MAKE IT: Porridge

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OK, so I get the whole porridge vibe.  I really do.  I appreciate that it’s slow-release, it’s super healthy and fills you up ’til lunch time…but why does it have to be so damn gross?

Any Scot will delight in telling you that porridge must be made with water and salt and left in a pot for days until you can cut it off in slabs.  They’re well ‘ard them Scots.  But part of me is suspicious that just like to make you squirm.  I mean really? I need more love in my breakfast.

So I went on a mission to re-discover porridge as, frankly, I’d only ever really eaten it as ReadyBrek when I was a kid and it was pretty tasteless mush even then.

I tried a few brands – the trust-worthy Marks and Spencer and the authentic-looking Stoats Oats.  Lovely and grim respectively and both stupidly expensive for what it essentially an extremely cheap product. I trawled the internet and came accross various intriguing overnight oats recipes.  Bleurgh!  ‘Creamy’ was the promise and ‘powdery’ was the result.  Slow cooker recipes either weld the oats to the pot or a return a sad, sludgy mess.  Pinhead oats are gritty, steel cut oats seem to be a bit of a marketing ploy and jumbo oats are only fit for flapjack.

After all that, I think the problem for me is texture. I can’t abide the snotty, glutenous slime so I needed to find a method that worked for me.  Thick, quick and ashamedly sweet.

Turns out, that’s the old-fashioned Southern Softie’s method.

I could kick myself.

  • 1 cup porridge oats
  • 2 cups semi-skimmed milk (really, I prefer whole milk but something’s gotta give)
  • pinch of salt (a tribute to the Scots)
  • 1 tbsp sugar (don’t judge me too harshly but you could choose honey instead)

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I add the milk and the oats to the saucepan, bring the contents slowly to the boil and then simmer while stirring for about 10 mins until all the milk has been absorbed and a spoon leaves a clean trail on the bottom of the pan.  No snot to be seen.

Then I add the sugar and serve it plain or with a choice of fruit, nuts, spices, cream, maple syrup etc.

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I found the dogs love it so I make a bit more, let it go cold and stuff it into their Kongs.   (Sans sucre of course).

Why chase the trend?   Stick to the old ways and keep it simple.

 

MAKE IT: Pea and Ham Soup

 

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In the aftermath of Christmas, there’s always a surplus of gammon joints on special offer in the supermarkets.  I bought one and cooked it up with some roast potatoes and a good dollop of parsley sauce.

So now to the left-overs – a big hunk of cooked gammon sitting in the fridge waiting for something more interesting than a sandwich filling.

Ingredients

1 cup green split peas (soaked overnight)
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
500ml chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
A good-sized hunk of cooked gammon or ham roughly chopped.

I usually soak the peas overnight but you can pour boiling water over them with a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and leave them to soak for an hour or two if that helps speed things up.
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Discard the soaking water and rinse the peas in fresh cold water to rid of any slimy mushy bits.

Chop the onion and sweat gently in a glug of sunflower or light olive oil.
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Add the peas, stir and then pour in the chicken stock. Add the bay leaf and thyme, a teaspoon of sugar and a good grinding of black pepper. Don’t add the salt just yet or the peas might not soften up properly.

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 40 mins or so after which time the peas should be soft and some of them will have broken down a bit. Watch the water and top it up if things start to get a bit thick – it can catch really easily if you’re not careful.

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Add the ham and add to the pan to warm through. Add the salt once the ham’s had a chance to warm.

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Sometimes I add a dash of cream if there’s some kicking about in the fridge.

Serve with some crusty bread.

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NEED IT: Cold remedies

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Nope. It doesn’t matter how much internet trawling I do, I just can’t accept the whole ‘there’s no cure for the common cold’ thing.  My personal plea to medical science is to please, please get a move on and sort this out!

If, like me, you have problems with your sinuses, having a cold is not a trifling inconvenience to be shrugged off like some, it’s having someone pour concrete into your head, punch you in the back of the nose and then repeatedly scrape your throat with sandpaper.

So, having tried numerous miracle medical products and plently of old wives’ remedies over the years, this is my ‘Hall of Fame’ – those items that help get me through the whole uncomfortable experience.

Tissues…???????????????????????????????

Gotta be the ultra-balm type or I’m gonna rip my nose to shreds.  I get two boxes so that one is always in easy reach and be sure to throw used tissues in the bin.  However tempting it is to blow like a trumpet player, I have to remember to blow gently or those nasal passages will quickly get inflamed.  Keeping those passages calm and chilled-out is the name of the game here.

Staying hydrated…

Staying hydrated helps to stop mucus thickening up and thick mucus leads to blocked sinuses and encourages bacterial growth.

