My abbreviated version of a traditional French cassoulet, featuring L’Authentique’s Toulouse sausages.
Philippe, one of the charcutiers at L’Authentique, says that merguez sausages are traditionally eaten during summer in France. The sausages are lamb with middle eastern flavours and enough heat to keep things interesting.
In keeping with France by way of Morocco, but mindful that we are knee deep in a New Zealand winter, I’ve paired the sausages with Israeli couscous, preserved lemons and coriander, and roasted root vegetables.
Now you can pretend you’re enjoying the warmth of the French sunshine, in front of a roaring southern hemisphere fire.
L’AUTHENTIQUE MERGUEZ SAUSAGES WITH ROAST VEGETABLE ISRAELI COUSCOUS
1 onion, sliced into thin wedges
1 large carrot, and;
1 beetroot, and;
1/4 butternut, and;
1 kumara, and;
1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Israeli couscous
8-12 L’Authentique Merguez Sausages
Finely grated zest and juice of a lemon
1 tablespoon preserved lemon, pith removed and finely chopped
Two large handfuls baby spinach leaves
Large bunch coriander, chopped (or substitute parsley)
1/4 cup olive oil, extra
Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oven to 200°C
- Toss the vegetables with the olive oil and tip into a baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes until vegetables and cooked and caramelised
- Meanwhile cook the couscous. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, tip in the couscous, and cook for 7 minutes (or to manufacturer’s instructions). Drain and set aside.
- Heat a large frying pan over a medium/high heat. Add a little olive oil and cook the sausages until golden brown and cooked to medium rare.
- To make the salad, toss together the roasted vegetables, israeli couscous, preserved lemon, lemon zest, spinach and coriander. Pour over lemon juice and extra olive oil, toss again and season to taste.
- Serve the sausages with the couscous salad and garnish with extra coriander if desired.
Day 36: Monday
We’re at the end of a long weekend, and another spent at Waiheke. It has been a stunning couple of days. Very warm and sunny, especially for early June. Lots of walks had, the kids had a great time with their little cousins, all very relaxing.
Our times at Waiheke, as I may have mentioned previously, are invariably punctuated by drinking. A rose or bloody mary at lunch (or 2 or 3), then wine from 6pm. Richard’s parents have enough self discipline to set rules around when drinks start and finish, so it is rare that we start drinking at lunch time and carry on into the evening.
But it has been known to happen.
This time, of course, there was none of that. At least, none from our side. The rest of the family (excluding kids, we’re not complete animals) continued as usual, which to be honest was welcomed. And from what I could see, it didn’t affect our dynamic at all.
Everyone was accepting of what we are trying to do, and supported us in our endeavours. To be honest, I didn’t really miss it at all.
Day 37: Tuesday
So, this is supposed to be the halfway mark. Except it isn’t, as I explained last week. I was going to do a full check in, with photos, looking at weight, size, skin, liver count and so on, but it probably is more sensible to push that out until my new halfway mark, at the end of week 7.
For what it’s worth:
- I’ve lost just under 2kg
- The bags under my eyes are less pronounced (photos later
- I’ll talk to the doctor about another liver test tomorrow
I’d like to tell you I’m saving a fortune, but after roughly a month, I’m not seeing a demonstrable difference, so I think I need to analyse the numbers a bit more closely. I don’t feel like I’m spending more on food, but who knows.
Day 38: Wednesday
Haha! After writing yesterday that my weight had dropped by just under two kilogrames, I woke this morning to find another 500g had disappeared JUST LIKE THAT!
Friends keep commenting about how much weight I must be losing, but I hadn’t really been seeing it so far. I mentioned early on that I’d rejoined Weight Watchers, so I am watching what I eat, and exercising daily, but not obsessively so. The main change has been removing alcohol from my diet.
I feel like my clothes are fitting me a bit better, but that could be wishful thinking. It’s probably time to take some more photos (I took some at the beginning of this, but haven’t posted yet) and see what’s really happening. Once again, I think I’ll wait until my new halfway mark.
Day 39: Thursday
Rich and I had another conversation about what our drinking habits might look like when we finally start again.
I’m a bit worried that I’ll do what I did post-pregnancy. I distinctly remember a phone conversation I had with my sister when I was about 38 weeks pregnant:
Me: ” You know, I think I could easily never drink again”
Bec: “Me too”
Fast forward 6 weeks or so….. actually, I was breast feeding then, so it wasn’t that bad, but it’s fair to say I certainly wasn’t abstaining for very long after giving birth. The volume kept heading upwards too, as the years have passed.
Rich doesn’t seem to be very worried about new habits at all, but I am. I feel like what is the point of having done this if I’m just going to slide back into old patterns?
Current thinking is:
- Try to follow the Ministry of Health guidelines (no more than 10 drinks per week)
- Don’t drink on school nights (Sunday to Thursday)
The not drinking school nights is because I’m really loving the amount of energy I have during the day. I’m charging through more, I feel more motivated, I don’t get to the end of the day and feel like I’ve been wasting time. It’s a pleasantly unexpected side effect.
Day 40: Friday
I am so bored with myself.
I came home tonight after a day sampling sausages for some good friends. I’d been on my feet all day, it hadn’t been as busy as I would have hoped, and I was tired. I just wanted to pour myself a glass of wine, put my feet up and relax in front of the TV for the evening.
But no. No drinking for me. No drinking for me for another 6 weeks!
Seriously, this really sucks. I feel like the fun has been sucked out of my life. We hardly ever go out at night any more, I never feel silly, or super relaxed. Or just drunk. Because being drunk is fun! Not being really drunk, but a little bit drunk is fun.
And this isn’t fun.
I don’t smoke, I don’t take drugs, I eat healthily, I exercise regularly, surely I’m allowed one vice! I know that the wheels had fallen off lately, and the discipline has gone sideways, but for GOD’S SAKE, I can’t do this forever!
Sorry. I don’t mean to shout. I’m just annoyed.
Day 41: Saturday
I didn’t cave. I was very controlled and didn’t drink last night. It helps that there is no wine in the house, and hitting the liquor cabinet felt more than a little extreme.
