Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Don't Go

As convinced as I am by the analysis of the Forks over Knives chaps,  their eating plan is practically impossible to stick to, it shouldn’t be, but it is. When you watch the film and you see people who were at deaths door 20 years ago and are now spry old codgers, and you consider your own lardy, unfit self, you should be shamed into sticking to it, but it’s not possible. I blame myself and my own lack of self control, but there is a major problem with the book. It leads you up the garden path and gives you false hope: it describes every recipe as delicious, or fantastic or amazing, and none of the recipes fit those descriptions. The best of them are no more than very nice, most of them are edible, but just OK and a few of them I’ll never know about because they are just plain weird. I think of it as medicine, rather than food.

The upshot is that you are inevitably disappointed. You are promised deliciousness and end up with school dinners. It could be that my culinary skills aren’t up to it, but I doubt it. Then there are the issues of time, cost and availability. These are not dishes that you can just knock up after a day at work, unless you have taken a vow of asceticism. They generate lots of chopping, you use lots of pans, and if you live in a small town in South East Wales, you have to plan well ahead, because none of the ingredients will be available at your local One Stop. I end up buying tons of stuff on the weekend, half of which won’t get used, as I can’t be arsed cooking it through the week.

The book makes no claims that you will lose weight, it is a regime purely designed to maintain or improve heart health, However, it does say that a happy side effect is that weight loss is inevitable. Well, excuse the fucking fuck out of me, but I have gained weight, and it has pissed me off. I admit, I haven’t given up using oil, and I haven’t totally given up cheese, but bloody hell, given everything else I’m doing, a couple of pounds off would be nice. Maybe I’ll have to try something other than porridge and rice.

It’s not all bad though. When I say “the book” I mean 3 different books, all of which are pretty interchangeable with each other and use Forks over Knives as a starting point, but I have loads of vegetarian books, more than normal books, in fact, and still pick up ideas off the telly and the newspapers. As I type this during my lunch break, I have just finished a black bean, sweet potato and shitake soup, favoured with cumin cinnamon, chilli and fuck know what else. I’ve read that sweet potato and shitake’s are especially good for you, and this soup really is delicious…………………it tastes a bit like Heinz oxtail, strangely. I’ve also had another variation on a quinoa burger, this time mixed up with beetroot and feta (whoops, dairy alert) and flavoured up with cumin, lime juice and fresh coriander, which is, I apologise for saying, delicious: even my eldest wolfed two of ‘em down, having been assured that there was absolutely no beetroot in it.  That was accompanied by a pile of wheatberries mixed up with caramelised onion and kale, which was OK.

I’d consider that dinner to be quite healthy, full of fresh veg and herbs, all cooked and prepared by my own hands, but I deviated from The Plan. First I used oil. I used it to soften and sweat the veg for the soup and also for the burger, as well as the onion for the wheatberry doodah, and then there was the feta, not to mention frying the bastard burgers once they were prepared. Hmm, fried cheese……………….that could be where I’m going wrong. And that’s why I am finding this thing impossible to stick to. Just a little bit of oil. Just a little bit of cheese. Just a little bit of that, unfortunately, not much of the other. All the authors say you have to give up the oil and dairy cold turkey, just a little bit causes you to maintain your addiction, and I can see their point, but it’s a step too far for me.

I’ve tried cooking without oil, and it’s not all that hard, but you have to be bloody alert. Stick a bit of oil in a pan, throw in a couple of onions, put it on a low heat, come back in 40 minutes and you have beautifully caramelised, onions. Try and do it without oil and if you don’t give it your undivided attention, within 5 minutes you have  burnt onions and a wrecked pan. Fuck that for a game of tin soldiers. Roll on tea time. Fuck knows what I’ll have……cheese on toast, probably.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Red Beans and Rice

About a month ago, I watched a documentary on Netflix, Forks Over Knives and I found it compelling. It told us all about a couple of blokes in the U.S who claim to have reversed heart disease in patients who had been given a very grim prognosis and had survived for about 20 years by eating a plant based diet. I‘ve been a reluctant meat eater for about 30 years and have endured half hearted and brief periods of vegetarianism: from time to time I’ve cut down on red meat, cut out red meat altogether, cut down on white meat, tried to salve my conscience by only buying organic and worried and fussed about the ethics of eating flesh, or, as a bloke in the film put it, eating anything with a mom or a dad or a face.

