My recent birthday was a remarkably warm Indian Summer afternoon and I sat in the square outside Spitalfields Market, eating Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes with my friend Jane. It occurred to me at that moment that things would never be the same again. And I’m not just talking about being able to resist the rather tantalising looking, yet e-number crammed rainbow cake I’d seen in the bakery earlier.
It all started with my visit to the 20-something substitute midwife a couple of weeks ago. “You look fantastic for a pregnant lady in her 40’s” she said to me…on the day before my 36th birthday.
I had always been mistaken for being younger than I actually am. Never older. So it hit me hard.
Was this the beginning of how it happens? Getting a Claire Balding haircut, buying a minivan, joining Pinterest? (Oh God, I just joined Pinterest!) Next thing you know, boom, you’ve got crows feet and find yourself in tears at the Creme de la Mer counter.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve felt great throughout most of this pregnancy. A little sick at the beginning and perhaps these days, at week 22, I move at a…slightly slower pace. I desperately am fighting pregnant lady waddle, but am not sure how much longer I will be able to fight that off as my whopper of a baby continues to grow.
I sit here in my living room as the builders upstairs listen (and occasionally sing along) to Latvian radio. We are converting our second bathroom into a nursery. A nursery! I remember when we were house hunting. We’d see nurseries and think “that would make a great second bathroom!” I’m excited about this nursery and its future occupant.
But I really do miss having a second bathroom.
At first glance, my friend Sarah and I couldn’t have more different diets to each other. So when we found out that the the other had decided to try the high protein, high fat Paleo diet earlier this year for the month of January, we were equally surprised. Sarah was surprised because she secretly wondered how the heck was I – a vegetarian – going to eat Paleo…and just what would I be eating? And I was surprised because after 18 years of friendship, I’ve never seen Sarah go a day without eating sugar and dairy. So, with some delay (I like to think as a period of reflection) we would like to share our stories and thoughts on the experience.
At the beginning of January I sat down with my computer and a hand-drawn calendar and mapped out Paleo meals. And then my family of 5 followed the Paleo diet for one month. It was ambitious. I was hard. It was sometimes complicated. But was it worth it in the end?
As a stay-at-home mother of three boys (with ages ranging from “will eat anything that’s put in front of him” to “won’t eat it if it’s not peanut butter”), I struggle every day to ensure my kids are eating healthy food. Mostly my approach is pretty basic. I buy organic, local produce (when I can). I use whole grains. And I cook, every day. But kids are kids. And although some people have those children who will eat anything, I don’t. So the idea to cut out whole food groups that my children will eat (pasta, bread, cheese) was something that I didn’t take on lightly. Would my children starve?
They didn’t of course. And neither did I. Because by week three, I was cheating. Well, I wasn’t cheating. But the kids were. Because you can’t tell a five year old that spaghetti squash is pasta (because it’s not). And the baby, it turns out, really missed yoghurt.
It turns out that there are a lot of good things about the Paleo diet. We ate a lot of vegetables. We avoided refined sugars. I tried baking with alternative flours, and have added some really good new recipes to my files. We eat locally, sustainably raised meat anyway, so that wasn’t different. But our meals did become more…protein focused.
But we did miss the foods that we love. And that was sometimes hard (hence my caving and cooking the boys pasta because they really wanted it). Like any diet that is quite restrictive, there were times when the diet wasn’t any fun. And at the end of the day, I’m not sure, for example, that legumes or dairy are really all that bad for you.
The intriguing thing about the Paleo Diet is that it seems logical. As humans, we evolved a certain way, to eat certain foods. So it makes sense that these are the foods we should be eating to be healthy.
But healthy eating, for me at least, isn’t about restriction. It’s about ensuring that I and my family are eating the largest variety of foods possible – including carbs and glutens and legumes when appropriate. The Paleo diet turned out not to be for me, but the discipline of really being conscious of my food choices was useful in “resetting” my meal planning, and getting me out of the post-holiday sugar-pasta-junk food rut. Will I try it again?
But with so many food trends out there, maybe next January I’ll try “Vegan before Six.”
