IQS: What I actually eat – and how to have a sugar-free birthday

Genuinely, I never expected to write this much about sugar – or lack of it. But it seems to now be a Thing That People Know About Me that I don’t, for the most part, eat sugar; although it’ll be a year in June, there’s an on-going sense of curiosity from others and (I guess related to increasing news coverage) questions about how it all works, and why. Across my office, at least three other colleagues have started the process of ditching the stuff – though I’m pretty sure Sherri had more to do with that than I did.

In fact, Sherri and I were having a conversation about this the other day, and the question we agreed we both hear which prompted this post – and that I didn’t mention in my last – is “but what do you eat instead?”. ‘Instead’ is a curious addition, isn’t it? I think it’s probably the first thing I thought when I first started considering quitting sugar, and it’s so telling. Telling that we are so used to eating so much of it, that it’s not a case of getting rid of something unnecessary but of replacing something essential.

I think there are two elements to the ‘instead’, too. It’s ‘instead of cake etc’, yes, definitely. Fully half of each sugar-free cookbook I’ve ever so much as glanced through is packed with alternatives to classic desserts and sweet snacks. I think the people writing them mostly know you’d be better off not replacing them at all, but take the pragmatic view that in a world filled with biscuits, better to have something barely sweetened with a little rice malt syrup and coconut than nothing at all. And there’s probably something in that (though I’d still recommend keeping the habit of eating sweet things to a minimum). And the other part is ‘instead of breakfast cereal etc’.

Breakfast is, I think the hardest meal to imagine in a post-sugar world. Toast and jam. Cereal. Granola. Honey (in, near or on practically anything). Fruit, yogurt and fruit yogurt. But it’s actually one of the most delicious meals you can have after quitting. I’m pretty much obsessed with breakfast, as anyone who follows me on Instagram will know, and I regularly have brinner (frankly, if I had access to facilities that allowed me to make toast and poach eggs at work I’d probably have it for every meal). But once I started thinking about sharing what kinds of things I have for breakfast, just in case that’s helpful, I thought I might as well do a sort of menu for each day of the week, with a few suggestions for each meal. If you’re right at the beginning of a sugar quitting process, I hope it will come in useful. Then I also have some tips to share about having a sugar-free birthday.

Note: I am low-fructose and like to make stuff from scratch, but I’m not a JERF obsessive. I use some processed stuff and spend less money in the week before payday. I work long hours and enjoy a kitchen shortcut. Also, I have a four-and-a-half-year-old to get out of the front door every morning, and it’s only thanks to the fact that I have a husband who is far more of a morning person than I am that I manage to eat at all.

Breakfast

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Weekdays:

  • Quick nut butter porridge (above) – 30g Ready Brek, 150ml almond milk heated for 2mins in the microwave and 1/2 tsp chia seeds, stirred together. A dollop of peanut, almond or cashew butter on top, plus some strawberries or raspberries.
  • Avocado toast – exactly as it sounds. Half an avocado mashed onto two slices.
  • Fancy avocado toast (below)– the above, but with goats’ cheese and raspberries on top, popped under the grill for a couple of minutes.
  • Nut butter crumpets (above) – Usually with a handful of raspberries, a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds or a sliced strawberry on top.

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Weekend treats:

  • Poached eggs and veggies (above) – the above was actually a birthday breakfast from my lovely husband, including fennel, courgettes and mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and crumpets with smoked salmon and poached eggs. We use silicon poachers, hence the perfect egg-boob-shape.
  • Veggie omelette – whatever your favourites are, two eggs and a 20g block of cheese, fried gently and finished off under the grill.
  • Pancakes (above) – yes, really. I use Nigella’s recipes for American pancakes (minus the totally unnecessary spoonful of sugar) or ricotta hotcakes. I also use GF self-raising flour, because it keeps the fluffiness and prevents accidentally chewy pancakes. I top with a small squirt of rice malt syrup, a smear of nut butter and fresh berries; my husband and daughter usually add a little maple syrup too.

