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If calories count, then calorie counters will get a big boost Monday as one of Obamacare’s big social changes kicks in: a requirement that chain restaurants, supermarkets and movie theaters begin posting information for all of their offerings.

Although some fast-food chains began posting calorie counts a decade ago to comply with a patchwork of local laws, there has never been a national requirement until now.

The 2010 health care law’s mandate, which had been delayed repeatedly, is finally going into effect.

Analysts say the most visible changes will occur at supermarkets that offer prepared foods at bakery sections, salad bars and hot buffets, yet have been slow to adopt calorie labeling.

The Cheesecake Factory is one of the more prominent chains that will usher in changes on Monday. Nutritional information will be added to online take-out menus, and hosts at each restaurant will have a hard copy available at the front desk.

The company said it is in the middle of a printing cycle, so table menus won’t have the calorie information until early summer.

The Food and Drug Administration says that’s OK because it wants to help restaurants and grocery stores come into compliance over the coming year instead of issuing fines or warning letters.

“Nobody is going to be hammered for not having everything in place,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told The Washington Times.

Americans typically get a third of their calories outside the home, so federal regulators have been working for nearly a decade to help consumers understand what is in each breakfast muffin, afternoon hamburger or evening dessert and make healthier choices.

Roughly 230,000 restaurants will fall under the menu labeling law nationwide, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Big chains such as Starbucks and McDonald’s already are in compliance — you’ll find a 410-calorie Caffe Mocha or a 550-calorie Big Mac on those menus — but lobbyists for pizza chains and other businesses have dragged out the fight. They said the rules would be too costly and difficult to calculate for, say, a pizza with five different toppings.

The Trump administration delayed the rules for another year when it came on board but kept the mandates moving forward.

Dr. Gottlieb said the rules inject transparency and competition into a free market, so they shouldn’t be seen as the long arm of the government reaching in where it shouldn’t be.

“There is a place for providing a basic level of information and having a uniform playing field for the disclosure of that information,” he said. “You’re comparing apples to apples — literally. I think that’s a pro-market notion.”

The calorie rule applies to chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations. Movie theater chains and vending machine operators also must comply.

Advocates who pushed for federal standards for years said implementation is a long time coming.

“The desires of consumers were enough to overcome the opposition of the industry to regulation,” said Margo Wootan, vice president for nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Consumers want to know what’s in their food, and we’ve long thought they have a right to know.”

What is not clear is whether the numbers will make a difference in what consumers choose.

For one thing, analysts say, many consumers don’t notice the counts, which use the same font as prices.

A 2009 study of low-income, minority populations after New York City mandated calorie counts didn’t detect any change in the amount of calories purchased. In 2011, researchers examined seven studies that looked at calorie postings and found that only two of them reported a statistically significant drop in calories purchased.

Sara Bleich, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said there is evidence that labeling rules prompt restaurants to slash calories from their dishes, largely because of a small but “very vocal” pool of consumers taken aback by high calorie counts might ask, “Why do you have a 900-calorie appetizer?”

“I think there’s a lot of consumer shock. It’s those well-educated, vocal consumers,” she said.

Harvard researchers looked at local labeling requirements and found that restaurants reduced the number of calories in newly introduced menu items in 2013 by about 60 calories, or 12 percent, compared with 2012.

Dr. Gottlieb said in a recent blog post that if Americans consumed 64 fewer calories per day, on average, then they would help the nation meet the government’s goal of reducing youth obesity by 2020.

“Over time,” he said, “this can drive population-wide changes.”

The FDA says it has worked to make the rules “maximally beneficial” to consumers and “minimally burdensome” to companies. Calorie counts don’t have to be included on marketing materials, and companies can provide a calorie range on “build your own” foods such as pizzas.

Domino’s, which pushed hard against a one-size-fits-all approach to labeling, said it provides calorie counts on its website because it gets the vast majority of its sales online or over the phone.

For the 10 percent of customers who walk into stores, the company said, it can provide a spreadsheet or menu upon request.

Domino’s hopes this method will satisfy the FDA because changing all of its menu boards would be costly. Many customers know what they want and don’t look at the boards, anyway, spokesman Tim McIntyre said.