I also felt considerably more rational about what I’m doing. I needed to remind myself that my doctor had an overt expression of relief on her face when I said I wasn’t going to drink for three months. Which means my liver is not as healthy as I have been deluding myself that it is.
We went out to a friend’s house for dinner tonight, which was great. It made me realise that I can be around people who are drinking without drinking myself, and still have a good time. My enjoyment of the company of others is not dependent on booze. Even better, my recollection of the night is sharp, and I won’t wake with a hangover in the morning.
Plus we could drive both ways, no Uber required.
I need to keep reminding myself of the little things.
What I’ve learned this week: Why we drink.
I was interested in why we, as humans, feel the need to drink. To be intoxicated. I know it feels good, but then it feels bad, so wouldn’t we just not? After all, alcohol is poison, we are highly evolved, mostly clever beings, wouldn’t we just stay away from it?
Is there something at an evolutionary level that makes us like alcohol, despite it’s inherent dangers?
Robert Dudley, who is a professor of biology at UC Berkley and author of the book Drunken Monkey, says our love of alcohol can be traced back to our evolutionary ancestors need to find food. More specifically, the need for monkeys to find fruit which is ripe. Ripe fruit gives off a distinctive alcohol smell, especially in tropical climates, which is a strong identifier for when fruit is ready to eat. Given the short window that fruit is ripe for before becoming rotten, it’s best to eat as much as you can before it gets eaten by others or before it runs out. Luckily, alcohol stimulates appetite, another evolutionary advantage.
To quote Dudley’s opinion piece in the Huffington Post:
“..the psychoactive effects of alcohol, as contained within sugar-rich fruit pulp, may have evolved to let hungry primates more efficiently find and consume scarce calories in the forest. This is part of our ancestral sensory and behavioral baggage that is retained into modern times. We even obtain health benefits from low-level alcohol consumption relative to either abstention or high levels of drinking.”
Anthropologically, alcohol has been part of human culture for millenia, playing an important role in communal life, socially, spiritually and emotionally.
Although it is very difficult to find non-judgemental information about how alcohol affects our brain and what part that plays in our liking for it, I eventually found out that alcohol stimulates cortex, hippocampus and nucleus accumbens, which are responsible for thinking and pleasure seeking.
According to howstuffworks.com,
“Alcohol affects brain chemistry by altering levels of neurotransmitters…Alcohol increases the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. GABA causes the sluggish movements and slurred speech…At the same time, alcohol inhibits the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. Suppressing this stimulant results in a similar type of physiological slowdown. In addition to increasing the GABA and decreasing the glutamate in the brain, alcohol increases the amount of the chemical dopamine in the brain’s reward center, which creates the feeling of pleasure that occurs when someone takes a drink.”
So dopamine appears to be pretty key for making us want to drink. We drink, dopamine is released, we feel good. Until we feel bad in the morning.
My 50th birthday is far closer than I’d like. It’s a mere 18 months away. Although I shouldn’t be dwelling on it, I do sometimes, freak myself out, then try to busy myself with other things to take my mind off my advancing age.
It’s quite bloody old really. HALF A GODDAMN CENTURY FOR CRISSAKES!!!!!!!
Anyway. Because I’m now an old person, I’m taking stock. These are ten things I’ve stopped doing.
Number 1: Lying about my age
Well, duh. That’s fairly evident from the title of this post.
I used to lie about my age. Or just omit to tell people how old I was. I really hated turning 40, all my work colleagues at the time were in their 20’s so I just wouldn’t say how old I was. And hope that they would think I was significantly younger than I am.
Now I don’t care what other people think. I am as old as I am. That give me life experience, kids that are heading into their teens, a comfortable lifestyle, a few wrinkles and an occasionally dodgy body.
Besides, I like to think I’m young on the inside. (Feel free to roll your eyes here)
Number 2: Botox
I started using Botox in my late 30’s. I had deep frown lines between my eyebrows, which I wanted to eradicate. My frown muscles were so strong that I didn’t realise I was frowning most of the time, so was continually told to “stop frowning” by well meaning passers by.
Fast forward 10 years, and the Botox had removed my frown. Unfortunately in the meantime, my aging face had developed crows feet around my eyes, marionette lines on either side of my mouth, plus other assorted signs of age. I should say, on the whole, I don’t look too bad for my age, but the amount of Botox I would need to sort out my wrinkles was getting out of hand.
As was the cost. I’ve written often about our move to downsize last year, and my continued Botox use felt like it was doing the opposite. Where I was trying to save money in all other parts of my life, my Botox bill was going up.
So I stopped. Result? Ten years of use means my frown muscles have atrophied. I’ve forgotten how to frown. There are a few extra lines where there weren’t before, but I’m ok with them. Afterall, I’m nearly 50.
Number 3: Going to Beauticians
Now if this isn’t a pit to sink your money into!
I stopped having facials years ago, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was having Botox. No amount of facials will do the job injectables do. Secondly, facials are pretty much expensive snake oil. You feel great for half an hour or so, with your wallet $100 lighter, then the next day you look precisely the same as you did before having the facial. Thirdly, I have sensitive skin. If the beauty products aren’t right, I break out. Not a risk I fancy taking.
Every so often I get my nails done, but to be honest, it’s cheaper to do it myself. And I do a pretty good job.
And massages? Don’t get me started. This may be a job for a psychologist, but I lie on the bed thinking of the dozens of other things I could be doing instead. I’d rather relax with a good book.
Number 4: Buying expensive cosmetics
I used to own beauty products and makeup items to rival your common-or-garden Kardashian.
Then my skin packed up. I got eczema on my face, which was far from attractive, and which wouldn’t heal. My doctor narrowed the cause down to the perfumed, highly branded beauty products I was using, and recommended moving to perfume-free supermarket brands. No attractive packaging, no fancy names, no Baz Luhrmann shot commercials. This was as basic as moisturiser can get.
