Cutting back carbs is hard enough, but when holidaying in Greece? Sarah Vine took on the challenge
Coming back to grimy old Luton after an idyllic week on the tiny but delectable island of Paxos was always going to be a bit depressing.
And sure enough, the plane was delayed, the children fought, my husband had not one, not two but THREE menacing red ministerial boxes waiting for him - and the pile of washing was huge.
What I was really dreading, however, was stepping back on the scales.
When I left, ten days ago, I was at least travelling in the right direction. After a week at Grayshott and subsequent low-carb existence, I had managed to lose another few kilos. Still a long way off my final goal, but nevertheless on the right track.
Would a week of rose and seafood have undone all my good work? I hardly dared look. True, I had been ultra-strict with myself about not eating all that lovely fresh bread and taramasalata and turning down anything deep fried in the vicinity of batter. I had averted my gaze as my friends tucked into their crispy calamari, or wiped their garlicky plates with crusts. I had avoided the children’s chips, the tomatoes stuffed with lovely herby rice, the dolmas.
I can’t deny that there had been a bit of ice-cream eating - but only the fresh stuff from the Gelateria in Gaios, not the trans-fat packed Magnum variety, and even then no more than a single scoop.
Still, I can’t deny I had a few cocktails. And a few glasses of rose. And some of the rather excellent local red.
So. The moment of truth. Towel off, on the scales, eyes closed, deep breath, open.
I had lost another two kilos, almost three.
I stepped off and on again, just to be sure. Jiggled up and down a bit. Each time, the needle swung back to the same position. Still far too embarrassing to share with you, dear reader (until I get to the end: then you shall know the full extent of my journey). But, in my personal life-long battle with obesity, a pretty major victory.
So what DID I eat? Simple: Greek yoghurt with fruit (strawberries, plums, melon, apple) or omelette/eggs for breakfast. The occasional bit of Parma ham or bacon. A strong, sweet Greek coffee around 11-ish.
For lunch, typically fresh fish (seabream or sea bass) with a classic Greek salad (minus the raw onions), water or the occasional lemon juice. Once or twice I had prawns, and I developed a habit of eating tsatsiki and other delicious garlicky dips off my fork.
For supper, chicken or lamb chops, again with lots of salad, usually prepared at home (we were sharing a villa with friends), so with lots of pomegranate, toasted pine nuts, rocket, roasted tomatoes, great slabs of feta cheese and lashings of the local olive oil, which is very fine indeed, Paxos being an island almost entirely composed of olive trees. See below for one such recipe.
And wine (not at lunchtime, mind). Probably two or four glasses a night. Mostly rose but - and here’s the trick - with vast amounts of ice in it. Less sugar and plenty of hydration - practically a health drink, in fact.
Onwards and downwards, as we dieters say.
Recipe: Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with tomatoes, feta and pomegranate
The butcher in Paxos had only local meat, which was very tasty. I bought two very small and rather bony lamb shoulders off him, popped them in the oven with some salt and pepper at 130 degrees C and then headed to the beach for a few hours.
When we got back at around 6pm, the lamb was just shy of overdone. Still, it was very flavoursome and fell off the bone. It would have been better if I had been able to cover it with foil - but I didn't have any. Next time I will add a large glass of white wine and cover it before slow-cooking for about five hours.
In the the fridge, I found a bowl of leftover slow-roasted tomatoes from the night before. You could also use grilled, or if you're making this from scratch, just pop them in the oven an hour or so before taking the lamb out, seasoned with a bit of salt and olive oil, and perhaps a few dried herbs, or some chopped garlic. Peppers would do very well too, of course, or aubergines - or if you fancied something a bit more substantial, sweet potatoes and/or borlotti beans.
Using a spoon, I gently pushed all the lamb off the bone, shredding it along the way. Then I arranged the tomatoes on a bed of rocket on a large serving dish.
I then put the shredded lamb in a bowl and tossed it about a bit with some olive oil, seasoning and toasted pine nuts, before arranging it on top of the tomatoes.
Next, some crumbled feta cheese. I rolled a pomegranate around on the worktop (this helps loosen the seeds), made a small cut in the skin and squeezed the juice over the lot, followed by the seeds and some fresh basil. Coriander would have been nice, but I didn't have any. Watermelon would be a good idea too - if you can be bothered with the seeds.
It looked awfully pretty - and tasted rather good too.