Monthly Archives: November 2015

I Tried It: Improving My Knife Skills

When you cook, a good knife or set of knives is really important. And they must be sharp.

I learned this the hard way when I sliced my finger open trying to cut through a particularly tough sweet potato. It was there and then, I decided two things – to sharpen my knives properly and to go on a course to learn to proper knife skills.

I booked myself on to a course at the fabulous Leith’s School of Food and Wine in West London. When the day came, for some unknown reason, I was a bit nervous, but all nerves were swept away by the friendly staff and instructors.

They started the 3 1/2 hour course by running through the basics – explaining the names of the different knives, their usages, how to hold a knife properly and how to sharpen a knife. Did you know that you should ideally sharpen your knives at least once a week, if not more? Nope, me neither.

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We then started off by dicing a celery, then went on to french frying and cubing potatoes and julienning carrots and leeks.

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It was very eye opening to see how easy cutting vegetables could be – with the right technique. I had recently begun to rely on my food processor to slice and dice onions, garlic, peppers and herbs and since taking this course, I haven’t used it. I’ve become so much more precise (and faster!), so all the food prep needed for cooking is much easier now!

The instructor and her assistants walked around to make sure we were all using the right technique – an almost ‘rolling’ action with the knife in our dominant hand, pulling the knife up and cutting with a forward motion. Then repeating, without letting the tip of the knife leave the board. With the other hand, holding the vegetable with a claw like action, so that the tips of the fingers and nails are curled under and the knife is resting of the middle section of the fingers. Here’s a nice set of images demonstrating this technique with an onion.

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We spent the second half of the course focusing on herbs and fruit. We learnt how to finely chop fresh herbs (the picture above is my attempt to finely chop chives, rosemary and parsley), as well as how to chiffonade big leafy herbs like basil.

The hardest part of the course was sectioning oranges to make nice little wedges with no pith on them. My poor attempts (that I didn’t bother to take a photograph of) show that this is clearly something that takes a lot of practice, so I have even more respect for the chefs and sous-chefs that produce such lovely orange wedges for breakfast buffets!

And best of all, we didn’t go home empty handed! We used the herbs to make a lovely herb & garlic butter, put the oranges wedges in caramel sauce and  put together a tomato & basil salsa to take home to show our loved ones the fruits of our chopping efforts.

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I can’t wait to take another course at Leith’s. It was such a wonderful and very practical experience, that ended very pleasantly with a lovely ploughman’s buffet lunch with lovely French wine.

Stories I loved this week.

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Photo by Death to Stock Photo + Mumsy

A great reminder of the importance of the lymph system and some wonderful tips on how to get it moving, as we head into cold and flu season. (The Chalkboard)

Did you know that perfectly healthy and lucid brains can hallucinate? Any mother will tell you that this happens as soon they jump in the shower when their child is napping! (Science of Us)

The stigma of being overweight in China. (Stylist)

A fascinating piece of photojournalism chronicling kids who grow up taking prescription medications. (The Guardian)

Did you read the special edition of Lenny about endometriosis? (Lenny)

What a simple tip for checking the freshness of eggs! Helped me save a lot of eggs this week. (The Kitchn)

I’ll definitely be trying the London versions of these fitness studios. (Elle UK)

What I’m Reading: Year of Yes

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

If you haven’t already, add Year of Yes to your Christmas list. I ripped through this book in two evenings, stopping only for sleep, childcare, cooking and studying.

Before I go on, I have to say that I am a HUGE fan of Shonda Rhimes. She’s responsible for Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, two of my favourite shows, as well as #TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday), the amazing Thursday night programming block on ABC in the US.

Year of Yes is a fascinating read. At first sight, based on her body of work and the level of success she’s achieved, you’d expect Shonda (we’re on a first name basis :)) to be hugely extroverted, taking no prisoners in her personal and professional lives. We soon find out that she is hugely introverted, gradually retreating into herself and her work as she becomes more and more successful. She is forced to face this reality when her older sister confronts her and says,

“You are your own boss – your job is only as busy as you make it. But you never do anything but work. You never have any fun. You used to have so much fun. Now, all of these amazing opportunities are coming your way – once in a lifetime opportunities – and you aren’t taking advantage of any of them. Why?”

