Jillian Michaels Kickstart: Day 1 – BRING IT ON

Monday 15, day 1 of 7

Three words to describe today: Encouraging, okay, headache!

How easy was the food plan? ✦✦✦✧✧ (hungry)

How easy were the workouts? ✦✦✦✦✧ (not as bad as I was expecting)

Notable comments? I can’t live with this headache. I guess the solution is more water?!

No, not *that* kind of Bring It On…awesome movie though 😛

Actually quite enjoyed the morning workout today! (Yeah, I know, sorry. I sort of want to punch me too.)

It did feel slightly like the end of the world when my alarm went off and I knew I had to get up and get going, but it wasn’t as if I had woken up earlier than usual – I usually just snooze for longer…

I think the novelty factor played a big role in getting me up and working out – I’m sure the “wow, I’m actually up!?” feeling will wear off soon. I did enjoy the workout format though – good old Jillian Michaels arse-kicking, but quite a few funny/motivational bits of dialogue, and also not-too-difficult moves (yet?!).

Food-wise, not so great. It’s only just 1pm, and I’m starving, with a big headache, and slightly lightheaded. I thought the 2-egg omelette with ¼ avocado and tomato this morning would fill me up, but nope. It was very nice as a breakfast, but wow, I am hungry.

I think the difference is that I usually graze throughout the day, and take a long time over my meals. This is partly because I read that this helps keep blood sugar constant, but also to try and stop myself from eating rubbish out of boredom.

I would normally drink either a superfood green smoothie for breakfast over a couple of hours, or have a bowl of gluten-free muesli, and then some fruit to munch on throughout the morning. But with this plan, you have one meal, and then you’re done for a few loooong hours. Eek.

Not being able to turn to fruit as a defence against snacking on whatever chocolate/cake/doughnuts are is in the office (my usual strategy) is going to be really tough, I can tell. I usually eat lunch at about 1.30-2pm, but I am tempted to have it now (1pm)…despite the fact that the prospect of tuna salad with lettuce and broccoli isn’t exactly making me jump for joy. I’m also worried that I won’t last till dinner…

The only positive to this right now is that not being able to eat is making me drink more water (another part of the plan) just for something to do!

Think I might faint after tonight’s workout at this rate..!

Update: 11pm – Well I’m happy to say that the 4pm yoghurt helped enormously (thrilling news, I know). I also drank about 3 litres of water by the end of the day, and snuck in another black coffee, and felt much better. The dinner was my version of baked tilapia salad, with lemon, olive oil rosemary and capers. I substituted salmon for the tilapia (much easier to get in the UK), and did some steamed swiss chard rather than salad greens, because psychologically I know that if I eat lettuce and cucumber at every meal, I’ll go a bit mad. It tasted  pretty great after a long, slightly-tiring day.

Workout wise, the cardio was pretty tough, but *just* on the side of fun and motivating (my calves aren’t happy with all the jumping, though), and although it worked different muscles to what I’m used to, it didn’t leave me *as* dead/falling over as some of Jillian’s harder stuff. Which is just as well, probably, because I’m eating quite a lot less than usual, and didn’t really fancy fainting on my first diet day….

And now the alarm is set for tomorrow’s morning workout! BRING IT ON.

I’m starting a Jillian Michaels diet tomorrow and here’s 10 reasons why I’m really bloody scared

Tomorrow I start another diet. And I’m REALLY BLOODY SCARED. Here’s why:

1. This is hardcore…

This isn’t just cutting out chocolate. This is the Jillian Michaels, kick-start your metabolism, all-out nightmare, diet.

Who’s Jillian Michaels, I hear you ask? Well…my near-daily workouts for the past 8 months have been Jillian Michaels DVDs – tough body-weight workouts and high-intensity interval training from the personal trainer who features on the American TV show The Biggest Loser, which sees very large people lose ridiculous amounts of weight in a few months.

The programme is controversial for its tough approach, and Jillian is often called “TV’s toughest trainer”, simply because she has a no-nonsense, kick-butt attitude. Some people hate her, and say that she yells, is mean, and expects too much.

