Friday, 26 April 2013

What's for dinner?


I’ve heard rumours that within a few years we will all be eating insects. The world’s meat supplies running close to extinction, we will be turning to locusts instead.
Hard to believe?
Not if you’ve ever seen the HSBC TV ad in which a little girl in the Far East is offered – as a treat – a skewer of deep fried bugs; her face forlorn until the trader coats them in multicoloured hundreds and thousands: the jungle version of a Fab ice lolly.
We may cringe at the idea – but, think about it: would we have reacted any differently if we’d been there when someone first produced a prawn from the sea and said: “Hey, cook this ugly tentacled creature and it will turn pink. Then crack off its shell and eat it... You’ll love it so much you’ll soon be serving it with a Marie Rose dressing in an avocado pear.”
In my head I know a locust is not that different from a prawn - at least in so far as it is a small and ugly source of protein. 
Even so, I am the kind of person who always jumps and squeals on encountering hairy, tentacled, creeping and scuttling creatures on holiday in France – and, when you feel like that about something, you cannot imagine it tasting anything other than absolutely foul.
But when I was invited to an exclusive press dinner (“just 10 special guests”) by Sanofi, the makers of Anthisan – the antihistamine cream for insect stings and bites -- the penny did not drop that the venue for our dinner  – Archipelago restaurant - would have any sinister connection to the subject of our talk (biting insects), or the title of the event (“I’m a journalist get me out of here!”).
Until a week ago, when I googled to see where I was going, and realised that insects feature heavily on the menu – along with exotic meats such as zebra, kangaroo and crocodile.
But the interior – all dark red and rococo – was enticing. And, as my daughter Bella said, “Mum, I swear you just think: ‘free dinner and a taxi home, I can’t miss that’!”
She was right... I couldn’t miss it, and I’m so glad I didn’t!
After a fab introduction to the world’s biting blighters by Dr James Logan of the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine (who knew that malaria could soon return to the UK, due to global warming?!), we repaired to Archipelago for a meal that included locusts in the side salad, and desserts of mealworms on blinis (Bushman’s Cavi-err) and chocolate coated scorpions.
I chose safely – duck breast salad, followed by bison steak and cassava chips (really delicious), and then a rosewater brulee.
But I did taste a locust (a bit like an overcooked sliver of crackling) - and a few mealworms, which were surprisingly sweet, served with cream cheese on the blini... 
I will never look at men who go fishing in the same way again. I now wonder if they take their leftover worms home and say, “Here you go, Love, knock up something nice with these will you?!”
CAPTION: bison steak at Archipelago

. At another recent event, at the Ice Tank, Colgate wanted to show us all how well their Pro-Relief toothpaste works against tooth sensitivity by getting us to smear the product onto our teeth before launching into nitrofoam, goat's cheese snowflakes and frozen yoghurt powder - from a menu designed by molecular chef Sean Wilkinson to set our gnashers on edge.
Read RocknRollerBaby's blog on this: yes that was me who kept realising I’d missed various molars – mistakenly believing only my front teeth were sensitive to cold foods. 
The thing I loved most was Sean’s crunchy beetroot cinder toffee. I hate beetroot in virtually every other form, but this was divine and I now have the recipe so we can replicate it at home.
Colgate have now very kindly sent me a new toothbrush to remove the last bits of the toffee from my teeth – the wonderful ProClinical A1500.
My first thought on using it was back to mosquitoes – it sounds eerily as if you have one buzzing in your mouth. And I was also unnerved by the fact that the brush did not seem to be oscillating, but just vibrating instead. But these features are due to the sonic wave action that actually delivers up to 32,500 strokes per minute – effectively reducing five times more plaque along the gum-line than a manual toothbrush.
What I love most about it is its tiny head, which easily reaches the back of the mouth, and the fact that my mouth feels zingily clean after using it.
I wonder if my father could be persuaded to use one of these. He recently told me how much he loves his manual toothbrush, “because it is so soft”.
“How long have you had it?” I asked.
“Oh, at least 10 years,” he said, with the same tone of slightly surprised pride he'd use if his car was still on the road after a decade in his possession.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Walk this way

It’s the season for charity walks, and every year my friend and aqua teacher Jenny leads a walk for Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
It is tradition that her walk brings out the first of the Spring sunshine – and I come back with a rosy glow on my cheeks and a tingle on my arms.
This year the walk took place a few weeks later than usual – but we still doubted that the weather would turn around in time, when, last week, we were still wearing gloves and scarves.
But would you believe it – Sunday was superbly gorgeous and we covered five sunny miles doing a circuitous route along the river from Petersham to Isleworth and then round the Richmond Old Deer Park and back along the river to Petersham.
Although I say “we”, three of us – me, my dog Joe, and my friend Philippa – managed to do a slightly different route, after slowing down early on when Joe got a bit too hot in the sunshine (yes that’s how lovely it was) and then getting so caught up in a conversation that we found ourselves at Eel Pie Island where we realised that 1) our next bridge was Kew – and that wasn’t part of the route; 2) we’d lost sight of the people ahead of us; and 3) by this time there was nobody behind us either.
We scurried back to a foot bridge over Richmond lock, crossed to the Deer Park and then, seeing no sign of our group there either, decided nobody would really notice if we missed out the park and crawled back to Petersham having a coffee at the Tide Tables Cafe en route... But, as we approached the final leg, I heard Jenny right behind me: "KAREN! IS THAT YOU?!!"
The leader of the group had caught up with the stragglers...
Joe may have been wagging his tail but mine was firmly between my legs - and the rosy glow on my cheeks was not entirely due to the sunshine. 