Lunch

  • Buying lunch – it’s generally best to try not to buy lunch, for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is expense. But if I do have to I tend to go to Pret or the Japan Centre; Pret has recently started listing the sugar content of everything, which is ace, and the Japan Centre has started doing tonkotsu ramen which is fatty and meaty and noodley joy. (You might find my Eating Out on IQS post helpful here….)
  • Stir-fry, stir-fry and a side of stir-fry – I’m a bit obsessed with throwing everything that’s about to go soggy into a wok full of coconut oil, chilli, garlic and ginger. A splash of tamari, and the basis of any meal is done. I could probably get shares in Amoy Straight-to-Wok udon noodles. I can’t really think of a better way to get your 5+-a-day in than stir frying, and it’s dead easy to pop in the microwave at work. This is also the perfect side-dish for my most common lunch which is…
  • Leftovers – well, obviously. Roast chicken, baked salmon, slow-cooker stews etc.

Dinner

  • Chicken soup – about once every other week I make a roast chicken. If they’re on offer, I make two together, in the oven with a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice and some whole, peeled garlic cloves (plus some rosemary if we happen to have any). Afterwards the juices and the carcass go into a saucepan with a couple of kettles of boiling water and I simmer the lot for 3-4 hours before straining it. There’s always loads more stock than I can use in a couple of days, so I freeze the rest, as well as some freezer bags of shredded chicken if there’s enough left over. This is about the only domestic goddess-like thing that I do, ever, and it’s totally worth it. Because I’m obsessed with chicken soup in all its forms. A pack of ready noodles (see? I told you I could have shares) and some random bits of veg and the job is done.
  • Everything slow-cooker – a load of (usually less-sugary) root veg, some protein or other and some sort of flavouring. Could be tinned tomatoes, could be coconut milk and curry paste, could be stock. Could be chicken, fish or the cheaper cuts of red meat. Could include potatoes for bulk, could be designed to be eaten with cous cous or rice.

You’ll have noticed I tend to batch cook and make extra helpings. I look for large pieces of fish or meat that will last for several days. We also get through a prodigious quantity of eggs as a household, since they’re a quick, cheap, adaptable and easy source of fat and protein that are delicious at any time of day.

I also don’t really go in for sweet substitutes on the whole – you can go far on cheese, some very dark chocolate and, every couple of weeks, a stack of pancakes – but I do rather rate this salty, chewy, nutty bark from the IQS recipe list. Also, I had a surfeit of squishy looking pears that my daughter hadn’t finished and whipped up this pear and almond upside-down cake which was moist and moreish.

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And now… to birthdays. I recently celebrated mine, and it was very lovely indeed. One of the things that made it really wonderful was having friends and colleagues at work who were incredibly kind and thoughtful. On the day itself, instead of surprising me with a cake, I was brought three immense blocks of cheese – with candles! – and a heap of crackers. It ended up being both treat and lunch, and nearly made me cry as it was such a nice gesture.

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A few days later, my gorgeous friend Christina did make me a cake – which she was prepared to try to make with glucose only until I told her that it was her kind gesture and she should do it as she pleased.  Said cake was absolutely 100% worth the deviation from my low-sugar life. Partly because the generosity of a friend always tastes amazing (especially a friend who is well on her way to being a baking professional) but also because if you give up sugar but stop appreciating when someone makes you a delicious orange, polenta and pistachio cake, then you have given up too much.

The (additional, metaphorical) icing on that cake was that because I knew a gorgeous slice of home-made affection was coming my way, I didn’t feel the need to symbolically over-indulge on our amazing night out at Bob Bob Ricard, which I’ll write about soon.

So, I guess paradoxically, my best tip for having a sugar-free birthday is to accept that some sugar might happen. It doesn’t have to. If the snacks are on you, then a savoury treat disappears just as fast as a cake in an office (possibly faster, due to the novelty). If you don’t want it, then you don’t have to have it. But if you do, it’s not a reason to berate yourself or the opening to go off-track. It’s been almost a year, so for me it’s becoming more and more like second nature to avoid derailing myself; it might well be harder if you’re still breaking the habit. I’m not saying you should feel obliged to eat sugar just because other people expect you to – and if my amazing birthday cheeseboard is proof of anything, it’s that you can set different expectations by being honest with others about yourself – but if you want to  eat something sugary (and I did want to) then so be it. Give yourself permission, and you’ll find it actually gets easier to just have what you want: no more and no less.

I’m always open to a tip or two myself, so if you have any great low-sugar meals or birthday ideas, let’s hear ’em.