I should add that around this time I spoke to a Beauty Editor colleague, who asked not be names, lest her magazine lose the immense amount of lucrative beauty advertising it receives. When I asked what products I should be using on my face, she said a cleanser and a moisturiser. That’s it. Because everything else does the same thing.
I was specifically interested in an eye cream. My moisturiser does the same thing as an eye cream (this from the Beauty Editor). There is no need to spend money on extra products. So now I don’t.
Number 5: Lying in the Sun
See all the points above. If I want to avoid my skin looking like a dried up piece of leather, then spending hours sunbaking just isn’t going to cut it. I can see the difference in others of my age who have spent hours in the sun – the years are not being kind. For many of them the damage was done when they were in their teens, but I figure it’s never too late to break a bad habit.
To be honest, I’ve never really been much of a sunbather, but now hats, sunblock and general sun avoidance is essential.
Plus, you know, cancer.
Number 6: Going to the gym
I should point out this doesn’t mean I’m no longer exercising. I just can’t tolerate gyms any longer.
I’m not sure what it is exactly. Too many people obsessed with how much they can lift? Too much lycra? Too much vanity?
Jokes aside, possibly a combination of this, alongside feeling the pressure to be fitter, thinner, stronger, better, which I really just can’t be bothered with any longer. There’s enough pressure already to be all of those things without adding a temple to worship the gods of fitness to the mix.
All of which creates barriers for me to even go to the gym. Forget that I’m paying vast sums of money to be there. I just don’t enjoy the experience, so I avoid it. Which is not great for me getting enough exercise into my day.
So I’ve decided to focus on exercise I enjoy. Exercise I don’t have to drive to (another barrier). I walk. Almost every day. It’s good for my head and my body. I enjoy walking alongside our beautiful harbour, which makes my heart sing. I make the most of the time by listening to podcasts, or making calls to friends. And I walk, so I can tick the exercise box.
Number 7: Working in an office
I love this one especially. It’s not so much about the office per se, but what the office represented.
A career I’d fallen out of love with, clients who were obsessively critical, office politics that I was never savvy enough to understand.
A marriage under duress, children I didn’t see enough, a home I was too busy to enjoy.
A body that was falling apart, skin riddled with eczema, hair falling out, a near-miss breakdown.
It’s not surprising that my love/hate relationship with my work had become a hate/hate.
So now I work from home. I’m free to pursue my dreams, to write as the mood takes me, to cook, to nuture my family, to nuture my marriage, to nuture myself. I’m happy and at peace, for the first time properly in my adult life. It’s only taken me half a century.
I know that not everyone can do this, because it is a luxury to be able to afford to work without income for a period of time. To step off a corporate ladder is to take an immense financial risk, and we have made some sacrifice to get here. But the sacrifices for us were insignificant and superficial in the end. Which makes us immensely fortunate and privileged.
Number 8: Wearing heels
I used to wear heels every day. Sky scrapingly high heels, heels you could get vertigo from wearing. My party trick was to take off my heels to show people how short (5’3″, 159cm) I am. Tada!
Then the injuries started.
Aside from falling off said heels a couple of times after one or two too many (another reason for 10 weeks alcohol free), which resulted in grazed hands and a bruised ego, I was experiencing more serious, long term damage to the tendons in my ankles. I would wake during the night and walk like a woman of 80, with pain through my feet.
My physio recommended that I stop wearing heels. Which I resisted for quite a while, until the same injury happened again. So I gave up, and haven’t worn anything above a 5cm heel since.
I don’t miss it. I can still spend money on shoes with the best of them. The plus side was a whole world of flat shoes opened up where I had never seen them before. Sneakers, brogues, loafers, slippers, mules, sandals. I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all. And I never fall off my shoes now.
Number 9: Wearing my hair long
This went with the heels thing. I had a look. Long hair, a fringe over my eyes, vertiginously high heels, and short skirts.
When the heels went, the hair and the skirts suddenly didn’t work. The length of my hair was dragging my face down, making me look older. The short skirts looked wrong with flat shoes. I felt like I was trying too hard to look young.
So I totally changed my look. My hair now sits just above my shoulders, the fringe has grown out, the short skirts have been replaced with trousers in winter, maxi dresses in summer, and always, always, flat shoes. I’m so much more comfortable with how I look now.
Number 10: Indiscriminate friendships
This one is important.
When I worked in advertising, I had so many “friends”. Friends to go out to lunch with, friends to drink to much with, friends to complain about the industry with, friends to gossip with.
Then I left, and many of my so called friends disappeared. I was hurt initially, until I realised that they were friendships with many conditions attached. Some were friendships based on the money I could spend with the companies they worked for. When I stopped having a media budget, I stopped being of value. Some were friendships based on being in the trenches together. When my tour of duty was over, we suddenly had no common ground.
But many of my friends remained. They’re the ones where the friendships are deeper than the superficiality of common employment. They’re the friends where we’re there through thick and thin with each other. The people I can talk to for hours about anything and everything.
In a way its been cleansing to clear out the indiscriminate friends. Like going through your wardrobe and getting rid of the clutter, to see the beautiful pieces you’d forgotten you had.
GREEK PORK, CAPSICUM AND FETA
This is a simple mid-week style dinner, that comes together in less than an hour. The flavours deepen with time, so you could make it the day before.
2 tablespoons olive oil
600g pork leg or scotch fillet
2 onions finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried mint
3 red capsicums, deseeded, finely sliced
2 x 400g cans crushed tomatoes
6 silverbeet leaves, stalks removed, chopped
Handful parsley chopped, plus extra to garnish
Fresh crusty bread to serve
- Heat oven grill to highest heat (250⁰C)
- Heat oil in a large fry pan over medium/high heat. Cook pork in batches until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Reheat pan over medium heat. Add onions, capsicum and garlic and cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until onion is translucent and soft.
- Sprinkle over dried herbs and cook for another minute.
