myself here, by the way. Was that confusing?  Anyway. I am going to make some of these Forbidden Recipes. Fetch me apron, luv!

Gareth says I have a Cooking Show Face, an expression of utter peace and happiness that is reserved purely for when there’s cooking on the telly. My eyes are wide and gleaming and he’ll be telling me a story about his day and I do not hear a word. He reckons there’s a certain Cooking Show Posture too. If chocolate is on the menu, he’ll cackle, HA HA you’ve got a Chocolate Gap! and wave his hand through the space between the couch and my back, which is alert and upright like a police sniffer dog. Do you have a chocolate gap too? Get out your rulers, tell me I’m not alone?!

Helicopter Arms

Geekgasms ahoy! Thanks to my pal Claire I’ve found a new obsession – MapMyWalk.com. I can plot all my routes on the map thingy, log training walks and other activities, then calculate distances and calories burned. There’s calendars and graphs and I can track all sorts of wacky information like daily mood, weather and quality of sleep. I can enter all my SHOES and keep track of how many miles each pair plods. I already use a blog and a spreadsheet and WLR and a paper diary, but really… you can never have too many statistics.

I also like to stalk websites written by redheads, because it’s nice to read about accomplished redheads making their way in the world. If you believed what you saw on the television, all we do is go around stabbing people or generally being calculating and eeeevil. My current favourite is What I Wore Today by Kasmira in Cincinnati. As the name suggests, she writes about what she wears. She has a brilliant sense of style and colour, not to mention lovely legs. I bet if you handed her a piece of string, a paper clip and a banana peel she could fashion some killer accessories in a jiffy. Ginger power!

I also love how she looks so comfy and relaxed in her clothes, like she has fun getting dressed every day. I want to be like that! I want to have more fun with clothes and this new body of mine. It’s not even new anymore – I’ve been a size 14 for almost two years now. But I’m not always the best at judging how much space I take up. I absentmindedly take 16s and 18s into change rooms; I still have a tendency to walk with my arms flying out like a helicopter, as if they’re resting against a much wider body. A journalist asked me recently, "Do you go WILD with new clothes now?" and I said, "What do you mean?" and she said, "Isn’t that what people do when they lose a crazy amount of weight?" and I thought, Ohh! Why haven’t I done that?

I’ve been more advanced this past year, trying a few frocks and stuff but it’s all a bit dull. I’ll get dressed up for a night out but feel like a dowdy granny as soon as I meet my pals, who always seem colourful and adventurous. How do they do that? My most exciting purchase has been my boots which have a current cost per wear of £50, coz I’m too chicken/lazy to think of something to wear with them. I feel like an imposter when I’m clip-clopping around, like someone is going to yell, "HEY lardy, who do you think you are in them boots?"

Are there any other losers out there who struggle to dress their new bods? Or are you all going for gold doon the shops?

K-Mart or Bust

Moonwalk

I started my Moonwalk training today. Woohoo!

We’re supposed to get an official schedule in the post this month but I made my own because I want to get stuck in. For the next 18 weeks I’ve scheduled two short weekday walks  (3-6 miles [5 – 10km] then a longer one on weekends (starting at 6, building up to 20 miles [32km] and then tapering off before the big day). The schedules I found online had four walks per week, but I want to keep up my kickboxing and weight training so three’ll do me. It’s for charity, after all!

Four of us girlies went for a wander at lunchtime. Being Scotland and all, it was raining. At first it seemed dead boring compared with kicking and punching things, and I worried I’d die of boredom when it came to walking 26.2 miles in a row. But soon enough the endorphins kicked in and I thought, AHH how nice to be outside and temporarily free of the office shackles. There was also smugness, for we were striding like women possessed while the rest of the town were stuffing their faces with Gregg’s sausage rolls.

I realised that I need to take this training seriously. 18 weeks from now, I’ll have to be on my feet for nearly eight hours in a row. I was rather knackered after 45 minutes today! Granted I pushed hard at kickboxing last night, but I’ll have to build up some endurance. People have told me they’ve easily done the Moonwalk with skipped training sessions but I want to be a shining BEACON of fitness! I’m in a team of twelve work friends so I refuse to be Ms Slowy McSlowarse, bringing up the rear or collapsing on the side of the road begging for mercy and/or bacon sandwiches.

Another thing I like about training is that it will force me to use my time more effectively. I am still faffing around like you'd not believe. Today I woke up at 8.25AM, having hit snooze over and over for 70 minutes. I washed and dressed in a flash, slapped some almond butter on a piece of bread then galloped and swore my way to work. Miraculously I was only five minutes late, but that is not the behaviour of champions. For one, I discovered via Google Pedometer that it’s only 0.7 miles between home and work. WHAT!? On lazy days I’ve counted that to/from journey as Proper Exercise! Hmm.

So if I’m only 0.7 miles from work and don’t start until 9AM, there really should be plenty of time to do some exercise or writing, have a proper breakfast and not arrive at work in a mess. Of course that means getting to bed earlier, preparing things the night before, etc etc. But lately all I do is run round like a headless chook, bawling at the sight of my To Do list and unanswered emails. It may sound strange but I think adding a big fat time-consuming bitch of task like a marathon training will help me tackle all the other stuff. Fingers crossed, eh?

. . .

Thank you everyone who has been in touch about the book. Thank you so much for your emails and blog entries and rockin' reviews! And hearing news of K-Mart sightings back home in Australia made me strangely emotional! K-MART! That's the place I used to buy boxes of own-brand choc chip cookies and demolish them all home alone. That's the place I bought my Sweet Valley High books. That's where I pulled a tin of tyre paint off a shelf when I was three years old, coating myself and the aisle in black goo. Memorieeees!