Overnight Aga Porridge

Porridge has always been around of course but it has become fashionable in recent years.  This doesn’t mean we should reject it as a fad; quite the reverse.  In fact part of the reason it has become so popular is that its nutritional and health-giving properties have been well publicised.  There are studies which show it can help reduce blood cholesterol levels, for example.  Oats are low fat and have a low GI (glycaemic index) which means a slow release of the carbohydrate into your bloodstream so your energy levels are sustained for longer and you are less likely to feel hungry mid-morning.

Porridge doesn’t have to mean oats; it can also be made with rye, spelt or barley.  I think the two brands of porridge oats most commonly found in our supermarkets are Quaker and Scott’s, but other names are coming to the fore and building a reputation for wholesome breakfast cereals.  And we are discovering more about the different types of porridge; we are probably mostly used to oats which have been steamed and rolled into flakes (rolled oats like Quaker and Scott’s) but there are also the oats cut into two or three pieces (called, steel-cut, pinhead or coarse oatmeal).  It is said that because of their size and shape, the body breaks these down more slowly, thus keeping you full for longer.

A bowl of porridge can be made fairly speedily using rolled oats, in a saucepan or the microwave, but pinhead oatmeal requires some forward planning.  The instructions on the one we buy, by Rude Health (see photo), advise overnight soaking and this is where the Aga comes in, because a mere three or four minutes’ preparation at bedtime means one can wake up to a saucepan of porridge which requires just a quick stir and the addition of your favourite toppings.

So this is what you do:

  • Just before you go to bed, place 75g oatmeal per person in a pan and add 600ml water.  In truth, this makes a large portion so if making for two people, I only add half the amount again, ie I use 112g and 900ml water; for three people 150g/1.2l and so on.  You can add a pinch of salt too if you like.  My youngest son doesn’t like salt in his so I add a little to my own portion in the morning.
  • Place your saucepan on the boiling plate and start whisking with a balloon whisk.  Keep doing this for about a minute, making sure you get into every “corner” of the pan, and then transfer to the simmering plate and do the same for about two more minutes until the mixture is simmering.
  • Cover and place in the simmering oven and go to bed.
  • Next morning, put the kettle on (for tea), take the pan out of the oven and give the mixture a good stir with a wooden spoon.  Serve.

You can now add whatever takes your fancy.  Here are some options:

  • A little cold milk and sprinkling of demerara sugar
  • Dark muscovado sugar stirred into the porridge before adding milk or cream
  • Maple syrup, raisins and a little double cream (husband’s favourite)
  • Peanut butter
  • Honey
  • Cinnamon and a little sugar
  • Berries (blueberries, raspberries): keep some in the freezer and defrost overnight.

 

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Chocolate and Gout

 

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I’m hoping the first part of the title of this post drew you in enough for you not to be put off by the second part.

I’ve always loved chocolate: the taste of it and the texture; and the undoubted cocoa solids and caffeine-induced hit it gives.  In the past, to prove to myself that I have a modicum of willpower and I’m not a complete chocoholic, I’ve given it up for Lent.

Today (Easter Sunday) I ate chocolate for the first time in several weeks, since before the start of Lent in fact.  Tomorrow I will be giving it up again, but for health reasons.  I’ve been getting joint pain for quite a few years now.  My orthopaedic surgeon husband says I have osteoarthritis and that I’ve inherited this from my father and grandmother.  They never spoke of it, but with hindsight it was obvious they suffered from it too.  My father attributed any aches and pains of his to rugby injuries which had never been properly treated, but that was probably only part of the story.

In recent years my husband has been sending an increasing number of his patients, who report to him with knee pain and a history of other joint problems, for blood tests to ascertain their uric acid levels.  If levels with a single test are high it means that the patient has been suffering from episodes of gout.

Gout is inflammation of joints and soft tissues due to crystallisation of uric acid within a joint that has been predisposed to this deposition by previous injury.  His new secretary, who used to work in General Practice, cannot believe how frequently he spots it in his patients.

It’s very useful being married to a doctor but, quite rightly, they do not like to treat family members.  The way it works in our family is: someone describes their ailment and my husband decides whether they need to a) see the GP, b) go to A&E or c) go directly to a colleague.  It means we probably spent a lot less time in GP waiting rooms when the children were small than most parents.  Anyway, having had so many patients come back with a positive test for gout, my husband suggested that I ask my GP to order a blood test for me, because if my uric acid levels were high, or near the upper limit of normal, something could be done about it and it would reduce the episodes of pain I’m experiencing in my hands and feet.

The blood test came back as “normal” but my levels were at the upper end of the range and my husband said it would only take one meal of high purine foods to tip me over the edge.

Purines from foods and tissue turnover are the precursor of uric acid which some people are unable to excrete, especially when exposed to our rich Western diet.

He gave me a very useful chart listing almost every food you can think of with those high in purines at the top.  At the very top of the chart the substance with by far the highest purine levels was theobromine, which is found in cocoa.  I jokingly said to my husband that in that case I’d give up chocolate and solve the problem.  To my surprise he agreed.  So I stopped eating chocolate overnight and after six weeks went back for another blood test and, to my astonishment, my uric acid levels had dropped considerably.  My symptoms haven’t changed but my husband says that will take at least 6-12 months.

I have written this post to raise awareness.  Not very much appears to be known about gout, but 1 in 40 of us have it and many suffer without a confirmed diagnosis.  It seems to affect young men and post menopausal women.  My GP did not think it necessary to test my uric acid levels but was happy to do it when asked.

I will miss chocolate, but will allow myself a small amount from time to time.  It seemed easier to give it up than to have to think about purines every time I cook a meal for the family.

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