twitter @unusualsara

instagram @extraordinaryunusual



Making extraordinary things happen in unusual places since 1982

Recipes and stories from Sara's kitchen sink and dining table

Welcome to my blog


I'm going to post my food writing, recipes and that sort of thing here. Updated most weeks. Do get in touch.

By wickedsara, Mar 5 2018 06:40PM

Michael Pollan is one of the great prophets of the sugar backlash. His name is one to drop in discussions of the Western diet. He’s a highly influential writer, journalist and activist, and is probably the reason you’ve heard of High Fructose Corn Syrup. People drinking along at home (and I highly recommend turning all your reading, viewing, cooking, eating, life, in to a drink-along game*)you can find his documentaries Cooked and In Defence of Food on Netflix, and his books which inspired them - along with the Botany of Desire and his definitive The Omnivore’s Dilemma in the usual places.

His onscreen persona is somewhere Between Victor Meldrew and Larry David, with some of the leaf-fiddling quick-pickling gaucheness of Nigel Slater. He talks to stadium crowds, turning up on stage with his grocery bags and allotment pickings, as unglamorous and incongruous as a latter day saint, or Jeremy Corbyn. He utters great words of wisdom, akin to Consider The Lily:

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”

He has made his life’s work the unravelling of the systems of that underpin - and undermine - the western diet. The agro-industrial complex, the supermarkets, Big Cattle, Big Pig, Big Corn, Big Sugar. He is chased through the cornfields of his mind by marshmallow men from the ministry, as his shines the light on HFCS and other “Edible Food like Substances”. American farming, food laws and supply chains are very different from European ones, hence our horror at what may befall our shopping baskets when we leave the comforting pasteurised bosoms of Mère Europe, whose worst excesses of foie gras fattening, and penny pinching and banana-straightening still forbid the chlorination of chickens and the feeding of HFCS to humans.

Pollan rightfully points out that the governments (in the US) puts out food pyramid diagrams encouraging people to eat more fruit and veg whilst also pumping money into subsidising industries and products which make us fat, mainly soft drinks, but the corn derivatives in the cheap food chain are pretty endless. Pollan places the blame with Agro-giants and the politicians they pay and lobby make the laws and defund projects that would allow more people to eat better.

Confession: I was raised on the sweet, sweet poison of American candy. As I write this I am literally eating Twizzlers, which have an import label covering up the Corn Syrup and replacing it with Glucose Syrup followed by three asterixes, so who the hell knows what I’m actually eating. I think its like the tastiest plastic you’ve ever accidentally put in your mouth.

He suggests that we should ever eat anything our grandmothers and great grandmothers wouldn’t recognise as food. He has clearly never met my grandmother. My maternal grandmother acquired a morgue’s worth of commercial freezers from Bejams when they closed down in 1992 and has been freezing and defrosting on an industrial scale and decade-long cycle ever since. She bakes for the freezer. She is already laying down the honey cakes for weddings of yet unborn great-grandchildren, like a shit sommelier. My paternal grandmother subsisted on a diet of gefilte fish and sugar free candies. My great-grandmothers survived pogroms, the Holocaust, two World Wars, the Great Depression, and endured unimaginable suffering and hardship on at least three continents. My own mother is yet to successfully boil an egg without literally setting it on fire (have you ever smelled burning eggshell? It’s the smell of my childhood). We should look to none of these women as the arbiters of edibility.

But the principle stands. Want a cake? Bake it ourself. Apple pie? Go for it! And all the better if your apples come from your own orchard, or at least your local farmers market, ideally in the Fall. Just like my great grandmother didn’t.

Pollan is self-evidently right about many things, eminently sensible, powerfully well-informed. He is curious and enthusiastic and communicative, more the storyteller than the investigative journalist. He is also a man of wealth, privilege and status. He has time, money, education, a small but perfect family in the liberal paradise of Berkeley California. It’s a company town, the company is question being the University of California. Everyone is healthy, clever, good looking, and has hiking books and tenure. He and his friends - including, bizarrely, James Taylor - whose pet pig Mona scared Pollan’s pet pig Kosher to literal death on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1970s - galavant around their well-situated gardens, building barbecue pits, brewing beer, baking perfect sourdough, making their own kimchi. You know, like white people do now.

One of the more mind-bowing things Pollan invites us to do, is to look at the world from the point of view of other species. What if we explore the ways in which domesticated animals and plants have been party to their domestication, giving us the feelies and the tasties so we will provide them with the perfect conditions in which to reproduce, thrive, and generally have a better time of it than they would in the wild. His major hypothesis is that corn is driving us humans around like those parasitic wasps who eat the brains of their prey, and walk around in zombie ant exoskeletons, because nature is gross and there is no god.

