Tuesday, December 21

The Best Lunch Ever!

It has been very cold in North Carolina. It's been between 18F and 35F since Thanksgiving and us warm blooded folks are not used to it. It is meant to get this cold for a couple of weeks in February! Not so soon! As a consequence, we have all been inflicted with one form of respiratory illness or another, and this past Sunday required a heart-warming chicken stew of some sort. Moroccan Chicken Tajine was my answer.

I was very excited to use my lovely new green tajine I had recently purchased at Marshalls. It was made in Italy and a piece of art. Really worth the $20! I found a good recipe on the FoodNetwork, my favorite resource for recipes. These chefs who end up on TV kinda know what they're doing, and the reviews often supplement ingredients and methods well. I found a great recipe by Rachel Ray. To be honest, I find her slightly annoying (don't know why, maybe the scratchy voice?), but she really has some of the best recipes which are also pretty easy.

Here is her recipe which I have copied/pasted from the FoodNetwork directly. All credit goes to them:

"Chicken Tajine


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan

4 cloves garlic, smashed beneath the flat of your knife with the heel of your hand, discard skins

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into large bite-size pieces

1 1/2 teaspoons grill seasoning blend (recommended: Montreal Seasoning by McCormick) or coarse salt and coarse pepper

2 medium or 1 large yellow skinned onion, quartered and sliced

10 pitted prunes, coarsely chopped

1-ounce box or 1/4 cup golden raisins

2 cups good quality, low sodium chicken stock, available in paper containers on soup aisle

Spice blend:

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika, eyeball it

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, eyeball it

1/2 teaspoon tumeric, eyeball it

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, a couple pinches


1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups couscous

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, eyeball it

2 scallions, finely chopped


Chopped cilantro leaves or flat-leaf parsley

Finely chopped scallions

Mango chutney, any variety and brand -- available on the condiment or International food aisles


Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, in a slow stream, and add smashed garlic. Season the chicken with seasoning blend. Scatter chicken around the pan in an even layer. Cook chicken pieces 2 minutes on each side to brown, then add the onions, prunes, raisins and stock. Mix spices in a small dish and scatter over the pot. Cover and reduce to moderate heat. Cook 7 or 8 minutes, remove the lid and stir.

To prepare the couscous, bring chicken stock to a boil. Add couscous, extra-virgin olive oil and scallions and remove the couscous from the stove immediately. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork.

Uncover chicken and cook another 2 to 3 minutes to thicken slightly. Adjust the seasoning, to taste, and serve chicken on a bed of couscous. Garnish with chopped cilantro and scallions. Serve with chutney."

Now, I didn't have all the ingredients. Instead of prunes, I used a couple of tablespoons of Morello Cherry jam. I threw in half a jar of green olives that were hanging out in the refrigerator. What's Moroccan food without olives?I also used a basic poultry seasoning that I had which worked really well. It is important to dry the chicken with a paper towel before putting the seasoning on it. It browns better that way. I ignored the paragraph on condiments (didn't have any of those ingredients) and cooked it for 25 minutes on low heat and not the 8 minutes as suggested.

I thought 2 cups of chicken stock was too much as it was too liquidy. Thankfully, I had a big bottle of Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour that we had purchased for the Thanksgiving gravy. My brother-in-law, Dr. Thanksgiving, super-chef extraordinaire (oncologist by day) swears by it, and now I will too. I shook a tablespoon worth over the pot and all that liquid magically turned into a luxurious and creamy stew. Thank you, Dr. Thanksgiving!

Here are the comments from my family:

5-year old Chocolate: This looks gross but it tastes very good! This is the best lunch ever!

8-year old Vanilla: This is the best lunch YOU ever made! (I nodded and smiled knowingly, not wanting to press the issue. He read my recent post on Dorothy and is still reeling from the fact that I wrote that she was not a very good cook).

Prince Charming: Oh my god! This is amazing! Cinnamon, how did you do it? This really is fantastic!

I think I should get over that scratchy voice and watch more Rachel Ray shows on the FoodNetwork. Right?



Thursday, December 16

Hook, Line and Sinker

Ok guys, you're going to hear from me more often than usual this week. That's because next week I'm going to be at a wedding. (It's an Indian wedding too, so there's going to be a lot of food involved!) Before that, I'd like to share with you a few more discoveries from Madeira.

Bolo de Caco

First, introducing the fabulous bolo de caco. This is a flour and sweet potato bread that's served with a healthy lashing of garlic butter and herbs. It usually comes to your table before a meal (like bread rolls), but it can also feature in a prego, which is steak or veal sandwiched between slices of bolo de caco. Simple and delicious. The edges are crunchy (from having been cooked on a hot plate), but the sweet potato makes for a very soft, stretchy and yielding bread.

Next, take a look at this dish, from Villa Cipriani's pasta menu: a gorgonzola tortelloni in a pumpkin sauce, with shavings of crisped parma ham. (Excuse the picture quality, romantic candlelight doesn't make for excellent photography...)

Gorgonzola Tortelloni

This dish was incredible. It's inspired me to try (in the New Year) roasting chunks of pumpkin with a bit of pancetta and thyme, and serving it with some gorgonzola crumbled on top. Perhaps a nice accompaniment to a simple fillet steak?

Finally, this one's a warning. If you see the word 'pudding' (or 'pudín' or 'pudim') in a dessert menu in the Iberian peninsula, don't imagine (like I did) a nice, warm, comforting bread and butter pudding-type thing. What you'll get is a cold, heavy-set custard.

Not a Pudding

It wasn't bad, but I just felt so cheated! There was a happy ending for the pudding, though. My husband ate it.



Wednesday, December 15

Looking after Number One

We’re back from our holiday in Madeira, and I have to say it’s quite a shock to the system. We’ve dropped more than 15 degrees Celsius, we spent a rainy afternoon today negotiating jammed Oxford and Regent Streets buying gifts, and we returned home with damp feet to find that the heating had given up. So you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m not feeling at all present, and that I’ve been transported to our afternoon tea on the terrace of the Reid’s Palace hotel in Madeira.

Afternoon tea is an English institution, and the English seem to have taken it with them wherever they went. In Madeira, I read that some people returning from sweltering in the colonies spent a few months on that island (to acclimatise) before heading back home. With all those long afternoons in a kind of limbo, it seems quite sensible and civilised to fill your time with tea, refreshing sandwiches, little sweet things and scones.