Dr. Gottlieb said the agency will review compliance on a case-by-case basis but added that it is unlikely any stores will have to tear up their menu boards if other forms of disclosure are available.

“We’re going to be flexible,” he said.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said on Friday it had suspended a Louisiana pharmaceutical distributor from selling controlled substances for allegedly selling unusually large quantities of opioids to pharmacies without reporting the sales.

The DEA said it suspended Morris & Dickson Co, a privately owned drug wholesaler based in Shreveport, on Wednesday after an investigation showed “it failed to properly identify large suspicious orders for controlled substances sold to independent pharmacies with questionable need for the drugs.”

“Opioid distributors have a legal obligation not to facilitate the illicit diversion of drugs,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the statement by the DEA, which is part of the U.S. Justice Department.

“That obligation has never been more important than it is right now as we face the deadliest drug crisis in American history,” Sessions said.

Morris & Dickson filed in federal court on Thursday for an injunction against the suspension, and U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote in Shreveport has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday on its request for a temporary restraining order, according to court records.

The probe, which focused on purchases of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, showed that in some cases, pharmacies were allowed to buy as much as six times the quantity of narcotics they would normally order, the DEA statement said.

Family-owned Morris & Dickson was founded in 1841 and is the largest independently owned and privately held drug wholesale distributor in the United States, according to its court filing.

The U.S. government is trying to crack down on opioid abuse through a number of measures, including a proposal last month to tighten rules governing the amount of prescription opioid painkillers that drugmakers can manufacture in a given year.

Sessions has created an opioid task force and deployed prosecutors to hard-hit areas of the country with a mandate to bring more cases against traffickers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42,000 people died nationwide from opioid overdoses in 2016, the last year with publicly available data.

Reporting by Eric Walsh, additional reporting by Nate Raymond in New York, editing by G Crosse

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When Fitbit announced its newest smartwatch, the Versa, in March it also revealed that it was adding Female Health Tracking to its app some time in May, and integrating it into the Versa and Ionic. Since this is a first for fitness trackers, as far as we know, we wanted to find out more.

At its most basic, the feature allows women to input information about their periods and symptoms and the feature will then predict when stages of the menstrual cycle will occur and send push notifications as reminders nearer the time.

Sounds simple, sure, but we expect Fitbit to eventually make smart use of the information provided (just as it did with its best-in-class sleep tracking) and the feature also includes practical information. According to a Fitbit survey from February 2018, 80% of people don’t know how many phases are in a menstrual cycle and over 70% couldn’t identify the average length of a cycle. Assuming they didn’t exclusively survey men, those numbers suggest that a bit of extra info might be useful.

Coach spoke to Dr Dawn Harper at the launch of the Fitbit Versa to get more information about the menstrual cycle and the Female Health feature.

What are the benefits of the Female Health Tracking feature?

When we were at school we were taught about the female menstrual cycle. We were all told it’s 28 days and you ovulate right in the middle and that’s the way it’s going to be. In the real world I have been a GP for 20 years with a special interest in women’s health and I don’t think I have ever met a woman who has had an absolutely regular 28-day cycle for the whole of her menstruating life. And also, the way we respond emotionally to our changing hormones can change at different times in our lives.

What this app does is keep all your health information in one place. On a personal level I think it’s good for the individual, but it’s also very useful on a medical level. When women see their GP, if they have any kind of symptoms that could be linked to the menstrual cycle, they can give us information there and then in a very quick and easy-to-access way.

What are the phases of the menstrual cycle?

Let’s assume – although it doesn’t happen! – a 28-day cycle. When women start their periods their oestrogen and testosterone levels are rock bottom, and they usually feel pretty lethargic and sluggish.

Then oestrogen and testosterone rise very quickly, so within a day or two of starting their periods, women’s energy levels start to improve. That kicks off the feelgood hormones, and they start to feel more positive, social and alert.

Interestingly, there’s a study that shows that at that point in the cycle, women are likely to eat something like 12% fewer calories a day. It’s a silly, quirky one, but if you’re going to start a healthy eating regime, that might be the time to start it. The flip side of that is that you get a greater buzz from the things you crave, like nicotine, so it might not be the best time to quit as you may miss and crave things more.

