As I wrote in a previous blog, I was recently at the Royal Society of Medicine, schmoozing myself into the company of the great and famous in the world of nutrition. Dr Charlotte Evans, Associate Professor at Leeds University’s School of Food Science and Nutrition, was speaking on Fibre.
Dr Evans emphasised that we should all be eating 30g of fibre a day. Very few of us get close to this and yet fibre reduces your blood pressure and drops the risk of diabetes and of bowel cancer. (Following the conference she has very kindly checked over some of my writing on sugar for the book we’re writing: To Life! The Food Lovers Guide to Healthier Jewish Cookery.
I’ve been chatting to a lovely friend who attended a diabetes education program. She told me that she was taught that people with prediabetes and diabetes have a poor tolerance of carbohydrates. She has stopped eating any bread except for Friday night challah and has cut down on crisps, biscuits and cake. She’s also stopped eating sweeter fruits like grapes, pineapple and mango. She finds it easier to go ‘cold turkey’ on high carb foods rather than trying to have small portions and show restraint.
So, here lies a dilemma for me: how to get enough fibre in this situation?
Low carb high fibre options include leafy vegetables, such as cabbage and kale e.g. in a minestrone; quinoa and nuts e.g. in a quinoa pilaf or a nut roast and lentils e.g. added to a shepherd’s pie or soup. Also, porridge oats can be helpful to replace matzo meal in recipes and ground flaxseeds can be sprinkled into stews, soup or yoghurt.
My friend says that after the initial ‘honeymoon period’ of responding to the shock of the diagnosis, her diet has partly fallen off. This is not surprising. Very few of us can stay strictly to a diet for more than a few months. She made a lifestyle change and got into better habits, which will stand her in good stead, even if they are no longer so strict.
One of the professors from the conference, Professor Rimmer, described chips as ‘starch bombs.’ (Starchy foods include root vegetables, beans and sweetcorn. They are converted to glucose after digestion and can raise the blood sugar.) He believes in ‘swaps’ i.e. saying to yourself: ‘I’m going to have this instead of this!’
Replacing red meat with legumes, nuts and fish can be good.
Replacing bread and crackers with oatcakes or wholewheat pitta.
My friend recommends putting your veg and protein on the plate first, leaving little or no room for potatoes, rice or pasta and trying to avoid refills.
And what about those of us who don’t have diabetes and are not at high risk of getting it? Yes, we can have more carbs of the high fibre variety, but if slimming is your priority, a carb-free meal a day can be a good way to go.
As with almost everything related to our bodies, each of us an individual – what works for me may not for you and vice versa. So find out what works for you and enjoy the journey.
Just as you don’t see a bus for ages, then a few arrive in short succession, so it is for simchas for Alex and I. In the course of 3 weekends, we have had 4 simchas including a bris and now there are none on the horizon. So be it – we’ve had fun and now it’s time to recuperate.
Unusual aspects of the service included the auctioning of aliyot, with men shouting out their bids for different mitzvahs, the highest of which was £380! Also, the barmitzvah boy carried the torah scroll, and he did weight training in preparation for this, because the casing was like a tree trunk- a large cylinder wrapped in silver and gilt, topped in swirls of silver. It was placed upright on the bimah and then opened, to be read vertically, with the scroll still held in place in its casing. Nati davened like a professional and seemed to have absolutely no nerves.
There was an expanse of food, on a table which stretched the full length of the hall. My favourite dishes included rye bread topped with smoked salmon, fresh salmon, little balls containing spicy potato and the cholent. As it was a Sephadi celebration, there was also the traditional baklava. This is usually super-sweet, but thanks to Nina Mellman, and her ‘Middle Eastern Delicacies’ recipe book, I have found that you can make it with just a little honey and no added sugar. (I once had a bite of a baklava which tasted as though it was made with lactulose (a popular laxative) as it was completely saturated in sugary syrup. I could not make it past the first bite.)
The second barmitzvah was hosted by our wonderful friends: Linda and David. The event started with Friday night dinner for about 30 guests, at their home. They had put a small marquee in their garden, attached onto the side of the house. It was reminiscent of being in a succah, but with better food, with plentiful chicken and salt beef, fruit salad and apple strudel among other dishes.
Our host, David attended a talk on healthy eating by Suzy Glaskie at Limmud about 2 years ago. Ever since then, he has cut down greatly on sugar and other refined carbohydrates and stayed ‘in good shape’ and felt better for this.
The barmitzvah boy, Josh, was fluent and had a good voice. In spite of his small stature, he is super-confident. His older brother, Sam, conducted a lot of the rest of the service, leaving the rabbi with little to do but a rather nice speech.
Our wedding was between Simon and beautiful Felicity and was held in a ‘wedding barn’ near Mobberley. When they said their wedding vows, he called her his ‘little mermaid’ and she made a Star Wars reference. The vows were very romantic. However, the ‘reading,’ given (I think) by the Registrar’s assistant, was ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’! She said afterwards that she had to struggle to keep a straight face. Once the rings had been exchanged and the first kiss kissed, the Registrar said there was still one more thing to go. The doors to the room opened and in walked a group of Storm Troopers! The groom’s chin nearly hit the floor!
