Almond Butter Hunt

Does anyone know of good purveyors of almond butter in the UK?

I bought three jars of Trader Joe's Crunchy Unsalted back in my suitcase from NYC and I'm onto the second jar already! I'm rationing it carefully but dreading the day when it's gone.

I could grind my own again but the little food processor would probably explode from the strain. The UK brands I've tried (Meridian, Biona) have a grainy, uninspired texture but the Trader Joes has fantastic stabby chunks of almond in it. God bless America. Sniff sniff.

Scones, tea and AOL

Good morning AOL.com visitors – thank you for dropping by!

If you're not sure where to click first, you could peek inside my book The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl right here, watch me yabbering on about my lard-busting efforts on CBS The Early Show or check out some of my alleged best entries.

I've been in London this weekend, visiting my sister for her birthday. She had a gift voucher for afternoon tea at the very posh Dorchester Hotel. Unlike the snotty lady at the table beside us, I did not sigh and say airily, "I really just don't get hungry in the afternoons" when presented with French pastries and fresh scones with jam and clotted cream.

Why spend £40 on AFTERNOON TEA if you don't like to bloody eat in the afternoon? Sure I should probably walk home to Scotland to burn off the calories but life is for living! Nothing wrong with a little of what you fancy. Mmmm, macaron.

Green News

  1. BroccoliI passed my Green Belt grading at kickboxing yesterday! It was hell! Sweet, punchy hell. It hurts to type now. I managed to screw up the bits that I'd been feeling confident about, and do well at the things I was worried about, which meant it all evened out nicely. Woohoo!

    Somehow in the sparring I managed to kick my opponent with my big toe, despite the gigantic padded Mickey Mouse shoes. It bent back very painfully. I still suck at sparring, but otherwise I'm on a total high and amazed at the power of the human brain to learn stuff. A few weeks ago I was chucking tantrums trying to do a spin kick but I managed six in a row yesterday. If only I could apply my kickboxing dedication to other aspects of my life I would be unstoppable. Limping and quite ineffectual in a dark alley… but otherwise unstoppable.
      

  2. In other Green developments, last week I made The Best Broccoli Of Your Life, an Ina Garten recipe as seen on the Amateur Gourmet. People are so free and easy with superlatives these days… how many volumes of those Greatest Rock Album In The World… EVER! albums did they bring out in the 90s? But this easy recipe truly awesomizes broccoli – oven roasted with garlic then lashed with lemon zest and juice and a wee bit of Parmesan. The original calls for lots of olive oil but I only used a dribble and accidentally forgot the basil and pine nuts but it was still brilliant. Even Gareth who has just three adjectives to describe anything in this world (Not Bad, Pretty Good or Alright) went cuckoo. I cooked almost two pounds of broccoli and we guzzled the lot of it. Oh it was lick-the-bowl good. Let me know if you try it! Come join the broccoli cult!

    Warning: I know I said in the last entry that there's no need to worry; that your digestive system adjusts to a vegetarian diet. However, if you have never consumed a pound of broccoli in a oner before, you can expect the only thing you'll give your partner on Valentine's Day is the Gift of Fragrance.

How to eat less meat

There's been a glut of vegetarian questions lately…

(Edit: Well there WAS a glut of questions, back in freakin' May 2008 when I started writing this entry. Slackarse! I'm determined to finish today!)

… You've shacked up with one, you want to be one, you want to be a part-time one, or you just want to beat gas prices and find out if you can propel yourself to the office with your very own wind power.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to eat less/no meat – economical, ethical, environmental – your questions were about how to put that desire into practice:

  • how do I change my diet?
  • how do I make non-meat meals tasty and satisfying?
  • what do I do with all those beans? 
  • what about the FARTING?

As always I can only offer my own experiences and hope you might find something helpful there. Also, in the eons that have passed since I started this entry, I've noticed lots of bloggers talking about decreasing their meat consumption – so if anyone out there has some tips, feel free to join in!

I grew up on a farm where it was blasphemy not to eat meat every night. There was always half a cow in our freezer at least. I only knew one vegetarian, the lovely Carrie. We gave her a lot of hell about it at school. There was a range of vegetarian products in Australia that were all called Not-something. Not Burgers. Not Bacon. Not Dogs. Every time the poor girl grilled one up for lunch we'd all cackle, "How's your Not Burger?… NOT BAD?"

My meat consumption decreased sharply when I moved to Scotland, firstly for financial reasons. Then I hooked up with Vegetarian Gareth and when I moved in with him, he insisted I shouldn't change my diet on his account. But I found it more practical to cook one meal and enjoyed the culinary challenge. I also liked how vegetarian cooking usually resulted in less skanky pots to clean!

