Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Shopska Salata

Шопска салата: This delicious Bulgarian salad is a new discovery for me; it's similar to a Greek salad but in my opinion, is so much better. Apparently it is named for the Shopi people in the villages to the west of Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, and was popularised (some say, invented in 1960) by the state-run tourist organisation, Balkantourist. If this is true, I'd hazard a guess that it's actually an updated traditional recipe... I cannot imagine that something like this has only been around for 50 years!

Young man in shopp dress from Tran, Bulgaria. 1921 (sourced from Wikimedia Commons)

If you are unable to source any sirene (сирене...which simply translates as cheese, although I am told it's specifically white cheese), follow the advice of my lovely Bulgarian friend, Velin Bachev (do check out his work - he is a brilliant sculptor and musician!), who confirms that feta would be an acceptable substitute. He also says it's okay to crumble the feta/sirene instead of grating it... have you ever tried to grate feta? Just don't - it's not pretty! Make sure you rinse and dry the cheese really well (with kitchen roll), which makes it easier to crumble. If using feta, don't salt the salad because there's enough salt in the cheese. Unless unlike me, you are fond of overly salty food! I probably didn't use as much sirene as some of the Bulgarians do... but they probably don't need to watch what they eat like I do!

Friday, 18 November 2011


Today I am making a stand!

I've had enough of being in a funk (partially induced by illness, admittedly) and it's time to do something about it. There are things I desperately want to change, which are out of my control at the moment, so I'm doing the next best thing - changing the things I *can* change.

First up.....my wardrobe! Not change exactly but I'm having a massive clear out. If I haven't worn it for two years then it's out. And I am finally going to say goodbye to all my suits....how did I get to the point where I had 23 suits?

The footwear stays though!

Then the cosmetics - why do I have 17 different lipsticks when I only ever wear two (and one of those is rarely)? Do I need all this hair goo when 99% of the time my hair has dread extensions? And just how many hairbrushes does a woman need....especially given that she never brushes her hair because this happens?...

And then my workroom - I'm never going to use all the fabric I have accumulated over the years, so I may as well be rid of it. Anyone want to buy some really good quality latex, by the way?!

How did I acquire so much stuff? I don't need it, and now it feels it is just cluttering up my life. I'm feeling stifled, trapped, and bogged down....it's damaging my self-esteem, it's damaging my creativity, and it's damaging my psyche.

Enough now.

Monday, 31 October 2011

On The Road To Recovery At Last - Normal Service Will Resume Soon

I can't believe I've been sick for so long; for more than two weeks I've had some kind of virus, which just would not let go of me. I know I'm great company but really, enough is enough...be off with you! No really...look, there's the door...sod off...it's over between us!

I want to be out running, not running a temperature. I had to miss my first-ever race on Saturday...I wasn't best pleased, especially as I wasn't even well enough to drag my sorry carcass to the sidelines to cheer my teamsters on. On the plus side, it was fantastic to hear that they ran faster than ever before...probably because they didn't have to keep pace with me. And by pace, I do in fact mean shamble!

Anyway, I had Swine Flu earlier this year and apparently it can take ages for the body to fully recover, and of course, while it is doing so, I'm vulnerable. Whether this has had any bearing on how sick I've been, I have no idea...but it's a distinct possibility.

Cute little thing though, isn't he? He's from Giant Microbes.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Calamari Con Mozzarella e Peperoncino

I love calamari; I love it breaded and deep-fried, and served with a fresh garlic mayonnaise dip. I love it in a seafood risotto, or in a not-too-spicy chilli and tomato sauce, served with pasta. I've never stuffed it though, so a few evenings ago, I had the idea of stuffing it with mozzarella, coating it in breadcrumbs, and then frying it off for a couple of minutes to get a nice crispy coating but without cooking the squid too much.

I was languishing in the bath, watching GodSlater on my laptop (I have a speaker system set up in my bathroom, which I can hook my laptop up to, thus enabling me to watch downloaded TV - it's generally the best way to get me to pay attention, otherwise, I'm doing something else while the TV is on)! Anyway, I digress....I was watching GodSlater cook his prawns in chilli sauce, when I thought, "Oooh, that looks like a fab idea - I'm going to try that with some calamari!"

Which I did. And they were nom.

So thank you Nigel; once again you have inspired my culinary adventures!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Sweaters for Penguins!

I have The Plague. For certain. I know this must be true because I am sneezing, there is goo running from my nose, and I have swellings on the front of my chest.

Oh, OK then, I have a lurgy....but it's horrid, and it jolly well hurts. My appendages feel leaden, and I am all wibbly-wobbly...not in a fun timey-wimey kind of way but in a, "Oh dear gods, I cannot stand up for more than five minutes" kind of way. On the plus side, I'm 4lbs lighter than I was at the beginning of the week; however, I suspect that it won't last once I'm eating properly again. I may have blown apart the 'starvation mode' theory I hear so much about on MFP! Ha ha!

So what has this got to do with penguin sweaters? Well, I could sit and watch Waking the Dead DVDs, or I could play on Pinterest. I could read, or I could get all sweaty with my LoveSprite (heheh!). In fact, I've done all these things (except play Assassin's Creed - my head hurts too much for that) and now I'm bored with it all. I must therefore be very ill because I never get bored! So I'm now going to watch Mad Men DVDs and be productive at the same time! Since an important part of my mind is somewhere in a field in Hampshire (10 points if you can tell me which song that's from), I don't want anything which is going to be too taxing...and I want something which will knit up quickly because I fully intend to be better by tomorrow. So, Sweaters for Penguins it shall be!

Source: www.grist.org

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Quinoa and Cheese Patties

This is another great recipe which I found on Pinterest. It's from Linda over at Eating Well, Living Thin According to her description, this recipe originally used rice, not quinoa. I've not tried it with rice but my lovely friend Chrissy has, and assures me it works very well. One to try then!

