Saturday, 27 April 2013

The First Two Weeks on the 5:2 Diet (A Couple's View)

Introduction: Please don't worry, I have not gone mad!

I will begin this post with the relevant disclosures. I am not saying I am fat. So anyone who knows me and is concerned that I am saying I am going on a diet, don't worry, I am not going to start becoming obsessive about my weight. The fact is, I don't even possess a weighing machine. I have to go to the supermarket or doctor's surgery to get weighed! 

The honest truth is that I am straining at the limit of my dress size. I have had to throw out many clothes in my size which are slightly fitted. I have recently returned 4 pairs of skinny jeans supposedly in my size, some of which I could not even get my bottom into! I have a choice: continue as I am, and move into the next dress size up, or do something now.

At my age, I could simply choose to move to the next dress size up. But it would involve buying new clothes and getting rid of a collection I have proudly curated most of my adult life (since I have been in full time work and been able to buy nice clothes). It would mean replacing that collection (some of which I convince myself will come back into fashion given time) with a whole new array of clothes which I can ill afford right now. What also troubles me is that if I acquiesce so easily to this next size up, will I do the same for the next? And when will this end if I start down this path?

I am only 5'1" tall, about 151cm. Not tall. In fact, I am blooming short! So any additional weight looks even more pronounced in its effect. If I am brutally honest, which for some unknown reason, I am prepared to be on this blog (I pretend that nobody I know reads it!), then I will admit I am a pear. I have a pear-shaped body. Small on top (damn!) and chunky at the bottom. All of my weight goes on my bottom and below. It is not with delight that I admit to having "thunder thighs". It is in the interests of honesty. I never leave the house without them being properly covered in either trousers or very, very thick tights. Thick tights cover all the orange peel wobble action!

But, I love my food. And I also love wine. I don't intend to give them up. I don't want to be on a permanent diet where I have to turn away the food I love. A permanent programme of self denial doesn't seem much fun for me. I don't think ANY pair of skinny jeans is worth that. 

Him Indoors knew that I was mulling over going on the 5:2 diet after watching Dr Michael Mosley's BBC Horizon programme 'Eat, Fast and Live Longer'. He too, as a result of our love of food and wine, has piled on the pounds. When he was slim, Him Indoors was cuddle-able (for those of you who don't know him, he's a lovely, lovely man), but now he was also cuddly. At first he wasn't keen to go on on any kind of diet programme, we've tried low fat cooking before and it was not fun, but he changed his mind and decided he's go for it too. So I now had fresh resolve and a diet buddy!

Here is Dr Michael Mosley talking about the diet on Radio 2: 

Why we chose the 5:2 Diet

I investigated the two diets which are getting a lot of publicity right now: "The 2 Day Diet" and "The 5:2 Diet". I will say more about these two approaches in a future post.  I have been reading the books about these diets and they make informative interesting reading and I would advise people thinking about these approaches to read both books before deciding which approach suits them better. I did think about the DODO diet (day-on, day-off) but going without every other day seemed excessive and a bit too onerous. I don't want to be severely restricting what I eat 7 days out of 14.

We decided to think about these methods rather than a traditional diet because we like our food and could not possibly go for several months of eating low fat and low calorie foods. We also know that traditional diets often lead to the dieter putting the weight back on once the diet has finished. We thought that these newer methods would lead to a permanent lifestyle change and help us keep off the weight. 

But one very persuasive factor were the non-weight loss benefits: anti-cancer, anti-type 2 diabetes, cholesterol lowering, insulin response recalibration, stopping your body from storing so much fat, anti-Alzheimers and anti-ageing. "Wow!" we thought, that's a big set of benefits for just 2 days a week hardship!

Whichever plan you choose, you are looking at a restricted calorie intake of on your "fast days". That means very little food, and no alcohol at all. For many of us, this is quite a restriction and sacrifice. We began to be filled with trepidation and doubt. We felt convinced this would be really difficult and a test of our willpower that we might, embarrassingly, not be able to meet. 