Going into the second week, oestrogen and testosterone continue to rise, and there’s some research to show that women’s memories are better and they’re more erudite. So if you’re planning presentations or negotiations, that’s not a bad time to do it. Another quirky one – throughout that first half of the cycle, and certainly in the second week, because of that testosterone women find it easier to achieve orgasm and usually get more intense orgasms. So that’s a good time to plan a dirty weekend away!

Then you ovulate, and as soon as women ovulate testosterone and oestrogen fall, and progesterone starts to rise. If we’re in that classic 28-day cycle, week three is a time when women are likely to start feeling more sluggish, they don’t sleep as well, they’re not as good with words and not as “on it”.

There is actually some evidence that if you exercise at this point in your cycle, you get a relatively greater fat burn than if you exercise at other points. That might be a motivator – you might not feel like it, but you’re going to get more bang for your buck if you exercise!

In the fourth week testosterone and oestrogen are falling right back down again, and women are more likely to be irritable, have headaches and not sleep so well. If they are migraine or irritable bowel syndrome sufferers they’re more likely to get a flare-up.

How do you think the information tracked in the app can help women?

I can see women using the app to plan their life a little bit better, and accommodate how their hormones affect them and be more in tune with how they respond to hormones.

The other thing I think people will use it for is as a fertility tracker. So you ovulate 14 days before day one of your next period. If your period is 28 days, day 14 after and day 14 before are one and the same day, but people often get that confused and think they ovulate 14 days after their last period. You can’t necessarily predict it, but if you’re starting to recognise your own cycle, you’ll be more in tune.

Can you use it for contraception?

I think to use something like this for that purpose depends on how motivated you are to use it. The more motivated you are and the more data you put in, the more accurate it will become as a predictor. It’s a really appropriate method of contraception if you’re a woman for whom it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you became pregnant.

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Electric bikes have something to offer every kind of cyclist, but for the e-bike revolution to truly take off, it surely needs to be embraced by commuters. The Carrera Crossfuse might well be the bike that tempts a critical mass of train and bus users onto two wheels, because it offers almost everything a commuter could want for a price that’s considerably lower than other e-bikes with similar features.

The first thing that makes the Crossfuse stand out is the range – a mammoth 80km to 130km. That means it will only require plugging in two or three times a month for most commuters and can handle long day rides if you want to use the Crossfuse for touring. I got 110km out of one charge riding almost all of that distance in Tour mode, which is the second-lowest level of assistance – there are four in total, running from Eco up to Turbo. If you blast around in Turbo the entire time the range will drop considerably, but unless you live in an especially hilly area you’ll rarely need it – the Tour mode will be enough assistance to breeze through your rides.

The second thing that this sets this e-bike apart is the ride. Thanks to its torque sensor, it delivers assistance from the Bosch Active Line PLUS motor in line with how hard you are pedalling, which makes for a far more natural and smooth experience than when assistance is provided based entirely on what level you pick. There’s no jerking into life when moving away from traffic lights – it feels just like riding a bike. A bike that just happens to require less effort.

The only downside of this kind of sensor is that on a steep uphill it can be nice to slap an e-bike into a high, fixed level of assistance and coast on up, whereas with the Crossfuse you need to pedal a little harder to get a bigger boost. It’s still not exactly hard to get up a hill, especially if you pick that moment to use the Turbo mode.

An important test for any e-bike is how it handles if the battery runs dry. At 24kg, the Crossfuse is a heavy beast, so I was not optimistic on this front. However, it passed just about the biggest test I could have thrown at it. The battery ran out 50m short of the biggest hill on my commute… the day after I ran the London Marathon. That I made it up the hill without assist or having to walk is testament to its rideability. That said, I will be making every effort to avoiding repeating the experience – it’s definitely not light enough that you don’t notice the difference between riding with assist and without.

There is front suspension on the Crossfuse, which you can lock or unlock. In theory city riding should be done with it locked for extra efficiency while riding, but given the state of London’s roads and cycle lanes, I opted for the extra comfort of the suspension for all my riding. After a thin-wheeled racer, tackling potholes head-on while cruising around on the Crossfuse was a joy.

The Crossfuse also has disc brakes, which are a feature to look for on any e-bike, because stopping an e-bike’s considerable weight quickly is a concern, especially when flying downhill.

