How to have your cake and blog about it

A coffee shop blogger’s strategy for staying slim.

If I stopped buying cake, readers of my coffee shop blog would stop reading, right..? But I need to keep things under control. I like my clothes. I have spent money on them. I don’t want to outgrow them. This could prove expensive, if not to say wasteful.

So after years of trying to get the balance right, here’s how to have your cake and eat it (and blog about it if that’s your kind of thing.)

Top Tip Number One: Stick to Budget
Surely the key to happy and healthy eating and exercise is to know when to let go and enjoy yourself and when to reign it in. A diet is like a budget, no? Sometimes you spend a lot and you make it up by spending a little.

I always think before I bite. Is it worth the calories? If you’d look for value when spending money, why not with calories? You’ve heard of buying clothes as investment pieces, well before you bite into that cake think, is this a quality item that will last me a lifetime? Am I asking a bit too much of my cake? Well let’s tailor that down a little… will the experience cheer you for the day, well ok, until the next meal. Many cakes fail this test. Many of those failures are supermarket ‘best,finest,wowest’ brands.

Vegetable soup and breakfast also help with this budget idea. The ultimate fill you up without too much calorific intake is vegetable soup made with just vegetables and stock. No, no, please come back…, this is worth reading, I’m not just talking about boiled veg… I have always had an eye to adapting soup recipes to these pared down ingredients (plus pared down and lazy prep) and some are downright delicious. So try: parsnip and ginger, roast tomatoes and basil, courgette and mint. Depending how complicated you want to get, you’ll find there are some funky combinations out there that you will actually look forward to. And don’t forget to have one, yes just one slice of your favourite bread and butter on the side.

And breakfast? Breakfast is actually my top meal of the day because it could be anything. Sweet savoury, ideally made up of several courses and both sweet and savoury – an option that is brilliantly experimented with at Giraffe. Sorry, lost focus on the subject at hand for a second. Sadly most sweet breakfasts are kind of out, at least for 6 days of the week because the sugar doesn’t fill you for the day ahead. On the other hand, making breakfast an event and having something a bit different every day is a great way of looking forward to the morning’s eating. Key to this is lots of vegetables. For example, poached egg, roasted peppers, fried onions, and a little bit of bread. Alternatively it is fun to experiment with different grains: Buckwheat, millet and oats all make for interesting hot pots or unusual pancakes. Don’t add honey, but go mega with the soft fruit.

And as with any budget write it all down. This has a bizarre psychological effect on me. When you see in black and white what you have spent, you really do know if you can afford that treat or not. The internet is awash with people telling you that ‘tracking’ is actually a key success tip for weight loss.

Top Tip Number Two: Manage both sides of the budget with Exercise (sorry about that)
Using the budget analogy, this is the pay day bit, where you get a bit more slack to spend. Sadly if you’ve ever calculated how long you need on the exercise bike to burn off a Mars bar, you’lol know it’s a minimum wage scenario.

So, here’s an incentive for you. Pretty decent cakes can be found in many swimming pool and gym centres. My local leisure centre cakes seem to be sourced locally, and meet the sort of traditional English types of lemon drizzle and chocolate brownie. This means that the warm glow of virtue doesn’t last much beyond the changing rooms. There is no justice is there? Slightly more healthy is their cooked breakfasts, toast and mushrooms or even toast and bacon are good protein rich breakfasts for a dieter in my opinion, and can be pretty good, depending on the mood of the staff in charge that day.

In terms of swimming, though, the annoying habit of the pool to reduce in length every time there is a class on, means that I go to the lido instead. Cakes at the lido are bad, so is the coffee and so is the savoury food. I have been visiting Charlton Lido in the winter evenings. I am working on the assumption that the day it is just too cold, is the day I take up the gym instead. The volatile weather means we have tested this theory down to 9 degrees with a breeze. This is mostly ok. A couple of times the pool heating was not as enthusiastic as you’d hope, but felt fine after a couple of lengths. Poolside showers are also good. The bit to worry about is the dash from pool two showers. This is cold. On the whole though, I am enjoying these trips muchly, they are exhilarating and quite eerie in the rain with the mist coming off the pool.

The biggest challenge to this whole venture is the dreaded free meal challenge. I think this happens to everyone (cakes in the office, people?) but as a food blogger there is always someone wanting to provide you with free food- such nice people! In the face of blogged criticism some smart outlets will feed me for free. This sinister approach has led on one occasion to the delivery of 98 chocolate brownies. Yes, ninety-eight. There are two of us in my household. Now you have to remember that free food is a force to be reckoned with. I had criticised these brownies for being too cakey and stodgy, but was I really going to throw them in the waste bin when they were free. Would you? The solution was to take them to the office. This was win win. My colleagues loved me (although they were a bit grumpy when the sugar rush wore off), and they all validated my original view of the brownies.

