Saturday, 27 April 2013
On Monday a major campaign kicks off called Live Below the Line to show that it is possible to feed yourself on £1 a day for 5 days - i.e. £5 for the whole week.
As I'm not taking the challenge (a long-standing few days away with my husband) I feel a bit hypocritical about urging anyone else to do so. Particularly as I know that I could have offered to do it another time but it's not easy to find the time when you make your living out of eating and drinking (no, I don't expect any sympathy for that!) I have the luxury of choice about the matter. Many people don't.
Anyway if you're feeling inspired to have a go there are plenty of tips on the livebelowtheline.com website including a downloadable recipe book and video testimonies from those who did it last time. And some ideas on this blog like my 2 meals to make from a 15p bag of carrots post though some of the spicing might take the recipes over budget.
Jack Monroe whose blog A girl called Jack I flagged up a couple of months ago has been active in promoting the campaign on radio and TV - she's consistently shown that it's possible to not only eat cheaply but well. Possible, but no joke when you have to do it all the time.
If you want to support her or anyone else who's doing the challenge or one of the partner organisations you can do it through the Live Below the Line donations page.
Sunday, 31 March 2013
Given the success of the 5:2 diet it was inevitable that there would be a rash of cookbooks cashing in on it but having looked through a few I’m wondering how useful they really are.
I mean how much do you actually want to cook on fast days? Not much in my case - the less time I spend faffing around in the kitchen the better. If I do cook I want it to be tasty, of course, but above all quick and simple. Ideally not involving more than 5 or 6 ingredients.
Yesterday's fast day supper for example was a piece of grilled tuna and a salsa/chopped salady sort of thing made from cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions and some marinated olives which contributed enough oiliness to do without olive oil. Squeeze of lemon, handful of rocket - 10 minutes work max.
The idea that you want recipes for 4 or more seems just plain daft. Most books emphasise that kids shouldn’t be on the 5:2 diet so you wouldn’t be cooking for them.
For your friends? Why not have them round on a feast day when you can cook and eat what you like?
You’d only need recipes for more than 1 or 2 in the hypothetical situation that you have 4 or more adults in the house, ALL on the 5:2 diet. Which is obviously not impossible but highly unlikely. And recipes that cater for more don't take account of the fact that those of us who are overweight are unlikely to stick to our allotted portion. The temptation to overeat is just too great.
Two of the books I’ve read have recipes that are not written by cooks but by nutritionists. While I’m sure that makes them healthy and accurately calorie-counted it doesn't necessarily make them inspiring - or even easy to follow.
I tried a mushroom and artichoke bake from The 5:2 Cookbook at 168 calories a head - one of the few recipes in the book for 2. The quantities were confusing: 500g canned artichoke hearts, drained - was that the weight of the artichokes or the weight of the can? If it was the artichokes you’d need two cans - a lot for two people. I made do with one and adjusted the amount of mushrooms - an over-generous 300g - downwards too.
It wasn’t very frugal either - fresh basil and oregano - surely you didn’t need both? Lemon juice and white wine - would you open a bottle just to take out 1 tablespoon? A tablespoon of brown breadcrumbs. Dried or fresh - and why brown?
I adapted it slightly but was still underwhelmed with the result. My husband chomped manfully through it but I definitely won’t be making it again. (The artichokes on the other hand are rather useful. I can imagine combining them with hard boiled eggs and tinned tuna for a simple low cal salad.)
If you’re short of inspiration there are more appetising suggestions on some of the women’s magazine sites, the Channel 4 website, on established cookery sites like the 200-400 calorie meals on the BBC Good Food website and in some of the other new diet-conscious books like Gizzi Erskine’s new Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts which I’ll be reviewing shortly.
But in general I think it’s more about having a simple repertoire of dishes made from ingredients you know are low in calories rather than trying to push the boat out and experiment on your fast days. After all we’re only talking about two days a week.
What do you do about recipes? Do you have one of the 5:2 diet books and if so what do you think of it? Do you spend much time cooking on a fast day?
Saturday, 16 March 2013
After 9 days in Paris (it should have been 7 but we got marooned when Eurostar services were suspended) I was dreading getting on the scales. What would the damage be from a week's solid eating - the first time off from fast days since I started the 5:2 diet? An extra 2 kilos, 3 even?
You know what? I only put on half a pound. Incredible, eh?
I ate exactly what I wanted. Charcuterie, bread, cheese, wine, desserts, pastries - not in ridiculous quantities but enough to pile on the pounds - or so I thought. Hearty helpings too - nothing pickily pushed to the side of the plate as I always suspect those fabled Frenchwomen do. On one day (inadvertently) we had two four course meals.
Yet next to nothing on the scales.
The secret? We walked. And walked. And walked - all over Paris. At home I sit in front of my computer for hours on end - sometimes not leaving the house at all if I'm busy. And I wonder why my weight plateaus for weeks.