I discovered that Linda's recommended amount of salt was far too much for amato mio's and my tastes, so I've reduced the amount by 50% for the quinoa, and have completely omitted it from the patty mix itself. I also made the patties thinner than Linda recommends, for no other reason than that was just the way they came out! However, having the slimline versions meant that they got completely 'lost' inside a wholemeal burger bun, and overpowered by the tomatoes I'd put in too! The second time we had them, I served them on a bed of green leaves, with some sliced raw pepper, half an avocado each, and a little of my maple and mustard dressing, which worked perfectly.

Friday, 14 October 2011

For the good of all womankind....

... please pass this on to all your male friends, relatives and lovers...and gosh, even your male colleagues, the pizza delivery boy, and the milkman!

1000 Things Men Don't Know About Women

The following are just a few of my favourites (and believe me, it was really difficult to narrow them down):

Monday, 10 October 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - No-Bake Nutella and Oat Cookies

I love Nutella - I make no secret of this fact. In Venexia, some of the gelaterie (which also serve crepes) have jars so large, I could almost fit my head inside. Perhaps fortunately, I've never actually bought a jar that big!

I found this recipe through Pinterest; it's from a great blog called Megan's Cookin' (where she also has some really fun Hallowe'en recipes!). I've changed the quantity of sugar that Megan states in her original recipe - after making these cookies, I found that 300g was just too much...I am of course, the only person in this house who has this opinion! Other than that (the stirring, and the bit at the end), I make no claims upon this recipe!

These cookies are really filling, and probably better, healthwise, than shop-bought ones. And of course, they are great to make with children because aside from the actual melting of ingredients, the kids can pretty much do all of this themselves. If you are going to make these with children, I suggest that you put the oats into a large mixing bowl and add the molten choc mix to the oats, rather than adding the oats to the pan - it just makes things a bit safer!

One last thing - they may look at first glance to be less-than-diet-friendly but trust me, one is really all you need (unless you answer to the name, amato mio, and live in my house)!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Cardamom Pecan Praline

This another really simple, yet wonderfully delicious recipe. Be warned however, it is incredibly more-ish, so you may want to make a little extra!

Not only is this praline delicious as a topping for ice cream, creamy puddings, or something like my baked figs, it works really well as an appetizer before a meal.

I apologise for the terrible photos!

Recipe/Ricetta - Prawn, Mango and Avocado Cous Cous Salad

This salad is simplicity itself, yet full of taste and nutritional goodness. It's also something you could get your children involved with - even very young children are capable of making the dressing, and then mixing the whole lot together.

You could actually eat this by itself and still have almost all the nutritional requirements for a meal, but I love to have it with something very decadent such as my baked figs. Try it for yourself and see what you think!

A word about cooking scampi (prawns/shrimp): I can't tell you how long to cook yours for because we all like them cooked differently; I like mine quite well-done but some like them almost raw. Some of the fish merchants in the pescheria di Rialto like to eat them raw - they claim that it's the best way to taste them. One or two even go so far as to say that the prawn is tough like a man, and the shrimp is sweet like a woman! I have never tasted raw scampi, so I just take their word for it!

Recipe/Ricetta - Fichi al forno con scalogno caramellato e Dolcelatte (Baked Figs)

Well, it's been far too long, hasn't it? Fortunately for my bank balance, I've had quite a bit of freelance work come my way recently; however, unfortunately for my blog, it's meant I've had very little free time.

I also haven't had much time to experiment in la cucina - that's not to say I've been idle; old favourites have been trotted out....and by that, I do mean old favourites. For example, I have very fond memories of the shepherd's pies my mother's mother (my English Nan) used to make me, as I'm sure, do my children of the ones I used to make for them, but we don't eat meat in this house, so I used Quorn instead, and it turned out wonderful! If anyone is interested, I'll happily blog the recipe.

On the few occasions recently when I've had time to play, I've had mixed results; from the positively orgasmic (or mouthf**k as one friend declared!), to the running-around-looking-for-the-fire-extinguisher-because-I'd-gone-overboard-with-the-harissa! (Hey, I'm half-Venetian, not Moroccan!)

So today, we'll have mouthgasms; I'll blog the fiery Moroccan Not-Meatballs another day!

Friday, 9 September 2011

From funk to f**k yeah!

Well, I have to say, it's been a rotten week, and it's showing no sign of improving any time soon...although I know it will.

I've not strayed from the path of staying within my cals but workouts have gone to pot (I've done very little for the past week); worse, I feel like I'm in a deep, dark hole right now, trying to claw my way out.

It's no big deal really but I've managed to get myself into a hormonal funk (thank you peri-menopause), and while I know it's only a temporary setback, and that as soon as 'it' arrives (assuming it ever will again), I'll stop being so damn emo (and be back to my cheery, positive, kick-ass self), at the moment everything is such a huge effort...and TBH, I feel utterly exhausted with the trying. And I've been trying so hard to not let it show.

So I apologise to all my wonderful friends - and you are all so very wonderful - I'm aware that I've been a lousy chum recently but in all honesty, despite knowing that you'd tell me exactly what I'd tell you, I still cannot bring myself to inflict this awful melancholy on you.

I know you'd tell me that friends help each other; they listen; they comfort; they cheer; they are there through good times and bad. I absolutely know that, and I know that each and every one of you would be there with the tissues, as I would with you....but my innate stubborn-ness kicks in and tells me that it's an admission of failure to cry in front of my friends.

