Slimming World

I’ve had a little bit of writer’s block lately which has led to me being less present on my blog. Or is it just that I’m leading a dull life lately and have nothing of interest to say? There’s been a couple of times when I’ve been tempted to write a negative post because I’ve had a few blues days recently, but I’ve decided against it because I don’t want to have blue days recorded in writing to haunt me forever and a day. I’m sure you guys don’t to read gloom and doom either. Anyway, I’m working through the main thing on my mind and hopefully there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

I did do one definitely not dull thing last week.

I went to Birmingham uni with one of my very best friends (was supposed to be two of my very best friends but the dreaded lurgy struck!) to Birmingham Literature Festival where we saw Adam Kay. For those of you who haven’t heard of him, he wrote (as the photo shows) This is Going to Hurt. It’s a fantastic book written from diaries he kept during his days working in the NHS and it really gives an insight into the life of a doctor. It is, in pretty equal parts (if we’re judging by emotional response rather than actual work count), funny and heartbreaking.

His performance last week was brilliant and well worth venturing out on a drizzly Thursday evening for, and, just like the book, very funny but ultimately heart rending. Turns out he’s a pretty good musician as well as a writer, and a portion of the show was based on him singing and playing the piano when he also got the audience involved. I’d highly recommend going to see him if you can.

Another exciting thing that happened is that my company car finally arrived.

Isn’t she beautiful? I was a bit confused by the colour at first. When I built her on the configurator on line she was very green, like the old Rover colour British Racing Green. In the flesh, so to speak, she looks almost black. I’ve got used to it now though and she is definitely green. Look!

Anyway, on to the topic in hand. I’ve been following the Slimming World plan since the end of May, and it’s been going pretty well. I’ve lost over a stone, all my clothes fit again and I’m starting to feel a bit happier with myself. However, this last couple of weeks have been tough and, I admit, I’ve cheated a little bit which means I’m not seeing movement on the scales (or not in a downwards trajectory anyway) and I’m getting a little despondent.

The problem is, I’ve got back down to the weight that I’ve got to so many times before where it starts to get harder. It’s like my body doesn’t want me to get any lighter and my brain starts playing tricks on me.

It should be an oxymoron for your own brain to trick you into sabotaging yourself, but mine does! It starts seemingly independently thinking things like, you may as well stop because you never get any further than this, or, oh go on, have crispy chicken with pineapple – you deserve it, and most of it’s free (never mind the fact that it’s deep fried!) or if you stop now you won’t have to spend a fortune on a new wardrobe or everyone’s expecting you to fail so you may as well stop trying (rationally I know this isn’t true but it seems so real when faced with the choice of either an apple or a chocolate bar!) or you won’t be able to maintain it if you go any lower so you may as well eat cake! It’s really hard to fight with yourself and retrain your brain.

I’ve only got half a stone to go to get to the initial target that I set myself and I really want to get there to see if I’m happy with myself at that weight so I’m going to share some of my favourite meals that have got me this far in the hopes that I might find my diet mojo again.

I’ll start with that most British of meals – a chicken roast dinner.

Here we have chicken cooked in the slow cooker (tastiest and most convenient way to cook a whole chicken in my humble opinion) served with potatoes parboiled and roasted in frylight, potatoes mashed with milk and a bit of grated cheese from my healthy extra a allowance, broccoli, petit pois and roasted carrot batons and the only items with any syns, an Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshire pudding (4 1/2 syns because they were fancy ones left over from Christmas) and gravy made with Ah Bisto (showing my age there – 1 syn). Such a yummy meal and doesn’t taste ‘diet’ at all.

Also very British whilst not being British at all!

Chinese chicken curry made with Mayflower extra hot curry powder. I got the tip off for this delight from the Pinch of Nom Facebook group and it’s become a firm favourite in our household. You can get it in B&M Bargains or Iceland and it tastes as good as from the Chinese takeaway. 4 syns for the sauce and the rest of it’s free.

I’m switching to breakfast now (probably should’ve done that first, eh?)

This is a slightly modified Pinch of Nom recipe – Bakewell Baked Oats. I make them into muffins rather than in one big dish. They have almond essence in them which really makes them taste like Bakewell Tart and I top them with berries and a couple of spoonfuls of yoghurt. It’s like having cake for breakfast and the combination of egg and oats keeps you full till lunch.

Sticking with breakie.

