Sunday, 24 June 2012

Don’t forget...!

So I’m already back to the subject of forgetfulness... With a story that illustrates how it’s often the product of a busy and overloaded mind.

This is what happened in our kitchen this morning, when I spotted a large bowl of couscous being soaked for a taboulleh for one of Steve’s clients.

Me: ‘Oh, if there’s any taboulleh left, I’d love some to go with the chicken I’m cooking tonight. In fact could you just cook a bit extra so we definitely have some?’

Steve: ‘What chicken are you planning?’

Me: ‘The Moroccon chicken stew I cooked last week and got out of the freezer yesterday... Oh, where is it? What’s happened to it?’

Steve: ‘I put it back in the freezer. I thought I’d left it out when I got the chicken pieces out.’

Me: ‘What chicken pieces? Where are MY chicken pieces? I got thighs out to defrost with my chicken stew, because it needs more meat...’

Steve: ‘I got the chicken out – for a client!’

Me (shouting): ‘I got the ******* chicken out! It was with the stew, defrosting for tonight.’

Steve (shouting back): ‘It was my ******* chicken! It came from Tesco!’ (He knows I don’t shop it Tesco).

Me: ‘I got it out. You saw it and thought you’d got it out and that’s when you put the stew back in the freezer. You were planning to get chicken out and when you saw it on the side, you thought you already had...!’

Steve: ‘You have the thighs. I’ll use breasts.’

Me: ‘But they’re frozen!’

Steve: ‘They’re for tomorrow – they’ll be fine.’

Me: ‘My stew’s still frozen though.’

Steve: ‘You can defrost it in a pan...’

Temper tantrums over. Peace restored. But how was I to know, when I took chicken out of the freezer, that Steve was planning to do exactly the same thing – and would see HIS chicken and think he’d already done it?!’

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Prescription for sleep

I’ll come clean – I sleep exceptionally well. And, apparently, that makes me very unusual. I hate to labour the point, but it really is very rare for me to lie awake long enough even to think about counting sheep.
Though we’re really supposed to be counting backwards in sevens, starting at 2000, according to Dr Jason Ellis, director of the Sleep Research Centre at Northumbria University, who says (try it!) this is so hard to do that you may even nod off with boredom.
No time for that for me – I am someone who has to will myself not to fall asleep during yoga relaxation...
I know this makes me very lucky when around 30% of the British population are lying awake staring at the ceiling, but it’s all about sleep hygiene, which comes easily to me as a creature of habit.
Here’s what I do:
1.   Go to bed around the same time every night – always recommended by experts.
2.   Take a sleep aid – I don’t need one, and only had an academic interest in Cherry Active (the subject of some decent research by Dr Ellis’s team at Northumberland) until I learned that it’s also good for joint pain. Now I take two capsules as soon as I reach the bedroom. As well as a healthy dose of anti-inflammatory anthocyanins (for joint pain relief), Cherry Active also contains a natural form of melatonin, by passing the need to convert tryptophan from other foods – the usual way we get this. Melatonin encourages sleep – and it’s possible I’m enjoying even deeper zzzzzzs now.

3.   Dim the lights. I like to keep the bedroom softly lit at bedtime – it makes me feel relaxed, but is also a way of sending a message to the brain that it’s time to sleep.
4.   Have a bath. I use nice aromatic Clarins bath oils, and don’t spend too long bathing. The idea of a bath is really to let your body cool down afterwards. The naturopath Deborah McManners once told me that the bath should be tepid, and you should remain in the tub while the water drains, draping a towel around you. Body temperature should cool as a precursor to sleep – and this is one way to do it. Though I tend to have a hot bath and don’t lie in the empty tub – a step too far – I love this part of my bedtime routine.
5.   Then bed. I may listen to a bit of Radio 4, or read, for 20 minutes, but I’m often already too tired to do that. We don’t have a TV in the bedroom, and we leave our phones and laptops in our studies. Bedtime is about switching off.
6.   Turn the lights out – fully. We have a blackout blind in the velux over our bed – but only muslin on the other windows, which means we do get a decent amount of light filtering through in the morning, when we need it to help us wake up.
7.   Pets are supposed to be banned from bedrooms and especially beds, if they’re likely to disrupt your night. Our spaniel inevitably ends up on, or in, our bed – and frequently jumps in and out during the night, launching himself at me and momentarily waking me. Fortunately I go back to sleep almost immediately – but, sorry Joe, lovely though you are, I sleep even better when you choose to spend the night in someone else’s room... The ultimate luxury, even for me, is to wake up in the morning having not even stirred in the night.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Dear 16 year old Me

As a health writer I face the annual challenge of writing about skin cancer in a way that may actually have an impact – and I’m sure all the scary stats and human interest stories I’ve turned out over the years have never had anything like the effect of this moving youtube video – “Dear 16 year old me”.

My soon to be 16 years old daughter showed it to me and said she is seriously frightened about sunburn. Amazing! I have always laboured the sunscreen message – but this video has done what no nagging mum can achieve.

Please show it to anyone you know who is still behaving like a 16 year old in the sun.

I want to lose weight!

I won’t bore you with all the details but the jubilee weekend left us with a glut of party food in our fridge – including a huge tub of home made crème patissiere, which Steve transformed into a trifle. Vanilla crème pat – not too sweet – mixed with fresh strawberries, cream, and cake soaked in something alcoholic... A heavenly combination. I didn’t have to eat it several days in a row – but, no excuses, I did. And it was delicious!
The problem is, delicious food always fools me into thinking. “It can’t really do any harm, can it?”
If Kate Moss really believes that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, the woman has no palate.  Or she has never been introduced to delicious food.
So, here is my problem. I am married to a chef who only knows how to cook delicious food – and I love eating it. I don’t have to be hungry. Just knowing there is something yummy waiting to be picked at is enough to create a craving. Nor do I have to be hungry to want seconds of something I am enjoying soooo much!
When I’m working, I’m frequently interrupted by Steve, bringing me spoonfuls of stock, sauces, canapés and cakes to taste – he wants and values my opinion. 
It’s often a blind tasting. I have no idea if I’m about to bite into something sweet or savoury, fish or fowl. When you’re not hungry and it’s only 10.0am, that is pretty daunting – but my palate soon swings into action, and that one little taste will lead to another, and another. And I wasn’t even hungry!! If I’d never tasted one of his chocolate brownies I’d think they were going to be sweet and sickly, and would turn up my nose and push them away. But that’s sadly not the case – and now I know it!
For me, the easy way to lose weight would be to jaunt back in time to my childhood – when I always eschewed leathery liver, over boiled greens and lumpy potatoes at school, and never felt hungry. There weren’t that many dishes I ate at home, either. Until we got into the 70s and Mum discovered herbs and spices and my palate was awakened.
But now there’s no way I can avoid all the nice food around me – or the smells wafting up from the kitchen...
So, what do I do?
I’ve thought about the running challenge – and decided to reject it. I think any exercise I take up must be something I am prepared to bring into my life forever. That means it must easily fit into my life and routine. And it is essential that it is enjoyable too.
So the best bet is to add in more dog walks, more yoga, more aquarobics, more swimming. I have been trying to do a BodyVive Class – but it’s going the same way as Body Pump, and becoming one of those mortifying experiences where everyone else is doing one thing, while I’m doing something completely different.
On the food front, I should try to cut out carbs, sugar and alcohol. That I can do, in theory. But they are the mainstay of a social life – so that’s another challenge.
I’ll have to do something, though. Because, right now, jackets are not doing up, and waistbands are straining.
And I daren’t even get on the scales until I can sigh with relief instead of gasping with horror.