But I love her. I find her incredibly motivating, and not mean at all – well, as not mean as someone can be when they’re telling you to do five more press ups when you’re already dying and sweating on to the floor.

puke-faint-dieHer slogan is “Unless you faint, puke or die, keep going.” Sometimes, when I’m nearly on the floor during one of her workouts, the only thing that keeps me going is the thought “Well, I haven’t puked yet, so I must have to keep going.” Nice, right?! But it works.

I mean it – I LOVE HER. I stick on one of her DVDs so often, I see her more than I practically see most of my close friends (ha). She’s also on Twitter and Facebook, so it’s a bit weird how often her motivational repartee pops up in my life.

I’ve lost weight, put on muscle, lost inches, gained energy and strength, all through following her programmes.

But it’s still not enough. I can feel new “abs” in my stomach, and see the beginnings of biceps, but that’s not much use when there’s still a lovely layer of flab over the top of them, that I cannot shift.

Jillian says you can eat your way “through” any workout – i.e. Eat more than it burns off. And despite following her exercise plans religiously, I’ve always been a bit slack about going all-in with her diet plans.

But I’ve finally accepted defeat. Jillian’s good enough for my workouts, so she’s good enough for my diet. I think. Just what my sloth-like metabolism needs. Eeeeek.

2. It’s pretty brutal.

The initial week-long plan (followed by an easier, 90-day programme) features no carbs, no sugar, no fruit, and only one serving of low-fat dairy a day.

The overall calorie intake is about 1,200 – which I’m not sure I agree with anyway, as I know that there’s a whole school of thought that says you should work out your BMR (basal metabolic rate – the number of calories your body would burn if you stayed in bed all day) plus your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure, the amount of calories you actually need to function if you DO get out of bed), which is inevitably more than 1,200. But this is the plan, so I’ll see how it goes. If I feel like I’m about to fall over, I’ll eat something like an apple. Big bloody deal. BUT STILL. Scary stuff.

3. The workouts

Oh, did I mention that there are TWO half-hour workouts a day for this initial week-long stint?! A strength one in the morning, and a cardio one in the evening?!

As a total non-morning person, the idea of getting out of bed to do a workout (and then another one in the evening), is HORRENDOUS. In the past two years, I’ve managed three, yes, three, before-work workouts. And hundreds of after-work ones. I’m just not a morning person. But Jillian doesn’t care. So morning workouts it is.

Between you and me, I’m scared that they’ll be more painful than the not-eating thing.

4. I’ve already done a lot of diets, with mixed results

As well as generally watching what I eat, I have done a lot of diets in my time. There was the Atkins (lost a lot, put it all back on the moment I ate a slice of bread), the 5:2 (terrible headaches); Slimming World (the best one so far, but too slow, too expensive, and too time-consuming to go to the weekly group). The only reason I haven’t done the cabbage soup diet, or the maple syrup and lemon juice one is because I don’t really like cabbage, or maple syrup. So there we go. But I trust Jillian Michaels, so maybe this one will actually work.

5. I don’t exactly eat loads already.

I find my weight incredibly frustrating, because I try to do everything right, and it never quite works.

Take calories. I know, from daily food diary keeping over several months, that I generally eat between 1,200-1,500 calories a day. Admittedly, some days, this veers towards about 1,800 – if I go out for dinner say, or I have a drink after work, and at the weekends it can be a bit more.

But then, my workout burns around 250-300 calories, depending on how much effort I put in. Six or seven days a week, plus weight training twice a week.

I HATE to count calories as much as the next person. I only really do it to keep an eye on things, rather than because I think it’s particularly useful, or because I want to obsess over numbers.

But also, counting calories can be like a kind of vindication. All those people who say that those of us who are slightly overweight should just eat less and move more, and not eat chips?