- Pour over tinned tomatoes and return pork to the pan. Stir to combine, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes or until sauce has thickened slightly (it should still be quite runny)
- Stir through chopped silverbeet, olives and chopped parsley and cook for another 5 minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper
- Crumble feta over the top of the pork and tomato sauce. Place the fry pan under the grill until feta is starting to brown (about 5 minutes)
- Remove from heat and serve, sprinkled with extra chopped parsley and with crusty bread on the side to mop up the juices
As you may have realised, I’ve been working with L’Authentique Charcuterie for many weeks now. They make amazing sausages, pates and parfaits, which I am proud to be able to support. They value quality, ethical farming methods and traditional French charcuterie.
Their packaging and conversations with customers reinforce the need for quality, and treating their product with care. Direct quote about their Beef Steak Sausages: “You treat our sausages as if they were a fine cut of steak”
Which got me thinking – how do I treat a fine cut of steak? Or more importantly, how would the French treat it? In 1980?
I have always been a fan of a good green peppercorn sauce. It was a must on the menus of the French restaurants I worked in during the late 1980’s and early 90’s. It is delicious and deserves a resurgence.
And it matches surprisingly well with L’Authentique’s Beef Steak Sausages.
L’AUTHENTIQUE BEEF STEAK SAUSAGES WITH GREEN PEPPERCORN SAUCE
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
1/4 cup brandy
1 cup good quality beef stock
1/2 cup cream
2 Tablespoons green peppercorns
6-8 L’Authentique Beef Steak Sausages (allow 1-2 per person, depending on hunger)
- In a small saucepan, heat the butter over a medium heat.
- Add the shallots and cook, stirring until soft (about 5 minutes)
- Add the brandy and bring to the boil, cooking until all the alcohol has burnt off
- Pour over beef stock, return to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced by half (about 10 minutes).
- Pour over cream, add peppercorns, return to the boil, then simmer until sauce has thickened (about 5 minutes)
- While sauce is cooking, cook the sausages as per the instructions on the pack (cook to medium rare, as with a piece of steak)
- Serve sausages with peppercorn sauce poured over the top, with crisp fried and salad or steamed beans. Bon appetit!
Day 29: Monday
Blimey, it’s been almost a month since I stopped. Except for Sydney.
It seems to keep coming back to that – except for Sydney.
I feel like a bit of a fraud, because I’d only been off drinking for 10 days before I went, then had 4 days of wine. Not a great deal admittedly, but enough. And being where I am now, it feels like I actually drank quite a lot, comparatively.
I think I need to add two weeks to this process, so I can honestly say I stopped for ten weeks. It does make things a bit challenging at the end, when I have two weeks skiing, which generally includes wine, but I think I just have to suck it up. Otherwise, it will always be 10 weeks minus 4 days.
So there we have it. I won’t start drinking again until 31st July. Which is a Monday, so realistically, it’ll be later that week.
Day 30: Tuesday
I was thinking some more about how I’m dealing with time out versus how Rich is dealing with it. I wrote last week about our fraught history with alcohol, but I think I was really skimming over the top.
Rich is coping very well with not drinking and doesn’t seem to miss it very much at all. He’s up early, sleeping well, charging through work during the day, no headaches, no insomnia, none of the things that have plagued me.
Except it is affecting him. Although he doesn’t think it is. Stopping drinking has taken away his relaxation mechanic. He isn’t noticing it, but I am.
This is a familiar story – he’d come home from work, tired and stressed, open a beer and the stress and anxiety from the day would go. The beer would give him energy, so his mood would lift. I’m sure I was doing the same thing, but my days are no longer as stressful, so I no longer have the same need for release at the end of them.
Rich still does. And from what I can see, he hasn’t really found an alternative that works as well. He’s taken to playing a world domination style computer game that allows him to at least switch off, then watching TV for a few hours does more of the same. But he doesn’t have the same spark in the evenings, post beer drinking.
I am worried that it’s affecting his desire to socialise with other people. Rich is one of those rare people who bridge the divide between extrovert and introvert, while I fall firmly in the extrovert camp. He can go either way – he loves the company of friends, but can easily retreat into his own space for weeks on end, and not find that problematic. I, on the other hand, need to see people daily. While we have organised a few social events, he seems less inclined to see people.
I’m not sure that he’s really aware of it. Given that I’m keeping this diary, I’m becoming accustomed to micro-analysing every aspect of my personality and my responses to people, situations and stimuli. I’m my own petri-dish. But Rich is a man very much on the lower end of the EQ scale, and is therefore not prone to self examination. The opposite could be said of me, I guess.
Self obsessed much?
Day 31: Wednesday
So while we’re talking about the socialising thing, I had an enlightening conversation with a friend today. We discussed catching up one night, and she asked if I was still off the booze.
Her: Well, we might need to catch up for a walk then
Apparently I have friends who are not interested in seeing me at night unless there’s wine involved. WTAF? I’m not really sure what to think about that. I have no desire to stop other people from drinking, and I really don’t see how my abstinence should be impacting anyone else’s ability to have a good time. My intention is not to highlight anyone else’s self-perceived short comings.
If people want to drink, so be it. I’m not here to judge. I’m just doing this because I need to do this for me. Not anyone else.
Another friend (one who doesn’t mind that I’m not drinking), sent me a link to this great piece about “Bad Questions to Ask Someone Sober”. Anne T Donahue is an alcoholic, now four years sober (yay her!). I especially liked her response to the statement “I could never quite drinking”:
“..if I am making you uncomfortable by not ordering a beer or whatever, that really isn’t my fucking problem. It’s truly not. I don’t care. I think it’s weird that you need me to drink so that you can have fun, because I don’t remember ever asking anyone not to drink to help me have more fun. It’s not my job to make someone feel comfortable about their choices when their choices have nothing to do with me. And I’ll say that while 95% of everybody I know truly don’t care what I do or do not partake in, the 5% who’ve been bothered are people I have absolutely no desire to be around. It’s not my job to make them feel okay about who they are or what they’re doing. It’s up to them to figure out what their issues are.”
What she said.
Day 32: Thursday
I keep thinking that all the literature I’m reading doesn’t quite apply to me.
The majority of the commentary available online targets alcoholics, addicts, problem drinkers. I was never a problem drinker.