Anyway, today is the day I kick this in the arse. I really can't do much about the fact that ToM has gone AWOL again but I can decide to not let my horrible hormonal state dictate how I live my life. I have a bit of a backlog of work to catch up with (because I've been next to useless all week), plus I am helping my lovely friend, Victoria, with her PR for her debut fashion show next week (Jerboa Jewellery - check it out, it's awesome)...AND I'm going to make myself a new dress for the occasion. Heck, it's London Fashion Week - I have a duty to show these up and coming designers what real style is! ;-)

So this is me, creatively going off to distract myself...normal service will be resumed ASAP.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

My Super-Power.... Hyperosmia!

Despite amato mio's claims that I am part-Vulcan, my acute sense of smell is likely to be due to the fact that I am a regular migraine sufferer. Apparently this is quite a rare condition...which partners nicely with my almost-rarer-than-hens'-teeth blood group, AB Negative. I am a member of a very elite club, it seems - less than half of 1% of the world's population shares my blood group!  I wonder how many hyperosmians there are worldwide!

Sultan Mehmed II smelling a rose, from the Sarayı Albums. Source: Bilkent University 

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Woohoo - my stamina returns!

People say life's unfair, and I'm inclined to agree....but in some ways, I think it's a good thing! If life was fair, all the stupid and irresponsible stuff I did during my adolescence would surely have caught up with me by now! So in a manner of speaking, I am pretty glad that life is unfair!

However, I do think it entirely unreasonable that despite amato mio's cold only getting a hold on me for two days (proof of how much fitter and healthier I am now), several weeks later, I am still feeling its effect on my chest. Amato mio had it quite badly, which was a worry because he almost never gets sick; however, it went to his chest and he still has a bit of a cough. I developed a very slight cough but nothing much to speak of, and yet it seriously affected my running. My stamina levels dropped significantly, and whereas before I was (just) able to run for 25 minutes without any intervals, for the last couple of weeks, I've had to drop right back to only 10 minutes with two minutes of walking in between.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Stay motivated by calculating your averages!

Just out of curiosity, I looked at my weight loss spreadsheet just now, and saw that my weight has dropped 19 times in 130 days - that's an average of once every 6.8 days!

That's not bad going, even if there *are* weeks when I stay the same, and times when I appear to gain because of water retention. My average loss per drop is 1.15lbs (0.52kg). Pretty cool eh?

I think this is quite a nice little motivational tool!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Oh please - get a grip!

One of my closest real-life friends posted this as their status update on Facebook today... (pasted here as it was written - bad grammar/punctuation, an' everything!)

"RIP Broken Britain.. You went soft on discipline!.. You went soft on immigration!You went soft on crime.. Parents were told.. 'No you can't smack the kids'....Teachers were prevented from chastising kids in schools.. The police couldn't clip a troublemaker round the ear.. Kids had rights blah blah blah.. Well done Britain..You shall reap what you sow.. We have lost a whole generation. ­Repost if you agree with this."

Note the bit about re-posting if in agreement.

My response was thus...

"Sorry, I cannot agree about smacking children. I don't believe it's ever acceptable to use physical violence against another, especially not a child. Even 'just a smack' can cause trauma, both physical and mental. Why would anyone want to cause harm to someone they love? 

As a former teacher, I can tell you that punishment *is* allowed in schools, just not corporal punishment. 

Beating/slapping/smacking another human being (or animal, for that matter) is *not* the way to make them compliant and obedient....but it's a sure way to make them discontented and feel undervalued and worthless.....and we all know where that leads. 

We should lead by example; therefore, what example are we setting people if we punish them with physical violence? That it's acceptable to be violent when someone does not do as you tell them to do? 

There is no one cause for the current situation, just as there is no one area/body of people to blame. 

We *all* have to shoulder the responsibility of making and breaking society. And let's not forget that it is we who vote in the people who make the laws so many complain about."

The thread got deleted.

Clearly some people are just happy to jump on the bandwagon and mindlessly re-post Daily HateMail-esque drivel but cannot cope when someone posts something intelligent in response. What irks me however, is that if it were face to face, this person would never agree with the original comment....or perhaps they'd just tell me what they thought I want to hear.

Why are some folk such sheeple?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

...and Now A Rave!

...about Breathe-Right nasal strips!

I always have trouble breathing through my nose when I am running because no matter which precautions I take, as soon as I get out among the trees and the grass, hayfever makes me all bunged up. Consequently, I often find myself gulping air through my mouth, which I'm sure is not terribly efficient! I know from working out that it is best to breathe in through the nose, and out through the mouth but having a nose which feels as though it's full of cotton wool makes it a tad problematic.

Hayfever (grass pollen) plushie from GiantMicrobes.com

A Rant About Rubbish!

No matter which morning I am out running in the park, I always see the detritus from the previous night's revelling. It's bad enough that there are plastic cider bottles and food wrappers strewn around but the broken glass bottles which seem to have been deliberately smashed on the pathways is a real annoyance...as well as being a danger.

What is wrong with these people? Don't they care that people walk their dogs in the park? Or that children play there? Or that we runners use these paths? I've even seen all this inside the fenced-off toddlers' play area. And if that's not bad enough, in most cases, there is a litter bin less than a metre away from wherever the rubbish has been dumped.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Minestra di Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Bean Soup)

This recipe is for my running mentor, Berry H - she's been asking me for ages to post it!

In the US, this hearty dish is often called Pasta Fazool - indeed, one of my favourite singers/musicians, Ray Gelato (who also loves to cook!) mentions it in the song, That's Amore (as did Dean Martin, of course)! As far as I know, 'fazool' is an Americanisation of the dialect for bean, 'fasul' (Napoli) or fasulu (Sicilia)... so when Ray (or Dino) sings...

"When the stars make you drool, just like Pasta Fazool,
That's amore"

...you'll now know what he is on about! In fact, Ray also references it in his song, A Pizza You, which is the intro music for his cooking show!

