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
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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
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Stolen Recipes: Pork Souvlaki

I’ve been making this recipe for quite a few years now. It’s Jamie Oliver’s, from his TV series Jamie Does, but he’s also kindly published it online, which is where I found it. He calls these “wicked kebabs”.

I won’t be doing that.

This is one of those Friday night what-the-hell-am-I-going-to-feed-everyone-when-I-can’t-be-arsed-cooking kind of meals. It’s really simple. Marinated pork (takes minutes), cucumber Tzatziki (ditto), chargrilled capsicums (ok, this is a bit fiddly) and grilled pita (a cinch).

There are two elements that can slow proceedings some what:

  1. Threading the pork onto skewers. Depending on how I’m feeling, I either skewer up and barbecue the kebabs, or just fry the individual pieces in a frying pan, which works as well (but doesn’t look as pretty when serving).
  2. The grilled capsicum. The grilling takes a while. Taking the blackened skin off takes a while. I have made this as per Jamie, and it is really tasty. But you can sub in a jar of marinated red peppers/capsicum which does the job and removes the hassle factor. I haven’t included the capsicums in the recipe below, but you can find it here.

I should mention that dried mint is important here. It seems weird to use dried instead of fresh, but the flavour is different and it tastes good.

Once you’re done, you just stuff as much as you can into a grilled pita pocket and you’re away laughing.

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For the pork:
800g pork of your choice (I’ve used belly, rump and shoulder) cut into 2cm pieces
1 tablespoon dried mint
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 lemon , juice of
100 ml olive oil
2 cloves garlic , peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch sea salt

For the tzatziki:
½ large cucumber
200 ml fat-free natural yoghurt
1 small clove garlic , peeled and crushed
1 heaped teaspoon dried mint
1½ teaspoons red wine vinegar

To serve:
8 pita breads
Jar of marinated capsicum/red peppers, thinly sliced

  1. Mix together the pork with all the marinade ingredients in a non-reactive dish and leave to marinate for 30 minutes (or longer).
  2. Grate the cucumber into a sieve placed over a bowl.
  3. Sprinkle with salt, then squeeze as much water out with your hands as possible.
  4. Discard the water, and mix squeezed cucumber with all other tzatziki ingredients.
  5. Thread the marinated pork onto either pre-soaked wooden skewers or metal kebab skewers
  6. Pre-heat a barbecue or griddle pan to very hot and cook pork until cooked through
  7. Brush pita breads with olive oil and chargrill until well browned.
  8. Put everything on the table and let everyone help themselves. You can add some lemon wedges for people to squeeze over, but I don’t think I ever have.

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Feel like summer: marinated BBQ chicken

Although I love a roast chicken in winter, in summer I’m all about cooking as much as I possibly can on the barbecue. I have a Weber (which I love!!) but I also have gas (bad me) as a back up plan for when I can’t be arsed.

Anyway, I digress. Chicken. Can be very dull, but after it’s relaxed in a bath of lemon juice, garlic and herbs, then been fired up over coals (or gas!!), it’s a thing of beauty.

This recipe has all the flavours from Greece to mentally whisk you away to sunshine and azure seas, and is all the better matched with a chilled ouzo or two, a Greek salad, and some of the potatoes roasted as below.

GREEK STYLE MARINATED CHICKEN WITH LEMON ROASTED POTATOES

2016-10-29 15.04.18.jpgFor the chicken:
1 whole free range chicken
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt

  1. Butterfly the chicken by cutting down each side of the backbone and removing (with either a very sharp, heavy knife or a strong pair of kitchen scissors). Then press down on the breast bone so the chicken splays out.
  2. Mix together all other ingredients to make the marinade2016-10-29 15.19.22 v2.jpg
  3. Gently lift the skin from across the chicken breast and over the thighs without tearing
  4. Smear half of the marinade mix under the chicken skin, over the breast and thigh meat.
  5. Pour the remaining marinade over the chicken, rubbing it over the skin and into the underside. Place in a non-reactive dish and leave to marinade overnight or for a minimum of 3 hours
  6. Heat a barbecue to very hot. Sear the chicken, skin side down until brown. Turn over and cover, reducing the temperature to 180ºC. Cook for approximately 45 minutes, or until internal temperature at the thickest point reads 75ºC
  7. If you don’t have a barbecue, heat your oven to 180ºC and roast for 45 minutes until cooked as above.

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For the potatoes:
500g baby potatoes, left whole or cut in half
olive oil
1/2 bulb garlic, broken into unpeeled cloves
1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges
Sea salt

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200ºC
  2. Place potatoes in a roasting dish. Drizzle with olive oil and rub with your hands to make sure the potatoes are evenly covered with oil
  3. Arrange lemons and garlic around the potatoes. Season with sea salt
  4. Roast until potatoes are brown outside and soft inside (approximately 30 minutes)

Get me to the Greek (salad)

Ok, that might be my worst title yet. Apologies Russell Brand. It does let me lead nicely into sharing a recipe for one of my favourite salads – a Greek Salad.

This pairs wonderfully with the yoghurt marinated lamb I posted last week, or with the marinate barbecued chicken I’ll be posting about in the coming days. Or it’s wonderful on it’s own, resting on a bed of salad greens, with maybe a toasted flat bread on the side.

Everyone seems to have their own version of Greek Salad. This is mine.

GREEK TOMATO, CAPSICUM, CUCUMBER AND FETA SALAD2016-10-29 19.32.02 v1.jpg

2 punnets cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 red onion finely sliced
1 green capsicum, seeds removed, finely sliced
1/2 telegraph cucumber, cut into 2cm dice
200g feta, chopped into 2cm dice
1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
Juice of a lemon
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

  1. Mix all ingredients together gently in a large salad bowl. Season to taste and serve.