Aging gracefully: 10 things I’ve stopped doing pre-50. With Greek pork, capsicum and feta.

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.

Shite. 50.

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
Serves 42017-06-02 10.45.43 v2

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
100g olives
Handful parsley chopped, plus extra to garnish
100g feta
Fresh crusty bread to serve

  1. Heat oven grill to highest heat (250⁰C)
  2. Heat oil in a large fry pan over medium/high heat. Cook pork in batches until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Reheat pan over medium heat. Add onions, capsicum and garlic and cook, stirring for 5 minutes or until onion is translucent and soft.
  4. Sprinkle over dried herbs and cook for another minute.
  5. 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)
  6. Stir through chopped silverbeet, olives and chopped parsley and cook for another 5 minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper
  7. 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)
  8. Remove from heat and serve, sprinkled with extra chopped parsley and with crusty bread on the side to mop up the juices
Advertisements

A french bistro in your kitchen: Beef Steak Sausages with Green Peppercorn Sauce

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
Serves 42017-06-09 09.57.39 v1

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)

  1. In a small saucepan, heat the butter over a medium heat.
  2. Add the shallots and cook, stirring until soft (about 5 minutes)
  3. Add the brandy and bring to the boil, cooking until all the alcohol has burnt off
  4. Pour over beef stock, return to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced by half (about 10 minutes).
  5. Pour over cream, add peppercorns, return to the boil, then simmer until sauce has thickened (about 5 minutes)
  6. While sauce is cooking, cook the sausages as per the instructions on the pack (cook to medium rare, as with a piece of steak)
  7. Serve sausages with peppercorn sauce poured over the top, with crisp fried and salad or steamed beans. Bon appetit!

A break from my significant other – 10 weeks alcohol free: Week 5

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.

Me: Yes

Her: Well, we might need to catch up for a walk then

Me: ?????

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.

So. Gross.

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)

A match made in heaven: Pizza and Sausage

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

Pizza Base
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

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. Break off pieces of dough to size required. Place on oiled tray and stretch until relatively thin (this takes a bit of effort)


Pizza Sauce
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
Salt/pepper

  1. Heat olive oil over a low heat. Add red onion, garlic, oregano and chilli flakes (if using) and cook until onion is soft.
  2. Add tins of tomatoes, bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced and thick
  3. Add red wine vinegar and cook until acidity has simmered off.
  4. Season to taste.

 

Topping (per pizza):2017-04-05 14.25.23 v1
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

  1. Heat oven to 220C.
  2. Shape the pizza base to fit a 30cm diameter pizza tin, and brush the top of the base with olive oil.
  3. Spread pizza sauce over the base until evenly covered (use about ¼ of the above recipe).
  4. Arrange slices of mozzarella over pizza, sprinkle over parmesan and rosemary.
  5. Top with mushrooms, then break up sausage and dot all over the pizza.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes or until base is golden.
  7. Remove from oven and scatter over fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately

Hypochondriac? Me? With pears poached in mulled wine.

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 2017-05-27 08.37.26
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)
200g mascapone
100g greek yoghurt

  1. 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.
  2. Add pears, bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 1 hour, turning carefully to keep the pears evenly coloured.
  3. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cooled.
  4. 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.
  5. Mix mascapone and yoghurt together until evenly combined.
  6. Serve pears drizzled with red wine syrup, with mascapone alongside.

L’Authentique Time: Toulouse Sausages with Red Wine and Cabbage Lentils

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
Serves: 4-6

2 Tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cooking sausages2017-05-24 11.35.34 v1
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)
10g butter
Extra parsley to garnish
8 L’Authentique Toulouse Sausages

  1. In a heavy based casserole dish, heat the olive oil. Add bacon and fry until crisp
  2. Reduce heat, add onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook slowly, stirring, until vegetables are soft.
  3. Add puy lentils, bouquet garni and red wine. Bring to the boil so alcohol evaporates, then add cabbage and stir to combine.
  4. Reduce heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes adding extra water if the lentils start to dry out (there should be sauce).
  5. While lentils are cooking, cook the sausages as per the instructions on the pack. Remove from pan and keep warm.
  6. Check that the lentils are cooked (they should be al dente). Add vinegar and butter, stir to combine and cook for another 5 minutes.
  7. Season to taste, then serve lentils with sauce, sausages piled on top.

To the one I lost. With a roast kumara, carrot and miso soup.

I have two children. I may have already talked to you about them. One girl, one boy. We replaced ourselves perfectly.

I had always thought that two was the perfect number of children. One for each adult to look after. The family fits well in a car, with extra room for one friend. Perfect for a three bedroom house, or providing a convenient spare room in a four bedroom..

