Christmas has started

Hopefully just about time for a quick blog post whilst my blueberry, coconut and sultana baked oats are baking. There are six oaty muffins baking and I have two at a time for breakfast so that’s enough for my whole working week. Yep, I break up for Christmas on Wednesday! Woohoo for three day weeks.

So why, you ask, is this post entitled Christmas has started if I haven’t broken up yet? Well it’s because I’ve been in Surrey this weekend for the annual Christmas pressie swap with my Granny and my Mum. I don’t get to see them very often because there’s nearly a hundred and fifty miles between us so when I do get down there it’s always special. I listen to Christmas songs on the radio all the way there and back and it always makes me smile if Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas comes on because, whichever direction I’m going in, it feels like I am driving home for Christmas.

Granny’s had a rough couple of years! I’m sure she won’t mind me telling you that she’s eighty eight but almost exactly two years ago she had a heart bypass and recovered from it quicker and with more aplomb than someone half her age would’ve done, and this year she’s had various medical issues and a couple of stays in hospital, the latest being just a couple of weeks ago when she lost a pint of blood after knocking a scab off which happened to be on an artery (her bedroom and hallway currently look like a scene out of a horror film!) Anyway, she’s bounced back from it all but it makes it all the more important to spend time with her. My hubby calls her Super Gran. She really is amazing!

Despite all of this, she’d still taken the trouble to get all my favourite things in to feed me! You wouldn’t believe how excited I was to see these sitting on top of the fridge when I arrived!

I LOVE crumpets! Especially Warburtons and I hadn’t had them since May when I started Slimming World! Of course, I could’ve rung her before I went and said I’d bring baked oats instead, but somehow, it completely slipped my mind to do so!

Ooooooh! What a treat! Hot toasted crumpets with Flora Buttery and, you either love it or hate it, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it! Marmite!

I devoured my crumpets whilst Granny popped to the shop to get her paper (a kind gentleman paid for it for her – Granny has an admirer (in my head at least!)) and while we were waiting for my Mum to arrive. Much excitement – hadn’t seen her since last Christmas!

Mum brought with her Christmas presents, a knitting stitch holder because I’d forgotten mine and news of my Great Aunt who’s unfortunately suffering from fairly advanced dementia. Mum initially moved away from Birmingham to help my Great Aunt when she was in the early stages of the disease but she’s now ably cared for in a home.

A home which apparently also caters for donkeys! She doesn’t look overly impressed, does she!

We had a lovely day together just chatting and catching up. Granny’s still catching up on sleep after losing all that blood and didn’t feel up to Scrabble so Mum and I had a game. My Mum is the Gyles Brandreth of Scrabble (or Suzy Dent for the younger amongst you) but somehow I managed to be winning, right up, that is, until she went and got ninety something points for one word! Honestly, I ask you! How does she do it? Anyway, she ended on something like three hundred and twenty nine and I managed two hundred and ninetyish so I don’t feel too beaten up.

I headed back up the M40 after the tea of kings! Granny’s Shepherd’s Pie! It deserves to be capitalised because it’s soooooo good! She makes it the day before and reheats it when needed. It’s some concoction of lamb mince, celery, carrot, onion salt and vegetable stock topped with potato, but believe me, even with the correct ingredients it is impossible to make it as well without the Granny magic!

It tastes a-ma-zing! Sets you right up for the rest of the day.

Today I’ve had a relatively lazy day chilling out with hubby and the gorgeous twosome …

… but, and I think I deserve a round of applause for this, I did go out in the garden, in the bucketing down rain, to harvest the remainder of my produce.

Now, if we can all just imagine that I intended to grow baby potatoes and baby leeks, then it will have all been worth it!

These are Musselburgh leeks which, according to the internet, should be ‘whoopers’ and reliable and easy to grow. Hmmmm! I sowed them in about April and this is what I got! They look like spring onions. I assure you they’re not! Oh well, they’ll be fine chopped up in a stir fry.

The potatoes are Charlottes and I planted them in bags about the end of September time. They were advertised as ready for Christmas, which I suppose they are, but I was rather hoping they’d be big enough for our roasties. They’re not!

They sprouted masses of leaves to start off with. This is how they looked halfway through November …

… but I noticed last week that all the foliage had died down so I thought I’d best check if any potatoes had actually grown.

Anyway, my baked oats are cooked and cooling …

… so I’m off to get some beauty sleep ready for my last three working days of 2019. Nighty night.

Quick Catch Up

Here I am again! Twice in as many days. This is going to be a very random outpouring of news I fear! Sorry in advance – think of it as eclectic!

I’ve entitled this ‘quick’, but in reality it is anything but because my nails have got so long, it’s really hard to type accurately! I was recommended a new nail technician and I’ve been religiously going to her for beautiful sparkly gel nails every three weeks.

