Posts tagged ‘food’

Apples and oranges

I had meant to go to the farmer’s market yesterday, but I dithered about a bit (i.e. decided to have lunch first as going when hungry could lead to financial ruin) and by the time I made it everyone had packed up and gone home except the indefatigable fruit farm from down the road. It was only about 2.30, so I hope this doesn’t mean rising food prices have turned everyone off local food. I wanted to get something nice for dinner (inc. inspiration!) and a joint of beef or something for Sunday when Scientist Boyfriend’s family will be here, but all I ended up with was some raspberries and strawberries and a money-off voucher for PYO for each of the next three months.

Not that I’m complaining, though – my kitchen smelt wonderfully of raspberries! I think we’ll go and pick some more on Saturday and make raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake for pudding on Sunday. I rarely make anything with strawberries or raspberries, mostly because if you buy really tasty ones, I feel very little can improve on their fresh, gorgeous simplicity. I used to think that about meat, though, too – that marinades and sauces couldn’t improve (and might even detract from) a really good pork chop (or whatever), but after Scientist Boyfriend suggested it might be nice to have pork chops cooked in some other way than browned in the pan then baked in the oven with a glass of white wine and six cloves of garlic, I branched out into almost its polar opposite, some sticky marinade involving all manner of strongly flavoured ingredients such as ginger, chilli and various spices. We both agreed afterwards that actually the chilli enhanced it and that rather than masking the quality (I’ve long agreed with HFW’s statement that supermarkets sell you cheap meat, but you then have to buy their expensive marinades to make the spongy, watery flesh taste of anything) it actually brought it out.

So I’m going to apply the same principle to soft fruit. And marinade it in Chinese five spice powder. 😉 Hmmmm.

I also got a steak in the decadent Italian deli of which we had half each. Their cheese is really quite reasonable though and they sell seeds, exciting things like borlotti beans and yellow beans and romanesco, which it’s a bit late for now but which will be useful next year. Thursday (veg box eve) is normally ‘Uninspiring Dinner Day’ – usually a concoction of tired vegetables that don’t go together in any form of unified meal but need eating up – but we actually did rather well, with the new potatoes not too tired and the mouldy broccoli put into the compost and replaced by some salad and about 3 pak choi leaves each from the garden. Total self-sufficiency still quite a way off, I feel…

I must stop being surprised that the cheese at the deli is so reasonable. Every time I go and buy cheese I wince as he tells me how much it’s going to be, and then think, ‘Oh, actually, that’s cheaper than the supermarket,’ and I haven’t tried the goat’s cheese yet but the Parmesan is also vastly superior.

My friend pulled me up on something the other day. Apparently I have two arguments in favour of local food: firstly, that we should be prepared to pay more for decent food and secondly, that local food generally costs less.

I hadn’t thought about it before, but yes, that does seem rather contradictory.

I would now like to amend my statement to add emphasis to the prepared in ‘prepared to pay more for decent food’. 🙂 We should be prepared to pay an honest price for what we eat, and sometimes (in the case of chicken, for instance, or anything that someone else has to make, like cheese or bread or jam) that is a lot more than simply buying the cheapest option available (and although I’d add not comparable, not everyone would agree with me) and that we just have to live with. But at other times, like with vegetables and, apparently, cheese from the Italian deli, you might be pleasantly surprised.

I would also add that we need to change how we eat as well as what. If you eat a chicken breast one night, pork chops the next, steak the next, lamb chops the next and so on and so forth, yes, you’d get a nasty shock if you got all that from a local farmer! But if you buy meat in bulk and eat it less often (which is a damn sight easier when your vegetables taste nice) you can save a bucketload of cash. I’ve replaced the time spent shopping with time spent baking bread and making jam, so rather than paying for someone else’s time when they make my jam, I get the raw materials cheaply and do it myself, which again is easier when you haven’t got to go around checking the label of every single jar of jam in the shop and trying to find out where the fruit came from and why the hell they have ingredients other than just fruit and sugar in them.

You can’t compare like with unlike. It’s like saying ‘showers use less water than baths’ without looking at, say, my grandparents. They never shower, they always take baths, but they have about three baths a week and share the water (they take it in turns to go first), unlike most of my generation who all shower every day and feel disgusting if they don’t. I bet my grandparents use much less water overall. Nor have I personally ever noticed my grandparents smelling (other than of normal grandparent smells, like Old Spice or talcum powder). A shower uses less water than a bath, just as a free-range chicken costs more than an intensively-reared chicken, but the practice of bathing rather than showering doesn’t have to use more water, nor does the practice of eating sensibly-produced food.


