Three birthday cakes

Blue elephant with three red balloons

Artemi had given a clear brief for his birthday cake – an elephant with three balloons.

Like a good designer, I quizzed my client about his vision.

What colour for the elephant, I asked the soon-to-be three boy? And the balloons?

I paid a visit to a rare place (but lucky me on my very own high street): a traditional sweet shop, Scrumptiously Sweet, where the staff are trained to be kind and patient while customers agonise about icing, marshmallow fluffs and liquorice boot straps.

I baked the sponge in two circular cake tins, one bigger than the other.

I researched elephant cakes on Pinterest, then sketched my own elephant, first on paper, then with food icing gel on to the top of the cake – then carved out of sponge.  I felt like Michaelangelo.

I stuck faithfully to tried-and-tested cake and icing recipes (see below).

Melted blue chocolate drops melted covered the elephant.  Balloons were almond drages; eyes were white sweets with a blob of gel.

The elephant struggled to look like a proper elephant but none the less, he makes me smile.

Certainly Artemi said ‘elephant’ (or “éfant”) in recognition when I showed it to him.

A week later, I had my next commission, from Tayda.

Soon-to-be-six Tayda wanted a rainbow with clouds and a sun.

photo 2

She clearly detailed the seven colours. Help, I thought – this is going to take up most of my weekend. I baked one large rectangle sponge to split, and a smaller round one (sliced off at one end) to be the rainbow.

 

We scoured the sweet shop, and returned with booty. And cheated with the rainbow strips (only five colours!).

photo 3 (1)

Tayda relented on rainbow quality control and pronounced herself pleased. Phew.

Last year I made a Peppa Pig cake, and that deserves to be recorded too.

I drew the shape, then cut round the sponge.

Shape of Peppa Pig in sponge

Looks nothing like a pig, does it? The icing (in next pics) add pig-like detail.

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Here are the utterly foolproof recipes from my Hello Kitty cake – they made the above three cakes possible.

Recipe for Foolproof Sponge Cake

No need to cream butter and sugar. Instead, sieve the flour and mix in the other ingredients. I used organic ingredients for health of people and planet, and butter not marge. It seems strange to cook a sponge for a whole hour – but it works. Brilliantly. 

Serves: 12

340g (12 oz) self-raising flour | 280g (10 oz) caster sugar | 280g (10 oz) butter (or margarine) | 5 eggs |3 tablespoons milk (or soya milk) |

1. Grease and line two 20cm (8 inch) square or round tins and set aside. I used an 8 inch square tin and an 8 inch round flan tin, and did not skimp on the greaseproof lining paper.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 150 C / Gas 2, or 140 C for fan ovens.

3. Sieve self-raising flour into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and butter, then the eggs. I used my electric hand-blender, adding one egg at a time, blending after each one, until all ingredients were amalgamated. Once blended, some extra fast whizzes. The result: a thickish smooth batter.

4. Pour into the tins, place in centre of oven and cook for about 1 hour 15 mins, to 1 hour 30 mins. All Recipes says test with skewer: if it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Honnie Mummie Perfect Butter icing

250 g / 8 oz butter | 500 g / 1 lb icing sugar | 4 teaspoons milk

For base (not Hello Kitty face), we carefully added drop-by-drop red colouring for a pinky effect, and mixed before adding the next drop.

PS There was a bit of drama last night when I realised I had only 300g (not 500g) of icing sugar and it was too late to get to the shops. But if you don’t experiment, you never learn, and now I know that 300g + about 150g butter and 1.5 milk/plant milk both fills (thinly) and covers a cake fine – in fact now I think of it I do always icing sugar left over…

Honour the pumpkin

Pumpkin photo-shoot

18,000 tonnes of edible pumpkin are thrown away every Halloween in the UK; that’s the equivalent of 1,500 double decker buses, according to the Independent.

Time to join the tweetathon using #pumpkinrescue hashtag.

The Ecologist reports on the #pumpkinrescue manifesto.

 

Here are a few points from the manifesto.

  1. All supermarkets to make publicly available the amount of food waste they create and detail what happens to it.
  2. All supermarkets to ensure safe and healthy surplus food is redistributed to those on low incomes.
  3. Government to increase their investment in the Love Food Hate Waste campaign.

