Category Archives: sustainable

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.

#Nojunk bean chocolate cake

Happy grandchild with chocolate bean cake “I pledge to eat and feed my family only real ingredients I can recognise or spell.”

Last week, I signed the Organix #nojunk pledge because children need real food – not additives, fillers or artificial processes that produce profits for food manufacturers yet ill health for our children.

Is this right? NO!

Last week’s blog was about Organix, its pioneering ethos and why organic standards protect our children’s healthy by banning the nasties.

I promised a #nojunk cake and here it is.

Hand-written recipe for Bean Cake

The recipe is thanks to Olea’s mum. Olea and my granddaughter Tayda are schoolchums. After I had contributed a wheat-free raw date and lemon cake to my granddaughter’s 5th birthday party, Olea’s mum wrote out there-and-then a healthy wheat-free recipe (see pic) using…beans.

I am a big fan of beans thanks to The Bean Book by Rose Elliot, my cooking bible when my own children were little in the 1980s.

Healthy beans

Beans are seeds, a plant’s future offspring. They spill on the soil where they wait for the right conditions to germinate. Their food reserves support this process and is also good for us when we eat them. Packed with protein, vitamins and minerals, beans are nutritional powerhouses.

Big yet compact, their plentiful food stores are low-fat and high-energy. They quieten sugar-levels because of their high-fibre – the soluble sort that gently coats the gut and is slow-acting – and have high-levels of cancer-busting antioxidants. (Above from my intro on beans in Make More of Peas and Beans).

Olea’s mum’s #nojunk bean cake

Raw ingredients for bean cake, eggs, melted butter, beans and melted chocolate, ground almonds, pot of honey

The cast assembled (clockwise from top): eggs, pot of honey, melted chocolate over a drained tin of butter beans, ground almonds with baking powder and melted butter.

Blend up:

  • 1 tin of cooked beans (butter/kidney/black – unsalted, drained)
  • 4 eggs
  • 100 – 150g ground almonds
  • 6 tablespoons of coconut oil or (melted) butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda plus natural flavouring (spice, essence, ginger, vanilla etc)
  • 1/2 cup sweetener

Lightly grease baking tin. Bake 180° 30 – 40 mins-ish.  

I omitted the 1/2 tsp of baking powder, using instead an extra egg (5 eggs in total). I used organic eggs and butter for extra nutritional value (and guaranteed high animal welfare standards).  As sweetener, I used half a jar of honey for low-glycemic slow release sweetness (no one noticed honey taste at all).

For flavouring, I used a 150g bar of Green & Black’s organic dark chocolate, melted in a pan over another pan of boiling water, and blended into the cake mix. I also dribbled melted Green & Black’s chocolate on the cooled cake.

Cake mixture in fluted tin belonging to my grandma

I blended all the ingredients together with my trusty £20 hand-blender and poured the cake mixture into a fluted tin that once belonged to my grandmother. (When my mother gave me her cake tins recently, she said: “It feels like the royal abdication.”).

 

I served the cake with Biona organic sour cherries from a jar for the adults.
Slice of chocolate bean cake with unsweetcherries from a  jar
 

 

 

Everyone who tasted the cake pronounced it a success.

And no one guessed the mystery ingredient was healthy wholefood beans! Happy child sitting on low table eating healthy bean cakeTwo-year old enjoying my choco bean cake

 

 

 

 

 Organix #NoJunk Challenge badge

And….Join the #NoJunk Challenge!

Hey, I have just entered this blog post in the Organix #NoJunk Challenge Blog Hop…fingers crossed!

Reclaim real food with Organix #nojunk campaign

Happy grandchild with chocolate bean cake

I wish Organix had been around in the 1980s when my children were little. 

Organix produces healthy food for children so it is a godsend. Because it is certified organic, the junk is already excluded.

I love a good ban. Here is a small example of the junk which has always been banned from organic standards. 

  • Hydrogenated fats 
  • All colourings whether or not natural (except annatto)
  • All artificial flavourings.

You will never find the above in organic food because their standards are based on the Precautionary Principle: why take an unnecessary risk?

And what an unnecessary risk.

Hydrogenated fats or trans fats are industrially produced. A cheap filler, they prolong shelf life and make a fake cake look cake-like. They are linked to the UK’s obesity crisis. Child obesity is a huge health risk and is NOT FAIR to kids.

