Tomorrow evening I am hosting my book club and I am absolutely dreading it. The reason is not because I don't like the people - I really do. We meet once every 6 weeks and probably like most book clubs we don't spend all evening discussing "the book". Yes we touch on it and show off our intellectual prowess with analysis of the hidden meaning behind the words, but ultimately it is all about the actual meeting. Conversational topics are varied, pretty much like any Mumsnet forum really, all interspersed with hot gossip on the people we know, washed down with plenty of vino.
So what's not to like?? Well over the last year the book club has become even less about the book and more about the food. To attend now you not only need a love of books but a burning ambition to be the next MasterChef. To understand why this is bad, you need to know that if there was one thing in the world I would quite happily give up it is cooking. When I worked (and almost certainly before children), I was happy to dive into the kitchen and relax with a glass of wine whilst preparing the latest must-do recipe. If it was good, fantastic. It not, hey ho I had had fun, almost certainly got drunk and was quite happy to laugh at my mistakes. Now, however, having spent the majority of the last 13 years preparing a minimum of 4 meals per day and sometimes with more than one sitting at a mealtime, my desire to cook has evaporated and there is very little laughing going on.
I love recipe books, I love reading food blogs and admiring the fabulous pictures of what other people have created, I love going to restaurants and exploring new cuisines, I am addicted to MasterChef. But that is where my love affair with food ends. I can and do cook wholesome and nutritious food but I don't want to be a culinary whizz. So imagine my despair when last summer 25% of my book club declared they had signed up to the Body Coach. Now for those of you who don't know, he is Joe Wicks (I quote) "the online nutrition coach and creator of the 90 day Shift Shape and Sustain (SSS) plan" which has literally transformed lives by overhauling people's diets and exercise regimes.
The result has been that for those of us in the book club not on the plan (I am not the only one) we have listened with a mix of abject horror and morbid fascination as our committed SSS friends have educated us on their nutritional overhaul and then proceeded to serve up the delicacies for the book club supper. In fairness the recipes have been tasty if somewhat overloaded with tabasco or chilli. I suspect the purpose being to activate the digestive system and thus give greater credence to the Shift part of the plan, but in all honesty John Torode and Greg Wallace wouldn't get out of bed for the food.
Apart from the obvious personal satisfaction they have gained from pursuing this plan, food is now a hot topic on the book club conversation agenda as they swap stories on the latest "healthier" alternative, now it's all about "eating well". Sugar has been replaced by stevia, plain flour kicked into touch by chestnut flour. Olive oil, the mediterranean favourite credited for the long and healthy lives enjoyed by those who live over the sea, is banned in favour of coconut or ghee oil. Needless to say anything that starts with a P is totally off limits, ie, potatoes, pasta, pastry and ultimately pudding! No exceptions are made....ever. Now where is the joy in that? Isn't there an age when we should all be kicking back a bit or does that make me very old fashioned? Well clearly the answer is yes as "eating well" is clearly where it is all at. At the last book club meet we dined on skinless grilled chicken and a green salad with a lemon-tahini dressing. It was lovely, very light. It was also low calorie, low carbohydrate, low chloesterol, low saturated fat and last but not least gluten free! The piece de resistance however was the avocado cheesecake. Despite my cynicism I was blown away by the popular Hemsley sisters dessert but can't see myself reproducing it at any family gathering in my house without the risk of everyone walking out.
Tomorrow, it's my turn and for the last 6 weeks I have agonised continuously and tried out all manner of recipes on my poor husband. He has dutifully chomped his way through a variety of quinoa dishes with and without basil pesto, tried not to grimace at being served his beloved ragu with courgetti and even eaten a sticky toffee pudding made with ground almonds and chestnut flour..all in the name of research and for a quiet life. On Saturday, however, all was not quiet as I lumped and swore around the kitchen for the final time to rehearse that all elusive meal that would keep my reading buddies happy, In fact so bad was my tantrum, to avoid being force fed buckwheat and chickpeas, Mr MoT escaped to buy a BBQ as a back-up plan.
Now just 24 hours to go and I am still non the wiser, but I am currently scanning my way through some delicious looking and healthy recipes from the marvellous Nigel Slater and Gary Rhodes and my new favourite cooking blog, Cooking Classy. There is nothing too untoward, just good quality, seasonal food and surely I can't go wrong with that?
Do you enjoy cooking? Where do you fit in the Eating Well debate? Please let me know your thoughts and any good recipes along the way.