At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Every day that fable is being broken down. I’m starting to recognise that I do not have a normal relationship with alcohol. That the volume I was drinking was moderate to heavy at best.
That I may not have fallen into the category of “alcoholic” but I more than likely fall into “problem drinker”. There was nothing mindful about the way I’ve been drinking.
I’d justified my drinking by looking at everyone around me. Surely all my friends couldn’t have issues with alcohol. But I think that’s the thing. I’d normalised the amount I was drinking, and using my social circle to justify what I was doing to myself.
I don’t want to sounds like I’m judging my friends either. After all, they will continue to be my friends. I have no intention of abandoning the people I hold most dear because I’m choosing to rebalance my decisions.
On top of that, this realisation is making me understand how much of the literature does apply to me.
It’s a little frightening being this honest with myself. It makes me feel more than a little sick. Still. A least I’m moving forward and making change.
Day 33: Friday
I caught up with a former employer this week. Within minutes he was telling me a story about a big night out he’d had that culminated in his drinking shots on his own.
Feeling quite wholesome now.
What I’ve learned this week: Binge Drinking
Binge drinking is a lot less than you’d think. Or at least a lot less than I’d ever thought.
In New Zealand the Ministry of Health defines a binge drinking episode as being more than:
- 4 standard drinks for women on any single occasion
- 5 standard drinks for men on any single occasion.
Bearing in mind that a standard drink is 100ml of wine or 330ml of beer (at 4% alcohol. Most premium beers are 5%+). Five beers in an evening seems like a not insignificant amount, but given the average wine pour is 150ml, a binge night is less than three glasses of wine for women.
Which is a lot less than you’d think.
It’s also worth reading this piece taken from the synopsis of the BBC’s science show, Horizon. They followed identical twin doctors, using the UK NHS’s daily limit alcohol guidelines:
- Men should not regularly (every day, or most days per week) drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day (in NZ 3 units, with two days alcohol free)
- Women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day (in NZ 2 units, with two days alcohol free)
One twin drank to the above guidelines – 3 standard drinks per day for a month. The other saved his weekly allowance to drink in one sitting. 21 standard drinks.
The assumption was that drinking moderately on a daily basis would be less harmful than saving it all up for the weekend. And to be fair, the immediate damage was significant:
“But when we looked at all the readings we’d taken, he’d clearly been in a dangerous state the night before. He was actually at his worst a few hours after we’d gone to sleep, when the level of alcohol in his blood was, according to the text books, enough to put him at danger of death.”
They also found that despite not drinking all week, the damage being done in the weekend was not being repaired during the 6 days off.
However, more surprisingly, at the end of the month, tests found that both twins had similar levels of damage done to their bodies. And the results have lead to the NHS reviewing their guidelines:
- Both twins had significant inflammation to their livers to almost the same extent (around 25%).
- Blood tests showed they both had increased systemic inflammation which is commonly elevated in patients that are extremely unwell
- Both of their bodies were reacting to the increased alcohol levels as if they were fighting injury or infection
- Endotoxin levels were higher in Xand (the weekly binge drinker) At binge drinking levels acetaldehyde damages the gut lining which leads to bacteria leaking into the blood and being circulated around the body. This is cause for concern as it has the potential to permanently alter your body’s immune response. The prolonged presence of endotoxins in your bloodstream can also eventually lead to alcohol hepatitis (liver inflammation).
- While bingeing is significantly worse, moderate drinking of 21 units a week was not safe either as the twins’ liver tests showed inflammation levels similar to those seen in cirrhosis patients.
(Source: NZ Herald)
I am well aware that this is the second week in a row that I’ve written about illness. Generally I am not especially obsessed with the possibility of getting sick. Except that it’s now officially winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and as if a cosmic alarm went off, cue me coming down with a cold.
Actually, cue me and both of my children coming down with a cold. So not only do I feel like rubbish, I have to ignore my own ill health in favour of my children’s.
Anyway, this is not supposed to be a pity party. More an observation about illness, and the way people react to it. Particularly illness of the viral kind. Particularly my family.
Amongst certain members of my family, being sick comes with finger pointing and blame. They research, track and hunt down those responsible for their sickness. The seriousness of the crime of passing on a virus is reflected by the severity of the punishment. The ultimate scarlet letter – the virus is given the offender’s name.
It becomes “Jane’s Cold” or “Brian’s Stomach Bug” or “Hazel’s Strep Throat”.
Well after the original virus has gone, the offended party back to full health, the story of “Jane’s Cold” is retold again and again. With judgement attached.
“How could Jane have come to dinner/lunch/for a walk KNOWING that she was going to pass on HER cold?”
Because Jane is nothing if not an malicious, evil woman, who fully intended to share her disease with everyone she came into contact with.
Despite the fact that every visit to the supermarket puts you into contact with the germs from hundreds of hands that have touched their trolleys. Every trip to a shopping mall has you breathing the same air as thousands of others. Every trip on a plane, bus, ferry, in a taxi can leave you exposed. Your children come home from school crawling with God knows how many viruses, which you may or may not catch.
I’m quietly confident, that while Jane has a cold, there’s an even chance that you may not even have her exact cold. And even if you avoid Jane like the plague-carrying sickie she is, chances are you’ve just caught norovirus from the random who’s trolley you’ve just pinched in the supermarket carpark.
My advice? Wash your hands. Get a flu shot. Take vitamin C (although the science is a little sketchy here). Forget about avoiding people who might be sick and live your life. If you are unfortunate enough to get a cold, have some respect for others and keep it at home. Rest up. Drink tea. Get better. And thank God you’ve lived you life fully and that it isn’t Ebola.
And stay the hell away from Jane. That woman’s bad news.
BEEF AND PUY LENTIL BROTH, WITH PARSLEY PESTO
Last week I made lentils with Toulouse Sausage from L’Authentique, and had quite a few lentils left over. Cold weather and sore throats makes me want soothing, hearty, winter fare, and this beef broth ticks all those boxes, and was a great way to use up leftovers.