Student Nutritionists go through something similar to first year med students – the med students tend to get a bit hypochondriac and nutrition students love to try out all the hype diets. As a responsible nutritionist, I will someday know that everybody and their body is different and will suit a different diet. Some people do better with high fat, high protein diets, others favour raw vegan lifestyles. Others, like macrobiotics, and followers of Weston A Price favour a pretty balanced whole foods diet. (No one flourishes on a standard diet of processed foods, though. No one.) However, until that responsible future nutritionist (me!) is qualified, I’m enjoying trying out all kinds of different diets and ways of eating; partly so I can see what suits me and partly so I can understand the challenges that my future clients might face when moving onto specialist diets for one reason or another.
Its pretty easy for me to try these things out, as my lifestyle is pretty flexible and I don’t have children. However, I do have a husband. But he’s easy, you know. He’ll pretty much eat whatever I’m eating…
…but with a steak thrown on top.
So, back to Paleo. I already knew that I had an intolerance to modern hybridised wheat (while seeming to do just fine on heritage wheats like emmer, kamut and spelt), so I wondered if taking all grains out of the equation might make me feel even better. (I’m slightly extremist at times.)
I was pretty dubious about taking my beloved pulses out of my diet, but in the interests of the experiment, I did. I was okay about eliminating sugar and terrified about eliminating most dairy. As I don’t eat meat, but do eat fish, I substituted organic or wild fish for the pasture-fed organic meats. Otherwise, it was pretty much the same. I actually emailed the founder of the Paleo movement, Dr Loren Cordain, to ask about this and received a pretty frank reply that a life without meat was an unhealthy one. Uh huh….so that was a nice start.
But I was assured by all the fancy-looking blogs I had read and high energy Bulletproof Diet TED talks I’d seen, that once on a high fat, high protein, low carb diet, I would immediately drop a ton of weight and become the happiest, healthiest and most energetic I had ever been.
As it happened, I had low energy all the time because my brain wasn’t getting the glucose it needed for me to get on with my very busy life, my mouth eternally tasted of grease from all the coconut oil, fish oils, avocados and grassfed butter I was eating and no to put too fine a point on it, I may as well have piped polyfilla into my digestive tract.
Oh, and I gained about 8 pounds.
So Paleo wasn’t for me. (I mean, have you TRIED Bulletproof coffee???)
But it wasn’t all bad. It gave me an opportunity to try out lots of recipes using different wholefood ingredients which was fun and educational. A few (Paleo pancakes) have even continued on as firm household favourites. It made me reconsider a lot of the health food store processed foods I still somewhat relied on and it weaned me away from dairy, to which I was completely addicted. It was really nice in mid-winter to come home from the shops with nearly nothing packaged in a box or bottle – just fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs (oh God, so many eggs) and organic fish and meats. And that’s what I’ve kept from the experience.
So a few months down the line, my food intake is a much more satisfying and balanced high complex carb, low fat, low-med protein diet and it suits me so much better. I can eat all the fruits and veg I want, along with some legumes (I really missed those in January) and a bit of brown rice or wholegrain pasta.
Oh and yeah, I kept the coconut oil. Just, um, its not in my coffee this time…
Girls. Girls work together. They play together. They get their nails done together. They share a glass of wine together. They say terrible things about work colleagues together. And then they go to dinner together.
Which is funny, because I would have thought that in going to dinner together, they would have been able to eat together. I guess Brasserie Max – up until now a particular favourite of mine – has opted to take the Wagamama approach to food, however. (Meh, whenever its ready.)
One of my work colleagues – a dear friend – recently recieved the annual staff award at our office and to celebrate we treated her to an evening out at Brasserie Max, the chic & snug restaurant on the ground floor of the Covent Garden Hotel on Monmouth Street.
The atmosphere of the hotel is everything I love about Covent Garden. In fact, I love all the Firmdale Hotel chain restaurants. They have comfy chairs, grand zinc bars, perfectly cooked yumlicious food (yes, I said yumlicious) and they can happily accommodate any dietary requirement. If you are a lover of cocktails, they all look amazing – and if the never ending stream of waiters carrying trays of martini glasses is anything to go by, they taste delicious as well.
So where did it all go wrong?