Like so much of cucina povera, this recipe has as many variations as there are villages in Italia! While essentially a vegetarian dish, I have known people who add leftover cuts of meat, or the sugo left from the previous night's meal (I do this myself on occasion!). Some people swear by using broth only, while others like it more tomato-based. Although there is a basic premise (it has to have pasta and beans!) there is no one right way of making this dish; use what you have, be it leftover meat (bacon or boiled ham works very well), tomato sauce, etc.

About the pasta - while I have suggested specific types, really, you can use whatever you have; this is a great way of using up all those little bits of broken lasagne, spaghetti etc., or the odd few grams of fusili or penne etc. that we all have lurking in the cupboard!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Insalata di Patate (Potato Salad)

Who doesn't love potato salad? In fact, what is there not to love about it?! It's quick and simple to make, very filling, and absolutely delicious!

If you add the mayonnaise to the potatoes while they are still warm, they will absorb more of the flavour, meaning you can use less mayo....ergo, fewer calories! Who says that losing weight means boring food?!

For variety, you could use thinly sliced raw onion instead of chives. You could also add edible flowers (chive, rocket, nasturtium, etc.) - I'm particularly fond of these because they add such colour (and taste good too).

Recipe/Ricetta - Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad)

This is one of my favourite salads - it's almost the epitome of summer for me. And not only is it super-easy to make (no cooking!), it's a great way to use up stale bread. It's said that Italians never throw anything away - certainly this tends to be true where food is concerned, especially bread. Bread is a spiritual food amongst some Italians (as in the body of Christ), so to throw it away, even when stale, is considered sacrilege. Italians are also frugal people, so really, it's just common sense to use up as much as you can. More food - less waste!

Which type of bread to use? Pane Toscano is the most authentic (of course!) but it defeats the purpose of this dish to buy bread especially to make it with! This is cucina povera - we use what we have! My panzanella more often than not, is made with granary bread because this is the type of bread we use the most here. In fact, if I'm honest, the only time I make and use Pane Toscano is when I want to make bruschetta (because you need a robust bread which isn't going to go soggy under all the veggies)!

Some people advocate toasting the bread first, or baking it in the oven, and sprayed with oil - I don't know any Italians who do this! Why make life complicated?! I'm with Carluccio - great food should be MOFMOF; Minimum Of Effort - Maximum Of Flavour. Keep this in mind, and you won't go wrong!

Recipe/Ricetta - Sparrow Grass Wrapped in Halloumi

As requested by my good friend, Sarah-Jane!

This former peasant food is one of my favourite vegetables. This dish is ridiculously simple to make, yet utterly divine, and sure to be a winner at the table. Kids love it, due to the novelty of the cheese squeaking against their teeth (OK, adults find it amusing too!), and of course, it's a great way for them to get their veg...somehow, baked vegetables seem far more appealing to children than steamed ones! Do remember to remove the cocktail sticks, however, before serving to children!

Halloumi can be very salty, so I soak mine for a few hours before using. It doesn't remove all of the salt but it does lessen it. The nutritional values below are for pre-soaked halloumi, however.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

My weight loss....in shoes!

As of this morning, I have actually lost 22lbs but the above photo is of 21lbs of my footwear (I have plenty more shoes!) - pretty cool eh? Imagine carrying all that lot around - yikes! But that's exactly what I have been doing....doesn't bear thinking about, does it?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

TIP: Converting weights, measures and volume

Several of my international readers have told me that they don't use kitchen scales, and while it is tempting to say, "Seriously, get some digital scales - your culinary life will be so much easier!", the following might be more immediately useful (although I still say get some scales)!

From Sejny (in Podlasie Voivodeship), a former Dominican Monastery. Source: Ludwig Schneider.

Recipe/Ricetta - Walnut and Lentil Burgers

In response to a request by my friend, Sandyfeet10, on MFP, here is the recipe - adapted from one I found online - for my delicious lentil burgers.

They really are incredibly simple to make, and open to all kinds of adaptations to suit you. Why not substitute other nuts, or leave them out altogether? Instead of lentils, you could use beans. Add some Parmigiano for an extra zing! Whatever you decide, don't forget to adjust the calorie and nutritional amounts.

And don't forget to get your galley-slaves children involved too - they will love mixing this big, gooey mess!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Risotto ai Frutti di Mare

How do you like your risotti? In Venexia, most people have it like a minestra (soup) - lots of liquid but very velvety, due to the milk which is often added to it. It is also cooked in stock from the start, which can make it a little lower in fat than in other northern regions. However, I actually prefer mine a little more solid, and creamy, like they make in Piedmont. I found that when they were young, my children liked Piedmontese-style risotto better than they liked Venexiana - I suppose it was easier for them to eat!

For me, risotto is almost comfort food, and like polenta, it is well worth standing at the stove for what can seem like an endless amount of time (in reality, 15-20 mins!). I find that listening to music helps a lot. By listening to music, I do in fact mean, singing along to it! It is possible to start the risotto off on the stove-top and then transfer it to the oven - certainly it makes a perfectly acceptable dish; however, I do feel I have more control over it on the top of the stove. Besides, it's not so easy to photograph the various stages of its making when it's in the oven! Also, by stirring the rice quite vigorously, you release the starch, which helps to give the risotto its creamy, velvety texture.

C25K Week 1 - Not Quite Ready To Engage Satisfied Mode...(but almost)!

So often I hear people saying they are too old to do things; too old to lose weight, too old to start an exercise programme, too old to be fit. Or they say they are too overweight, or too stiff....or any of a hundred other excuses. Yes excuses! This is not the 1950s! People - women especially - have moved on, and they are getting moving!