These days I treat meat and fish like I do chocolate  – they're Sometimes foods. I go for the best quality I can afford and try to be mindful of sustainability and origin and all that stuff.

So here's the step-by-step meat-reducing process I went through:

1. Adapting old meaty recipes
Back when I first shacked up with Dr G, I started by taking my old standard meat recipes and finding veggie substitutes. This meant lots of beans and lentils. Mostly from cans (with no added sugar or salt) because I couldn't be bothered soaking dried ones and our unreliable stove meant you'd have to stand beside it for hours making sure the little beans didn't stick to the pot.

Some favourites:

  • Canned green or brown lentils – great sub for minced beef in spaghetti bol. Once you add some herbs, vegetable stock and wine and simmer for a good while, it gets nice and rich and you don't miss the beef.
  • Borlotti beans – these ones are the ones they use in baked beans. I love them for bean burgers – just mash up a tin of beans, add some fresh herbs, some chopped onion, maybe some pesto, or some nuts and seeds, roll into balls, oven bake or pan fry. Ace.
  • Butter beans – Dr G makes this great butterbean mash – just sautee an onion, add the butterbeans and a dash of Tabasco then squash with a stab blender. Sometimes he adds chopped herbs or a sprinkle of cheese.

2. Dabbling with meat substitutes
I went through a phase of trying lots of vegetarian products, particularly Quorn. What is Quorn? It's mycoprotein… fungi sort of thing, flavoured and formed into various shapes – sausages, burgers, mince. Like the Not range back in Oz. I tried it all, baby. It's quite tasty, but the Quorn "bacon" did me in… it tasted nothing like bacon and it had the most creepy texture. I decided I'd rather have some REAL bacon every now and then instead of a pretender.

3. Getting big and bold with flavours
Once I got bored with faux meat I thought about flavoursome ingredients that would jazz up plain veggies and beans. Olives, capers, sundried tomatoes, chilies, feta cheese, lemon, lime. Lots of fresh herbs too. Trying new spices with weird names. It's lovely how a sprinkle of this and that can make a vegetable sing.

4. Putting the veg centre stage
For a couple of years we got a vegetable box delivery. For £10 per fortnight all sorts of weirdo veggies would show up on our doorstep. This forced me to get more imaginative and build the meals around the vegetable, whereas in the old days it revolved around the meat. I found Leith's Vegetarian Bible and the Riverford Organics recipe pages great for those "What the HELL do I do with this leafy thing?" moments.

5. Finding some new old standards
I was cool with the veggie thing once I had a couple of recipes for that worked every time and pleased a crowd. I always trot out Sophie's Comforting Butternut Squash Dal that I have linked to 27 times before. Sooo soothing and filling and tasty, it would never occur to you that meat was "missing". Plus if you do the spicy onion garnish and yogurt and naan bread, it looks like you've gone to lots of fuss. Hehe.

I'd also be lost without Delia Smith's vegetarian shepherds pie. It is the Friends For Lunch standard – although I make it with about 75% less butter than Delia. It's one of those dishes that make you sigh, "Ahh… lentils rule". It showed me that the beans and lentils can be flavoursome in their own right. They are such great "carriers" for other flavours. It's a very adaptable recipe – I like it with sweet potato or butternut or parsnip mash instead of plain potato. I also swap out the goats cheese coz Dr G is freaked out by goats cheese (I just asked him again why he hates it and he said, "URRGH! Coz it just tastes of goats." Righto then.)

6. Devouring food blogs
There's no better way of getting ideas than from snooping at what other people do. Here are some of my favourite food blogs that are either vegetarian or just have some great vegetable recipes:

Oh yeah… the farting. Your body does adjust! I've eaten beans for lunch every day this week and I've not issued a single trumpet. My colleagues will be pleased to know that.

Further reading:

Crumbs

Crumbs I can't wait to tell my sister Rhiannon that there's a chain of bakeries over here called Crumbs. Back when we were kids we used to play Barbies, as you do. The Barbies lived in a dinky dollhouse with doors that only came up to their waists.

But the fact that the Barbies had to crawl around their own house did not stop them pursuing their dreams. They didn't just lie in bed tangled up with Ken all day; these dames were entrepreneurs. They turned the kitchen into a restaurant and it was called Crumbs.

