Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Hemsley + Hemsley (and me...)

You're probably really over people banging on about things like eating clean, going sugar free, juicing, cold-pressing, spiralizing, etc, etc. But I'm afraid I'm going to add to the seemingly never-ending stream of articles, blogs and TV programmes on healthy eating with this post, sharing my love for the Hemsley and Hemsley girls, or rather their book 'The Art of Eating Well'.
My healthy eating bible
Slightly annoying title aside, this book isn't a pretentious foray into faddish food habits or the latest health obsession. It's written in a helpful, supportive way with a common sense philosophy at its core -  the 'better than' rule - which suggests that striving to eat the best, most nutrient-rich food wherever possible is the way forward. Many of the recipes are re-interpretations of old standards - shepherd's pie, beef ragu, sausage casserole - and the book relies heavily on something that was a mainstay in the cooking habits of our grandmothers: the bone broth, which is integrated into many of the books soups and sauces as a way of getting a good dose of nutrients, as well as keeping your gut in good nick(being mindful of one's gut health is another guiding principle of the book.) If you were given bone broth as a child (or in my case the Italian version - 'Brodo' - a comforting broth swimming with tiny pasta shapes), you'll no doubt remember its amazing capacity to make you feel instantly better when you were run down and poorly.
Can you tell I make this recipe a lot?
Aside from the recipes, the book is actually very interesting to read, shedding light on the science behind the buzzwords. If you've ever been dismissive about the power of that most middle-class of foodstuffs - quinoa - you might change your mind when you find out it's one of nature's most 'complete' plant foods, and a veritable powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. And if you've ever tried cooking it only to end up with a bowl of flavourless, unappetising mush, this book explains how to 'do' quinoa properly - turns out it can actually be quite nice when you combine it with the right ingredients. I can personally vouch for the Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Salad with Brazil Nut Pesto, which helped me to finally 'get' quinoa.

If you're thinking a recipe book written by two sisters who also run a bespoke food service, catering to dietary whims of the rich and famous, equals expensive recipes featuring a myriad of weirdly named ingredients you've never heard of, I'm pleased to report that the recipes are - on the whole - pretty accessible (though I've yet to track down dried arame seaweed or furikake so I can have a crack at the Superfood Salad...). While some dishes do call for expensive ingredients - raw honey don't come cheap, unfortunately - I haven't noticed that following a healthier philosophy has had much impact on the weekly food spend. Places like Lidl and Aldi are great for stocking up on your fruit and veg, plus you'll pay much less here for what can be expensive items in the usual supermarkets (think pecans, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, for example.) You will need to spend some extra time sourcing some of the less obvious items, however, but even Tesco is waking up to the fact that quite a few people want the odd pseudocereal in their lives. 
Broccoli, Pea & Basil Soup
Having tried to stick to a low-sugar diet in recent years, I have to admit that it can get a little boring sometimes, and while I've turned my tastebuds against processed sweet stuff, I don't think I'll ever completely lose my sweet tooth. However, I don't want to fall off the wagon, which is where the pudding and sweet treat recipes in this book have been most helpful. Who knew mousse made from raw cacao and avocado could be so nice (and so quick to whip up) and that amaranth makes a delicious alternative to rice pudding, satisfying a sweet tooth thanks to the use of maple syrup as a sweetener. Even my kids ate the no sugar, no flour banana bread for breakfast - a much better alternative to the standard toast 'n' jam or bowl of cereal. 

So, yes, buy the book. Everything I've made from it has been a success, and I'm using it more than any of the other books on my shelf at the moment. I feel pretty good on it and am finally getting my blood sugar issues under control, helping me feel a tad more energised, a little less stressy and generally more healthy.

Here are the recipes I've made so far and which I recommend trying:

Healthy chocolate mousse

Broccoli, Pea & Basil Soup

Feel justifiably virtuous whipping up a batch of this easy to prepare soup, packed with green goodness and boasting a deliciously tangy basil and lemon flavour. 

Beef Ragu & Courgetti

I nearly choked on my courgetti in amazement at the fact that my kids were happily slurping up their pasta sauce from actual COURGETTES. This ragu recipe is the best I've tried and you don't need to spend out on a spiralizer - I use a julienne peeler to get the same effect. 

Papaya, Halloumi & Watercress Salad

Papaya's never really done it for me, but it's packed with antioxidants and helps to cleanse your digestive tract. Combined with halloumi (one of my favourite cheeses) and peppery watercress, it's so much more palatable.

Hot Buckwheat Noodle Salad

They call it a "15-minute please everyone meal" - and it is. Delicious.

Banana Bread & Instant Chia & Blueberry Jam

Malaysian Lentil & Squash Curry

Not keen on lentils? Me neither, but this dish is so full of creamy flavour you'll forget that lentils have never excited you eating this yummy curry. 

Sausage & Cider Stew

Think swede, think bad memories of school dinners, but this recipe will make you realise that the humble vegetable is perhaps a little misunderstood. This stew combines swede with sausages, cider, leek and carrot to create an absolutely awesome winter dish. Highly recommended!

Chocolate Avocado Mousse

Get a sweet hit without the sugar - this mousse takes moments to make and is full of antioxidant goodness.

Banana Bread

Ground almonds make a great alternative to flour, it turns out, and in this recipe they bulk up a mix of banana, flaxseed, maple syrup and cinnamon to make a filling, tasty bread perfect for breakfast or elevenses. Tastes great slathered with the book's recipe for instant blueberry chia jam.