Our meal was sea bass, roast parsnips, mashed potatoes, a creamy sauce and cauliflower cheese and I had a little bit of Yorkshire pudding. It was all, needless-to-say, delicious. Felicity had made 3 wedding cakes: one real and 2 decoy. The real one was what they call a ‘naked cake’ which I approve of, with minimal icing and so reduced sugar, but a decoration of flowers. She is highly talented.
One of our friends, who we sat with, is called Stuart. He told us that he is now sugar-free, and has been for several months. He had visited his doctors’ surgery and been told that his cholesterol was slightly high at five point something. He was offered a statin or to try healthy diet first. He had read about a celebrity who lost weight easily by going sugar-free, so decided to try this and cut out cakes, biscuits, and loose sugar etc.
He has lost about a stone in weight and also his cholesterol has come down to 3.5. He clearly has very good will-power, as at the wedding he declined all desserts and cake in favour of some fresh fruit. I was delighted to hear his story, as I used to tell patients that with dieting, their cholesterol might come down slightly but that statins will often halve it. Stuart had achieved a statin-like reduction through diet alone and that is phenomenal!
I also prioritize sugar reduction and eating healthy fats, to help with raised cholesterol. Such advice is vindicated. He looks great on it but more importantly, he will be cutting his risk of ever developing diabetes, coronary heart disease, dementia or stroke. That’s got to be worth a little self-control. So Stuart and David, I applaud you both and shall try to emulate you.
These last few weeks have been excellent, even though the weather has changed for the worse. First, my daughter, Heather, returned from her medical school elective in Borneo and Penang. She had the most wonderful time, the highlight of her trip being a journey to an Orangutan sanctuary.
The following week, my son, Daniel, returned from his studies in Vancouver, for a 2 week holiday. He is looking great, on the basis of joining the weekly local ‘Park run’. After each run he has a bagel and a doughnut, as he reckons that he has burned over 2000 calories. He wasn’t too pleased when I suggested dropping the doughnuts! The trouble is that they are usually a mixture of white flour, sugar, jam and highly processed re-used oil. So, they are low on the food chain, i.e. just about as unhealthy as you can get. I once tried eating the cut-out ‘hole’ of a doughnut, sold by an American fast food chain. Even that fragment was so sickly sweet that I couldn’t finish it. A pack of nuts and raisins or ‘trail mix’ might be a better choice for a post-run pick-me-up.
Last Tuesday, Jamie Oliver was book signing at Waterstones in Manchester. I determined to meet him as I am a fan, especially of his work to combat childhood obesity and to improve school dinners. I was at Waterstones soon after they opened and surprised to find myself the first in the queue. I learned from a Polish girl, sitting on the floor nearby, that Jamie is popular in Poland. It is wonderful to think that his campaigns for a healthier diet reach people around the world.
We knew he was on his way, because his voice carried up the stairs. I had his book ready for signing and while he was doing this, I told him about writing with Judi and about Aunt Evi being a famous Jewish cookery expert. He was rushed but friendly. I took a deep breath and said: “Jamie, would you consider endorsing our cookery book?” I was directed to his lovely PR manager, but not before both Heather and I had photos taken with him.
Yesterday was my Uncle Hans’s 94th birthday. He is quite incredible in many ways. He walks without a stick, which is not necessarily a good thing as he sometimes wobbles as he goes. He still drives and also takes a string of women out for lunches, where he regales them with stories from his past, all partly fact and partly fiction, as he likes to embellish them. He is always highly entertaining.
On the same topic of ‘fact and fiction’ I am reminded of my dilemma, when it comes to writing about fats. This week the newspapers and social media have been buzzing with the pronouncement of an epidemiologist, called Dr Karin Michels, that ‘Coconut oil is pure poison.’ She goes on to say that because it is high in saturated fat, it is a cause of high LDL cholesterol and hence heart disease. I just wish that scientists wouldn’t sensationalise. Her stance is not one that I take.
Here is my view on fats, and it is a hotly contested topic. Saturated fats are those where every carbon atom is linked with the maximum number of hydrogen atoms. They are very heat stable. Surprisingly, eating saturated fats (in moderation) in your diet does not always appear to raise the level of saturated fat in your blood stream, just as when you eat foods high in cholesterol, like egg yolks, they do not usually raise the cholesterol levels in your blood. This is especially the case if the rest of your diet is healthy and you don’t eat lots of white carbs. (I added ‘in moderation’ to this description because large quantities of saturated fats, eaten regularly, are harmful to heart health.)