I was 32 when Rich and I married. Shortly after we moved from New Zealand to London to further our life experience, our careers, and to have children. We wanted to give our kids the opportunity to live in another country in their future lives, unemcumbered by the burden of visas.

I fell pregnant with Amelia when I was 34, and gave birth to her just after my 35th birthday. I was painfully aware of my age, had seen all the charts showing the increase in risk factors during pregnancy for women over 35. So we didn’t want to mess around getting pregnant again.

I never went back on contraception after having Amelia, and fell pregnant when she was 6 months old. I remember being on holiday in Crete not long after, being so happy and excited about this New being we were bringing into the world.

That one didn’t last. I miscarried at around the 8 week mark. I can hardly remember the details now, just that there was a lot of blood, then nothing. We were staying at a friend’s parents house, they were very English, and I had to pretend to be the perfect guest whilst going through the emotional agony of losing my second child. Watching the blood go down the toilet and wondering which part was my baby.

When we went back to London the visit to A&E confirmed what we already knew. I said to the doctor “well, there was clearly something wrong, so it’s for the best”. She said “I’m sorry, that’s not necessarily true. We don’t know why people miscarry”. She needed to work on her bedside manner.

4 months later, I fell pregnant with Oliver. My beautful son, who I have adored since the moment he arrived.

But I still mourn the one I lost. I’m crying while I’m writing this. I know the statistics for miscarriage. I know many friends and family members who have lost children of their own, often in far more harrowing circumstances than mine. It doesn’t stop me from missing, with all my heart, the one that I never got to meet. The one who has never hugged me, called me Mummy, who I didn’t see grow up into a beautiful little human.

I am thankful for the two we’ve had. My children are growing so fast and I love them more than life itself. I’m one of the lucky ones in that respect. There’s no guarantee that we would have tried for Oliver had our middle child survived. I can’t bear to think of that.

But I can’t help but think that two is not quite the perfect number of children. Perfect would be to have all three.

ROAST KUMARA, CARROT AND MISO SOUP

Serves 6

700g kumara, scrubbed and halved

700g carrots, peeled and ends cut off

1 large onion, skin still on, cut into quarters

Olive oil

Salt/pepper

2 litres chicken or vegetable stock

1/3 cup miso paste

1 tablespoon grated Ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

To serve:

6 rashers bacon cooked until very crisp, sour cream

  1. Preheat oven to 200C
  2. Place kumara, carrots and onion in a roasting dish. Drizzle with olive oil, and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 1 hour.
  3. Remove vegetables from oven and allow to cool until you’re able to handle. Scrap the flesh from the kumara skins into a large soup pot using a spoon. Cut the ends off the onions, remove the skins and add to the pot with the carrots. Discard the kumara and onion skins.
  4. Mix the miso paste into a smooth thin paste with a 1/3 cup stock. Add to the pot with remaining stock, and ginger.
  5. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Turn off heat. Add sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and extra pepper to taste.
  7. Using a blender, stick blender or food processor, blend the soup until very smooth, being careful not to burn yourself.
  8. Serve, garnished with bacon and sour cream if desired.

10 weeks alcohol free: am I mad?

A few weeks ago Richard and I decided it was time to have some time off the booze. I have basically never taken more than a week off in my adult life, aside from when I was pregnant and I’m not sure that really counts. Well, it does, being important for a healthy baby and all, but you know what I’m saying.

Our reasons are simple:

  1. My liver needs a break. I had a poor liver reading at the doctor a year or so ago, and I really haven’t done anything about it. Now she wants to see me again, and I’m terrified of what she’s going to find!
  2. We’ve both gained weight. It’s crept up over time, and admittedly, I could exercise some more and eat a bit less, but it’s pretty clear that wine is a big contributor
  3. Our daily consumption is creeping up. We can manage one AFD a week, but not many more. We’ve tried to not drink during the week, but usually fall over about Wednesday. So we need to reset.

Essentially, we need a new normal. I have no ethical objections to a glass of wine a night, but for us it’s always more than a glass. I’d like to be the person who can go out for dinner and stop after a glass or even two.

The exception is that I’m heading to Sydney in a couple of weeks to catch up with some girlfriends. I have already explained to my lovely husband that there is NO WAY I’m not going to drink while I’m there. I have my limits!

So there we have it. Ten weeks stretching in front of me. I’m worried I may be insane, so I’m going to write about it (as I do), then you can decide if it’s a good way to go. I’ll be interested to see whether I actually lose any weight, sleep better, feel better, have better liver function. I’ll let you know.