Friday 24 September 2010

From one bar to the next

A Spanish holiday from one eating place to the next. Brilliant time wandering from bar to cafe to restaurant and back, interspersed with the odd 'sight'. (Have decided that we have been sight seeing not site seeing.)

Chose what turned out to be a lovely secluded hotel above the harbour in Cadaques on the coast between the border and Barcelona. After we'd booked it we read that the Chinese had been there measuring up the town to make a replica of it in China as a representative Mediterranean village! Actually managed to be sitting in the sun outside the perfect bar on the edge of the harbour as the sun set over the opposite hill. And eating fantastic fishy tapas.

As a holiday, we have never been to places that sooooo many people also want to see. We were told that Barcelona airport handled 30 million people last year.......

Stayed on a boat in the harbour. Brilliant choice for central staying in a great city. Lovely to be sitting on a boat in the sunshine watching the world go by again. Walked all afternoon around endless beautiful streets interrupted by sitting in the sun in bars. Odd venture on to the main drags that transport the tourists from one sight/site to another, then scurry back into the back streets feeling very country.

Had dinner in a tiny cafe filled with Spanish people. Laughed our way through another ordering adventure and ended up with six different wonderful dishes and as much beer and wine as we could comfortably consume bearing in mind the sloping gangplank to get home.

Overnight the weather changed. Rainstorms. Leaky boat. Mopping. Beautiful breakfast in the cabin. Then set off for a very wet day of viewing the things everyone else was seeing. Discovered that Barcelona was shut for repairs! Started at the Maritime Museum since that was where we were and it opened first. Showing an excellent display of Russian painting ?? but no boats. Walked up to the opera house to find a huge queue and a delay so gawped at the outside which is amazing and decided to come back later.

Set off again and had a coffee in a tiny wood panelled corridor of a bar in a passage through one of the buildings along the street. Walked to the Sagrada Familia where we joined the queue behind (and shared the umbrella of) a Chinese American who was in Barcelona lecturing at an international medical conference. Turns out most of the cathedral is shut, no tower visiting but a fascinating exhibition in the cellar that showed how Gaudi's inspiration came largely from nature and how the building was being repaired/renewed/built.

Map getting a bit soggy by now but have been inspired to find more of Gaudi's buildings. Unfortunately this means finding more of the tourists and since they are all soggy too and we are crap at doing the 'right' sights we found another bar!

Given that there are so many tourists we had a lovely time with all the waiters/waitresses/bar staff that we came across. This one had a sweet smiley girl behind the bar that we decided was one of the waiter's girlfriend/relation. Lovely girl but thick as sh*t. Knew no prices, couldn't add up, didn't know what was available but nobody minded and the 'dear God what has she done now' glances flashing around between two guys who were serving three course lunches to a tiny crowded restaurant were hilarious. Sitting at the bar munching our sandwiches we were amazed at how many of the suits lunching were drinking coffees that were half brandy!

Set off again in a vaguely harbourwards direction. Passing more enormous queues of pale, overweight tourists. Aimed at the 'best market in Europe' and couldn't get near the entrance for the hoards. But that meant we were meandering down the Ramblas watching the human statues frightening the children. Listened to street musicians in more beautiful squares.

Next day dawned sunny. Hooray. Leisurely breakfast on deck chatting to the owner then off to Monserrat. Amazing monastery nearly at the top of a mountain. Little train up to the monastery

then cable car up to the top of the mountain. Then walked down to the monastery again and little train back. Fantastic scenery and kind weather made for amazing views.

Great choice of hostal, cheap, clean, excellent food, lovely host, interesting fellow guests. Walked around the village which was bursting with small children playing, tiny shops selling tiny amounts of specialist things. Smiley people.

Homewards towards France. Spent the day driving along minor roads through the Pyrenees. Stunning scenery. Total silence apart from nature. No other people at all. Wonderful.

Last night in a very French hotel having a celebratory dinner -including dessert decorated with birthday candle, dipped lights, singing................. Happy Birthday Him Outdoors.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Last mention of cholesterol ............... I hope

At our third attempt we got to see the doctor.

In France, although you can make a private appointment with the doctor, the form is that you go to one of his open sessions and sit in the waiting room until it's your turn. As you enter you say hello to everyone there and sit down carefully noting who is there already. Actually you pay more attention to the ones that come in after you because that's easier to notice. You then sit carefully ignoring each other. Well, being English we do, the french all chat and catch up. (It always seems to me to be daft to ask someone how they are in a doctor's waiting room, obviously they aren't well!) The doctor will appear from his room to show the current patient off the premises (no receptionist, all notes on computer, any paperwork/results you get given to take away with you) and kiss/shake hands with the next one - eyeing up who is also in the waiting room as he does so.

The first time we went the door was very firmly shut with a sign that (after a visit to the dictionary) said that deliveries were round the back.

Then we had visitors that precluded disappearing at breakfast time and tried again on Monday. The doctor had obviously been away for the whole week because as we walked up the path there were half a dozen men chatting in the sun outside and the waiting room was full. Tomorrow will be fine.