There’s an awful lot to like about the Crossfuse and I’ve not seen many e-bikes, if any, that can match its feature set for £1,600 – its excellent motor and vast range are more commonly found on £2,000-plus models. However, there are a few quibbles to address.

The first is a lack of integrated accessories. A kickstand, mudguards and lights that run off the battery are all very useful on an e-bike. The second is the display screen on the handlebars, which indicates the amount of battery left through bars only. Many e-bikes will estimate how many miles or kilometres you have left in any given mode of assistance. That means it takes a while to learn how much distance you get from each bar and you risk running out of juice if you push that last bar too far.

These downsides are relatively minor compared with the upsides of the Crossfuse. If you opt for an e-bike in the £2,000-and-up range you will get a little more, mostly in terms of a lighter frame, upgraded gears and a customised motor. But the Crossfuse is a whole lot of e-bike for its price, and commuters in particular will get all they need from it.

£1,600, buy on

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The Ketogenic Diet is the latest way to lose weight quickly, but a new study has found that it may not be a great option for athletes looking to improve their performance.

Researchers from Saint Louis University compared the performances of 16 men and women who had followed either the Keto diet or a high carb diet for four days. They found that those athletes who had restricted carbs did not perform as well.

The Ketogenic Diet works by limiting the body’s intake of carbs. Often people balance a low carb intake by eating more protein but for the Keto diet to work both need to be restricted. This is because if the body has excess protein, it will convert that into carbs.

When the body has neither carbs nor protein, it then manufactures ketone bodies as emergency fuel. According to lead researcher, Dr. Edward Weiss, this is an “emergency backup system that allows us to survive when we are at risk of starvation.”

He is concerned that a body running on empty may not be able to work at full capacity, which is especially important for athletes competing in high-intensity sports.

“A typical diet is 60 percent carbohydrate,” Dr. Weiss said.

“So, if you limit carbs, you might find yourself just not eating that much. If you eliminate most food options, you may just be losing weight because you are cutting calories.”

He does believe that the Keto diet can be helpful for those who have epilepsy as research has shown that ketone production limits seizures but concludes that “unless there are compelling reasons for following a low-carb diet, athletes should be advised to avoid these diets.”

While we’re on the topic, check out the difference between Keto and Atkins diets and our 7 day Keto meal plan.

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    Winner winner, beer for dinner. WeldWorks won a bronze at the “beer Olympics”. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

    Colorado breweries took home a whole trophy case of hardware Thursday night at what is known as the “Olympics of Beer Competitions.”

    The biannual World Beer Cup Awards – presented at the Craft Brewers Conference hosted by the Boulder-based Brewers Association – celebrates the brewers who exemplify the guidelines in 101 different styles.

    More than 2,500 breweries submitted beers, including 807 from outside the United States. Here are the Colorado breweries who took home awards — including seven golds:

    American-style Wheat Beer
    Silver: Whacked Out Wheat, Telluride Brewing Co., Telluride

    American-style Wheat Beer with yeast
    Silver: Beehive Honey Wheat, Bristol Brewing Co., Colorado Springs

    Fruit Beer
    Silver: Razz Against the Machine, Little Machine, Denver
    Bronze: American Sour Ale with Guava, Loveland Aleworks, Loveland

    Field Beer
    Bronze: Beet Cream Ale, Cogstone Brewing Co., Colorado Springs

    Session Beer
    Bronze: Peacekeeper, Launch Pad Brewery, Aurora

    Experimental Beer
    Silver: Hickory Peach Wee Heavy, The Intrepid Sojourner Beer Project, Denver

    Fresh or Wet Hop Ale
    Gold: More Like Bore-O-Phyll, Call To Arms Brewing Co., Denver

    Gluten-Free Beer
    Gold: Gueten Beer, Sleeping Giant Brewing Co., Denver

    Brett Beer
    Gold: Saison Trystero, Our Mutual Friend Brewing, Denver

    Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer
    Bronze: Bligh’s Barleywine Ale, Dry Dock Brewing Co. – North Dock, Aurora

    Fruited Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
    Bronze: Peach Climacteric, WeldWerks Brewing Co., Greeley

