Wednesday, 28 December 2011

New Year - New Diet

I hope you are all well and had or are still having a lovely time with your family and loved ones over the holidays. If this post turns into a rant, I apologise in advance but I feel this just has to be said.

Earlier this week my mum got the January copy of a major German women's magazine in the post and most of the front page was covered with stuff about the new version of the diet they have been pushing on people for as long as I can remember. It doesn't matter which magazine I was holding in my hands because if you go to a news stand at this time of the year you could pick up pretty much any magazine aimed at a female market and there would be yet another new year's diet somewhere in there.

When I see those magazines I can't help but be angry. Not just annoyed, but angry. Angry because everybody keeps blaming fashion magazines and advertising for young women having low self-esteem and body-image issues yet nobody seems to care about the effect these magazines that are marketed as being for 'real women' and we, ourselves, have on each other.

Think about the last time you felt truly fat and ugly. If you have never felt ugly in your life, then I'm incredibly jealous, but for everyone else - I don't know about you, but I don't feel fat or ugly when I look at a fashion magazine in which a 15 year old super-skinni girl is wearing some fabulous dress. I know that a) I'm old and b) even if I stop eating for a year and exercise like crazy I'll never look like that.
And that's ok because a) for me fashion is art, and if the dress looks good on a super-skinny girl, then that's what it should be photographed  on, and b) some things look good on some people, some on others. I know that I'll never be able to pull off the whole heroin-chic thing unless I start taking illegal substances, but I also know that I probably look better in a fitted 1950s dress than someone who's a size 0 (or at least that's what I keep telling myself). So while I obviously don't know what looking at a fashion magazine makes you feel like, I don't feel it affects my self esteem.

What does affect how I see myself though are the people around me and the magazines I started off talking about. When I think about the times I have felt miserable in my skin (and yes, just like you, I don't like to really think about those times either) over the last 5 years, I definitely don't think about looking at models.

What I think about are past-boyfriends telling me that I had put on weight (after complaining that the dinner I had just cooked for them didn't have cream or meat in it).

I think about family friends telling me that it's amazing that I had lost so much weight (when all I could think about was that earlier that morning I noticed that I could see my ribs sticking out in a bad way).

I remember so-called friends telling me that I should wear make-up more often because 'it makes [me] look less tired and so much more attractive' (after I had just pulled a 100hr week to finish collecting data for a conference deadline and had spent the whole day trying to not cry because I was so exhausted).

I think of a family member telling me that I looked fat (and yes, that's pretty much a direct quote) in the new cardigan I had just spend a week knitting. - I haven't worn that cardigan since.

But I also remember reading the January issue of said magazine for the last 10 years or so and even though I never left the healthy BMI range, even when I was heavier - until a couple of years ago I would look at the success stories in there and think to myself - they were about my size and lost 15 kilos. Does that mean I have to loose that much weight as well? And does it make me a lazy person if I don't want to loose 15 kilos but just 5? And if they had to loose 15 kilos, does that mean I'm actually fatter than I think I am?

I don't mean to say that dieting is a bad thing per-se, and if you are trying to loose weight then eating less calories than what your body burns is always going to be the only natural way to do that. And I most definitely think that a healthy diet is really important. But what I'm worried about is that every January women go on a diet for the wrong reasons. I hope that I have never been the reason for one of you feeling unhappy in your body and if you have just been reading a womens' magazine, there are things so much more important than how much you weight and how much make-up you are wearing.

If you make one New-Year's resolution this time around, don't make it the usual 'I will go on a diet', decide to be good to yourself by eating healthy and by exercising a bit and to be good to the people around you by telling them how beautiful they are, not because they have lost weight but because of who they are.