This idea that EVERYONE who isn’t thin can just change their habits and just not be lazy, and magically they’d no longer be big? Well, balls to that (Katie Hopkins, I’m looking at you) I’m proof it isn’t true. It’s not like I’m living off chips and biscuits, let’s put it that way.

So reducing my food intake further is just plain terrifying. Argh.

6. Food helps my day go better

Don’t get me wrong, given the chance, I don’t exactly eat like a bird. I love food.

For me, it’s sociable, and emotional. Have a shit day? Look forward to the evening, when you can savour a nice biscuit. Feel bored and tired at work at 4pm? Have a square of dark chocolate and enjoy those five minutes with a coffee.

Going out for a friend’s birthday or hen do? Order a pizza or a LOT of mezze, plus some cake and also vodka and probably gin. Of course (and screw the calorie count for that day).

And also, I try to eat well too, so I feel healthier.

At least six days a week, I make sure I get lean protein in each meal, not too many “bad” fats (small amounts of coconut oil or avocado, rather than loads of chocolate and cheese), not too many carbs, and wholegrain if possible.

I also drink green smoothies five days a week, which include swiss chard, spinach (cooked, to deactivate the goitrogens that can inhibit thyroid function…), kelp powder, chia seeds, spirulina, and matcha powder for good measure. I enjoy good food, whether that’s good = tasty, or good = nutritious.

I also go to food for emotional support, sometimes.

The idea of not being able to turn to that square of dark chocolate when at work makes me feel a bit worried, I have to admit. At least this diet lets me have an afternoon snack, even if it is a low-fat yoghurt (sigh). I guess it’s only for a week. You can do anything for a week, right?

7. I have an underactive thyroid, which makes dieting in general frustrating beyond measure.

This year I’ve been officially diagnosed with mild PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and an underactive thyroid, confirming what I’ve long suspected: my metabolism isn’t so much slow, as crawling along the floor. It makes a sloth look perky.

I now take medication, but it does explain why it took me a year (and many tears) to lose a stone on the Slimming World diet plan when everyone else around me was losing weight like it was the easiest thing ever.

It also explains why I never seem to lose weight despite eating less than a LOT of slim people I know.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not that big, but I’m also pretty teeny (5ft tall) so am actually a bit too big for my frame.

And I’m worried that this diet will just go the way of the others, i.e. not do that much. And then what? *CRIES*.

8. Dieting, and writing about it, feels so self-indulgent and boring

Another caveat to dieting: BOO FUCKING HOO, right? Compared to pretty much everything you can think of – you know, cancer, degenerative diseases, poverty, war, the situation in the Middle East, racial hatred, domestic violence ‒ being a bit overweight is nothing. NOTHING. I realise that.

I know all the reasons why I shouldn’t care – (it’s self-obsessed, it’s boring, narcissistic, not living life to the full, over-anxious, non-feminist, an insult to larger people, over-controlling, non-realistic, a luxury most people can’t afford, etc etc etc.) Faced with all that, ACTUALLY CARING can seem like a self-indulgent exercise. Life’s too short, you think. But then, being over your ideal weight and worrying about it can make your life shorter too. Sigh.

And health wise and self-esteem wise, years and years of trying to lose weight and feeling like you’re NEVER getting anywhere, can start to get a bit wearing after a while.

Especially when a lot of people you see seem to be able to eat what they like, and stay thin, in a culture that is obsessed with equating beauty and success to thinness. It shouldn’t be like that, but it is. And it can get to you after a while, despite ALL THE REASONS why it shouldn’t. So I at least want to try.

9. Dieting can get judgemental quickly

Let me just take a second to say that I’m not critical of ANYONE who is any size (from a zero upwards) that makes them happy. Fair play to them.

But dieting can get scarily competitive and fraught with opinions and arguments. Everyone eats, so everyone’s got an opinion – “Oh, well, just cut out bread and you’ll be fine/just don’t eat fat/sugar/move more/do a fast/liquid cleanse/eat in moderation/stop obsessing/just eat when you’re hungry/life’s for living” etc etc ad infinitum.