We all ordered from the set menu. (The set menu we had to ask for because it wasn’t offered to us when we sat down.) Two of us ordered the salmon and two the shepherd’s pie. The food arrived and the salmons were superb. The shepherd’s pies, however, were tepid. Both of them. So they were both sent back to be heated through. I’m a slow eater at the best of times. I ate especially slowly on this occasion. But bar the last bite of salmon and a stem of broccoli I left on the plate (to seem slightly less rude and like I’d eaten my entire meal while two of the other diners sat waiting for their meals to return for over TWENTY MINUTES), the other salmon diner and I had both eaten our meals when the two hot shepherd’s pies arrived back at the table. I will give Brasserie Max this – they could have heated the pies through in a microwave, but they did not. They in fact prepared two new shepherd’s pies from scratch. A testimony purely to the integrity of the back of house – that’s not lost on me. However, we did not get to eat our meal together and that felt uncomfortable and quite frankly it was the front of house’s problem to sort out.
But hey, the company was good and it was a celebratory evening, so I tried not to behave as incredibly annoyed as I felt. I assured myself Brasserie Max would do what decent fine dining restaurants do and would comp us some desserts or knock a percentage off the bill. But the bill came and no discounts were given and no comps offered. We were treating our friend and there was no way I was kicking up a fuss at the table, given the circumstances.
I guess what Brasserie Max doesn’t know about me is that I have worked back of house in fine dining restauranst – far finer than Brasserie Max. And when a restaurant does something this appalling and doesn’t try to make it up to you – no matter how friendly the staff and no matter how good the food, they are basically telling you that you don’t really matter as a customer. I don’t mean in some deep and subconscious way – this basic hotel/restaurant management 101 stuff.
And to top it all off, because the message just wasn’t quite clear enough, they had the sheer cojones at the end of it all to tell us that they needed the table back (“Oh, do you mean the table that we’ve had for this long because we ate our main courses in two separate sittings?” I’ll point out there were other tables free at this point and no one queuing to get into the restaurant at 9pm on this fairly quiet weekday evening).
I do a lot of professional restaurant reviewing these days and don’t often have the opportunity to write reviews on my own blog anymore. I was looking forward to writing up a really glowing review of this evening’s experience, but sadly, Brasserie Max, I have got your message loud and clear.
Okay, like soooooo many others, I’ve jumped on the Paleo bandwagon this January.
But here in the UK the Paleo diet is not quite so much a ‘thing’ yet. In fact, if I had a nickel for every blank look I’ve received when I’ve said I’m doing Paleo, well, I’d have a few nickels at least. (But hey, I live in the UK, so what good are nickels to me?)
So, what IS the Paleo diet? Well, its based on the premise that our guts haven’t really evolved much in the last 15,000 years so we’re really better off eating what our Paleolithic ancestors ate, including fish, grass-fed pasture-raised meats, eggs, vegetables & fruit, fungi, roots and nuts. Things you can’t eat are grains, legumes, dairy, (white) potatoes, refined salts and sugars and processed oils. (Processed oils? Yeah, I know, all oils are processed. I use common sense here: pasture-fed butter, organic raw coconut oil and olive oil are the only cooking fats I keep in the house. If I ate red meat, lard would be on that list as well.) This way of eating isn’t just about weight loss. Done properly, its helped a lot of people with autoimmune issues (Crohn’s, Coeliac, etc) and leaky gut, as well as people with inflammation issues caused by food intolerances they may not even have been aware of before.
The thing is, I’m pescatarian. I don’t eat red meat or poultry, but I do eat fish, so I can’t strictly be called a vegetarian or an omnivore. So I contacted Dr Loren Cordain, an expert on the Paleo diet about whether I could adapt this diet as a pescatarian. I received a fairly prompt and unhelpful response setting out that in no uncertain terms would they advocate not eating meat. It threw me a little bit, but only for about 2 minutes until I thought about it logically. Whats not to love about this way of eating and why did I need commercial validation to do it anyway? My diet is now filled with brightly coloured vegetables and greenery, fresh organic fish, organic free-range eggs and healthy fats & nuts – lots of unprocessed foods. All I have eliminated from my diet is a vast amount of sugar – by this I mean sugar in the form of bread, pasta and grains, not just refined sugar. So, I say boooo to Dr Cordain and I’m just enjoying doing Paleo the way that works for me.
