This summer I decided that I would learn to make bread. I think I have become enamoured with the idea of being fairly self-sufficient- in the sense of baking my own bread, making my own cereals, whipping up fresh and delicious nutritious meals for myself. I want the health benefits and money saving benefits of it. I want to know that I can take care of myself. Alas, the reality is that I am actually a little hopeless in the kitchen. It’s not something I want to admit, as it clashes so much with my images of what I want to be, but as much as I enjoy pottering around in the kitchen the results don’t always match the pictures, to put it in the kindest way. I have improved over the years. My desire to be a good cook and baker is something I’ve been struggling towards for years and as embarrassing as that is, at least where I am now is much better than when I first started- I can manage a few basic dishes and I am an adequate baker of biscuits and cakes, but I still have many limitations.I think I perhaps became comfortable in those limitations, and it only now I’ve given up dairy that I’ve begun to play around a bit, trying to become even better. (Not being able to rely on cheese kinda forces one into this position…)

It’s really not as easy as it looks, though.

To focus on the bread.

I began yesterday morning with a recipe pulled from the Internet and a lot of optimism. I followed the instructions and formed my dough seemingly as it should be, then set my little ball of dough in a greased bowl, all wrapped up and warmed up by the dishwasher running beneath. Five hours later and my little ball of dough had not risen at all. Worried, I began to frantically google and was forced to accept the truth about my bread- I had killed my yeast. I’d not only put them in too-hot water to begin  with, but left them hungry with no sugar to feed on. Reading through forum posts and recipes with their comments I realised that I’d probably not even kneaded it right. Annoyed, fed up, I threw the dough on a greased pan and shoved it in the oven just to see what would happen. The results were a lump of heavy, dense, gooey ‘bread’ that…actually tasted very nice.  My optimism was restored- all I needed to do was keep my yeast alive and everything would be OK. With the help of my frantic searches earlier I rewrote the recipe- adding in sugar at the beginning, making careful note of the ideal water temperature , extending times for letting the yeast develop and kneading. Today, I did it all over again. I made the water neither cool nor hot and mixed in a tiny bit of sugar. Then, I added the yeast and let them sit for 5 minutes, watching in fascination as the yeast bloomed before my eyes. They were alive! I added in the olive oil then slowly began to add flour mixed with salt, until the mixture became too stiff to mix and thus I began to knead. I kneaded and kneaded and kneaded- forcing myself to keep going for 10 minutes and only then did I ball the dough up and put it in a greased bowl, covering it this time not only with a damp cloth but a layer of clingfilm. I set it beside the stove as I cooked lunch to keep it warm and in an hour- it had risen! Hopeful now, I formed it into something resembling a loaf and stuck it in the oven. The results were much lighter and just as tasty but alas, it is still a little too dense, and it looks utterly deformed. although the first rise was successful, the second rise in the oven…well it did not seem to rise much in the oven. Neither did I shape it correctly. I still have a long, long way too go with this bread making business. It really seemed so easy, too.

I think its time to phone my grandmother.

The One With the Diet

Man, the last entry was a little bit emotional wasn’t it? I think this one is also going to be a confused, rambling sort. I think that is generally my state of mind right now. Confused. Overwhelmed. Conflicted. Well, whatever. Let me get on with it.

I woke up naturally at 9am today, which was disorienting, as I’d gone to bed at 5am. I remember having bad dreams. I don’t know what they were about. But I woke up feeling slightly disturbed and not at all tired, as if afraid to fall asleep again. I decided that since I was up and about I might as well do something with my day. I’d planned to go shopping earlier in the week, then ditched the plan yesterday, and impulsively at 9am today I decided that yeah I totally would. I had convinced myself I really would like those items I saw last week, so off I went, slightly nervous as how KL would be on a public holiday.

Turns out, just like usual.  Maybe a tiny bit more crowded but not as bad as I was expecting. I even got a seat on the sky train.

I went to H&M first and typically the top I had been eyeing was itchy and looked awful on me. Most other things were like that too. Shopping is so often like that, isn’t it? Either its the wrong price, material, color, pattern, fit… the list goes on. I ended up with a couple of basic t shirts (and again, my credit card did not work, meaning I had to wander around for 20 minutes looking for an ATM to draw money. ARGH) I then headed on to Sephora, where I bought a couple of items. One I had been wanting for a while and was pleased to get, the other was an impulse born from my anger and frustration over my money situation and my stress over everything in general right now and I really think I could have done without it. Somewhere between the mess with my credit card and sephora I seemed to have decided fuck budgeting, fuck dieting, fuck everything and set myself on a dangerous course of an impulsive, emotion driven shopping binge.

Heading away from Sephora, I went into pavilion and down to a donut shop on the bottom floor I’d seen last week and had been eyeing then. I was going to buy one donut, but of course I bought six. And I so badly wanted coffee…so I got one. I felt a thrill of pleasure when I sat down to enjoy them but that did not last. I’d broken my diet, wasted precious money, for no reason at all.

