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The Fine Art of Deprivation

April 17, 2012

So as I mentioned in the last update – I gave up sugar for Lent. Although what I actually did was give up a whole list of things: chocolate, sweets, crisps, chips, cake, biscuits and booze.
I’m not religious; I’m not trying to lose weight (I was the skinny nerdy girl at school and not much has changed since – though I’m told now I’m in my 30’s my metabolism will slow right down and within the next few years I’ll be huge unless I eat like a sparrow and train like Rocky), and I don’t think I’m a masochist, despite what some people say about my quite genuine love of running. I think mostly I just wanted to see if I could do it.

It sounds a bit weird, because I’ve spoken before about how much I dislike the culture that encourages us to deprive and punish ourselves by avoiding the food we really want to eat, and encourages us to see food as an enemy. But this is about something else really:  it’s more about the way that in the modern western world – even when we’re told we’re in the midst of a huge economic crisis – there’s still food everywhere, always, cheap, and readily available.


Not only will most of us never be in danger of starvation, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever face the horror of not being able to get our favourite flavour of crisps. Sugary and salty snacks -the supposed “treat foods” are the most available of all: sitting on the counter when you buy a newspaper; on the coffee table when you go round to your friends house to watch Game of Thrones; passed around the office because every single day seems to be somebody’s birthday. If you’re never more than ten feet from your nearest rat, chances are you’re never more than three feet from your nearest Morrisons chocolate crunch bite.
It’s this slightly insane abundance that makes me get into a habit sometimes, of eating treat foods just because they’re being offered to me, rather than because I actually want or especially enjoy them. Don’t get me wrong, there are loads of treats I absolutely adore – chocolate brownies,  Millionaire’s shortbread, Turkish delight,  really crispy deep fried chips with curry sauce  – I love them all and I don’t feel guilty about eating them in large amounts.
But there’s some things I’m actually not that bothered about, that for some reason, I end up eating anyway. If someone brings a bag of Greggs iced buns into the office, you can guarantee I’ll have several and I don’t even like iced buns that much.  They’re there, they’re sweet, and eating iced buns is a momentary distraction from whatever is boring or stressing me out at that moment. Same with boxes of Quality Street, bowls of leftover buffet crisps, packets of hobnobs – none of them really do anything special for me, and I never buy them for myself, but for some reason, I eat them anyway.

After all, I can eat them. It doesn’t take me any effort, it doesn’t usually cost me anything, and (thanks masochistic running sessions) it usually doesn’t even do much damage to my waistline. This is almost embarrasingly worthy , but thinking about that disgusts me a bit when a fair percentage of the world really struggles to get enough to eat.

Is unthinkingly eating food I neither need nor value really that much better than wasting food by throwing it away? I honestly feel I ought to appreciate my food a bit more than that.

There’s also the fact that a lot of those mindless treat foods contain all kinds of additives and whatnots that I can probably do without. By Easter my skin was incredibly clear and I seemed to have a bucket load of extra energy – so whether it wasabandoning sugar or abandoning additives, my body is thanking me for something.

Unthinking sugar grabbing seems to be largely an office based problem – others with desk jobs tell me they do the same thing. It’s just one more for the list of reasons that modern life is bad for us all. (Although one could reasonably argue that minimal infant mortality, votes for women and significant reduction in cases of bubonic plague are a fair enough trade off for having to spend time in meetings  eating tasteless doughnuts with people who talk about “actioning” things, instead of just doing them.)
I don’t think it was a bad idea to have some kind of enforced abstinence to stop me snacking on things I don’t actually enjoy. I figure after that maybe I’ll appreciate the treats that I do like a lot more, and try and have things I really enjoy occasionally, rather than things I don’t really enjoy all of the time. This isn’t deprivation really – seeing as the only things I’m stopping myself from eating is the stuff I don’t really want anyway.
With that in mind, here’s the recipe for the chocolate brownies that I made myself as a real treat once my Lenten fast came to an end. They are designed purely with my specific tastes in mind, so they’re rich and dark, they’re nutty, chocolatey, and very  gooey. They are everything I want from a treat. Frankly you can stick your iced buns cos these are where it’s at.

It’s a surprisingly adaptable recipe.  The gluten free flour isn’t because I’m intolerant – it’s because I once bought some Dove’s Farm gluten free flour just for a change and discovered it gave a really nice texture to things like brownies and tray bakes. If you use normal plain flour you won’t need the xanthan gum (it’s there because gluten free products can otherwise be a little too crumbly). They are dairy free, but not vegan – I have made vegan brownies in the past by using apple sauce (yes the stuff you put on pork) instead of eggs – they’re nice but it’s a very different flavour – fruity and quite light, rather than rich, thick and dark – for what it’s worth you can eat more of them without getting stomach ache. I used Vitalite for the fat in these, because it’s cheap, but if you can afford it, use the same amount of coconut oil and they’ll be even better. I like nuts, so I use lots of them – you can use any kind, and you can replace some of them with dried cherries, mixed peel, bits of chopped up banana – even something like Smarties could work.

Easter Brownies



175g of your favourite chocolate, broken into pieces

115g of Vitalite (or coconut oil, or butter)

100g gluten free flour (I use this one:

30g coconut flour or ground almonds

4 tablespoons-ish cocoa powder (in my case these tend to be rather generous tablespoons!)

A teaspoon of xanthan gum

A teaspoon of baking powder

A pinch of salt

Several handfuls of mixed chopped nuts

4 eggs

300g sugar

A shot of rum (you can replace this with a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract if you want)

A tablespoon of walnut oil

You can add some chocolate chips/buttons if you like too. Put them in with nuts.

What to do:

–          First line a baking tray with greaseproof paper – it makes getting them out of the tray later a lot simpler. I speak from experience! I use a fairly deep 9 inch tin for these.

–          Put the Vitalite in a microwavable container (ideally a jug – otherwise you’ll make a mess) with the chocolate. Then melt it in the microwave. In my 750w microwave, this means a 40 second blast on high, then a stir, then another 30 seconds. Stir it all together so you have a smooth chocolatey liquid. Put it to one side for a minute.

–          Put the flour, coconut flour or almonds, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, baking powder, nuts, chocolate chips and salt in a nice big bowl and mix them all together.

–          Break the eggs into a different container, and then add the sugar and rum to them. Stir it a bit, then pour the chocolate liquid into it and mix it all together before adding it to the dry ingredients.

–          Now mix it all together with a wooden spoon and pour it into the tin. Definitely lick the bowl out, the mixture is gorgeous.

–          You want to bake it for about half an hour on gas mark 4 (180ºC) – the usual skewer cake test doesn’t apply here. You take it out when the surface feels bouncy under your fingers but a skewer still comes out with some sticky crumbs on it (not coated in liquid, but not clean either – this is what makes them gooey!)

–          Leave the tray to cool down before you slice them up into squares. I sometimes get over-excited and try and slice them still warm. They usually fall apart when I do this, and I’m forced to eat piles of delicious, yet aesthetically unappealing crumbs.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2012 22:37

    I totally understand why you did it – a test of your integrity. I never could though. I’m very impressed. Surely you’d have had to give up fruit, vegetables etc… etc..? I’m only joking, I know what you meant 😀

  2. April 21, 2012 11:20

    I completely understand the work snack thing. I have signed up for 2 Graze boxes a week to be delivered to the bookshop. I’n on their health plan and you get really exciting combos of flavoured nuts, seeds, rice crackers and healthy cake. It’s abit expensive but I’ve decided its worth it because it makes me really happy and healthier! Although, I ate a lot of crisps at a friends house last night -oh well, life is for enjoying yourself!

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