IQS: Things you will hear when you give up sugar

When you make the decision to change something that can’t be hidden – something that, eventually other people will have to know about – you do have to gird yourself for the inevitable battery of opinions you will be faced with. Many of us in parts of the world where food is fortunately in great abundance have troubled relationships with it (particularly women, in which this is all bound up with the public messages about our bodies and our ownership of said bodies). So taking any sort of food-related stance – particularly if you’re passionate about it – immediately marks you out as making a moral decision. It’s not hard to see how that happens with offensively stupid terms like ‘clean eating’ being bandied about (what if I washed my cheeseburger before I ate it?).  But it can be frustrating to keep having to explain or defend your choices because they make someone else feel uncomfortable, or like you’re sitting in judgement of theirs (and maybe you are, in which case do try to stop, because that makes you a bit of an ass).

So, what to do? Well, the first thing is to assume you’ll hear at least one of the below. And then decide how much of your time it’s really worth addressing it – and whether the comment comes from a genuine place of interest or is simply a knee-jerk reaction. Personally this is how I’ve come to react to other people’s reactions to my quitting sugar. YMMV.

1. I couldn’t live without sugar!

Well, obviously not. No-one can, since our energy comes from glucose. But clearly I am still alive… Hey. A little melodrama makes things fun. For me, this is a nod and smile, because what is to be gained from arguing? They don’t want convincing (unless you genuinely think they secretly do, in which case, have at it).

2. Are you making your family do it too? I think that’s cruel.

Genuinely, I have heard this, and there is so much that’s weird in there. From the ‘making my family do it’ (well, I do make my daughter do stuff, because she is four, but Ash is full-on a grown up and makes his own food choices) to the – admittedly joking – idea that preferring a particular diet is cruelty…. Well, I guess I know how people who raise vegan kids feel now. I think I mostly laughed.

For those interested: no, I don’t make my daughter follow my own choices in exactly the same way as I do. I do restrict the overall amount of ‘treat’ food she has at home, since I know she has desserts at school and in childcare and with her grandparents. But everything is in the context of conversations about general health, keeping our bodies fuelled and the importance of foods that we need (plants, fats etc) versus foods we want (treats). I don’t think there’s a lot to be gained at this stage from making her stand out among her peers – or crave the ‘forbidden’ – as long as there’s some reasonable moderation being practiced and good habits modelled by her parents (eating our veggies, eating when we’re hungry but not clearing plates just because).

3. When are you going to start eating sugar again?

We’re so in the habit of thinking of nonsensical detoxes, short-term fixes and inevitably failed restrictive diets that it’s almost impossible to take in the idea that this could be a permanent change (I think even sometimes for the person doing it). But if you’re not doing this just for a weight loss fix, there’s really no reason why it might not be an indefinite change. I started the process last June and have yet to see a reason to go back on the full-on fructose.

4. Do you eat natural sugars / fruit / honey / maple syrup instead?

In fairness, this isn’t actually a stupid question, since the term ‘sugar’ is pretty vague. Plus every no-sugar plan you can follow is slightly different; my friend Sherri who did Five Weeks to Sugar-Free with Davina (literally with Davina – how cool is she?!) ate some sugars I didn’t on I Quit Sugar, because they’re different approaches leading to a similar outcome. But it can take some patience to keep answering this one. So be it.

As an aside: When I talk about quitting sugar, I mean a considerable reduction in fructose consumption. Thus for me substituting with honey or maple syrup is pointless as it’s still high fructose (most of my fructose I get from 1-2 helpings of whole fruit a day). But generally I’m not a fan of the word ‘natural’ applied to food; table sugar is natural, if by that we mean ‘it comes from a plant’, but I think there’s a lot of privilege and nonsense to be unpacked around the term. And since even among the JERF crew there are plenty of foods that actually do undergo some form of process (butter and cheese, for a start), it’s a whole area I’m loathe to get too evangelical about. I also recognise the reality of busy people’s lives, and the importance of available budgets and convenience. Basically, I think if you give up sugar but take up being a jerk, it’s not good news for anyone.

5. Isn’t it just a fad?

Maybe. And?

I have delved a little into the science of this and am relatively convinced it’s a good thing to do, but I recognise my limitations in understanding all of it. I know that I feel healthier since starting out. I know I have better skin. (I’ve also lost quite a lot of weight, but I like to steer clear of that subject for the most part because there’s an unhelpful assumption that this means it must be good). I eat (even) more veggies. I cook more. I am much less likely to have binge moments. My blood pressure, always low, has gone down further. Other health measures have also improved a little. You know? It works for me. I appreciate what it has done for me. It’s okay if you don’t want to do it.