Almost as famous as afternoon tea itself are all the rules of etiquette and ritual that go with it. Some say that to pour the tea before the milk signals a quality porcelain cup (because a cheap cup will crack), while others say pouring the milk first prevents it from being scalded. The Devonshire school of cream tea applies cream onto the scone before the jam, whereas the Cornish school applies jam first (I can’t remember which school Foodie Doctor follows, but she did tell me when we went for afternoon tea in London). The pinkie question – out or in? The Reid’s book on tea insists that it should be kept firmly with the other fingers, because “it is not an antenna trying to receive the BBC World Service”. The sandwiches should all be eaten before any of the cakes are touched. A used napkin should not be placed on the table if you step away (because it’s the hostess’ prerogative to do so to signal the end of tea).

With all of this to keep in mind, it’s a wonder that afternoon tea is relaxing at all. But it genuinely is. With a view of the Atlantic, a mild temperature, and a charming Victorian terrace, I realised that I was finally learning how to holiday à l’Européenne.

Indian holidays are by and large, in contrast, nowhere near as relaxing. They usually involve having your schedule dictated to you by someone else, enduring plenty of obligation visits and errands, constant power struggles between competing (and often hidden) agendas that reach above and beyond just that one trip, and everyone piling in (invited or not) into debating every decision. I’ve had my fair share of these. I was pretty relieved to hear, though (when I mentioned this to my European husband), that he’d had his fair share of Indian holidays too. And then I watched that Thanksgiving episode of Dharma and Greg. If what I’m talking about doesn’t ring a bell, then watch that episode – they were definitely having an Indian holiday. I think I’m going to agree with the most powerful man on Earth here: “what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart”.



Monday, December 13

Letter to Madeira

Dear Truffle,

I was thrilled to read about your Madeira tasting at the hotel. I really learned much from your post (see earlier post by Truffle). Even though I left work later than usual today, I stopped at Total Wine to get a bottle for myself. I was thrilled to find, not just any bottle of Blandy's, but it's the Malmsey grape and has been aged 10 years in oak casks! It was a little more expensive than I expected, but worth the $40.

Sipping this lovely wine brings to mind a number of memories. But, before that, I am sure you already know that a number of Mediterranean countries produce some sort of fortified wine. The Spanish produce Sherry (as you have already mentioned), the Italians Marsala (which has unfortunately been permanently relegated to the kitchen like the barefoot pregnant), and the Portuguese Port, my favorite. What do the French produce? Cognac? Hmmm, not certain if that is considered a fortified wine. It is made from grape... I suppose the French always want to be different. Interestingly, they are all named after the regions/cities they come from. Although the city Sherry is from is Jerez in Spanish.

The Madeira is much sweeter than I expected. Prince Charming and I both tasted it with Parmesan cheese (would have preferred Stilton but Parmesan was all I had) and he thought it was quite similar to a white port we had a few years ago. It is more of a sweet Sherry or a sweeter version of Tawny than the more traditional Ruby Port.

This really reminded me of my six months in Lisbon, more than a decade ago. When I was wandering around a local grocery store looking for Sherry, known as Xerez in Portugal to complete a chicken dish. In my youth, I followed recipes doggedly. Now, I would have poured in a slosh of cognac or even whisky. Hey, even old red wine. Anyway, the grocer snorted as I asked for Xerez and he waved me away to a long row of many varieties of Port, at the end of which stood one single bottle of Xerez. That was my first lesson in the Portuguese-Spanish rivalry. Well, this bottle of Madeira, produced in the Portuguese colony of the same name, reminds me of their rival wine.

Saude, my dear sister! Relax and enjoy yourself with your husband. I look forward to your next post from the sunny Isle of Madeira.


Madeira Wine

The bolo de mel made another appearance today, at the Madeira Wine Tasting we signed up for at the hotel. I know a bit about port, but not much about madeira. And so, I was hoping to learn all about the different varieties and the production processes, but sadly the event was more of a quick sales pitch to the gathered OAPs (and us) that ended in a reminder that there is a madeira wine shop at the airport, so that you can buy more than a hundred mls of the stuff...

Nevertheless, we did learn a little something. We tasted one medium dry wine (on the right in the photo above) and a medium sweet (pictured on the left). The medium dry was very traditional and pretty indistinguishable from most medium dry sherrys I've tried before (it even came in a bottle that looked like it belonged in one of those unventilated liquor cabinets). The medium sweet, on the other hand, came in a young, slim bottle, and it tasted modern and smooth - to make this Alvada, they broke the madeira wine-making rule of not using more than one grape variety and blended Bual and Malmsey grapes.

A few other interesting facts:

* Age - If the bottle indicates a number of years (e.g., 5 years), that's not actually the age of the wine in the bottle. Madeira wines are typically blends of wines of different ages (but of one grape variety), and the age on the bottle is actually an average of the ages of the different components that have been blended to make that particular wine. If, however, the bottle states a particular year, that means the wine in the bottle is not a blend, and the year on the bottle is the year of harvest and bottling.

* Ageing - Madeira wine is aged in American oak barrels, not in the bottle. Port wine, in contrast, is bottled within about 2 years of harvesting and aged in the bottle. (So are all these madeira wine producers sitting on a bunch of unsold stock?!) The youngest is Harvest (5 to 10 years), followed by Colheita (10 to 18 years), followed by Vintage (the oldest Vintage is apparently 115 years old).

* Origins - All those days ago, wine was transported from Madeira to the West Indies by ship, and they realised that the wine had a special bouquet and flavour by the end of the journey. Initially, they put it down to the sea air, but it was discovered that it was the higher temperatures during transit that were responsible for imparting that special something. As a result, the best wines (which will go on to become Vintages) are stored in the producers' attics, not the cellars.

* Types - Madeira wines come dry, medium dry, medium sweet and sweet. We were told that, despite the reputation of madeira wine as a fuddy duddy dessert wine, the dry varieties can actually be had with sushi and salad. If anyone dares to try this, please tell us how it is!

* Production - Much like port, madeira wine is made by fermenting grapes and stopping the fermentation process at a certain point by adding an alcohol which kills off the yeast. Now, grape alcohol is used, but in the past, they used to use a rum made from sugar cane (a variety of aguardente). Sugar cane was widely cultivated in Madeira after it was introduced to the island by Henry the Navigator.

* Storage - Where port needs to be stored sideways, madeira wine should be stored upright. If you have a vintage, the cork should be replaced every 20 years or so. Once opened, it can be kept for 18 months.