Note: Thank you, Anna Blanch for comments on the draft version of this post.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Stuffed Shells

I talked to a friend today who told me 'at least [I] do something other than write a blog...' since I don't wan't to seem like a workaholic (I really am NOT a workaholic - if there's a new episode of Pan Am or Hart of Dixie or Once Upon a Time or anything else along those lines I will drop everything to watch said episode, so that is proof enough that there is no workaholicness going on, right? And yes, I know my taste in TV shows is debatable) I am finally getting around to finishing this post.
The lesson we should have learned from this is that the only way I get stuff done is if someone makes me feel like a workaholic...or something along those lines :)

Believe it or not, but this was the first time I made stuffed shells. And I am in love. None of that awkwardness you have when you're stuffing cannelloni or the boringness of lasagne. Don't expect me to make either again anytime soon. I used Heidi Swanson's recipe from a few months ago for quantities and the amount of filling was perfect to make enough shells for a large (32cm) baking dish. For some reason I had a blonde moment when I thew the entire pack of shells into the pot (I ended up using about half of them...oops, but they made a really nice dinner later on).
Anyhow, I was originally planning on giving this recipe a slightly fancier name - I wanted to call them autumnal stuffed shells (because they have butternut squash in them) or something similar but the fact that Christmas is just around the corner and it's definitely not autumn anymore stopped me from going for that option. 
Unfortunately that meant I was out of ideas. So we're stuck with the boring name. And a not so exciting photo because I haven't mastered the art of taking nice pictures at night.
So, let's make some stuffed shells to impress someone cute (or very lovely flatmates in my case)!
And if you want some music to listen to while cooking, how about some Foreign Slippers.

Stuffed Shells

2 large tins Peeled Plum Tomatoes 
A generous splash of Olive Oil
Ground Cinnamon
1 Clove Garlic, crushed
Salt & Pepper

250g peeled & roasted Butternut Squash
250g Ricotta Cheese
1 Egg
100g Parmesan Cheese
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
Some Salt, Pepper & Nutmeg

Some dried Pasta Shells (Heidi suggests about 25-30 shells)

If you haven't roasted your butternut squash already, do so now.

Then, make a simple tomato sauce. Pour some olive oil into a pan and add the garlic, then turn on the heat.

Wait until your kitchen smells all garlicky (not burnt!) then add the tomatoes. Simmer at a medium heat while you put a pot with enough water on for the pasta.

Boil the pasta until it's al dente (Heidi says the shells will tear if you overcook them, since I listened to her and had no problems I can't tell you whether they'll tear but they were easy enough to handle so save yourself some time and drain them sooner rather than later).

While the pasta is bubbling away (by the way, don't forget about the tomato sauce, give it a stir every once in a while and season it with some salt, pepper and a teaspoon or so of cinnamon) return to the butternut squash.
Mash the squash  - yes, I had to go there - and whisk it together with the ricotta, then add the parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Unless you're into eating raw egg, season the filling now, then whisk in the egg.

Preheat your oven to 180˚C.

Rinse the pasta with some cold water so they're not too hot to handle.

Spread out about 1/3 of the tomato sauce in your baking dish.

Fill the shells with about one tablespoon filling each and set them in the baking dish. Sing along to your music to stop yourself from falling asleep while doing so :)

Once your baking dish is filled or you have run out of shells, spread the remainder of the tomato sauce on top of the shells and bake for about 45 minutes.

I hope you have a fabulous week and are getting as excited about all the food you'll eat over Christmas as I am!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Baked Apple Pancakes

So how have you been? Has your flat transformed into Santa's Grotto or something along those lines yet?
We decided to embrace the Christmas spirit on sunday and rather than making sweet potato pancakes we made baked apple pancakes. I don't know about you but there is very little that makes me happier on a cold winter evening than baked apples. And these pancakes give you the same warm and fuzzy feeling on the inside that baked apples give you (or is that just me?) without having to wait forever while the apples bake away.
I think you should make these this weekend and while you are in the kitchen, how about you listen to Frankie Sumatra's Christmas Cocktails (anything he touches turns to gold and this is no exception). Oh, and while you are sitting in your hopefully very cosy kitchen, send me some warm thoughts because I will probably be freezing my fingers off in Stubai this weekend.