If you gave up sugar, what are the comments you heard most of? What did you respond? Did it put you off? I find the politics of eating absolutely fascinating, and would be glad to talk about it more with anyone else who also does.

More posts about sugar you might find interesting:

Thoughts at the end of the IQS process
Dealing with messing up your plan
Eating out when you’ve quit sugar

Review: 6teas Liquid Tea Concentrate

The 6teas bottle from each sideMy sister gives marvellously good presents. From Barbican and BFI membership (for reals, she’s great) to random infusions of goodies, she is a thoughtful soul. On her last visit to London, she bore with her this curious drink – a loose leaf tea liquid concentrate in a bottle.

The 6teas premise is simple. They brew, blend and bottle loose leaf teas in, well, six varieties from vanilla roiboos to green. The flavour K chose for me (knowing me well) was an Assam and Darjeeling blend known as the ‘Big Daddy House Blend’. Each bottle has six servings, and serving sizes are marked in a scale down the side. The tea looks pretty cloudy at this stage – like that horrible tea with a drop of milk some people insist on slurping (make a commitment – milk or no milk).

IMG_4916Now, I do love me some loose leaf tea, and I’ve become a really ridiculous tea snob, it’s true. Once you’ve got in the habit of properly brewing and drinking it, you realise that most teabags do actually taste of stewed powder and paper, and if you drink black tea – both type and milk status, as I often do – it’s simply not appealing from a bag. I’ve taken to only drinking roiboos in the office as the teabags are less grim (yes, yes, privileged problems, I think we’ve established that).  Still, I thought it was possible that liquid tea concentrate might be taking my tea hipster credentials just a tad far and – I admit – I thought it might taste a bit peculiar.

So, in with the serving into a mug, giving it a quick sniff (really rather nice). I went with a whole serving to begin with, although many of my mugs and teacups are quite small and K had said she goes for a weaker tea and can usually get seven or eight servings from a bottle. In it went. In went freshly boiled water. The cloudiness vanished, and there was a dark amber cup of tea with a strong, natural scent.

IMG_4875You know what? It’s lovely. Delicious and fresh. In fact, it tastes like a genuinely lovely cup of home-brewed proper tea. And unlike making Darjeeling at home it can’t be overbrewed (it’s such a bloody hard one not to tip into bitterness and since sugar in tea is an abomination unto Nuggan I am not going there). I’ve taken the rest of the bottle to work where I am, indeed, having slightly smaller servings for a lighter cup, and enjoying the taste of proper tea while it lasts. It does need to be refrigerated once opened, but as I sit in an open-plan office around 15 feet from a fridge, this isn’t a problem.

And yet… here comes the sticky bit. The cost. 6teas sells the tea in 3-packs, so 18 servings for £15.00. Even if you’re going to extract more like 22 servings, you’re still looking at, essentially, at least a 70p cup of tea. Now, knowing the costs of loose leaf and taking into account packaging, marketing, staff and expertise, I don’t think they’re overcharging in the slightest. From that perspective, I think it’s actually phenomenal value. But from my budget perspective, my 100g boxes of leaves can extract around 30 cups for around £10 (or 33p per cup). This is still way more expensive than a teabag, obvs, but we’re all a bit stupid about what we do with any disposable income we’re lucky enought to have, and that’s my indulgence. So what I need is tea fanatics with more money than me to spend lots and lots at 6teas until it brings the cost down a bit for all the rest of us.

IMG_4917All that said, I think it’s something I could be persuaded to get now and again, and if I attend the market in Yorkshire where my sister picked up her bottles I would buy some in person to support a local business I think has come up with a great-tasting, interesting, different product. Personally I’m not a fan of fruit infusions or floral blends – jasmine yes, Earl Grey yech – plus I don’t like vanilla flavouring in tea so I’d stick to BD or the green variety, but I hope they’ll be able to branch out to look at an oolong blend with a bit of success and encouragement.

The six blends are:

Big Daddy House Blend (Assam & Darjeeling)
Golden Green Tea (A fruity blend with Osmanthus blossom)
Pina Colada (flavoured black tea – not my cuppa, for sure!)
Rooibos & Vanilla (with a bunch of other flavourings, including strawberries
Red Fruit Dream (possibly my nightmare)
Russian Earl Grey (oh wait… but it is an interesting blend of Earl Grey and Russian Caravan if you like that kind of thing)

Or you can mix and match three together, or buy a gift card for a tea-obsessed friend. All available to buy online.