It’s a worthwhile thought experiment. Compelling. But as far as science goes it’s somewhat selective, and as dietary advice goes, it’s all a bit… niche. I’m going to write a bit more in future posts about his take on bread and booze because trying to summerise his entire ouvre in one post doesn't do it justice. But has Pollan changed by attitude to sugar? Not really. For, as much as I love the petrochemical tang of American candy, it does not form a significant part of my diet. His famous advice “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is good and sound, as is the plea to cook you own food, grow your own veg, dine en famille and a la table, teach your children to cook and to eat and to garden. And his recommendation to eat less meat, buy the best you can afford, ideally with a name, a backstory a good life, and “one bad day" is an idyllic way to eat. I reckon I could afford to eat this way a couple of weeks of the year, maybe. In a good year. I daydream of life where I can live by these simple rules...

I call my life coach from aisles of Whole Foods in a flap.

“I forgot my mantra” I wail into my Apple Watch, knocking over a display of a kombucha with my yoga bag.

He replies in the calming Larry David tones:

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants, hardly any Twizzlers, just think of the food miles and for what? Strawberry flavour coaxial cable? Jeez, Sara, read the slogan on your fucking T-shirt.”

I buy the organic apples, the biodynamic flour, and the small-batch cinnamon to make my homemade apple pie. But in the sugar aisle, I stop again, confused. Agave, honey, or maple syrup? Will my internal organs know my good intentions and magically metabolise them differently to the caster sugar or golden syrup or molasses? I opt for the most expensive item just in case, and get an Uber home.

Back home I can’t work out where I buried my kimchi, near the heritage tomato patch or by the hen coop? I’ll have to find something else for dinner. I scroll through the options on Deliveroo, and see Ottolenghi Islington can deliver within the hour, or 3 different places are offering me sourdough pizza.

Now that really is the omnivore’s dilemma.

By wickedsara, Feb 18 2018 06:03PM


Argh Argh Argh Argh Argh

*screams forever*

*smacks head against desk for the rest of forever*


I love Tom Kerridge. He is a phenomenal chef, a watchable broadcaster, he is well-liked and well-respected in the industry, and he generally comes across as a jolly nice fellow. He was also, until quite recently, very fat. No bad thing. Never trust a skinny chef. And as a fat person and notorious chubby chaser (from a long line of chubby chasers) I am more than happy to see more of him on the telly. That said:


The clue is in the opening sequence in which Kerridge utters the immortal words which reveal the secret of his weight loss success:

“I cut out carbohydrates, quit booze, and hit the gym. I lost 12 stone. But it’s a strict regime which isn’t right for everyone,”

and here I’m paraphrasing,

“so here’s a totally different way to lose weight that is scientifically proven to have no long term benefit to those trying to lose weight and that you have literally tried and failed at 100 times. It is based on the NHS’s approved cut calories approach which is very, very out of date, but also cheap, uncontroversial, and unlikely to harm anyone.”

The NHS recommends cutting calories as the best way to lose weight is both true and false. Most Primary Care Trusts will have a few different versions of weight loss plans. One will be a based on a plate of food, divvied up like a pie chart except without the pie. It encourages you to eat less crap and more fruit and veg. It will give you a very general and depersonalised calorie goal base on age and sex and nothing else. It is in line with WHO guidance, and is fit-for-purpose in a land where some people are over weight, some are underweight, some overweight and underweight people are malnourished. It assumes you have some choices around food, but doesn’t make too many assumptions.

There is a different version of this that you will be given by the NHS if you are referred to bariatric or eating disorder services. It will usually be based on the latest evidence-based research, be a lot more personalised, and be a lot more supervised. Depending on how overstretched your hospital or PCT is, you may be seen by a specialist doctor or nurse every few weeks. you may be put on medication. You may be put on a very low calorie or meal replacement diet. You may be offered surgery.

Somewhere in between is the shit diet advice that most people get. You go to your GP with an ear infection or a weird mole (or, once, memorably, a leaky belly button). You are weighed and asked about your diet. You wonder what this has to do with your ear/mole/belly button. You are told to lose some weight and that then and only then will your ear/mole/belly button we cured, or be worth curing. They suggest Weight Watchers. You cry, you never go to the GP again, you die prematurely of something that could have been dealt with some modest medical supervision, the first symptom of which was a leaky bellybutton.

Tom Kerridge is taking it upon himself to offer us the sort of shit, anecdotal, tilt-headed diet advice that one would get in the Weight Watchers car park. He has written some decent recipes, all of which would be improved by more butter and less artificial sweetener.