The most well-known producer of madeira wine bears the most uninspiring name of Blandy's. Blandy's is now getting a leg up in the export world with the help of the Symingtons, who own famous port names such as Dow and Warre.

There you have it. If you feel like trying some madeira wine, grab a bottle of Blandy's Alvada and have it with a sweet molasses cake. If your taste is more for dry, try a Verdelho with some cheese.




Friday, December 10

Island Treats

Hi everyone. I'm sorry to have been missing for a while - I've come to Portugal for a family visit.

After spending some time in the Algarve, we arrived in Madeira this afternoon, for some pre-Christmas R&R. Madeira is an island paradise in the Atlantic. It belongs to Portugal, but being off the coast of Morocco, it feels more like the beginning of Africa than the end of Europe. The volcanic earth has yielded all manner of colourful and plentiful flora: gigantic cactus plants, towering palms, shrubs bursting with bright red flowers and broad, stiff leaves - it's almost prehistoric.

In the taxi from the airport, we were being told all about the local food. Names like 'espada' and 'espadete' whizzed past me as I tried to take down notes in my iPhone (one index finger can only go so fast...). We have three days to explore the food (and the island), but until then, I wanted to share with you the welcome treats in our hotel room: some Typical Madeira cakes. I particularly liked the queijadinha, which was like a light sweet-savoury cheese puff atop a light but firm pastry base. The bolo de mel was good too, and very Christmassy, with its spicy sweetness.

I'm typing this in the hotel's business centre and it's just past 10.30. After two flights to get here and an Italian dinner, I think it's time for bed...



Sunday, December 5


Dorothy was not a very good cook but she put her heart and soul into cooking. She would conscientiously cut the vegetables, mix the sauces, clean the meat and make a well balanced meal. But, the meat was always too dry and there was never enough sauce. Her forte was Chinese food and she also tried out many Italian dishes and a few Thai recipes. My children were well fed and I was thankful to come home to a healthy and hot meal every day.

Dorothy was our Filipina nanny whom we brought with us from Hong Kong five years ago and a year ago today, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. We had been taking her to various back specialists for a couple of weeks thinking that she had a pinched nerve and she had even had steroids injected into her back as the doctors thought the same thing. Then, this day last year, I took her to urgent care when she told me about her breast hurting when I was helping her get into bed and that is when the unravelling began. We watched helplessly as she was rushed into emergency spinal surgery as the cancer had metastasized down her spinal cord paralyzing her waist down. The doctors managed to reverse the paralysis but the cancer had grown through the bones in her back and had shattered a few vertebrae. She was in hospital for almost three months in a back brace after that, and she shrank to a third of her former self. The doctors thought that she would not be able to fly back and an air ambulance would be the only option, an option that was not within our means. Thankfully, CMC Rehab worked a small miracle and we had a small window of opportunity to fly her back as she was able to take a few steps with a zimmerframe. A Filipina nurse in the hospital kindly volunteered to fly back with her and we managed to send her back to the Philippines to spend her last 10 weeks at home with her family. We will always be thankful to the Charlotte Medical Center and their staff for their tireless work and caring hearts.

My children miss her terribly and every time I cook Chinese food, they get very quiet and sad and tell me how much they miss her. Even today, as five-year old Chocolate was taking a bath, she suddenly said, "Mamma, a hundred Dorothies......., I miss." It is going to take a long time.

Dorothy and I exchanged many thoughts and feelings those final months. I told her how thankful I was that she came with us to the U.S. to help us. I was especially thankful to be able to leave my children at home with her so that I could go back to work. Without her at home, I don't think I would have had the courage and the will to have left them at a day-care or hire a local nanny at that point. She told me that she too was thankful as the wages she earned here had enabled her to send both children to college and her son was graduating from police school. "And I got to see Americaaaaa!" I also felt guilty as I felt responsible for having kept her from her family for four years. Given her work visa, she would not have been able to return to the States if she had left and so she had stayed here for four years at a stretch. She shushed me and said that she talked to them every day anyway and in fact, in her mind, Vanilla and Chocolate were her children and that was how she treated them. She was here with family.

So, no, Dorothy was not a very good cook, but she was a wonderful caregiver to my children and we will never forget her. May she rest in peace.


Monday, November 29

The Perfect Roast

I mentioned in my last post that Cinnamon had inspired me to try my hand at some Thanksgiving dinner classics. Having never so much as roasted a chicken before, and since there are only two of us at home, I wasn’t about to go the whole hog (or, to be precise, the whole turkey).

And so, thanks to a suggestion from Cinnamon, we made a small roast chicken on Sunday night. I also made gravy and stuffing to go with it, these being my favourite parts of a roast meal. To this we added some French pommes rissolées (courtesy of my husband) and steamed mange tout. The pumpkin pie I’d dreamed about didn’t make the cut in the end, because I figured that three new things I’d never cooked before were enough. An English treacle tart was purchased as a substitute.

Your eyes do not deceive you – I did admit above that I’d never roasted a simple chicken before. Roast anything had always sounded so complicated to me, having grown up with a cuisine that doesn’t use ovens. And I thought that my humble kitchen was way too small to attempt anything as ambitious as a festive dinner – all of that would be for when I had my dream kitchen.

But one of England’s heroes, Jamie Oliver, has made it so easy for restaurant-dependents like me. (Yes, Jamie’s stock is down in the market, but I still think he seems a great guy - he’s so positive and real.) Again on Cinnamon’s suggestion, I looked up his perfect roast chicken recipe and, putting aside all my excuses and fears of never-seen-it-done-before and kitchen-too-small, followed it. I was amazed at the result: the chicken was moist and flavoured perfectly with the bundle of herbs (sage, rosemary, bay and thyme) it had been stuffed with, and the gravy was bursting with the essence of the carrots, celery, onions and garlic from the roasting tin. With relatively few ingredients that you can pick up in any supermarket, I really did get a great roast chicken.

There’s a streak in me that often wants to have everything lined up before I can embark on something – I feel like x, y and z have to be in place before I can do a, b or c. But when is it ever enough? I couldn’t get a photo of the roast chicken to share with you, but here’s a photo of the humble kitchen with its 2 1/2 feet of prep space.

Maybe everything doesn’t have to be perfect before you can create something beautiful. That's what I learned from making a simple roast chicken.

Just in case you feel like attempting this before Christmas, you can find Jamie Oliver’s perfect roast chicken recipe (that's really what he calls it) here and the gravy recipe here. Here is the cranberry and chestnut stuffing recipe (although I’d recommend going easy on the cranberries; and pork and bramley sausages worked as a great substitute for the turkey sausage).