For a variety of reasons Him Indoors and I decided to go for the 5:2 diet with its 2 non-consecutive calorie restricted "fast days" rather than the 2 Day diet with 2 consecutive days of restriction. Achievability, simplicity and the ease with which we could fit it into workaday life were important factors. Men are permitted 600 calories on a fast day, women 500. Whether you have one big meal or several small ones is up to you. You can have whatever drinks you like, but have to count the calories towards your limit.

We then had to decide on the days to be our "fast days". We decided that we wanted to keep weekends sacrosanct. They have to be days for rest, relaxation and indulgence. What's the point of working hard all week only to be unable to enjoy food and drink on days off?

So we've opted for Tuesday and Friday. We thought about Tuesday and Thursday, but they were no good owing to pressure of work for Him Indoors. We knew that our ability to succeed in sticking to this diet depended on us both participating, so Tuesday and Friday were the best choices for both of us.

We thought about having a breakfast and a dinner. But honestly, trying to split my measly 500 calories into anything approaching two 'meals' was tough. Really tough. So we took the decision to have one big meal a day, at dinnertime. That way we could prepare it together and eat it together. And we would be able to stick to the calorie limit because we had selected the dish and eaten it together. What's the bet if I had a little breakfast on my own I'd be tempted to add a little something extra?

We then had to decide on D Day: when we would begin our dieting adventure! We chose Monday 8 April. Not real reason other than we might as well just get started. No need to wait for a new month or a new season. 

Our First Week

We started our very first 'fast' day with trepidation. We're so used to eating what we want, when we want, that the idea of going most of the day without food filled us with fear. Him Indoors particularly thought he would find getting through a working day extremely difficult. I'd read about the need to drink a lot of water or tea, so I followed that advice and had lots of drinks through the day. I won't lie, I had moments of feeling very hungry and my resolve did wobble. However, the pangs of hunger do fade. The feeling of being empty comes and goes. Him Indoors found he survived the day, and that it was mentally difficult more than physically tough. 

For our supper we made "5-2 Diet Smoked Haddock and Pearl Barley Casserole" by Fiona MacLean who writes the London Unattached website/blog. The recipe can be found here
Him Indoors was very sceptical about this recipe. I selected it because he usually likes haddock, so I was a little miffed to say the least! I also chose it because I thought the pearl barley would be broken down slowly, resulting in slow energy release. In the end, Him Indoors was very pleasantly surprised. The dish is easy to make and very tasty. We will be making this dish on another fast day, for sure. It's a real winner. 

We found that the second fast day was easier, mainly because we now knew that we could handle the waves of hunger before dinnertime. We were both relieved when I got home a little early and we could start on dinner as we had gone for a long enough time without food. 

We made another of Fiona MacLean's recipes, this time "5:2 Diet Asian Chicken Wraps", which you can find here: This dish needed much more preparation, since many of the ingredients were diced, but was well worth it. It was actually hard to believe that such a flavoursome dish was as low in calories as it was! The sauce coats the chicken beautifully, and the garlic, ginger and chilli makes it taste like a real Asian dish. 

From our experience this week, I would definitely recommend 5:2 dieters to check out Fiona's recipes and give them a go; she has a talent for making low fat and low calorie food taste amazing.

Our Second Week

My third fast day was particularly difficult for me. This was because my hay fever had kicked in, as a result of flowering Plane Trees near my work. My face had swollen up, my skin and eyes were red and stinging. I felt I had no energy. It was so bad, I was told to go home by my timetabling officer! Not eating and having the waves of hunger just added to my general feeling of miserableness. 

Our meal for the day was Tiger Prawn Curry with Basmati Rice, a recipe we found online here:

The curry paste was easy to make and gave the dish a good amount of kick. We used one scotch bonnet chilli instead of 2 red chillies (since that was what we had in the house). The curry was no less spicy for the lack of 2 chillies! Him Indoors liked this dish more than I did, but my mood was so low, that perhaps I wasn't in the best frame of mind to eat it and assess it objectively. I had a hot bath after dinner and went straight to bed, stuffed to the gills with antihistamines. A genuinely tough day.