I am pleased with my organic pumpkin’s potential as a lantern. It has a flat bottom so won’t roll around and it is fresh with a long stem making it easier to lift off the lid.

I am even more pleased with my pumpkin’s nutritional qualities: gentle, soluble fibre, immune-boosting vitamins and minerals, as well as carbohydrates, providing sustainable, slow-release (yet low-fat) energy.

(Above para from a book I co-wrote, Make More of Squashes).

I want to honour the pumpkin as food.

The easiest way to prepare a pumpkin is to bake it. That way you only need to slice it in two, and scoop out the innards (put the inner ligaments in the compost bin and and bake the seeds for 5 minutes in a hot oven with soya sauce, or fry them).

Here’s a great blog on how to bake a pumpkin in ten steps, including cutting tips.

If you are making a lantern, then there is no escape: you have to make the effort of scooping out the flesh. So  you might as well make the most of your hard work and not discard the goodness.

Use the pumpkin flesh in a soup with coconut milk/stock/water, and spices, or cubed in a stew.

What is your favourite pumpkin recipe?

Pan-fried pumpkin flesh atop a bed of curried coconut lentils

Pan-fried pumpkin flesh atop a bed of curried coconut lentils

 

Carved pumpkin lantern's photo shoot

 

Probiotic heaven

My delicate digestion is crazy for probiotics for their soothing and restorative effect. Probiotics? They are good bacteria which stop bad bacteria giving your gut a hard time (bloating etc).

Probiotics are not some new-fangled idea – every traditional society has its fermented ‘good bacteria’ food, such as sauerkraut.

Annie Levy (and the Guardian sustainable blog of the week) sent me a jar of her homemade (fermented) plum kimchi.

I have never tasted anything as wildly spicy and salty, gut-zingy and healing .

Plum kimchi with vegetarian lunch

I had it as an accompaniment to Co-exist Community Kitchen tenants’ (£2.50) vegetarian lunch (see pic).

Then I got home and ate the rest of the jar (it goes with everything savoury).

Please see Annie Levy’s recipe for Plum Kimchi at her blog, Kitchen Counter Culture (great name for a radical blog).

Here’s how I made the crazy condiment.

Assemble in a large bowl:

All the cloves in a head of garlic (grown by Nadia Hillman)
Grated raw ginger (large thumb – or more)
2 raw red onions sliced
1 lemon chopped
1 large orange chopped

half of 1/4 American cup hot pepper powder

1/4 American cup of (sea) salt 

Add to 1 pint of raw uncooked plums (slice with sharp knife to remove stones). Use organic wherever possible because organic is different – fewer chemicals and more goodness

Place a plate to press down the raw veg/fruit mix and leave it for two days at room temperature before spooning into jars. The salt draws out the water in the raw veg/fruit, thus pickled in its own salty water.

photo (4) Plum kimchi in the making

The first pic shows the cast assembled, the second is the cast cut-up  and mixed with spice and salt. Note: creative chaos. Why eat boring same-old packet food when you can go mad in the kitchen?!

Three announcements.

1. Check out Annie Levy’s food fermentation workshops. “A true kitchen witch, Annie’s food fermentation workshop is an informative & exciting, deliciously interactive learning experience and exploration of food alchemy.”

2. Bristol is hosting a probiotic event on Saturday 15 November 2014 at 3 – 6 pm.
The power of probiotics foods for digestive and immune healing – rebuild your gut heal your life. Fermentation Fetish with Holly Paige and Kenny Bountiful Sun Tickets (£15) – book here.

3. And finally for everyone who loves real food including fermentation – please check out and pledge for the publication of Living Food – A feast for soil and soul, from soil sister, Daphne Lambert.

Why is Metrobus bad for Bristol?

VIDEO: The Blue Finger from Joe Evans.

The Blue Finger, an area in the north of Bristol (a UK major city), is rich with the country’s best agricultural soil.

Traditionally the heartland of Bristol’s market gardens, the Blue Finger Alliance is working on feeding Bristol again with fresh, local produce, grown by local people.

Last week, bad news for the Blue Finger Alliance.