Overnight oats. I’m not sure I could get through the week without my overnight oats. I LOVE them! I usually make a few portions on Sunday night and they keep for a week in the fridge, in fact, they get better as the week goes on and the juices from the frozen fruit seep through into the oats. Yum! I normally do them in takeaway containers, but I treated myself to a Kilner jar so I can have posh overnight oats once a week.

Next up, the great British fry up (Slimming World style!) Good for breakfast, lunch or tea.

Egg and mushrooms fried in frylight, baked beans (has to be …… erm, Branston for me), bacon medallions, a slice of wholemeal toast for half my healthy extra b, a Quorn sausage for 1 syn and a tablespoon of ketchup (which does have to be Heinz – ketchup of kings) for 1 syn.

Back to the first meal of the day.

Third attempt at making a sweet omelette and I finally cracked it (no pun intended). Two eggs with sweetener, almond essence and vanilla essence fried in frylight till it’s golden filled with berries and yoghurt (raspberry doughnut mullerlight in this case).

Back to teatime.

Pizza and chips. This uses my healthy extra b which is usually done and dusted by the time I’ve had breakfast, so I don’t have it often but it’s lovely. It’s a Weightwatchers wrap topped with tomato purée and bbq sauce and then whatever pizza topping you want. This one was leftover chicken, peppers and mushrooms with my healthy extra a of cheddar grated on top and then shoved in the oven for five minutes. It’s nice with blue cheese, onion, sweetcorn and peppers too. The chips are made from Maris Piper potatoes (any decent potato works well, Charlotte ones are nice too). I chop them, soak them in cold water to remove some of the starch, drain and pat dry and then spray with frylight and cook in the air fryer for fifteen minutes. We have these a lot – they’re really nice and they’re free. They’re nice reheated for lunch.

Speaking of lunch, do you notice a distinct lack of lunch recipes? This is where I struggle most. Can’t have a sandwich because I’ve usually had my healthy extra for breakfast so would have to use syns for bread, soup doesn’t satisfy me – I find myself craving something nice like chocolate, not because I’m hungry but because I’m not satisfied. I normally end up with leftovers from the night before or a Mugshot which is low syn. Today I did better. I bunged four potatoes in the slow cooker yesterday so all I had to do was heat one up in he microwave at work. I weighed out my healthy extra a of cheese and walked round to Tesco and got some beans (Branston, of course). I’ve got the same tomorrow. There are a couple of good options for eating lunch out. Most Subway salads are free as long as you don’t have cheese, dressing or olives, and they’re really nice. If I have some spare syns I have Subway tuna salad – it has mayo in hence the syns. Nandos is good too, my go to is butterfly chicken breast with the skin removed with spicy rice and macho peas. It’s a huge meal for 4 syns.

One thing that I’ve found invaluable on my weight loss journey (ugh, I hate that phrase) is the Pinch of Nom recipe book.

Somehow (through lots of experimentation I think) they’ve managed to make low/no syn alternatives to lots of classics and original recipes, that actually taste great. Dare I say it, much better than the official Slimming World versions. Their chip shop curry sauce is amazing and tastes just like the real thing. Diet Coke chicken has become a regular feature of our week night kitchen, as well as creamy garlic chicken.

Well, you know what, I think writing this out has actually helped. I feel ready to attack it again with gusto. I’m going to look back through the book to refamiliarise myself and I’m going to check out the syns in my favourite Gousto and Hello Fresh recipes. I may get a small gain this Wednesday on weigh day, but ….. tomorrow’s another day and I can and will do this.

Enchanting Edinburgh part two

Hello, it’s me again, harping on about Edinburgh some more!

Day two and I woke up in my hotel feeling refreshed and ready for a full day of sightseeing. I got ready, grabbed my Belvita Breakfast Biscuits and headed off down Princes Street to the tour bus stop outside Waverley Station.

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I prebooked tickets for a hop on hop off bus with Edinburgh Bus Tours. It was £55 but I could hop on and off three routes, the red City Sightseeing bus and the green Edinburgh tour which both concentrated on the central sights, and the blue Majestic route which went all the way out to Leith. I also got fast track entry into three attractions, Edinburgh Castle, Holyroodhouse Palace and the Royal Yacht Britannia, and it just so happened that these three were top of my wish list.

I decided to start furthest away from the city and work my way back, so I jumped on the Majestic bus and grabbed a seat on the open top. Admittedly there was a roof over about a third of the top deck, but it was mostly open, and I was warmer than I was on top of the open top bus in Malta! Bizarre weather for February, in Scotland! I was given headphones so I plugged in and listened to the commentary as we drove.