Basically, I reckon it’s whatever works for you. And I know that I would look and feel better at my goal weight, which is about 15% less than my current weight now. And what I’m currently doing isn’t quite working, despite not being awful. That simple, really.

10. It’s just BLOODY SCARY THOUGH.

I’m worried I’ll be hungry, irritable, tired, achy, headachy (when I did the 5:2, I didn’t get hungry, I just got pounding headaches that wouldn’t leave).

I’m worried about not being able to turn to that little square of dark chocolate that I keep for 4pm in the office.

And what about having to actually be organised and COOK dinner and tomorrow’s lunch every evening after work? Not to mention expensive to keep myself in salmon fillets and fresh veg.

What if a murderous cake-binge mist descends during Wednesday night’s Great British Bake Off TV show, ending in a no holds-barred sprint to the nearest supermarket pastry shelf?!

But well, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that writing about something can help you evaluate it, and keep you going.

Also, sharing your progress online – and getting support back, as I did when I first started Jillian Michaels’ 30-day Shred programme ‒ can work wonders for motivation.

SO, I’m going to try and keep a log of what it’s like. I assume that log will mostly be me going “unnghhgh” and “caaaaaaaake”.

But if it stops me inhaling a packet of Jaffa Cakes in one sitting, then it might be worth it.

If it kickstarts my metabolism and shifts any weight that isn’t water, FINALLY, then it will be worth it.

Wish me luck…

‘The Men Who Made Us Fat’ and Mindful eating: What I’ve learned so far

As a BBC series investigates ‘The Men Who Made Us Fat’, and I continue to read ‘The Headspace Diet’ book, I consider just how powerful an understanding of the history of unhealthy food can be when it comes to my decision to eat it

Thinking as I have recently about eating and food (when do I ever not?!), but more importantly, about why people eat what they do even while knowing just how unhealthy it is, I jumped at the chance to see the first installment in new BBC series The Men Who Made Us Fat, which purports to investigate why the Western world’s collective waistline continues to increase to health-threatening proportions.

The first programme focussed on that all-encompassing ‘bad guy’, high-fructose corn syrup, which, it explains, was introduced to the Western foodstuff from America and is often indicted as one of the key reasons why people in developed countries are fat, and getting fatter.

Having myself just returned from a trip to the States – where even more people are fat and obese than in Britain, and where there seemed to be noticeably more outlets selling fast, convenient, varied and calorific food than in even the UK (it certainly looked that way to me, anyway) ‒ I was very interested to hear more about this ‘high-fructose corn syrup’. Especially since the last smoothie I drunk before leaving New York City (incidentally the ‘small’ size was almost the same size as my head) conspicuously and proudly bore the words ‘Absolutely no high-fructose corn syrup’ stamped onto its huge plastic cup.

Just what was this stuff, and could I blame it for my own demons with keeping my weight down – a problem I clearly share, albeit, my size attests, to a lesser degree than the rest of the Western world’s even more overweight citizens?

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Mindful eating: It’s about ‘why’ I eat, not just ‘what’

After years of beating myself up for struggling with weight gain, I ask whether a new approach will help me work out why following an eating plan isn’t always a piece of cake

Sugar

Sugar…hmm?

Eating, and food. Few other words in the English language have such an effect on my thoughts, mood or self-esteem. Thinking about those two things can either send me soaring above the clouds in wonder and delight, or freefalling into a dark hole of misery and self-loathing, where everything I eat and everything I do, healthy or unhealthy, is wrong, misjudged, panicked or painful.

I appreciate that if you’ve never had this problem, this complaint will look like an unfathomable, self-indulgent mass of psychobabble rubbish. It may look like that regardless, but allow me to explain.  For some people, i.e. me, the supposedly simple process of eating really can feel this complex. Perhaps, if you have even a flicker of recognition for the above, you might see where I’m coming from.

Because I love food, and I love eating.