These are what I’ve had so far.

The last set had to be less glitterified because I had a very important work event which required professionalism! I’ll tell you more about that enough another time, but suffice it to say, it worked! It led to another work event which happened to be on the day that I was due to get my nails re-done hence they’re now REALLY long! I’m not due to get them done for almost another two weeks, but I will be going for full on sparkle overload ready for the festive season.

What else have I been up to? I did some baking. I bought some fabulous cookie cutters a few weeks ago and I really wanted to try them out, but didn’t want to completely scupper my diet plan so I scoured t’internet for a diet friendly cookie recipe and found one that didn’t break the diet bank.

It swapped sugar for sweetener and only used a small amount of low fat spread instead of butter.

Here they are pre-baking.

They lost some of their shape in the oven but I was still pretty pleased with how they turned out.

I won’t lie, they weren’t as tasty as Millie’s or Maryland cookies, but I was happy enough to offer them to my Dad (sweet things connoisseur) and C when they came to visit.

That visit was a mercy mission for our little Olive. She recently learnt how to hop up on to the banister at the top of the stairs.

Doesn’t she look pleased with herself?

Cats aren’t always as surefooted as they’re reputed to be and our poor Olive slipped off the banister and fell top to bottom, right down to the hall below. We put the cardboard turrets on the posts, as you can see in the photo, but it didn’t stop her jumping up.

So, Dad to the rescue ……

We have a safety shelf to catch floundering felines! Of course, to the best of our knowledge she hasn’t toppled off since it’s been safe to do so, but at least we have peace of mind.

Last weekend was super busy. On Friday I was in London for the annual ISTA (International Steel Trade Association) lunch at the Brewery. I completely forgot to take any photos which is a shame because the food’s always beautifully presented. We enjoyed salmon mi cuit for our first course. I’m glad I didn’t know that mi cuit means half cooked until after I’d eaten it because it would’ve put me off but it was really tasty. The main course was Hunter’s Chicken but it wasn’t Hunter’s Chicken like you get in the pub down the road! It was super posh Hunter’s Chicken and was scrummy. The dessert was pear sponge pudding with ice cream and completed a trio of deliciousness.

The speeches were shorter than usual, which I think was a good thing because the state of the steel industry isn’t good so many more words would just have added to the gloom. The ‘celebrity’ speaker was Dr Phil Hammond, who I’d never heard of, and after hearing him, I think I’ll just forget him again! It was a good day though, I caught up with some old friends, met some new friends and ate some yummy food – what’s not to like?

On Saturday I travelled back down to London. If I’d known further in advance I could’ve stayed overnight on Friday to save all the travelling, but hey, never mind. I’d already arranged with my Dad that he’d drop me at Uxbridge tube station and he’d go to the Harry Potter Studios in Watford whilst I jumped on the tube to South Kensington. Destination? The Royal Albert Hall …

… to watch the Champions Tennis.

I arrived a little early so I had a quick wander around the Prince Albert Memorial statue in Kensington Gardens.

Prince Albert is surrounded on all four corners by representations of Europe, America, Asia and Africa.

I took my seat in the Royal Albert Hall in good time and, whoop, I was on the front row! Great view!

I was slightly disappointed to have a net in front of me, and I experimented with taking photos through the holes, until, that is David Ferrer and Juan Carlos Ferrero took to the court and started practising their serves! I’ll take a net on my photos over a one hundred plus mile per hour tennis ball in the nose!

My photos aren’t great because of the net and because the iPhone isn’t great at capturing action photos, but as well as Ferrer and Ferrero …

I also saw Tim Henman and Goran Ivanisevic …

… playing with Mark Philippousis and Xavier Malisse.

There was also an exhibition doubles with Heather Watson, Martina Hingis, Thomas Enqvist and the ever popular Mansour Bahrami.

I had a great day. Dad, meanwhile had a great day at the Harry Potter Studios. He reported that the studios were dressed for Christmas …

… and he was very impressed with the new Gringotts exhibit which hubby and I saw back in May.

On Sunday we went to the Good Food Show with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and again I forgot to take any pictures! It was a good day though. We sampled lots of gin, cheese and curry and managed not to spend too much money on gimmicks! Last year we all bought frying pans which were supposed to revolutionise our cooking lives. Needless to say, said frying pans ended up in the bin quite quickly when they failed in their promise! I did buy several skinny syrups which I’m now enjoying on my porridge and baked oats in the mornings.

This weekend has been much more about upcoming festivities. On Friday I went to Resorts World to check out the shops and grab a bite to eat, and they’re in full on Christmas mode.

It seemed the right time to get festive at home, so, the decs are up!

So, there you have it. A round up of the last couple of weeks. Hopefully it’s not too disjointed, but if it is,just remember …. eclectic!

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.