Oh yes, I mentioned a diet did I not? That is, I’m currently aiming to cut out almost all dairy from my diet. Yep, you read that right. Me, the one with the sweet tooth who lives off cake and chocolate. However I read once, or maybe I was told, that dairy is often a cause of eczema. Which is something I suffer from badly, and have done so long enough to warrant the motivation to begin such extreme diet change.

I went into this diet without much thought, right back at the beginning of last summer. I stopped buying milk and bought rice milk instead. I bought plain vanilla soya milk to replace the loss of greek yogurt. I stopped eating cheese sauce with my pasta, and had tomato based sauces instead. I still ate bread and cake, with the plan being I’d reduce the amount of dairy first, allowing traces, to get used to it, to test it out, before really committing to it. And then I came to Malaysia, university started up again and together these two things made it hard to do even that. I was travelling and experiencing new cultures, I did not want to think about dieting! So I let myself break the rules on holiday. I was stressed and I wanted chocolate! So I had chocolate.

Today, I went and I bought myself six cream filled donuts and a creme brulee coffee that was half cream. The first sip was heavenly, the first bite delightful, but by the time I was finished the coffee and two of the donuts I felt nauseous. That’s the thing that also prompted me to accept this diet as something I should do for my overall well being, not just try out for the sake of my skin. That is: I’ve possibly always been slightly intolerant to dairy, actually. I love milkshakes, but I’ve not been allowed to drink them since I was small because they’d make me ill. I also have never been able to stomach omelets or too much egg in other forms. I could not tolerate rich, creamy deserts. I rarely ate yogurt, and when I did I had only a small spoonful with dry cereal, because I could not tolerate it otherwise. I could only ever eat mild cheeses like red Leicester and Gloucester, others made me feel ill. When I ate cheesy pasta for supper I enjoyed it but I could only manage half the portion of my sister, and I always felt off afterwards. I never recognised it though, that thing that was staring me in the face. The feeling that I’d eaten something wrong for me. I like cheese and yogurt and milk and cream. I like these things. But I have to accept they actually do not agree with me. I felt so ill today. I still feel ill.

And somewhere along the line I had accepted that ill feeling for full. That’s the problem, right there. I never feel full anymore. I always want to snack. I don’t know how to recognise when I’ve eaten enough anymore, because I often stopped once I felt ill. Oh if I eat enough food then I’ll know. When I went to morganfields and had clearly more food than I could stomach I felt full but in a borderline ill, over stuffed kind of way. But I don’t always want to be eating these huge portions to end up feeling completely over stuffed to know that yes, I’ve had enough. More than that, I’m wanting to snack because I crave the foods I should be working to cut out- fatty, heavy(for me) junk like pizza, chocolate, cake, donuts, even a glass of hot…well cold chocolate is dairy.  If I eat properly, and follow the diet, I do not feel satisfied. and without a proper kitchen nor the equipment to make substitutes, well…

Reducing dairy is making me face my issues with food head on and its..uncomfortable, to realise the extent of these issues. I am an emotional eater and it really is very bad. I have a tendency to think I’m hungry when I’m bored/stressed/emotional and I tend to crave fatty, heavy foods, to want to eat until I feel ill, exactly like what too much dairy does to me. Too much rich, creamy chocolate or cake. I want to enjoy the sweet things I like, rather than mindlessly stuff myself full of them until I literally cannot take another bite because I don’t even know… it just makes me feel good. I love that sugar high, too. the combinational sugar high and caffeine high is even better. gosh, after I’d had that coffee I had so much energy. I went and browsed around the mall some, ended up in a cute accessories shop and it was there I realized I was running out of money. Disappointed, I spent an unfortunate amount of time umming and ahhing over the three sets of accessories I wanted and finally settled on one. Then I went to find an ATM to see if my card would let me take anything more from it. It did not and I was disappointed. in retrospect,I am so glad. I could have continued for many more hours, wasting my money. Well, not necessarily wasting. But there is a difference between seeing something and analysing clearly Do I need this or do I just want it? Is it worth the price? Will it last? What can I wear it with? Rather than just seeing something going want and ending up being blinded by that want. It’s the same with the diet. Its one thing continuing to eat bread with the traces of milk, and another thing to set out to have something as dairy-filled as possible.

Today was a day of reckless, thoughtless spending. Breaking the budget, breaking the diet. In many ways I had a lovely day, so maybe today was something I needed, maybe I woke up today so I could have this one crazy day to let my emotions drive me, and so get them out. But I’m still left disappointed in myself. I’m going to have to do better than this.

Just, no more binging. Man, just no more binging.

