Friday, 6 June 2008

Healthy eating by the NHS

I’ve got to be quick but I wanted to have a bit of a rant. The first one on this blog, which is a bit weak given the title. I am not entirely sure how I ended up there but I came across a NHS healthy eating webpage during my lunch break.

I am not on a diet and have never been, mostly because I hate the idea of not being able to eat something. The second it’s forbidden, the cravings start. That said, I’m all for healthy eating and trying to improve our diet. I looked around and found a promising ‘Healthy food swaps’ article. This could be interesting.

Sadly not quite. Although there’s some good advice (swap your morning croissant with jam and butter for the ubiquitous home-made porridge); there are also plenty of unrealistic and, more importantly, unsatisfying swaps. Instead of chocolate biscuits when the afternoon slump hits you, eat a banana. On paper that might sound great, but here, sitting at my desk, all I can think is that I don’t want a banana, I want biscuits. And sometimes only chocolate biscuits will do or in my case Haagen Dazs ice-cream.

This, however, is not quite as bad as the following:

6.30pm: a drink after workIt’s the end of the day and your workmates are all off to the pub.STOP: a bottle of beer (159.8 calories).SWAP: a glass of white wine has far fewer calories (97.2 calories), or stick to water for zero calories and a much healthier night out.

Go for a drink with your colleagues after work and swap your drink for water for a healthier (and, oh-how-much-fun-we-had) night. I’ll be impressed if that works, ever. I am only too aware that alcohol is very ‘fattening’ apart from the high risk of binge-drinking involved but there are other ways around it. Yes, white wine has less calories than beer but you can still enjoy a beer when you are trying to lose weight; just don’t make it three beers.

My take is simple: you want chocolate biscuits, have 1 or 2 instead of half the pack (or the whole one, for that matter). Swap the forbidden list for some good old moderation. I would have hoped the NHS would be able to provide some sounder advice. Perhaps it’s just me but I found it all a bit basic and not that helpful.

M… is for moving on

We are in the middle of moving home. In fact, so in the middle, that I am starting to get the shivers. We have been living in north London, above a pub my husband owns for the past two and a half years. I could tell you all about the benefits of living above your local boozer, but I think you can guess them. And yes, it’s a sweet life although it has some (I know, hard to believe) drawbacks. Back to where I started, we are moving and although we’ve known for the last 6 weeks we are still to start packing our belongings and actually get ready for the move, which is in three days time now. I am, you could say, the typical woman: I buy buy buy and never throw anything away. Maybe because I am an only child but the fact is that I get attached to things and I can’t bear parting with them. To me they are all memories. Memories I don’t remember until I find that photo, that book, etc but memories none the less.

But we are moving and I need to get on with it. Pronto. When we first decided to move, I intended to have a major spring clean and get rid of all sorts of useless things I keep in the house but needless to say I will be taking every single bit with me to the new place in the hope that I’ll do the clear out there. Inevitably once we get there, I’ll get side-tracked by some other more exciting thing (that could be the mini-greenhouse where I intend to grow aromatic herbs as well as tomatoes and perhaps some salad leaves. I’ll report on the tribulations of gardening in due time) and never actually throw away any of the junk I've hoarded over the past decade.

I am not a clumsy person but I have a proven record of falling down the stairs in every single house move I have ever done. That’s every single one of a total of 5. Now, older and hopefully a little wiser, I convinced my husband to use a removal company to help us out. After a lot of internet searching I narrowed my choice down to four companies. It took some time because there are literally dozens in the area but it is definitely worth the effort as you can save a few £££ by doing that. I will let you know how it goes but for the time being they have been pretty damn good with the pre-move logistics. They even agreed to do some of our packing for us at no cost! I am not one for haggling but remember, “if you don’t ask you don’t get” and there’s no harm in asking, right?

Something I found to be quite useful is this website, I am Moving where you can register (for free) and they handle all address changes for you (for free). Great idea, easy to use and so far, very effective.