And experienced chicken roasters, please share with us your one best tip (like how to get the skin nice and crispy!).



Tuesday, November 23

Tortillas in Flats

Today we have a very special guest: fellow foodie and blogger, Mañana Mama. After reading about my Spanish tortilla recipe, she very kindly offered to share her family's secret recipe for Mexican tortilla. Not only did Mañana Mama give me the recipe, she actually spent hours one weekend cooking said tortilla, a green chilli sauce, stuffed Anaheim chillies (which she and her husband grew in their garden), an enchilada and beans, and invited us to her home to show me how it's done. The result (pictured above, before cheese was added and the whole thing was grilled) was incredible and one of the best things I've tasted. So, you've been hearing from Cinnamon in America and me in London, now it's time to hear from an American in London...

Culturally speaking, Britain is about the farthest point in the galaxy from Mexico. This is why I react like a vampire in direct sunlight whenever I spot a Mexican restaurant in London. In fairness, I am a pretty picky eater when it comes to my favourite cuisine, so I tend to make my own.

Truffle recently converted me to the cause of the Spanish tortilla. In compensation or as revenge (depending on your view of my cooking), I am trying to addict her to a distant, long-lost Mexican primo: the humble, home-made flour tortilla.

Flour tortillas are pretty easy to come by these days, even in Britain. Bland, paper-thin, long-life tortillas can be found at just about any shop, right alongside Marmite, marmalade, mushy peas and many other very-non-Mexican staples.

A shop tortilla is essentially bendable, digestible cardboard. A real deal flour tortilla is soft, springy, yielding and comforting—like a 12-tog goose-down duvet for your mouth. It is best consumed straight off the griddle or shortly thereafter and preferably made by your favourite auntie or someone who calls you 'mi hijita'.

Put your hand over a plate of fresh, home-made tortillas and you will feel a sense of warmth radiate right through your fingertips and spread down to your toes. I reckon a nice plate of tortillas in the right mouth at the right time might bring about world peace in one floury fell swoop (I admit, a discussion for another day with a gazillion more sources).

But regarding economic problems, tortillas are possibly the cheapest foodstuff known to man. The ratio of deliciousness to pence is incredibly high, making tortillas an ideal recession food. For instance, if you are so broke that you had to sell the cutlery (or buy it off eBay like Cherie... - Ed.), you can just use a tortilla instead—it will be the tastiest spork you ever used.

Louise, aka the Tortilla Queen, is a very wise family friend who once showed me how to make the perfect tortilla:

Stir together 5 cups of flour (white, wholewheat, or whatever), 1 tablespoon of baking powder, 4 teaspoons of salt. Add about 2 cups of water and 5 tablespoons of oil (any kind you have to hand). Mix, then knead lightly on a floured surface. Heat an ungreased frying pan over medium-high heat. Divide the dough into 6 to 8 rounds. The dough is very elastic and will contract, so roll the rounds flat one at a time, just before placing them on the heated griddle. Fry each tortilla for a minute or two per side, until it retains elasticity but loses sponginess in the centre. Stack tortillas on a plate and cover with a thick towel to keep them warm. Man cannot live by tortillas alone (I have tried), so consume with green chile stew or red chile posole, or whatever dip-able thing you have to hand. Share and enjoy.

As a New Mexican in London, I am frequently mistaken for a freckly albino from Chiapas with a suspiciously gringa accent. This confusion is understandable—most American states don't have another country's name thrown in for kicks—no New Sudan for instance. And of course had it not been for the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo of 1848, in which Mexico ceded New Mexico to America at the end of the Mexican-American War, I would indeed be a freckly Mexican gringa (national lines come and go, freckles sadly remain).

But food has a way of transcending national boundaries. Tortillas, corn and flour alike, are the great Mexico/New Mexico culinary connector. However, beware 'corn' tortillas on British shelves—these are essentially long-life flour tortillas with a little corn thrown in for colour, and they lack all the charm and personality of real corn tortillas.

Chillies span the border, but New Mexicans culinarily differ from Mexicans in their pathological obsession with hotter-than-average local Anaheim chile cultivars, known simply 'green' or 'red'. Red chile pods are hung up in ristras to dry, and then turned into sauce all year round. Green is flame-roasted, then deep fried in rellenos, draped on pizzas or burgers or whatever, or chopped and turned into a sauce for smothering or dipping. Mexican food varies a lot by region, but tends to involve an assortment of chillies such as serranos, poblanos, jalapenos and habaneros.

Red chile ristras

Green chiles roasting

If any of this sounds appetizing but you live here in London, a galaxy removed from the land of chilli enchantment, don't despair. Likewise don't go looking for it at a restaurant, because it's pretty easy and far more tasty to make it yourself. The ingredients for tortillas couldn't be simpler. And for dipping, you can now buy Anaheims at England's summer chilli festivals, including the Benington Lordship festival in Hertfordshire and the West Dean Gardens Chile Fiesta in Sussex. Or you can pick your own chillies at Edible Ornamentals in Bedfordshire. If you don't fancy trekking out to Herts or Beds or Sussex, Truffle tells me that tortillas are delicious when piled high with Indian vegetables. Or for the sweet-toothed, they are divine when smeared generously with butter and honey.

Finished tortilla

After giving me the treasured tortilla recipe, the Tortilla Queen and I made a batch. Unsurprisingly, hers were like pure down-duvet heaven, and mine were more like bog standard fleece. I asked her what I was doing wrong. She looked me up and down and said with apologetic earnestness that I might be a bit too gringa to ever really excel at tortilla-making. As someone who has gone by such nicknames as 'hey blondie' and 'huera' (a New Mexicanism for 'hey blondie'), I must concede that she has a point. But in my spare time and on my less huera days, I'm still trying for the perfect tortilla.

Thank you so much, Mañana Mama, for sharing your recipe and educating us on New Mexican cuisine! We're going to want that green chilli stew recipe next...

Update: Here is Mañana Mama's green chilli stew recipe!

Regarding stew, ask and you shall receive! It's pretty easy, more of a pinch of this and that than a proper recipe:

Brown about a pound of cubed beef, pork or chicken in butter or oil in a large pot. Add a chopped onion and some minced garlic, then fill the pot with beef, pork or chicken stock (depending on which meat you originally used). Toss in several potatoes (cubed roughly) and carrots (optional). Bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt, pepper, a dash of cumin, and a dash of oregano. Add healthy helping of chopped green chilli, or red chilli powder (or sauce), depending on your colour preference and what you have available. Keep adding chilli until you reach your desired heat level. Simmer for about an hour, until the potatoes are cooked through and the stock has reduced and thickened. Eat with tortillas.