Monday, 15 April 2013

Too fat to fly?

There’s nothing like a budget airline seat to make you feel that you’re bigger than you thought as you yank the safety belt around you. We’re all pretty small in our family, and yet, flying back from Faro last week, I noticed how snuggly we all fitted in to our Easyjet seats. I wondered how a huge passenger, three times the width of my size 6 daughters, had fared. Did he have to buy two or three seats? Or did he just bulge over onto his neighbours?
I love obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe’s take on just this issue in her newsletter today. Zoe, who is 5' 2" and weighs 50kg, got her husband to measure her at her widest point, with her arms by her side - and found she was 18", the width of a typical airseat. Now Airbus has a plan to make the aisle seat 20" wide, and the middle and window seats 17" each... But, as Zoe points out, only a minority of people who are smaller and slimmer than her (let's face it, children mostly) will fit into these narrower seats....
Zoe also mentions that a Samoan airline is now planning to weigh passengers and their luggage for a total weight per passenger. If this takes off with other airlines it could be fab news for those of us who are small enough to struggle to keep our luggage under 20kg. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Happy new you!

Cherish it while you can 

At 52 I ought to be worried – menopause is, after all, inevitable, and, at my age, apparently imminent.  I haven’t noticed any obvious signs just yet – apart from being fatter around the middle, which is all to do with the body trying to max out on any extra oestrogen it can produce in its tummy fat stores.
But, listening to Jenny Éclair on Woman’s Hour, I couldn’t have agreed more that the menopause’s timing is to say the least unfortunate – our loss of looks, confidence and sense of purpose coinciding with our children becoming independent at the same time as our parents are becoming alarmingly more needy.
There is, according to Jenny, a sense of life being over – and many of my friends, who seem to have got there ahead of me, are talking about a feeling of purposelessness.
Woman’s Hour decided to revisit the menopause a week after Jenny’s remarks – this time talking about the fact that many men find it difficult to look at their menopausal wives, because seeing them age is a reminder that they, too, are getting older. And, as if that wasn’t jolly enough, the show rounded off with a few comments on midlife marriage breakdown – apparently the result of dwindling libido, another symptom of menopause.  Thank you Woman’s Hour!
Desperate for a bit of light relief, I reached for my all time favourite health book – Xiaolan Zhao’s Traditional Chinese Medicine for Women: if anyone could talk a bit of sense on the subject, Zhao could. And I was sure I remembered her talking about menopause being a special time of a woman’s life when she was revered and respected. So, I leafed through, sighed with relief when I reached the chapter headed Natural Transition, and then read these golden reassuring words: ‘menopause is the harbinger of old age’.
Thank you Xialon Zhao – that’s just what we were worried about!

We are family...

Dad, who recently fell ill on his Caribbean cruise, was – I am thrilled to report – a million times better when my daughters and I visited him at home in Portugal last weekend. In fact he was better than I’d seen him when we visited in November too. Pictured here, with Coco (left) and Bella (right) after managing to walk from his house to his favourite coffee destination, Sandbanks, on the Praca at Val do Lobo.
Dad caught the residents’ bus home, while we walked back along the beautiful and totally empty beach.

Monday, 1 April 2013

At last - the chip that makes you thinner

Today may be April Fool’s Day but the news that there’s now a chip that can make you lose weight (Hallelujah!) broke, quite appropriately, on Good Friday – so it must be true...
In fact I think any practical jokes have sadly passed me by today. April Fool’s Day jokes can only be told before noon, and I usually rely on Radio 4 to liven my April 1st  with a few. But it’s Easter Monday today, and we were late waking up. 
When I put the radio on, it was already 8.50am, and, though the last two stories on the Today show were bizarre, they were not too bizarre to be true. An app that allows trainspotters to point their phone at a train to scan a barcode sounds boringly plausible – and a phone that you shout at, instead of typing into, is, according to my daughter, already available...

But the chip that helps you lose weight... Now that really does sound too good to be true.

We were heading for Devon to visit my mother, who’d be breaking her lent, when we heard the news. And, this being just the kind of story any health writer loves, I turned the volume right up.
It turns out – no surprise – that the chip is not one that you fry or oven bake. You don’t even get to eat it. It is – of course – a microchip, and the idea is that will release a chemical that suppresses your appetite, curbing cravings and keeping overeating under control.
Not yet available – though the developers hope it will be in the next few years – it is set to be more effective than gastric bands, which owe their high failure rate to the fact that, even with a band, you can still manage to squeeze down small but highly calorific foods and unlimited quantities of fattening fizzy drinks.
I have always felt extremely sorry for anyone doomed to life post-band. Because, as we all know, so much joy comes from food.
So I love the idea that those who need to lose weight will still be able to tickle their palates with gourmet treats, yet be genuinely satisfied with tiny portions.
And, by preventing us from wanting to eat so much, this new little bit of technology has the potential to solve both our obesity epidemic and the looming food crisis. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. I can’t wait to see how it pans out!