Monday, 27 February 2017

Food Without Nutrition: Are We Insane?

There's nothing like a carefully controlled 800 calorie a day diet to sharpen up your attitude towards nutrition. You want every calorie to count. Therefore, I am very glad I am using both the recipes from The Blood Sugar Diet Recipe Book and the menu plans in the back of the book.

By the way, yesterday I read a grieving mother's account of the slow death of her daughter from anorexia nervosa, so I feel guilty for writing about this. However, all around me Britons are dying a slow death from obesity, diabetes, etc. The crucial thing, for me, is when you get to your "target weight", you stop fasting and start eating for maintenance. Wondering "Oh hey, how low can I go?" and trying to find out is simply not allowed.

The first week of the BSD went pleasantly enough. Benedict Ambrose has graciously ceded his place in the kitchen to me, and I have enjoyed cooking up to three times a day as I follow the menu plans. The dishes really are tasty--and no, I am not being paid to advertise--and they solve the hunger problem for at least an hour each. There is no problem fulfilling the "Eat 5 a day" vegetable and fruit advice. Thank heavens for sparkling water and coffee.

On Saturday I prepared for a bride's "Hen Night" (shower/bachelorette) by eating the suggested breakfast (avocado and tomatoes) and then not eating lunch in order to partake of the Four O'Clock Tea goodies without guilt. This provided to be a mistake. I am not given to fainting, but I felt distinctly woozy when I emerged from the railway station, and a delay in my travels led directly to a café for a cappuccino. The smallest available jug of milk would have been more cost-effective, but I couldn't face the prospect of drinking a whole pint of milk in public on a cold day.

But the real challenge was facing the traditional tiers of the tea-room sandwich-scones-cakes offerings and realizing that very little of it had any nutritional value.  When it was not mostly sugar and white flour, it was mostly white flower and sugar. The tea-room did not stint on little cakes, but it definitely held back when it came to sandwich fillings. When I discretely pulled off the top pieces of bread, there wasn't much left. Interesting how British womanhood is conned into paying £17 for a pot of tea, half a bag of flour and a cup of sugar. Well, at least there is the cream.  I slathered the two mini-scones with cream sans jam and tucked in.

I also ate a pistachio-green macaroon, but it seemed innocent of any trace of pistachio. It tasted not of pistachio but of sugary death. The square of carrot cake was better, but after that I let well enough alone.

It was a nice hen party, incidentally, if quiet for a Saturday night Edinburgh Hen. I suggested we all run off last minute to Ibiza, but no-one fell in with this excellent plan. Instead most of us went to a cocktail bar, where I chose red wine from the list of sugars available. Half a glass left me overly loquacious on the subject of my diet and other shallow feminine topics. Another glass of red, drunk in the quieter precincts of The Scotsman hotel, left me in need of a taxi home. Socially, it was a very nice evening, but in terms of nutrition it was a wash-out.

Reflecting on this gave me a business idea: the nutritious tea. How viable this idea is, given that flour and sugar are much, much cheaper than vegetables, fruit, fish, cheese and meat, is a good question. However, it would be a nice option for high class hotels and for old-fashioned hostesses who invite friends around for tea. Meanwhile, as the UK has a "Dry January" to encourage everyone to stop drinking booze for at least a month, perhaps it should have a "Cakeless March" to get us all to  eschew the nutritionally empty, calorie-dense comestibles to which we are addicted. Incidentally, offices should ban homemade baked goods from employee lunchrooms. It's nice that British women love to share sweeties with their colleagues, but eventually someone will die from this, if they haven't already. (One also wonders if this is not generosity as much as an excuse to eat cake oneself or even an evil plan to make others as fat as one is oneself.)

Having a nutritional yet recognizably traditional tea would involve substitutions. Instead of sandwiches, one could have sandwich fillings tightly wrapped in lettuce. Scones are trickier, but I imagine something could be done with ground almonds or low-gluten flours. Jam is easily replaced by briefly cooked, mashed berries. The cakes and pastries could be replaced by strawberries dipped in chocolate, stuffed dates, nuts and clever cake-like concoctions made from eggs, nuts and dark chocolate or fruit.  And if this sounds ridiculous, what does that say about our sanity  that we would rather consume food with FEWER nutrients?

Come to think of it, I automatically put out bowls of crisps (potato chips) to go with cocktails everytime we have a dinner party. Why is it that, in English-speaking countries, so many of our party foods verge on the poisonous? Why Cheetos, not pistachios? Why cake, not exotic fruit with dark chocolate and whipped cream? Not to get all puritanical here--for I dearly love a good birthday cake--but what gives?


  1. I seem to remember that the afternoon teas I attended as a child - everyday ones, not special occasions, at the house of friends - it was conventional to serve 'tea sandwiches' filled with things like egg and cress, or cucumber and cream cheese. Lucy and Mr Tumnus ate boiled eggs and sardines at tea, in The Lion, ,the Witch and the Wardrobe.

    Nothing heavier than that was served, perhaps for fear of looking too much like a working-class supper, but still filling and nutritious. Has this been abandoned for sweets alone?


  2. Good heavens: boiled eggs and sardines at at hotel or tea shop? No, indeed! Tea sandwiches, yes--and I suspect that "The Georgian Tea Room" was unusually cheap about filling them. Possibly mini-quiches or savory tartlets. But always the scone (or scones) and petits fours and small cakes.

    Trying to get my mind around Mr Tumnus's eggs and sardines. It sounds more like a nursery supper of old. I wonder if Mr T's tea was really tea or actually plain old "I want my tea" tea.

  3. Well, perhaps boiled eggs were not for adults, but sardines and of course potted shrimps used to appear at English tea tables, and whoever heard of serving sardines at nursery suppers? (Do you know any children who eat sardines?) Anyway, I think fashions have changed somewhat, which was part of my point; hence the emphasis on sweets. Afternoon tea had to be more nourishing because dinner was served latish among those with aspirations to gentility, or so I have read.


  4. Oh, potted shrimps! I adore them, but I have had them only as an appetizer aka "starter." Yes, fashions must have changed, because I cannot think of meeting a fish on a tea table that was not stuck between crustless pieces of bread. Prawns with "Rose Marie" sauce, a staple of the 1950s, I believe, is a frequent sandwich choice.

  5. If you will forgive me for taking up yet more space here... just came back to say that yes, many of these fishy treats would have appeared on a canape (once, even on Ritz crackers, back in the 1960s) or in a crustless sandwich. The thing is, your original post described an 'afternoon tea' in which there appeared to be no savories or protein at all, which was quite unusual from what I remember of 'afternoon tea' in the late 1960s.


    1. Suddenly I am reminded of our wedding reception, which was THE most throwback early 1960s Anglo-Saxon Ontario do in the 21st century. All the right sandwiches were there. ;-)