The council gave the go-ahead for a controversial new transport scheme requiring the building of new roads and a bridge.

The scheme will swallow up about half of the Stapleton allotments, according to Travel West, and threatens Feed Bristol, an Avon Wildlife Trust project which teaches growing skills.

In the council chambers where the scheme was voted for (six to four), campaigners sang Joni Mitchell’s song:

“…you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…”

The ‘rapid transit’ bus route is intended to provide faster links between Bristol’s train stations.

Sounds good – in theory. The city desperately needs a functioning public transport.

But building new roads does not improve public transport.

By all means, increase buses, revive disused train lines, engineer tram systems.

But build new roads? That’s a hidebound to nowhere.

Road-building generates even more traffic,” says the Campaign for Better Transport, “damages the countryside, adds to climate change and makes cities, towns and villages less pleasant places to live for everyone.”

Bristol is the 2015 European Green Capital, a prestigious award supported by Bristol 2015 Ltd, created with Bristol council. Yet this scheme is the opposite of what Bristol Green Capital stands for.

The Metrobus scheme is a waste of precious resources, and a heartbreakingly backward step for a sustainable future-proof Bristol.

 

 

 

Making sauerkraut

A jar of purple sauerkraut looking jewel-likeSauerkraut is a traditional fermented food which produces probiotics, cheaply and naturally.

Probiotics are good bacteria which help good digestion, as Sacramento Natural Food Co-op explains.

“Fermented” food can sound a turn-off to our modern ears. But, for aeons, every traditional society has used lacto-fermented food – kimchi from Korea and cortido from Latin America, says Nourishing Days – for healthiness.

Sauerkraut hails (as do my ancestors) from Eastern Europe, Germany/Poland etc

I have been thinking about making sauerkraut for ages.

I bought a Kilner jar in preparation. I procrastinated. I had never made it before so feared failure. Making any food is a leap of faith. Will its mysterious alchemy work?

Then, by chance, I got a comment from Annie Levy, who holds UK-based lacto-fermentation workshops. Can you imagine? The maven of probiotics turns up on this ‘ere blog. Of course, I have to make sauerkraut. Now.

So I read Annie Levy’s great piece on making sauerkraut.

I also consulted this sauerkraut one from the Kitchn and a few others. Exciting to be in the zeitgist – there is no shortage of posts on lacto-fermentation.

Lacto, I query? It means the type of bacteria which creates lactic acid. Lactic acid protects fermented food from being invaded by bad bacteria, says Natural News.

Basically, to make sauerkraut, you add salt to cut-up raw vegetables. Salt naturally draws out the water from the veg. Then the veg soaks in its own salty water for days (and then keeps in a fridge for weeks). The soaking-in-the veg’s-own-water creates the fermentation process which in turn produces sauerkraut with loads of friendly bacteria.

Sauerkraut 

1 raw cabbage (and/or raw carrots/garlic etc)

1 tablespoon salt

Spices of choice: I used 1 dried chilli, fenugreek, cumin seeds and black peppercorns

organic purple cabbage sliced in half

Method: Slice cabbage thinly (my food processor did the job otherwise use a sharp knife). Mix the salt and veg in a bowl, rubbing the salt in with your fingers. Leave the salted veg in a covered bowl. I am amazed how quickly I was squeezing water out of salted cabbage. Mix again. Keep cabbage submerged in its water with a heavy plate.

Making sauerkrautHere is me submerging the veg in the Kilner jar using a cabbage leave to press it down. I got anxious about this bit. However, it is OK to add a few dessertspoons of water to make the sure the veg is covered. After 12-24 hours, transfer the salty cabbage from covered bowl to a Kilner jar and keep in the fridge.

I used two organic cabbages (and two tablespoons of salt). I thought two cabbages would not fit in the Kilner jar …but they did not even fill it!

The quantity of salt to use is up to you, but 3 tablespoons per 5 pounds of vegetables is a good ratio to follow, says website, Paleo Leap.

The result: Having lived with my jar of sauerkraut for the month of July, with regular servings with a variety of dishes, I can report: it is delicious. A blend of salty and sweet, and easy to eat.