So yesterday we get there to a full waiting room and one man waiting outside but have come equipped with books - the magazines, apart from the ones I dropped off yesterday, date from 1994! Last time we came there was a radio playing quietly in the waiting room, today the doctor has decided to educate us while we wait and there was a screen showing us how we were going to die of smoking and then die of a heart attack - it was a long wait. And then how, amazingly, you could cook lovely meals even with no saturated fat! Astounding.

After studying the people waiting and who they were whispering to, we discovered that they were actually, like us, in couples. So the queue moved along quite rapidly. And no one was dying of a really snotty cold so if we caught something it was silent and deadly.

Doctor looked at our results and said 'it's better'. Took Him Outdoors' blood pressure which was fine. No risk factors, it's improving, keep going. We discussed walking which he agreed would be a good thing 3 or 4 kms not particularly fast would be good -right again dear daughter x - and have another blood test in 3 months. We all agreed that before Christmas would be better than after and off we went.

Monday 6 September 2010

New recipes

One of the things I have really enjoyed about our new diet is exploring recipes that use oil instead of butter. This time it was pastry. I have found a recipe for a really wholegrain oily one:

- 250 grams whole grain bread flour
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon dried herbs
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup cold water

which makes a lovely crust for a quiche (enough for two small ones) - although it does stick to the dish. But Him Outdoors was hankering for something less good for him!

Yesterday whilst wandering around the internet (thank you Joanna's Food) I found this one which is the weirdest way of making pastry I have come across but it is brilliant:

Butter-less pastry - & a fruit tart

This pastry is a revelation ... and, for those of you who think pastry can only be made with butter: this is a French recipe, a proper recipe. There are egg yolks and oil, so it's still not something to eat every day, but this is a real breakthrough for those who can no longer eat butter. And for those people who think that our low-cholesterol way of eating is somehow second best - this is really delicious and worth a try in its own right. Also, if you're not a natural pastry chef - and I never was - this is quick and easy, a definite improvement on bought shortcrust. All the virtues, then.

225g flour
1 tbsp caster sugar (leave it out if you're making something savoury)
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
4 tbsp mild salad oil
1/2 beaten egg
3 tbsp hot water

Put all the ingredients into a lidded plastic box and shake it for at least a minute. When you take off the lid, you will find a lumpy mixture; form it into a ball with your hands, and roll it out on a floured surface. Original writer says this is enough for a 24cm tin, but I have made this a number of times, and find that it is enough for a larger tin, and rather too much for a 24cm tin, because the pastry is better when it is very thin. You can use this straight away, no need to rest it.

Plum tart

If you are making a fruit tart, here's another trick: mix 20g flour with 20g sugar and sprinkle it over the pastry base. Then add the stoned fruit halves (raw). The flour and sugar mix will effortlessly thicken the fruit juices to make a delicious sauce. (I put some of our plums straight out of the freezer and had to pour off some of the liquid when it came out of the oven but it didn't seem to effect the finished product.)

This tart needs 30-35 minutes in a moderate oven, 190C.

And mine looked just like the original picture, yay and it was really crispy and delicious:

Saturday 4 September 2010

Cholesterol levels

Well we've done 8 weeks of no saturated fats. Had the blood test and now the results. And they are, as we might have expected, inconclusive.

For those of you that know, we have managed to lower Him Outdoors' total cholesterol by nearly 1.00 mmol/L which is good but not as good as we had hoped. We have managed to lower his LDL (bad cholesterol) by 11% but because we have also lowered his HDL (good cholesterol) by 20%, the ratio of Total/HDL is actually worse than when we started.

Figures now Total Cholesterol is 6.42 (from 7.38) when it should be under 4.00
LDL is 4.5 (from 5.04) when it should be less than 2.00
HDL is 1.5 (from 1.88) which is good because it should be above 1.00
Triglycerides are 0.93 (from 1.00) which is good because it should be under 1.7
Ratio of Total/HDL is now 4.28 (from 3.92)

At the moment, studying these over a cup of tea at the kitchen table, we feel blinded by science and statistics. Him Outdoors is pissed off at the lack of clear and positive results and has had a rant about 'waste of f*ing time' and 'might have well not have bothered' and stomped off into the garden to take it out on a bit of wall.

Back to the doctor next week.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

How can they do it

Dear Daughter has just told me about one of the parents at the Montessori school where she teaches.

Because she was visiting us in deepest Dordogneshire it reminded her of one of her families. They had been holidaying somewhere here and driven back up France and as their arrival home pretty much coincided with the time when their little one should be in nursery they dropped him off for the afternoon.

So they are handed over a just woken up, completely disorentated, totally sodden, under 5 year old and went home. Leaving Dear Daughter to try and console this child that needed complete changing.

When rung a little while later because, not surprisingly, this child hadn't settled, they agreed that they might be able to come and fetch him a quarter of an hour early.

And then they wonder why their children find life difficult...........................................