Short for Political Correctness?

Why is Papa Charlie called Papa Charlie anyway? Is it short for Political Correctness (doesn’t sound very military) and does that explain why the food served here is not Spanish, or Turkish, or Italian or Morrocan but Mediterranean? Surely a North or a South in the restaurant’s description would help a little bit? I certainly can’t work out which country was represented by the supposedly gourmet Burgers (that quintessential mediterranean food). Sorry, I wasn’t convinced enough to check.

There were some plus points. My plastic menu offered me the chance to resolve some mysteries of previous blogs… I know that you have been on the edge of your seat to know: The kleftico from Rare, that sounded like it was made out of the previous owners and oxo cubes had a descrption next to it (slow cooked lamb on the bone). Okay, so I did already know this. I googled it.

And the second solved mystery was how imambayildi would taste following the marvellous description offered by Efe’s Meze.
I have been kicking myself for not ordering it and here it was on the menu. I ordered right away and it turned out that the waitress could not pronounce it either. The imambayildi was delicious, subtle but a real grower although I think I would have struggled with it’s pure vegetableness as a main course. The whitebait that we also ordered was pretty chunky, overweight whitebait which for me took the attraction off. (Some things are supposed to be an excuse for batter, not provide food in their own right.)

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I thought that a virgin bellini was just about the best thing that I have ever heard of. Because bellinis are great, sophisticated and delicious and very much something that require moderation. I should have remembered that the plus point of bellinis is the champagne, and that the absence of this left you with cherryade and mint, at a bitingly massive mark up. Gourmet challenge for you: alcohol free champagne. (Oo, I can see my readership figures collapsing as I type.)

Besides the bellini hiccup, the starters were in fact very promising and made me try to see beyond the plastic menus with pre-published ‘specials’ (so not so special for today, huh?) and the fact that the decoration is identical to when I reviewed this location as Helva.

But the main courses really took the meal to renewed depths. The chicken guvec (a chicken stew) was definitely made of turkey. (I should note that the date of our visit was the 1st January. See where I am going here?)

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Although the kebabs were genuinely chicken and okayish, they weren’t the cheapest, and the accompanying bulger wheat lacked pizzaz.

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We decided we would not enjoy stopping around for dessert and got the DLR to Hazev for this experience…I’ll update you about that on another blog.

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Lebanese food, in the office, at lunchtime

Why order pizza for a takeaway office lunch? I thought, when remitted to get lunch for a team meeting. Everyone does that. I wanted to be more interesting. Lebanese would be way more interesting.

One I had emailed my colleagues the menu, I kept getting orders for sandwiches. This worried me. I would never ever look at a menu with unusual names and flavours and order a sandwich. It was when my boss in passing referred to Lebanese food as spicy that I started to get wind of the fact that I may have misjudged my colleagues interest in unusual foods and made a faux pas. I remembered that this was a man who eats mars bars for breakfast and hates tea and coffee because he doesn’t like hot food in his mouth.

It was wisely pointed out by one colleague who could barely disguise his concern that we would need knives forks and plates, so I figured, I would not back down, I would go the extra mile and bring plastic cutlery at my own expense.

My boss had ordered chicken and rice. It started to make sense to me. I handed over the rice realising that all the rice came with vermicelli and waited to be shouted at for ordering rice with maggots.

I was getting panicky. There was a garlic labneh. I have heard it said that some people hated garlic. This wasn’t really possible was it? Worse, could it be true of the people I had just ordered this meal for? The things you don’t know about those who sit next to you every day.

In fact when I thought about it, how come I know about labneh and vermicelli. That will be Ottolenghi cook book. And while I have come across them many times since, perhaps I have taken this knowledge for granted.

Me, I was on a diet. I ordered smoked aubergine which was delicious but way more oily than I anticipated and I did not need to eat again all day.

Hmm, so what’s baklava? Asked the grad. Baklava is great I said, honey and pistachio and oily puff pastry. She took a bite and pulled a face. I was disappointed until  I clocked that no one wanted to try the baklava. And it would have been wasteful to throw it away so I had to do my bit and keep all of the baklava to my self.

Judging from the clean up, I think I may not have done too badly. The only real left over casualties were labneh and vegetables.

Nice one, said my colleague with the phd, next time we will order from Beruit? I have no idea if this was irony or not.