Live Blog as I watch the series on iPlayer

Episode 1: Comfort Eaters

-The first dieters TK meets are Comfort Eaters. He gives them a lavish buffet of low calorie diet treats. They pile their plates high. One baked donut might be diet food. Two is just food. Three donuts, and I say this without judgement, is a lot of food. Literally everybody here has missed the effing point of a low calorie diet.

-The description of the diet and the calculation of personal calorie threshold is ver similar to the weight watchers approach, and also to any BMI-based programme. But he gives his dieters a toolkit that includes a blow-torch and a spice rack, so I’m not hating too hard.

-Note his use of non-caloric sweeteners. This raises alarm bells for a lot of people, but are in fact not inherently evil. One of the other books on my reading lists, Taube’s The Case Against Sugar points out it was Big Sugar that spread the fake news that artificial sweeteners cause cancer, which is not borne out by good science, unless you are personally a small male rat living exclusively on Sweet’n’Low.

- There is repeated use of the word binge which I think we should be careful about. It is used as a pejorative term for over eating and bandied about unscientifically. Avoid.

- Ozi is lovely. I love him and his friend the biscuit barrel cradled under is arm like a weird sidekick.

-Argh! TK literally told Lee not to buy the real cream and to buy the Elmlea Single instead! Now there’s a lot of bollocks in the press at the moment about processed foods, and I don’t want to be a food snob about this - Elmlea has a place around the arteries of my heart too - but compare the ingredients! Compare the prices! Now buy the fucking cream and not the Elmlea, Lee!

- Double Argh! After having walked around an Asda with Lee, TK uses rosewater which is clearly from the Waitrose Love Life range <insert rant about food, class, cost… oh, wait, I already wrote one>

- So far the two comfort snacks he’s made - muffins (190 kcals) and rice pud (290 kcal) are calorifically comparable to any normal size chocolate bar. If you want a sweet treat under 300 kcals, eat a Mars Bar. If you want one under 200 kcals, eat some Maltesers. Utterly bemused by this.

- Tom Kerridge finally discloses another key part of his own weight story: that he used to down 15 pints of lager a night quite regularly. Now we’re getting somewhere.

- I’m now totally shipping Ozi and Lee. Even more now it turns out that he’s actually gained weight in week 1. Oh Ozi.

Episode 2: Busy People

- Again with the calories and fat-phobia! I mean look, just look at the zero calorie spray vs the olive oil (also with a spray pump) Olive oil is the backbone of the Mediterranean Diet which gives you life. Fats fill you up.

- Kai has autism! Autism is one of the conditions which diet can make a huge difference, and many kids with extreme autism are prescribed a ketogenic diet which is proven to control some of the more extreme

- She is a diabetic. Now we’re talking. Blood sugar. A blood sugar diet should not contain potatoes and pasta, let alone pastry and apricot jam. Not that there is anything wrong with potatoes and pasta and pastry and jam, they are cheap and delicious, and contrary to popular believe one can live on bread alone, but don't try this at home IF YOU ARE DIABETIC.

- I’m actually a big fan of chia seeds so ner ner ner. They taste nice and have a pleasing texture - like poppy seeds when first sprinkled, or like frogspawn IN A GOOD WAY when soaked. They are nicer and easier to to digest the good his than flax seeds, and can similarly be used in your diet to help you poop. Most days I have porridge or yogurt with a tablespoon of mixed chia, flax and sunflower seeds, because left to its own devices my body would hold on to all my shit until I explode like the gluttony guy in Se7en. TMI? Anyway, shut up and eat your chia.

Episode 3 - Fat Foodies

- Good luck y’all finding fresh chervil. I couldn’t get any last summer and I live in Islington and have a frigging herb garden (well, balcony).

-Oh god, we have another Ki. One is an autistic seven year old boy and one works in fashion so is also to all extents and purposes an autistic seven year old boy.

- TK talks about his hedonistic, addictive streak… this is important… this is something it would be good for a relatable mainstream character talking about on the telly at a respectable time of day.

- Exercise… so the advice on this is less clear and whilst exercise is very good for you indeed, it will not make you lose weight… and as a fat girl who has always done a lot of exercise you have to be very careful to avoid injury. But both I and the scientists can recommend weight training in particular as a way to get you and your body to work together, and strong is the new blah blah blah.

Episode 4 - Fake junk food

- I hate everything about this episode.

- Maybe don’t bother making your own doner kebab from scratch. Maybe just order a sheesh kebab?

- I can understand why sometimes one might use low fat yogurt in a sauce (I sometimes use quark which is higher in protein than yogurt) but to add artificial sweetener in a savoury yogurt sauce… there’s just no need. Don’t do it. No one needs a fake kebab served with fake Yop.