You can buy 'Hemsley Hemsley: The Art of Eating Well' from all good bookstores and online at The Book Depository. A selection of recipes is also available on the Hemsley Hemsley website.

And if you're trying to cut down on sugar, you can read a post about my experiences here.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Clothes That Work

Of course you made a new year's resolution to spend less this year, or at least spend more wisely. It's a tradition, right? But during what is the most miserable, soul-destroying month of the year it's all to easy to see those good intentions wither. I'm a pretty careful spender most of the year but there's something about January - a month synonymous with self-denial, tax returns and crap weather - that renders me most vulnerable to the impulse purchase. The massive charity bag I've just filled with unloved, unworn stuff is testament to that - it's full of rash purchases, often bought in the January sales - and provides a useful reminder that sales shopping can prove a very false economy.

So this year I'll be avoiding the sales and buying only tried and tested items that truly work for me. The realisation has dawned that I often buy things for my fantasy 'self'. But it's pretty pointless buying a suitcase full of Ibiza-esque, boho kaftans if you're going to be taking your summer holidays on a campsite in Lake Garda, for example, and you'll most likely be spending your time at the kids disco, watching them do the Macarena, rather than floating about In Ibiza Town, supping cocktails and listening to Balearic House. Yes, it's important to buy stuff for the actual life you're living, I've realised..

So this post is a round-up of those tried-and-tested wardrobe staples that I reckon work for the average person's day-to-day life - things that make sound investments if you like fashion but don't like having cupboards full of expensive, unworn clothes...

1. T-shirts from American Apparel

I can't bear a badly cut t-shirt. Tri-blend t-shirts from American Apparel are just right - just tight enough, just long enough. They wash really well and hold their shape, and have a slightly 70s neckline that I love. They come in a range of colours including the perfect grey. 

2. Cashmere jumpers from Uniqlo

Cashmere's reputation seems to give some retailers carte blanche for charging ridiculous amounts for a jumper. Yes, it should cost a bit more than bog-standard wool, but you shouldn't have to spend hundreds for the privilege of wearing the stuff. Uniqlo does great cashmere jumpers at a fraction of the price. You can buy online if you can't visit a store and I would recommend sizing up for the best fit - Uniqlo sizing can be on the small side. And forget what you've heard about cashmere being dry clean only - as long as you wash your jumpers by hand and dry them carefully they'll be fine (the inimitable Martha Stewart has a guide to hand washing wool here, which explains how to treat your cashmere with respect.)

3. Leather goods from Mango or Zara

I avoid buying synthetic shoes or bags - I just think they look really cheap and particularly in the case of shoes, they're rarely comfortable or hard-wearing. However, I have a real problem with ordinary, high street shoe shops charging prices that are far in excess of the quality on offer in their products. Mass produced, made in China shoes just don't justify the prices in many cases. Spanish labels like Mango and Zara, however, do leather goods that look expensive but aren't. The shoes are often made in Spain or places that have a strong tradition of making leather goods, such as Morocco or India. I bought some amazing leather sandals last year that I wore all summer, which are still in great nick, meaning I'll (hopefully) get another season's wear out of them.

4. Jeans from Zara

On the subject of Zara I would also recommend its denim. 'Premium' denim is another of my bete-noires; I simply can't see how much design can possibly go into making a pair of jeans, or how they can in some way be 'engineered' to do anything more than provide a handy, comfortable method of clothing one's legs. However, premium denim abounds, and my God, will it set you back - £200 for a pair of skinnies is quite normal nowadays. I have always loved denim and live in my jeans, but I just don't lead a life that makes wearing J Brand 'Photo Ready' jeans a necessity. Zara jeans are the best I've found on the high street (despite people raving about TopShop denim the cut doesn't suit me) and feature plenty of vintage style washes if you like that sort of thing (I do). They wash well, hold their shape and don't have any horrible detailing on them. If you have the time you should also check out TK Maxx - you'll often find Diesel, J Brand and Citizens of Humanity on the racks.

5. Different stuff from &Other Stories

Love Bristol though I do, it hasn't got great shops. The two main shopping hubs - Cabot Circus and The Mall - are fine for the everyday but if you're after something a bit different, they're limited to say the least. If you have a special event on the horizon or just want to inject your wardrobe with something a little less high-street-y, I would take a look at &Other Stories. The clothes are quite 'fashion forward' but in a good way. They're made well and fabrics feel expensive. The dresses and shoes are particularly good. 

6. Bras from M&S

As most of the nation's female population buys their bras from M&S, I'm not breaking any new ground by suggesting this as a go-to place for purchasing your smalls. But to be more specific, there is one style in particular that is good if a) you find paying £30 for a bit of lace, some straps and a clasp a bit annoying b) you don't require any extra padding c) you're after a good every-day bra that provides support and comfort. It seems that most retailers think we all want push-up, padded bras, making finding a non-padded, full-cup bra quite tricky - particularly if you're after something delicate and stylish rather than matronly. I swear by the M&S Collection all-over lace full-cup bra which you can take a look at here. Yes, that's TWO bras for £16. They're great for everyday wear, and if you look after them - hand washing is the way to go - they'll last you a while.

7. Sports Wear from Gap

You won't find Gap's sports wear that readily in its stores but look online for the GapFit collection and you'll find a really reasonable selection of tops, bottoms, bras and accessories. The quality of the materials stands up to expensive alternatives from the likes of big brand sports names or Sweaty Betty so if you just can't bring yourself to spend £80 on a pair of yoga pants, take at Gap's range for something a little kinder on the wallet.

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