Artificial flavourings and colourings mask the yuk taste of the junk, and are linked to hyper-activity and allergies. Like trans fats, these additives are a cheap alternative to real ingredients, and a health risk. There is currently no requirement to reveal their exact quantity in food.

I love Organix’s latest campaign.

“I pledge to eat and feed my family only real ingredients I can recognise or spell.

I signed the pledge. I am sick of food ingredients that only a chemist can understand. I do not want food technology – I want REAL FOOD!

Organix was founded in 1992 by Lizzie Vann. After a childhood rife with asthma and eczema, she learned as an adult about the link between food and health (cut out those nasty additives for a start!).

As well as making tasty organic food for children, Organix also educates carers about how to make real food, and campaigns for nutritious food in hospitals, schools and nurseries. 

Awarded an MBE in 2000 for services to children’s food, Lizzie Vann was also a founding member of Food for Life, the multi-charity programme transforming school meals one meal at a time.

Food for Life’s manageable targets: 70% unprocessed, 50% local and 30% organic.

Lizzie Vann says: “A growing infant is not a miniature version of an adult. Their key body systems…are in a state of fast development for most of their early childhood. During this dynamic time, it is essential that the environment in which they grow is free of toxins, and the foods they are fed are pure and offer quality nutrition.”

If I were emperor for the day, I would command the food industry to stop being reckless with our children’s health.

I would ban the use of cheap, empty, risky, filler ingredients which make huge profits for manufacturers but are ruining our children’s health. 

I would decree food manufacturing magnates be force-fed the junk they peddle to children. From henceforth, the only food they would be allowed to sell would be stacked with nutritious goodness, with no toxic nasties. 

Please do sign the No Junk pledge.

PS The pic at the start of the blog is of my granddaughter and a healthy chocolate cake…recipe next week!

Chard pesto – eat your greens

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Sitting in back of a car last night looking at pics on my ‘phone with my niece, Charlotte, she says (re above pic): Wow, that looks nice.

Really? I say.

Charlotte enthuses when I tell her what it was: a made-up quick supper dish brimming with health. Thus I am encouraged to share:

Chard pesto for pasta

Traditionally, pesto uses garlic, basil, pine nuts and parmesan. This one replaces the fifth ‘umami‘ (pleasant savoury) taste of parmesan with anchovies. I used Fish4Ever anchovies because they are truly carefully caught and conserved which shows in the taste. And conserved in organic oil a) because organic farming saves the sea by not polluting coastal waters and b) authentic (mechanically not chemically-produced) olive oil.

I replaced the basil usually used in pesto with a pack of freshly-picked organic kale (from Radford Mill Farm shop which by-the-by is having a Frack-free festival in May) – or organic chard on another occasion. You could also use freshly picked nettles.

Then I blended the greens etc with my hand-blender (a £20 kitchen equipment must-have). By blending it into a sauce, it made eating healthy greens into effortless, comfort food.

I poured the green sauce on to a bowl of freshly-cooked pasta. You can use any pasta but I used Sweet potato and buckwheat pasta which is wheat-free (as wheat, an argumentative fellow, rarely agrees with me).

Method

Fry about 4-5 anchovies in their oil so gently they…melt

Fry half an onion sliced, also gently

Add sliced/chopped garlic – as much as you want – I like lots! (and do not overcook so I can have more of garlic’s immune-boosting qualities)

Finally, add a pack of chopped organic greens with (half a cup?) water – enough water so the chard/kale cooks down quickly but is not over-watery. Simmer for 5 minutes or less.

Takes about 15 minutes to cook pesto and pasta at same time (in different pans).

Apologies for my unscientific amounts. As my grandmother used to say when asked for precise amounts in a recipe: “Vifil nemen” = As much as it takes.

 

Christmas coleslaw

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After seasonal excess, I crave a dish to revitalise my innards and reboot my digestion.

“Oh, herbacious treat! ‘Twould tempt the dying anchorite to eat…”

I love new age raw, as in for instance Kate Magic.

And coleslaw is a classic.

Ah, the classics never let you down. Tried-and-tested, refined by human habit, a classic endures for good reason.

Coleslaw traditionally uses cabbage, a seasonal winter vegetable brimming with goodness.