- This whole recipe is grim, kill it with fire

- OMG he just killed it with fire - a literal blow torch - and it looks DIS-GUST-ING

- Tom’s take on cheat days is quite sound though, although we need to kill the term “cheat days”. If you eat your week’s excess calories in one delicious cheat day, then don’t be surprised if you don’t lose weight or indeed gradually gain weight. If you are someone for whom cheat days are crucial - foodies, chefs, people in the hospitality industry - consider the Fast Diet or 5:2 so you have enough spare calories to get you through the tasting menu with wine pairings, and gain all the potential benefits of intermittent fasting on your system.

-Nice to see a man bemoaning the clothes he can’t fit in to. Not “nice” but, y’know, good to see on telly, not "just" a women's issue

- Oooh, donuts. He’s making donuts. I like donuts. I am interested.

- Oh, he’s using donut-shaped moulds and a piping bag. I’m literally never going to do this.

- Another super interesting bit which the producers are going to totally skip over. Being seen as a Big Bloke is an identity. It was his identity, and that doesn’t encourage Big Blokes to cut down.


This is one of my issues with this whole fucking Tom Kerridge Diet venture. I listened to him on the wonderful Diane Henry’s podcast. He came across very well, and Henry is both an excellent interviewer and congenial company for this long format show. They have time and space to talk freely and widely. And the most telling part was TK expounding on his larger life. How he could be larger than life. How he achieved success and respect in the food industry as a Big Man. How he found love. How he had a telly career. How no ever gave him a hard time. And when felt the first twinge of negative impact on his health, he quit booze, quit carbs, spent hours every day in the gym… he had money, time, support, minimal stigma. He says he never suffered for his weights. He had the skills and knowledge and budget to totally transform his life. That’s nice for him. But I find it cynical and disingenuous to peddle this totally DIFFERENT utter bullshit low cal sub-prime sub-scientific Buy-My-Book BOLLOCKS, and use this charming cast of single mums, military wives, lonely immigrants, people who are tired and poor and busy and sick and bullied.

Fuck off Tom Kerridge. Take your fake donuts and kebabs and Elmlea Single and fuck off.

Leave the spice rack and the blow torch though. We like those.

By wickedsara, Feb 12 2018 12:56PM

If you want to want to make the gods laugh, make plans.

The first two days of my Quit Sugar Plan were full of misery, self loathing, cravings, blind fury, and totally spurious online purchases. But there were also some less spurious, optimistic shopping. Ingredients for a restorative chicken broth, vegetables for roasting, pickles for snacking. I’d also acquired some neoprene socks and gloves that should allow me to swim outside (in a heated pool, I’m not a maniac) all year round. I was getting into the groove and was looking forward to feeling better.

Then, there was a death in the family.

I was determined not to be derailed - there’s never a good time to make changes to your lifestyle, and a new lifestyle has to be able to withstand, y’know, life. But life also has to be lived in the real world, and in real time. There are long motorway journeys, complete with petrol station convenience stores, service stations where the healthiest options are something of a compromise amongst the Starbucks, McDonalds and drive-thru Greggs. Meals are grabbed on the go, or or far later and further from home than one would wish. There’s the endless admin and bureaucracy, the different griefs and sadnesses of a complicated cast of loved ones. There are teas and biscuits, and the beige buffet and card-behind-the-bar of the funeral.

A lot of emotional calories are burnt and need to be replenished. We take comfort where we can find it.

And, at times of stress and sadness, food is a comfort. I try to show my partner that he is loved and safe by putting more butter into the mashed potato, making dessert on a weeknight, filling the cupboards with treats. I bake* cinnamon buns at the weekend so the house of mourning will be filled with warmth and sweetness. There is a German word - there’s always a German word - Kummerspeck - which can be translated either as grief bacon, the bacon you comfort eat in your sadness, or grief fat, the weight you gain from eating said grief bacon.

So, no, the diet’s not been going well.

You will be very pleased to know that my reading has come along excellently. I am brilliant at reading. When it comes to reading, I have willpower, determination, focus. I also have new glasses so I can really - y’know - see what I’m reading.

I’ve also been engaging both ears in the struggle, taking on some of these books on Audible on long car journeys. I also listened to food writer Bee Wilson’s recent Radio 4 series Sweetness and Desire: A Short History of Sugar on iPlayer.

She addresses the debate - which divides scientists, doctors, dieticians and wellness bollock-peddlers alike - as to whether or not sugar is addictive. The way it caresses the rewards centres of the brain, the exhilarating roller coaster ride of soaring and plummeting blood sugar, are well recorded and understood. The newer science into the way it requisitions your fat cells, creating room within the sugar-sensitive for you to expand into, like you were one of those expandable suitcases - is widely known and understood. And the influence on sugar on appetite is so bloody complicated and difficult to measure - working on both the hormones and the emotions - that some still assert that sugar isn’t addictive like a drug: it’s simply more-ish.

