Naturally Skinny Women are Boknaaiers

Dinner is served.

Please understand that I use the word ‘boknaaier’ to describe Naturally Skinny Women (NSW from here on) with the greatest affection. My very best friend in the world is an NSW. If she wants to lose weight she’ll cut her daily beer consumption down very slightly and be emaciated by the end of the week. If so much as the froth of somebody’s draught is blown my way by the south-easterly wind and it happens to land somewhere near my person it is guaranteed that I will gain 4kgs instantaneously and have to change my pants. This is simply the way of my genes, and it is vexing in the extreme.

It is unfortunately also the way of my genes that I am perpetually starving. If (god forbid) 10am rolls around and by some extremely unusual series of circumstances I have not eaten breakfast, small children standing close to me are in grave danger. Also, I think exercising is very, very poofy. I do it because if I didn’t I would be extremely fat, but I don’t like it one iota and I skive off every opportunity I get. And yet, knowing all of this about myself, I remain in the deepest denial around what I know I can get away with eating (one tomato hold the basil), and even though I really, really do know better, I still to this day manage to convince myself that ludicrous eating plans which insist they have discovered the dieting truth and light continue to lure me with their lies and false promises.

Just last month I was eating eggs with my butter and telling my long-suffering husband how finally I had found the answer. All you need is fat. Even though I have followed this eating plan five times (five, people) without success, hope springs eternal in my damaged little heart. For 6 weeks I fried the chicken in lard, snacked on streaky bacon, and ate cake-sized wedges of cheese and then, heart in throat, tentatively got on my scale. To discover I had gained weight. No problem, Butter Bob on YouTube insisted; you’re retaining water. Wait for the ‘keto whoosh’ (a state where, Keto converts insist, your body ‘lets go’ of the water it’s been retaining and you wee a million times and be thin). I’m still waiting for the whoosh. Aint no whoosh comin’ this girl’s way.

To cut a long and sad story short, cutting carbs didn’t work for me. Nor did filling up on fat ‘so that would become my fuel’. Nor did rawism, veganism, juicism (invented word) or starving. Well, starving might have worked if I could have kept it up for longer than half an hour. And all those theories about not producing insulin and starving your body of carbs so you burn your own fat and and… I don’t deny that they work for some lucky souls, but for me? Not in the slightest. And people say, but did you do it right? Did you follow the rules? YES. For once in my life I really, really did follow the rules. Because I desperately wanted to have found the answer; to eat delicious food and STILL LOSE WEIGHT. Unfortunately, my body doesn’t like all that fat. Or, it likes it so much it stores it for the next fast. Which, now that we have uber eats, unfortunately never comes.

So, I’m back to square one – dry Ryvitas and Marmite and enough chicken breasts to make me start squawking. And finally, slowly, I’m losing a bit of the fat I gained from my bacon bonanza. Is it delicious? Not in the slightest. Would I rather be eating racks of ribs with my hands? Certainly. But best I suck it up because this is the way it is. And I’m vain and want to wear what I want to wear. And it’s a choice I make, and maybe it’s un-PC and if I were a better feminist I wouldn’t care. But I know when I feel my best, and unfortunately it’s not at my heaviest weight. So, onwards and upwards and we’ll get there in the end. Or not. But NSWs are boknaaiers, and that’s my final word on the matter.

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When You Literally Can’t For Your Own Fat Bastardness*

burger pic miniature.jpg
Dinner is served.

So I read this really troubling thing yesterday. I was googling why am I fat – as one does – and I read that, past the age of 45 (which I am by 3, okay, 15 months) if you continue to eat what you did when you were in your twenties and thirties you will more than likely gain around 8kgs per year until you die. Which means that 10 years from now I will not be able to write this blog anymore because I’ll be taking up an entire king size bed and have a ventilator and a TV table holding a portable deep fryer where I’ll spend my days whipping up batches of bengali fritters while the producer from My 600 Pound Life asks me questions about my childhood and how this all happened and there won’t be space in all that gedoente for a laptop.

And the answer will not even be a mystery. I’ll tell that producer the truth. I’ll tell him about how, if you don’t start eating like an anorexic ant, this is what happens to you and so he’d better be careful. Also, wine. According to that sad article wine is just about the worst thing you can imbibe past 5pm, though food of any sort rates pretty high too. And my question to the writer of that article is the following: What is the point of life if you can’t imbibe food and wine past 5pm? What? And when are you supposed to drink said wine, in that case? Because I don’t know if breakfast would really be the best time in terms of productivity and getting your kids to school. The truth is that my whole day pretty much consists of waiting patiently (and sometimes not patiently) until I get to the point where somebody who loves me whips out a cold bottle of chardonnay and says there, there while they make my glass be very full and then they cook me an XL portion of pasta with bacon.