Apparently, viruses set up home in your nose and throat and they don’t like changes in temperature so I alternate between hot and ice cold drinks, avoiding dairy products as they are mucus-forming (which is a shame because I love a cup of milk tea!)

Hot drinks

Hot honey, lemon and thyme.

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Simple and effective.  I throw a couple of slices of lemon and a sprig of thyme into a cup, fill with hot water and let steep for three to five minutes.  I generally pull out all the bits (or use a tea infuser if I can find one) and stir in a heaped teaspoon of honey.  I add some cinnamon or grated ginger or sometimes, in extreme and desperate circumstances, some grated garlic. (Ah mais oui!)

I mix it up a bit with some other herbal teas.  Most of them smell nice but taste of practically nothing so I only bother with peppermint or hibiscus, both sweetened with honey.

Cold drinks

Iced water, iced water and iced water.  Forgetting all sugary, carbonated, caffeinated stuff, cordials or fruit juice.  I need to limit the sugar intake to offset the vast quantities of honey in those hot drinks!

Gargle…

Using salt water or a couple of drops of tea tree or lemon oil added to a glass of water, (stirring between each mouthful to keep the oil suspended), and spit, swallow, repeat.  This keeps those pesky viruses jumping through hoops.

(Hot cold, hot cold, hot cold.  Ha!  Take that you little villains!)

If my throat is really sore, I gargle with dispersible aspirin in water but again, spitting not swallowing.

Keeping the nose clear..

It’s swollen passages that block your nose, not snot, so I do everything in my power to stop them swelling up.

Saline rinses Colds17If I were to give you one big tip it would be this:  Get thyself a neti pot or a saline rinse kit!  (Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, of course).  It’s flushes out your sinuses and takes only some pre-boiled cooled water and some buffered salt sachets.  No chemicals and no nasties.  This was a absolute revelation for me.  Keep that nose clear!

Call in the anti-inflammatories…

Colds18Paracetamol is best; it’s cheap and reduces fever, helps with headache and sinus pain and is gentle on the stomach. Take it as Lemsip if you can tolerate the decongestant ingredients. I try to avoid them as I find after the initial relief, they make the snots last much longer for me in the long run.

Chicken soup

Proven to be anti-inflammatory (although who knows quite why). I make my own if I can drag myself out of bed or press my lovely husband into picking up some up at the supermarket.  Fresh is better than tinned.

Ice pack ???????????????????????????????Whenever my nose feels like it might be blocking up, I place an ice pack wrapped in a flannel on the bridge of my nose.  Ahhh, that’s soooo nice.

Essential oils Colds16I use a couple of drops of Olbas Oil on a tissue and inhale or mix three drops each of eucalyptus, lavender and peppermint oil into two teaspoons of coconut or olive oil and use it as a chest rub.

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Steam

Hot showers twice a day.  It’s easier than the ‘towel over your head’ thing.

Getting some sleep…

Easier said than done but I find these give me the best chance.

Combatting that dry air 

Colds12I try to get some moisture in the air at night.  A humidifier is the best bet but a wet towel on a warm radiator helps too.

Sleep on your back

Hmmm.  Not an easy one.

I set up my pillows so that I can sleep on my back with my head higher than my chest.  Not exactly so I’m sitting upright but rather that I’m propped up without getting a horrible crick in my neck.  Keeping your head in this position is supposed to help drain your sinuses and stop mucus ‘pooling’ (eek!).  If you suffer from blocked ears after a cold, (grumble, grumble, grunt, what was that you said?) this helps avoid that really unpleasant after-effect.

Opening the airways 

Colds08My second top tip would be to buy some nasal strips baby!  Honestly these little fellas are amazing!  They actually work and keep my nose clear while I sleep.  This has stopped me from having to use those bloody awful nasal decongestants that work for a bit then leave you with sticky glue-like nastiness in your head for weeks and weeks after the virus has gone.  Did I mention the blocked ears thing?

Don’t pass it on…

A plea.

Please stay away from work.   We,  your cold-prone-stuffy-headed colleagues would much rather cover you for a day or two than have you infect us with the evil lurgy.   Don’t be a hero.  Please.

A word on supplements…

Now I know people swear by them but they just don’t cut it for me.  Taking Vitamin C, Zinc or Echinacea supplements only relieves the pressure in my wallet, not my nose and until someone comes up with some proper scientific evidence to prove their effectiveness, I’m going to save my pennies and stick to what I know definitely helps.

Visiting the Quack…

If things get really bad or last longer than a few days, I get myself to the doctor in case there’s an infection that needs medical attention.  There are some pretty horrible complications out there and I’d rather let the doc decide whether or not I need antibiotics.

Best of luck with the cold season!

(Any of your top tips gratefully received.)