Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

I’m not a big fan of dieting (who is?) but I do get a little thrill when I can find a way to make my favorite comfort foods a lot healthier. Whether it’s lasagna or burgers, comfort foods are generally great for the soul but terrible for the waistline.

After a few experiments, I figured out how to make a fantastic batch of baked onion rings that are as crispy and satisfying as the fried variety. I also created a lighter version of a pizza Margherita, one of my go-to dishes at any Italian joint. My pizza doesn’t have the heft of the original but the flavours are all there, and while it won’t fill you up quite like regular pizza it’ll squash that craving without the guilt.

Baked Onion Rings

2 onions, peeled and cut into thick slices (rings!)

4 tablespoons white flour

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 eggs, beaten

1.5 – 2 cups (just use a tea or coffee cup) of Japanese panko* breadcrumbs

Olive oil or plain oil spray

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Put the flour, paprika, garlic powder and sea salt into a large, Ziploc bag. In batches of a half-dozen or so, place the onion rings in the bag, close and shake so that the rings are lightly coated with the flour mixture.

Place the beaten eggs in a large shallow dish and toss the coated onion rings into the egg to give them a light coat. The flour coating has to go on first as otherwise the egg mixture will not stick to the onion.

Put the panko breadcrumbs into another large Ziploc bag. Again in batches, place the onion rings into the bag, close and shake until the rings are coated in the breadcrumb mixture.

Place the rings on a large baking tray and lightly spray with the oil spray. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown on the outside. Serve with ketchup or your favorite sauce.

*Panko breadcrumbs are available at most Asian food markets and are essential for this recipe as they are super crispy!

Super Light Pizza Margherita

2 whole wheat flour tortillas

1 small jar of pizza sauce

A few slices of low-moisture, skim mozzarella

10 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

Handful of fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 200 C. In the meantime, heat up a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Place one of the tortillas in the pan, watching it carefully so it does not burn. It’s good to try to crisp up the tortillas a bit before they go into the oven. Flip it every minute or so, until it starts to get a little crisp – about 4-5 minutes. Repeat with the other tortilla.

Put as much or as little pizza sauce on each tortilla as you like, divide up the slices of mozzarella between the two tortillas and add the tomato. Bake for 8 minutes on a large baking tray, remove from oven and add fresh basil. Slice and serve while hot.

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I’ve been vegetarian for almost 9 years, but before that I was such a picky eater that I a) didn’t like cheese b) had never tasted tomato soup c) was scared of baked beans and d) couldn’t contemplate the thought of pizza (see: cheese issues).

Thankfully, my palate has been forced to evolve since then, and now I love cooking hearty, healthy meals from scratch. I’m no whizz in the kitchen, but this dish is so easy, quick and tasty, that I usually make it once a week.

Here's one I devoured earlier



1 large red onion, roughly chopped
2-3 chopped cloves of garlic
1 red chilli, chopped (and de-seeded if you don’t want it too hot)
1 large potato, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 large sweet potato, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 veg stock cube
1 inch of grated ginger (optional)
1 tablespoon of turmeric
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 tablespoon of coriander
Salt & pepper to taste


1) Fry the onion, potatoes and garlic on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes

2) Stir in the spices, chilli and ginger and continue to fry for 2 minutes

3) Stir in the can of tomatoes and the chickpeas. Dissolve the stock cube in a jug of 350ml of boiling water, and add to the pot, along with salt and pepper to your taste.

4) Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and allow to simmer until the potatoes are tender, and the sauce begins to thicken, constantly stirring as the mixture has a habit of sticking to the end of the pot (or maybe it’s just my crap pots?)

5) Once the liquid thickens, take off the boil, garnish with coriander and serve with brown rice or couscous. Eat. Pat belly and sigh contentedly.

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In her how-to-be-a-writer book, Bird By Bird, the American author Anne Lamott has a section called ‘Publication – and other reasons to write’. My favourite chapter within this section is one that I hadn’t ever thought about until I read the book a decade ago: ‘Writing a present’. Lamott, who writes funny, true fiction and non-fiction, actually wrote her first published novel as a gift for her father, who was diagnosed with brain cancer. Her father didn’t live to see the finished article, but read each chapter in draft as Lamott wrote them.  The consequences, she says, were better than any publishing deal:

‘It helped my father have the best possible months before his death and the best possible death. I can actually say that it was great. Hard, and fucked six ways from Sunday, but great’.

Ever since I first read this, I’ve thought about presents that go beyond the obvious. One of my favourites is right next to me as I type this; a hand-made bookshelf given to my husband and I as a wedding present by a carpenter friend in Seattle. It always holds our preferred books, and every time I look at it, I think of its maker.