Disclosure: None needed as this was a gift and a voluntary review. I also blog with a friend about tea at Oolongingly.

Afternoon tea at the Buddha Bar, Knightsbridge

IMG_4667In case it’s not obvious, I really, really, REALLY love tea.

So, when it came time to choose a fun thing to do with my friend K to belatedly celebrate her birthday, afternoon tea ticked the box. She’d mentioned that she’d enjoyed an Asian-inspired tea at the Buddha Bar before, and wanted to go back, so when a Time Out offer dropped on our laps it seemed serendipitous.

What was rather nice was that during the booking process the very helpful woman I was emailing spotted my blog link in my signature and, just for the hell of it, added an extra glass of champagne to our booking on the house. Which was very sweet (the gesture, not the bubbles) and much appreciated. Even after I managed to knock the second glass on the floor… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

IMG_4659The tea itself is four savoury and four sweet bites each. The fusion flavours are unusual for afternoon tea, but not so brave that they’ll put off the conservative-minded. Savouries were a hoisin duck bun, a deep-fried seafood wonton, tuna tartare on crisp crostini and a crunchy vegetable summer roll, with a couple of dipping sauces. I launched in with the summer roll first, and really enjoyed the tuna, which had a welcome hint of spice; the bun was lovely but the real star for me was the wonton. I could frankly have just gone for a bowl of those then and there…

The sweet half was a rare sugary departure from my usual diet these days; as such the pistachio macaron seemed insanely sweet to me, but with a lovely gooey texture. The dense chocolate mouse was more like a rich truffle cake; this was balanced out to some extent by the light, fruity passion fruit tarts with pastry cases so crisp we gave up on spoons and used our fingers to avoid the inevitably flying bits of dessert hitting anyone else in the room. The winner for me though was the green tea cheesecake; a light whipped topping on a just-held-together crumbly biscuit base. And not achingly sweet (or at least it didn’t seem so after my tongue had been numbed by the other three).

IMG_4671Canton Tea Co. jasmine pearl tea (loose leaf in pyramids) made for a lovely fragrant accompaniment, too. The two glasses of champagne were delicious… right up until an enthusiastic Greek gesticulation from me sent one flying. My appreciation for the incredibly attentive and sweet staff extends to the waiter who was at my elbow in seconds, towels in hand, being generally pretty charming about the whole thing. Luckily, it’s also pretty dark in there…

Speaking of dark, the way to the loos caused considerable hilarity, including one moment where the mood lighting was so… moody… we couldn’t see the door handle to let our way out of the bathrooms. The rest of then space is, as you might be able to tell from the lighting, a fairly exotic surrounding – an unrestrained yet pleasing mashup of Far East, Christmas lights and an incense-laced North African souk.

Would I go again? Yes, though it would, I think, be for an entirely savoury meal. This is in part because of the sugar thing; I found the savoury the part of the tea that I really wished there was more of. The balance was naturally in favour of cake – and large servings of it, at that – whereas my preferences increasingly lie in the other direction. It’s also I think because with a traditional afternoon tea there’s the sort of transitional point of the scones – they lead you from sandwiches to pastries via the gateway drugs of jam and raisins – but here it was a pretty sharp jump from chilli-flecked tuna to chewy meringue.

With that balance restored and a slightly more varied tea menu, I’d sing its praises anywhere; if you’ve more of a sweet tooth than I do and you’re tired of the usual, this is definitely somewhere to try.

I Quit Sugar: Eating out and on the go

I wasn’t intending to write much more about IQS; I’d shared my initial thoughts, addressed misconceptions, voiced my post-blip considerations and come to my end-of-programme conclusions and I’ve just kind of quietly been living a mostly IQS-friendly life ever since. I do occasionally splurge, but mostly I keep my fructose levels pretty low, and I’ve not regretted it. My skin has stayed clearer and my ability to resist an OMGSNACKBINGE is at its best for years (not infallible, and now I have an even bigger obsession with cheese, so…) and though it wasn’t my intention particularly to lose weight, it has stabilised at about 20lbs lower than it was.