I should be optimistic though. I have plans, goals. With the diet, that is. I think once I’m back in the UK it will be better. I’ve already wish-listed a bunch of world war two cookbooks (mock dairy products and dairy free cakes!) and vegan cookbooks and this summer I’m looking forward to learning how to bake my own dairy free bread, making my own granola bars and experimenting with egg free cakes. I should be able to introduce some dairy free sweet treats into my diet that will do something about these cravings and still be relatively healthy too.

I am disappointed in what I did today, but I do not want to beat myself up about it. I don’t want to get obsessive with this diet. More than that, I want to enjoy this. I want to do this and to enjoy it. It should be possible. I gave up using shampoo easily enough, after two years it has become habit. Once you replace your old bad habits with good ones its hard to notice the difference- habit is habit, after all. But this is much bigger than just giving up one product. This is giving up so much. I want pizza and ice cream and yes, more coffee and donuts. But I must not. Even so, I have to remember that I am still easing into this. Its too difficult to properly do this non-dairy thing under the circumstances of student halls, and I am living abroad, so the rules can be lax. As long as they don’t completely relax like today.

It’s late now. I should probably try and get some sleep, although my mind still feels wide awake. Big surprise there.

Some random thoughts:

1. University is still very slow. I don’t want to complain, as I really don’t want labs to start up or for classes to become more intense, but I can feel myself becoming much too lazy. As in, its becoming natural to be lazy, which it should not. Today I had my first class at 3pm and I was late- because i OVERSLEPT. :| I have also not been studying at all, which is terrible.

2. I finished God’s Quiz Season 3 today. I started season 1 towards the end of last week. Talk about an addictive drama. The 3 seasons came together so well, although all three could stand alone. Ryo Duk Hwan is amazing as the eccentric genius Dr Han. The show is flashy but in a highly enjoyable way- its easy to get caught up in the crazy rare diseases and crimes that (sometimes) suspend disbelief. Best of all is the ongoing thread of Dr Han’s mysterious disease. Crazy scientists and their mad schemes are definitely not the most believable of plots but they sure are fun. In season 1 and 2  Ahn Yong Joon was incredible as the deranged genius Ha Yoon and although the mad scientist of Season 3 wasn’t as interesting, the twist of what was happening to Dr Han because of his disease was fascinating and really creepy. I loved how the last episode just turned everything on its head. Was not expecting it AT ALL. The ending was awful though. HOW COULD THEY LEAVE IT THERE. There better be a fourth season coming soon.

3. Whilst on the subject off dramas can I also recommend The Thousandth Man? Its not perfect, but its a lovely attempt at doing something new with the gumiho legend. I just finished re-watching episode 3 which was just so touching.  I struggle to articulate my thoughts on this drama so let me link to this wonderful review. (skip to the end of the post for the review.)

4. I was surprised, and pleased, to find the God’s Quiz OST on amazon for a little over £1 for one song and its instrumental. Sadly their mp3 store is difficult to navigate and I cannot seem to stumble over any other kpop that I would want to purchase. Still,  its nice to know its probably there for a decent price, and without having to wait for anything to ship to me. (And yes I know, for someone my age I am very out of touch with modern ways of getting music. I still exist in the CD age D:)

5. I’ve been eating too much chocolate and junk food lately and generally wasting to much money on food. Food is very cheap in Malaysia, which was great when I first got here, although I was soon made to realize how much of a double edged sword that is. When my cravings for junk food got very bad in the UK I could usually refrain myself because of the price. Now, the food is cheap and 7-Eleven is right there in the center of campus where I pass everyday and … I need to fix this asap. I have a feeling I’ve posted this before, too, which is embarrassing if true. I really am not good at sticking to personal goals.

6. Also embarrassing: I cannot use chopsticks. Yes, I know even 3 year olds can use them these days but no matter how much I have tried in the past I could never get the hang of it. I am going to Japan in June though which has inspired me to properly try and learn. I bought some cheap chopsticks at TESCO and have been trying to eat my food with them, but it gets so frustrating when I am hungry and  I cannot pick up my food that I always end up back to using a fork. Somehow, I don’t think I am going to end up a master of these things by June. :/

blouberg beach
Recently, my father let me buy some South African food online, from a shop based in London. After much indecision and being horrified by how much it would cost for 6 cans of grapetizer (and disappointed that the koeksisters were sold out cos I could totally do with those. I’d feel totally ill, but it would be worth it) I managed to put together an order which came last week. Imagine me lugging this heavy box all the way from the reception to my room, unable to stop grinning. Then imagine this huge, heavy box of food for just one person. I felt greedy for a moment, then I dug in and regretted nothing.