And this is due to the fact that all day long I’ve been driving around and doing stuff and watching kids play netball. What for the rudeness that now I must have water and cress? No. Not at all. So I suppose I must resign myself to this sad fate and be happy for small miracles, like the fact that my track suit pants and some of my jeans still fit me even though I refuse to accept that a bowl of cherry tomatoes will ever constitute a meal. For a while, in my twenties, I was au pair to the kids of somebody quite famous. She was very, very thin and not at all opposed to a dinner of cress. Cress was her middle name. Sometimes her landline would ring (that’s how long ago this was) and I would hear her saying, ‘I’ve just got in, can I phone you back once I’ve had some lunch?’

And I would pretend to play with the child but actually I’d be watching, closely, to see what lunch was going to be. Because, god knows, her fridge was a veritable feast of  pork pies and pates and expensive things with prawns and I’m perpetually hungry and always envious of anybody who is eating. And I can tell you for free that if that was my fridge, lunchtime would be festive. And she’d stand and stare at these delicious items for a while as if trying to remember what real food tasted like and then make herself a plate of undressed lettuce leaves which she’d wash down with black coffee. And while I pitied her in her madness I was also a little bit jealous of the fact that sometimes she’d put on her 4-year-old’s jeans by mistake and look rather fabulous if I say so myself.

And these are the options you face if you’re a girl. Either – like me – you eat the XL pasta and anticipate life in a fat bed or you chop an Israeli cucumber into tiny little pieces and eat it with a toothpick. And it’s not even really a choice. Sometimes I hear people say, golly, it’s nearly dinner time and I haven’t eaten today. I forgot. And I’d like to say, come here, no closer, no closer, and just slap them quite hard. The day I forget to eat you can guarantee I’ve been abducted by aliens who are using my face. This is not really me, help! Anyhow. I suppose what I’m doing right now is called ranting because again, it’s a few weeks before I’m due to go on holiday someplace warm where a bathing costume is a distinct possibility and again – even though I swore I wouldn’t let this happen – I’m lardy-girl-pass-the-grey-poupon** and wondering if drinking get thin milkshakes for 7 days will make me lose 5kgs or I should just give up and resign myself to that nice king size bed. I’ll let you know which way this all goes.

*Please don’t everyone write to me and say, but you’re so skinny. I’m not, and I’m also not fat. Like most of us, I’m somewhere in the middle and wrote this on a day when I felt – like most of us do some days – porky. That’s all.

** Wayne’s World reference – the old people will understand.

Hello hunger, my new friend

A few weeks ago a girlfriend of mine went to see her GP because she had gained a crazy six kilograms in a few short months and she thought something must surely be wrong with her. Happily, after a series of tests her health was given the all clear; less happy was the verdict: it was the chips and pepperdew dip wot done it. Like a lot of us, she’d simply been eating too much. For someone who’s enjoyed a lifelong love affair with food, these words aren’t fun to hear – after all, life without wonderful food would be an intolerable business. But we eat too much wonderful food and we get fat and that’s not fun, either.

What her GP pointed out is that every four hours or so our bodies send a message to our brains that we are low on energy and need to refuel. And, as evolutionary beings, we don’t like the feeling of hunger so we go looking for a toasted cheese sandwich post haste. Except, for most people who lead relatively sedentary lives, this signal is a bit of a porky. Yes, your tummy might be empty, but unless you recently ran the Comrades, you actually have loads of glucose stored in your liver and fat cells, and circulating in your bloodstream. In fact, if someone locked you up with no food (unless you had an illness like diabetes) you could survive on water for quite a long time.

As Mr GP insists, while hunger doesn’t feel pleasant and eating a toasted sarmie does, there is no physiological reason why we need to respond to that signal right away. So, when we feel a bit hungry, we should try having an apple and a glass of water, and then wait a bit, and those pangs will more than likely go away or, at least, diminish. This is not to say we should stop eating or replace all meals with apples and water, but rather be mindful of the fact that the sensation of hunger is not always an accurate indication that our bodies require food. You know how when you have a huge dinner you wake up starving? Case in point. Your brain is a big, fat liar, but your skinny jeans know the truth.