Shonda realises that she has to find herself again and saying yes to everything will help her do this. I’ll let you read the book to find out what she did in her ‘Year of Yes’ and how she challenged herself to get out of her introvert comfort zone, to say yes to being healthy, to say yes to saying no and to say yes to who she is.

This wonderful book reminded me that it’s so easy for a routine to turn into a comfort zone, which can then turn into a rut.

I love routine and I am such a creature of habit, so I need to remember to keep challenging myself – with my social life, my studies and with exercise.  So I’m going to say yes to more, even if it makes me nervous (ahem, another Barry’s Bootcamp class!?!).

I’m also going to continue to say yes to being happy, yes to feeling bien dans ma peau, yes to enjoying my little family and yes to experiences, not material things.

What are you going to say yes to?

Stories I loved this week.

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Photo by Jeremy Bishop

It’s been a tough, emotional week. Sometimes it’s difficult not to feel powerless in the face of such terrible tragedy in the world. But there are little things that you can do – winter is coming, so coats and blankets are needed. There are also a disproportionate number of babies and children coming through refugee routes, all who need help.

I love self-help books. And as long as the advice is scientifically sound, they can be very worthwhile. (Aeon)

A fascinating article exploring how immigrants to New York are bringing their love for herbal medicine with them and using it as an alternative to expensive US allopathic medicine. (New York Times)

I don’t personally agree with long-term HRT (hormone replacement therapy) usage, however I am happy to see discussions about menopause in the mainstream media. It’s utterly disappointing that there haven’t been any significant breakthroughs in menopause research in the last 5 years. (Guardian)

I finally watched Fed Up. I’ve watched quite a few of these types of TV programmes and documentaries and I still find them shocking. Food education must become a priority in schools, so children understand what they’re eating, where it comes from and how food is used and digested in the body.

On eating meat.

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Photo by Benjamin Faust

Meat has gotten a bad rap recently. The World Health Organisation announced that they now rank bacon, ham and sausages alongside cigarettes as a major cause of cancer. They also placed fresh red meat in the group 2A category, a categorisation that suggests that it is “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

The problem with these blanket pronouncements is that they have none of the necessary nuance about lifestyle and meat provence that people need to help them make the right choices about eating meat, should they choose to do so. Instead, it promotes an unneeded meat eating fear. Happily, cooler heads have prevailed and smart people like Chris Kresser are doing a great job of unpicking the studies behind these pronouncements and offering more rationale points of view.

So is eating meat, especially red meat, really all that bad? It’s certainly not on the same level as cigarette smoking. Many studies have shown that the correlation between red meat and cancer is not strong.

It’s also important to remember that red meat is incredibly nutritious (not to mention, ridiculously tasty) and full of essential vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamins A, D, B12, B3, B6, B9, iron, zinc, phosphorus and choline. That vegetarians and vegans often need to supplement with vitamin B12 and iron because the plant sources of these micronutrients aren’t as bio-available is quite telling, and something that gets overlooked in anti-meat rhetoric.

What do you do if you still want to eat meat and want to ensure you’re making good choices? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

What quality meat are you eating? Do you know where it comes from? 

There’s a clear distinction in quality, taste and treatment between organic, free-range, antibiotic free meat and conventionally produced, factory farmed meat. My advice? Always get the best quality meat you can afford – it’s always worth paying more for higher welfare meat and having it less frequently, than buying loads of cheap factory farmed meat. I really like Daylesford Organic and stock up most weeks when there are discounts through their shop on Ocado. Eversfield Organic is another great option. If you’re not a fan of online grocery shopping, when you shop in high-street supermarkets just before closing time, there are often many organic meat bargains to be had.

What type of meat are you eating?

First, it’s important to make a distinction between red meat (beef, lamb and game) and white meat (poultry and turkey). Not all meat is created equally and they all contain different types and levels of vitamins and minerals. Too many people rely on white meat as their main protein source. For example, turkey is quite high in tryptophan, a serotonin precursor, while beef is an easy source of vitamin B12, a vitamin that’s used in energy production.