Now, a week later, my stash is rapidly decreasing. I am not happy to see the empty packets; I have become accustomed to being able to snack on biltong, droewors and buttermilk rusks as I please. It is taking all my willpower to ration the rest of the stash. I love South African food. Not just this ‘specialist’ stuff that I probably wouldn’t eat that often if I still lived there, but just…everything. I always seem to eat better when I go home. There is not as much choice in South African super markets compared to here in the UK, but sometimes I wonder if that is a good thing. Hmm. I also miss my grandmothers cooking. I’d love to eat my Granny’s macaroni cheese right now, followed by pudding of chocolate chip yogurt, and then my other Granny makes the most amazing bran muffins that she would heat up for us for breakfast. There is nothing quite like a homemade bran muffin slathered in butter. Yum. (They don’t even get bran muffins in this country. At least, I have never seen them. And I can’t seem to make them properly. D: )

(Two entries in a row about food, but to be fair the diet is hard and I am hungry, but hungry because I am bored and hungry as in fighting cravings for chocolate and cake. :/)

(Photo is of Blouberg beach at sunset, taken in toy camera mode)

The One With the Failed Diet

When I was looking at accommodation for uni I automatically drifted towards catered accommodation- it seemed more private, closer to uni, breakfast and dinner provided, £5.10 a day to spend at any uni food outlet, room and bathroom cleaned. It seemed great, and it wasn’t much more expensive than self catered. So far its been fine. But this food thing? Bit not good.

I never really talk about this on the blog, and I’m not sure if I should, seeing so it may make seem a little crazy but here we go.

I have never had a good relationship with food. I don’t like to eat- I’m really weird about food,  like if I don’t like the smell or the texture or the way it looks then I can’t bring myself to eat it. My parents used to have to force me to eat when I was little, and spent years bargaining with me to finish just half of what’s on your plate, Catherine. I’m sure I should of outgrown it but I never did. I still pick at my food, and my portion sizes are half the size, even the quarter the size of other peoples yet it takes me longer than them to eat. I also developed the tendency to associate food with comfort instead of nutrition. At one point when I was depressed I was eating so little, and at the same time so much of the wrong things (aka skipping supper and filling up on chocolate instead) that I ended up underweight. That was part of my wake up call and so I simply forced myself to eat- even if I didn’t like it, even if I didn’t want to. And I got good. I learned to eat and I put the weight back on. Last year, last academic year, I was eating three meals a day, I was having just one chocolate bar a week and one packet of crisps a week (that sounds bad but to go from one meal a day, if that, and to having one bar of chocolate a day, if not more, it makes you feel proud to end up at that place). Sure, it wasn’t an amazing diet, but I was proud of where I had ended up. I was in control of my diet. I was doing well and I was going to keep progressing, getting better.

But last Semester I fucked up. I justified it- the first time living away from home, the stress of adjusting to uni. OK, I said, but I made a goal- I would do better this semester. Alas.

Now? Now I have completely lost that control, and it doesn’t seem to be coming back any time soon. University catered meals are frankly, gross, especially for someone as fussy as me. I thought having meals provided for me would encourage me to eat, but it does the opposite- I skip supper at least three times a week, and often just substitute for snacking or nothing at all. I keep some food in my room but they’re snacks, mostly, and I can’t really get fresh fruit and veg easily- such things are expensive, and go off quickly. And that £5.10? Pure temptation and for someone as weak willed as me, especially when I’m stressed out or anxious, which is often,  I end up spending it on things I shouldn’t. In my effort to start working I have been going to the library again- and I’ll end up buying a hot chocolate because I’m cold, and a  brownie or a muffin just because I have some money left over. When I’m between lectures I need something quick to snack on because I’m hungry and I don’t have time so I end up grabbing a packet of chips or a brownie or something else ridiculous. Its so easy to give in temptation when you have the means. Last year in an effort to save money every day I went into uni I made myself sandwiches, on whole wheat seeded bread , and packed a little something with that and that was lunch. No snacking, unless I’d brought one. My only treats would be the occasional pizza slice or ice cream. And of course I was at home, which meant I could cook for myself, or eat my parents cooking, and have access to whatever i wanted, including lots of good stuff. It was reasonably easy to keep myself in check.

I long to have that control back. But I feel like its out of my hands. A large part of the forcing myself to eat was learning to cook, making my own suppers,  putting together my own lunches, so that I could see and track exactly what I was eating. How do I do that at uni? I am lazy and stressed and I have £5.10 to spend on what I want and so I do. This is problematic. I am currently anaemic, again.I don’t feel good. I need to do something about this.I need to start forcing myself to eat things I hate again because I am not getting enough vitamins, minerals..anything. But I severely lack willpower. And I really like hot chocolate.

I read this blog post and it made me feel a lot better. In the end I need to accept that I have messed up but its not too late. I need to stop resisting, making all these excuses. I just need to do it because I can. I did it once and I can do it again. The diet may be failed now, but it doesn’t have to stay that well. It goes back on my list of goals for this semester. I will start by taking baby steps- like working on cutting down the chips first- and then go from there.