It was a fine establishment. It even had an elevator made out of string and an Avon perfume box. I lived vicariously through the whole operation – the Barbies could cook and eat whatever they wanted. If they whined about being hungry, nobody rolled their eyes and said, "Just have an apple!"

Rhi and I had big plans for Crumbs and the Barbies. They were going to expand overseas, Crumbs International. They would move from the tiny dollhouse to a swanky skyscraper. But that was 1985 and now some bastards have beat us to it!

I bought one of their red velvet cupcakes today. It wasn't a cup so much as a behemoth pint glass of a cake. I've gotta hand it to Crumbs – they may not have flowing blonde tresses and plastic legs up to their armpits, but they make a tasty cupcake!

Cupcake
It looked really pretty too, until I squashed it my bag.

Troutin’ About

Trout I fear we're going to have to abandon the house. Pack up our suitcases and just live in the car. Not because we're drowning in bills and mortgages, but because the place stinks to bloody high heaven.

I innocently pan-fried a trout fillet on Wednesday night and now you can barely breathe for the fish fug.

I scrubbed the pan clean. I took out the rubbish that contained the fish wrappings. I doused every room with air freshener and Febreeze whilst singing, Trout! Trout! Let it all out! But that just made it smell like fishy flowers. So we left the windows wide open all night long… yet the stench persisted, more evil than before.

I've been pseudo-vegetarian for a few years now – I usually reserve meat for when we dine out – so it's been yonks since I cooked fish. Have I forgotten some crucial information? Has fish always been this stinky? Is trout a particularly pungent specimen? Is it because I pan-fried it – would it have been less brutal had I given it a gentle grilling?

"Maybe the fish wasn't fresh," Gareth said as we lay awake and shivering in our oxygen masks last night.

"It was fresh! It was bloody tasty."

"Are you sure it wasn't bad? You haven't had the squits, have you?"

"THE SQUITS? I never want to hear you say that word again!"

"It's a great word! It's one of those words that sounds like its meaning."

"It's onomatopoeic."

"That's what I said."

When I left the house this morning the icy wind rattled through the hallway and I thought perhaps it was getting a little better. But I've just received a text from Gareth: I'm freezing here and it still smells like trout!

I was just trying to get in some Omega-3's, dammit. I'm sticking to sunflower seeds from now on.

Dinners with Bloggers

I did some quality blognobbing while in New York. Meeting bloggers always turns out to be the highlight of my travels. Aye, even better than the food!

When I started blogging in 2000 people would gasp in horror if you mentioned meeting Internet Folk. Axe murderers! Unwashed nerds! But now everyone spews their guts online so it's cool.

Gareth has come to enjoy tagging along, too. We rock up to our destination and he says with infinite patience, "Any appointments? What stranger are we dining with this evening?"

Seems Brooklyn is where the bloggers are at; we spent half our time over there. On our second night we met up with Pamela in Park Slope. We've been blog buddies for yonks and finally met at BlogHer last year, so I was dead chuffed to see her again.

We started off with a spot of neighbourhood window shopping. I fell in love with a robot sculpture in a hipster boutique – it had a ye olde box camera for a body and flash bulbs for eyes. But it was $600, dammit. We also rummaged through vintage clothing shops, in which I realised I'd need to drop at least another twenty pounds for vintage clothing to be really viable. Then I decided I couldn't be arsed and would just have to stick to H&M.

Soon we were joined by Michael, Pamela's dashing Scottish husband. Pamela had planned a fine evening of venue-hopping for us. First we went to a groovy bar for a drink. We seated Gareth and Michael together so they could yap in their wacko accents while Pamela and I gossiped about blogs and other important matters. Then we had some oysters! My very first and quite tasty.

Then we made a detour to Chez Pamela to say hello to her kidlets. I got to hold gorgeous baby Rory while three year old Calum impressed us with his toy crane-driving skills and jumping-off-coffee-table athleticism.

Next stop was dinner at a Mexican restaurant. The food was delicious and so were the margaritas. I forgot that tequila makes me completely rat-arsed, until I heard myself laughing in that horrible loud BWWAARRR HAARR HARRR table-slapping kind of way.

SundaeBy the time we moved down the street for pudding, the jetlag and alcohol combo had taken hold. My legs and brain felt wild and wobbly and I clung to Doctor G to stay upright. He didn't realise I was pished; he just thought I'd gone choc-o-mental because Pamela had brought us to The Chocolate Room – a chocolate boutique and dessert café. Hubba hubba. What a concept!