So, have I lost any weight with the diet? Well, its only been 3 weeks and as I don’t have a functional set of scales, I honestly couldn’t tell you. What I can say is that my stomach is much flatter, I feel overall much more toned and my energy levels are much higher than they were.
Have I cheated? Well, yes. I have. Several times. And I’m okay with that. There have been a couple of mornings when I have really missed my oatmeal, cooked with coconut cream and sweetened with apple and raisins – so I made it. I didn’t feel the worse for having it. I’ve also continued to have a bit of organic milk in my tea and the odd bit of sheep or goat milk cheese. For me its not a competition about being ‘right’ – its a process of finding out what works best for my lifestyle and what makes me feel the healthiest. I lived a low-fat lifestyle for years, but now my diet is full of plenty of healthy fats – yes, including some saturated fats – and as a result, I’m staying full throughout the day and my usual mid-afternoon hypoglycaemic episodes appear to have disappeared.
What do I eat? You know, its much MUCH easier than I thought it would be. For lunch I might pack a tupperware box filled with organic baby spinach, a small baked sweet potato with a tad of feta crumbled on top, a grated carrot salad with raisins, a small bag of nuts as a snack and a couple of pieces of fruit. Or a half an avocado on a bed of quinoa with some greens on the side or cooked kale with a lemon wedge to squeeze over it all. Because I work in an office, I tend to save eating fishy things for dinner at home or restaurants – at the moment I’m really into Alaskan wild salmon, though also am trying to eat more local sustainable fish and also sardines. I’ve also found a fantastic recipe for cauliflower pizza that I have adapted by putting sheep feta in the crust and grating some St Helen’s hard goat cheese (a version of cheddar) on top.
Because I have a sweet tooth, I also sometimes make an um…healthy(ish) sundae for dessert. To do this, I whiz up 1.5 frozen bananas in the food processor with a tablespoon of maple syrup. If it needs more liquid to get creamy, add a tablespoon of coconut water or coconut milk. That makes the ice ‘cream’, which is like the texture of soft serve. To make the chocolate sauce, you’ll need to open a can of full fat coconut milk which has been in the fridge for at least 24 hours (I always keep a few in the fridge now – the coconut cream rises to the top of the can and hardens and delicious coconut water remains at the bottom of the can, so you can use both) and scoop a heaped tablespoon of the coconut cream into a small saucepan. On a low-med heat, melt the coconut cream and whisk in a couple of teaspoons of a dark cacao powder along with enough maple syrup or coconut sugar to sweeten. It will make a thick, fudgey hot chocolate sauce to pour over your ice ‘cream’. Delicious!
There are some wonderful bloggers out there who inspire me with a regular dose of Paleo friendly recipes for meals, packed lunches, cakes, cookies & muffins. Here are my favourites! (And please don’t knock the Mommy Bloggers – these women channel their energies into creating delicious food for their amazing websites and have a better grasp on social media than most FTSE500 companies!)
Nom Nom Paleo
The Paleo Mama
In general, I guess while there is a lot I’m enjoying about this way of eating, I’m a little cautious about cutting significant food groups from the diet and probably lean a bit more toward the Weston A Price dietary guidelines than strict Paleo, but we’ll see how it goes. By my next post I may have eased off the Paleo thing a bit. Its not everyone’s cup of tea, but rest assured there are some tasty recipes in the wings and more adventures of dining in London to come.
Every year I ask my mother what her new year resolution is. She says she’s giving up chocolate. It lasts about 3 days. Sound familiar? Sure, I’ve made major life decisions which I have adhered to over the years, but I’m pretty sure that none of them were ever the result of a new year resolution. In fact I struggle to think of a single new year resolution which wasn’t a complete failure. So I’ve come up with 10 achievable changes to incorporate into my life for 2014.
1) More Family Time
A while ago I made the decision that my job should make me as happy as the rest of my life does and I started training to become a Nutritional Therapist. This has involved me keeping my day job while attending class on most weekends. My work-school-life balance has been less than ideal for a while now and so this week I made the decision to reduce my hours at work and switch to a weekday class schedule, which will once again free up my weekends to once again spend Saturday mornings at Borough Market with my husband again or exploring Telegraph Hill with the dog…or even just spending a lazy morning on the sofa with a mug of tea and a copy of the Sunday Times.
