Words

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” ― Julia Child

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Change Is Gonna Come

Over the past 20 or so years (maybe longer) it seems I have unconsciously or subconsciously embarked on a mission to destroy my body. I suppose it all started when I was young, as these things tend to do. However, as a teenager and into my early 20's I had a rapid metabolism and was one of those people that other people refer to as having "hollow legs", as I could put away remarkable amounts of food with no effect on my bodyweight. At Sunday dinners I would always be like, "You don't want that last roast potato? Give it here then." My family referred to me as the Human Dustbin.

Then one day in my mid-twenties I saw a picture taken of myself at my first wife's birthday party in 1991, and thought "Ooh. Those jeans look awfully tight on me."

I didn't pay much attention to it and, after moving to the USA with all the delights it has to offer (massive portions, Mexican food, IHOP, brownies, nachos, fast food aplenty) I found myself at the end of my first marriage at age 36 in size 36 trousers. Now, 36 may not seem like a bad size to you, but I'd started out at a 28. When I had gotten married in 1990 I was 6 ft tall and 10 stone (140lbs). I was skinny, and it looked good on me. Being skinny was nice. I also had hair, but that's another story.

So I ate for comfort. To beat stress, I would eat, and drink beer. How stressed was I?

Well, let's put it this way. In order to get divorced in Snohomish County, WA, in 1999, I was required to attend a seminar/workshop thing because I had a child. I can't remember too much of the seminar now (it was totally boring) save for the part where they gave each of us a sheet of paper with a list of all sorts of different life events and a point score for each one.

The idea was that if you had had any of the things listed happen to you within the last couple years, you added that into your points total. There were things like moving house, relationship ending, relationship beginning, learning to drive, pregnancy, stuff like that.

Then on the bottom of the sheet was a table where you could see how stressed you were by the number of points you'd accrued.

If you were over 300 points you were said to be 'extremely stressed'. I had managed to tally up an insane 430 points. And the weird thing was, I didn't feel like I was stressed at all. I figured it was just like one of those Cosmo quizzes which always turn out to be utter bullcrap.

But I guess I was, because almost as soon as I was divorced and remarried, a child came along, and then another, and I'd moved from Everett, WA to Gainesville, GA, something I didn't want to do really in my heart of hearts. A helluva distance, to a state I didn't much care for, just because we thought it would be cheaper to live there, nearer my new wife's family.

Georgia, the home of... cooking everything in butter and grease, apparently.  After a few years of living there I was a 50 inch waisted butterball and I was miserable. My second marriage wasn't working out and... blah blah blah.

So I found myself back home in the UK in 2010, got myself back down to a 40-inch waist and things were looking hopeful. However, it is easy to just get a takeaway or bung some oven chips and fish fingers in the oven rather than cooking proper food, plus I still think I can eat like "The Human Dustbin". Thus, my waist is now back at a 44.

So now my body has started let me down rather spectacularly.

While I was in Georgia I was told by my doctor that I was borderline diabetic. I also had really bad fluid retention in my legs, which led to gout-like pains in my feet and ankles. He gave me some pills for that (can't remember which) and it seemed to work, and I made somewhat of an effort to eat better, which is why I got down to a 44 by the time I got back to the UK.

Well, folks, the water retention and skin discolouration which comes with it is back, as well as the gout-like pains in the feet and ankles, coupled with the knee pains which come from hauling around this large bulk I call my body. Being asthmatic as well, it's not difficult for just a small amount of effort to get me out of breath. Something's got to change.

Which is why I have signed up for a new programme online called LBD (Lifestyle Beats Diet). If you go to http://www.changeinseconds.com/  you can read all about it.

It's a holistic approach to weight loss in that it's not about calorie-counting or eating less of this or more of that or hitting the gym every day, it's about Clean Eating  (http://www.changeinseconds.com/what-is-clean-eating/).

There was one thing I read on their site that sold it to me. It was this sage piece of advice: If you're feeling hungry, then ask yourself - would I eat an apple right now? If the answer's no, then you're not hungry, you're probably just bored.

Once you sign up, there is a game involved. You keep an online journal of your food habits and score points for eaing right and get points deducted for eating wrong. Not just food though - you get points for your mindset, how many hours you sleep, the amount you exercise etc.  and keep either an online waist measurement record or track your progress through the use of selfies. After the site goes live on Feb 19th, there will be challenges, and a community wall where we can all track each other's progress, as well as a body tracker. There are also pages and pages of resources to help, a grocery list of best items to eat and oodles of healthy recipes which I am determined to try.