Karen Michels is right in saying that saturated fats raise ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. However, they may also raise ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and drop bad triglyceride fats. So, the overall effect is ‘a mixed bag!’ Also, scientists have shown that there are different forms of LDL cholesterol. Saturated fats cause an increase in large buoyant LDL, which is quite safe, having little effect on the blood vessels. Sugar and other white carbs stimulate the liver to cause a rise in small dense LDL cholesterol, (sdLDL), which is the most damaging kind. It is prone to being oxidised and contributing to the formation of plaques, which can narrow the arteries supplying the heart. So perhaps sugar is ‘the real poison’?……
Not all saturated fats act in the same way. Dairy products appear to be neutral or good for the heart. They help drop blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes. Unsweetened natural yoghurt is particularly good. Poultry also seems to be neutral. Red meat is ‘so-so’ but processed red meat, like salami, savaloys or other deli meats is significantly worse for the risk of heart disease, such as angina or heart attacks.
Where does coconut oil sit in this spectrum? This isn’t clear, as there hasn’t been enough research on the subject. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. Virgin cold-pressed coconut oil is high in anti-oxidants. It also contains some medium chain triglyceride (MCT oil) which is absorbed and quickly taken to the liver, where it is burned for energy, helping to reduce the fat around your midriff (visceral fat.) When this happens, ketones may be released, which appear to be helpful in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Further studies are being done into all of this, so we will know more about its properties in the future.
Where coconut oil comes into its own, is frying at high temperatures e.g. sauteeing. I have already described saturated fats as relatively heat stable. The same is true for butter and ghee. This is in contrast to polyunsaturated fats, including sunflower oil. If these latter fats are overheated, especially if they are re-used, like in a fast-food café, they can be damaged and oxidised or create harmful chemicals.
Olive oil is monounsaturated and is safe to fry with. Refined olive oil is more stable at high temperatures but has less antioxidants than the more delicate cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, which we tend to reserve for salad dressings and drizzles. It has wonderful credentials for reduction of both heart disease and dementia.
Why don’t ‘experts’ like Karen Michels ever mention the different subgroups of LDL cholesterol or the heat-stability of saturated fats? I don’t understand it, because this research has been available for several years. It may be because mainstream advice is still to cut down on saturated fats. It takes a great deal of uncontested research to change the guidance and such changes have to be made gradually or there will be no credibility.
The head of nutrition for Public Health England, Louis Levy, debated the topic with me but it felt as though his argument went around in circles, ending by his saying ‘but saturated fats are bad!’ Blood tests with a breakdown of the different types of LDL are expensive and not available on the NHS. Also, Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London says that a gold standard randomised controlled trial is needed, comparing a high dairy to a low dairy diet. However, he doesn’t think it will happen, as it might be unethical and it would be extremely expensive.
Some Jewish families are prone to very high cholesterol levels (‘familial hypercholesterolaemia.) They process fats differently and need to be careful to cut levels of saturated fats and cholesterol in their diets. They are likely to know about this because their parents and grandparents have had a very high cholesterol and often because family members have suffered from angina or heart attacks from an early age. They can usually be helped by medication, like statins, if started when they are young. Even without such a diagnosis, different people handle fats differently.
Overall, we don’t have the evidence to reach strong conclusions on whether saturated fats are safe but it looks likely that dairy products, in moderation are ok for most people and that processed deli meats are a risk for heart health. So, coconut oil- not a poison.
I was in London last Thursday for the opening of the Evelyn Rose Archives at the Guildhall Library in the City of London. The doyenne of Jewish cooking, Evelyn Rose was a food writer, author, broadcaster and author of numerous cookbooks. To me, she was Auntie Evi as she was my aunt and Judi’s mother.
The Guildhall library is close to St Paul’s Cathedral and the recently discovered Roman amphitheatre. On arriving at the library, we were ushered into a large room with floor to ceiling picture windows with a gorgeous central display of fresh produce, surrounding small orange and lemon trees. Two display cases contained some of the magazines Auntie Evi wrote for, hand-written recipes and her MBE medal awarded by Queen Elizabeth in 1989.
There was a delicious buffet of several of my aunt’s most popular recipes, including salmon pate blinis, spinach frittatas and her famous ‘luscious lemon cake’ and also an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Principal Librarian, Peter Ross, explained that Guildhall had been paid for by Dick Whittington and built in the 1400s. (I had thought that he was a fictional character!) It’s used mostly for books and documents about the city of London but also on law, clocks, business and food and wine.
One of the first cookery authors featured here was the eccentric Elizabeth David. We were told that she used to study regularly at the library. She would arrive with a bottle of wine in a string bag and lower this into the pond. When it was time for her lunch, she’d retrieve the chilled wine. Presumably, she didn’t get much done in the afternoons!
As Peter Ross explained, the library tries to give a ‘snapshot’ of British food over the past 600 years, but with so many cookery books being written every year, they need to be very selective. So, it is a tribute to Aunt Evi’s high reputation that they jumped at the opportunity to house her work. They have just finishing cataloguing her research notes, photographs, recipes and cookery books. (The only thing not catalogued was a tin of soup!) “This Evelyn Rose Collection reflects the writing and cooking of a great food writer’ he said.