So back on the diet today - and off for a walk
As many have said: Eat less. Move more.
Monday, 4 March 2013
The question I get asked most often (mainly on Twitter) is whether the 5:2 diet actually works. And the answer is? Absolutely, yes it does. In the three months I've been on it I've lost almost a stone and a quarter (8kg) and dropped a size. I needed to, mind you, but nevertheless it's a massive achievement for one who has never managed to say no to food for that length of time before.
It doesn't tell the whole story though. I haven't lost much in the last 3-4 weeks and have been trying to work out why. Maybe being slightly less careful on the 'feed days' although at least I've got in the habit of skipping dinner when I've had a big lunch. Maybe being busier than I was just after the new year. And eating (and drinking) out more. You actually have to be quite mindful about your eating on non-fast days. It's not 'anything goes'.
A few other things I've noticed. If I'm active rather than sitting in front of my computer all day I tend to lose more. (No surprise there but I hadn't realised how big a difference it made.) When I say active I don't mean going to the gym (god forbid!) but just going for a reasonably brisk walk. Even getting up from your chair every 20 minutes is advisable, according to Dr Michael Mosely author of The Fast Diet. In fact essential. 'The chair kills!", he's just tweeted.
Meals that are heavy on salt, fat and sugar put on A LOT of weight. I was 3lbs heavier after my Chinese New Year feast and it took a couple of days to lose it again.
I don't get so hungry on fast days and slightly less ratty (although my nearest and dearest might tell you otherwise). I can manage on two meals now instead of having three and a snack. On the other hand the rather wonderful feeling of euphoria the morning after a fast day has diminished. I guess the body just gets used to semi-fasting.
I am, if I'm truthful, slightly bored with it at times. Less inclined to dream up ingenious ways of creating meals at less than 250 calories - fewer still if/when I have lunch. But that's not good because bought-in diet food like miso soup and milkless porridge (above) is boring - though I have, as I mentioned, come round to cottage cheese.
I think I probably need to shift another 2-3lbs to rekindle my enthusiasm though as I'm just about to disappear to Paris for a week during which I don't intend to fast at all, that certainly isn't going to happen any time soon.
So my mid-term report is 'could do better' and certainly 'could get her butt off the chair more often' but I still have 10lbs to lose. I''ll let you know how it goes.
How's it going for those of you who have been on the diet for a while?
Friday, 22 February 2013
Fellow 5:2 dieters will almost certainly have discovered prawns are a great fast day food. What you might not know is that brown shrimps even tastier.
Not that they’re cheap - a 90g packet will cost you about £3.40-something in Waitrose although they’re currently on offer in Sainsbury’s at £6 for two packs - but because they’re so small it looks like you’re getting far more than that weight suggests (great psychology).
The other advantage is of course that unlike potted shrimps they’re not coated in calorific butter which makes them only 87 calories per 100g - or 39 calories for half a pack.
I’ve scattered them over the top of a finely sliced fennel salad (with chilli, mint and lemon juice) and also added them to celery to jazz up a piece of baked fish. Incidentally celery is another wonder ingredient that contains practically no calories at all, if you can face it. Try it this way.
Baked cod with celery and brown shrimps
Serves 2 at 189 calories per portion
1/4-1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp coarse salt
300g cod (300 cals)
125ml veg stock made with 1/2 tsp bouillon powder (6 cals)
10 sprays oil (10 cals)
50g brown shrimps (44 cals)
110g celery stalks and leaves (10 cals)
1 tsp fish sauce (3 cals)
A wedge of lemon (5 cals, if that)
Heat the oven to 190°C. Grind together the chilli and salt. Season the fish on both sides with the chilli mixture and pepper.
Spray half the oil over a baking dish, place the fish in the dish and spray with the remaining oil. Bake for about 10-12 minutes until just cooked. Set aside in a warm place to rest.
Wash, de-string* and slice the celery. Put in a pan with the veg stock and fish sauce, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the shrimps.
Serve the cod on warm plates with the celery and prawns and a wedge of lemon.
De-stringing celery really helps makes it more digestible. just snap it in half and pull away the strings away from the stalk. Simple
Friday, 15 February 2013
Sooner or later everyone on a diet turns to cottage cheese. Everyone except me, up to now. I’ve always loathed the stuff.
But with ordinary cheese ruled out, on fast days at least, and feeling equally lukewarm about tofu it struck me that it must be possible to make it taste good.
I’ve had it three ways recently - twice for breakfast and once, just now, for lunch. And it’s tasted good every time.
The key, of course, is to make it not taste like cottage cheese - unless you’re a cottage cheese fanatic in which case you probably won’t have got beyond the first paragraph. And that is by adding low fat yoghurt which zips it up and gives it a much better texture. About half as much yoghurt as cottage cheese does the trick.
