The positive side to cold and darkness

I know many people don’t like this season with all the coldness and darkness.

But it does have some benefits.

For instance, Lara and I love to spend an evening with steaming mugs of cocoa or taking a cheeky trip to the local pub with its roaring hearth.

We also enjoy a change in diet.

The light fresh salads of summer are replaced by hearty stews and casseroles with a herby dumpling or two thrown in for good measure.

Good honest comfort eating is back in vogue, especially with the recently arrived colder weather.

The problem is that all this food, coupled with a decrease in the amount of exercise we take, tends to take its toll on the midriff – certainly for me it does anyway.

During the summer months I am constantly on the go in the garden, squeezing in the odd kick-about down the park with the boys, and marathon walks with the faithful hound. This level of activity burns the calories and makes the sweat run.

Now the winter months lie ahead I can think of nothing better than curling up with a good book and the warmth of an extra jumper.

So I’ve forced myself to have a good look at my plans for the next few months and see where I can do a little bit more to keep myself in some sort of shape (biscuit barrel probably describes me best!).

The Collins winter plan – part 1

Firstly, the subject of food has be addressed as, if I am not going to be quite so active, I have to think about reducing the amount of fuel I provide the body – if I’m not going to burn it then there’s no point storing it.

Things like my favourite stews and casseroles are not off the menu though, they just need a slight tweak to provide me with a bit more fibre and roughage and a lot less fat and carbohydrate.

So I will be adding in plenty of celery and plenty of root vegetables like swede and turnip, but also a few novelty vegetables too like Kohl Rabi.

This comical looking relative of cabbage has become a real favourite of mine since a neighbour persuaded me to grow some in the garden.

If you’ve never tried it, it’s worth having a go as it can be used in the stew pot or as an autumn salad ingredient if grated or thinly sliced on a vegetable mandolin.

As far as meat goes, I will be eating less of my favourite mutton or beef, but replacing them with free-range chicken thighs or, my personal joy, a rabbit.

I know not everyone likes the idea of Bugs Bunny appearing on the dinner table, but it really is a good, cheap and sustainable food for the meat eaters out there.

The final addition to my winter store cupboard will be a few bags of dried grains such as pearl barley, brown rice and bulgur wheat.

If you’re not familiar with the last one then let me enlighten you about one of the world’s oldest processed foods, made by par boiling, drying, then grinding hard wheat varieties such as durum.

The benefit of adding any of these to a casserole or stew is to ramp up the fibre levels and provide benefit to the body by introducing slow-release carbohydrates.

This improves the way food moves through the gut and prevents our cells from being overwhelmed by a sudden burst of energy which they are unable to use so gets mopped up and eventually adds to fat stores.

Of course, I shall still indulge in the occasional Indian curry, the odd pint of foaming ale and my regular Sunday roast, but all in moderation, after all too much of a good thing is no good at all.

The Collins winter plan – part 2

Getting the right amount of exercise when the weather is inclement needn’t be a trauma either.

For a start, the dog still needs a walk – it’s just me that has to be a little more sensible about how I prepare for taking him out.

The biggest mistake is to load yourself up with so many jumpers and coats that you end up looking like the Michelin man.

By doing this you will overheat as soon as you start out on your walk, and the layers of material will trap sweat against the body which will make you uncomfortable, and when you do cool down will chill you.

So select a good vest or T-shirt, an over shirt, a jumper and a coat, avoiding too many synthetic materials as these are not so good at letting your skin breathe.

Don’t forget your legs as well – I keep a fetching pair of long johns for the winter months to help keep my lower portions warm.

More important than this though is to have a good hat and good socks and boots as these are the body parts that lose most heat.

Your head rarely feels cold but that is because it is constantly kept pumped with blood to warm and feed the brain, to such an extent that your body will sacrifice virtually any other body part to keep the blood flowing to the grey cells.

Stopping loss through the head will conserve heat in the rest of the body, so, a fiendishly silly hat with ear flaps will keep your bonce hot and frighten off anyone lurking in dark alleyways as well!

Fine wool socks over the top of warm cotton ones will keep the toes warm, especially if protected in a good pair of stout boots.

Of course, you don’t need to dress like an explorer if you make use of the local swimming pool.

During the summer I find this place a little too stifling and noisy with all the kids around but come the winter months the warm fuggy atmosphere is comforting, and I actually enjoy ploughing a few lengths out.

Swimming is exercise for the entire body, using all major muscle groups and really gets the heart pumping for a workout as well.

So that’s my winter plan – it works for me, anyway!