Judi then took to the stage, to tell us about her mum’s life story. Evi had been evacuated to Seattle during the 2nd World War and it was at school there that she first learned cookery. After moving to California, she was invited to audition for a film at the MGM studios. The film was called National Velvet, and she was beaten to the role by the then unknown young Elizabeth Taylor!
On her return to the UK, Evi joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Airforce) and met her husband Myer Rose. As a young housewife, she talked her way into the BBC. She made cheese blintzes on her first TV programme and the switchboard was jammed with callers. She also started writing about healthy eating for the ‘Family Doctor’ magazine. A book called ‘More Fun With Your Food’ followed. (A title which could have featured in the ‘Big Bang Theory.’) Then she started her long residence with the Jewish Chronicle newspaper, for which she wrote a weekly column for the next fifty years.
Aunt Evi’s first solo book was ‘The Jewish Home.’ This was about how to set up a kosher home, coming well before Shirley Conran’s ‘Superwoman.’ She was a pioneer in so many ways. As part of her role as an ambassador for Agrexco, she was one of the first people in Britain to show how to cook with peppers and how to use avocados. Now that these vegetables are a mainstay of healthy eating, it’s hard to imagine life without them. She also demonstrated how to cook with gas, when gas stoves were first introduced to the UK, as well as consulting for the Butter Information Council and being the first woman commissioner on the Meat and Livestock Commission.
Judi’s brother, Alan, described all the sumptuous meals Evi made for the family. Everything was made from scratch. She pickled her own meat and cucumbers. If she made bilberry pies, the family had to go foraging for the fruit. Her homemade rice pudding was epic. Alan can still vividly remember all the flavours. He said, wistfully: ‘We were privileged. She was our Mum and she cooked for us.’
David, the older brother, wondered how on earth she achieved it all. She had a thirst for knowledge and new experiences. However, she probably wouldn’t have been nearly so successful if not for her husband, my Uncle Myer. He was her most constructive critic and a wonderful food taster, who would encourage her to try and try again until she perfected each recipe.
Besides her work for the Butter Information Council and many other organisations, she also managed to fit in working for Jewish Care. Elderly Jewish residents, living in residential homes, had previously been given poor meals. Aunt Evi changed this by writing a manual on how they could produce ‘healthy homely food,’ reminding the residents of what they used to cook for themselves when they were able.
David concluded that Evi was ‘Jewish to the core, with a strong sense of tradition, while being at home in the secular world.’
Her work stands apart. Hers are the recipes to which we all turn.
I’ve always felt that it’s important to minimise the stress of getting ready for Passover. This year I finally reduced the pressure by ‘escaping’ to a kosher hotel in Catalonia with my husband Alex. So my pre-Passover shopping consisted of two tubes of high-factor sun block and two packets of pesadich granola with cranberries! I virtually skipped through the supermarket carpark.
We arrived at the hotel in Malgrat de Mar on the Costa Brava to encounter much hustle and bustle. The other guests seemed to be mostly French – women in sheitels or ornately wrapped turbans, men with long beards and black kippahs, and very few English voices.
At the Seders though, we found ourselves with fellow Brits, New Yorkers and an exuberant young rabbi from Gateshead with his beautiful French wife and five sons. There was also a young couple from Argentina eating with us for the first night and who were considering settling in Barcelona, exploring the husband’s right to Spanish citizenship, as his Jewish ancestors had been thrown out of Spain. They told us that Argentina now feels unsafe due to drug-related crime.
So, what of the food? The organisers had done incredibly well to cater for such large numbers, and the food was usually tasty. However, most of our new friends commented on the large amounts of red meat served nearly every day, and pastrami in pesadich rolls, (which tasted a little like cotton wool.) Ideally, we shouldn’t have red meat more than about three times weekly and very little processed meat, as the latter is a risk for diabetes and cancer. For one week only it didn’t matter too much, but I was unpleasantly surprised to find meat featuring again in our packed lunches.
There was generally an excess of ‘white carbs,’ including our matzah, the ‘rolls,’ vast amounts of potatoes and chips, and stacks of cakes. The latter were attractive and much effort had clearly gone into their preparation. Fellow diners seemed to be worried about them running out as representatives from each family would rush to the trays and heap them up on plates. It was like one long Kiddush!
On the second night we were sitting with a New York gentleman who revealed he had pre-diabetes. I found it hard to watch as he tucked into any cakes or meringues on offer. He knew that they were ‘off the diet’ but found them hard to resist. It felt like watching someone with heart disease who was chain smoking. He also indulged in regular colas, though I couldn’t help telling him that one tall glass contains about 8 teaspoons of sugar, and that drinking more than two sugar-sweetened drinks daily increases your risk of heart disease by about 35%. I am probably not the best company, at times!
What was good, however, was the large selection of fresh fruit at all our meals and salad of all kinds – aubergines, Waldorf, Greek, potato, aubergine (egg plant), tuna, carrot and lots of lovely mixed salads which seemed to contain any raw vegetable on hand. They were a refreshing antidote to the stodgy Pesach fare and red meat.
