Ashley Banjo deserves 3 gold stars!

Ashley Banjo appeared on last week’s edition of Saturday Kitchen and he is my unsung hero. The TV was providing some light background entertainment as I was getting ready that morning. I heard James Martin, presenter of Saturday Kitchen instructing the audience to place the apples in the roasting tray and sprinkle with butter and sugar. I thought he was making apple crumble until I saw the pork shoulder. I started to pay attention! James then started explaining to his guest for the week, Ashley Banjo – lead dancer of dance group Diversity and Got to Dance judge that you need to rub the fat of the pork shoulder with lemon juice and salt to make crispy crackling. Seeing Ashley’s shocked expression made James ask him “Have you never had a packet of pork scratchings with your pint of beer in a pub?” Ashley politely replied” No” but his facial expressions spoke a thousand more words, none of them positive. I don’t blame him. To want to eat a packet of crispy fat is ludicrous – unless you’re happy heading towards obesity! Saturday Kitchen was turning into a bit of a comedy sketch. I was hooked!

The salted pork shoulder was ceremoniously placed on top of the apples and then in the oven to roast for 3 hours. Next to prepare was the mashed potato.  A moderately healthy dish I thought until James claimed that the perfect mash is equal quantities of potatoes, cream and butter. Ashley looked as shocked as I felt!

It was now time to remove a roast pork shoulder that James had prepared earlier. True to his claim, the fat was golden and crispy all over and if you tried not to think about what it was, looked quite delicious. But Ashley didn’t look convinced! Unperturbed, James made the final preparations for the dish. He lifted the fatty pork off the tray to reveal mushy apples swimming in the fatty juices. James and guest chef Nick Nairns were salivating as they explained that you now have a ready made apple sauce to complement the pork. To make the gravy, you gather up the juices from the pan and heat to thicken.  Ashley looked into the pan and said “You’re not seriously going to use that are you? That can’t be good for you. That’s just a heart attack waiting for you in the pan!” Words of wisdom falling on deaf ears Ashley, I said to myself.  James at this point tried to change the tone of the conversation by asking Ashley about his up and coming TV programme, to which Ashley replied “Yes, If I’m still alive, that’s Got to Dance, every week from Sunday.” James, ever the professional and totally unwilling to be put off by an uncooperative healthy freak of a guest, began to serve, first a couple of slices of roast pork, then buttery mashed potato and finally a crispy hunk of crackling! Finally, the gravy (or more appropriately the nail in the coffin) liberally doused over the meat and potatoes. Time for Ashley to taste as he forced a tiny morsel of meat into his mouth. The well trained cameraman moved away from Ashley’s face just as the poor guy started to retch. However, not before I caught sight of the priceless moment as I collapsed in heaps of uncontrollable laughter. James Martin may have achieved a Mitchelin star or two in his time but I don’t think he’ll be awarded a gold star from Ashley Banjo anytime soon.

Many cookery programmes are great entertainment but they should alert the audience to “Don’t try this at home without consulting your doctor first!” As for Ashley, I give him  3 gold stars for having the courage to say what he’s really thinking, even if it’s live TV and he’s pissed off the entire cast of Saturday Kitchen. I hope that a coronary or two has been prevented this weekend because of his efforts. TV Chefs, clear up your acts and stop clogging our arteries.

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Chips count as 1 of your 5-a-day!

According to a Sainsbury’s survey  a quarter of Brits think the above is true!!!!!!! There are many reasons why so many of us are not achieving the recommended 5-a-day of fruit and vegetables: time, cost, they may be boring etc. However, if we knew the fruit and vegetable content of many of the everyday foods we buy, would we be more tempted to buy foods with a higher fruit and vegetable content? The Government continues to be optimistic that improved food labelling will guide consumers to healthier eating. Alongside its plans to label foods with the fat, sugar and salt content by Summer, it is introducing the Responsibility Deal’ calling on food producers to make it clear when pre-packaged food contains one or more portions that count towards the five-a-day and to provide a wider range of healthy options for consumers. Time will tell whether as a nation we care about healthy eating and use food labelling to influence what we buy or whether the majority of us  will continue to be ruled by our desires rather than our needs.

Talking of desires, I was invited for lunch at a friend’s last week and I was pleasantly reminded of how good vegetables can taste. Try roughly chopping peppers, onions, leeks, broccoli, butternut squash and sweet potato, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with basil and oregano and place in a medium hot oven for 45 mins. I love adding a whole bulb of unpeeled garlic brushed with olive oil and roasting on top of the vegetables. Once the vegetables are cooked, you can peel the garlic cloves and squeeze the soft sweet garlic over the vegetables. Minimum preparation time and utterly delicious!

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A return to food rationing to make us healthier!

Food labels will indicate the calories, fat, salt and sugar content of products by next Summer in an attempt to make us choose healthier foods but history has shown that legislation is far more effective in changing peoples’ behaviour . Is it time to ban or regulate unhealthy foods? Think about how effective legislation has been in the compulsory wearing of car seat belts, mandatory use of child car seats and the ban on smoking in public places etc.