July 4, 2008 at 8:55 am Leave a comment

Teach a man to fish and you get his money for one day; sell a man a fish and you get his money for life…

I don’t think GM crops are going to cause us all to grow three heads. They might (after all, they assured us that feeding ground up bits of dead animal to other animals who were supposed to be vegetarians was fine, and look where that got us), and they’ll probably do strange things to the ecosystem, so it’s wise to be cautious, but overall, I think the whole ‘Frankenfoods’ thing is rather exaggerated.

I don’t think it’s ethically wrong to genetically modify food. After all, scientists are just boys with their toys, that’s what they do. What is wrong is generally what people choose to do with a new discovery, outside the lab, rather than the discovery itself.

However, GM foods are not going to feed the poor. Seriously. Locking people in developing countries into buying seeds and fertilisers every year is not going to help them. Seriously. Do not believe the PR hype. If we really wanted to help people in poor countries feed themselves, we could slash our carbon emissions starting tomorrow so that the entire planet, with the exception of Britain which is going to get colder and wetter, does not turn into a desert. That would be the single most useful thing we in the West could do
to ensure food security for developing countries. That and take our water-intensive cash crops elsewhere. Autonomy is everything.

Now that, I freely agree, is cloud-cuckoo-land talk, but nonetheless, I suspect it might be time to be a good citizen again and be prepared to dust off your ‘writing to your MP’ pen…

June 20, 2008 at 10:14 am 4 comments

Boyfriend vs. citrus fruits

I don’t normally buy Dorset Cereals muesli, even though they’re fab, cos M&S unsweetened is quite a bit cheaper and almost as nice, but secretly, I long to be a little bit richer (or a little bit more decadent) and eat it everyday because it is so yummy. However, Waitrose had lowered the price of some flavours and I bought some last week to save me a trip, and it had an offer to win some trendy, middle-class, Guardian-reading-type gardening tools. And I’m a bit of a sucker for offers like that, so I typed in the code on the website and didn’t win 😦 but it did have codes for discounts on various gardening websites.

The last two winters I have been eating locally as much as possible, and one thing I have learnt is that it is much easier to make the bulk of your diet local if you can rely on things like chillis, lemons, limes, garlic and ginger, none of which are particularly abundant in these climes in the depths of December, to jazz the cabbage-and-swede routine up a bit. I’ve not felt too guilty about eating the imported ones, but it did get me thinking about the possibility of growing some of these things myself, in a long-term, post-oil resilience sense.

Garlic should be fine (though I think my experiment with the stuff that sprouted in the veg rack might be doomed to failure) as in theory I can grow loads of it when I have my allotment and plait it artfully and hang it in my kitchen. I repeat, in theory. We do eat a lot of garlic.

I also recently bought a chilli plant, the particular variety (prairie fire) supposedly being good to keep as a perennial houseplant. This was inspired by some old family friends of Scientist Boyfriend who had an enormous chilli plant that was taller than me, living happily on their south-facing dining room windowsill. Mine is more modestly sized, but it does have little mini baby yellow chillis on it already. Eeeeee, so exciting! 😀 Someone from Downsizer also gave us another chilli plant (which I think produces rude-shaped chillis) which is outdoors atm as an experiment.

Ginger would need to be indoors according to my research and might not be as easy. Need greenhouse or polytunnel.

But lemons (and by extension limes)….

I went to a French cafe in London and they had a little lemon tree sitting in a pot on a cast-iron table and since that moment I’ve been obsessed with the idea of having a personal supply of lemons in my front room. It’s south-facing and quite warm and we have a little tiled spot in front of the fireplace where we could put it. However, Scientist Boyfriend is being a bit of a spoilsport and saying we don’t have room for one so he’s not going to buy me one for my birthday. Harrumph. We do have room for one by my estimate – I think he’s just worried it will block his view of the telly with its glossy, dark-green foliage.

And now this online gardening shop, where I have a 10% discount, has lemon trees for about £20. It also has an offer where you can buy a lemon tree, a bottle of gin and some tonic water, which, even though tonic water makes me violently ill,* appeals to my sense of self-sufficiency-in-the-name-of-good-living. (Sandi Toksvig was on The News Quiz only the other week bemoaning the rising price of lemons.) And they have bay trees (I also have a peculiar desire to have two bay trees either side of my front door, but people might mistake the house for an Italian restaurant). The bay trees could live outside, over which I definitively have dominion, so that’s not an issue, but….

