January has been quite a good news month, certainly for me and anyone who likes their food.
- My favourite food, avocados, have been declared ideal for blood cholesterol-lowering (Journal of the American Heart Association), not for the first time.
- My favourite drink, red wine, has been declared to cut the risk of heart disease by a fifth (European Heart Journal). Shame it's just the one glass a day, though.
- The spice cumin not only helps speed up weight loss but also improves cholesterol levels (Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice journal). Add in all the already-known benefits of chilli, garlic, ginger, turmeric and most other spices and you have carte blanche for a great big winter curry - hurrah!
- And apparently once you get to 70-plus, salt might not be as bad for you as you may have thought, say researchers in Atlanta, though other experts say their study needs follow-up research. As someone who's never been able to quite kill the urge to sprinkle salt fairly liberally in my cooking and on my poached eggs and baked potatoes (and so on), I'm quite looking forward to 70, now.
But it's not all good news. Very soon after I'd written last week's blog, mainly about the importance of being strong rather than being thin especially as we age, I found out that two guys, actually two doctors of philosophy, have written a much-publicised book* slamming the whole 'wellness industry' as they call it.
While I can't disagree that looking after yourself is a good idea, not a religion, it's a shame they have to be just a little bit too sarcastic about people like Jamie Oliver, by turning what he's tried to do to help us cook and eat a bit better, into something ridiculous.
Not least because at the moment Jamie Oliver looks, and says he feels, better than he's ever done now he is adding some regular exercise into the mix. The smug pair of authors call our quest for wellness an obsession, and snigger at the idea of us as individuals being able to do anything much about it.
I don't think this helps anyone, at all. We don't need yet another excuse to do nothing – I certainly don't.
And what about this? It was reported – somewhat belatedly but never mind - this week that George Clooney spent his pre-wedding evening in Venice eating. Apparently he consumed a five-course meal with two puddings, followed by three different types of ice cream. The media claim this is a sign he is a happy man. Wrong! He is quite obviously comfort eating. Now all we need to know is, one, 'WHY?' And two, 'WHY?'
Ate last night:
A bit like George Clooney, but probably for different reasons (I have been ill for what seems like months now though it's only just over two weeks) yesterday I felt in need of a plate of comfort food. But because I haven't done much shopping, it was a matter of raiding the freezer and the back of the fridge to see what I could concoct without too much effort or standing, as my legs are like two blocks of sodden wood.
I found various bits of fish and half a pack of cooked prawns in the freezer, a random hard-boiled egg and some just about OK Cheddar in the fridge, and half a bag of King Edwards, forlorn on the larder floor, so what else could I do but make a fish pie, with the egg chopped up in it, like my mother used to do circa 1960?
It doesn't need a recipe – gently poach fillets of fish (I used salmon, cod and smoked haddock) in milk (I used skimmed as that's all I had) to cover until about half-cooked, then remove with slotted spoon, cool a little and then remove any skin, cut flesh into chunks and place in ovenproof dish.
Strain the fish-cooking milk into a jug. Make a white sauce with it (melt butter in pan, add flour, stir, stir in milk gradually), adding extra milk if necessary until you have a smooth but not too thick sauce. Add a handful or two of grated cheese, season to taste.
Peel, boil and mash the potatoes with butter and milk; season to taste. Add cream if you feel like it (and a bit in the white sauce, too!). Add prawns, if you have any, to the fish in the dish, with the chopped egg.
Pour the sauce over and make sure it goes right down to the bottom of the dish. Spoon the potato round the edges and across the middle (or all over if you prefer). Sprinkle a bit more cheese over then bake at 180-ish for about 30 minutes until golden.
I know it looks like a plate of stodge, but it's quite healthy really; full of protein, calcium, omega-3s, B vitamins, etc etc. And it's not even that fattening. And it tastes divine and eats easily if you've got a sore throat. So don't feel guilty, otherwise what's the point?
Try this recipe for classic fish pie
* The Wellness Syndrome, by Carl Cederstrom and Andre Spicer, Polity Press.