Of course, I should have anticipated that come January lots of people would be embarking on various versions of their own reduced-, low- or no-sugar journey – most of them, in fact, focussed on reducing fructose, not sugar in general, although some just focus on so-called ‘refined’ sugars, preferring honey, maple syrup and drief fruit (I don’t really get the point of that, but to each their own). Naturally, I’ve thus been thinking about it more, and been asked questions by various friends and family. I’ve also observed a number of people on social media suddenly interested in ‘detoxing’ (meaningless) or ‘clean eating’ (even more meaningless and offensive to boot).

As such I wanted to touch on an issue that I think rears its head for anyone practising a dietary restriction, whether for health, medical, preference or religious reasons: eating out, and eating on the go.

Now, most of us are broke at the moment, and making our own lunches to bring to work, but at some point That Week happens when you seem to be buying an extortionately priced sandwich every day; also the drive to reconnect with friends inevitably seems to result in everyone being free over the same three days at the end of January and you leave a succession of restaurants considerably lighter of pocket and possibly of spirit, but with the nagging feeling you’ve done something wrong.

Well, rid yourself of that feeling immediately. Feeling guilty about food is never a good idea. If you have over-sugared, you’ll probably know (I get actual sugar munchies and sometimes nausea; a friend tends towards stomach upsets and headaches) and really what is there to do but drink water, eat your veggies, chow down on some yummy fat and move on? No-one made you sign your name in blood to pledge to give up sugar for ever and ever, and if you decided you wanted the damned piece of cake (or accidentally had something you didn’t realise contained added sweet stuff), then who cares? There is no place where lists are kept, and red marks are added by your name. It is, in the end, only food and not a moral decision that will haunt your every step until you turn into some sort of cursed Miss Havisham, forever condemned to chow down the neverending yet crumbling remains of a wedding feast made entirely of sugar and marzipan. Chill.

Still, I can understand wanting to feel like you have a go-to – restaurants and cafes you feel you can safely order a few things from without feeling ill or uncomfortable or, yes, guilty afterwards. Or you’d at least like some guidance in good choices to make if you’re going somewhere you have no say in. To that end, I’ve gathered together a few tips that have helped me navigate these waters without getting too bogged down in Super Special Snowflake Rules, and would appreciate any of your own you have to share.

  • Certain cuisines are a bit of a sugar minefield. Thai and Chinese cuisines – at least in the form that tends to appear on the British high street – do tend towards added sugar (that is a massive generalisation though; there’s almost always likely to be something you can have and both have plenty of protein, nut and legume-filled dishes). I prefer to avoid them unless I have a specific craving for them – then I’ll just have what I’m after and move on. There are also a few things that have ‘hidden’ sugar – for example, Japanese sushi rice is partly made sticky by the addition of sugar. It’s not really a big deal and you’re eating it with lovely fatty fish like salmon, so meh, but just so you know.
  • Cheese makes an excellent starter and dessert. I have before managed to have three courses that all involve cheese and I’m pretty proud of that. I tend to sidestep the inevitable fruit and chutneys on cheese boards, which can help.
  • ‘Health food shops’ are tricksy buggers. Whole Foods is often where I pick up some of the more expensive hard to find ingredients for various low-sugar dishes, but it also has plenty of healthy-looking pre-packaged foods that are heaving with the stuff. Be wary of ‘no added sugar’ signs that have the caveat that it’s ‘pure fruit sugar’ – that’s fructose, so… if you really want a fructose load, just eat the piece of fruit. You’ll get the fibre and goodness too.
  • Some fruits make better snacks than others from a low-fructose perspective. Strawberries, raspberries and apricots are my go-to and all travel well in a tub. Try having them with fat – a piece of cheese, some full-fat yogurt – if you’re prone to sugar munchies like me, as it helps you feel more sated and less snacky.
  • In terms of high street lunch chains, Pret a Manger, Pure (Made for You) and Itsu all have nutritional info on the website; Itsu, however, does not list sugar. From the carb count, you can usually make an educated guess (and it looks more than 6g sugars – not carbs! – per 100g, I tend to avoid) and there are some lovely coconutty, avocado-y, chicken-y choices. It’s often quite a nice way to have a little sweet touch (like a sprinkle of pomegranate) mixed in with a delightfully fatty main. At Pure I often go for the Falafalo Soldier – not exactly low sugar, but not high either (and yes, all their product names are that bad).
  • If I’m out and about with the Kid, she will generally request a trip to Wagamama. I’m happy to oblige because, despite the website being more fancy than easily navigable, if I have any doubts about what i’m going to order the info is all there. I particularly ❤ the Coconut Seafood Broth.
  • If you want something sweet, dark chocolate is never not marvellous, and the higher the cocoa percentage the lower the sugar. My current faves are Lindt 90%, Hotel Chocolat Dominican Republic 90% (and 100%) and Tesco Swiss 85%.
  • I’m a bit obsessed with tea-with-everything but if that’s not an option and you don’t want still / tap water, then ask about soda water; it’s rarely on the menu, but any place with a bar should have it as a mixer.
  • You know when you’re on a diet and it’s all “don’t choose the creamy dishes as they’re full of fat, choose tomato sauces”? Flip it. Cooked tomato is great stuff but in large amounts does boost the sugar level. Cheeeeeeese.
  • Consider alternatives for treats; for example, if you’re a massive afternoon tea fan like me, go for one that has good savouries as well as pastries, as after a while sugar-free you’ll be far more interested in those anyway. I’m dying to try Fortnum & Mason’s entirely savoury tea… you know, when I win big on the lottery that I never play.
  • Eat, enjoy and feel well. Whether that includes sugar or not.