Do I want a lemon tree enough to risk incurring the wrath of my beloved and long-suffering boyfriend?

* Had malaria, was given quinine, now a mere whiff of tonic water conjures up horrible flashbacks of being in a dingy clinic in Burkina Faso and makes me double up in agonising queasiness.

June 16, 2008 at 2:12 pm 1 comment

Doom, gloom and asparagus

I fell asleep to The World Tonight telling me that all the major newspapers were leading today (or tomorrow, as it was yesterday) with the news that oil prices have gone mental and we’re all doooooomed. The media seems to have gone from, ‘Gosh, high oil prices, something should be done!’ to, ‘Holy cr*p, sky-rocketing oil prices, nothing to be done!’ in a few short weeks. The above is a rather funky little cartoon the Telegraph had about it, although I’m a bit concerned that the people using their car as a greenhouse looked a bit like Roald Dahl’s The Twits. This is not good marketing for the post-oil era.

The most priceless is the Mail’s take on it – yesterday they ran an article about how we’d all confused ‘need’ and ‘want’ and spent far too much money on stuff we didn’t need and should learn how to budget and make do, going without if necessary, (and this is all a direct consequence of women being allowed to be autonomous beings instead of staying at home darning socks and making sure their husbands didn’t drink all the housekeeping money – I’m not saying there’s no truth in this, but the patronising way they phrased it got right under my fingernails), and today, we have a front-page article which includes quotes like, ‘People have to be able to afford to use the car,’ and, ‘It’s getting more expensive to keep warm, put food on the table and… buy holiday flights.’

My asparagus last night was lovely, though as there was far too much and I was beginning to find it rather sickly, some of it found its way into the Bokashi bin (I know, I know, peak oil and wasting food in the same post, terrible). I did a recipe from the River Cafe Green book, asparagus carbonara – basically, cook asparagus, toss in hot butter, mix up egg yolks with Parmesan, add to cooked pasta and grate on LOADS more Parmesan – which was yummy. That book is full of very clever recipes and lovely pictures, but I’ve never used it much, largely because I got it at the end of last summer and most of the winter recipes are for things like chickpeas or dried mushrooms, which I do eat, but I feel it will come into its own more now we’re getting into summer and there’s more fresh veg. The tomato and courgette recipes are much more inspiring!

May 23, 2008 at 10:34 am 1 comment

Blah, have been hugely busy lately, such that when I’m working I can’t slyly write a post or two and when I’m not working the last thing I want to do is sit down at a computer and put words in the right order.

But I have asparagus for supper. Mmm. And M&S organic chocolate buttons (I discovered them last week and have eaten about 4 packs of them since then) for afters.

May 22, 2008 at 6:17 pm 2 comments

Extremely frugal with food. Don’t like meringues.

I have, to the surprise of everyone who knows how terrible I am with numbers and knows my phobia of Excel spreadsheets extends to me having to check all my invoices by hand when I was freelancing, become finance coordinator for FOE. I won’t say I had my arm twisted, I’ll just say that any reasonably public-spirited person could not have just sat there and not volunteered. I don’t really mind: it apparently takes up very little time and involves very little work, and I think it’s very important that people do these things, and not just retired people, so that pretty much entails me being prepared to do these things from time to time, but, oh, WHY oh WHY did it have to be the one with numbers and money?

In other news, my Independence Days update for the week is:

  • Planted – another go at tomatilloes (I only had one) and the rest of my potatoes; earthed up some of the first earlies.
  • Preserved – have vodka, have rhubarb, will make schnapps this evening.
  • Worked on local food systems – continued badgering FOE about the seminar/film showing plus exhibition-type-thing and am in the process of compiling a directory of local food suppliers (plus other things).

I had a bit of a baking frenzy too. I was hunting through the freezer, assessing how soon we could order another half a lamb, and kept finding egg whites all over the place. I had such a vivid image of myself dying in 60 years’ time or so, and my relatives opening my freezer, discovering the accumulated saved egg whites of a lifetime’s cooking and immortalising me with the epitaph:

Extremely frugal with food.

Didn’t like meringues.

So I made coconut macaroons. And flapjacks for good measure.