So, as someone with the appetite of a hard labourer who has been known to out-eat large men even though I do nothing more strenuous than carry my iPad from room to room, I decided to try not to respond to the hunger signal instantly. And I cultivated this inner dialogue that went something like this: (stomach rumbles) ‘oh, really? You’re peckish? So, the two million calories in last night’s Bloody Marvellous Mushroom Risotto weren’t quite enough to fuel all this hard typing you’re doing this morning? Well, tough titties for you, greedy guts! You can have one cherry tomato, exactly. So, put that in your fat little pipe and smoke it!’

And, to my astonishment, I didn’t faint or expire during the course of the morning. When my tummy did the rumble lie, I gave it a cup of green tea. It wasn’t happy, but really, what was it going to do about it? For lunch I had salad with avo and seeds, and for supper, I reduced my normal portion by a third. It’s a challenge, not shoving stuff in your mouth the second you feel snacky. Or bored, or meh. But I got kind of used to it – the sensation of being slightly hungry and not doing anything about it.

And I actually felt pretty light and energized. Because we do weigh our bodies down and tax them with the sheer volume of food we put away every day. Google how to live longer, and a lot of studies will tell you simply to eat less. There’s a marked correlation between frugal eating and longevity. The process of consistently digesting rich, protein-heavy food takes its toll on the human body, and eating, for us, is at least as much about recreation as it is about nourishment. Doing away with all lovely food and always eating leaves would make (my) life not worth living, but there is an argument for not turning every meal into a feast. Choose your feasting times, eat like a crazed Roman, but the rest of the time (more or less) it just makes sense that we’d all be better off with small portions of simple, easily digestible food.

So, after five days of eating air with a side of nothing we went out for a fancy dinner (hooray! A feast, at last!). Normally I would easily put away three courses, but after my starter thimble of cauliflower soup I was so full I had to take my entire main course home. And while it’s boring as hell being one of ‘those’ girls and my husband’s eyes were rolling to the ceiling, at the same time it did tell me that I’ve been eating hopelessly too much forever, and that it’s not by some tragic fluke that my muffin tops spilleth over. Whether I’ll be able to change a lifetime’s bad habits is another question, of course. Once the novelty of being hungry and smug wears off, there’s a good chance I’ll be right back on the mayo samoosas*. But I’m going to try to try. Really.

*(I discovered a sad thing when I was fifteen and my boyfriend’s mom used to buy a box of frozen samoosas which we would proceed to deep fry and devour: a hot samoosa goes very, very nicely with Helman’s mayo. As if the fat content of the thing is not enough. Don’t try this at home, you’ll never eat them any other way.)

Scrumptious Jewish Chicken

Shame you can't see the lemons - they're really the hero of the dish.
Shame you can’t see the lemon – it’s really the hero of this dish.

I think my Jewish envy started when I was eight years old and my best friend, Lauren Zaacks, would show up at school on Monday morning with a pencil case full of the latest, coolest Hello Kitty gear some relative had brought back for her from the US. Jewishness and America became indelibly linked in my mind, and when I went home to her house in the afternoon and ate buttered matzoh and listened to Grease I was almost Jewish too, and that much closer to being cool.

My Jewish friends assure me that I wouldn’t like everything about their religion, but I don’t agree. I would have made a great Jewish mother – my favourite things are feeding people and bossing them around. And there is something very beautiful about the community and family values. We miss that in our secular world. Go to a Jewish wedding or funeral and you realise how sterile and boring ours are by comparison.

Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are a wonderful way of honouring the young men and women who will one day uphold the values of their community, and gathering the people you love the most around a table at the end of a long week for fellowship and nourishing food is a tradition we should all institute in our homes. Not only do these rituals give life colour and meaning, but they remind us that we belong somewhere. Sadly, being vaguely Methodist I must be content with buying challah on a Friday and cooking good chicken. I saw a pic of this dish on Facebook, and had to look hard to find the recipe. It’s actually Israeli, and I couldn’t locate a few of the spices so I had to leave them out, but it was delicious nonetheless.