Baked Apple Pancakes

3 Apples (mine were fairly medium)
2 tbsp Orange Juice
A few drops Almond Extract
2 tbsp Maple Syrup
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves (and whatever other spices you can think of that you can find that remind you of Christmas)
2 Eggs (lightly beaten)
350 ml Buttermilk
225 g Flour
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
50 g Sugar
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
Vegetable Oil or Butter 

Peel and grate the apples. If you are like me and can't go near anything resembling a grater without trying to dismember yourself, the trick is to keep grating and finishing the apples before you bleed out.
Then you transfer the grated apples and orange juice into a small saucepan and heat things over a medium heat. While the apples heat up you can go on a hunt for band aids. Give the apples 5 to 10 minutes so they soften but don't turn into applesauce.
Add the maple syrup, some almond extract and some spices (I kept adding stuff so I don't have a clue how much I added in the end). You want the apple mix to taste the way baked apples do so be generous with the spices.
Add the buttermilk and then the eggs.
Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and then fold in the wet mix (don't worry if there's still some lumps left).
Heat a large skillet over a medium heat. This time it is really important that you keep the heat on the low side of medium because the apples will soften even further as the batter heats up and if you bake the pancakes too quickly they will burn on the outside while the inside is nowhere near done.
Heat some butter or oil in the skillet and drop a few spoonful of batter in there for each pancake (I prefer small pancakes because they seem to bake more evenly throughout  with the pans I use).
Be patient while the pancakes sit in the pan, I don't think I have ever waited that long for pancakes to be done but it was well worth the wait. They will be softer than plain pancakes because of the apples but if you are worried that they are not quite done but that they are getting starting to look more like charcoal than pancakes, you might want to heat your oven to 100˚C and give them another 10 minutes or so in there while you make the remaining pancakes.
These lovelies love to be drowned in more maple syrup while they are still warm but they also make a perfect monday morning lunchbox addition :)
I hope you have a fantastic weekend!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Christmas Puke

I don't like Christmas.
Here, I said it, you're more than welcome to start judging me right now. Don't get me wrong, I like coming home for the holidays

© Kathleen Dowling

spending time with my parents, seeing friends from high-school, quiet advent sundays, making cookies

© Kathleen Dowling

and all that kinda stuff. Ok, and I really like presents :) it doesn't even matter whether I get them or whether I'm thinking about presents for other people - it's presents that's all I care about.

But I hate that it's cold all the time, that it's dark all the time, that I seem to have a cold for 3 months, that people get really stressed out and the thing that gets me the most is all the decoration (don't get me started on the climbing Santas that seem to pop up everywhere) and Christmas markets.

The problem is that my friend Kathleen loves everything Christmas - even the stupid Santas.
So when I moved to Berlin last weekend (yes, I have finally moved) the first thing I did after dropping off my stuff at the flat was go to a Christmas market with Kathleen. Below, you can find some fine specimens of what Kathleen and I call 'Christmas Puke' i.e. everything she loves taking pictures of and I refuse to acknowledge when we go to a Christmas market :) (oh, and if you're wondering they're not all from the same market - no, we do the Kathleen-loving-all-things-Christmas-and-me-complaining-about-the-decoration thing every year...sometimes even multiple times)

© Kathleen Dowling

© Kathleen Dowling

© Kathleen Dowling

© Kathleen Dowling

Ok...even I kinda like the last one.

The reason I am telling you all of this is because I have another confession to make - after spending my life not really liking Christmas, I went to KaDeWe today to look at the Christmas decoration (in my defence, the only other thing I could think of was doing some work).

Kathleen, what have you done to me?!?!?

Anyhow, I hope you have a lovely second advent weekend with lots of cookies or perhaps some nice tea cake. I decided to give the whole cooking/baking thing another go this afternoon and made the Monastery of Angels Pumpkin Bread Louisa wrote about last week and if you had slight addiction problems with the peanut butter & coconut quick bread this summer the way I did, give this one a try, it's going to be a good wintery alternative I think (especially if you use about twice as much cinnamon as the recipe suggests). 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...