Chilli stew is a reliable cure for the common cold, and for uncommonly cold weather alike. And while it simmers, it will fill your house with a wonderful, warm aroma.


Monday, November 22

Traveling through Space and Time

Wow, what can I say. I stepped off the plane hours ago this morning, but part of me is still in Davidson, part of me is in an ascending plane above the night lights of Charlotte, part of me is sleeping with twisted neck in a dark cabin lulled by the sound of twin jet engines, and part of me is on the way home in the morning sunlight as Londoners wait on station platforms for their trains to work (pun accidental). Travel refreshes and the jet lag disorients. And so, even after a four-hour nap (during which I dreamt of Cinnamon’s daughter, Chocolate, calling for her uncle), I still feel like I’m in a dream.

I have so much material from the trip that I really don’t know where to start. I’d like to talk about the awesome evening of desserts with our awesome supporters in Davidson, the Southern barbeque lunch with Swiss Chocolate and Roshogolla, the great foodie stuff Cinnamon and I got up to, Cinnamon’s and Prince Charming’s excellent steak and salad dinner cooked for us at home, French toast and pancake breakfasts on the weekend, my American food discoveries… the list goes on.

As I said, I don’t know where to start. But I feel like I should pick whatever feeling most overwhelms me right now. And that’s easy. What I feel most is gratitude for the amazing sister I have, with whom I had such a wonderful time. She’s talented, beautiful, kind and generous. And she somehow manages to combine having a brilliant and innovative organisational brain with a fun feeling for life and a great sense of humour. I was so happy to see her in her environment, with her loving family and her supportive friends. I am truly grateful for the friends she has. I loved meeting you, our Davidson and Charlotte C&T supporters! You guys and Cinnamon have a great positive energy (positive energy is really important to me), and I found it inspirational. Cinnamon herself has inspired me with many ideas – from charity work to discussion groups to trying to cook a Thanksgiving dinner (or at least the parts I like – stuffing and pumpkin pie!). So I have a lot to work with in the upcoming new year. As I said to Autumn Leaf (who still has, I understand, a foodie name pending), I left the law to do something that would resonate with me. And with my amazing sister’s support, I think I’m finding my way.



Friday, November 19

The Very First Cinnamon and Truffle Event!

Truffle is with me in Davidson, NC and we are having a marvelous time! The dessert lesson at the club on Thursday night was a smash hit. There was a small group of seven that congregated at the back of the hot and busy kitchen at the country club and the Chef taught us four dishes: Creme Brulee, Goats Cheese Creme Brulee, Chocolate Souffle, and Bread Pudding.

Here's the recipe for the Creme Brulee.

1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (vanilla beans are stored in bags of sugar...)
1 cup vanilla sugar (sugar from bags in which beans are stored...)
1 tbsp vanilla essence
6 egg yolks
2 quarts hot water
Turbinado (aka raw) sugar for browning

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Mix cream, vanilla bean & essence in medium saucepan or aluminum bowl over heat and heat. Remove, cover and allow to sit for 15 mins.

In another bowl, whisk sugar and yolks until blended. Add cream a little at a time, stirring continuously. Pour into 6 (7-8 oz) ramekins. Place ramekins into large cake pan and place in oven. Pour enough hot water onto pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake 40-45 mins - until brulee is set, but still "trembling." When you shake it, it wobbles like a loose belly that has feasted on lots of creme brulee...

Remove ramekins (careful of hot water on pan!!!) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Remove from fridge 30 mins before browning sugar on top. Spread turbinado sugar evenly on top and torch away with blow torch (purchase from Lowes Home Improvement). Sit for 5 mins before serving.

Extra tip: Burn off bubbles with torch when poured into ramekins to prevent skin from forming.

Enjoy the dessert with dinner party friends and tell them about CinnamonandTruffle.com.

Dear friends who attended this first C&T event, I would love to get your perspective of that night! Other readers, please comment with your versions and let's get a compilation of tips on making great creme brulee!


Wednesday, November 17

Plane Food

Before I report on the wonders organised by Cinnamon for my visit, could I just take a moment to talk about airplane food? Seriously, here I am setting off on an exciting adventure – Carolinian barbeque, French crème bruléed by Le Chef and what not else – but before I can get to all of that, I have to be put through a trial. Panicky taxi driver to Victoria station, being asked for extra ID in the check-in queue (“purely routine”, she assured me twice – that’s what made it so suspicious…), and a Cantonese wayang diva at the check-in desk. When the meal service started, having laughed and cried at this comic strip that describes all too well the dining options on Transatlantic flights, I expected “beef or pasta” to look not very different from each other. However, I was surprised.

The last time I flew this airline, the pasta was overcooked and limp, drowned in a watery tomato sauce, and served alongside sugar-high inducing processed carbohydrates. This time, though, the pasta looked attractively liked it had been cooked in an oven, and the beef was juicy (and also free of fat and those weird tendony things that you normally bite into). Both dishes even came with – gasp – a salad! So, things looked like they’d improved. Until I took a bite into the carrot. I should’ve known when my husband said he was putting the salad aside for it to defrost…

So, the veggies didn’t pass my standards. But if you’ve read about my vegetable addiction before, you might suspect that I’d have come prepared. Last night, instead of going to bed early to recover from my cold, I spent a fair bit of time sautéing carrots, courgettes, asparagus and peppers, all in a little bit of olive oil. Together with some brown bread and a fillet of soy sauce salmon from Dr Oz’s book, I’m pretty much covered for this flight. Yes, I’m a bit sleep deprived from all the prep last night, but eating this way has its advantages. First, I’m not feeling overwhelmed by salt in an environment that’s pretty dehydrating as it is - I read recently that airlines add a lot of salt to the food, because taste buds don’t function so well at high altitudes, and they want passengers to think the food tastes good (although you wouldn’t have thought that was an objective airlines had in mind...). Secondly, I don’t have to wait the hours it usually takes the meal service to start. And finally, I feel like, with the prelude of all these veggies, I can enjoy that delicious Southern barbeque and crème brulee with that little bit less guilt!

Can’t wait, Cinnamon!