Whether or not sugar is a chemically addictive substance, there are plenty of us in the population who have a problematic relationship with it. And those of us who engage in addictive behaviour to the detriment of our health, happiness, wellbeing, the biochemistry of it is by-the-by.

It's really only ever socially acceptable to be an addict if nobody needs to know or speak about it ever.

Russell Brand has, quite endearingly, been addicted to most things and seems to be able to turn the most benign of activities - yoga, using long words, wearing skinny jeans - into potentially life-destroying, relationship-devastating, career-defining problems. Sugar, sex, work, scag, he's done ‘em all in ways, quantities that make his very survival a miracle significant enough to justify his erstwhile Messiah complex.

He knows of what he speaks. His book is a marvellous companion to anyone engaged in or curious about 12 Step Programmes. I for one am grateful for his very sensible unpicking of the "higher power" malarkey. And if your drinking, eating, bonking, whatever, feel totally out of control, you can find your nearest meeting with a quick Google in Incognito mode, and you can download this book on your Kindle or Audible without anyone ever knowing, and you will receive a dose of compassion, understanding, and a total absence of judgement. It was a hug and vote of confidence I had no idea I even needed and I found myself, headphones on, Brand's Artful Dodger tones in my ears, tears pouring down my fat face.

So, time to try again. Fail again. Fail better. The diet, as the saying goes, starts tomorrow. Tomorrow, as it so happens is Shrove Tuesday, otherwise known as Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday - or Pancake Day. This is the day when Christians have one last blow-out before the fasting and repentance of Lent. Lots of people give up chocolate or booze, and this year, following the popularity of Veganuary, I imagine a great deal of people will be doing Vebruary or Vent or some such. And so, fine, I’ll do it, I’ll give up sugar for Lent, just like Jesus did. I am basically Jesus.

I might have been listening to a little too much Russell Brand.

*OK, they were IKEA Bake From Frozen Cinnamon Rolls, but it’s the thought that counts.

By wickedsara, Jan 27 2018 04:38PM

Last weekend, Angela Hartnett went on Desert Island Discs and said that the British don’t have a food culture, there are just some people who have money and can afford to pay for good food.

Hartnett is a deity in the culinary pantheon, and is unusual in that she is both a shining star and an eminently sensible person. A woman of such no-nonsense credentials that she laughed in the pock-marked face of Gordon Ramsey, and lived to tell the tale. She takes none of this cheffy, foodie willy-wangling seriously, because it is, after all, “just a plate of carrots”.

Journalist Debora Robertson followed up with a thoughtful piece on the particular nastiness of Food Snobbery in the Telegraph. One commentator snidely remarked that the Torygraph should push off out of The Struggle, to which the glorious Ruby Tandoh suggested she “cunt off”. It was a great day on Food Twitter.

I chimed in. I struck up a conversation with one of my favourite booze-writers and Kitchen Cabinet regular Rachel McCormack. As a Scottish food and drink writer, with expertise in Catalan food, drink and politics, I was surprised by the vehemence of her take:

We don't have a food culture, we just don't. Our food is a class signifier far more than a culture.

I find this idea fascinating, and shaming. It feels true. I feel it as I walk up Chapel Market on a Sunday from the Farmers Market end to the Daily Market end. I felt it when I squealed with delight when my partner told me we were getting a Whole Foods at the end of the road, and my moans of disappointment when it turned out we were in fact getting a joinery and an HSS hire. I feel it when one of my neighbours at our Housing Co-op has to sign for my Veg Box or Wine Discovery crate or the Ocado van pulls up. I feel it when I drop off my Food Bank donations by the till at Waitrose , or worse when I get an Uber to take it round in person. In Islington - Islington. Say it twice for there are indeed two Islingtons.

But it also feels totally untrue. Who is the “we” here? Who are the British of whom we speak? What is this beige buffet of Britishness, class-ist, philistine, pale and bland as white bread?

I find all this talk of class alienating. Because my experience was of growing up in a vibrant food culture, which I am sure combined many diverse aspects of class, wealth and virtue signals, but in such a mishmash that you could not hope to decode it, even with a copy of Debrets and minor public school education.

Because I - and I am inherent to any we I can participate in - was raised in a vibrant and class-fluid food culture. I speak, of course, of the ancestral homeland, the Old Country.