Make sure you use a casserole quality cut of beef here. Anything fancier will not have the flavour you need, and won’t respond as favourably to the slow cooking.
For the broth:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 kg gravy beef or other casserole quality beef, cut into chunks
4 rashers bacon, sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf, 2 sprig thyme, a few bits of parsley, tied together to make a bouquet garni
1 cup red wine
1 litre beef stock
1 cup puy lentils
1/2 savoy cabbage, chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
salt/pepper to taste
For the parsley pesto:
1 cup walnuts
2 cups parsley leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Heat the oil in a heavy based soup pot.
- Add the beef and brown in batches until deep brown. Remove and set aside.
- Reheat the pan over a medium heat. Add the bacon, and cook until crisp and golden.
- Reduce the heat to medium/low and add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are cooked.
- Add the bouquet garni, increase the heat to high and add the red wine. Allow to bubble up to cook off the alcohol.
- Return the beef to the pan and add the beef stock and water. Bring to the boil, reduce to simmer and cook, covered for 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, make the parsley pesto by putting parsley, walnuts, parmesan, garlic and salt in a food processor and process until reduced to a breadcrumb consistency. With the motor running add the lemon juice and olive oil and process until combined. It should be a liquid mix – add more oil if you feels it’s needed.
- Check the meat is very tender. If not, leave it for another 30 minutes or so.
- Add the lentils and savoy cabbage, stir and cook for another 30 minutes.
- Add red wine vinegar, return to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve drizzled with parsley pesto, alongside warmed crusty bread and lashings of butter.
I’d never really considered using sausage on pizza, but this is so good! The pork and fennel flavour with mushrooms, basil and cheese works a treat. And as always, my friends from L’Authentique make the best sausages in town. They’re just meat and spices, so no danger of eating anything you really shouldn’t.
I’ve given you the recipes to make the pizza from scratch, but if you can’t be bothered or time is tight, feel free to use store bought pizza bases and sauce. It’s ok. I won’t judge you.
L’AUTHENTIQUE PORK & FENNEL SAUSAGE PIZZA
This recipe is from Al Brown’s fabulous book Stoked. It’s quite a wet dough, but I’ve found that if you use strong (high-grade) flour and give it time to develop, you can handle it without too much trouble. This makes a thick crust pizza base.
500ml warm water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
4 1/2 cups strong (high grade) flour
2 tsp salt
- Put the warm water in a bowl and add yeast and sugar. Stir then leave for 5 minutes or until the yeast begins to bubble
- Using the dough hook attachment on a stand cake mixer, mix together the water/yeast mixture with the flour and salt on low speed for 8-10 minutes until smooth.
- Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and sit in a warm place to prove. Knock back a couple of times with oiled hands
- Break off pieces of dough to size required. Place on oiled tray and stretch until relatively thin (this takes a bit of effort)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- Heat olive oil over a low heat. Add red onion, garlic, oregano and chilli flakes (if using) and cook until onion is soft.
- Add tins of tomatoes, bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced and thick
- Add red wine vinegar and cook until acidity has simmered off.
- Season to taste.
Topping (per pizza):
1/2 ball fresh mozzarella
¼ cup grated parmesan
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 mushrooms, finely sliced
2 L’Authentique Pork & Fennel Sausages, casings removed
Handful fresh basil leaves
- Heat oven to 220C.
- Shape the pizza base to fit a 30cm diameter pizza tin, and brush the top of the base with olive oil.
- Spread pizza sauce over the base until evenly covered (use about ¼ of the above recipe).
- Arrange slices of mozzarella over pizza, sprinkle over parmesan and rosemary.
- Top with mushrooms, then break up sausage and dot all over the pizza.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until base is golden.
- Remove from oven and scatter over fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately
We have a challenging relationship with illness in my family. I’m not talking serious illness (at least at this point), but just your average, common-or-garden varietal colds, sore stomachs and aches and pains.
In my family, there’s a divide between my mother’s and my father’s sides of the family. My mother comes from a family of Scotsmen, which I guess sums up all there is to say about stoicism. Or damned bloody mindedness, for a more direct turn of phrase.
The general approach to sickness among our clan is to suck it up and get on with it. My mother’s approach to handling me as a unwell child was “go to school and see how you feel”. Code for “unless you have the plague you’re not staying home”.
When it came to my grandmother, her approach was benign, but as it turns out, deadly. She avoided going to the doctor at all costs, lest she be found malingering. She’d talk to the doctor about his personal problems, rather than her own (I should mention my grandmother was Scottish, white haired and under 5 feet tall. Like a miniature Mrs Doubtfire). Ultimately, a sore above her top lip, which she’d avoided having treatment for, developed into a malignancy which had to be cut out, leaving a nasty scar. She died far too young at 70, after complaining for months about breathlessness caused by issues with her legs. Her actual issue was that she was diabetic, and as a result had heart problems, which could have been easily treated. We didn’t find that out until after she died from a heart attack.
My father’s side of the family takes a completely opposing approach. My paternal grandmother lived to be 98 (albeit with dementia), unbelievably sound of body, if not mind. She walked, played croquet, worked in her garden, and took herself off to bed at the slightest hint of a tickle at the back of her throat. We were warned not to kiss her, unless we fell to “the Bot”. Not really sure what that’s short for.
My father has followed in her footsteps. Even a hint of illness warrants a doctors visit. Much to my mother’s chagrin. She sighs, rolls her eyes, and talks about his hypochondria. Dad is healthy as an ox in his mid-70’s, goes to the gym three times a week, plays sport, goes fishing, is generally active, and rarely unwell. Mum, has angina, polymyalgia (a kind of rheumatism), a high risk of bowl cancer and takes a raft of medication, which has subsequently given her kidney issues.
I should mention my father’s family were based in New Zealand in WW2, with all the opportunity that afforded. My mother’s family were in Scotland, and were far more exposed to nutritional and environmental challenges that shaped the way they thought and behaved.
The point of all this is how it affects the way I think. I am rubbish at being sympathetic when my kids are unwell. I have, embarrassingly, adopted my mother’s suck-it-and-see approach to sending kids to school when they’re feeling sick.