My fourth fast day was fairly easy until I got to the afternoon. A drink of water at what would have been my lunchtime didn't assuage the feelings of having an empty belly, so I had to follow it with a cup of herbal tea. All was well until the inevitable need to go to the loo! I didn't feel hungry again until I got home. Then it really hit. Preparing and cooking the dinner, having to wait for it to be ready and not being able to snack in the meantime did make me feel a little miffed at what should have been the start of the weekend. I am sure that as we progress with diet this will become easier. However, Him Indoors, who had the greatest reservations about the diet, took it in his stride!

Our supper was Squash & chorizo stew, a quick to make stew with a tomato base. Despite only having only 5 ingredients, it is quite flavourful, and has some interesting differences of texture between the chewy chorizo and yielding just-cooked butternut squash. And cooking the chorizo until its internal oils were released meant no extra fat.

Our impressions at the end of Week 2

Him Indoors is surprised how easily he has taken to the fast days. He finds it fairly simple to get through the fast days with some cups of Jasmine Tea with sweetener in to make it through to dinner. He says 'considering I don't have the greatest willpower in the world, I am surprised I'm finding it quite easy'. He finds it is a relief that some of the low calorie meals are 'actually very tasty'. He had fears, after I brought home a low fat cookbook in the past whose recipes were bland and boring, that this would be the same thing. 

I am finding that when I get home from work, I feel very peckish and tempted to snack. Some of you will think this fairly disgusting, but big jars of pickled gherkins have been my saviour. Crunchy, filling and only 7 calories per 100g, they are keeping me away from biscuits, flatbreads and the other sort of thing I usually graze at whilst preparing and cooking dinner. Maybe as I get used to the fast days, I will be able to phase them out, but they are getting me through the evenings.

I am relieved to be at the end of week 2 with a weekend of feasting ahead of me, that's for sure! 

Oddly, it is the stress relieving glass of wine in the evening on our fast days that both of us miss the most. Taking 2 'dry' days a week will do us the power of good, both in terms of calorie intake and as a rest for our livers. So whilst we are living with it, it still feels like a bit of a sacrifice.

I have had a hidden source of support on this challenge; the people of twitter. I have received some wonderful messages of support, as well as advice. There are loads of people willing to cheer you on, particularly on your fast days. So I'd like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all of the people who have helped me via their tweets. You're all fabulous!

Are any of you thinking about either the 5:2 Diet, the 2 Day Diet or the DODO Diet? What are your thoughts on these new plans for weight loss? Are you currently on any of these? Do you have any advice or tips to share? Please get in touch, I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, 22 April 2013

April 2013 Favourites List

Spring is now with us. What a relief! In Britain we have had the Winter that we honestly thought would last forever. It reminded me of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe by CS Lewis where the White Witch turns Narnia into the land where it is "always Winter and never Christmas". Frankly, Christmas was far enough away in the collective memory for things to seem that way.

Our March was cold, dark and miserable. Fortunately at the end of the month the clocks went forward, giving us an extra hour of daylight in the evening, where it makes the most difference for the majority of the population. And as March turned into April, the temperatures have slowly risen to their current level - which resembles Spring. A few degrees cooler than it should perhaps be, but much much warmer than it has been.

As a result, we are incredibly grateful for the odd blue sky, a little bit of sunshine and temperatures in double figures. If you are reading this from warmer climes, you may think it a little strange that we are getting so excited over temperatures in double figures, since the chances are you regard 10-15°C (50°-59.00° Fahrenheit) as still rather chilly. Well, for some of us in the UK it is reason to rejoice. 15°C plus is reason to put on sunglasses and consider no coat at all or even shorts!

The warming weather, the longer daylight hours and the flora and fauna coming back to life has brought back a spring to our collective step here in London. We feel more cheerful and more energetic. Even a little friendlier! People almost have smiles on their faces. Almost, of course. We are British, you know! 

For me it is miraculous to see Spring. The Lotus Eaters in their song "The First Picture Of You" (which admittedly was about Summer) had a lyric about how special it was "Seeing the flowers scream their joy". When I see the Spring Daffodils, Tulips, Hyacinths and other flowers emerge from their Wintry sleep, I rejoice in them screaming their joy. It's a joyful and pleasant sound. It is only a scream because it is loud, colourful and delivered with energy. In every other way, it is far from dischordant and distressing. 