2. Grow Where You’re Planted
Maybe this one only applies to me. I’ve spent my whole life thinking “life will be perfect when we move to….” and “when we get a bigger house then we can……”. But maybe I just need to learn to love the space I’m in and cherish what I’ve got. I have a warm and beautiful home with enough space to welcome our friends and a garden where I can enjoy the sun in the summer. We live in a great neighbourhood with access to plenty of parks. There’s always going to be something bigger and better and somewhere else that seems more exciting. And who knows what the future might hold? But right now, maybe I just need to nurture the little plot where I’m planted right now.
3. Eat More Coconut Oil
Hey this is an easy one. Coconut oil is great. I’m a little biased because I love the stuff. Its great for healthy skin (applied topically or when eaten regularly), for shiny hair (again, either applied topically or eaten regularly….or both!), for brain function (appearing to play a role in the reduction of dementia and Alzheimer’s), and it contains high levels of lauric acid which can kill fungi, harmful bacteria and viruses. Yes, its a saturated fat, but its structurally different to other saturated fats and is metabolised differently. It fills you up, reducing your overall intake of calories, and even promoting a reduction in abdominal fat. You know…your spare tire. But make sure that you buy the raw, virgin, cold-pressed organic stuff.
4. Take Your Vitamins. (Not Just Buy Them)
I’ve got better with this over the last year, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. I spend a lot of money on good quality supplements and when I take them, I feel great. I try to keep it down to a minimum, so I’m not rattling as I walk down the street, but there are a few vitamins I take as well as a couple of herbal tinctures and a fantastic breakfast shake which balances my blood sugar from morning to early afternoon because I really REALLY don’t wan to get diabetes! That being said, I don’t particularly want my life to revolve around my vitamin schedule, but I do think it would improve my overall wellbeing if I just take the vitamins I’ve got when I’m supposed to take them. (Even the yucky ones with kelp and spirulina that stink like low tide on a hot day and make me want to barf every time I take them.) Its called structure. I have very little of that in my life.
5. Walk More – 10,000 Steps
“You know what, I really need to start walking less” said no one, ever. Okay, that sounded like one of those glib Facebook shares and perhaps somewhere it is. But really, walking is so good for you, and if you are at all able to engage in this exercise (i.e. not in a wheelchair or completely bedridden) then get out and walk some more. I’m not really a pedometer kind of a person, but depending on your height and gait, 10,000 steps a day is between 5 and 8 kilometres. There is a plethora of evidence that 10,000 steps a day will burn excess calories, improve heart health and also can improve mental health. Any times in the past when I’ve gone through a difficult period, I know that walking has been my drug of choice. I walk, walk and walk some more. And when I think I can’t walk anymore, I just keep going. This year I definitely plan to reignite my love of this simple activity – and best of all, its free!!!
6. Think About Where Your Money Goes – Shop Local & Shop Strategically
Your pound, dollar, peso, whatever, is the best communication tool in the world. Its better than Twitter, Facebook. customer feedback groups or the Amazon star rating system. Because in the end, like it or not, the world is about money. Every purchase you make tells companies (both big and small) what to keep making and tells stores what to keep stocking on their shelves. For instance, today the average person in Britain consumes 36.4 kilos of sugar each year. In 1997 that figure was 29.5 kilos. This trend tells companies to produce more consumables (can you really call it food?) with sugar and to continue to make sweet foods sweeter. By thinking about which companies, products and values we are supporting before spending our money, and taking into account the impact that even one person’s spending habits can have (remember that 36.4 kilos of sugar per year we’re all eating? That’s over 230 million kilos of sugar in Britain alone), we are shopping strategically and helping to set the marketplace of the future.