I feel terrible every time I do it and get the call later in the day from the school nurse.
I always feel like a fraud when I go to the doctor. I’ve recently had an allergic reaction which has resulted in a rash over most of my body. I tried, for 10 days, to treat it with antihistamines, until I finally caved and went to A&E. If I’d been more prepared to face a doctor before it became unbearable, I might have saved myself $100 by making an appointment with my GP. That allergy has become chronic urticaria, which if not resolved in the next week, will lead to visits to an immunologist.
So I’m not sure that taking the stoic approach is best. While I worry my kids are missing school, the alternative is to send them to school and have their potential virus spread like wildfire. An illness that could be easily resolved by getting onto it early can end up being something far more serious without treatment (as demonstrated by my late maternal grandmother).
Time to suppress the little voice in my head that says I’m a fraud, or that my children are pretending, or that my husband is a hypochondriac and take the time to look after ourselves. Better to live a long healthy life, with the odd day in bed recovering, than a short life, with head held high because I could “suck it up”.
PEARS POACHED IN MULLED WINE
Red wine, in small doses, is shown to have great health benefits. Good for body and soul. Here’s a recipe that makes great use of seasonal pears, which I’ve prepared for my friend Charlotte. Her blog A Beautiful Mind, to raise awareness of possible ways to prevent Alzhiemer’s Disease. Her blog this week is all about red wine, so make sure you go and have a read.
2 cups red wine
1/3 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
Peel of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
4 pears, peeled (I used buerre bosc)
100g greek yoghurt
- In a medium saucepan, heat red wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, orange peel and vanilla essence. Bring to a simmer and stir until sugar as dissolved.
- Add pears, bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 1 hour, turning carefully to keep the pears evenly coloured.
- Remove from heat and refrigerate until cooled.
- Check red wine syrup for thickness. If sauce hasn’t reduced during cooking process, strain our spices and return sauce to the boil. Cook until desired thickness is reached.
- Mix mascapone and yoghurt together until evenly combined.
- Serve pears drizzled with red wine syrup, with mascapone alongside.
This is one of my favourite ways to cook sausages. Well technically, the sausages are cooked the same way they often are – fried in a pan until golden and juicy. And since I’m using L’Authentique sausages, the quality cuts of meat they use mean their sausages should never be overcooked! I’m on pain of death if I dare to leave them a minute longer than I should.
It’s the lentil braise that makes this dish. Lardons of bacon, red wine, garlic, herbs, all cooked to perfection. And the addition of half a head of cabbage means you don’t need to fuss with extra vegetables. It’s all there on the plate.
If you really felt that you need more carbs, you could make like the French and serve this with a crusty baguette to soak up the juices.
L’AUTHENTIQUE TOULOUSE SAUSAGES WITH RED WINE AND CABBAGE LENTILS
2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cooking sausages
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped into lardons
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf, a sprig of thyme and parsley, tied together with string (bouquet garni)
1 1/2 cups puy lentils
2 cups red wine
1/2 green cabbage, finely sliced
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
Extra parsley to garnish
8 L’Authentique Toulouse Sausages
- In a heavy based casserole dish, heat the olive oil. Add bacon and fry until crisp
- Reduce heat, add onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook slowly, stirring, until vegetables are soft.
- Add puy lentils, bouquet garni and red wine. Bring to the boil so alcohol evaporates, then add cabbage and stir to combine.
- Reduce heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes adding extra water if the lentils start to dry out (there should be sauce).
- While lentils are cooking, cook the sausages as per the instructions on the pack. Remove from pan and keep warm.
- Check that the lentils are cooked (they should be al dente). Add vinegar and butter, stir to combine and cook for another 5 minutes.
- Season to taste, then serve lentils with sauce, sausages piled on top.
Day 22: Monday
Once again the week gets off to a good start. I’m feeling really energised, so much so that I’ve taken to doing 20 minutes of yoga as soon as I get out of bed. Mostly it’s so there’s one less thing to do later in the day, but it seems to be getting the day off to a good start.
I asked Rich tonight how he’s finding it so far. He took a whole year off a few years back. We had been having some relationship difficulties at the time, due to a number of things, not least of which was the amount he was drinking.
When I met Rich, we bonded over our shared love of champagne, sashimi and big nights out. There were a lot of nightclubs, a lot of Verve Cliquot and a lot of trips to Japanese restaurants.
Unfortunately, my stamina was no match for my soon to be husband’s. Where I would collapse into bed in the early AMs, he could drink onto into the next evening. And become impossible to find. No amount of calling his phone would get him to answer it to let me know he wasn’t lying half dead (or completely dead) in a hospital somewhere.
This pattern carried on into our married life, into our new life in London, into our new parenthood, into our return to New Zealand. He would take days off work, forget birthdays and anniversaries. I would go to bed thinking he was in the lounge having one last glass before bed, only to hear a taxi pull up and the front door close at midnight when he decided to head out. It didn’t matter whether it was Saturday night or Tuesday night, he didn’t descriminate.
Finally I’d had enough. Our kids were getting older and it was getting harder to hide the days that he wouldn’t come home until dawn. He came home after a stag party at 9pm the night after the party itself. I didn’t let him in the front door. He slept in the garage.
The next day I told him he needed to leave, and suggested he get help. He moved out for a few days, and made the decision to stop drinking for 12 months.
His 12 months off were some of the hardest of our married life. He was angry with me, as he felt that I had made him stop. I was angry with him, and responded by going out more, drinking more, flaunting my drinking in front of him. I’m deeply ashamed of my behaviour and the lack of support I gave him during what was a really difficult time for him, and what I now recognise as being a period of alcohol withdrawal.
Although it nearly killed us, it also made us the incredibly strong unit we are today. It was the best thing Rich ever did, both for himself and his health, and for our relationship. And for our children.
That was an incredibly long-winded way to say he’s finding this break easy. He’s done it once, done it hard, and nothing can compare to that.
