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I didn’t give up smoking in order to live longer.  I gave up smoking to live better. For years I’d felt imprisoned by cigarettes and too weak to break out. It was half way there. Cigarettes do imprison you, but not being able to give them up isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness. When I did stop (on my thousandth attempt) I found it easy. There was no more will power this time around than there had been before. I’d just got to the stage where I wanted to be a non smoker an awful lot more than I wanted to be a smoker.

And for four years I’ve felt better and happier and fitter. I’m what psychologists refer to as “present focussed” about it. I enjoy not smelling of smoke, not having the craving, having a better sense of taste and a better sense of smell. I don’t wheeze as I walk and I don’t go into coughing fits when the cold bathroom air hits my lungs as I step out of the morning shower. Being a non smoker (I stopped thinking of myself as an ex smoker some time ago) is something that gives me pleasure each time I draw in a lungful of air.

I like to give things up for Lent. Charlie says that giving up smoking is plenty. I can indulge in other things. Don’t worry too much about the treats I’ve given myself with the extra £40 I have in my pocket each week. I deserve the chocolates and the steaks. I’ve been happy to go along with this, but I’ve still managed to give up meat eating for Lent each year. This year it seems more important than ever as I do.

First the Today programme brings up the new dangers of eating too much meat in middle age and then a favourite blog – Sparkonit – adds detail. We all pick up the headlines but I like this blog because it gives you some science to go with the journalism. It also points you where to go if you want to know more. It’s a good blog. You should follow it.

http://sparkonit.com/2014/03/06/high-protein-intake-can-be-as-noxious-as-smoking/

Professor Edna M Jones USC

Professor Edna M Jones USC

Researchers at USC  Davis School of Gerontology examined a large sample of adults for two decades and found that eating too much protein, especially in the form of meat, carries as big a health risk as smoking. Suddenly they have my attention. Suddenly I’m becoming what psychologists refer to as being “future focussed”. Do I want to gain all the health benefits of being a non smoker and throw them away because I fancy a bacon sandwich? I have over-indulged my love of meat these last four years. Have I literally and metaphorically jumped out of the fire and into the frying pan?

Professor Valter Longo USC

Professor Valter Longo USC

Pancake Day (Mardi Gras) takes me by surprise. I thought it was next week. I’ve been emptying the freezer of meat for a fortnight now. There’s only one pack of mince left. We leave pancakes for next week anyway (why not follow your own calendar?) and I make a last Bolognaise sauce for the season. My present tense feels bloated and ready to fast. My future tense says thank you for taking me into consideration.

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Things have simplified anyway. The last of the goose has become soup and paté. The first soup has the hearty winter goodness from pearl barley and lentils and split peas. The second owes its wonder to the classic combination of onion, celery and carrot. I’ve been feasting for too long and not always too well. It feels good to be back among simple food again. And nothing feels more seasonal than going through the larder and using up the things that have kept us going through the winter. It makes room for the simpler pleasures of spring.

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As the week progresses my own goose paté on toast gives way to muesli or my own marmalade on toast. Spring is a time of renewal and the timing of Lent is something that the Christian calendar has got just right. (Based as it is on a compromise reached in Whitby in the Dark Ages. The date of Easter was causing problems across Europe and a proposal to go with the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox got unexpected support. It has given the western branch of the church its date of Easter ever since).

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Everything works well on toast. I won’t miss paté with such options as baked beans, sardines, poached eggs and, of course, cheese, to move on to.

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Is there a better meal than a bowl of tasty soup and some decent bread? So simple, so easy to make and a pleasure to eat.

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Ash Wednesday and breakfast with the morning post. Duty tells me to read as many Irish histories as I can get hold of. I find time for the Peter Cook book first and it sets the day up nicely. As Stephen Fry remarked. Peter Cook is funny in the same way as some people are good looking.

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I’m no longer championing Aldi but I’m still a fan. At the moment they have some very good pasta on offer. Half of it makes a farewell to meat on Tuesday evening with a hearty bolognaise.

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The other half makes a vegetable version of the same dish. I’d be hard pressed to say which was the more delicious. Meat was a rare luxury through the history of Italian food. Pasta doesn’t require meat. It seldom fails to make an enjoyable evening supper.

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An over generous portion, I know,  but it was the only food I had in the first half of the day. I don’t care for muesli as an everyday dish but every once in a while it works.

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I’ve worked well this week. I’ve advanced several jobs. My research for the second draft of my Irish story continues to uncover a brutal and fascinating history. I’ve  been to two Brian Friel plays that have opened up new seams to research (as well as being fabulous theatre). I’ve read three more children’s novels and produced  a ream of notes. Jolly and I have walked many a country mile. I’ve discovered that I can get live coverage of Australian rugby league games and enjoy the double luxury of watching them when I would otherwise have been teaching classes. And I’ve taken on board some serious work that tells me that being healthy (which is pretty much the same thing as being happy) is in the range of things over which I have considerable control. I’ve moved way from the fire and it’s time to put the frying pan back in the cupboard.