I happened to see it while I was being a bit drama queeny about my health, and in particular the health of my heart…………….I have developed a bit of a tendency to over react to any minor ailment since my dramatic cardiac event a couple of years ago. So, this bloody film resonated.

I have kidded myself that I have been good since the heart attack. I would tell myself that I feel generally OK, that my diet is better than it was and I diligently take the tablets; but it’s obvious that I lie to myself. Every morning I have to walk up a hill, and it leaves me feeling near fucking death. Any walk over 15 minutes gives me severe pain in my calves; I have not lost an ounce of weight, and, if I was doing as well as I professed, I wouldn’t be going into a panic every time I got a bit of indigestion or a twingey pain in an arm. It was clear. Something had to be done.

I decided that the thing that needed to be done was that I should go vegan. What a lark. What a doomed to failure lark. What a superb example of the triumph of hope over experience. I got on Amazon and ordered the book of the film, complete with recipes, and a couple of other books that extol the virtues and efficacy of a plant based diet.

When they say eat nothing that has a mom or a dad or a face, you think, I can do that, I’m an ethical, compassionate being, for fucks sake! It can’t be that difficult.  Then you read that anything that has a mom or a dad or face includes milk and cheese and yoghurt. All meat fish and dairy is verboten. OK, you think, I was wrong, it can be that difficult. No Cheddar, not even if it’s strong enough to strip the roof off your mouth by way of punishment. No Brie. No Yarg. No Blacksticks Blue. And you think: Fuck Me. Then you read you can’t have any fat. Not just dripping or lard………………no olive oil, or walnut oil, no hazelnut oil, or toasted sesame oil, and you begin to despair, then you begin to rationalise, then you begin to chicken out.

Right, you think, all previous attempts at improving your health have failed. Going all Taliban on yourself is never going to work, one has to be reasonable. Moderation in all things…………………all that kind of bullshit. Knowing that you won’t be able to carry it off, you resolve to do the best that you can. And you rationalise that any change has to be an improvement. You feel a bit downhearted but you make a plan. Not a proper, well thought out, structured plan, more a notion that you will go and buy some stuff.

Here’s the first problem, buying stuff. This stuff is expensive. Nut or other alternative milks are expensive (not supposed to have nut milk, but fuck it), things like date syrup and other strange condiments are expensive, as well as very hard to find, and you still have to buy all the normal stuff for the normal people in the house. And there’s another problem, once you’ve bought all this stuff, you have to find somewhere to store it. You may surmise, I wasn’t going into this with whole hearted commitment, although I did buy a decent mandolin.

Reading the book reinforced the message in the film and I felt encouraged to give it a proper good go, although I wasn’t kidding myself I could stick religiously to it. I’ll probably go on about the different things I tried and all my emotions and shit another time, but today I’ll just bang on about 2 biggish, fairly normal changes……………………..milk and porridge.

I gave up the milk of a cow. By that, I don’t mean that I started lactating, I mean I stopped drinking it. Mindful of the strictures against nut milk I compromised between almond milk and something called Koko, which I think is made from coconut anyway, so, in fact, I didn’t compromise at all. My face is red now, typing that. Both of them are OK in different ways.

I’ve been bringing a huge bowl of raw porridge into work to sustain me through the morning, and, quite frankly, it’s delicious. I pour a load of oats into a bowl, add some ground flax seed and grape nuts, along with some slivered almonds, some sultanas, some goji berries, some coconut, a bit of vanilla and a squirt of maple syrup (date syrup sometimes, but it takes a bit of getting used to). I top it all up with almond milk and by the time I get to work it’s softened up and is nice enough to have kept me away from bacon. More or less. Sometimes I add a bit of raw cacao powder. Have you seen the price of that stuff? The whole thing looks a bit disgusting,  and it elicits comments from passers by, but, fuck ‘em, it tastes nice and is good for the soul.

So, there is a use for almond milk that works really well. The Koko thingy  also works well with it and gives a slightly lighter, fresher feel on the old palate. Where the Koko works really well is with hot chocolate, made with raw cacao. Both of the milks are horrible in tea or coffee. Truly disgusting. I hardly drink any of those brews but I do have a splash of cows milk with em and feel guilty, which is progress, of a sort, I suppose.  

wheatberries with greens and butternut, quinoa burgers and tomato sauce