In my opinion, there is absolutely no reason for anyone to be middle-aged any more! My friend's Aikido sensei is in his 70s; another friend marshalls at races where two of the runners are in their late 70s. Carole Rowland was 68 when she ran her first London Marathon in 2006, yet when she started running the year before, she was hard-pushed to manage a three-minute run! These are the kind of people who inspire me! As are the people I see posting on MFP that they are doing C25K with their children, or running and pushing their babies strollers/buggies, or at 400lbs+ are walking it...for now! These are the people who are getting out there and not making excuses. They have a goal, and they are going to achieve it. Just as I am! Just as you can!

Attic black-figured Panathenaic prize amphora. Source: Marie-Lan Nguyen

Monday, 11 July 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Fortagia al Forno con Zucchini e Funghi (Oven-baked Omelette/Frittata with Courgettes and Mushrooms)

I seem to have great difficulty in cooking fortagia on the stove-top; it's a bit of a shameful thing to have to admit but there it is - no matter which pan I use, be it a skillet or a wok, my fortagii turn out like multicoloured scrambled eggs at best, and at worst, something one might see on the pavement outside a British pub on a  Saturday morning! Even trying to soufflé them under the grill proves hazardous....the last time I tried this, I set off every smoke alarm in my house, due to placing a wooden-handled wok under the grill for too long. It is now an ex-wooden-handled wok!

Then I realised I could just cook it in the oven! Why did I not do this before? Who knows? Anyway, the result is a beautiful and perfectly-formed fortagia every time, and being rectangular, it's really easy to divide up (I recommend a palette knife for this)!

This recipe only uses one whole egg, but has three egg whites. It is very flavoursome (no less-so than if it were made with whole eggs) but at a fraction of the calories and fat content of more traditional recipes. Since I really don't like the taste of eggs (but as a non-meat eater, I need all the protein I can get), I load up my fortaggii with vegetables and cheese (although not too much of course), but it really is up to you what you put in yours. Do feel free to experiment!

Be kind, then be kind, and be kind again....

I recently came across a post on My Fitness Pal, which was berating people for apparently not eating their vegetables.

Quite apart from it not being any business of the person by whom this rant was penned, it often takes a lot of courage for people to join sites such as MFP, to change their lives for the better, and even more courage to make their diaries open to the public, so I think it's wholly unfair of some people to go through said diaries, uninvited, and then have the temerity to criticise their owners in a public forum.

Hoppity & Huck - BFF, and childhood companions of amato mio and myself!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Coconut & Lime Tofu Stir Fry with Noodles and Pak Choi

This is the result of the culinary experimentation I did a few weeks ago; stir fries and I have never been best friends, so I was determined once and for all, to get over my fear of them! I hope you like the result...amato mio was rendered speechless. With delight, I hasten to add!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Involtini di Melanzana

Firstly,  I'd like to apologise for the less-than-top-quality photos....my culinary skills far outshine my photographic talents!

This delicious melanzana dish may be made without the sugo (drizzle a little oil over the top, then sprinkle with Pecorino) but it is much more filling with, plus it adds more to your five-a-day! Traditionally, the melanzane are coated with flour, then fried until just soft but my way is just as delicious, and far more healthy. See what you think!

As ever, feedback in the comments section is always appreciated! Grazie!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #15 - Count your blessings!

Don’t bemoan the fact that you haven’t lost anything this week, or that you've had a slight gain, or that you still can’t get into your skinny jeans, or that you had a bit of a slip-up at the weekend.

Be thankful that you have lost X amount thus far, that if you've maintained, that you haven’t gained, that you're getting fitter, that you're healthier. That while you may not be able to get into your skinny jeans, you do still have clothes on your back, and are not one of the 60% of the world’s population living below the poverty threshold.

So you had a slip-up - be thankful that you are not one of the 925 million people in this world who will go to bed hungry tonight.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #14 - What's on your mind?

If you are not in the right headspace, none of the other strategies I've suggested are going to work, no matter how much you’d like to think they will. I may be able to help motivate you to begin your journey, as might someone else, but you are ultimately responsible for sticking with it.

Having said that, I hope that this blog will help to get you into a positive frame of mind, and that your successes will keep you there!

Source unknown

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #13 - "Sometimes, ignoring is the appropriate response."

The quote in the title is from The Simpsons writer, George Meyer....wise words indeed.

If like me, you haven’t ever come across anyone who makes snippy, snidey remarks about your healthy lifestyle, then you (and I) are incredibly fortunate because believe me, there isn’t a day goes by when I don’t hear of someone being negative or venomous about someone else. It is a sad fact of life that often, when a mirror is held up to them, some people do not like what they see. Instead of looking at their own reflection, it's easier to be negative to the mirror.

Source unknown

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Sugo Pomodoro

The delicious tomato sauce is really easy to make, and can be used as the basis for many dishes, be it a simple spaghetti supper, pizza, Bolognese, lasagne, involtini di melanzane etc. I tend to make it in large batches, and then store it in the refrigerator in airtight glass jars but it can be frozen and will keep for around a month to six weeks in the freezer.

Before we begin, I recommend using passata; you can use fresh plum tomatoes, but why bother when passata is easily available, and works perfectly? I use Cirio Smooth Passata because it’s inexpensive and tastes great. I don’t know how widely available it is outside Europe, though. You could also use tinned tomatoes but you'll have to reduce them down to get the right flavour, making them not nearly as economical as using passata.

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #12 - Stop Making Excuses!

Seriously, I mean it! It doesn’t matter if you are going on holiday, or if it’s someone’s birthday party, or you are having chocolate cravings because ToM is due, or if it's Christmas. Why are any of these excuses?