This week, I’m attempting a thank you of my own. I’m forty next month (shhhh) and feel like it’s probably time to own up to being grown up. So rather than (as well as) the parties and gratuitous celebrations, I’m running the London Marathon.

Next time, let's just buy everyone a bunch of flowers or go for dinner

(photo c/o http://www.providingnews.com)

The money I raise will go to a charity which offers residential help to little kids who are so vulnerable that even foster care isn’t an option for them. And the reason I’m doing this? To say a huge thank you to my parents, who got me through childhood in the best possible way; always securely and happily, with encouragement that stayed just the right side of supportive and never veered into pushy.

It’s not a novel, but it’s been a hard slog. Every single time I’ve gone out to train, I’ve thought about my folks; pictures from our past, things they’d say to keep me going; their faces smiling at me and not letting me give up.  And Anne Lamott’s right; having a broader reason for doing something has brought so much more to the goal. It’s not just a bloody long race; it’s a 26 (.2) mile thank you to people who’ve done the equivalent a hundred times over.

How do you say thank you? Or what’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

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It came out of the blue. At a family Sunday lunch in a local trattoria, my eight year old daughter made an announcement; “I want to be a thin girl”.

Her dad and I exchanged significant glances. Where was this coming from? Food, weight and dieting have never been an issue in our house. We own a set of scales but they spend most of their time covered in dust. We all love food and have been visiting restaurants regularly as a family since the children were babes in arms. They eat everything, from Chinese dim sum to big bowls of mussels on holiday in France. We encourage healthy eating but are not puritanical about treats, and have never forced them to finish everything on their plates.

Not something an eight year old should be doing

The thing is, she is a thin girl. She’s tall for her age, slim and, most important of all, healthy. The last thing I want is for her to start obsessing about food or feeling guilty about eating the things she enjoys.

Slightly floored by her declaration, I told her that she is already a perfect size. “But I want to be thinner” she replied. At this point I felt like shouting “Where are you getting these stupid notions?” My mind was racing. What is she hearing at school? Is it the American teenage comedies she watches on TV? Or is her desire to take up less space in the world the inevitable outcome of being surrounded by images of ridiculously thin models and celebrities? I bit my tongue and just told her that if she carries on dancing, cartwheeling and rollerblading she’ll be fine.

We moved on to other topics of conversation and she happily finished off her pasta and ice cream cone. No need to worry then – for the moment at least.

(Photo by puuikibeach on Flickr)

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When I was little and we got the giggles in ballet class, the teacher told one of the big girls off for saying we had laughed so hard that we “literally hosed ourselves”.
We hadn’t, obviously.
But then we hadn’t had sex, been pregnant, given birth to children, or had hysterectomies yet either. Nowadays, one in four of us probably do “literally hose ourselves” every time we get the giggles. It kind of robs the joy out of life. We also hose ourselves if we try to sneeze and walk at the same time, or if we shout at our offspring, the very offspring who popped our poor bladders into our vaginas when the ingrates were in utero, ever after rendering us vaguely incontinent, then adding to the mortification by demanding we jump on the trampoline.

Oh, that'd be nice...

Jump? God knows, even dancing is getting embarrassing. Perhaps that’s why so few gals over 30 are found in night clubs: it’s not that we’re too tired, but that we’re scared of piddling a little while in the clutches of the boogie-monster. No one wants to be the old lady in the night club smelling faintly of wee and broken biscuits.
And as for exercise, if another gym bunny yells “cardio” at me I’ll scream. That’s why all my workout sweatpants are black. You try jogging with your bladder dripping every step you take. You try the step machine when every ten strides needs a change of knickers and a change of gyms too due to the sheer shame of it all. One optimistic bunny insisted we go outside to do some leapy little sidesteps. Did I say leapy? Should have said leaky…
“You obviously never did your pelvic floor exercises,” she said haughtily.
“I’m doing them as we speak,” I snarled back. I’ve been doing them ever since I gave birth at the age of 19, and then again at 27, and all the way through that second pregnancy, particularly after staying with a physiotherapist aunt who reminded me constantly, saying I’d be sorry if I didn’t.
A friend with four children of her own said memories of me post-birth had ensured she still does her own merry Kegels every day — she recalled how every time I stopped at a red traffic light I’d shout “Pelvic floors, ladies”, and we’d all start squeezing. I did it at traffic lights when on my own too, and sometimes I even did it at green lights for good measure. I did it, oh yes, and I still do

But for what? To be in my thirties and unable to run, or jump, or even dance with any feeling? To be terrified of tickling contests with my bloke or playful rugby tackles and bear hugs from my boys?
I never spoke about it because how could I? I didn’t want to tell the people I love that sudden movement makes me wet myself. I’d rather be on a pedestal than in the litterbox, and what woman wouldn’t?
I finally mentioned it to my doctor who said “pelvic floor exercises” then looked at me knowingly when I protested that I did, that I do, that I can (sort-of) stop my urine mid-flow so I know I’m pulling the right muscles. “Keep practising,” she said very unhelpfully, because if 20 years of traffic light Kegeling ain’t helped yet, then it ain’t going to, frankly.