Monday, November 15

Creme Brulee

Great news! Truffle is coming to visit me in Davidson, NC! She arrives in a couple of days and will be here through the weekend. I have been excitedly planning fun foodie things for us to do together. In addition to trying out various Southern dishes and traipsing through the country side to take photos of barns and water tanks, on the itinearary is a cooking lesson at our country club. I have invited my blog-reading friends to join us for the evening of "Learn to Make Desserts with Cinnamon & Truffle." But, neither Cinnamon nor Truffle will be teaching, it will be The Chef at the club.

One dessert that I have requested The Chef to teach us is my all time favorite - Creme Brulee. I first discovered my love for Creme Brulee at the staff canteen at Flemings. I started my career at Flemings in London, then one of Britain's blue blooded investment banks, well known in Asia for its joint venture with Jardine Matheson, Jardine Fleming. I was a bright faced, smiling young girl who loved working in the City in my tailored suits and my string of pearls. I don't think I quite realized how fortunate I was to have landed the job.

It was a special place to work at. In honor of its Scottish roots, the day always started at 7:30 am with bag pipe music floating up through the seven-story atrium of metal and glass where each floor was lined with Scottish art. Building security was manned by retired Scottish guards and there were a couple who could play the bag pipes, and it was their duty to help instill and remind us of the pomp and splendor of glories past. Lunch time was always looked forward to by its employees. The young graduates would plan to meet at the canteen most days. Lunch was a choice of three main dishes (one always vegetarian), a large salad bar, side vegetables, and a dessert bar. It was at that bar that I discovered my love. Did I mention that lunch was a benefit to all employees at no charge? Yes, and the senior folks had their own canteen, called The Director's Table. You were served at your table in that room. Too busy for lunch? No worries, you could order sandwiches that would be delivered to your floor in a paper bag with an apple or banana to boot.

So, since those early days, I have earnestly looked for creme brulee of the same standard. Sometimes I find it, and most often I don't. Room temperature custard, almost warm, creamy, with a sweet, crusty top the color of brown glass. Tap, tap, and you crunch through it into its depth. The problem with creme brulee in the U.S. is that it is often too cold in the middle. I was discussing this with The Chef the other day and he reckoned it was because they use ramekins that are too deep. "It has to be shallow enough that the custard gets warmed up when you use the blow torch to create the crust." Let's see if he can do it this Thursday evening at the club.

Dear Truffle, I look forward to your visit! Don't forget to bring your camera!


The art work is by Peploe, from the collection of art from the Fleming Art Collection that was originally housed in the building that I worked in many years ago....

Tuesday, November 9

Kaju Katli yields an Indian Rice Pudding

I’m ashamed to say I didn’t celebrate Deepavali this year. It’s an odd series of events that leads to this result almost every year. It starts off with not knowing when Deepavali actually is. This is because it doesn’t fall on the same day each year, and different people will give you different dates if you ask. So, I usually wait to hear the ‘official’ date from my mother. This year, she too was out of touch with the dates, having spent the last few months in Europe. At some point, I figured I ought to find the date, went onto a few websites, failed to find one consistent date, gave up, and forgot. And so it came to be that only my younger sister Rice Krispie celebrated it, by going to a 20-something London house party in Shad Thames with booming bhangra music on a Saturday night.

But seriously, it’s not that bad! The significance of Deepavali/Diwali varies across the Subcontinent. In some parts, it’s the biggest festival of the year and it marks the New Year. In parts of the South though, while it’s still one of the key festivals, the biggest one of the year is Pongal, a harvest festival in January (and there’s a separate New Year in April). Kind of makes sense – in tropical dry climates, light and warmth are important, whereas in tropical wet climates where rice grows, harvest is really important. And Deepavali/Diwali has probably acquired its international stature by virtue of being the highest common factor among the Indian diaspora.

I admit that, reading Cinnamon’s post, the point at which I started feeling sad about having missed Deepavali was when I got to the kaju katli. It reminded me of going to Drummond Street last year, to source some Indian sweets for a Deepavali gathering I was having at home. The sweet shop was full of jelabees, jhangiri, halwa, cashew burfi, milk burfi, samosas and pakoras. There was something really warm and satisfying about buying sweets for family and friends coming home. It feels even better when you make something too. And here is a recipe for the sweet pongal I made last year, if anyone’s up for trying an Indian rice pudding!

1. Cook 1 cup of uncooked white rice with 3 cups of water. (I used brown rice for the health kick, but then you’ll need more water.)

2. Cook ½ cup of uncooked yellow dhal with 1 cup of water.

3. Once rice and dhall are cooked, mix the two together over a medium flame and add a few tablespoons of palm sugar to taste. (I found palm sugar crystals in the supermarket, but palm sugar syrup from an Asian supermarket might be a more fragrant choice.)

4. Add ½ a cup of milk to the mixture and stir. If the mixture looks too thick, add more milk. (Use full fat milk, not skimmed milk like I did…) Keep stirring so that the milk doesn’t burn. Add a pinch of salt.

5. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry the following in some ghee or butter: a handful of cashew nuts, sultanas, 2 or 3 cardamom pods (crushed) and a few strands of saffron. Add this to the rice/dhall mixture.

6. Keep stirring the mixture, adding milk as needed. After about 30 minutes it should thicken (and resemble a rice pudding).

7. Enjoy!



Sunday, November 7

Celebrating Deepavali

Deepavali, aka Diwali, is Hindu Christmas. So, a pretty big deal, if you think about it. Ethnically Indian, married to an American of Indian heritage for 10 years with two beautiful children, we had not celebrated Deepavali as a family ever... until this year, thanks to Rhoshogolla. Rhoshogolla is a lovely young girl from Bengal who works as a outsourced programmer who has been "insourced" or implanted within the company in Charlotte. A pretty girl with large dark eyes, she has taken upon herself to bring India closer to me or at least to remind me of my heritage. Thanks to her, I have now seen two Hindi films this year, tried out a few Indian restaurants in Charlotte, and celebrated Deepavali after 20 years.

A couple of weeks ago, Rhosh suggested that we gather a small group and head out to Maharani for Deepavali lunch on Friday, the 5th of November. I happily obliged and sent out an Outlook invitation to the group. A few days before Deepavali, Rhosh checked in again to find out what I had planned for Deepavali. "Err, nothing really" was my honest answer. "Why don't you get those clay diyas and get the kids to paint them before you light them? I used to enjoy that as a child myself." Excellent suggestion! I dutifully trotted off to the Indian grocery store on Wednesday night. In addition to the diyas, I also bought a big box of jelabees (deep fried rings of orange dough dipped in sticky syrup) and my son's favorite, kaju katli (cashew based milk squares). The kaju katli made it to Deepavali but the jelabees didn't. They were pretty good! Crispy, light, sticky sweet and reminiscent of grand parties in Chennai.