Soon we arrived in Leith and I hopped off excited to see the Royal Yacht. The way they’ve arranged this is really good. The entrance is on the top floor of the adjacent shopping centre and you enter the Yacht via a gangway straight on to the top deck. As you finish on each deck you go back down the gangway and down a flight of stairs to the gangway on to the deck below. An audio guide is included which gives you loads of interesting info.

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On the top deck, fairly obviously you find the bridge and an open deck which must’ve been fab for all those honeymooning Royals in warm climes. Four Royal couples chose to start married life aboard Britannia. Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones sailed around the Caribbean for six weeks on her following their wedding in 1960 and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips endured twenty foot high waves and severe sea sickness on their 1973 honeymoon also to the Caribbean. Prince Charles and Princess Diana sailed round the Med and the Greek Islands for sixteen days in 1981 after they tied the knot. The state room that they slept in is the only one to have a double bed, which Prince Charles specifically requested for their honeymoon (somewhat ironically given subsequent events!) Finally Prince Andrew and Fergie enjoyed five days cruising round the Azores following their 1986 nuptials. I would recommend that anyone considering marriage doesn’t go anywhere near Britannia in the weeks following their marriage given that in the working lifetime of the Yacht, all those Royals who honeymooned on her ended up divorced!

Next deck down are the state rooms of the Royal Family. The Queen and Prince Phillip had adjoining rooms, both with single beds.

Both were decorated specifically to each occupant’s preference.

Throughout the ship you will also find various reception rooms, some of which are available to hire. I imagine it costs quite a few pretty pennies, but how cool would it be to hold an event on the Royal Yacht? I did wonder how they vet the requests because I noted that there were plush carpets throughout most of the rooms and I don’t think they’d take kindly to some raucous hen do spilling red wine everywhere!

Speaking of alcohol, there was no shortage of opportunity to enjoy a few jars or tots. On the upper decks there were sophisticated bars where the Royals could’ve relaxed before dinner.

And further down you find your pubby type drinking establishments more aimed at the navies where they could wind down after their duties were done for the day.

There were more than two hundred and fifty crew on the Royal Yacht including a military band, all headed by an Admiral.

Their living quarters were somewhat less palatial than those of the Royal Family.

Except the Admiral, of course, who had his own separate quarters near the bridge that were much more suited to his rank.

The ship was built with the dual purpose of being used as a hospital ship in times of need, and it could be completely converted within a week if the need arose (which it never did).

I loved wandering, and wondering, around the Royal Yacht but I had a lot to fit it, so I headed back to the hop on hop off bus, which turned up bang on time, and headed back towards the city and Holyroodhouse Palace.

Holyroodhouse Palace is the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, and she spends a week there every July (lucky lady) to undertake Royal engagements and investitures. The photo above is the fountain at the entrance to the palace. The water only flows when the Queen is in residence or on special occasions to save it from damage. It’s forbidden to take photos inside the palace so I’m struggling to remember everything that I saw, but I was left with an overwhelming feeling of awe. It’s a wonderful place to visit, full of history and legend. Its walls are covered with the most fantastic tapestries and paintings.

Mary Queen of Scots is probably the most famous former resident. She lived at Holyroodhouse Palace from 1561 to 1567. I walked through her bedchamber with its tiny bed (which must’ve been uncomfortable given that Mary was six feet tall) and through to the outer chamber. This is where Mary was eating her dinner on 9th March 1566 when she witnessed the brutal murder of her private secretary David Rizzio by her jealous husband Lord Darnley and his henchmen. He was stabbed fifty six times! Clearly jealousy is a powerful weapon!

Bonnie Prince Charlie also resided here for six weeks in 1745. He came to claim the throne of Great Britain. It seems he was quite a character! You can walk through the Great Gallery which he used to greet his audiences by day, but then transformed it so he could party the night away in the same space. He slept in the Lord Darnley chamber and the very bed he slept in is still there.

Back outside, I came to the ruins of Holyrood Abbey. This was a grand mediaeval abbey, and although it is now in ruins, from what is left, you can imagine how grandiose it once was. The photo ban is lifted for the abbey, and you don’t have to tell me twice!

There’s a great view of Arthur’s Seat from the front courtyard of the palace. Next time I find myself in Edinburgh, I will definitely attempt to get to the top because the views must be stunning.