    Aged Beer
    Gold: Vladislav, Diebolt Brewing Co., Denver

    Smoke Beer
    Bronze: 18022/42, The Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field, Denver

    German-Style Pilsener
    Gold: Primadonna Pilsner, Rockyard American Grill & Brewing Co., Castle Rock

    Dortmunder/Export or German-Style Oktoberfest
    Bronze: The Weasel, C.B. & Potts / Big Horn Brewery – Fort Collins, Fort Collins

    Munich-Style Dunkel or European-Style Dark Lager
    Bronze: Fearless Youth, Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, Loveland

    Dark Lager
    Gold: Night Train, Steamworks Brewing Co., Durango
    Silver: Alternate Present, Fiction Beer Co., Denver

    Australian-Style Pale Ale or International-Style Pale Ale
    Bronze: Pete’s Stash Pale, Vail Brewing Co., Avon

    German-Style Koelsch
    Bronze: NBD Kolsch, Cerberus Brewing Co., Colorado Springs

    Belgian-Style Witbier
    Silver: White Rascal, Avery Brewing Co., Boulder

    Belgian-Style Dubbel or Belgian-Style Quadrupel
    Silver: BJ’s Quad, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse – Boulder, Boulder

    English-Style Brown Ale
    Gold: Big Ben Brown Ale, Bull & Bush Brewery, Denver

    American-Style Strong Pale Ale
    Bronze: Gore Creek IPA, Vail Brewing Co., Avon

    Imperial Red Ale
    Bronze: Wreak Havoc, Bootstrap Brewing, Niwot

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    Gateway High School principal Dackri Davis has been so pleased with the rollout of Aurora’s bike-sharing programs, school leaders painted a spot in the parking lot for the dockless bikes to hang out during the day before students ride them home.

    Davis has seen anywhere from five to 15 students a day pedaling their way to class since the program’s October launch, and she’s noticing more as the weather improves.

    “It seems to be helping with students making it to class on time,” Davis said.

    Aurora Public Schools doesn’t offer bus service if a house is within 3 miles of a school. Brenden Paradies, a planner with the city of Aurora who manages the dockless bike-share program, said the program hopes to help with that extra mile or so home and back again.

    “Something surprising we’re seeing is how much our teenage and youth community are really utilizing this to get to school,” Paradies said. “It’s a been a benefit that we didn’t anticipate.”

    Data from Aurora’s bike-share permit program is letting the city know how to plan for its future infrastructure.

    Between two dockless bike-share companies — LimeBike and Ofo — Aurora bike-share riders from October through March have taken a total of 39,516 trips and traveled 26,525 miles. The program has more than 4,000 active users.

    On top of getting busy Aurora residents from Point A to Point B, the program is also moving the city forward in its future designing and planning, Paradies said.

    Ofo general manager Patrick Quintana works with the city of Aurora, sharing the company’s ridership data and community feedback to better inform the City Council and city management on their transportation decisions.

    “We know and understand that every market is different,” Quintana said. “Dock-based bike-share models such as Denver’s BCycle are usually in the densest, most affluent regions in the city. That’s expensive to make its way out to Aurora. It’s important to serve the areas outside of the main area of density, and that’s something these dockless models can really help with and a way to provide transportation equity.”

    Paths most often frequented by Ofo riders include to and from light-rail stations, along Westerly Creek Trail, Toll Gate Creek Trail and Campground Trail through Cherry Creek Spillway Trail.

    “This has been really helpful in helping us understand gaps in our transportation network,” Paradies said. “We are seeing use on our recreation trails more, which is important for us to realize so we keep investing efforts and money to make sure those are good options for people.”

    As an example, Paradies said because Westerly Creek Trail seems to be a hit among Ofo riders, the city might consider adding a protected bike lane in that area.

    LimeBike said their Aurora cycles have cruised most frequently along East Colfax Avenue.

    Neither organization provided numbers for how many cyclists rode along their most popular paths.

    Tom Tobiassen, the president and founder of the Bicycle Aurora advocacy group, said the program seems to be steering in a positive direction.

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    Spring is upon us and the garden fizzes with acid greens. The deep bowls of golden soups – pumpkin, mushroom, bean and barley – have given way to clear broths of miso and spring vegetables. Immediately, I want bright, clean tastes that go hand in hand with the season.