Ingredients:

Chicken pieces
2 Onions, finely chopped
1 Lemon, sliced finely
2 Cloves of Garlic
One cup of chicken stock
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Sprinkle of allspice
Two lugs of olive oil
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
About a quarter cup of toasted, crushed sesame seeds
Tablespoon of honey
Handful of Pine nuts

Method:

Mix all your ingredients together in a bowl. Wash and pat dry your chicken pieces, and put them into a ziplock bag. Add the ingredients barring one onion and the pine nuts. Move the bag around to make sure all the chicken is coated. Put it into the fridge for at least six hours. Heat your oven to 150 degrees, and put your chicken on the middle rack in an ovenproof dish. Don’t cover it. Fry your second onion in butter until it’s caramelised, and then fry your pine nuts till they’re gently browned (don’t burn them, they cost the earth). After the chicken’s been in for about an hour, take it out and sprinkle the onions and pine nuts over it. Put it back into the oven for half an hour on 180 degrees. When it’s ready it should be darkish and have bits of crispy skin. The cinnamon and lemon really come out, and the flavour is sublime.

Putu, Wors and Chakalaka

chakalaka and pap As South African as Bafana Bafana, Lion matches and Leon Schuster.

Now that I know I’m actually Khoi San I’ve become more interested in traditional dishes, and nothing on this planet can be more traditionally South African than putu, wors and chakalaka. Bizarrely, the first time I ever ate putu, or krummelpap as it’s called in Afrikaans, was in Copenhagen at a meeting of the South African Social Club. Talk about losing your roots. But it’s delicious, and for some reason (probably my blackness) I’ve been craving it lately. For non-South Africans, putu is a type of dry porridge made from maize or corn meal which is kept crumbly by cooking it in very little water. I guess my ancestors couldn’t be arsed to keep trudging back to the river so they adapted their dishes accordingly.

In Gauteng, it’s usually eaten as a savoury side at a braai with a spicy tomato and onion sauce known as chakalaka and boerewors, a local sausage. Here in the Western Cape it’s more commonly eaten at breakfast time with milk and sugar. Though (as my facebook friends will testify) I’m breaking with tradition and this morning I had the leftovers with scrambled egg and sausage. Man, it was good. Never having cooked it before, I had no idea there were so many varieties, and I had to ask a shelf-packer at Pick n Pay which kind was best. Once he’d stopped giggling enough to speak (I guess blonde chicks in biker jackets don’t usually go around cooking putu), he told me they were all the same.

pap in pot pic See how nice and crumbly? My grandpa Botha would have been proud.

Luckily, two sensible elderly women came to my rescue, and after a long debate between them about which brand was less inclined to burn, White Star got the thumbs up. I was mightily excited to cook this new thing, and a little apprehensive as I had invited a friend around for supper. Luckily, she is a good enough friend that if it all turned out to be a disaster we’d just laugh and drink more wine. But, it came out pretty nicely, and we all had second helpings. Well, except for my six-year-old who murdered hers with tomato sauce and then still refused to touch it. She’ll learn sense eventually. Strangely, there are no cooking instructions on the packet, but I found them on Google, followed them exactly and it turned out fine. I think the hardest part is not letting it burn, so just keep an eye and it’s kind of imperative that you use a heavy-bottomed pot. Otherwise it’s going to stick a lot and washing up will be a pain. Thank god we don’t still walk to the river for that stuff, right?

Here’s how you do it. And don’t even think about not eating it with chakalaka. That stuff is the best thing I’ve discovered, and I plan to eat it with everything, always. A heads-up: the mild version is pretty damn spicy. Only buy the hot one if you’re a sirryus chilli junky.

Ingredients
• 2½ cups (600 ml) boiling water
• 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt
• 2½ cups (400 gram) Maize Meal
• A knob of butter

Method
1. Pour boiling water and salt into saucepan with a thick base and a lid. Bring to boil.
2. Add the maize meal to the boiling water and half a teaspoon of salt.
3. Close the lid, without stirring.
4. Reduce heat. Simmer gently for 5 minutes.
5. Remove lid and stir well with a wooden spoon. At this point it takes on its crumbly texture.
6. Replace lid, reduce heat and steam for about half an hour, until done, but be careful not to burn it.
7. Fluff with a fork a few times during cooking. Or don’t. I forgot this part and it didn’t matter.
8. Add a knob of butter to the pap shortly before fluffing it for the last time. Because butter makes everything better.

Okay, I know it doesn't look sexy, but it tasted damn good.
Okay, I know it doesn’t look sexy, but it tasted damn good.