Ilford is a London suburb the Essex/East End border, which, like a reverse Mecca or a shit Jerusalem, unites travellers from across the world in the fervent desire to get the hell out, go mad, or kill everyone. And, like Jerusalem, it has its Jewish, Muslim, and Christian quarters, with further fractions etched out by Hindu, Sikh and Chinese diasporas, waves and tides of 20th century immigration ebbing and lapping on the shores of the Cranbrook Road. It became home to the refugees of innumerable wars and disaster areas. Ugandan Indians, Kurds, Romanians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Serbs and Croats. And the economic migrants, Nigerians, Polish, Hungarian. It was a Ithaca: a place you had hoped would be journey’s end, but was in fact a bit of a disappointment. A rest rather than a new beginning. A bad motherland, to which we are all ambivalently attached.

Say what you like about Ilford, but it is a place where you’ve been able to find tahini, turmeric and jackfruit since, I dunno, decimalisation. Most of these items you could buy at any hour of the day or night, and be served by a tiny child who had been left to mind the shop whilst the adults were at second jobs or night school, at the mosque or synagogue, or in prison. Purchase and consumption of these items signified nothing - nothing - except the taste of home.

And it really didn't matter whose home. On festivals we would exchange samosas or jalebi or pierogi or hammantashen or honey cake with our neighbours and drink masala chai three doors down. There is a whle world of dumplings and a season for each one. We consumed a lot of chicken. Fried pieces in boxes, or in a soup lovingly simmered for the precise amount of time to extract the maximum amount of guilt. On a Sunday mornings you can wander along the Barkingside High Street, which is by any normal metric an utter shithole, and join a queue for fresh Sri Lankan curries or Jewish bagels or Italian gelato. There is an egg-free cake shop, British, Halal, Kosher and African butchers and fishmongers. There are four Jewish delis and bakeries, ranging from the Glatt to the glitzy. There is no shortage of grilled meat, kebabs, chicken shops, noodle bars. Vast banqueting suites accomodate large celebration meals, and local cooks cater for weddings of some thousand guests, often in marquees in suburban back gardens.

You could accuse us having no culture in Ilford - the cinema long ago became a bingo hall which became a mega-mosque which became flats - but you cannot say we have no food culture.

That said, and without wanting to sound racist against, y’know, white people, I do kind of agree that the British in general have no food culture. I can go to the house of any of my Indian, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Israeli, Nigerian, West Indian, or Scandinavian friends, safe in the knowledge and mutual understanding that I am going to be fed. And time and again I have been baffled and outraged by friends (only ever the white, British ones - and the whiter and more British they are the more likely this is to happen) turning up at my house, having already eaten, as if I wasn’t going to feed them like foie gras geese from the moment they arrived to the second they left.

Food is my culture. I feel a twitch on the end of each strands of my DNA, like the taste of madeleines on a thousand foreign tongues. I feel it in my bones and the bones of my ancestors as they dissolve into distant soil: come, sit, eat.

In Pygmalion, Professor Henry Higgins boasts that he can pinpoint here a person is from by listening to the way they talk. “I can place any man within six miles. I can place him within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets.” I once had a linguistics tutor pull the same trick on me. It was creepy. But I would defy him to do the same thing now. Talk to a young Londoner. The ubiquity of Multicultural London English is a great leveller. On the top deck of the bus (the horror, the horror) you can’t tell the schools apart. And whilst there is a huge gulf between rich and poor, and the extremes of both in this capital are truly horrifying, there is a Multicultural London way of speaking. There is a Multicultural London way of eating. And in the centre of town, and in the places where being Minority Ethnic is not a minority position, there is a London Multicultural Food Culture which is divorced from class. An immigrant, diasporic, food culture. A sense of the importance and significance of food and meals and flavours. An appreciation of our own and your neighbours diverse food heritage. A love of the marketplace and the communal table. An ear for languages where foreign is the same word as guest and friend. The importance, virtue, culture, and significance of hospitality.

And, tbh, some asshole’s going to sprinkle sumac and pomegranate seeds on your kebab wherever you are, from Ilford to Islington. What you are prepared to pay for it, in what environs, and with what brand of soap in the bogs, is another story - and this is where the the conversation goes full circle. If you have no food culture, but you do have money, you can afford to buy one in, from the Connaught or Ottolenghi or Whole Foods or Deliveroo or Blue Apron or the DietChef.

Maybe I’m guilty of over-romanticising the immigrant food experience. The food of poverty, the bread of affliction, the cheap cuts of meat, the over-reliance of sweet treats, the economic and social impoverishment of generations of immigrant women slaving over hot stoves to feed the family on a pittance whilst the neighbours turn up their noses. We should talk of the dietary diseases more prevalent amongst People of Colour and second generation immigrants. We should talk of the chicken shops around the school gates. We should talk about the amounts of money spent on marketing crap food at kids and the totally other amounts of money being spent on school meals, home economics lessons, growing spaces, playgrounds. We should talk about about the food banks.