Once you understand and accept that you can eat and drink more or less whatever you like, as long as it fits into your plan, you have no reason to ever make an excuse again  (but please, please make healthy choices!). No one is too busy to eat properly (plan ahead). No one is too busy to exercise (what, you can’t fit in 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunchtime and 10 minutes in the evening?). No one is too fat or too heavy to exercise (even a five minute walk a day to the end of the road and back is beneficial).

As someone once said, excuses are like farts – we all have them and they all stink!

Source unknown

Sunday, 26 June 2011

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #11 - Zzzzzzzz

While you are sleeping, your body is repairing itself. Insufficient sleep can lead to inefficient repairing and a sluggish system. Plus, if your muscles are sore and achey, a reluctance to exercise the next day. Not to mention the possibility of being grouchy and self-defeating!

Make sure, therefore, that you get enough sleep!

Source: www.geograph.org.uk - Sleeping Statue; The Lost Gardens of Heligan 

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #10 - Water, water, everywhere...

Water is your best friend, it really is. While there is some debate as to whether the human body really has evolved to require 8x250ml glasses of water a day, there is enough scientific evidence to prove how beneficial it is.
Source: W.J.Pilsak

Saturday, 25 June 2011

I am so, so sorry...

Dear Body,

I have no idea why I let us get like this, or how I managed to kid myself for the past few years that we still looked and felt good. I don't lie to other people, so why have I lied to us?

I know what it is; I have been maintaining the same eating habits we had when we were super-fit and on the go all the time. We went from swimming five days a week, to gym three times a week & cycling 6-10 miles a day (five days a week), to walking four miles a day, five days a week, to.....practically nothing.

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #9 - Strategies for Success

Use visual aids, understand your ‘danger zones’, keep records, read success stories, look at people’s before and after pictures, hang up your skinny jeans in a prominent place to remind you what you’re aiming for, keep photos of yourself at your ideal weight/size on the ‘fridge (or photos of a body you’d like to have!).

Make a My Virtual Model progress image....

Do whatever it takes to help you achieve your goal!

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #8 - Be determined, be stubborn!

No one ever achieved anything without enthusiasm and determination.

Determination is what keeps us going when our enthusiasm wanes. And determination is what helps us to push through our barriers, out of our comfort zone, toward that new and exciting horizon.

Friday, 24 June 2011

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #7 - Where's Your Carrot?

I'm talking about motivation of course!

It actually takes relatively little time to burn off fat. You need to burn around 3,500 calories to shift a pound of fat – this can be done in a week! It generally takes less time to lose the excess than it took to gain it – isn’t that a great thought? In my opinion, nothing breeds motivation like success, so do employ strategies to help you have tangible evidence of your own success.

Image Source: a friend of he:משתמש גילגמש.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #6 - Understand your body

You will often hear people say that you should only weigh yourself once a week. Or once a month. Or every six weeks. Or not at all. While all of these statements have merit (particularly if you are the kind of person who is likely to become de-motivated by a perceived gain or lack of a loss), in my opinion, one of the keys to successfully getting healthy is to understand your body.

Michelangelo's David

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #5 - Support and Proactive Diversity

I cannot stress enough how important this is. It’s not enough to have the support of your loved ones (although obviously this is pretty much essential too) - you need the support of peers; people who are on a similar journey to you. It doesn’t matter whether they have 20lbs or 200lbs to lose, you have a shared aim, and you’ll probably experience similar pitfalls and triumphs. Why not join an online community, such as My Fitness Pal, where you will ‘meet’ people from across the world, from all walks of life?

Source unknown

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #4 - Photos and Tape Measures!

As painful as it is to do, take photos of your progress. Please don’t shy away from it because otherwise you'll regret not having a record of all of your hard work. Take front, side and back photos, then date them and file them away...for now. Take photos every couple of weeks or every month. Then start to compare them.

Monday, 20 June 2011

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #3 - Weigh To Go!

Weigh your food and count your calories!

OK, if you are doing WW, then you don’t need to count calories but you do still need to weigh your food. A set of Digital Scales means you have no excuse for over-estimation!

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #2 - Log, log, and keep on logging!

Keep track of everything you eat or drink, especially little nibbles – they soon mount up. Not only will you be able to see which areas can be improved, but you’ll see a pattern to your eating habits.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

15 Tips for Staying on Track: #1 - Define Your Goals!

What is it you are trying to achieve? To get down to a certain weight? To be fit? To be more healthy? To tone up? To run a 5k? To run a marathon? To get a new job? To change your entire career? To be more organised? To be happy?

What exactly is it you are aiming for?

Friday, 17 June 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Tramezzini con Formaggio di Capra

(Adapted from a recipe in Taste Italia magazine.)

Perfect as a light supper, or brunch, these delicious mini toasties are deceptively filling without leaving you bloated and lethargic. The rounds of bread are lightly brushed with oil, seasoned with fresh herbs, and then gently toasted under a hot grill, before having a selection of seasonal vegetables, plus a slice of goat cheese stacked between them. Served with some baby plum tomatoes and a green salad, each tramezzino makes a refreshing alternative to the usual toasted cheese sandwich. Add a serving of home made potato salad for a more substantial meal. Favoloso!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Scars....or Why I Know I Can Do This

I am stubborn. I have always been stubborn. And it has served me well. In fact, being stubborn has quite literally kept me alive!

When I was a baby, my mother gouged my left thigh with a nappy pin. I don't remember this of course but I remember my grandmother telling me that was how I got the scar. And when I questioned her, my mother freely admitted she'd done it - and was unrepentant. My scar grew with me, and while it is unsightly, it is a reminder to me that yes, my mother behaved abysmally toward me, but she was sick too, for surely no one in their right mind would do that to a baby...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Recipe/Ricetta - Caprese Il Tricolore

This is one of the easiest salads in the world to make, and takes its name from the Italian flag, Tricolore Italiano. The green of the flag is said to represent the hills and plains of Italia, the white is the snow-capped Alps, and the red is the blood spilled during the Italian wars of independence. Catholics will no doubt also tell you that the green is for faith, the white for hope, and the red, charity. Both are equally charming interpretations, and while each has merit, I prefer the former!

