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Forgive me father, for I have eaten all the pies

May 9, 2010

 

Marilyn Monroe used to lift 8lb weights

When it comes to food, there’s one thing I loathe even more than recipes, a concept that upsets me every time I think of it:

It’s diets.

 One of the reasons I hate them is because, like recipes, they lay out a list of rules and restrictions: you can eat this, you can’t eat this, you must count the calories in this, or weigh out the right amount of this.

Just to make things a little worse, there are now hundreds of “eating plans” that claim to be an antidote to the restrictive formula – telling you you can eat as much fat as you like – hurrah – but, ooh, wait, you can’t have a potato. These are diets for the Tesco generation: claiming to sell choice, when really they just sell another brand of restriction.

 Selling is very much the operative word. Entrepreneurs the world over are preying on our fears about our health and looks (and, let’s face it, it’s mostly looks or they wouldn’t use so many swimwear clad lovelies in their promotional material) in order to make us pay for yet another inferior version of what everyone’s Mum told them for free: eat your greens, don’t scoff too many sweets, get outside in the fresh air and run around a bit.

 In case you haven’t already figured it out – I love food. I love food with vitamins, food with fibre, food with sugar, food with saturated fat (mmm …chips…) – I love it all. I don’t especially want to ruin my experience of it by spending time weighing up how many calories are in my delicious homemade chocolate cake (which, incidentally, is probably going to do me far less harm than the additive ridden and tasteless “reduced calorie” cake you might buy in the supermarket).

 But I do have an interest in health – and I don’t feel that those two loves (food, and looking after myself) are incompatible – quite the opposite, in fact.

Diets, whatever any individual plan may claim, are all about guilt, denial and taking away. (We used to have Catholicism, now we have Weight Watchers). That expensive diet book is selling you a negative – taking away your money, your freedom, and your enjoyment. If you stick to one of those diets, you might end up looking like Kate Moss (although I bet you anything Miss Moss eats like a horse. She has that look about her somehow.) but you’re going to feel like crap when there’s a big chocolate cake at your next party and you can only have a tiny sliver.

So bollocks to diets.

One of the areas feminism doesn’t seem to have reached far enough is into the female approach to health. It distresses me that virtually all health and food related articles in the mainstream women’s press are focussed on losing weight, eating less, reducing – the implication seems to be that we ought to strive to become less of a person – which is surely the opposite of what is true. Instead of eating less, being less, diminishing as a person both physically and emotionally, health should be all about becoming more – increasing vitality, energy, strength – becoming more powerful. Improving.

 Men’s health magazines actually seem to have better ideas about this. (Whatever your sex, http://www.menshealth.co.uk is a great site). The focus is on working out, building muscle, becoming fitter – and how to power that strength by eating sustaining, nourishing food. For men, it seems, exercise and food are all about gaining power: becoming more, becoming better. It’s an approach I encourage everyone, male and female, to adopt.

 We must focus on what we can add to our lives, not what we must take away. We can exercise more, we can lift more weight, we can run faster, get better at our chosen sport. It doesn’t matter how awful you were at PE at school (I was shit) – if you start exercising several times a week, and watch yourself getting steadily better at your chosen activity (which you will) you start to feel like Superman.(If anyone ever felt like Superman from eating half a portion of cabbage a weekand losing three pounds, I’m worried about them).

 In order to power serious exercise, you need to eat more protein and more carbs. By eating more healthy fruit and veg you’ll improve your skin and all kinds of other things too. It’s all about getting more of the good stuff. It’s about becoming the strongest, healthiest, most powerful person you can be. There is nothing more beautiful than strength – mental and physical. (I think, by the way, that most men would agree with me on this one – given the choice between a girl who eats lunch with a toothpick and can barely lift a gallon of milk, and a woman who wolfs down a big fry up with relish and can carry her own shopping, it’s perhaps unsurprising that most will go for the latter.)

 Amazon warriors, probably didn’t worry about not being able to have cake. If you have a picture in your head of yourself as a feisty and athletic modern Amazon, then you won’t have to worry about it either: a) because you do enough exercise to burn it off anyway, and b) because you are an active and fully engaged person, who has more important things to worry about than calories.

As it happens, when you eat more good stuff, and do more exercise, you tend to be less interested in the “bad” stuff anyway – cravings for sweet, comforting food are so often linked up with the poor self-esteem that diet books perpetuate with their negative approach. If you don’t care about the amount of sugar in a bar of chocolate, you may well find you don’t want to eat it anyway.

 Amazonian Soup

 This soup is full of good stuff: loads of veggie protein, complex carbs and veg – but it’s also quite light, so won’t make you feel over-full. Great for powering exercise, giving you energy and helping you build muscle. (If you’re a woman who doesn’t do strength training because you think it’s unfeminine, you need to think again: http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/women/a/aa051601a.htm )

 This recipe has lentils in. I don’t know why some people think lentils are a hassle to cook – it isn’t true at all. You don’t need to soak them beforehand – just throw them into any sauce with a high liquid content and they will cook just fine in about fifteen minutes. They’re one of the best and cheapest sources of protein and iron there is, so don’t be scared of them.

 My version also uses aubergine – a tip, if you think you don’t like aubergine, try peeling them before cooking. The purple skin may make them pretty, but it does taste bitter. It took me years to discover this, after enduring many a disgusting moussaka, but I now love aubergine.

Ingredients:

A selection of vegetables.I used peeled aubergine, yellow pepper, spring onion, and a carrot.

red split lentils – about half a 500g pack will make you enough soup for four generous portions

a stock cube dissolved ibout a pint and a half of kettle-boiled water (if you don’t have a stock cube, you can just leave this out, but you’ll probably need a bit of salt. Or you could use some Marmite, Worcester sauce, or any flavour enhancer that works for you.)

 coconut cream (from an indian grocers, if you can’t get it, use a can of coconut milk)

smooth peanut butter

 cooking oil (any will do)

 Some spices (I use mixed spice, chilli flakes and paprika – very nice combination too!)

 Fresh coriander if you have it.

 Fry the veg in the oil in a nice big pan.

Add the lentils and get them well coated in oil, and mixed in with the vegetables.

Pour on the stock, and add the peanut butter (use your tastebuds as a guide here, a tablespoon will give a nice hint of peanut, but if you’re a big fan, feel free to add more.)

Bring the mixture to the boil and simmer until the lentils are soft and squidgy.

Stir in the coconut cream. I find the best way to approach it is to use a cheese grater and grate it directly into the soup. Milk you can pour in directly – I use the cream because it’s a solid block that will keep in the fridge wrapped in cling film and you have more control over how much you use. Milk you kind of have to use the whole can whether you like it or not

Leave to cook around twenty minutes more.

Take off the heat, and let it cool slightly before getting your hand blender in there and liquidising the hell out of it. This is best really, really smooth.

For a swanky looking finishing touch, sprinkle a few fresh coriander leaves over the top of each bowl before serving.

You could also use this soup as the sauce for a mild sweet curry – just add some more chopped veg, chickpeas, paneer, or some meat/ meat substitute.

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