I love cooking, I love food shopping, and I love eating out. I love cooking and/or eating with friends, for myself, for others; for Christmas, for birthdays; just because it’s a Friday. Wandering around food markets, whether there are samples or not, represents one of life’s greatest pleasures for me, and I can rhapsodise endlessly about the intense layers of flavour found within a just-fried piece of chorizo; the soul-warming smell of crushed garlic, the differences between Spanish and Italian olive oils; the sharp way in which coriander can cut through a curry; the bite and deep aroma from a proper piece of chocolate; the way crispy prawns nestle in saffron-yellow paella as jewels on a velvet shawl; the sumptuous yield of freshly-warmed pastry as it flakes with every taste; or the way that crème fraîche languorously melts into a carrot, pumpkin and potato soup.

And that’s just for starters.

Also – a disclaimer: I can be a food snob, yes; but am equally undone when presented with a Sainsbury’s freshly-baked cookie, a pack of Doritos or on-offer sausage rolls. Seriously, I’m not fussy.

In my life – and it seems, in very many others’ ‒ every occasion, tradition, celebration or commiseration is improved by the presence of food. Indeed, what problem cannot be eased, at least in part, by an array of various pastry-, sugar-, cheese- and/or fat-laden goodies (with a bit of fruit and salad thrown in, for measure) enjoyed in the presence of good company and much-needed conversation?

Also, though, I hate food.

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TV review: BBC 2’s The Little Paris Kitchen, or why I love Rachel Khoo

Upon arriving home from a month away, I come across a fabulous new BBC 2 food programme that reminds me of my love of France ‒ and which, unbelievably, proves that there is most definitely still room on TV for yet another cooking show

Rachel Khoo

Rachel Khoo, my new TV food-crush (even if it is a month after everyone else)

I’ve been out of the country for the past month (briefly volunteering at small but interesting projects in Himachal Pradesh and Goa) and frankly, it makes me cringe to think that among some of the reasons I was apprehensive about going away for four weeks – including, for example, people realising they could do my job without me, what would happen to my waistline, whether I’d be able to carry everything I’d need for a month on my back ‒ was that I’d miss out on BBC iPlayer (I know, shoot me).

I hardly ever watch live TV, but I’ll regularly peruse the glorious iPlayer and open in endless tabs the frequently interesting, entertaining and fabulously on-demand programmes I find that I haven’t yet had a chance to watch.

Doing just that upon my return home, I discovered a new programme I hadn’t heard of before – BBC 2’s ‘The Little Paris Kitchen: Cooking with Rachel Khoo’. As in love with cooking programmes as I am (my watching of Saturday Kitchen of a morning is akin to a religious ritual, and I will be hoofed out of bed only for the most paramount of familial or national occasions, sighing with a resigned acceptance that I’ll just have to catch James Martin’s yummy offerings later on) I was sceptical of this one, fronted as it was on the BBC site by a young girl laughing into food mid-frame, eerily reminiscent of those hilarious but depressing ‘Women Laughing Alone With Salad/Fruit’ stock photos that regularly do the Internet rounds. Sigh.

Also, another programme on luxurious, indulgent but oh-so-easy cooking presented by a young, pretty woman? If Nigella hadn’t already cornered that market a while back (albeit, slightly more saucily than entirely necessary), who could forget Sophie Dahl’s well-meaning and sweet but essentially lacklustre attempts at comfort food, or Lorraine Pascale’s enjoyable but nonetheless slightly sickening missives of trying to convince all us mortals that she does really eat loads of cake and cheese and bread, honest (hey, maybe she genuinely does, in which case, I’m still annoyed!)*? Could this new programme really be offering anything different?

Well, it turns out, yes.