Breakfast idea no. 1 was to serve it (or rather my yoghurt/cottage cheese combo) Turkish style (above) with cucumber, tomato and a seeded flatbread with a sprinkle of za'atar (a middle-eastern blend of dried, sesame seeds and sumac) sprinkled over the top. The second time I had it with blueberries and grated lemon rind (below). I really liked this.
And the picture at the top of the post is today’s salad which is slightly more calorific than it need have been due to the sprinkle of seeds. You could leave them out or pass on the Ryvita Thin I ate with it. Or both.
Cottage cheese, spring onion + beet salad (157 calories)
60g cottage cheese (44 cals)
35g 0% Greek yoghurt or other low fat yoghurt (20 cals)
1 spring onion, trimmed and very finely sliced or a heaped tbsp of chopped chives (2 cals)
100g cooked beetroot, drained and cubed (48 cals)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional - 7 cals)
25g spinach and watercress salad (6.5 cals)
1 tsp (5g) seed sprinkle (optional - 29 cals)
Weigh out and mix the cottage cheese with the yoghurt and finely sliced spring onion. Add a little water if you’re using a very thick yoghurt like Total. Drain and cube the beetroot and mix with balsamic vinegar if you fancy it - though if you’ve deliberately bought it because it wasn’t in vinegar that might not appeal.
Place a handful of salad on a plate, top with the cottage cheese mixture, scatter over the beetroot then sprinkle with the seeds if using. Or za'atar, a pinch of cumin or more chives or spring onion.
As I said, I added a 37 calorie Ryvita thin which brought the calorie total to 193.5. And doesn't leave me much for the rest of the day. But this was pretty filling.
Are you a cottage cheese lover or loather? And if the former, how do you eat it?
Thursday, 14 February 2013
Although I find I can skip lunch more readily than I used to when I started the 5:2 diet there are days when the hunger pangs just won’t go away - particularly if I’ve eaten lightly the night before. This salad was in response to just such an emergency.
I’d been thinking if I had one egg instead of two that wouldn’t gobble up too many of the evening’s calories. I had a tomato and a spinach, watercress and rocket salad in the fridge but the ingredient that brought them all together and which turned out to have a welcome lack of calories was capers. They gave the salad punch and the liquid from the jar provided an instant, calorie-free dressing. Result!
Egg, tomato and caper salad (107 cals)
1 egg (78 cals)
1 tomato (115g) (21 cals)
2 tsp capers (10g) 1.4 cals + some liquid from the jar
a handful of watercress or watercress, spinach and rocket salad 25g (6.5 cals)
freshly ground black pepper
Hard boil the egg. Skin and slice the tomato. (Actually you don’t have to skin it but I think it tastes better). Arrange both on a small plate thus creating the illusion of greater quantity. Place a handful of watercress alongside. Spoon over the capers and trickle some of the liquid from the jar on the tomatoes and salad leaves. Grind over some black pepper. Voilà!
Confession: I also had a 34 calorie Peter’s Yard crispbread with it which brought the total to 141 calories. But that’s still not a lot.
Thursday, 7 February 2013
I know I've been banging on a lot about 5:2 lately so here's a recipe which isn't part of the diet or that you could run up after a fast day on which you've made yesterday's dal.
The only ingredient you need if you've already bought a bag of mixed carrot and swede and have the spices in your store-cupboard is an onion. Which makes it super-cheap.
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
400g mixed carrot and swede, cubed (see previous post)
1 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds or ground coriander
1/4 tsp chilli flakes or a pinch of chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt if using whole spices
1/2 level tsp ground turmeric
750ml light vegetable stock made with 1 tbsp Marigold vegetable bouillon powder
chopped fresh coriander or parsley
salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok and stir in the onion and diced carrot and swede. Cook over a low heat until the vegetables start to soften*.
If you're using whole spices grind the cumin, coriander seeds and chilli flakes together with a pestle and mortar with 1/2 a teaspoon of salt then mix with the turmeric. Otherwise simply mix the ground spices then add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the spices to the vegetables, stir and continue to cook until they begin to colour. Stir in the stock and cook until the veg are completely soft.
Strain the vegetables over a bowl then place the cooked veg in a food processor or blender and whizz until smooth, adding as much of the reserved cooking liquid as you need to get a smooth purée. (You may need to do this in two batches.)
Tip the puréed vegetables back into the frying pan - or a clean saucepan if you don't mind the extra washing-up - and add back the remaining stock plus as much liquid as you need to make a smooth soup (I added another 150ml). Reheat and adjust the seasoning.
Serve with a few chopped coriander or parsley leaves if you have some and a dash of hot sauce if you fancy it.
* You could also roast the veg if you wanted to. I did as the Aga is on all the time and it gives the soup a nice roasted flavour but it's not necessary.