Conservative Party Conference is the highlight of the social calendar of any politico on the centre-right. It’s a chance to bring together the most committed activists, the politicians and the media under one roof (metaphorically, as the conference area, even excluding fringe events beyond the secure zone, is more than one building…), for 4 days of exciting talks (not in the main hall), wine receptions and running after Ruth Davidson for a picture. Young Tory Boys press their suits (almost always dark, but not navy, blue, which makes me wonder whether they take their style tips from a well-known Hampstead councillor), while Tory Poster Girls squeeze themselves in pencil skirt dresses that, like in my case, they never take out of the wardrobe for anything else.
It is a tour de force of late nights, early mornings and little to no sleep, whether you’re merely a good Catholic girl just chatting until the early hours at the lobby bar or someone otherwise engaged. If it’s your first time, here’s my guide to surviving it.
Given the amount of media appearances, pictures and selfies over the conference, I feel all the pressure of the bad messages from the media and advertising (remember the Beach Body-Ready adverts banned from the tube?) that doesn’t normally affect me because, unlike the stunning woman who happens to be my cousin, I never see the seaside even if Croydon is like 1h away from the coast. I sneaked out of the festival at Walsingham and what happened was basically just wetting my feet after holding up a long skirt at my waist somehow. The body isn’t the only issue, I don’t normally wear heavy foundation so my skin has to be picture-perfect. After #smoothiegate last year, I have decided to prepare myself for battle this time, and thanks to the very timely gift of a smoothie shaker and book of recipes I have embraced the drinking of greens that I shouldn’t be having because they are forbidden in the Low Fodmap diet that I’m hardly following correctly anyway. So far I have successfully avoided looking like I’m soon to give birth, so that’s good.
The book is called Smoothie Detox, by a Diane Sharpe, and is published by Vineyard Press. Despite the name, they bear no connection with the churches, but are a general publisher based in the US. A search for the author’s name brings up a lot of Amazon links for books about smoothies but nothing on her credentials. Still, while the introduction promising a detox in just 10 days and weight loss with an extreme diet has my eyebrows raised, the recipes themselves seemed innocuous enough to test them.
After two days of blending a peach and a banana with yogurt I have individuated 4 recipes to try because they sounded like they would taste nice, two of them from a Fat Burning list, one from the Energising list and one from the Detoxing one.
On the first day, I made the energising one mid afternoon when feeling a bit low and facing some serious effort cleaning my room. It’s called the Green Kiwi Punch, and as the name suggests the main ingredient is kiwis, which are a source of iron, vitamin A and potassium. It’s a good smoothie for boosting your immune system and getting rid of colds. It wasn’t particularly tasty (although it was nice, especially after I used the coconut water from the packaged pineapple, it gave a bit of fruity flavour to double greens) and it wasn’t energising either. In fact I’ve felt more tired afterwards than I did before drinking it. Even as a non-knowledgeable person I am aware that ginger has energising properties (have you ever had the little juice from Pret? It nearly brings back the dead), so I’m not sure why not all recipes in the Energising section have it, and recipes in different sections (like fat-burning) do…
For breakfast the next day I picked the one from the Detoxing list, as I was feeling a bit under the weather and it promised me to boost my vitamin C levels, as well as anti-oxidants and potassium. It’s called the Cress Cran Cooler, and despite my love of watercress (it makes a lovely soup) I had never imagined I’d have watercress for breakfast, or at least not as something other than eggs of some sort. The promise to fight off the cold was not the only reason why I chose it: it had a banana in it, which meant I had some substance and slow-release energy. It was filling, but by lunch time I was beyond peckish. To think that the diet as prescribed only allows you a handful of nuts as snack every 3 1/2 hours! I’ve obviously had normal lunch and dinner all days I’ve had the smoothies, and still I could do with not having eaten the whole box of Graze snacks (2 to be precise) by the end of the weekend, as I don’t think a smoothie for breakfast is enough to keep me going even on days when all I do is sit at a desk and write (I addressed the issue in my previous blog post). The recipe calls for cranberries, which don’t seem to be sold fresh in the UK, so I swapped the purified water for the new Ocean Spray Wholeberry cranberry juice, which has 40 crushed whole cranberries per serve, which translates to 24mg of vitamin C. It didn’t do much for my tiredness, but then that’s me. The juice is lovely on its own too, although very thick so I dilute it. Plus, I had a voucher to get it for free which makes it all the sweeter.
(A note on the Graze box. The snacks contained were the Cracking Black Pepper Nuts, Cocoa and Vanilla Protein Flapjacks, White Chocolate and Raspberry and the Garden of England. I’m surprised I’ve actually liked the nuts, they were all very good snacks.)
My third smoothie from Smoothie Detox was the Aruya Smoothie. By that time in the afternoon I was sneezing like on a high pollen count day without anti-histamines, but still had a long way to go before putting my feet up and calling it a day. It’s the first appearance of ginger, and the author promises this smoothie has high levels of vitamins A and C, and a detoxifying effect. I love a good bunch of rocket on pizza, in salads, and as part of my bresaola rolls with goats cheese that make an appearance at every event in need of quick appetisers, so I had high hopes for this smoothie, even if, at 61 calories per serving, it’s the least caloric of them all. Perfect to follow a can of full sugar energy drink for the corner shop (I said I was ill…) that comes at 105 cal (the second lightest smoothie is 108, and the most caloric of them is 159cal). The temptation to keep some of the rocket for my dinner salad means I may have put more berries than rocket, and still it tasted more like a salad than anything else. It was so hard to drink it feels like I’m already doing penance for Ash Wednesday.
I’ve reached out for the remaining of the Yeo Valley Greek Style Honey Yogurt which has made the whole drink more bearable (it’s really nice yogurt although a bit sweet even for me). I’m not too concerned about the impact of the yogurt on the detoxifying effect because the whole thing is pretty much a big hoax, except that it seems to have improved some of my abdominal symptoms (was I getting enough fibres before?).
It’s a lucky thing that, despite the self-deprecatory irony of the title, I am not doing this to lose weight, because by 7pm I was starving, nearly tempted to pop the half Indian Butter Chicken and rice I’m keeping for lunch in the microwave, and finding a hard time not chopping up a huge salad instead. So I chopped up a huge salad, that’s about 3 times more vegetables than I normally eat in one single salad. It’s true that salads are a diet food but I’ve added almost the whole package of cottage cheese (never before) and attacked it like I hadn’t eaten in a week. By 10pm I was hungry again and had a nectarine before bed.
The fourth and last smoothie from this round of self-imposed torture is the Kiwi Kale Surprise, which comes with a blanket promise of antioxidants, vitamins and other nutrients. A smoothie with no banana isn’t the greatest idea for breakfast, so by 10am I was eating what I had put aside for lunch and considering the idea of adding bananas and oats to whatever smoothies I was going to have for breakfast if not accompanied by something like a toastie (I am rather enjoying what I see in the mirror). I haven’t got around to buying oats yet, so today’s breakfast was only with an added banana, and again the day was characterised by being hungry all the time. Whoever wrote that book as a diet that has you drink smoothies with no substance and snack on a handful of nuts every so many hours should be locked up in a cupboard with no access to the Internet and never let out again. Having said that, I think I’m sold on smoothies as part of a more robust diet: they are a convenient way to balance out my diet and have my body ready for the conference tour de force.