7. Try Something Different
Everyone gets caught up with crazy, restrictive or just plain unhealthy new year diets. We suddenly realise we have to lose a whole whack of kilos which we just spent the last 6 months gaining and expect to lose it in two weeks. Well, it don’t work like that, honey. So instead of putting pressure on yourself, just remember how to enjoy real food and exercise again. I find diet books exhausting. They provide such rigid protocols I feel bored before I’ve even finished the second chapter. But you know what? Some different ways of eating are both really healthy and really fun. For instance, in the spring, summer and early autumn months, I love eating a lot of raw vegan food. There are some great bloggers out there with recipes that are so much fun to try: Fully Raw Kristina, Fragrant Vanilla Cake and Live.Love.Raw. Try it for a day. A week. A month. Or even just one meal. I’ve always been a little intimated to try eating Paleo, so on 1 January Mr Harris and I agreed to do it together. There was no pressure – no commitment to adhere to it for any set length of time. Just to see how we got on with it. And you know what – it couldn’t be easier having a grain-free lifestyle. It makes the weekly shopping trip quick and easy (just fish, meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables and nuts!) and if I feel I just can’t get on without a bit of dairy, well, then I have a bit of cheese made from organic sheep or goats’ milk, which are much easier to digest. Its not about discomfort and deprivation. We might keep eating this way for another week. We might keep eating this way forever. But I’m just pleased that we tried it. (And don’t forget to combine it with resolution number 5 above: Walk More!)
(Uh oh…where’s she going with this?) Meditation doesn’t have to mean a prayer rug and incense. It can mean whatever it needs to mean to you to calm the near constant hyperarousal of the sympathetic nervous system which so many of us experience in our everyday lives. We react to the so called ‘emergencies’ in our work environments in the same way our bodies evolved to react to say, an attacking tiger. While intellectually we can tell the difference, unfortunately our nervous system can’t, and adrenal fatigue is just all too common from overstimulation of the fight or flight instinct. So what helps? Meditation is one thing that can help. You can sit on a prayer rug and silently empty your mind. You can tune into Oprah & Deepak on their regular 21 day meditation sessions. You can find a group of like minded people who enjoy chanting and ohm your hearts out. I find it difficult to clear my mind unless I’m focusing on some type of gentle, preferably repetitive movement like walking or rock climbing, or being guided through yoga or tai chi. I’ve even achieved a clear mind when swimming, looking at the bottom of the ocean floor or the tiles of the pool, and just focusing on gliding through the water while causing as little rippling as possible. Or I don’t know, go fly fishing. Just something quiet to take you away from the stimuli and scheduling of the rest of your life: away from mobile phones, television, computers, wifi, traffic, screaming children and loved ones asking when dinner is ready and where the toilet paper is kept. And by ‘you’, I mean ‘me’.
9. Eat a Carrot a Day
Yes, I am going to eat a carrot a day. I told you these were achievable resolutions. I could bang on for days about the health benefits of carrots , but here’s a new one for me. Raw carrots contain a type of undigestible fibre that binds excess oestrogen (and other toxins) and prevents them from being reabsorbed in the intestine. Instead, your body can then focus its resources on progesterone and thyroid (yay!), rather than cortisol and oestrogen (boooooo). And apparently all within just a few days of regular use. (Ditto for bamboo shoots, by the way, in case for some reason you prefer those to carrots.) Unfortunately, oatmeal – though also a good source of fibre – won’t do the trick. This is because oatmeal provides good food for bacteria. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the resulting bacterial endotoxins can put a chronic strain on the liver (liver processes toxins remember?), and divert its focus from storing enough sugar to process thyroid and other hormones….which could be the reason for the hormone imbalance in the first place.
And why do we care about too much oestrogen? Less oestrogen means less strain on the liver, less inflammation overall and improved thyroid health. Oh yeah, and boys, it also means less likelihood of you getting a nice set of moobs.
10. Bake a Cake
Not just one cake. Cakes on a regular basis. And tea too. Because what’s a home without a cup of tea and a slice of cake (in my case delicious almond, honey & orange Paleo cake) on a Sunday afternoon?
Somehow in London, Thursday has become the new Friday. As I walk home after work in the bracing November wind, most pubs are warm inside and are abuzz with City suits and secretaries at happy hour. I was reminded of this happy little video I put together in the summer, back when I enjoyed warmer days watching the bees at Bello Uccello apiary having their happy hour. How can you not be happy watching the little bees enjoying their verbena bee tea? I hope you enjoy it!
