Phew! Just this week, and only this week, I've been wishing there were a swimming pool within easy reach of our home because it's about the only exercise I could imagine doing for any length of time in a heatwave. Well, that is, if I could swim for any length of time, of course – but since I've not been in a pool for around ten years I expect even one length would be too much.
So I've been up early every morning and out in the vegetable and herb gardens, trying to burn calories by hand-weeding on my knees with a trowel, hoeing, carrying masses of heavy watering cans and so on. And then out again in the evening for an hour before supper.
Also, I'm very lucky to have a room downstairs in our little barn which I use as an exercise room – the stone walls are so thick that it's quite cool in there, so I can treadmill and row without too much heat stress.
But there must be a lot of us who find keeping active a real chore in this heat. Official advice today says people over 70 need to stay indoors between 11 and 3pm, and okay I'm a youngster at 65 but I'm doing that anyway – this morning I came in from the garden at 10, literally looking like a boiled beetroot from the neck up.
I couldn't have stayed out a minute longer. My main tip is to use the early morning and late evening – at least it's nice and light – to go out and walk when it's cooler.
Talking of activity, I've been trying to stand up a bit more, lately, too – after Public Health England issued a statement saying how important it is for our health to sit down as little as possible and instead, do more standing around. And actually, it's not an easy thing to do.
I know a lot of people still at work use standing desks now, but I'm resisting the idea as it would mean completely reorganising my office and buying a load of new stuff – and the cat couldn't sit on my lap while I type any more, which would be a shame, even though he needs to stand more as well; he's getting on too. But it is our ritual, so.
Instead I'm trying to stand while reading the papers; stand while on the phone (which doesn't happen much any more; have you noticed that your landline is much more quiet than it used to be? Nearly everyone I know emails or texts these days); stand while cooking (but then I always did that anyhow). And so on. Yet when I totted up a day's standing recently it came to a pathetic 4 hours, and that was including the aforementioned gardening and with me trying hard NOT to sit on my behind. Must try even harder but I'm running out of ideas and in this heat, sitting down is sometimes all you want to do.
Positives about the heat? Well, I tend to eat less when it's hot and humid and what I do eat seems to be healthy stuff; tons of salad and seafood and much less of the carbs. I do like an ice cream – but I've discovered you can make a really nice icecream with pureed banana, either on its own or combined with some Greek yogurt and a bit of honey maybe.
A great way of using up slightly over-ripe bananas, too. You just mix everything up then freeze it, stirring now and then if you like. It goes really well with strawberries, and you need no sugar on them either as the icecream is quite sweet.
Couscous salad recipe
One of the salad recipe I've tried this week is my own slight variation on a Mary Berry recipe from her new book, Mary Berry Cookery Course, published on the first of July, and it is a couscous salad. Couscous is something I don't use often as Husband doesn't like it and it can in truth be very bland; but Mary's recipe sounded really summery so I gave it a go and found, with enough lemon juice, seasoning, herbs and sliced spring onion, it really is very good and, being full with British garden flavours, makes a great change from all the couscous salads based around Mediterranean veggies. OK, it's got pine nuts in it, but I'll forgive her as I love them.
To serve 2-3 as a side salad (add some cooked chicken or even goat's cheese to turn it into a complete lunch), make up 200ml vegetable stock (I use Marigold bouillon) with boiling water and stir in about 175g dry weight plain couscous while the stock is still very hot. Set aside while you prepare the rest./p>
Steam 100g asparagus tips and 30g mangetout cut into smallish diamond shapes until just tender (about 3 minutes), drain and allow to cool a little. (You could use small peas instead of the mangetout.) Slice two small spring onions and finely chop a small handful each of parsley and mint. Toast 1-2 tablespoons of pine nuts (or you can buy them ready toasted, or use chopped hazelnuts instead).
Now tip the couscous, which should have absorbed all the stock, into a bowl, grind in some salt and black pepper and fluff up with a fork. Drizzle over a little extra virgin rapeseed oil (do try it, it is lovely and you can easily find brands produced in the UK – don't be put off by the cheap mass market rapeseed oils sold as cooking oil which taste of nothing at all – proper rapeseed oil is deep gold with a brilliant flavour) and fluff again, then stir in the vegetables, plenty of lemon juice, the herbs and pine nuts. I garnished the salad with some small pea shoots, to add an extra British summer touch.
Thank you, Mary, and I do apologise to you, the Grande Dame of British cooking, for making a few alterations to your lovely recipe; I'm actually blushing and feeling like a naughty schoolkid.