If you are wondering about travelling to Catalonia, I can only recommend it. The coast line was gorgeous, with walking paths, known as Rondas, stretching almost all the way to up to Perpignan in France.
We were also close to the city of Girona with its long Jewish heritage. The Jewish museum here owned a copy of the beautiful illuminated Sarajevo Haggadah. There was also an ancient mikveh, where visitors had thrown coins in the assumption that it was a wishing well!
Would we repeat the experience of celebrating Pesach abroad? I am not sure because I missed spending the Seder with family.. On the other hand, it was certainly a pleasure to avoid all that pre-Passover shopping and preparation. But in the end, I think it’s going to be “next year in Manchester” for Alex and me!
If “Jewish food” and healthy sound like they don’t belong in the same sentence, let alone the same kitchen, read on: believe us, kosher cooking ain’t what it used to be – take our Rainbow Breakfast bowl recipe above for starters.
Since this is our first post, perhaps we should introduce ourselves. We’re Judi and Jackie, the Curly Cousins. Our family, The Roses, is something of a culinary dynasty. Judi’s the daughter of the legendary Jewish chef and food writer, Evelyn Rose MBE, and our dad’s, Eric and Myer Rose, were first cousins (which makes us second cousins.) Jackie’s a family doctor with a special interest in nutrition and healthy eating, and Judi is a cookbook writer and chef instructor. Jackie lives in North Manchester. and after 20 years in Manhattan, Judi moved back to the UK and now lives in West London where she’s also planning to running cooking courses and supper clubs.
We’re writing a book called Lokshen Horror – part cookbook, part guide to healthy eating in the kosher kitchen based on emerging research about the connections between what you eat and how you feel, with lots of info about ingredients and what they can do for – and to your health. Why the title? Well lohshen horeh is a phrase from the Hebrew bible that literally means “the evil tongue.” And of course lokshen is a traditional Jewish noodle pudding – heavy, loaded with fat and sugar, not exactly what you’d call health food. In fact from a nutritional point of view, it’s pretty horrifying.
FROM FRESH TO FRESH
Like many unhealthy foods, however, lokshen is also delicious. Could we update it to something delicious and health-giving? In fact could we do the same thing with other classic Ashkenazi recipes, not to mention dishes from Israel and Jewish communities around the world too? Could we take Jewish cooking and our readers to be on a delicious journey from fress to fresh?
Evelyn Rose was beloved by her fans because her recipes that always worked. That’s because she made every one of them over and over, testing, tweaking, adjusting until she was satisfied they were fail-proof. And that’s what we’re about to do with the recipes for Lokshen Horror. We’ll also post some of the latest research we’ve come across about diet and nutrition with a Jewish twist. We hope you’ll join us on our adventure.
Dr Jackie discovers the delights – and challenges – of life on the ocean waves.
Alex and I have been lucky enough to have just been on a cruise to Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, travelling around Cape Horn! It was quite an adventure for us. We started in Santiago, where a funicular can give you a fabulous city view over a surprisingly Westernised metropolis; spent a day in Valparaiso, admiring the street murals; caught the ship in San Antonio and stopped at Puerto Montt, which has a waterfall and a beautiful ice-capped volcano; Punta Arenas, which provides great hiking; Ushuaia, the Southernmost town in the world, where we enjoyed a fabulous hike to the Emerald Lake; Puerto Madryn, where we saw penguins and sea lions; Montevideo, where we visited a Jewish community centre and synagogue and finally Buenos Aires, where we watched Tango shows.
It was wonderful being on a cruise ship, because we avoided long hours of travelling between destinations by car, bus, train or plane. Days spent at sea were filled with activities, such as quizzes, talks, gym sessions and aerobics, led by the hyperactive entertainments’ officer, Alejandro, who had us ‘shaking our stuff’ because he claimed that no-one watching would ever see us again. There was also the Canadian DJ Morgan, who turned out to be DJ Collins, when he appeared at the Friday night service and told stories of Yiddishe grandmothers on other cruises having tried to pair him off with their granddaughters!
We also made some wonderful new friends: Ros and Mark, from Bushey in London, Jean and Neil from Colorado, Joan, Fred, Coleen and Randy from Baltimore, Irena and Gershon Gershon (his real name!) from Tel Aviv, Regina and Wolfgang from Germany, Reggi and George from Chile, Mike and Margaret from Saskatchewan, Dave from Glasgow and Louise and Patrick the intrepid mariner from British Columbia, amongst others.
Staying healthy on a cruise and avoiding putting on a ton of weight can be challenging. This was my 3rd ever cruise. When waiting to get on the first ship, I stood next to an experienced cruiser in the queue. She had 2 cases. She said that the second case had clothes a size larger, for her second week of travel! Horrified, I immediately resolved not to let that happen to me. The staff were extremely fastidious about hygiene, constantly cleaning and offering hand gel at the entrances of most areas. There were even press buttons to leave the ladies’ and gents, with notices encouraging you to use a tissue for that purpose.