    On the table this week: a salad of small, pale-green lettuce leaves that were so tight I could barely part them and white-tipped radishes dressed with a citrus vinaigrette; chalk-white goat’s cheese crumbled into a bowl of vivid green peas; asparagus with a lemon zest and butter sauce. A soup was made with the leaves of young rocket, their peppery bitterness muted slightly with potatoes and the sweetness of white crabmeat. A batch of mackerel fillets sizzled under the grill.

    I want vital, refreshing, bitter notes which are the very opposite of the sweet, spicy, sticky stuff I have enjoyed all winter. Flavours which are clear and sharp. That was most evident in this week’s mackerel supper. The seasonings I most regularly use with oily fish – onions, mustard, lemon, vinegar and dill – are there purely to flatter its oily flesh. They usually turn up in a spirited marinade (a sort of souse); as the liquor for ceviche and as a cure, with the necessary amount of salt, for a mackerel “gravlax’”. And yet, despite having done this for years, I have only recently thought about using those ingredients to baste a fish as it grills. What you get, as you anoint the shining skin with the lemon or vinegar, the mustards (one hot, one aromatic) and the herbs is food that is in-line with the turn of the season, something with which to celebrate pleasures to come.

    Grilled mackerel with mustard and dill

    The day we first ate these little fish as a light lunch – their mustard and dill marinade sharing much with the sauce normally used to accompany gravlax – they shared a plate with a salad of torn parsley, crisp aniseedy fennel and the bulb’s own feathery leaves. They are pleasing as a first course, too, with dark and sticky rye bread, generously buttered.

    Serves 2

    mackerel 6 fillets

    For the marinade:
    olive oil 2 tsp, plus a little extra
    liquid honey 1 tbsp
    Dijon mustard 1 tsp, smooth
    grain mustard 1 tbsp
    lemon juice 2 tsp
    juniper berries 6
    dill 4 tbsp, chopped

    Pour the olive oil into a small mixing bowl, add the honey, mustards, lemon and a generous grinding of salt. Crush the juniper berries to coarse grains with a pestle and mortar, or spice mill, then stir into the marinade with the dill.

    Heat the overhead (or oven) grill. Oil a grill pan or heavy baking sheet, place the mackerel fillets, a few centimetres apart, on the sheet then spoon over the marinade. Cook them under the grill for 5 or 6 minutes until they are just starting to colour. Using a palette knife, transfer to plates and serve.

    Rocket and potato soup with fresh crab

    Bitter sweet: rocket and potato soup with fresh crab.

    Bitter sweet: rocket and potato soup with fresh crab. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

    There is both the comfort of starch and the energy of bitter greens in this, a soup that will sit happily in both winter and spring. The bitterness of the rocket is welcome in a salad – a handful of its hot and spiky leaves in the same bowl as soft, sweet butterhead lettuce is very pleasing – but can be too much in a bowl of soup, which is why it finds itself in the calming company of potatoes and sweet crabmeat. To preserve its character and freshness, it is important not to cook the rocket, only to let it warm gently in the hot soup.

    Serves 5-6

    crab meat 250g
    onions 3, medium
    olive oil 5 tbsp
    potatoes 2, large
    vegetable stock 1 litre
    rocket 60g
    parsley 20g
    salt and black pepper

    Peel the onions and roughly chop them. Warm the olive oil in a large, deep saucepan over a moderate heat, add the onions and leave them to soften. Peel the potatoes, cut them into large chunks then stir into the onions, adding salt and letting them cook, without much colour, for about 20 minutes until they are almost tender.

    Heat the vegetable stock to boiling point, pour over the onions and potatoes and return to the boil, then lower the heat and leave at a steady simmer for a further 15 minutes. Introduce a grinding of black pepper towards the end of cooking. Stir the rocket leaves and parsley into the broth then immediately ladle into the jug of a blender, taking care not to overfill it. (Sorry, but it is easily done and the result can be both dangerous and horribly messy.) Process to a thick, bright green, then return to the pan.

    Taste the soup, adding black pepper and perhaps more salt. It should be soothing yet with a faint, underlying bitterness from the rocket. If the bitterness is too evident, calm it with a little cream or hot milk. Ladle into deep bowls then spoon the crab meat on top.