My partner is from white, British working class stock. They do things differently there. I now too turn up Having Already Eaten, because I learnt the hard way: line your stomach, or you’ll end up singing/falling over/throwing a chair/throwing up/getting naked by 3pm at a Romford wake because you assumed that lunch would be served.

It’s only 5 miles from Ilford and Romford, but it may as well be 500 or 5000.

I don’t know what they make of me and my food. Foreign muck? Posh nosh? Do I give off wafts of a different culture entirely, like the tell-tale scent of frying onions and or slow-cooked sabbath cholent. Like the banquet of curry smells from next door when all their kids are home from university, the eye-watering wince of vinegar being boiled for pickles, or the uric tang of a hot pho pot bubbling away two doors down or the unseasonal barbecue from the house behind, a familiar-unfamiliar meat - mutton or goat. And throw your windows open on a spring morning and you’ll get waves of bacon, chai, cholla bread, and the sounds of TVs in a dozen languages, and music in a dozen different keys, and Sikh builders shouting at Polish builders, and the soft shoe shuffle of the Lubovitchers and the revving engines of the rudeboys before we all go home for Sunday lunch.

Sunday lunch. Maybe that’s something we can all agree on. That you should have a Sunday lunch with your Mam or your auntie or your Nan and whoever else is around. You gather at table, at your folks’ house or the Toby Carvery or your uncle’s restaurant, with a mountain of roast beef or bags full of bagels and plastic containers from the deli or six different curries and chutneys, with the old folks telling the same story for the hundredth time, and the ageless bickering of siblings and the screaming of babies. Maybe we can agree on the Great British Sunday Lunch, whatever the menu, as our shared food culture.

Leave room for pudding.

By wickedsara, Jan 16 2018 12:07AM

Happy Blue Monday! How’s your January going? Sucky? GREAT.

As our annual celebration of Good Will to All Men gives way to the yearly Festival of Self-Loathing and Unsisterly Side-eyeing of All Women, I would like to offer you a complete and highly scientific review of the available literature, with some editorialising by me, a person whose name is DOCTORS and whose opinion is therefore SCIENCE.

There have already been some excellent and insightful reviews of the latest diet books to skew the sales figures of the publishing industry and convince the world that people are still buying and reading books. I'm guilty of participating in this myself. New Year, new me, new fad diet book. My resolution last year was to Stop Dieting and Start Living, a venture so successful that in a mere 12 months I have gained a celebratory ten kilos, which translates to about 22lbs or, to help you visualise, 44 bags of sugar.

I think it was those 44 bags of sugar which were the problem.

I love sugar. It has been my lifelong friend, companion, secret elicit affair. I have shared beds and holidays and dining tables with it. We've had cozy nights on the sofa and raucous nights out on the lash. I have never met a dessert I didn't like, although I always wonder about people who order the crumble when there’s a sticky toffee or chocolate pud on the menu. I have a particular love for the unloved and unpopular treats. Chocolate covered raisins, Fry's Turkish Delight, marzipan, glaceé cherries, soft red liquorice, jelly beer bottles. I am a recent convert to doughnuts. Cadbury Twirls and Picnics are obvious choices but good ones. Marshmallows are underrated, and chocolate covered marshmallows are my absolute favourite, see also the M&S Walnut Whip. Anything sold by the cash register at TK Maxx or Topshop is an undiscovered gem, in fact 9 of the 10 kilos I gained last year were Candy Kittens. And if you were wondering who the hell buys those sweets by the check out at Toyshop and TK Maxx: it me.

I try to be as body positive as the next person (which is generally Not Very, but hey ho, change comes slow) and so this isn't about changing how I look, but it is about changing. Yes, I have a problem. And having lost over 65kg (which is, coincidentally, the weight I should be for my height if you believe in BMIs), not to mention the years and years of diets and regains that marked my teens and twenties, I know I need to get off this slippery slope. Sure, it’s been a hell of a year, and eating my emotions was probably the of the least harmful things I could do in the circumstances, but… but… BUT.

Added to this I have all sorts of metabolic and gut-plumbing issues which mean I do gain weight easily (at around 1400 kcals as day), and digest sugars poorly. I have a family history of diabetes and liver problems, a personal history of yo-yo dieting, and a really complex and painful medical status quo. All in, it would be no bad thing to quit sugar, lose a few pounds, no big deal.