We were all concerned about the possibility of norovirus, especially when we heard that a Royal Caribbean ship had been recently affected and had to turn back to the starting port. What a miserable way to spend a holiday! I took to using clean spoons to serve myself from the buffets, rather than the communal serving spoons, which had been handled by many. I saw one lady handling the spoons with a serviette.
The lunch buffet was even more extensive but it was easy to fill up on fish and savoury dishes and to walk past the displays of cakes looking the other way! Supper was a sit- down meal and again there were always fish or vegetarian main course options. The presentation of the food was excellent. I was delighted to see that there was always sorbet or sugar-free dessert, although occasionally the latter were a little bland and on one or two occasions I succumbed and had delicious fruit crumble and a phenomenal baked Alaska.
The newest version of the Mediterranean diet includes having plentiful drinks of water and also herbal infusions. I requested mint leaves with hot water, which the waiters soon got used to and provided without being asked. This has the advantage of being anti-inflammatory and of settling your stomach after a large meal. I love it.
I’m probably sounding super-smug here with my amazing powers of restraint! It’s far from the truth. I’m naturally a fresser and I did put on a little weight over the two weeks but not enough to get me down. I think that the biggest potential pitfall is the ability to refill your plate several times over and the fact that the restaurants are open for much of the day and up to midnight. Alejandro once joked that the passengers were upset because they’d gone more than 45 minutes without another meal! Dr Rangan Chatterjee promotes having at least a 12 hour food-free window between supper and breakfast and reduced snacking as an efficient way to help weight loss and to reduce the risk of diabetes. It may not be possible to do this every day but even once or twice a week can be good.
What of the traditional South American diet? It had healthy and unhealthy aspects. The good things included large salads, Spanish omelettes, chillies, bean-based dishes and avocado-rich guacamole. However, unfortunately the favourite snack was empanadas, rather like Cornish pasties, but sometimes deep fried for added calories. There were also medialunas (meaning ‘half moons’), a kind of heavy croissant with a sugary coating, tortilla chips, churros (like doughnut fingers) massive beef steaks, sodas and dulche de lece- made from sweetened condensed milk. The young people mostly appeared slim and may have moved on from the traditional diet but many middle-aged men and women were ‘gorditos’ (chubby!)
Will I do a cruise again? I’m not sure. This wasn’t because of the diet but due to my concern at how long the crew are away from their families and the fact that the cabin crew put in 10 hour working days. I don’t need to have my room cleaned twice a day and the bed turned down etc. I felt a bit like a diva! Perhaps, with a little bit of pressure from the customers, these things might be changed in the future?
Last week I
attended the Nutrition Society Winter Conference at the Royal Society of
Medicine. This is my 3rd Winter Conference but the one which I was
most excited about, because the topic was the best nutrition for the heart and
for the metabolism. This is the issue most on people’s minds, when they think
about healthy eating. I was also enthused, because I knew that the conference
was attracting eminent speakers from around the globe.
One of these
international speakers was sitting in the row behind me. I recognised him from
having looked him up beforehand. He was Professor Eric Rimm from Harvard. I
contrived to leave for the first break, at the same time as him and so got a
chance to introduce myself. So began my self-imposed quest to speak to and quiz
as many of the experts as I could. When might I get such an opportunity again,
both for my own interest and on behalf of you, my readers? Never!
was Prof Jean-Pierre Despres, from Quebec University, who has the lovely title
of ‘Directeur de la science et de l’innovation’ at the Alliance Sante, Quebec. (He
is also, incidentally, handsome and charismatic, with short black fluffy hair.)
He is an expert on the metabolic syndrome, the dangerous combination of raised
blood pressure, pre-diabetes, fatty liver and raised triglyceride fats.
He told me
that when eating at home, he tries to have a salad of as many different raw
vegetables as possible, before each meal. He also said that the most important
thing to him is to preserve his intellect. He thumped his chest and said: ‘If I
have a heart attack, I can recover, but if my brain is damaged, I can’t get
I was challenging myself to be brave and this included asking questions of the expert panels, in spite of the audience of about 500 delegates. I asked about the recent study, which had been published in the British Medical Journal, which had shown that highly processed foods raise the risk of cancer. I suggested that ideally people should get their heart healthy fats from whole foods such as fish, nuts and seeds and also from olive oil and not from refined oils and margarines. Professor Lovegrove agreed that this made sense. Phew!
At lunchtime, I got speaking with a friendly doctor from San Francisco, Dr Stephen Phinney, who had given a talk on the very low carb (ketogenic) diet. He had grey hair and a spiky moustache. He was impressed with the work of the GP, Dr David Unwin, from Southport, who has treated many of his patients who have type 2 diabetes with this diet and had incredible results, helping them to lose weight and in many cases to reverse their diabetes. (He reminded me that the information on how to get started is at at www.diabetes.co.uk/diet/low-carb-diabetes-diet.html.) He then produced one of his own books from his briefcase and gave it to me as a present! I was stunned!