Michael had a selection of chocolates while Pamela, Gareth and I all went for the chocolate brownie sundae. Oh lordy, it was so good. A fudgy brownie with a slightly crusty exterior, delicious vanilla ice cream, deeply-chocolately-without-being-sugary fudge sauce, all topped with a plop of whipped cream. Oh. Yeahhh. I took a photo for you all, but in my excitment I blinded it with flash. There's a more accurate portrait on the Chocolate Room website.

This was washed down with a fine glass of port, #2 on the list of Drinks That Make Me The Most Spannered. Gareth had a seriously hardcore Black Chocolate Stout from his beloved Brooklyn Brewery. It made Guinness look like tap water – inky, thick and reeking of Marmite and cocoa.

It was a great ol' night. Pamela is such a good egg; so lovely to talk to. I quizzed her and Michael about how they met; a grand trans-Atlantic tale of romance, complete with marriage proposal on a rainy Scottish hilltop. Swoon!

Finally we said our goodbyes and Dr G and I jumped on the train and rambled all the way back to Manhattan. Weren't they nice, wasn't that cool, how about that chocklit, bless the internets, why can't we just do this all day long instead of WORK and all that?

Crikey it's time for bed, I'll wind it up for now. Hope your week is going well, comrades!

The Oldest Trick in the Book

TwitDear Makers of Twix,

I consider myself to be a smart consumer and not one to be sucked into your marketing japes but today you got me good.

It was 11AM and I was twitching with the need for chocolate. I went downstairs to the vending machine in search of a small hit.

The Twix was singing to me –  one because it’s on my Totally Worth It list and two because the number on the label caught my eye – 142 calories. BARGAIN!

"Dudes! Did you know a Twix only has 142 calories?" I announced to my colleagues moments later through a spray of biscuity crumbs. "Rather economical for two fingers of chococaramel joy! Who woulda thought?"

NB: We’re not saddo office cliches who sit around obsessing about diets and thighs and whatnot, but at least seventeen times a week you will hear the phrase, You know, I am totally gagging for a chocolate. So the news of the reasonable-caloried Twix was well received!

Later on I was filling in my online food journal thingo and looked up Twix and it said 284 calories. What the hell? Then I realised it was 142 calories per 28 grams… that is, 142 calories PER BLOODY FINGER.

I can’t believe I fell for the oldest trick in the food packaging book: the Per Serve Nutritional Information. I’m known as the grizzled diet veteran with the nerdy blog but now I’ve made a dick of myself crowing to the comrades, EAT UP KIDS! Get your chocolate hit here!

I bet you have hidden cameras installed in the venue machine and you watch us from your sugar-scented headquarters, lipreading our delight, Wow only 142 calories! Then you pump your corporate fists and cackle as another sucker shoves in their 50p.

It’s not that I give a rats how many calories are in your Twix; it was a tasty diversion. I’m boycotting your product purely because you reeled me in with your shiny wrapper and made me feel compelled to prattle on about it like a tit.

The boycott is going to last at least two days. So there!

Sincerely,
Dimwit of Dunfermline

Recipe Corner: Spinach & Feta Frittata

Depending which definition you choose, you could call this recipe a frittata, a tortilla or a Spanish omelette. After my mathematical debacle in the last entry I'm unwilling to commit to an answer. Hehehe.

In this household it has been known variously as:

  • There's A Vegetarian At My Table WTF Should I Do
  • I'm Too Lazy To Cook But Realistically This Is Quicker Than Getting A Takeaway
  • Refrigerator Graveyard In A Pan

Reason for today's culinary diversion: I found this Leftover Recipe Competition on Weight Loss Resources. I raided the fridge for the most shriveled ingredients and got all geeked up to enter. But then realised that might be a bit dodgy, since they kindly pimped the heck out of my book. So I thought I'd share it here instead.

Like everything I cook this is stupidly easy and awfully vague. It's one many reasons my food blog venture failed a few years back – I felt silly adding half-arsed primary school recipes to the blogosphere while other folks did precision flambéed goat trotters and Peruvian gooseberry parfaits.

Step 1 – Take some Spuds of Yesteryear
… that is, some leftover cooked potatoes, or the skanky raw potatoes lurking in your cupboard with seventeen eyes each. I had about 500 grams/1lb of new potatoes, so I removed the eyes, sliced em up then microwaved until juuuust tender.

If you're a member of the Potatoes Are Evil OOGA BOOGA camp, chunks of other firm veggies work well, like sweet potato or butternut squash.

Spuds

Step 2 – Get yer non-starchy veggies ready
First, something oniony – leeks, spring onions or even… ONIONS. In this case half an onion leftover from pita pizzas the night before.

