Mimi Spencer and I are discussing the fact that, even in this day and age, women in their forties and fifties still seem invisible to much of the media, fashion and retail industry. “People are frightened of this market,” she says. “Until recently being ‘middle-aged’ was the last thing you wanted to be. Yes, there was glamour in being a silver fox and of course there’s always been enormous glamour in youth, but our age group was like the ‘lost generation.’”
Spencer has every right to bang this particular drum. She was in the fashion industry (fashion editor for the Evening Standard, columnist for You Magazine) for years before she took up writing cookbooks. Her first book was co-authoring the publishing sensation The Fast diet based on 5:2 intermittent fasting. “As I got older though my relationship with fashion changed,” she tells me. “I realised I wasn’t quite so fascinated and excited by new clothes and drops and I started becoming more interested in food and nutrition.”
It’s the reason why we’re sitting here today. Spencer, together with best friend Sam Rice, has written a book called the Midlife Kitchen, Health-boosting Recipes For Midlife And Beyond, and I have to say, it’s one of the best cookbooks I’ve seen for a while – mainly because, as someone in my (late-ish) forties, it’s actually specifically directed at *me*.
It’s a scientific fact that, as you get older, your metabolism slows, so you actually need fewer calories. In addition to this, we need to be eating more nutritionally-dense food
“The reason we wrote Midlife Kitchen was that we realised there was nothing foodwise out there that really catered for our age group,” Rice says. “It’s a scientific fact that, as you get older, your metabolism slows, so you actually need fewer calories. In addition to this, we need to be eating more nutritionally-dense food; ingredients that balance hormones and ease menopause symptoms, stuff that’s good for blood sugar, plus more gut-friendly probiotics to help digestive function and enhance immunity…”
The pair go on to describe how as midlifers we need more lean protein in our diets, and also that, as we get older, we tend to lose muscle mass and bone density so we need specific vitamins and nutrients to combat this.
Their book subsequently centres on easily accessible ingredients with a health focus – “it’s food you’ll recognise and that you can get in any supermarket” plus basic food swaps you can do without bankrupting yourself. For example, the pair are big on flaxseed (linseed) which they tell me are full of phytoestrogen (good for collagen production and easing post-menopausal symptoms) and would make a great porridge topping instead of my usual brown sugar. A packet of the stuff has been loitering in the back of my cupboard. I suspect that it may get a dusting off in the next few weeks.
The interview is taking place in Waitrose, where the plan is for Spencer and Rice to give me a show-and-tell (watch the video above to see how they “midlife up” my shopping basket). Before we set off, they are keen to stress that it’s not about “eating by rules” and they definitely don’t want to pigeonhole any ingredients into “good” and “bad” categories. They have worked with a trained nutritionist so everything they recommend is based on solid sensible advice. “Rather than pouncing on the newest study about the latest wonder ingredient, we’ve looked at foods that have a weight of evidence behind them, that we know are good for X and Y. And there’s nothing in the book that promises eat this and you will live to be 103, that’s definitely not something we’d do.”
Spencer adds, “We’re definitely and emphatically pro-ageing. As we get older, we’ve been expected to become greyer, shadows of our former selves and ‘hand over’ to the younger generation. But why should we? We are who we are.”
“I don’t think it matters what you call it – midlife, middle-age, whatever – but the whole language that’s used around this age group is really patronising,’” says Sam. “There used to be so many articles about ‘how to stay young, foods that make you look younger ’; ‘how to push back the tide of time blah blah.”’
“Ugh, yeah, and the *language*: it’s like, ‘go girl, you’ve still got worth in this world. Oh, and wear something navy…’" adds Spencer.
“But I’m wearing navy!” laughs Rice.
“Ha, sorry! You you know what I mean,” Spencer says. “Inside we still feel 21, we’re still doing the same things, so why would we want to hand in our chips and get comfortable? I don’t want to be comfortable!’
“There’s nothing in our book about reversing the ageing process. Nothing about getting younger, looking younger or staying younger,” Spencer says emphatically. “We don’t *want* to stay younger, we just want to stay healthy.”
MIMI AND SAM’S “MIDDLE-AGED SPREAD”
"This super spread does the job of hummus but with a Midlife twist – replacing the more usual chickpeas with butter beans and spinach to give a lighter texture. We’ve kept it simple, so you can whizz it up at a moment’s notice to have on stand-by in the fridge. It’s perfect as a dip for raw veggies, or spread thickly on toast topped with a handful of Midlife Spiced Seed Mix, below."
- 250g spinach leaves
- 400g can butter beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- A small handful of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp Midlife Spice Mix, see below, or 1 tsp ground coriander and 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tbsp natural yogurt
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- Rinse the spinach, then cook in a large frying pan with the residual water over a low heat for 2 minutes until wilted. Drain well and pat dry with kitchen paper to remove any moisture.
- Put the spinach into a food processor, add the remaining ingredients and pulse to a semi-smooth texture.
- This can be served warm, or cold from the fridge, where it will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.
Health Tip: Butter beans are the star here, providing protein, healthy carbs and a brilliant fibre fix. This benefits the cardiovascular and digestive systems, as well as priming energy levels.
MIDLIFE SEED MIX
This is a big bang of health-boosting taste and texture to jump-start a salad, soup or wrap. It uses our Midlife Raw Seed and Midlife Spice mixes – so although there seems to be lots of ingredients, it takes mere minutes to assemble and will transform a humdrum bowl of leaves into something spectacular. Try using this mix instead of croutons on soups and in salads.
MAKES APPROX. 8 TBSP
- 4 tbsp Midlife Raw Seed Mix
- 2 tsp nigella seeds
- 2 tsp mustard seeds
- 2 tsp poppy seeds
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp Midlife Spice Mix
- 1 tsp chilli flakes or smoked/ sweet paprika
- Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- Place the raw seed mix in a large, shallow frying pan and dry-fry over a medium heat for several minutes until it starts to colour and pop, adding the remaining seeds for the final minute or so, taking care not to burn them.
- Tip the seeds into a bowl and add the oil, spice mix and the chilli flakes or paprika (add more or less according to your liking for heat). Season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer the mix to an airtight container and store for up to 2 weeks.
Health Tip: Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds contain healthy fatty acids, which can help combat depression and boost your mood.