So I hope you are enjoying the change of season. And I hope you will enjoy my collection of things which have diverted, distracted and interested me this past month. 

The photographs are of the recent floral displays I have seen when I've been out and about. The vibrant colours and vigour make me smile and lift my mood. I really hope they have the same effect on you.

Blogs worth following:

Cool travel and food website:

French recipes (in French) by expert cook and vineyard owner:

Attractive and simple food by Gabrielle Arnold:


Minty Cocktail Madness - Grasshopper (Martini cocktail), but do go easy on the cream or it will be too heavy:

Lai's suggested meatball dish, Hairy Bikers' Meatball Tagine:

Seared Lamb Chops With Blood Orange Sauce with Roasted Okra With Chili Oil

Colourful Vegetarian Mediterranean Salsa chopped salad:

Meaty treaty! Him Indoors is going to love this Steak and Blue cheese salad!

Articles, knowhow:

Mumbai food odyssey with Jehangir Mehta and Vivek Singh. Video clip of Bombay's foodie havens!

I love roast lamb, and lamb curry, but found this article on the versatility of lamb very interesting:

Food Fun:


Searching For Sugar Man

Ruby Sparks

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Cold Fact - Sixto Rodriguez

Coming From Reality - Sixto Rodriguez

Gods & Monsters - I Am Kloot

Friday, 19 April 2013

Chino Latino, Vauxhall (Pan Asian cuisine)

I recently was given the opportunity to tag along with Tasha Miles of the 'Food I Fancy' blog (which you can find here: ) to a review meal at Chino Latino, Vauxhall. I always love spending time with Tasha as she is brilliant fun; effusive, enthusiastic and wickedly funny, so when she asked me, the answer was always going to be a yes! We were given the opportunity to sample the 'Tasting Menu' which normally would cost £48 per person. 

The ethos of the restaurant is providing Pan-Asian food (with a definite bias towards the food of Japan, in my judgment), with an emphasis on sharing food sociably. Hence many of the dishes are developed with ease of sharing in mind, and are generally a little smaller to facilitate this process.

I love sharing food, so I have no issue with this whatsoever. I often try to work out, when eating with others, what we are each ordering, so that we get to try the widest selection of the menu. Dishes are then put in the middle of the table and picked from by everyone, with no hang-ups whatsoever. There are some people who will not completely approve of this, and they are welcome to order and eat their own food. Their loss. Really. 

The restaurant is housed in the Park Plaza Riverbank Hotel, on the Albert Embankment, just across the river from the Houses of Parliament. The restaurant space itself is spacious, with dining parties not sitting too close to each other. The lighting in the room itself is sparing, to allow for chat, but with small very directed spotlights so that the food is nicely illuminated. The decor is more in keeping with a trendy cocktail bar or club, all dark walls and leather panels, but it is not in your face, and I liked the black matte tables; it brought out the best in the presentation of the dishes, in the same way as it does at Hakkasan or Plum Valley. 

Drink wise I went for a Chino Mojito to begin with. Made from Havana Club AƱejo Especial rum shaken with limes, mint, sugar, lemongrass and coconut milk, it may not sound appealing on paper. The potential for the coconut milk to be overdone, creating a heavy and very filling cocktail was great. However, the mixology is handled with deft hands here and the subtle lemongrass and zingy lime flavours were allowed centre stage. Very refreshing and pleasant indeed! Tasha opted for the Kiwi Loco, which she reported was very enjoyable. Thereafter we had wine, opting for the Sancerre La Fuzelle, Adrien Marechal, 2009.  

So, what about the food? Well, here goes:

Crispy soft shell crab California rolls

This is a spin on your typical sushi, with battered, fried soft shell crab as the filling to the sushi rolls. Rolled in tobiko (fish roe), you get the lovely salty explosion of the eggs in your mouth as you chew, adding texture and balance to the flavours. It was served with generous amounts of garnish (I always find I never get enough of the pickled ginger which is one of my favourite things about sushi!) meant we had plenty incendiary wasabi to add bite! The soft shell crab was perfectly cooked, not doused in claggy batter. It was light and was crunchy on the outside yet yielding on the inside. A favourite item from the meal for me.