The forecast is wet.

So I looked into it, and that’s when I discovered the one-in-four figure and realised I was not all alone in a corner with the old ladies, air freshener and a maxi-bag of incontinence pads. No, instead I am in the esteemed company of numerous mothers — whether they’d given birth by Caesarian or naturally, because it’s the hefty baby in the womb that juggles the bits down below. I am also in the company of hysterectomy patients, prolapse sufferers, and both overweight people and serious sportswomen (it’s the bouncing again, the hardcore gym-bunny bouncing!).
It seems to be a flaw in the very design and manufacture of women, and a mortifying one at that. Are you listening, God, because I’m shaking my fist, gently though so as not to pee myself?
Apparently, tragically one of the main reasons old women end up in nursing homes is incontinence.


But is it actually fixable? I don’t know. I know you can have an operation. I know it’s not always successful, and if it fails it’s not easily repeatable. I know online there are countless pelvic floor toners. I know they offer results in anything from two to twelve weeks. I know I bought one based on positive reviews, and it arrived on Monday, all parcelled up in surreptitious brown paper. I know it takes batteries and comes with a probe and now I know it makes me squeak if I set the power too high.
Yes, I am trying to fix my fanny by electrocuting it.
Bet that made everyone squeeze the old pelvic floor…
I’ll let you know how it goes, or maybe you’ll just hear my whoops of joy as a bounce ever higher on the trampoline.

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Jean Harrington on why she couldn’t consider buying a daffodil for Daffodil Day – until now…

Credit: Youghal OnlineJean Harrinton on why she could not - until now - consider buying a daffodil for Daffodil Day.

I’ve always been a great sport, and would consider myself an altruistic person. I have enthusiastically fundraised for different charities over the years, and partook in dinner dances, fun-days, table quizzes, sponsored fasts, sponsored walks and parachute jumps (just the one actually!). When a friend suggested that we run Dublin’s Mini Marathon for the Irish Cancer Society, I didn’t hesitate. I had seen thousands of women running for them year after year and was aware of the amount of people whose lives were touched by cancer. I always considered myself lucky that I never actually needed their services.

One day, this all changed.

When my father was first diagnosed with cancer in May 2003, his consultant decided not to do chemotherapy on him, but said that to remove his tumour first would be the best course of action. I didn’t know anything about cancer, so I decided to ring the Irish Cancer Society’s helpline to see if they had any advice they could give me.

The lady who answered the phone was very polite and concerned, but said she was unable to help, and there was no nurse present who could take my call, but she took my number and said I would get a call back.

Two weeks later my Dad was admitted to hospital, where he underwent microsurgery, to allow the surgeons ascertain the size and extent of the tumour. He told me that everything appeared to be fine, and they scheduled his operation for 23 May. Dad assured me that everything was under control, but I like to get a second opinion. Just before his operation, I rang the cancer helpline again, seeking reassurance that this was the best course of action. Again, I was told that there was no nurse available to take my call, but once again a kind lady took my name and number and said I would get a callback.

The operation to remove the tumour from his stomach was deemed successful by his surgeons; even though they were surprised to discover that it was the size of a football. I expected that this was the beginning of his recovery, and that every day after that would be a day of healing. Once again I was wrong.

He developed an infection, and his body started to shut down in shock and protest at the scale of operation. Ten days after they removed his tumour, he was put onto a life support machine. I was inconsolable. I was angry. I prayed for a miracle.

I wanted someone to blame. I rang the Irish Cancer Society’s helpline for the third time; I wanted them to tell me that it would be okay; that he would come around. Once again, a kind lady told me that no one was available to take my call, but that a nurse would call me back.

When the nurses switched off Dad’s life support machine, I still hadn’t spoken to anyone in the Irish Cancer Society. They clearly were short of resources, but rather than rally round them and start fundraising so they could help the next person, I’m afraid to say I lost myself in grief and blame. When I saw anyone selling daffodils for them, I would glare at them, willing them to ask me to buy a daffodil so I could tell them my feelings. Luckily the volunteers were wise enough to let me pass by unobstructed.

This grief and anger stayed for many years, longer than I expected it to. When I heard the ads for Daffodil Day year after year, it brought back my familiar feelings of loss, pain and grief. This year, however, the anger was missing. I seem to have finally accepted that my Dad, Robert Harrington, who died at 55; six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, is no longer in my life. I miss him SO much, and I feel a great sense of loss that he is not involved in my life. But I also accept it. This year, almost eight years after my father’s death, I think I’m ready to buy a daffodil.