On the following day, I plonked myself down next to Professor Rimm, as the seat was free. He was pleased when I asked about whether freezing a bagel and then toasting it straight from the freezer would produce resistant starch, leading to less of a sugar peak. This was confirmed by the speaker. Prof Rimm smiled – as an American, he clearly loves his bagels, so he was delighted to know that there’s a simple way to make them healthier. I later looked up his credentials, once again, and was staggered to read that he has over 700 publications to his name and that he has helped to determine food programmes for American school children and for those on governmental food assistance. I have clearly been walking with some of the giants of the nutrition world.
This month started with Judi’s ‘house warming’ party. Her home in Acton is not new to her, Marc and Jamie but their extensive renovations are only recently completed. They have created an extensive open plan kitchen and lounge, which is also to be the location of Judi’s home cookery school. This room has exposed oak beams, stainless steel fixings, roof windows and picture windows, so it is flooded with light. The small garden has olive trees, rose-covered trellises, a stone fountain and a barbeque pit. It transports you to the Mediterranean.
Hors d’oeuvres were moreish spicy chicken wings and individual Caesar salads in little paper boats. I was starting to fill up on these, when Judi started to pile more and more dishes onto the central island of the kitchen. There were hot home smoked sides of salmon, melt-in-the mouth pickled brisket, and platters of Italian-style barbequed Mediterranean vegetables.
Judi’s food is predictably delicious, but mine is more variable. We were recently asked to help with an article for an American nutrition magazine. The Jewish journalist asked for a recipe for Kasha Varnishkes, a traditional dish, which combines pasta and buckwheat. Now I know that buckwheat is a very healthy gluten-free whole grain, high in minerals, including magnesium, manganese and iron and also supplying the anti-inflammatory antioxidants, quercetin and rhutin. Sadly, I am not fond of the slightly bitter flavour, much as I have tried to like it.
My attempt at Kasha had only a single tablespoon of the buckwheat, cooked and chilled white pasta bows, fried onions, parsley, low salt soy sauce and also toasted pine nuts. My first verdict was that it was irredeemable, but as the dish of chilled kasha has sat in the fridge, I have found myself occasionally snacking on it!
Perhaps the fault is with me and my taste buds, rather than with the kasha itself? Judi has a love of bitter foods, including rocket, watercress, kale, mustard and horseradish. (I have a ‘sweeter tooth’ although I fight against it.) What these bitter foods all have in common, is being super healthy, cruciferous vegetables. They give protection against cancer and against Alzheimer’s disease. This is in contrast to sugar and other white carbs, which are a risk for diabetes, cancer, heart disease and dementia. So, ‘bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.’
These vegetables contain chemicals called glucosinolates, which break down into isothyacyanates. This latter name sounds worrying, however these chemicals can help to protect against damage to DNA, against inflammation and also to reduce the impact of carcinogens. Studies have suggested that smokers who eat plentiful cruciferous vegetables are less likely to develop lung cancer than other smokers. It is clearly better not to smoke at all.
If, like me, you are not big on bitter foods, it is good to know that there are other cruciferous veg which are less harsh. These include broccoli and cauliflower. Also, pairing bitter vegetables with fruits or rich meat dishes can be easier on the palate. Watercress salad with orange segments and a French dressing is gorgeous. Another tip is to make kale crisps, painting the kale with olive oil and roasting it. The natural sweetness of the kale comes out and the bitterness retreats.
All of this reminds me of an elderly Italian gentleman, who I recently met. He said that he likes to eat bitter foods for his health, even choosing to eat dandelion leaves in salads. He grew up on a farm in Italy, but now lives in Prestwich, Manchester. He still sticks to a typical Mediterranean diet but surprisingly, he likes to supplement this with kosher food, although he is not Jewish.
He lives close to the best kosher groceries in Manchester. He loves to buy rye bread from here, but also, he willingly pays the extra cost to eat kosher chicken. He says that it is the only poultry that he has found, which tastes like that from his home farm. He recalls that the chickens there were fed on grains and on corn. Their skin was yellower, as a result but otherwise eating kosher chicken fills him with nostalgia.
He said that he could happily have chatted with me about food all day. I felt the same way. The only thing better than chatting about good food is of course eating it. I need Judi to host another party!
This fortnight has been a less manic than the one before. We haven’t been near any museums – more’s the pity, but did go on a hike with the Pennine Wayfarers rambling club. We started from the exotic location of the Asda supermarket carpark in Radcliffe, north-east of Manchester and hiked along the Irwell valley. The scary bit was coming across a few patches of Giant Hogweed, which is toxic if you rub up against it and the sap can cause burns or blisters. It certainly looked virulent and threatening, towering above us, with leaves like fingers and blotchy thick stems. Even the flowers were ugly, like shaggy white shower heads.
Marvin Steals Lunch
The highlight of the walk was when we sat down, close to the Clifton reservoir for our picnic. A pitbull-like terrier, apparently named Marvin and bearing a striking resemblance to Muttley from Wacky Races, ran up and pinched our leader Vincent’s sandwiches, biting through the clingfilm. The owner was only vaguely bothered. He tried to call him back, to reproach him, but by the time that Marvin ambled back, the moment was over and it was too late for discipline. Vincent didn’t think so!