Second, something colourful and worthy. Asparagus or artichoke hearts are dead tasty, but here we have two handfuls of near-death English spinach. Most of it had turned to pulp in the bottom of the Tupperware container but these leaves were salvagable.

Spinach

Step 3 – Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a nice round pan with a handle (ETA: I have the hotplate on the highest heat, but our stove is utterly rubbish. If you've got a decent one I'd probably go with a medium heat so you don't burn the eggs later on).

Sauté your onion, then add the tatties. Gently stir now and then so they get a nice golden colour but don't break up. This takes at least ten minutes on my shithouse stovetop but I hope you get a swifter response!

Stir

Step 4 – Meanwhile crack some eggs into a bowl. I used half a dozen – the amount of eggs of course depends on how many veggies you've got, how many mouths you're feeding, and/or how many eggs are left in the carton. Season with some dried chili flakes and black pepper then whisk to combine. You don't need any salt.

Step 5 – Once the spuds are done, add the spinach then carefully stir until it wilts. Again, you don't want to bust your spuds.

Step 6 – Make sure the veggie mixture is spaced out evenly over the pan, then pour over the egg mixture. Kinda smooth and poke at the whole thing with wooden spoon to make sure the egg gets between the gaps and you get a relatively even surface.

Let it cook for awhile you get preheat your grill. Is that a broiler to Americans? It's that thing with the heat that you slide things beneath in order to get them nice and toasty.

Pour

Step 7 – Once it's started to cook around the edges, I plop on about 150 grams/5oz feta cheese or similar strong and crumbly cheese. I used Wensleydale once and it was nae bad. You could be virtuous and skip the cheese altogether but… BORRRRRRING!

Feta

Step 8 – I don't know exactly how long you cook this on the stove before you whack it under the grill. Usually its about five minutes, til the edges are looking cooked and it doesn't move much when you shoogle the pan, but there's still eggy liquid around.

Anyway, whop it under the grill for about five minutes until the eggy bits look puffy and the feta looks lovely and golden.

Thingy Step 9 – Let it rest for at least ten minutes, otherwise it's too hot for you to truly appreciate the full flavour of the tasty, tasty feta.

Actually don't let it rest too long or you'll start picking off chunks of tasty, tasty feta and then you'll have to shame-facedly serve up it up to your friends with big feta dents in it.

Nice with a wee salad – here we have mixed leaves, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper and strawberries.

Also very tasty eaten cold the next day, but a little dull if you've picked off all the cheese!

For the nerds: Serves 4. 338 calories per serve. nerdy nutritional info Click for details!

Astounding Feats of Arithmetic

The Scottish Government is running a campaign for a healthier nation called Take Life On. Billboard sayz: change your life by swapping plate of flaccid chips for plate of pasta.

Soon

Some folks will get all snobby about it and suggest refined white pasta with a token blob of tomato goo isn’t particularly nutritious. Then there’s the billboard with a beer on it, imploring you try one night per week without a pint. But the campaign is all about the value of small changes adding up to a healthier you and I’m all for that. You gotta start somewhere, says she who once Drove Thru four times a week.

Must say though, first time I walked past that billboard I thought, "Ooh. Quite fancy chips for my dinner." I’ve been living here too long!

. . .

100 PushUps Update

Good news: I can now do 12 consecutive proper push-ups! (started out at 3)

Slightly crappy news: I needed to do 16 in order to progress to Week 3. FAIL!

Now I have to repeat Week 2, which had already taken 3.5 weeks to complete. At this rate I will be the World’s Oldest Blogger by the time I get to 100.  But my goal for six weeks was to get to 20, so I’m on my way to being able to respond if someone barks, "drop and give me twenty!"

Well… at this stage I’m only any good if conditions are perfect – properly hydrated, well rested, no kickboxing class the night before, not in a bad mood, etc. One day I’ll work up to a Spontaneous Show-off level of pushup prowess and I’ll drop to the floor in supermarket queues just because I can.

. . .

Any mathemagicians out there? Dr G and I have been having a heated debate about my push up statistics, namely by what percentage I have increased my ability. Could do 3, can now do 12. One of us says 300%, the other 400%. We’veve been sitting here scratching our heads for an embarrassingly long time!

Our excuse is that it’s 1AM and we also had a very very late Friday night. Actually Gareth has that PhD so he really has no excuse at all. I am so brain dead that I just asked him, "Is magician spelled with a J?"

Shauna used to be able to do just 3 push-ups, but can now do 12.
By what % has her push-up ability increased?