NOTE: A friend who was fundraising for the Irish Cancer Society made contact with them last year on my behalf. They apologised for the situation I had been in (no apology was needed), and they said they have remedied the personnel problem. People who need to talk to someone about cancer should have no problems getting through to the right person there, and shouldn’t be put off by my story. My mother had a cancer scare late last year, and when I rang them, I was immediately put through to a nurse who advised me on the best course of action.

National Cancer Helpline: 1800 200 700 (Mon-Thurs 9-7, Friday 9-5)

Jean Harrington still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. For that reason, she does lots of things. She thought she’d like to be a writer, so she writes books. She thought publishing might be fun, so she also publishes other people’s books. Musicians are cool, so she plays the cello with a band and an orchestra in an attempt to stay cool. Then she started dabbling in teaching, as she thought that would be a suitable career for a mother (which she is). She should be too busy to blog, but when she started Tweeting (@jeanharrie) she realised 140 characters just wasn’t enough for what she had to say so she blogs at http://jeanharrington.ie

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A very charming middle-aged man of my acquaintance had been taking a statin to keep his cholesterol levels in check for some time. In all other ways he was fit and healthy but had been having some issues with apparent memory loss of late – forgetting where he put things, not remembering the simple words etc.

Recently he and his equally charming wife came across this article in the Telegraph: Wonderdrug that stole my memory and the penny dropped. A little more sleuthing and they realised that memory loss is indeed a noted, though rare side effect for this particular statin – indeed it has been reported as a rare side effect of many other statins on the market.

In the meantime some kind well-meaning friend sent them the following link: Honey is the only food on the planet that will not spoil or rot advocating the use of honey and cinnamon as a realistic alternative to prescribed licensed statin. After talking to another friend of theirs who claimed it had worked for him,  and instead of going back to discuss the matter with his GP my friend was about to go off his prescription and treat and manage his cholesterol levels with HONEY and CINNAMON.

The internet is no doubt a wonderful tool but sometimes the ability to access tosh like this which could actually put lives at risk is frightening. Anyone else have similar experiences to recount?

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I cannot really imagine how it came to pass that mutilating one’s children became the traditional thing to do, but it was with great pleasure I read that some African villages are putting steps into place to stop the horrific practice of female genital mutilation.

The article can be found here.

Slowly but surely this practice must be phased out of existence. I would also hope that someday humans stop lopping pieces from perfectly healthy male babies under the guise of religious practice, but suspect that one might be a harder sell.

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A recent Guardian feature asked a number of fashionistas if the comfortable high heel, ‘the holy grail of fashion’ really exists. Oddly, many of the respondents agreed that it does, though there was little consensus as to who actually makes this mythical item. The article featured a bewildering number of shoe designers nominated for the ‘most comfortable heel’ award. One woman was of the view that pain-free high heels cost big bucks, while another argued that you can’t beat good old M&S for comfort in a towering heel.

Oops! Has this woman fallen off her shoe?

I decided that many contributors had to be telling porkies to justify their shoe addiction. In the short term, high heels cause corns, calluses and blisters. They throw the posture out of kilter, stressing joints and forcing weight onto the front of the foot. Prolonged wear shortens calf muscles and Achilles tendons and contributes to bunions and hammer toes. Women are more likely than men to suffer from knee and foot problems in later life.

At this point I must confess that I’ve never really got the whole shoe thing – I think I lack the relevant gene. I live in flat boots and ballet pumps, kitten heels at a push. While I can see that some heels are things of beauty, I find many of the more extreme styles of high heel ugly, ridiculous or downright trashy looking. There is also the small matter of being unable to walk in them.

Victoria Beckham has reportedly already suffered bunions, a painful bone deformity, caused by her obsession with heels. And as for that other killer heel wearing fashion icon, Sarah Jessica Parker – I’ve rarely seen a bandier woman.

Yes yes, I know, heels  are sexy and glamorous. But let’s not kid ourselves that they’re actually comfortable, eh ladies?

(Photo by twicepix on Flickr)

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Brace Yourself

Brave? Stupid? Or a bit of both? Today, at the ripe old age of almost-27, I’m having a brace fitted on my top teeth.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Shane McGowan – but my teeth are something that have bothered me for many years. I’ve never had completely straight teeth, not since my one of my adult teeth decided to grow faster than its baby counterpart was ready leave the comfort of my mouth, and consequently, developed slightly wonky. A New Year’s Resolution that I’ve made for as many Januarys that I can remember is finally coming to fruition.

The reaction of people when I told them I’m getting braces has been either a) “Braces? But you don’t need braces” (usually uttered by someone with perfect gnashers) b) “I had braces when I was younger, you’ll be grand”  or c) “Fair play to you” (more…)

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