Day 23: Tuesday
I had a phone call this morning from a friend who’s a doctor. A GP to be precise, but she does many other things, gets involved in medical panels, is terribly, terribly clever. And a moderate drinker to boot.
We had a wonderful conversation about my sleep issues, and how they may directly or indirectly be linked to my wine cessation.
Apparently the same thing had happened to a friend of hers (who was also a GP, so knew when things weren’t quite right). She too had stopped drinking and stopped sleeping. The her periods stopped. She was roughly the same age as me (late 40’s if you must know), so she went off to have her hormones checked. It seems that menopause may have been triggered by removing alcohol from her diet. I say may have, because this is not a scientific study, rather an anecdote, albeit relayed to me by someone with a wealth of medical knowledge.
To elaborate, drinking alcohol causes estrogen levels to increase in women. High estrogen equals quality sleep. Reduced estrogen equals nights staring at the ceiling, fretting about the inanities of life. When you stop drinking, there’s a fair to middling chance that your estrogen levels could decline, leading to a decline in sleep.
Marvellous. So far, my periods haven’t changed, but we are less than halfway through. Less than quarter through if you mark post-Sydney as my actual start date.
The other bit of wonderful news is that since alcohol increases estrogen, and high estrogen is linked with a number of cancers, particularly breast cancer, it seems that drinking too much also increases the risk of cancer for women. Methinks I need to look into this quite a bit more, and potentially get my hormone levels checked. Will come back on this when I know a bit more.
Day 24: Wednesday
Another day, another amazingly clever and insightful friend, who I spoke with at length over a bowl of beef pho and some prawn rice paper rolls. She’s my friend that I never quite get enough time with. We’ve agreed that in future we need an agenda to get through all the things we need to talk about.
My friend has a unique approach to life. For her, social interactions (and everything else) are subject to a value assessment. She weighs up whether it’s worth staying on at the office after work to drink luke warm chardonnay with your work colleagues, only to have to get an Uber home, then another Uber back in the morning to pick up your car.
Her view – it’s not.
You’re hanging out with people that you like well enough (or sometimes not), you drink more than you should, and the wine is bad, and on top of that, you’ve spent a fortune on Ubers only to find yourself back at work on a Saturday morning because you had to get your car.
You could have gone home, made yourself a beautiful meal, opened a decent bottle of wine and had a glass or two, which you’d enjoy. Next day, you have your car, you don’t have a hangover, and you still had a lovely night. Better value.
I think I need to add value to my assessment of what my future drinking pattern looks like. Maybe fewer bottles, better quality? Getting better at saying no to potentially average nights out?
Enjoying the flavour of a glass of wine, rather than drinking because of the alcoholic effects.
Day 26: Friday
So far, I haven’t craved a drink on the whole. Every so often though, it sneaks up and catches me unawares.
I was surprised, Friday evening, when I caught the ferry out to Waiheke. I found myself looking forward to getting on the ferry, and feeling relaxed, because that’s how I always feel when I’ve been rushing to get there, and then I’m there, and then I can stop.
Except I was looking forward to the glass of wine that facilitates said relaxation.
It was very strange getting on the ferry and not going to order a drink. It’s become such a part of the whole experience, the ritual of going away for the weekend.
I bought a can of Diet Coke instead (which I NEVER drink) because it made me feel like I was having something unusual, and punctuated the trip with a drink. I also had some almonds, but I’m not sure they’re as important.
Day 27-28: Saturday – Sunday
We cleared a big hurdle this week. We had guests out to stay at Waiheke without alcohol. It made for a quiet weekend, but it was pleasant and relaxed. It was also nice for us all to wake up Sunday morning hangover free, particularly with four kids running around.
I hasten to mention that although none of us were drinking, that decision was made by our guests. We did not force it upon them!
It was interesting to consider just how few friends we could invite away without drinking. Many just wouldn’t want to spend that much time with us in what is effectively a dry zone, which is understandable. God knows I’ve been guilty of avoiding dry friends in the past!
What I’ve learned this week: Mindfulness
The incident on the ferry mad me realise how much of this journey is about my mental attitudes to alcohol, not just my body’s reaction to it. About how big a role it plays in my life, how often it features in the memories I hold dear, the holidays, the dinners with friends, the stressful times, the enjoyable times. How emotional it is for me.
There is no other item of food that I’ve imbued with as much emotion as alcohol. I don’t fret at the thought of never being able to eat pasta again (although that would be sad). I don’t feel that a catch up with friends just wouldn’t be the same without cheese. I don’t consider soup to be an essential part of every ski trip.
But I have done that with alcohol. And on many other occasions too numerous to mention.
It’s becoming apparent to me that mindfulness has an incredibly important role to play in my future relationship with alcohol.
One of the main things I’ve learned about mindfulness is that it’s important not to judge the emotions you’re feeling, but rather to observe and accept them. I think the same is true with drinking.
I think it’s important to be mindful of what you’re drinking, how much you’re drinking and why you’re drinking.
My goal is to be able to drink a glass of wine because I like the taste of wine, rather than because I’ve attached an emotional response to it. Not to use it to facilitate relaxation, social interactions, sleep, or any of the other myriad of reasons I’ve used in the past, the last being “because it tastes nice”.
A quick google search reveals a world of resources to help those interested in mindful drinking. An article called The Art of Mindful Drinking says:
“It’s all about awareness and experiencing what you are doing,” agrees Marc David, MA, a nutritional psychologist and founder-director of the Boulder, Colo.–based Institute for the Psychology of Eating. “Enjoying powerful substances like caffeine, sugar and alcohol doesn’t have to be bad, as long as you are aware if it hurts or hinders you.”
In New York, you can take Mindful Drinking classes (not so much), while in London, a story by Metro reports that drinking rates are declining amongst younger people, a trend which is influenced by mindfulness:
“In pubs dotted around London, young people are practising something called ‘mindful drinking’. The idea behind it being to change one’s attitude and emotions about alcohol, perhaps by stopping drinking altogether on a night out, or just cutting down. But either way, learning to drink what you want to drink instead of what you perceive to be socially acceptable.”