The world is full of them. I’ve eaten at disappointing restaurants in Paris, Monaco, Lisbon, Prague, Toronto, New York, Boston, Mexico City, Miami and a myriad of other obscure towns and cities across the globe. I am sorry to say that London is no exception and I have experienced rather a lot of disappointing meals here in the Big Smoke. In some places, the food was mediocre; in some, the food was awful. In others yet, the food was great but the service was awful. Despite the variations, they all can be described as disappointing.
I feel an almost civic sense of duty to record these episodes, not only as a warning to my fellow gastronomes and gastronomists, but as also as a way of saying to these chefs & front of house managers: Its just not good enough.
So, on the week we say a sad farewell to my favourite chef of all time, the late, great Charlie Trotter, and on a happier note, we also see Jamie Oliver accept his Honorary Fellowship from the RCGP for his work on childhood nutrition, I turn my eyes, stomach & pen to another celebrity chef: Marco Pierre White.
So, first off, let me say, my husband loves steak. I repeat, my husband LOVES steak. So when I wanted to treat him to a special meal out, I thought “Marco Pierre White Steak & Alehouse – how could I go wrong?”
When we arrived in this basement eatery, I was a little underwhelmed by the interior. I mean, it was ok. It just looked a bit like a tired, worn out, MDF, stripmall chain version of a decent restaurant.
I can sum up the rest of the visit in a single paragraph. The food was fine. The kitchen was slow. The service was slow. The orders were wrong – twice. The front of house were obviously not happy (or they made a jolly good effort to make themselves look pretty miserable) and the restaurant was severely understaffed – at many points there was not a single waiter to be found on the dining room floor.
Now – this bit is cruel – but being so close to Liverpool Street Station, the atmosphere reeked of train station pub – a bit Wetherspoons-esque. Also, the clientele were, well, mostly a bit of an odd mix. There were a lot of Essex couples (and by that I don’t mean people from Essex, I mean TOWIE wannabees), a few City secretaries on a night out, some oddly mismatched Internet first dates and a couple of wierd American tourists.
Three hours after entering the restaurant, we emerged, feeling both slightly poorer and in a vague state of shock.
So, I was thinking that Marco Pierre White might find my branding experience helpful and I offer him – free of charge – a new strapline which he is welcome to use on any promotional print or web-based material:
MPW Steak & Alehouse
“Come for the adequate steak. Stay because we’ll take an hour to get it to your table.”
You know, I can take or leave most sweeties. Cakes & cookies. Pies & palmiers. Trifles & tortes. Biscuits & brownies. I like them, but could easily live without them. I do have a sweet tooth but it its usually reserved for my one special love: ice cream.
Which has always been a real shame for me, because most ice creams and frozen yogurts on the market are pumped full of either refined sugar (a toxin) or worse, aspartame (a neurotoxin). I also find that frozen dairy never sits that well in my tummy and as I’ve been experimenting with raw vegan recipes lately, I’ve noticed a trend amongst the food blogging community for throwing frozen fruit into the blender and serving it as soft serve ice cream. I’ve totally followed the crowd on this one. But why not? Its so much tastier and healthier…and MUCH easier to make than the process of churning homemade ice cream I remember from my childhood, which involved pre-freezing the metal canister, making a custard, then waiting AGES for the ice cream to finish churning around.
This recipe isn’t raw, as it has maple syrup and cocoa powder in it, but is vegan, it is free of refined sugars and is also naturally fat free.
I’ll admit…its not a great photo, but quite frankly, I was far less interested in food styling my dessert than I was in eating it!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 3 over ripe medium organic bananas
- 1.5 to 3 Tbs dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably organic)
- 2 Tbs organic maple syrup
Peel 3 medium sized over ripe bananas, slice them into thin, round discs, placing them on a parchment covered baking tray – try to make sure they don’t touch each other, so they don’t freeze as a giant clump.
Once the banana discs are frozen hard, take them out of the freezer and toss them into your food processor along with the maple syrup and cocoa powder. If you want a milk chocolate appearance, like old fashioned soft serve – use 1.5 Tbs of cocoa powder. If you want a rich uber-dark chocolate appearance like an Italian gelato, use 3 Tbs of cocoa powder.