Next stop, Edinburgh Castle. So, back on the hop on hop off bus, this time the green Edinburgh Tour. This one had live commentary rather than prerecorded. I wasn’t on the bus long, but I learnt about Greyfriars Bobby.

Bobby became famous because after his owner of two years died and was buried in Greyfriars Cemetery, Bobby slept on the grave every night until his death fourteen years later. He is commemorated in this statue and his grave can be found in Greyfriars Cemetery also, not far from his owners.

Isn’t that heartwarming?

Edinburgh Castle looms over the city. There’s not many places you can’t see it from. It was a Royal residence as early as the twelfth century right up to sixteen thirty three, but from the fifteenth century it was used less and less as a residence and it was principally used as a military base.

There’s evidence inside of the Royal connection, not least through the presence of the Scottish Crown Jewels. No photos allowed, but they’re pretty impressive, although perhaps not as much so as I anticipated. I think I was dreaming of something like this.

I peered into the tiny tiny room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (and I of England). It’s got incredible painting on the walls and ceilings.

I’m sure she wasn’t really paying attention to that whilst in the throes of labour!

The castle was fortified to the hilt. This cannon could send its contents flying two miles away. TWO MILES!

I have to include this next photo of another cannon purely because I like the photo!

I don’t think I did the Castle justice. I paid for the audio guide, but having spent all day listening to audio guides and absorbing oodles of interesting information, I’d reached saturation point and I couldn’t take much more in. Perfect excuse to go back!

Now, after all this historical culture, I decided it was time for some more up to date exploring – Harry Potter! Of course! Edinburgh is the home of JK Rowling, and Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are fictionally (I think, although as a muggle, I may just not be able to see them) located somewhere in Scotland.

I’d already seen for myself where a lot of the inspiration behind Harry Potter must’ve come from. As soon as I arrived in the centre of Edinburgh, I said to myself (actually out loud I think) as I trotted down Princes Street ‘Hogwarts could NOT have looked any different!) This is what you see as you head away from Waverley Station.

Doesn’t it just look like Hogwarts could be hiding behind the more modern buildings?

Then as I looked around Edinburgh, I saw the spires, turrets and arches of Holyroodhouse Palace …

… the Great Hall in Edinburgh Castle …

… and the Scott Monument in Princes Park …

… and I knew without a doubt that Harry Potter could only have come to life out of the imagination of someone who knew and loved Edinburgh.

I found the elephant house which is the cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the early books.

I didn’t have time to go in – another thing on the list for next time. Apparently the toilets are daubed with Harry Potter themed graffiti.

I sauntered down Victoria Street which is said to have inspired Diagon Alley …

… and I searched Greyfriars Cemetery for the grave which allegedly gave rise to Tom Riddle, who as any devotee will know, became Lord V …. nope, can’t do it! He who must not be named!

I spotted various miscellany dotted around Edinburgh that made me wonder if JK had seen the same and used them in her writing.

In the castle I saw this crest …

Slytherin?

In Princes Park there’s a statue of Allan Ramsay, the poet.

See his headwear? Did JK see this and imagine a creature living in that scarf? Is that how Professor Quirrell came to be?

A unicorn at Holyroodhouse Palace. This is not an isolated unicorn. They’re all over Edinburgh because, I learnt, the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland! Did this spark all the magical beasts (and where to find them!) in Harry Potter. You saw in part one all I learnt about faeries on my walking tour. It seems perfectly natural now that JK’s imagination gave rise to all these magical, mythical animals.

By now I’d clocked up nearly twenty thousand steps so I was feeling in need of a quick pit stop and then my bed! I found Makar’s Gourmet Mash Bar which I had previously researched on tripadvisor so I gladly fell into a window seat to rest my weary bones.

When in Rome and all that! I had to give haggis a try while I was there. I’d already enjoyed several Irn Brus (although they were in plastic bottles and I’ve since learnt that it tastes much better from a glass bottle) so I upped the Scottish ante and ordered mini haggis, neeps and tatties (otherwise known as haggis, potato and turnip) which promised to be a perfect beginner’s option for those new to haggis.

Yum! It didn’t last long! I followed this up with Bonnie Prince Charlie char-grilled chicken in a whisky, peppercorn and mustard sauce. You get to choose from eight different kinds of mash and I opted for Scottish cheddar/chive cheese mash.