This seemingly small suggestion started snowballing into a detailed and delegated event. Prince Charming was given the job of getting everyone new clothes and our nanny was given the task of getting the painting project going. I managed to also pick up a beautiful cinnamon roll embedded with walnuts from the Great Harvest Bread Company in Charlotte the day of, and the evening was a success though slightly chaotic. I made it back after 6 PM, and ran around the house clearing up the pantry which houses our prayer room and polishing the silver oil lamps. Made a platter of cinnamon roll, kaju katli and some grapes, played some Indian prayer music on Youtube and ceremoniously handed out the new clothes. After quick showers and a change into our new clothes, we were all piled back in the pantry room. A little prayer was said and it was time to light the painted diyas. We all took turns and even five-year old chocolate lit one with her father holding her hand. We sat down around the platter of lamps and read a couple of Deepavali stories. A tradition was born in Davidson, North Carolina, thanks to Rhoshogolla.


Tuesday, November 2

The Power of DNA

Our cousin from the Land of Oz visited us with his girlfriend last week. The last time we'd met was three years ago at my wedding. In the intervening period, while I remembered that my cousin and I shared an interest in music and guitars, I had kinda forgotten that we shared a passion for food as well! My cousin, Musical Chef (an engineer in real life), and his brother are fantastic cooks, and it turns out that his girlfriend, Foodie Doctor, is too. By a stroke of luck before their arrival, I had planned (as our first sight-seeing outing) a trip to Borough Market, one of London's famous food and produce markets. I myself hadn't been to Borough Market in more than two years, so it was great to see some of my old favourites again.

It's amazing how much looking at London with visitors can open your own eyes to it. Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling so blasé about being 20 minutes away from a sprawling market nestled under criss-crossing bridges near the Thames. We strolled amongst large iron pans with rabbit casseroles cooking over flames, steel drums of mulled wine, shelves of bottled beers and ales from around the world, elaborate displays of fresh seafood (including an octopus clinging to a rock, below a crayfish whose claws swayed from side to side), mountains of fragrant chocolate brownies and loaves of bread, wheels of cheese boasting various months of ageing, bright berries tumbling out of their punnets, extensive displays of vegetables and enormous mushrooms, frying chorizo and grilling bratwurst… all while Foodie Doctor snapped pictures of the food, the crowds and of us.

It was a heady morning. We tasted various samples on offer, and we slowly collected a feast for breakfast the next day. And thus it was that, on Saturday morning, after enjoying a few cups of tea from our wedding china, we settled down to the breakfast you see in the photo. (In our defense, I will say that we had gone to bed at 3 a.m. the night before, after a memorable jamming session with Musical Chef on acoustic guitar, me on electric guitar and my sister Rice Krispie on keyboards. So, we were hungry!) We had assembled: a 22-month aged Comté and a melting Époisses from France; slices of Parma, a large ball of Mozzarella and an Ubriaco matured in red wine from Italy; good old British sausages (curiously named ‘Boston sausages’) and a pork pie; sweet German mustard to accompany the sausages; a variety of mushrooms (which Foodie Doctor sautéed with butter, garlic and sage); and a dulce de leche from Argentina. To all of these treasures from Borough Market, we added Gentlemen’s Relish (an anchovy paste I’d picked up last week from a nearby deli), Pain de Campagne from my local French bakery, Irish breakfast tea (purchased in Dublin in the summer), and orange juice from Florida.

The Époisses is one of my favourite cheeses. It’s an unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy, which is washed in the local brandy (marc de Bourgogne) as it matures. This leaves it with an alluring, sharp nose, and a flavour that’s part brandy and part sweet garlic. Take it out of the fridge about half an hour before eating and spread it over toasted crusty bread. I’m also a fan of Comté, another unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese. This hard cheese is good with almost any bread, but you might go for something white, so that you can appreciate the grainy texture of the Comté. Imho, the best Comté has a firmness closer to parmesan than to edam or cheddar.

While the weekend was wonderful for all the experiences we shared, it also made me slightly sad that so much of my family lives so far away. Cases in point being Musical Chef living all the way away in Sydney and Cinnamon being in North Carolina. Just imagine the weekly cooking and jamming sessions we could all have if we lived in the same city! I was also amazed that, despite Musical Chef and my sisters and I not having met each other all that often (a few times as children and a grand total of three times as grown-ups), all of us just connect. Not least on the planes of food and music. There you have it, I thought, the power of DNA.



Sunday, October 24

In Search of Hmong

Have you seen the movie The Gran Torino? Prince Charming and I watched it on DVD recently and it brought out a number of mixed emotions from me. Shock, disbelief, joy, and confusion. For those who haven't seen it before, it is about a grumpy old man (Clint Eastwood) living in a neighborhood in Detroit that has been taken over by the Hmong community. Shock and disbelief because of the economic implosion that has taken place in Detroit and the brutality of gang warfare. Joy because Clint's neighbors essentially win him over with scrumptious Hmong food. They talk about roast duck, chicken dumplings, soups, spring rolls, fresh basil and chili sauces. The food looks fantastic in the movie and I really wanted to try some.

I was confused because folks usually turn to me for answers on all things Asian and in this case all things South East Asian. So, when Prince Charming turned to me and said, "where are the Hmong from?" my answer was, "I don't have a clue..." Well, the characters in the movie inform us that they were mainly from Laos, Vietnam and some parts of China. Hey, I'm Singaporean, why had I not known about them before? Is this what neighboring Malaysians mean by Singaporeans being arrogant about our successes that we go around calling Singapore the Switzerland of the East and looking to the West while ignoring our own Asian brethren? Growing up in Singapore, if we did not go to India to visit relatives, we would fly to Australia, Europe or the States. We did go to Malaysia a couple of times and school mates did go to Thailand, but no one went to Laos nor Vietnam.