What are your top tips when tackling a house move?

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Restaurant Rant: Angelus

It was my husband's birthday yesterday so thought we'd go out and celebrate. After all, if you don't make the most of 'special' occasions what's the point, right? Plus I got him a kick-a~#se present so I (sorry, he) deserved a good night out.

So, I rushed home from the office to doll up a little. When I am almost home my mother calls wanting her daily dose of mother-daughter chat (more on that another day). I dutifully tell her all I've done since the day before when I spoke to her. We laugh about my dog jumping into a canal by our house when chasing his friend/unrequited-love interest, Lucy (our friend's dog who we are dog-sitting), she tells me about my dad's new bbq (it's alright for them in sunny Spain) and then I get on with my rush.

We are going to a new-ish restaurant in Lancaster Gate called Angelus. [Confession: I never thought Lancaster Gate was just so close to the West End! Shame on me.] We arrive just on time (an accomplishment in our case) to be greeted by the loveliest of hosts, Tierry, who also happens to be the owner. Tierry is affable and friendly without being too 'matey'. The place is very nicely decorated (he had to be French) and the atmosphere is very relaxed. It's modern but none of that crazy-in-your-face strident deco. It's more Paris chic, I'd say. Lusciously upholstered sofas in the bar area are inviting and comfortable enough to unwind with a glass of Champagne or whatever takes your fancy before going through to the dining room. Big mirrors on the walls give the rooms a certain air of grandeur but still under the no-nonsense policy. I already have good feeling about this place.

Cut to the chase, I hear you. Get on with the stuff that matters. The food. I am no food critic and I won't pretend to be but I have a pretty good palate and good taste buds so hopefully that's enough. The menu is inevitably French and offers plenty of choice. I was pleased to see a seasonal menu offering a great selection of fish, which is not usually the case. We were given a little amouse-bouche, which the waiter tipped as 'like gazpacho'. It wasn't. It was a (very nice) pea puree with mint but not gazpacho like I know it. That said, it was very nice. We were offered a Tio Pepe sherry to drink alongside it. I'm not a fan of sherry but it worked.

Our starters: A ‘Cheddar and bacon tart’ and ‘Gambas a la plancha’ aka grilled prawns. The Cheddar and bacon tart exceeded my expectations. It was intense but light at the same time, almost with a mousse-y consistency. The gambas were king size and very tasty. Being a French restaurant, you could also order foie gras as a starter which is one of my guilty pleasure foods but I made a promise to myself and all those poor ducks and geese they torture, not to have it anymore. I was proud of myself for sticking to my guns. If you are unsure why foie gras is such a big deal, take a look at this: It tastes heavenly but not once I know how cruel it is. I couldn’t stomach it after watching that video.

Main course: I ordered John Dory with baby artichokes and fennel (I am obsessed about the latter lately). My husband ordered the beef which came with a potato cake and a wasabi dressing. My John Dory won by a mile in my book but that could be because I don’t like wasabi much. Before we started our meal we asked the waiter to offer us a glass of wine to match each dish, which their sommelier did brilliantly for us. We do this very often and it usually works very well. A good sommelier will be able to provide you with a couple of by-the-glass options for you to choose from. It can also work out cheaper, which given the current economic situation is not a bad thing. The biggest advantage is that you get to try several wines over the course of your meal.

Dessert: My first reaction: expensive. Desserts are priced as starters, which I thought was a bit much. We ordered the special of the day, ‘Pistachio crème brulee’ and the selection of cheeses. Both good but I wasn’t mad about either. I picked up a good idea though. The cheeses came with a small plate of hazelnuts. Good combination and something different from the usual grapes and figs, I though.

Atmosphere: Very good
Service: Excellent
Food: Excellent

Would I go back? Yes
Value for money? Yes (it’s not a cheap eat, but apart from the desserts the rest was well priced).
Did my husband like his birthday present: Absolutely yes!