My apologies if you were hoping for more strict rules and regulations than that, but I’ve had a disordered relationship with food for so long that I am all about the freedom now. The entire reason I tried sugar-free living was to fight off cravings and the feeling that I had to try and control everything – so I’m not about to undo all that work liberating myself just to obsess over every mouthful, or encourage anyone reading this to do the same.

That said, if you have a failsafe idea you’d like to share in the comments, go to it!

 

Ten Things About Tea

I thought I loved tea, and then two of my best friends came to stay. And now not only do I love tea, but I’ve radically evolved the way I drink it, with an ever-increasing list of favourites for different occasions, moods and times of day, and the ever-decreasing use of milk. I was always pretty straightforward – dash of milk, no sugar, because sugar in tea is an abomination unto Nuggan – and happy with a teabag. I still find myself able to drink this at work (though the teabag should barely be introduced to the water because that powdery, papery shizzle stews so easily), but at home the teabags have been banished to a sealed pot for insistent visitors, and the shelves are heaving with tins of loose leaf glory (always airtight tins, because tea will lose its freshness in no time without them).

So, because tea is really such a wondrous thing, here are ten things about tea; a random collection of fag-ends of knowledge and recommendations of Stuff I Like, because if I don’t share this kind of thing on my blog what, indeed, is the point of having a blog?

1. Although tea comes in different colours, it’s not necessarily a different tea plant. Black tea and white tea, for example, could be the same tea – the latter the new, furry, young tips and the former a fully fermented version. Oolong tea, with its distinctive delightfully musty scent, is part-fermented, and tends to produce a yellow-gold tea. Also, camomile is not tea; it’s an infusion, but no worse for it. Try the real stuff – freshly steeped flowers – for the best, sweetest, no-sugar-needed taste.

2. If you’ve tried Oolong teas and kind of like them but they seem a bit strong, Whittard does a very light afternoon blend that’s quite hard to over-brew.

3. I have a tea Tumblr. The posts from Australia aren’t me, but I shall leave my tea-swilling partner to be an International Person of Mystery.

4. Tea should genuinely be made at different temperatures. You want around 70 degrees (the point the kettle reaches about half an hour after it’s boiled) for white tea, and varying points in between that and 100 degrees for everything up to black. To be honest, this is getting a bit precious but you will taste the difference if you go for it. Or you could just switch the type of tea you’re having if you boiled the kettle and then forgot about it. In related news, if someone ever wants to send me one of these beauties, I wouldn’t cry. Well, I would, but not the sad tears.

5. Gen mai tea / genmaicha is a form of Japanese tea that includes roasted brown rice, which adds a sweet taste and a disorientating scent. It’s worth trying but is definitely quite odd to those of us raised on the milky black ‘English Breakfast’ version of tea.

6. Try drinking your tea black. The flavours are immense, and some black teas – Assam and Darjeeling for example – are really killed dead by the addition of cow juice brimming with sugary lactose. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a milky cuppa, but you’ll find a whole new appreciation for the flavours of tea if you ditch the dairy now and again. You could also try a flavoured black tea like T2’s delicious Brisbane Breakfast (I did not believe tea with a hint of mango could be nice, but apparently…). They also do a glorious London Breakfast blend which has no additional flavourings, but uses a dash of Lapsang Souchong for a hint of smoke without the slap in the face you get from pure Lapsang.