It reminded me of my favourite story about my friends Brenda and Glen’s dog, Bobby. (Sadly, he is no longer with us.) On this day, Brenda was walking in the Prestwich Clough, with her beloved dog. He was off his lead, because the Clough is usually very safe for this.
However, they came across a young couple having a very posh picnic, including half of a roasted chicken. It must have been a special occasion. The inevitable happened: Bobby ran up in excitement and snatched most of the chicken (maybe not kosher) and swallowed it, while running off. To make matters worse, he promptly vomited it back! Brenda was mortified but had no money on her to pay for chicken replacement. All she could do was to repeatedly say “I’m so sorry!” RIP Bobby. You may be gone, but most certainly not forgotten.
Returning to this week’s theme: wasted sandwiches and chicken by random dog-chewing, is quite unavoidable. However, there is much that we can do to avoid food waste. Judi is much better than me at this. I have learned some good tips from her to cut down on what goes into my recycling bin. I am a bit squeamish when foods look past their best. (My sister-in-law, Sue, once saw me throwing away an old packet of tomatoes and shrieked. She pulled the packet out of the bin and proceeded to eat the better ones while I looked on in awe.)
When I was 18, I spent my Summer holiday volunteering at Kibbutz Beit Hashita. I was given work in the pickled cucumber factory. My job was to pick out bad cucumbers from the conveyor belt. It was soul-destroying work, made worse because down the line was an elderly Israeli lady who routinely put most of my cucumbers back onto the belt, to go into the pickling jars.
Judi loves adding leftover vegetable and trimmings to her stocks. So, she uses the stalks of vine tomatoes, schmatty celery stalks, squishy tomatoes and dried ends of ginger etc. She says that ‘squishy and shrivelled’ are fine, as long as foods smell ok, there’s no visible mould and the stock is boiled up. I recently read that onion and fish skins are particularly healthy, having more antioxidants than the flesh. Onion skins are rich in quercetin, which is anti-inflammatory. Although the skins cannot be digested, by boiling them in a stock, the nutrients can dissolve into the water. All the loose ‘bits and bobs’ will be strained off afterwards anyway.
She doesn’t throw away the bones after a roast dinner but seals them into a zippy plastic bag and pops them into the freezer, for later use in stock or soup. Bone broth is rich in minerals and collagen and good for your immune system. That is one of the reasons why chicken soup is often called Jewish penicillin.
Another way to avoid food waste is to only get what you need and not be too tempted by impulse buys. My son Daniel plans a week’s meals in advance and lists all the ingredients and sticks to this. This saves him a lot of money. I think you are more likely to be focussed on necessities when ordering food online, but I personally like to be able to handle, squeeze and sniff my fruit and veg.
Sticking properly to recipes when baking (which is, after all, a form of chemistry) is another good idea. I learned this the hard way when I attempted a gluten-free lemon cake and the shop assistant had told me that psyllium husks might make a good replacement for the rice flour, which wasn’t in stock. Disaster. I also tried using almond milk in place of regular milk, as my step-daughter is gluten-free/dairy-free. The end- result was truly disgusting and went straight in the bin. The only thing worse than throwing away a cookery flop is serving it!
On a more serious note: some foods should be thrown away at the ‘use by’ date (which is not the same as the ‘best before date’) and especially if they smell ‘wrong.’ These include flour and other grains and nuts, because of the risk of mycotoxins. Also cooked rice should be chucked within 2 days. And it goes without saying that highly perishable foods like chicken and dairy products shouldn’t be kept after their ‘use by date’. We just freeze things like that on the day we buy them if there’s a chance we won’t be cooking them before the ‘use by’ date.
KEEPING IT FRESH
I find that salad leaves stay much fresher if a piece of kitchen paper goes into the packet and it is then sealed with a clip. It seems to help to absorb moisture. I’ve been amazed how this can prevent spinach from going slimy. Judi prolongs the life of fresh herbs by putting them in a jar with a little water in the bottom and storing them in the door of the fridge with a plastic bag on top (always remove the elastic band beforehand to allow air to circulate around the stalks.)
Soft fruit, like strawberries, can be briefly soaked in water with a few drops of cider vinegar and then patted dry. This seems to extend the time before they become mouldy as the vinegar inhibits fungal and microbial growth.
Some foods are best not stored together as they require different humidity to prevent spoiling, so avocados and tomatoes should not ideally go into the same vegetable drawer in your fridge as the salad greens. On the other hand, if you have some rock-solid avocados that need ripening, store them with bananas – they release ethylene which helps ripen the avos. Incidentally, left over avocado salad will keep for a day without going brown if liberally sprinkled with lemon juice.
Last but not least, remember FIFO. Older foods should be pushed to the front of the fridge when you buy more, so as not to be forgotten and used up first. (First In-First Out.).
What are you favourite waste not want not tips and tricks?