Beetroot salad

This dish is one of the hidden gems of the menu. It doesn't sound like much from the description above, does it? But these little towers made of circular layers of marinaded beetroot, fried won ton papers for crunch. topped with microherbs are a real treat. Somewhat difficult to pick up with chopsticks, which is a shame. Tash's idea is that these are served on the little Chinese style China spoons, so you can put a whole tower in your mouth in one go. I think this is a superb idea, which would make this dish perfectly easy to eat as well as well presented. 

Seared white tuna

White albacore tuna wrapped in white asparagus, which was cooked to perfection. 

Grilled scallops

Our second 'little dish' was large and meaty scallops served with a topping of microherbs and crushed wasabi peas. This was food heaven; really well prepared, cooked and presented. 

Pork, crab and glass noodle samosas

The combination of ingredients used for the filling are typical of Vietnamese style Spring rolls. However, I am not sure they worked so well with Indian Samosa pastry. For me, it's all about the ratio of filling to skin. There was too much pastry here. And the filling itself wasn't a good enough balance of the three ingredients used. The crabmeat's flavour and texture was swamped. Ideas for dishes which involve a fusion of the ingredients or techniques from different nations are not something I am against per se; they can work, and work well, but in this instance it was a fusion for the sake of it. Had the far thinner Spring roll 'pastry' been used, it would have been far more effective. The dip was a lime and coriander yoghurt sauce, which could have done with a little chilli kick to it to lift it. 

Sirloin steak on hot rocks 180g

Marinaded steak cooked on oven baked rocks, topped with fried garlic, chives and sesame seeds. The steak is then drizzled with a soy and mirin glaze at the table for a moment of pure theatre, as it fizzles and sputters. The steak is done medium rare, and you leave it on the rocks for as long as you wish, depending on how you like it. Care is required, as it can cook rapidly! We were informed that the extreme heat of the rocks is achieved by baking them in the oven for a full day. I found this dish to be full of flavour. But any overcooking is entirely down to the customer - vigilance is needed! This should be the signature dish of the restaurant; bravo!

Black cod spicy miso

A generous black cod chunk, marinaded in spicy white miso, cooked and served with a piquant sauce, blending sweet, spicy and sour flavours. This is a good dish.

Dessert platter

Passion fruit cheesecake: with a mildly ginger flavoured base, the creamy passionfruit cheese hid a secret chamber full of passionfruit flesh. This was very tasty indeed, but the baked filo pastry topping is strictly for decoration; it was far too dry and powdery to be palatable. This is more of a warning than a criticism!

Fruit selection: presented like the skyline of Tokyo, Hong Kong or Shanghai (towering skyscrapers of cut fruit), this should have been a highlight. Melon, mango, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, starfruit, rambutan, dragon fruit, unfortunately much of it was not ripe enough, leaving a sour tang. Perhaps other, less tropical fruits could be offered early in the year? 

Roulade of mousses wrapped in rice flour matcha flavoured 'marzipan': the mousses themselves were pleasant, but not typically Pan-Asian. The marzipan was a very interesting innovative idea; the matcha flavour was detectable, tasty yet subtle. The marzipan was the most effective part of this dessert, however, after all the other courses, was perhaps too much for me. It was good to see Asian ingredients used in a ground breaking way.

The food was generally very, very good. Care was taken over preparation, the cooking very skilful and the presentation full of colour and drama. I really enjoyed my meal. The restaurant gets a lot of trade from the hotel it is housed in, yet I wonder how many of these guests realise how difficult it can be to get truly tasty Asian food. Chino Latino doesn't really combine South American influences with the Pan-Asian ones in its food, but really the food speaks for itself.

Snigdha would like to thank Tasha and Chino Latino for letting her come to dinner as a guest.

Chino Latino

18 Albert Embankment



020 7769 2500

Chino Latino on Urbanspoon