The first thing I did after getting my blood work results (see “Me and Mr C” for more details) was to bite the bullet and go to hear my G.P’s verdict. I sat in the squeaky chair, and nervously tweaked the lab paperwork I had in my hands. The air conditioning unit wheezed gently overhead but somehow didn’t manage to cool me off. I was already anxious about standing up ten minutes later, apprehending the squelching noise of my thighs parting company from the chair. I had committed the schoolgirl error usually only committed by newbies in the South: Shorts and plastic chairs don’t mix in high temperatures.
“So!” The family G.P. beamed at me. “Have you read your results? It’s all fine apart from….”
“The Cholesterol”, I muttered darkly, avoiding her eyes like a kid who knew she was about to be deprived of telly for the next three months.
“Do you eat a lot of charcuterie? Cheese? Red meat?” In France, these are the three biggest cholesterol culprits. I am reasonable in my consumption of all three, and told her so. Except when Bigfoot cooks up pasta (with buckets of lardons, crème fraîche and Gruyère) or steak, chips and Roquefort sauce, that is.
A “pêché mignon” is a great French term. “Pêché” is a sin, “mignon” means cute. It would be best defined as a weakness, or a guilty pleasure. So with the French philosophy on life, it’s nothing serious if you enjoy one small, harmless sin on a regular basis. Everyone has one, right? And for some strange reason, it’s never good for you.
I am no exception to the rule, and I wasn’t quite sure how to go about breaching the subject of my own pêché mignon with her. For me, it’s what I call the PBP – Picon-Beer-Peanuts. Picon is my favourite magic potion: the elixir the Alsatians add to beer for instant perfection in a glass. If Asterix and Obelix had discovered this stuff, they would never have bothered about fighting with Romans.
Put the Picon in the glass and add the beer. It takes on a dark, caramelized look, and becomes slightly bitter with a fabulous taste of orange. Accompanied by a bowl of peanuts to nibble, it has been my trade-mark for years. Attempts to stop this evening ceremony have systematically resulted in failure.
On receiving the test results, my first reaction was to throw myself at my computer keyboard, smoke rising as I desperately trawled the net to find proof that peanuts were good for me. What I found was the following: “A handful of nuts (unsalted) per day is good for you”. Further selective research informed me that bad cholesterol comes from animal fats. By carefully restructuring the information I had gleaned and omitting the terms “unsalted” and “handful”, I was victorious: peanuts were not bad for me. Ipso facto, they could stay, all was not lost. Hey, presto: clear conscience.
I cautiously proposed this theory to the doctor, whose eyes widened in surprise. “But you can’t eat that much, surely?”, she enquired. An uncomfortable silence ensued. The air-conditioning unit hummed above my head as I stared at her goldfish, wondered how many times she had experienced the “coming out” of a peanut addict. I chose to give her the truth, embellished with a good dose of humour. I locked eyes with her.
“Umm…. Lets say that if you cracked open a packet now, I’d rip it out of your hands and finish it off within ten minutes. That I am capable of crawling over cut glass on all fours to the supermarket five kilometers away if I don’t have any left in the cupboard. That I am hooked to such an extent that I’ve even checked, to no avail, if the equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous exists for peanut junkies. That I dream of being able to walk past the peanut shelf at the local store without grabbing armfuls of packets. That I am worried I could suffer from cold turkey and maybe maim an innocent passer-by. Do you get my drift?” Yep, peanut addicts are the forgotten sufferers of this world.
Once she had recovered from the shock, she burst out laughing. Then she got serious. Her sentence was immediate and irrevocable: Peanuts are not our friends. Peanuts are bad for cholesterol levels. VERY bad. Peanuts should be consumed in small quantities.
I deftly returned the ball, underlining the fact that “small quantity” was not a term I could associate with peanuts, and glumly accepted that I had to give up my nutty companions. No worries, she reassured me: you can still drink a beer! I sadly explained that PBP would have to become a thing of the past, as they are an inseparable team. If I drink the Picon-Beer, I’ll be tempted by the peanuts, so they all had to go.
I left her office with a mission: to lower my cholesterol level and have a second blood test in three months’ time. This means eating even less cheese, eggs, fatty meat, and of course, less peanuts. In the past three weeks, I am proud to say that I have kept on course. Even after a week in the Alsace, home to the infamously creamy, pongy and fabulous Munster cheese and the world’s best charcuterie (incidentally, my heartfelt thanks to the friends who gallantly left the peanuts off the apéritif menu whilst I was there: you guys rock). I have no idea whether my cholesterol level has gone down, but I do know that I have more energy and better skin than a month ago. And for the moment, I’ve discovered that for every one thing you can’t eat, there are realms of other wonderful things to be discovered which aren’t bad for you. So whatever happens, it’s a win-win situation. Fingers crossed, watch this space……