Nosipho’s Fancy Samp and Beans

Nosipho Samela
Nosipho Samela

Samp and beans is something that would happen in my home on weekends in winter while rain lashed at the window-panes, the paraffin heater glowed in its corner of the lounge and my mom and dad would be sitting watching the rugby. The smell of it cooking always takes me back to those days. The way my mom made it was with separate grains, a bit like rice, and she served it like my granny Doris did, with a bit of vinegar and a dollop of butter. But one day my girls’ nanny, Nosipho, made it for us for supper and it was so creamy and rich and delicious with a texture like risotto, I made her show me how she did it, and since then I’ve never made it any other way. Sometimes we eat it as it is, but when I make it for supper I like to serve it with a hearty lamb stew. It’s healthier than rice and so much tastier. Here’s how Nosipho made it:

Ingredients:
A packet of samp and beans
A cube of chicken or veggie stock
An onion, a carrot and a clove of garlic
Fresh or dried herbs (I like basil, oreganum and thyme)
Olive and/or cooking oil

Method:
Boil the samp and beans according to the cooking instructions on the packet. When they’re about half-way done (they’ll be softer, but still chewy), add your stock cube plus a finely chopped onion, a finely chopped carrot, your herbs, a chopped clove of garlic and two tablespoons of oil. Using the right amount of water can be tricky – you don’t want it to dry out and burn, or to be too runny. Err on the side of too much liquid, you can always cook it away. But it’ll probably stick to the bottom of the pot a bit anyway. This is normal. Let it all boil up together and the flavours infuse. It’s cooked when the samp is no longer chewy and has the creamy texture of a risotto. Season generously with salt and pepper, and serve with a drizzle of olive oil. Nourishing and delicious.

A South African staple.
A South African staple. White people can eat it, too.

Why I’ll Never Get On Another Scale Ever In My Life

My new happy weight - nought.
My new happy weight – nought.

So finally, at the age of 42, after being a slave to my scale for as long as I can remember, I have stopped weighing myself. It’s been about six months since last I voluntarily made myself feel crap first thing in the morning, post-wee, pre-coffee. And it’s not because at last I reached a level of self-acceptance and understanding that I am more than that what those numbers say, it’s because my scale takes those little round batteries like you used to get in Nintendo games and I have no idea where you buy them. And while at first the site of that blank screen filled me with panic (how would I know how fat I was? How would I measure yesterday’s level of gluttony or – less commonly – denial if I didn’t know my exact weight, down to the comma whatever?).

And then an interesting thing happened – nothing. At first it was weird not starting my day with the rush of oh-yay-I’m-down-300-grams-since-yesterday-I’m-not-gonna-touch-a-carb-all-day OR the crash of oh-fuck-why-did-I-have-those-three-glasses-of-wine-now-look-I-might-as-well-have-ciabatta. I missed the smug (albeit hollow, short-lived) feeling of victory when I had gone hungry and the scale was my best friend, but I didn’t miss the other feeling which happened rather more often – the dismay and the quiet self-loathing. Because it’s really quite difficult to feel okay about yourself as a woman if you’re not pretty thin. And somehow, achieving that goal can feel like the most important thing in the world. Which is seriously fucked up.

Three years ago, roughly (I remember this moment well) I got on the scale at midday (midday, nogal!) and it read 57kgs. That’s low for me as I’m not a naturally skinny person. The reason I weighed 57 (as opposed to 62, my body’s happy weight) was because I had recently moved countries with two small children, had no job or home, my husband was working overseas, I had chronic insomnia and our marriage was taking strain. I have never been so stressed and on edge in all of my life but, by god, I was thin! And that made up for all the other stuff. Needless to say, my delight was short-lived. We bought a house, I got a job, we settled in and found the love, and with happiness, (for me) comes food. We cook and we eat and drink wine and talk into the night because we’re friends and we’re alive and days are hard enough without living on grilled chicken.

I don’t weigh 57 anymore, and – barring a terminal illness or my head falling off – I never will again. I have no idea what I weigh, and I don’t really care. Okay, that’s not true. I do care, but not enough to make me go buy those batteries. My really skinny jeans are too tight on me, but luckily I have others. I exercise a few times a week without being mental about it, and instead of imposing crazy rules on myself, I try to listen to what my body is asking for. Sometimes it’s an enormous salad; other times it’s Kettle Fried chips. I have days when I eat too much and days when I eat just right. Sometimes I clutch at my muffin tops and hate the way I look naked; other times I think, hell, you’re not doing not too bad, lady. I think the biggest challenge we women face is being nice to ourselves. And without that mofo scale to torment me, I’m finding this a little bit easier.