In this recipe we have the green of the wonderfully fragrant basil and the soft, ripe avocado, the white of the delicately-flavoured creamy mozzarella, and the red of delicious baby plum tomatoes...Italian of course! Like the most stylish people, it's dressed very simply - in this case, with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, and some freshly-cracked black pepper. Deliziosa!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Thelma & Louise Changed My Life!

It happens to be true - as I'll explain in a minute - and through this blog, I hope you will understand that if something in your life is broken, or not working particularly well, then you have the power to change things for the better.

So how did Thelma and Louise change my life? With one simple phrase...

"You get what you settle for."

Thought for this morning...

Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still.

Chinese proverb

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Life is pretty good, don'tcha think?

After a week of moaning about things, I've been reflecting that although there may be frustrations of a technical nature, in general however, my life is pretty darn shiny!

I have the amazing good fortune to be loved and adored by the most incredible and wonderful man in the entire universe. No really, it's true....you may think that your man is the most wonderful one but I can assure you that mine really is. Fact.

Heheh! ;-)

(Gorgeous isn't he?!)

I am also fortunate in that not only am I very good at several unrelated things (and maybe even brilliant at one or two!), I can also make money from them, and what is more, I get to do it from home too! I am currently engaged in making several bespoke corsets, Lady Macbeth's costume for a wonderful actor, James Tudor, and am editing the wiki for Stronghold Kingdoms! I get to be anally retentive, and creative...does it get any better?!

But y'know what's really great? I think I can safely say that the swine 'flu is finally out of my system. I still get tired really easily but at least I can stay awake beyond 8pm now! Oink!

Of course, there are many other wonderful things in my life, for which I am truly thankful (true and loyal friends, a beautiful home, loving family, etc.) but right now, the ones above are the most paramount.

I am blessed!

Friday, 4 February 2011

This hateful thing.....

I loathe this laptop. I really loathe it.

I'm considering taking it back to the shop and either insisting on getting my money back (not a good plan, since I'm rubbish at that kind of thing), or more likely, asking very nicely if there's something which can be done with it.... other than throwing it into the nearest pit of eternal despair.

I may have foiled its spy-like intentions but that doesn't mean it actually works any better, or faster. In fact, this could actually rank as one of the slowest computers I've ever used in my entire life.

It doesn't like multi-tasking, which is a major problem because it means I cannot have more than one program open at a time, and that includes web pages. In addition, the graphics processor, which I was told by the man in the shop was pretty good, is in fact, very not-good. I'd go so far as to say it's rubbish actually. And given that I need to be logged into the MMO I'm working on, I am actually unable to do my job efficiently. I'd say at least a quarter of the time I've spent working today has been spent waiting for this piece of dren to actually work properly.

And the longer it's on, the slower it gets.

It is a stupid design too. Who thought it was a good idea to add a numeric keypad to a laptop keyboard, and move the mouse pad to the left? Said mousepad also has Smartpad (stupid pad) - an enlarge-everything-to-giant-size function - enabled. I cannot begin to tell you just how annoying it is when your left hand digit accidentally rests on the mousepad because it's in the wrong location, sending everything on your screen all over the place because you're trying to interact with the screen with your right hand digit. I went through the system over and over and over again - it took me ages to find it so I could disable it, it was so well-hidden. Grrrr.

And stressful. All I wanted was for my old faithful workhorse HP to work properly, and instead I feel as though all my worst tech nightmares have come true. Well, except the one where the casing is actually manipulated by the Nestene Consciousness and suffocates me....

Give it time though, it could happen.

ETA: February 7th: That's it, I had enough!  Two days ago, I bought a Samsung RV511 (Core i3; W7 Home Premium, which means it will talk to my 360 so I can use it as a Media Centre extender... the W7 Pro edition won't do that; 6GB RAM)... it's very, very shiny...and it works like a dream! Even the island keyboard is great, and the numeric keypad doesn't get in the way. I love this machine! Best of all, it only cost around £400!

I took the infernal Acer back to the shop, and asked the owner if I could have my money back; he was hesitant at first but when I told him that actually I had sorted out the NI program, he capitulated, saying he had tried but hadn't been successful (obviously). 

Anyway, I'm now a happy woman; I have a fantastic laptop, and I can do my job properly at last. Perfetto!

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

And yet another way...

Quite by accident, I've just discovered another way of disabling the infernal NetIntelligence program!

Do this!

In Windows7 Professional, get to your network map by clicking:

Start ---> Control Panel ---> Network & Sharing Center ---> See Full Map

  1. Right-click on your computer icon (or the icon for the computer which has NI installed on it)
  2. Click Manage
  3. Double-click Services and Applications
  4. Double-click Services
  5. Scroll down to the entry for NetIntelligence, and click once to highlight it (under status, it says started)
  6. In the column to the right, underneath where it says NetIntelligence, click More Actions
  7. Click Stop
  8. A progress box will appear briefly - once it's gone, click More Actions again, then Properties
  9. Click the arrow on the Startup Type bar (it should be showing Automatic), and from the drop-down list, click Disabled
  10. Click Apply at the bottom of the window
  11. Click OK
  12. Done!
Please note, that I have no idea whether the steps above will be the same for other versions of Windows7, or for Vista, but if not, there should only be a slight variation - probably at the start to get to your network map.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Cue the Evil League of Evil laugh.....

...ha ha....ha ha ha ha haa haa haaaaaa....ha haa...ha ha...