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In praise of paella

(But a poor imitation of) paella

(But a poor imitation of my Dad's) paella

If there’s one thing I love, it’s watching cooking programmes, and cooking. The former can be pretentious, unrealistic, and often less about food than the person cooking it, but I find that they all come from a great place – seeing food as not only the way to the heart, but also to happiness. Many a Saturday morning has been idled away by my doing nothing but drooling over Saturday Kitchen (and yes, ok, having James Martin as presenter certainly helps). For me, food is sometimes a double edged sword; I absolutely love great food, eating, tasting, dipping, feasting, sharing, celebrating, commiserating – for me, food is life, but due to an unholy combination of genes, errant hormones, and endless appetite, I put weight on horrifyingly easily, so quite often a short-term burst of enthusiasm and continued delight at a wonderful spread is darkly tempered by pounds of not-so-lovely flab that seemingly refuse to budge no matter how much I eat fruit instead of chocolate, or how many Zumba classes I sweat through. I sense that for me, food must always be a matter of balance, and since its consumption need sadly be limited, the very least I can do is enjoy what I do eat to the very best of my ability.

Fittingly, watching TV chef Rick Stein’s latest programme, on Spain, I was struck by how familiar many of the apparently unusual culinary flavours and concepts explored in the programme seemed, and how much they spoke to me of my childhood, and what food means to me. When it comes to food, I have had quite a blessed and varied past. Being brought up by parents, especially my mother, who have an open approach to good quality, fresh food, in a household where, come hell or high water, dinner was cooked from scratch or damn near it, and served around a table with all family members, no matter how reluctantly, present, for me, food has always been a constant; a reassuring presence.

No matter what is happening, how traumatic or stressful the situation or the relationships therein, there will be food, and nine times out of ten, it will be good. Also, having been brought up firstly around the food markets and rural setting of Somerset, then those of the South of France, and then the somewhat more urban but still food-obsessed Madrid in Spain, with a fluent-Spanish speaking Argentine father, the fare on offer has usually been of a somewhat Mediterranean flavour. I still wouldn’t know how to begin to make Thai green curry without a jar, and to me Asian noodles are nought but spaghetti by another name, but give me basil, parsley, seafood, tomato, pasta, rice, onion, and, of course, lashings and lashings of garlic, and I’m there.

Missing from that list, and wrongly so, is chorizo*. Ah chorizo, thy paprika’ed god of many forms! Luxurious in texture, colour and flavour, the addition of this smoky flesh into near any dish I set about to create (often, sadly, fried first and then drained to reduce fat content, sigh) completes the meal with unparalleled glory. One ex-boyfriend was vegetarian and made me put any chorizo on the bottom shelf of the fridge, wrapped in nuclear-resistant amounts of cling film while I grimaced over throat-stickingly disgusting ‘meat substitutes’ instead. I should have known it would never, ever work.

And so, thankfully, to paella^. Other people, perhaps, have childhood memories of baked beans, white bread, sausages, fish fingers and loads and loads of mashed potato. Apart from violently hating baked beans, I too have such memories, with much else besides. But one of the most potent culinary images of my childhood is of my father, coming home from work on a Friday night, and slicing disc after nearly-translucent disc of chorizo, popping them into his mouth insolently as my Mum tutted and resumed the ‘proper’ dinner cooking, pausing only to snaffle generous portions of slices from my Dad’s now-orange chopping board, as my brother and I did the same.

Pre-sliced chorizo

The devil comes in many forms....pre-sliced chorizo (sorry Dad!)

It was from my Dad that I Iearned to hold the chorizo (always ‘picante’, never ‘mild’) firmly, and, with a sharp knife, slice it thinly and evenly, so that the flavour can be appreciated without the unpleasantness of too-large globules of fat getting stuck in your teeth. Nobody wants that. If adding to an omelette, you can always chop the slices a little thicker, before halving them and halving again into small cubes of loveliness, but if adding to paella, keep slices round and intact for maximum effect. It is with a slightly sinking heart that I use ready-sliced chorizo these days, in an attempt to keep costs and cooking time down. My Dad would be horrified if he knew (as my Mum would be if she found out I often use ready-grated Parmesan for similar reasons. Merely typing such heresy sends an unwelcome shiver down my spine. Sorry Mum).