The foods we buy are influenced by many factors – time, ability or willingness to cook, likes and dislikes, cost, knowledge about nutrition, values and beliefs about health etc. Food labelling addresses one factor that influences food choices and that is lack of knowledge. If we believe ignorance about food facts is a potential barrier to making less healthy food choices, how can people make a fair comparision of the healthiness of packaged foods, labelled with the food facts with products sold loose, typically fruit and vegetables, which we should be eating more of and are unlabelled?

The fact is that many of us find The Eat Well Plate healthy eating guidance and the recommended daily calorie intake unsustainable. Food is not just about what we need, but also about what we want and the equation between the two is not balanced. We want and eat too much. The apparent food rationing as suggested by a ban or regulation of unhealthy foods may sound harsh. But during World War II, food rationing initiatives included the availability of only one type of bread called the National Loaf, (similar to today’s brown bread) made from wholemeal flour . It was introduced in the UK to combat war shortages of white flour and during this period, the nation experienced unprecedented levels of good public health.

Many packaged foods that will bear the labelling recommendations are processed. Whilst often higher in fat, sugar and salt than unprocessed foods, they are also usually less filling, leading to the temptation to eat more and exceed the calorie intake for the day.

Food labelling should still be welcomed as a positive step in reducing obesity. But people will only change what they buy if they really want to. But where there is will, there is of course a way. I read the food labels, selecting items lower in sugar, fat and salt. I always check the amount of fat per 100g of the product and if it is less than 10%, I know I am making a healthier choice.  I have learnt to love fruit and vegetables and eating enough of them will keep you fuller for longer. On that last point by the way, I agree with TV nutritionist Gillian McKeith  and her strict ‘no white bread’ policy (though I do support many other things in moderation). Perhaps she could start a national campaign for the return of the National Loaf or the regulation of unhealthy foods? Or would this be a case of Nanny Stateism  going too far?

If we want to beat the obesity war, it calls for radical action. For me, the real question is “Are we brave enough to fight it?”

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Naturally Longer, Luscious Lashes at the stroke of a brush!

Are artificial eye lashes a step too far in the vanity stakes for you? As one of life’s innocent pleasures, I enjoy wearing make up and love a dramatic and dark smoky eye look. I draw the line however at false eyelashes largely because they do look exactly that.

Instead, I have favoured mascaras that claim to promote eyelash growth such as Lancome Hypnose Precious cells mascara In fact, I have become quite hooked to Lancome mascaras in general as the Lancome Hypnose Doll Eyes mascara really does give you that larger than life doll eyed look. I admit feeling great when a friend recently asked me whether I was wearing falsies and I was able to honestly reply no – just mascara!

Whilst reading about a blog written by Sara Valente in the Pharmaceutical Journal, I became intrigued by a new type of serum that can also promote eyelash growth made by M2 Beaute called M2 Lashes. I am somewhat sceptical as I have used a serum called Rapidlash in the past and whilst it reduced the problem of my eyelashes falling out and into my eyes, I didn’t notice any significant improvement in volume or length. After 2 bottles, each costing £40 and a shocked husband who couldn’t believe the modern price of natural beauty, I gave up!

The active ingredient that seems to be responsible for promoting eyeleash growth in M2 Lashes is Methylamido Dihydro Noralfaprostal (MDN), which is a chemical found in certain eye drops used to treat an eye condition called glaucoma. It was discovered when ophthalmologists noticed that patients suffering from glaucoma and being treated with eye drops containing MDN grew longer and thicker eyelashes. So some proof that this product does work.

The product has received FDA approval so it is hopefully safe. It retails at $120 (or more than £100 for 5ml) which is too indulgent even for me. So Santa, if you’re listening, all I want for Christmas is a bottle of M2  Lashes and the power to make people look twice as I glide past them and they ask themselves “Is she or isn’t she?” (wearing falsies that is!!). Failing that, perhaps the makers of M2 Lashes will send me a free sample in return for a customer review and if it works, a glowingly positive post on my blog.  Go on, you know I’m worth it!

Failing even that, I feel an attack of glaucoma coming on! How about you?

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The Good, the Bad and the Gooey!

TV Chef and food writer Nigel Slater states he doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as either good food or bad food and everything’s OK in moderation. To an extent I agree with him but I must add that some foods need to be eaten in more moderation than others like the oh so gorgeous  gooey centred  chocolate and hazelnut cookies he made a few nights ago.

The truth is that following this rule of moderation is beyond the reach of many. What exactly is meant by moderation? Can you have a naughty treat every day or once a week? How many of us know how many calories we should eat in a day or the number of calories in different types of foods? Those who have taken the trouble to learn this may be able to work out what is moderate and what’s not. They may also recognise when they’ve indulged and the need to cut back to maintain the balance. The rest of us rely on guesswork and often guess wrong which is why we probably put on weight.