Double yum! I couldn’t finish it, although I really tried hard, and I had no room for dessert.

It would appear that I had rather a lot to say about Edinburgh, and I haven’t even mentioned the zoo yet! I think I’ll save that for another day because regular animals (impressive as some of them were) seem rather misfitting next to unicorns and other magical beasts. Suffice it to say that I had an amazing, awesome, outstanding day. Thank you Edinburgh!

Christmas 2018

So, that’s that then for another year! Three hundred and sixty three days shopping days until Christmas! I hope everyone had (or is still having if you’re having extended celebrations) a fantastic festive time.

Looking through the camera roll of my phone I now realise that I was too busy having a great time to take many pictures over the last two days. For those of you reading in different countries I’ll explain the two day thing. Until I started work with my current employee and had contact with lots of colleagues all over Europe, I assumed that Boxing Day was a universal holiday, but it seems it’s not. It’s mainly observed in the UK and former members of the British Empire. It dates back as far as the sixteen hundreds (it was documented by a certain Samuel Pepys) and its origins lie in the tradition of giving tradesmen and service staff a Christmas box on the first working day after Christmas Day. Whatever its derivation, I’m very grateful for it because it gives us two days over which to see mine and hubby’s families and gives me more time to catch up on sleep at a time of year when although happy, I’m always exhausted.

We’ve fallen into a happy routine over Christmas. We spend Christmas morning and early afternoon at home, just the two of us and the cats, then we spend the evening at my sister-in-law’s house exchanging gifts, playing games, eating too much and catching up. On Boxing Day we go to my Dad’s house in Worcester for more over-eating, more exchanging of gifts and more catching up. I love it!

I talked to you last time about making a recipe card similar to Gousto for our Christmas dinner to take all the hassle out of cooking it. It worked a treat!

I followed this pretty much to the letter and (even if I say so myself) Christmas lunch turned out absolutely delish!


It wasn’t all strictly from scratch, but it was less pre-prepared than we’ve done in previous years. We always have prawn cocktail for our starter – we shredded the iceberg lettuce ourselves but the prawn cocktail was out of a tub. I do actually make a mean thousand island dressing (it’s dead easy) but really, life’s too short to faff around when Tesco will do it for you for very little expense.

The chicken number two was lovely. I cooked it in its bag and just had to cut it open twenty minutes before the end and baste it – fabulous, no mess in the oven! We had roast potatoes with thyme, mashed potato, Yorkshire pudding (controversial!) cauliflower cheese (hubby’s fave), Chantenay carrots and parsnips roasted in a honey glaze, peas, red cabbage with port and cranberries, gravy and, the pièce de résistance, pigs in blankets! Hubby had seven. SEVEN! He certainly ate well – three roasties, seven pigs in blankets, two yorkies and all the rest too! Oh well, if you can’t indulge at Christmas, when can you?

We didn’t forget our little girls – they had their own Christmas lunches on special Christmas plates.

Speaking of fur babies, we got my sister-in-law’s pooch, Charly, a little festive treat.

You can’t quite see it, but it says Santa’s Little Helper on it. She was very clever and opened it herself. She needed a little bit of help to put it on, but she seemed quite pleased with it.

On to Boxing Day, and we headed off to Worcester around eleven thirty. I don’t know how I manage to forget out the speed restrictions on the M5 every time I go on it! It’s down to 30 mph at one point which feels slower than walking! Oh well, for once the traffic was light and we didn’t need to be rushing so road rage was absent.

Driving home for Christmas, oh I can’t wait to see those faces. Those words are very apt. I love seeing everyone altogether in one place. People just find a perch on a chair or the floor and we just all chat away to whomever we happen to perch next to.

Some of our numbers were beavering away on a Christmas jigsaw for much of the day, with cries of ‘who’s pinched that bit?!’ and ‘the pieces had better all be here!’ emanating from that end of the room periodically!

People dipped in and out as they pleased throughout the day. Look at all those lovely heads bent over as they vied to be the one to put the last piece in! Surely this is what Christmas is all about? Relaxing and enjoying the company of family.

We both got some amazing gifts from our nearest and dearest which we will enjoy wearing, making, reading, watching, planting, bathing in, eating and drinking for some time to come. I’ll tell you about all our lovely new things over the next few posts rather than bombard you with them all now, but I will leave you with this picture of the amazing quilt that my Mum made for us, which Olive and Tinkerbell have already commandeered as their own!

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