(I'm sure Dr. Horrible would be so proud!)

So I reformatted the new(ish) laptop, and the evil(in-a-very-bad-way)ness was still there. But guess what? With aid of my trusty iPad and teh interwebz [<---yoof speak!], I was able to combat it....or at least put it to sleep in a Jean-Luc Picard v. The Borg kind of way. Oh yes! My tech is now my own again.


Which is just as well because the only help (and I use that term in its loosest sense) that the people at Net Intelligence were able to give was:

"As this is a Home Access machine, you will need to contact the provider of the machine, as it is they who provide support for any queries you may have. They also hold your account details, so will be able to give you any information related to this."

This completely ignores the part where I'd told them I'd bought a reconditioned machine, and that I'd already contacted Comet (the provider) who told me to contact them (NI)...

"There should be contact information for the provider either on the machine, or on the documentation that came with it."

Oh, and the part where I told them that neither I, nor the shop, nor the previous owner had any of the documentation. I did find a number to call in a document on the machine (referred to in my previous post on this subject).

"Home Access machines were not intended for resale, we are unable to support any that have been purchased second hand."

Aah, so they did actually understand I'd bought it second-hand then....question is, didn't the government foresee that this kind of thing would happen?
So, how did I do it? Quite easily as it turns out...

1. Download Autoruns
NetIntellingence will actually block some Microsoft Help sites, particularly ones which tell you how to fix issues such as network protocols, but fortunately, by going into the Control Panel, and changing my home page to Google (again!) it allowed me to access the 'net long enough to download this little program.

2. Run Autoruns
For some reason - and I'm guessing NI is responsible for this - it installed itself into My Documents, not Programs, so if you can't find it in the usual place, you know where to look! Anyhow, I digress...

  • Unzip the autoruns.zip file, and click on autoruns.exe
  • Click options then choose hide Microsoft Entries
  • Click File
  • Click Refresh

Autoruns will run a diagnostic of your system and then list all the programs and processes which are currently running on it (barring the Microsoft ones you excluded), so it's helpful to not actually have anything extra running at this time.

Does anyone remember how easy it was to use Windows 98? When you could go into the system and tell it which programs to run at Startup? I miss those days when I could speed up my PC like that! Anyway, Autoruns is sort of like that - from the list, you can choose which programs you want to run and which ones to disable....heheh!

3. Scroll down and uncheck anything which has the NI logo. It will appear in several sections.

4. Scroll down further until you get to the section which is labelled:HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\WinSock2\Parameters\Protocol_Catalog9\Catalog_Entries

5. Uncheck entries which look like this (there should be about four of them):
"000000000001""Netintelligence Home Edition LSP""Netintelligence Ltd""c:\windows\system32\nihlsp.dll"

Alternatively, the entries may look like this:

(Clicking on the image will enlarge it)
6. Reboot your computer. You should now have disabled NetIntelligence. Try loading up a webpage which was previously blocked.

NOTE: Instead of being able to uncheck the protocols above, you may get a message telling you; "WinSock Protocol Providers cannot be disabled (only deletion is supported)." In this case, you need to reinstall WinSock2. Don't worry, it's really easy! The following is from the Microsoft website, and applies to Vista and Windows 7. For other OSs, check the website....but do it from a computer which doesn't have NI installed because NI will close down the Microsoft Help pages!

1. Go to Start --> All Programs --> Accessories --> Command Prompt this will bring up a terminal (it looks a bit like a DOS screen!)

2. In the terminal, type: netsh winsock reset (if you type it incorrectly, an error message will come up, so make sure you type it exactly as I've done here)

3. Type: exit

4. Press Enter

5. Re-run Autoruns as before, and again, uncheck anything with the NI logo next to it (you may find one more than before, I did). Again, scroll down to: HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\WinSock2\Parameters\Protocol_Catalog9\Catalog_Entries
this time you should either find that the entire section is missing, or there is nothing in it. To double-check, click the tab at the top which is labelled WinSock - there should be no NI entries there at all.

6. Reboot your computer.

7. Load up previously blocked web pages.

In both scenarios, you should now be able to delete the NI folder and shortcuts. You won't have uninstalled it but it will be disabled, so should give you no more trouble.


I'm not saying that there should not be restrictions on kids using the internet, but if there are to be any, surely they should come from parents, not the government. Really, if parents want their children to do tech things, they have a duty to understand these things themselves, and be proactively involved. They should not rely on a net nanny to do their job... especially not in their own homes!

It seems to me that programs like NetIntelligence and its ilk are designed for tech-phobic/tech-illiterate and/or lazy parents...and that frankly, is wrong. As a parent, it is your job to ensure your child is able to use tech safely, sensibly and responsibly. Far better to take the time to understand how things work, and communicate with your child than sit them in front of a computer screen and expect someone/thing else to babysit them. What a child will learn from this is any or all of the following;
a) their parents can't be bothered
b) their parents are idiots
c) that with a bit of savvy, they can get around any security measures their parents put in place
d) getting one over on their parents and 'the system' is immensely satisfying....so what can they do next?

I freely admit that most of the things I've learned to do/taught myself have been the result of someone or something either telling me I couldn't/wasn't allowed, or them actively trying to prevent me from doing so. I don't consider myself to be particularly contrary but I've always had an inquisitive mind, and I've always wanted to know 'why not?' when told no. I do not believe that children today are any different...in fact, I'm 47 and I'm still no different! I still want to know the reasons why I can't do something, and if I don't agree, then I will do something about it! And guess what? I'm one of the most responsible and conscientious people you'll ever meet!

Teach kids how to be trustworthy, and you'll be rewarded no end; teach them that they are not to be trusted, and you'll open up a whole world of pain.... for them as well as you.