Thinking more about it, I realize now that it was because Laos and Vietnam are communist countries and there was a certain amount of filtering that took place in Singapore before any form of media reached the common man. Before I go any further, I have to declare that I am one of the biggest fans of Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP. When I first left for Cambridge almost 20 years ago, I had lofty dreams of returning to Singapore to work for the government and to join the PAP. I wanted to join the Monetary Authority of Singapore and be involved in policy making. My dissertation was on how the Central Provident Fund of Singapore formed the foundation of Singapore's success by enabling the investment of huge sums of capital funneled from forced savings of its people back into Singaporean industry and its infrastructure. In addition to developing the economy driving it from its third world status in the '60s, when it was at the same stage of development as Indonesia or the Philippines, to where it is now - a gleaming metropolis with flashy cars and shiny sky-scrapers. It is now the center for finance, health and education for South-East Asia. No easy feat for any developing nation. However, this was possible only because Lee Kuan Yew ruled with an iron fist. The communists in the 1960s were crushed and detainment without trial was used openly. Singapore was routinely featured in Amnesty International articles in the 1980s and there was always this underground whispering of human rights violations.

A few days after watching the movie, I had my annual medical exam. I was sent to the lab to have some blood drawn and the technician walked up to me. He looked Chinese and I looked at his name tag which was filled with THs, PHs, OAs, and NHs. I was excited! Could he be Hmong? Like the folks in the movie? I asked him what his ethnicity was as I hate asking people where they are from. He could have been born in California, right? He didn't understand my question and the guy sitting next to me piped in "she wants to know where you're from!" Laos. "Laos? Are you Hmong?" He wasn't. He explained to me that the Hmong are tribal people from the mountains and he was just from Laos. The conversation quickly turned to food and he explained to me that Lao food is very similar to Thai food, due, of course, to the proximity. He said it is also very spicy and chucked that it's the chili that keeps him skinny. I wanted to say that there are many fat Indians who eat very spicy food but felt that it wouldn't add much to the conversation. At that point, my fellow patient who was also having his blood drawn jumped into the conversation once again and asked when he moved to the States. His face twisted into tough memories and he told us that he moved here in 1979. He had to swim across the Mekong river in the dark of the night to escape to Thailand from the communists. He explained that when the communists said that wanted to meet the men of the family to discuss issues about the community, they would invite them into a room and shoot them in the head. He and his father were called one day, and that night they escaped. I reckon Lee Kuan Yew knew a thing or two about communists those days and I am thankful to him.

Anyway, I have been searching for Hmong recipes as I really want to try some. Do you know of a good recipe you'd like to share? There are quite a few out there on the World Wide Web. How about we use the next 10 days to try some out? I would love to hear from you about your thoughts on Hmong cuisine, Laos, or even Lee Kuan Yew.

Sincerely yours,

Wednesday, October 13

Keep on Running

Sorry, folks. I’ve been awol again. Much has been happening in Truffle Land, and I don’t know where the last two weeks have gone! The above photograph is just to say: how fat is this asparagus?!

Our younger sister (for today, I’ll call her Rice Krispie) ran her first ever half-marathon over the weekend. The Royal Parks Half-Marathon took runners from the south side of Hyde Park, through Green Park, along the Thames, and finally back to Hyde Park to loop it a few times. Meanwhile, supporters like us were ourselves racing through the park to see our runners at pre-arranged mile markers, or hanging out in the festival area. Someone had said something about there being a climbing wall, but all we could see was one food stand after another. One of our friends pointed out that all the organic food shops were empty, while the sausage and bacon butty stands had at least 30 people queuing outside each one. I shook my head sadly as I bit into my deep-fried churros sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

But seriously, the topic of fitness and healthy eating is one that’s close to my heart. After I quit the unhealthy lifestyle of corporate law last year, I started taking fitness pretty seriously. I set aside more time to work out, but I also started reversing the damage done on the nutrition front. I’m sure many of you are familiar with what most people eat in the corporate world: basically, whatever’s available when you’ve been released from your desk to feed! Now, London is many things, but I wouldn’t describe it as the health food capital of the world. (Remember that queue for sausages and bacon I was telling you about?) So, when you’re hungry and you can’t face yet another refrigerated sandwich or limp salad, most of the options you’re left with consist of fried saturated fats and a carb fest (with vegetables, if any, drowned in a roasting tin). By the end of my time as a lawyer, my suits were getting so tight I was finding it hard to breathe! (To be fair, my suits weren’t the only reason I was feeling suffocated…)

In the process of my search for health and fitness, I came across an excellent book that I’d like to share with you. The great thing about this book is that it’s not pushing another one of those faddy diets (which I’ve never trusted). It’s written by a couple of doctors, and it tells you straight up how your body works on the food, metabolism and weight management fronts. The key premise is that your body is your ally, and (if treated right) it will naturally head towards its healthiest playing weight and shape. If, however, you get in its way by putting a lot of artificial, processed and unhealthy foods into your system, you upset its chemical/hormonal balance and unhappiness ensues.

The first part of the book takes you through a body 101: e.g., how the liver processes fats, which hormones tell your brain that you’re full, which ones tell you to keep eating, what chemicals trigger these hormones, why certain foods (e.g., refined carbs and high-fructose corn syrup) are so bad for you (and, crucially, how eating some of it makes your body crave more). It was only after reading this book that I realised how dependent on our chemicals we are. (It makes sense, really, given that we’re biological organisms. So often, I forget that and think of myself as some kind of walking cardboard box inhabited by a mind.) Two really interesting things I learned from the book: (1) it’s not completely accurate to think of healthy eating as being just about willpower. What you want to eat is determined by the cocktail of chemicals and hormones in your body (which is, in turn, determined by what you put into it). If we’ve been off-track for a long time, then pitting your willpower against your body’s impulses (i.e., millions of years of evolution) is like holding your breath under water – you can do it for a while, but at some point you need air. (2) Eating healthy fats is actually an important part of weight loss and maintenance, because the presence of fats in the intestine triggers the “I’m full” signal in your brain. This is why people on fat-free diets are always hungry (and at breaking point).

In the next section, the doctors give you a meal plan (with recipes) which aims to ‘reset your factory settings’, so that your body craves healthy foods and heads towards its ideal weight. Now you understand why I was craving vegetables in that London restaurant! My personal experience of this meal plan has been great. The recipes are pretty quick to make and they taste really good. After about a month, I felt the plan needed some supplementing, because I’m a pretty active person and I wasn’t getting enough energy. But I kept to the principles of lots of veg, wholegrains and sufficient Omega fats.

The book’s called You On a Diet: The Owner’s Manual for Waist Management, and it’s by Dr Mehmet Oz (of Oprah fame) and Dr Michael Roizen. Even if you're not looking to work on your physical fitness, I think the book's a good place to equip yourself with information on how your body works.

As usual, please don’t do anything without your doctor’s advice, blah, blah, blah. If in any doubt, please see my disclaimer at the end of this post.




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