    Email Nigel at or follow him on Twitter @NigelSlater

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    The dilemma Three years ago, I split up with my girlfriend of seven years. I felt very unhappy and put it down to the relationship. She was devastated and wanted to resolve things. But by that stage I’d made my mind up. I’ve lived a quiet, celibate life since, which has given me time to reflect. It struck me that I’d been very selfish – after an initial romantic period where I pulled all manner of stunts to impress her, my effort as a boyfriend tapered down to the bare minimum. Secondly, I realised they had been the best days of my life. We went on amazing adventures which we probably wouldn’t have done otherwise, and had very different skills sets, which complemented each other. After we split up, I made little effort to maintain our friendship, maybe because I felt guilty. Now I’m ashamed of how I treated her and can’t forgive myself. I want to write and apologise, but it sounds weird and inappropriate. It’s hard to write without it sounding like a rapprochement, which it isn’t. Is writing such a letter an appropriate thing to do?

    Mariella replies Hell, yes! We should all be writing letters to our lovers, ex or otherwise; whether it’s just to say hello, to expand on our feelings, because our behaviour has been less than exemplary, or perhaps, as in your case, to say thanks for a union that may be long over but in hindsight appears so much more precious than you realised at the time. There are few things more soul enhancing than knowing that you’ve had a positive impact on another person’s life, that you were appreciated and that whatever may have led to your parting, a residue of love remains scattered over the debris of the relationship.

    I’d argue we should be writing more missives of the tangible and non-electronic variety. Otherwise when we’re old and grey how will we know that anyone cared for us at all, or remember the names of those who have long since slipped from our lives, emotionally, geographically or permanently? Searching your inbox just isn’t the same as dragging a box from the loft and having your life leap out to meet you. I recently found a folder full of a jumble of past correspondence, covering old love letters and fractious disputes, baffling postcards of some importance at the time and notes from luminaries whose attention I briefly captured for one reason or another – and it proved an emotional couple of hours sifting through those faded but still legible scraps.

    A message to my hotel room in Morocco in the 1990s read like a title for a novel: “Mr Miss You from Rabat” had called, hurling me back to memories of Robert, the gentleman caller, who’d obviously challenged the translating abilities of the Mamounia operator with his note. On another sliver of near-translucent paper was the marriage proposal I received three decades ago via a switchboard operator at the Parker Meridien in New York who’d hastily typed it up and slipped it under my door with a squashed red rose! There were sexy letters from a lover that made me blush, extolling my “eyes as green as Eastleach water meadows” and a letter from my mother with her overview on the chronology of my peripatetic childhood. There was huge pleasure in revisiting those moments, the words belying the heft of the emotions they bore while the paper carried sensory messages from a past age.

    Communication today is functional, and deleted within seconds of receipt. Like the photographs that linger in devices that become obsolete faster than we can learn to use them, it seems that the next generation will have to trawl Facebook to take their trips down memory lane. It certainly lacks the romance of a battered box, but since Facebook seems to know more about us than we do ourselves it may nonetheless prove a riveting archive. What a sad loss though to be unable to sniff the leaf, puzzle over the smudges or feel your heart leap at the loop of familiar handwriting decades after it was last viewed. As a regular performer for the brilliantly conceived Letters Live project, I’ve had the pleasure of exposure to some of the finest letters ever written and whether they’re slapping you down, or building you up, they’re a much undervalued art form.

    So, your heart is in the right place and your compulsion a good one. I’m wondering if your reluctance to write and let her know it wasn’t her fault is because what you are secretly after is a rapprochement. If that’s the case I’m not in a position to judge whether it’s right or wrong, but it does slightly temper my enthusiasm. The greatest gift in the world is a letter that wants nothing but offers a loving thought, or apology, or simply a hello.

    Keep it simple is my advice; don’t try to channel Shelley. If all you want is tell her you regret your behaviour and think of that period with fondness, do just that. Keep it brief, don’t overload the memories, write it from the heart and don’t go into detail about your current state of mind. This letter, if your description is an accurate one, is not about you. So don’t dally another moment, put pen to paper and get your sense of gratitude off your chest and into her heart.

    If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

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