7. I really bloody hate fruit tea. It’s just hot, faintly sweet, disappointingly flavourless water in deceptively interesting colours.

8. Ditto floral teas, which just taste like dishwater flavoured with perfume. I am not a fan of Earl Grey, Lady Grey or any of the other ennobled Greys. Bleh.

9. Wanting low-caffeine tea late in the day doesn’t have to mean switching to green or white (unless you want to – and there are plenty of good reasons to drink both). T2’s Daintree blend is lovely, as is the Panyang Congou, for getting the flavour of a stronger tea without the caffeine kick.

10. My favourite places to shop for tea are Australian outfit T2*, Whittard, Camellia’s Tea House, JING and any number of random outfits in Chinatown. (*now all over London thanks to investment from Unilever; nothing to do with any of my clients, though, and I loved them before I knew that, so there is no client conflict / sponsorship here).

And as a bonus – and because, as the members of Spinal Tap know, it’s better if you go up to 11 – here are links to two rather different afternoon tea reviews I’ve done: London’s The Pelham and Bath’s Bea’s Vintage Tea Rooms.

And now… anyone for a cuppa?

Italian afternoon tea at The Pelham’s Bistro Fifteen

IMG_4030An afternoon tea review right after my last three million posts about giving up sugar? What can I say? I like to keep you on your toes. The fact is, I do consider myself to have given up regular sugar permanently, but I’m still open to special occasions. And such a one was a weekend break of fun with a good friend, which included cashing in a Time Out deal for a special Italian twist on afternoon tea at the Pelham.

My friend, K, had been here before for a post-Christmas detox tea, so it seems themed teas are a regular occurrence. The listed value for the afternoon tea in question was £60 for two, similar to the usual Champagne Afternoon Tea, but we paid about half that through the deals site. The setting is the very pretty, tastefully retro Bistro Fifteen, complete with striped wallpaper, mint green chairs, a library corner and dotty Laura Ashley teacups.

IMG_4028The deal included the near obligatory glass of prosecco, which we duly sipped at happily. The server was a bit out of sorts, I think, as she just asked ‘what would you like, English breakfast or Earl Grey?’ and it was only on asking if there were other options that it turned out there was a whole tea menu.

The teas are provided by Camellia’s Tea House – do visit the one in Kingly Court if you can – and included infuriating titles such as Skinny Bitch (ugh!) alongside much more appealing options such as White Peony and a classic white jasmine – no oolong though, more’s the pity.

IMG_4031I opted for the White Peony, and K had Beautiful Skin, a greener infusion of dandelion, chickweed and other vaguely mint-scented options. The server then brought the food and dashed off without telling us what was on it, but we quickly worked out most of it and then eavesdropped on our neighbours to work out the rest.

At base were two sizeable and filling prosciutto-stuffed ciabatta rolls, a strange but tasty fried, lemony raviolo of some sort each and four warm, flaky, raisin-studded scones topped with a drippy glaze of marmalade and a garnish of pistachio powder. Clotted cream and jam were provided too, tucked alongside what was described to the neighbouring table as a mango macaron (but tasted for all the world like orange – either way it was chewy and delicious), a tiny chocolate cup filled with custard and topped with a blueberry and a raspberry and a small, super sweet white and milk chocolate pot. Finally there was a spiced biscuit each and beautifully bitter chocolate biscotti.

Though most things looked small and delicate, the scones were extremely filling and the biscotti generously sized and rich, so by the end we were seriously stuffed. Topping up hot water for a second round of tea, we relaxed in the very pretty and relaxed surroundings, surprising November sunshine peering in through the basement windows from the South Kensington street outside. It was lovely to then stroll over to the V&A, my favourite place in London and somewhere K had never been.

K would still be glad to go back to the Pelham again after her second visit, and I was certainly impressed and would be interested to see what other twists on a classic theme they might offer. I’m not sure I’d be too keen to splash out the full amount for a regular afternoon tea, as it is rather a lot even without fizz (£24.50 per person), but the plain cream tea of scones and tea at £10.50 would be worth it for the setting.

Nothing to declare here as everything was paid for by us as stated – simply writing it up because it was fun and I enjoyed it.