Also trekked across to the Swindon Literary Festival last Sunday to see Andy and Dave from Selfsufficientish talk about their book and had a nice chat with them over lunch. There were some other interesting speakers there too and lunch was superb. I also managed not to get sunburnt. Result! (As they say…)

May 16, 2008 at 4:12 pm Leave a comment

A pretentious musing on carrots and what is wrong with society

A few weeks ago, on the way home from attending an event for work (in which I had basically had to facilitate the process of a large multi-national sacking people and was therefore seeking solace in food) I was munching on an extremely disappointing packet of M&S crisps, which do not taste half as good since they removed all the saturated fats and slashed the salt content, and gazing up at an enormous advert at Feltham station for some chips which said ‘Eat your greens’ in big letters and tried to convince me that chips were as healthy as some stir-fried spring greens and carrots or a salad, and I was struck by a thought.

Why are these people trying to convince us that crisps and chips are healthy?

Our media (and, partly by consequence, a lot of us) have an utterly schizophrenic attitude to food. Adverts all through December tell us to indulge and treat ourselves, have one more glass of wine, one more fatty hors d’oeuvre, one more chocolatey pudding because, after all, it’s Christmas – and the second we hit New Year it’s all diet, diet, diet; exercise, exercise, exercise; avoid, deny, refuse. Or: love yourself; hate yourself. Or: mmm, treat yourself, you’re worth it; you’re fat and ugly and unworthy, you need to change yourself.

Now, the pretentious, francophile, overeducated part of me is tempted to say something along the lines of: it’s the old idea of fast days and feast days that has underpinned our culture for generations (spending Ramadan in Morocco was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life), this balance between excess and restraint that in essence is healthy, but which, since consumerism has superceded consumption and networking superceded community, has got a bit out of kilter in the Anglophone world.

However, this is just a way of rationalising the fact that it’s MADNESS. Sheer madness. And (to bang on about tomatoes again) it’s because our healthy food does not taste of anything. I’m sure that the lack of pesticides and fertilisers and general absence of petroleum derivatives in organic food is excellent for our health, but personally, the way that eating organic or locally-produced, sustainable food has most improved my diet is because the apples from the farmer’s market taste of apples, so I eat them instead of biscuits; because the carrots and cucumbers in the veg box taste so good I eat them instead of crisps. In fact, I never even used to like: raw carrots, swede, cauliflower, beetroot, cabbage, cucumber and probably many other things until I started shopping and eating real food.

In my first couple of years at uni, I would buy apples or salad at T*sco and feel obliged to eat them, suffer my way through the underwhelming taste and texture, get a virtuous glow and feel like I’d ‘earned’ a chocolate biscuit or something. I made a peculiar mental division between food that is good for me and tastes horrid and food that is bad for me and tastes good.

I’ve since read more about food, politics and nutrition than is good for someone whose primary occupation does not require any of this knowledge and whose free time would be better spent actually getting outside and growing the stuff or at the very least washing up after eating the stuff, and I’m now pretty damn convinced that taste and nutrition are inextricably linked and that if it doesn’t taste good, it’s probably not doing you any good either.

Which makes me think that the solution to the problem people eat unhealthy food which tastes good and won’t eat vegetables is not make crisps more healthy (and carrots less healthy) but to make carrots healthy and make them tasty and then people might eat carrots instead of crisps that now taste of nothing because they have no salt in.

Of course, there is less money in encouraging people to grow and cook their own or shop in little local shops than there is in selling them highly packaged rubbish at the supermarket and a car to get there and then a gym membership to burn of the guilty calories and make up for them driving everywhere instead of walking.

And we’d have to fight the set of cultural ideas that mean that blogging (appeals to my vanity, uses shiny gadget) is more appealing than doing step three of the sourdough (healthy, creative) or preparing the ideas for the eco-day I want FOE to run (community).

But, hey, it’s a nice idea.

May 12, 2008 at 6:29 pm 5 comments

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The Heritage Crafts Network

Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

"Food is that rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure."

Carlo Petrini

"A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."

Sharon Astyk

"I am, of course, firmly opposed to consumerism and corporatism in all its forms, and I believe that we are deeply confused about material needs and wants. Now let me explain how books and yarn are totally different than the material things that other people want ;-)…."

Raj Patel, at Slow Food Nation

"Biofuels, which is the preposterous policy that we should grow food not to eat it but to set it on fire."