I first quit sugar in 2002, when we were all doing Atkins. Fat was in and Carbs were out. Little did we know then of the harm all the nitrates in the bacon and salami were doing us, so that we might as well have been putting them in a pipe and smoking them. There were no sweets. You were meant to avoid Diet Coke and all caffeine and any other addictive substances, but I ignored that, and replaced the sugar in my diet with endless coffee, fags and sugar-free fizzy drinks. Boozing was quite tricky in Atkins as your body simply processes alcohols into Happy Sugars, but switching my customary quadruple Baileys for a gin-and-slim and a sugar free vodka jelly no doubt contributed to my Astounding Weight Loss. I was at Uni, and I didn't have a kitchen, so I worked out how to live on mugs of microwaved scrambled eggs (they turn in to a perfect eggy sphere) and the occasional Pepperami. Friends would come round to feast on ham (the poor students had been starved of protein themselves) and all the left over Baileys I was no longer drinking.

I lost a shedload of weight. It took me about 5 years to regain it (and then some) but with courage, perseverance, and three unhappy love affairs followed by a stable relationship with a loveable slob, I did it. And so, I had to quit sugar again. This time I did Weight Watchers. I had a WW meeting in Soho, near the publishing house I worked at. I was living alone in gorgeous little flat in a posh area, a cool day job, and was working on a load of shows evening and weekends. I was swanning around feeling very pleased with myself and eating my bag of Florette salad leaves like crisps, and GUESS WHAT - the cravings subsided, the weight came off.

Then I got a real grown up difficult job with a long commute. It was less glamourous, but I was busy and important. I moved in with the loveable slob and together we ate man-portions at home and restaurants. It was before the credit crunch and eating out was a thing people could do. I worked long hours, but luckily there were plenty of places to grab plentiful cheap food. A bacon sandwich for breakfast would often be required what with the late nights and early mornings. Chocolate brazils would get you through the afternoon energy slump. And drinks and a bite to eat in the evening, obviously. We’d just moved in to King's Cross, as the first outriders of gentrification, setting up camp around the same time as the area’s first tapas bar, so my diet was soon 90% chorizo and cider. And around the same time came the trend of fancy milkshake bars, and it was important to me to support the local economy. My favourite of these milkshakes contained chocolate ice cream, whole milk, a Dime bar, and two whole chocolate muffins.

Not that I consumed these things regulalry or engaged in binges, you understand. I wasn't trying to gain weight. But these things would call to me, speak to me, and I spent a lot of time, energy and mental exertion trying not to eat them. Attempts to get my diet and my thoughts under control failed and failed again. Finally after very drastic surgery, which also failed and failed again, I no longer had the appetite, capacity or desire to eat sugar. My new regime was necessarily low carb, low calorie. I lost over 80% of my excess body fat.

Ironically, becoming slimmer gave me permission to enjoy food, to be open about liking food, and to not feel like food was in charge of me. It was liberating and joyous. It was also remarkably short lived.

When I took up running in my new lean(ish) body, I found it necessary to unquit sugar. This so confused my metabolism that whilst I still much lighter, I am now over 80% marshmallow. Marshmallows are made from egg whites, which is a good source of lean protein, and sugar, which is not. Sugar confused me and my appetite and my emotions, and I have been in its thrall, expending incredible amounts of time and energy trying to avoid it, only to find myself ecstatically polishing off the Percy Pigs (to say nothing of the Reversey Percies, which are not just just delicious, but win extra points for sounding FILTHY).

So, here we are. I don’t want to Go On A Diet, but I do want to get rid of this toxic relationship and these 10kgs I seem to have found (and as many of their friends as want to go along for the ride). I’m ploughing my way through range of literature on the subject and will report back. I want to understand the science and my own experiences in a wider context, so I’m including diet books, science, history, recipes. This is my reading list - let me know what you think!

Gary Taubes: The Case Against Sugar and Why We Get Fat

Dr Jeff S Valek and Dr Stephan D Phinney: The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living

Dr Michael Mosley: The Eight-Week Blood Sugar Diet

James Walden: Sugar

Michael Pollan: The Botany of Desire and The Ominvore’s Dilemma

Russell Brand: Recovery - Freedom from our Addictions

Dr Robin Lustig: Fat Chance - the hidden truth about sugar, obesity and disease

Plus I’ve got a load of I Quit Sugar-type bollocks, and the new Tom Kerridge, which I am dubious about because I think that someone might have killed and eaten the old Tom Kerridge and is wearing his deflated skin around like a macabre man-suit in order to sell books. But I'll probably give these books a cursory glance as well, if only because I think they might be funny.

So, Happy New Year, Happy New You. Wish me luck!

*stuffs last marshmallow in face and hopes no one notices*

RSS Feed

Web feed