And, it works. For instance, last night, my digestion felt weak. I could not be bothered to eat. So, I had a small bowl of sauerkraut and within an hour, my appetite had returned, heartily. The magic of friendly bacteria!

Radical Tea Towel Company rocks

Plate of grub, green and mauve original Art Nouveau suffragette designed oven gloves held by smiling woman in dark glasses in red dress

The Radical Tea Company offered me an oven glove with a suffragette design.

How could I say no?

Firstly, I could not resist the humour of a traditionally-female object, an oven glove, depicted with a powerful feminist message.

Secondly, I salute the suffragettes who suffered to win women the right to vote.

 

Feminism liberates us all – male and female – from soul-crushing expectations of how we should behave.

The Radical Tea Towel Company started when founder, Beatrice Pearce, tried finding a gift for a family member celebrating his 91st birthday. David Finch, part of British socialist history, was not much of a materialist.

Beatrice wanted something practical, that he could make use of, daily. And also reflect his passion for politics.

“And that’s when I thought – a tea towel! But not just any old tea towel. One with a radical or political theme,” says Beatrice.

T-shirts with a message were a-plenty on the Web, in 2011, but not a tea towel to be found.

Beatrice recalls thinking:

“Well, if I want a political tea towel and after an hour of googling can’t find a single one, I wonder how many other people want the same and can’t find one either? Clearly a gap in the market!”

Thus the Radical Tea Towel Company was born.

The Radical Tea Towel Company features the progressive voices of my allies from the past.

I am who I am, thanks to them.

"We have to free half the human race, the women, so that they can help free the other half."  Quote by Emmeline Pankhurst and her and image OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

22 May 2014: Why I am voting green

I believe in the European Union. No, it is not perfect.

Like most centres of power, the European Union works in the interests of huge corporations – not people.

However, when it comes to working rights and eco-legislation, Europe has been a friend to me.

When it comes to real food, two more examples:

  • EU regulations for organic food – if it says “organic” on the label, it is  thanks to European law
  • The EU has largely held firm against growing GM crops.

Now for Why I am Voting Green bit:

The Greens are very effective at European level. Take finance. They have curtailed bankers’ bonuses, forced banks to disclose tax haven-activities and support the Robin Hood Tax, a tiny tax on financial transactions (the billions raised would support society’s most vulnerable).

Ripped up UKIP leaflet with Freepost envelope ready to return.

By leaving Europe, we would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In addition, Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant worker position is abhorrent. Scapegoating stinks. (Pic: Return UKIP leaflets via its own Freepost address campaign).

Some decent folk are voting UKIP because they want to change the status quo. Do not be fooled, decent folk! UKIP is the status quo, seeking to distract attention from the banking crisis by blaming Europe.

The Green Party believes:

  • YES to a referendum
  • YES to Europe
  • YES to major European reform.

When it comes to real food, the Greens are working to cap the CAP. In other words, instead of huge subsidies going to large corporations, farming subsidies would be capped at €300,000 limit and distributed more equitably to small farms. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should be for the common good.

It also calls to end over-fishing and factory farming.

The Green Party’s European manifesto stands for the world I want to live in. It is, for example, the only UK political party pushing for a complete ban on fracking.

Interestingly, if we voted for policies (instead politicians’ personalities), most people in the south west of England would vote for the Green Party – more than any other party, according to Vote for Policies.

The Green Party can win at a European level.

Because of proportional representation, every vote counts.

Molly Scott Cato

Green economist, Molly Scott Cato, would need only 10% of the vote to be elected as the south west’s first Green Member of the European Parliament (MEP).

Hooray! Greens can win!

PS This blog is about European voting – I am also voting Green at a local level too..

PPS Original title of this blog was Vote Green! but changed it ’cause it sounded a bit peremptory?

Saturday 7 June 2014 update: O joy , o joy! The southwest elected its first Green MEP, the wonderful sane, intelligent and compassionate, Molly Cato Brown.

Green voters in the southwest kept out the third Ukip candidate.

Ukip made no electoral gains in the southwest (still got two MEPs); Conservatives lost one MEP so down from 3 to 2; LibDems went from 1 to zero. Labour = 1 MEP and, as I said, Greens = 1 MEP.

It really is worth voting.