The only time snaffling cuts of chorizo is not allowed, I warn you, is when my Dad is cooking paella. Unlike my Mum, who can, if she feels like it – obligatory grumbling notwithstanding – whip up a fantastic plate of food with minimal fuss and effort, my Dad is like an aging Emperor in the kitchen, only coming out at weekends, holidays and special occasions, surveying all he owns (in this case, the awesome plains of the kitchen sideboard) with beady eyes and banning all but necessary minions, which usually means everyone (once the de-boning and shelling of the jelly-like squid and gambas have been achieved), from his Cooking. Much wiping, tidying, precise chopping and preparing, growling and expletive-exclaiming later, my Dad will emerge from behind a great bronze vat of pungently fragrant, ochre rice peaks, peppered with splashes of seafood, chunks of chicken and deep red jewels of chorizo, always accompanying such progress with a muttering refrain about how it’s not quite right, to which my Mum invariably responds with ironic, under-her-breath mentions of her mother in law, who apparently used to say the same thing whenever she cooked.

And yet, following carefully administered but abundant streams of bittersweet lemon juice over the yellow mountains, my Dad’s paella is the best I’ve ever tasted. I have so far found only one restaurant offering that even comes close (tucked delectably away behind Calle de Gran Via in Madrid), and even that is but a pale imitation of what my Dad has variously served on many a weekend, holiday or family gathering throughout my childhood. If it’s just my immediate family, we’ll all have seconds…and if the group includes friends, cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents, then er…my Dad will just cook more, and we’ll still have seconds. Once, mercifully when it was just my Mum, Dad and brother, the chorizo was mistakenly forgotten, and a great cry went up across the land. Thankfully, a solution was found, and we just added it in afterwards, sprinkled over the bereft pan like water over a sun-cracked plain.

I have learned to make the dish, and cook it probably much more frequently than I should, given its expensive ingredients and ‘special occasion’ status, but cook it I do, such is its power to remind me of comforting home cooking, of careless Friday evenings or long, lazy holidays, where living in France meant summer nights with family or friends sitting outside in the simmering, dying heat of the day, eating, drinking, talking or simply listening in silence to the glorious hum of cicadas, as the warm haze of satiety and tiredness washed over in waves (before you had to get up and do the washing up of course. Needs must).

Cooking paella

OK for a weekday...from pot to plate in under an hour!

I still don’t do it as well as my Dad, and if cooking only for myself, sneakily never use the proper ingredients in an attempt to reduce supermarket bills and time spent over the stove. Instead of using chicken thighs, I use breast, which I cook sparingly before adding to the pot in an attempt to avoid the inevitable drying of the meat that could so easily occur. I use cheap, frozen prawns in lieu of freshly-bought, labour-intensive slews of squid, mussels and unshelled gambas. I use (whisper it) chicken stock from a cube rather than making my own from the seafood shells; I hardly ever add white wine; and as mentioned previously, use pre-sliced chorizo instead of dicing up a proper sausage. However, of course, I always use proper saffron, despite it being eye-poppingly expensive (I use less than I’d like to make it go further), and always use, as my Dad insists, basmati rice rather than the short, stubby, Spanish variety – not sure where that rule comes from, but I’m sticking to it. Also, to save on calories, I add far less chorizo than I’d like, and use spray olive oil rather than the magnificently golden liquid kind, which, if I was skinny, I wouldn’t hesitate to pour over in generous glugs.

I resignedly accept that my weekday paella is but a poor imitation of the master’s, but it means I can go from chopped onions to steaming, nostalgic plateful in only an hour – something the Kitchen Emperor would never countenance.

Rick Stein’s childhood memories may involve the gruesome-sounding Spanish platter of squid cooked in its own ink, but when it comes to my childhood, my heart and tastebuds will always be forever my Dad and Mum, paradoxically but forever France, forever chorizo, and, irrevocably, forever paella.

^Pronounced ‘pah-EY-yah’ or ‘pah-EHL-liyah’, we’ll be having none of this Anglicised ‘pie-ell-lahh’ rubbish, thank you

*Pronounced ‘cho-RI-thoh’, or ‘cho-RI-tzhoh’ see above