Cakes, biscuits, pastries, fresh cream and chocolate are not your friends – they’re your frenemies! You might like or love them but unless you encounter them rarely, they will become a weight on your mind, not to mention your body. I choose a light starter over desert and if I really crave something sweet, I try to share it with real friends and have a few spoonfuls, not a ladleful.

Nigel Slater’s answer to indulgence and eating naughtily is to have a glass of hot water and fresh dill and other herbs. Sounds nice but I can’t help wishing he’d added – and have healthy vegetable based soups and fresh fruit for the rest of the day to make up for it. A healthy recipe on the same show would have met with my approval. What’s more, a brisk walk after eating “too much cake” will be far more effective an antidote than herbal dill tea, but by all means have the tea afterwards if you want! Dill water by the way in a purified manner is what was given in olden days to babies who suffered from colic and wind, although no longer recommended for reasons I cannot recall. Nigel Slater however appears to be thriving on the stuff. But then again what’s good enough for a TV Chef is generally not good enough for me. What about you?

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Health Delusion – Saturated fat is bad!

The Health Delusion is actually a book about how to achieve exceptional health in the 21st Century. Such an ambitious claim given that acceptable health is beyond the reach of many prompted me to read the book review in this week’s copy of the Pharmaceutical Journal.

According to the book review, the authors believe eating a predominantly non meat based diet and avoiding processed meats such as ham, bacon and sausages could be a solution to all our ills. If by non meat, they are alluding to plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, then so far so good. The authors are critical of fad diets which they claim reduce the metabolic rate and hence calorific requirements and creating the vicious circle effect of eating less, leading to needing less. I’ve never been certain of how true this effect really is but I don’t object to the theory since I support healthy eating and eating moderate portions rather than dieting.

What really caught my attention is their claim that saturated fats are actually not that bad for you. This goes against  The Eat Well Plate guidance from the NHS which advises us to cut down on foods high in saturated fats such as fatty meats, particularly red, (and not just processed meats) butter, ghee (clarified butter), lard, hard cheese, cream, biscuits, cakes and pastries. What I found even more surprising is that the authors also postulate that the replacement of saturated fats in the diet with omega 6 polyunsaturated fats is a real disaster and contributes to an increased risk of heart disease. I went to check the label on the Flora Buttery in my fridge and horror of horrors – 28% omega 6 polyunsaturated fat. For some time I have had my doubts about how healthy margarine is. It is a processed product after all, unlike butter, which is more natural even when you consider what has been added to it to make it supermarket friendly and allow a longer shelf life. I was in a dilemma. Should I buy the book and read the detail?

Whilst this book is apparently well researched, it is still based on epidemiological studies which might show a relationship between a certain food and an effect but no proof that the food is a direct cause of that effect. This book review highlights for me the need to fund and conduct proper nutritional research that is designed to establish cause and effect. We desperately need to know what the true villains are in our diets that contribute to heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Otherwise, all we still have are theories and postulations and the same old notion that one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

Is it time for me to admit that Flora is in fact the “margarine for men?” (young and thin ones with years to go before they have to worry about their hearts!) Spreadable margarine straight from the fridge has a distinct advantage in that it can be spread thinly, cutting down the amount you have to use and reducing the calories. The thought of trying to spread Anchor butter straight from the fridge and breaking my toast convinces me I’m not yet ready to give up ownership of Flora to the younger and opposite sex.

What will you be spreading on your toast today?

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Eyeshadow – Beauty or Beastly?

I am faithful to my black eyeliner and black kohl pencil and as my friends will testify, I never leave home without it. The trouble is, I always have the same look. I’ve tried different coloured kohl pencils and dabbled with eyeshadow – nothing major- just pink and gold! I hope for a look of radiance and beauty but in truth, the look is closer in resemblance to Barbie; colourful and sparkly. What’s more, neither eyeshadow or coloured kohl pencil lasts until the end of my evening. By the time I return home, I look more like Cinderella and just like my makeup, all hope of being the fairest of them all has faded too!

Here’s a blog that explains where I’ve been going wrong. I need to use a primer first, something I thought was only meant for walls. That way, I create a base for my eyeshadow that will help it to stay in place.

So have I been converted? I don’t think so. I love the finished look of the peacock eye (post 3) featured in the attached blog.  But somehow I’m not convinced that it’s a look that compliments every eye colour. But if unlike me you are brave enough to wear bold colours, I think the tips on how to apply your eyeshadow correctly are fantastic and the final look is flawless!

The one tip I have taken up is applying kohl pencil or eyeliner on my waterline rather than on the inner rim of my eye. The waterline is apparently just where your lower lash meets your eye rim. My kohl now has the ability to stay put the entire day and doesn’t need reapplying. However, I have to avoid any situation that has the potential for tears otherwise Panda eyes big time it is.

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