What percentage of your plate does meat consist of? 

The NHS Eat Well plate recommends that meat, fish, pulses or beans should represent roughly 1/8 of your three daily plates, or approximately 70g, which is the equivalent of a card sized piece of steak, two beef burgers or a lamb chop.

How much fruit and veg are you eating throughout the day? 

Many nutritionists now recommend that vegetables should comprise at least 70% of each meal’s plate, which exceeds the NHS’s recommendation of 40 – 50%. If you’re eating this much veg, you’re sure to get the antioxidants you need to help support your body, reduce free radical and tissue damage and bring your system back into homeostasis. The reality is that most people eat less than 5 vegetables or pieces of fruit a day, as part of the Standard Western Diet and generally have gut dysbiosis, which can contribute to disease.

What’s the rest of your lifestyle like? 

Red meat has been painted as a bit of a boogeyman in studies that don’t seem to control for smoking, excess alcohol consumption, lifestyle stress and excess sugar consumption. If you have a healthy lifestyle, that includes exercise, lots of sleep, lots of green vegetables, then eating grass-fed, organic meat shouldn’t be an issue as part of a balanced diet and a healthy gut microbiome.

In a nutshell, if you want to eat meat, eat high quality meat, in reasonable portion sizes, with lots of vegetables, as part of a lifestyle that includes lots of sleep, exercise and a good probiotic.

Stories I loved this week.

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Photo by Lauren Peng

How’s your week been? It’s been a week of full-time studying and stay-at-home mothering and it feels good. Can you believe we only have six weeks until Christmas? Then that lovely two week break, full of family, food, wine and relaxation. It’s going to be great.

I’ve really been enjoying the series going through each of the Four Tendencies on Gretchen Rubin’s podcast. Are you an Upholder, Questioner or Obliger? Stay tuned for this week’s podcast on the last tendency, Rebels. (Happier)

An interesting human perspective on the many food delivery services that have been cropping up recently. (The Atlantic)

Have you been watching Masters of None? So refreshing to see such a diverse cast in a New York comedy. (Netflix)

A great infographic on mindful eating. Have you tried eating with your non-dominant hand? (Summer Tomato)

Speaking of mindfulness, could you be mindful at the gym? This could’ve been useful for me this week during my brutal session at Barry’s Bootcamp. (Well + Good)

I Tried It: Barry’s Bootcamp

Barry’s Bootcamp has been on my fitness to-do list for ages, but it’s taken me a while to ‘gee’ myself up to try it out.  Any workout that combines treadmill sprints (not my favourite, at the best of times) and strength training is always going to be tough. Add in ‘bootcamp’ and well, you can understand why I was nervous when I rocked up to the London Central branch yesterday morning.

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Reader, it was f*cking hard. Two circuits of 15 minutes on the treadmill and 15 minutes of strength training nearly wiped me out for the day. The beginners treadmill speed is 6 mph (9.66 km/h!), which is much faster than I run, EVER. You then go up by 1 or 2 points (miles) throughout the sprints. If the instructor is being nice, you might change it up and let you go up by 0.5 mile intervals. The fastest I ran was 8.5 mph (13.8 km/h!!!!!!) and I thought my legs were going to come up from under me.

Real talk: since giving birth, my pelvic floor isn’t what it used to be, so I had to contend with that, as well as holding back the urge to vomit, during and after the sprints. Note to self: wear black running trousers next time!

The music was absolutely amazing, with lots of uptempo house and hip hop to keep energy levels up. Our instructor for the session was Faisal and he was super motivational, continuously trying to push all of us to our limits and reminding us that it’s supposed be hard. And of course the class is going to be hard – that’s what you pay £20 for. And that’s how you get results.

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I ordered a much needed recovery shake to pick up after my workout, custom made with almond butter, banana, cinnamon and almond milk. My only complaint would be that all of their ‘off the rack’ shakes have either chocolate or vanilla whey protein in them and if you don’t do dairy, then you need to go for a custom option to get your protein. I opted for almond butter instead, but I might go for vegan protein next time.

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Have you tried Barry’s yet? What do you think?