Whiz everything around in the food processor at high speed for about 2-3 minutes. It will be loud and crashy-bashy sounding, but at the end, you’ll end up with smooth, rich ice cream which you can either eat right away or put into a tupperware and freeze for a hard ice cream later on.
If you want to make it look like a soft serve ice cream for children, just pop it in a piping bag with a wide star tip piping nozzle and immediately pipe into the cone or dish.
Its so easy. Its so sweet. And its so healthy. Just give it a go…
After nearly a decade of living in London, I think its safe to call myself a Londoner now.
I make that rude and fed-up-sounding ‘tsk’ noise as I try to pass people who are walking too slowly in front of me – with the matching aggressive body language and irritated exhalation as I march past.
There’s the ‘don’t mess with me’ face as I walk down the street – to be fair I think I’ve always had that one.
I can also hold my own in the usual rugby scrum to get into the tube as it pulls alongside the platform.
Then there’s the commuter cross. That’s what I call when two or more commuters appear as if they’re set for a head on collision, but without adjusting pace or losing nerve, they glide past each other with precision perfect timing. With a slight hesitation of even half a second, there would be a bashing of arms or catching of feet followed by the domino effect of the commuters behind all crashing into each other. But true London commuters never make such a rookie tourist error.
If you want to see the commuter cross at its glorious ballet-like apex, make a rush hour visit to the interchange at Bank Station where the Waterloo & City Line travelator connects with the commuting tunnel leading from the London Underground gates towards exits 8 & 9. (Stop at the snack bar for one of their giant glazed donuts – I’m pretty sure they’re a million calories and fried in lard.) Its actually almost beautiful, as the dozens of commuters heading to the exits simultaneously diagonally criss-cross paths with the commuters exiting the travelator in the opposite direction – all gliding past each other – rushed but calm.
And then some salesman from Ipswich ploughs in with their wheelie suitcase and screws the whole thing up.
Images borrowed from:
After three weeks in the 30-odd degree sunshine of Guatemala and Belize, I have returned to an England which might not be unfamiliar to the Bronte sisters. Its late May, but there has been snow in some parts of the country. In London its 9 degrees Celsius and its raining; its been this way – more or less – over the last fortnight.
The good news about the cold, rainy weather – the only good news about the cold, rainy weather – is that I have an excuse to wear my new wellies A LOT and I get to eat porridge for breakfast every morning. (By now I would normally have switched to a bircher muesli for the summer) The café in my building makes excellent porridge. I know, I could make it myself at home for pennies – but for £2.50 I get a pot of porridge, a skinny cappuccino and a chat with Alvin, fellow foodie and café manager.
I had been desperately hoping to host a BBQ this coming long weekend. In anticipation of that, I had a builder come round last Saturday to construct a wooden deck in the back garden and I employed my husband to put together the John Lewis BBQ we were given as a wedding present last autumn. The rattan outdoor sofa set with matching coffee table has been artfully arranged on the deck and I’ve attempted to give the place that smack of Pottery Barn style with conch shells, pillar candles in glass hurricane vases and throw cushions…none of which have any business being outside in cold, wet English gloom. And as its now looking less and less like BBQ weather, I may be trading in prawn kebabs and sunscreen for central heating and comfort food. In fact, I might make some gingerbread.
This is old fashioned Nova Scotian gingerbread. I’m fairly sure it came off the back of a packet of something or other sometime back in the 1950’s because my best friend Sarah’s grandmother’s recipe is exactly the same as my own grandmother’s recipe.
Hot Water Gingerbread
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup Crosby’s fancy molasses (Brits – you’ll need to use dark treacle here)
1/2 cup hot water (near boiling)
6-8 Tablespoons melted shortening (Not butter. Shortening.)
1. Mix dry ingredients.
2. Beat egg and add molasses, sugar and hot water.
3. Combine the dry and wet ingredients.
4. Add shortening
5. Pour in 8 by 8 inch square cake tin.
6. Bake 350 for 45 minutes.
Sarah’s Mom says that this recipe doubles really well (their family is much bigger than mine). Also the old, dark metal tin which used to belong to Sarah’s Nana has gone missing, so if you see it, please send it back to her.