So, as I sit here with my pear in one hand, bottle of water in another, wish me luck, folks.

P.S. I'm also signed up to go chocolate-free for a month this March in order to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation and fund valuable research into coronary heart disease, which is currently the UK's single biggest killer. My fundraising page is at  https://www.justgiving.com/jeff2016/  -please donate-  and  I haven't actually had any chocolate since Sunday night when I ate a bar of raw organic chocolate from http://www.consciouschocolate.com/ which was jolly good and quite unlike any chocolate I've ever had!

Are You Salsified?


Along while ago, longer than I care to remember, i asked you good people (person? who knows) what this was.

I received no answers, which I take to mean you don't know!

Well, here I am to put you out of your misery.

It is salsify, a root vegetable belonging to the dandelion family. Salsify is also known as the oyster plant because of its oystery taste when cooked. The root is similar in appearance to a long, thin parsnip, with creamy white flesh and a thick skin. In the same way as many root vegetables, salsify can be boiled, mashed or used in soups and stews.

What do we do with it, Jeff?

So glad you asked.

Here are some fab recipes for salsify from the venerable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Salsify fritters

A great brunch or lunch dish, and perfect served alongside a few crisp rashers and a fried or poached egg. Makes six fritters.

300g salsify
45g unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small red chilli, finely diced
3 tbsp finely chopped coriander
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tbsp flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Peel and coarsely grate the salsify. Warm 20g of the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and sauté the salsify until softened. Transfer to a bowl and mix with the garlic, chilli, coriander, egg and flour. Season generously, then form into six fritters. Warm the remaining butter and the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, and cook the fritters until golden, about four minutes a side.

Salsify tempura with a spicy dipping sauce

Crisp, battered salsify is delicious with this easy dipping sauce, but it's also great served simply with a little flaky sea salt and a few lemon wedges. Serves four as a starter.

3-4 salsify roots

For the batter
125g plain flour
½ tsp sea salt
1 egg yolk
175ml ice-cold sparkling water

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For the dipping sauce
2 medium red chillies, deseeded, membrane and seeds removed, and finely diced
1 large garlic clove, grated
2 tbsp caster sugar
100ml cider vinegar
2 tbsp water
About 1 litre sunflower or groundnut oil for frying

First, make the dipping sauce. Put all the ingredients into a small saucepan, place over a low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Now raise the heat a little, bring up to a simmer and cook until reduced and syrupy, about five minutes. Pour into a small bowl and set to one side until you are ready to serve.

Fill a medium-large saucepan with water, bring to a boil and cook the salsify for five minutes. Drain, refresh in cold water, then rub off the skins and cut the salsify into 4cm pieces. Whisk the ingredients for the batter – don't worry if it turns out a bit lumpy.

Heat 10cm of oil in a deep, heavy-based saucepan until it registers 180C on a frying thermometer or a cube of bread goes brown in 30 seconds. Dip the salsify in the batter and deep-fry a few pieces at a time until crisp and golden, about a minute. Serve at once with the spicy dipping sauce. alongside.

Salsify gratin

The perfect accompaniment to a Sunday roast (incidentally, this is different from the recipe I wrote for this magazine in Christmas 2007). Serves four.

35g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
Juice of 1 lemon
850g salsify (about 8 roots)
1 litre vegetable stock
150ml dry white wine
60g kale (or cabbage), washed and finely shredded
25g plain flour
150ml double cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
75g grated cheddar or other hard, well-flavoured cheese
50g coarse white breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ gas mark 6 and butter a gratin dish about 26cm in length. Put the lemon juice into a large bowl along with some cold water. One by one, peel each salsify root, cut into 4cm x 1cm batons and drop straight into the lemon water to prevent discolouring. Repeat with all the roots.

When the salsify has been prepared, drain and transfer to a saucepan along with the stock and wine. Bring up to a simmer and cook for five minutes, until tender but still with a bit of bite.

While the salsify is cooking, put the kale in a large pan with a centimetre or two of water and cook for about three minutes, until wilted. Drain the salsify, reserving the stock, and set aside. Return the stock to the pan and simmer until reduced by half.

Meanwhile, mash together the butter and flour with a fork. When the stock has reduced, keep it simmering and add the flour paste in little nuggets, whisking all the time. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens to the consistency of single cream. Stir in the double cream and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Lay the salsify and kale in the gratin dish, and pour over the creamy sauce. Combine the cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden.



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