I use organic ingredients to get maximum nutritional benefits. Plus its farming practices save the soil and the bees.

Coleslaw recipe

Basically grate, grate and shred, shred as finely as possible. (How I bless my power-tool, the food processor) then cover liberally with luscious dressing.

1lb 8 oz (680g) each of grated carrots and white cabbage

1 pint (0.6L) well-blended dressing made truly-tangy with lemon juice and crushed garlic
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- Juice of 1.5 lemons (organic lemons are more juicy because growth is steady not boosted by artificial fertiliser).
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- olive oil (organic ensures authenticity)
- balsamic vinegar
- natural yogurt (or replace with additional oil and vinegar)
- seasoning.

Thanks to nudge from John (below): I estimate for 500 ml dressing 300 ml yogurt + 250 ml olive oil with remaining ml: balsamic + lemon juice. I would squeeze the lemon juice and then add balsamic to taste (a good slosh).

Put the copious amounts of grated scrubbed/peeled raw carrots and finely shredded cabbage. Add the dressing, mixing well.

Versatile, serve it solo or with all manner of dishes including curries and hey – that left-over Christmas roast.

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Courgette Cake

Squash at Better Food, Bristol

‘Tis the season of squash. Here are organically-grown squash at Better Food Company, Bristol.

Courgettes, or zucchini, are part of the squash family. Squash are one of the Three Sisters (along with maize and beans) planted by Native Americans.

Squash contains gentle soluble fibre, immune-boosting vitamins and minerals plus complex carbohydrates for slow release energy.

This recipe for Courgette Cake is from Make More of Squashes, which I co-wrote with recipe-writer, Patricia Harbottle, and her son-in-law, organic gardener, Peter Chadwick.

The book and its companion, Make More of Beans & Peas, are part of the Make More of Vegetables series – with some non-vegetarian recipes but all with veg as the star. And with instructions on how to grow from seed too!

Make More of Beans & Peas

Buy here from the blog Pete set up with Sue Richardson.

Peter Chadwick died in August. Rest in peace, Pete. This post is for you and your lovely wife, Sue Richardson, who helps people write the right book.

Courgette Cake

Using vegetables in cakes makes wonderfully moist cakes (so butter cream filing is optional). If you do not have self-raising flour or baking powder, experiment with adding two more eggs to lighten the mixture instead. If so, allow cake to bake a little longer in the oven.

Ingredients

Cake: 250g (9oz) coarsely grated courgettes + 2 large eggs + 120g (4oz) caster sugar + 120ml (4fl oz) rapeseed or sunflower oil + 225g (8oz) self-raising flour + 1 tsp baking power + pinch each of ground cinnamon and nutmeg and salt + zest of one large orange (keep 1 tsp for icing). Grate orange to get its zest. Or try lazy method. I use a potato-peeler on the orange, then snip the strips of peel – gives strong orangey taste.

Filling: 120g (4oz) softened unsalted butter + 225g (8oz) icing sugar + 1 tsp orange zest (from large orange above) + juice of half of the large orange.

1. Put grated courgettes in colander and drain for 30 minutes. Press down with a saucer or use hands to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

2. Beat the eggs and caster sugar until the mixture thickens, then beat-in oil until amalgamated and creamy, like thick double cream.

3. With a sieve, sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt into the beaten egg, sugar and oil mixture. Beat well until really well-blended. Stir in the courgettes and orange zest.

4. Grease and line two 20 cm (8 in) cake tins. Pour mixture into prepared tins and bake in 170C (150C for fan oven) or Gas Mark 3 oven for about 30 minutes.

5. Keep oven door closed for first 25 minutes then test cakes with your finger tip. Cakes should be firm to touch. If not, bake for a further 5-10 minutes. Leave in their tins for 5 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool.

6. Optional butter cream filling: Beat butter and icing sugar and stir in zest and orange juice to make light butter cream. When cakes are cold, spread the filling over one cake and sandwich the other on top.

This cake keeps well in an airtight tin. Try it with lemons or limes instead of the orange.

Hope you like this seasonal recipe.

Community buy-out to secure biodynamic farm

Bluebell WoodThere was a time when the earth was free and belonged to all. People grew food and grazed animals, to eat, to live. Then the land grabs started. With legal stealth and physical violence, “enclosures” were enforced over several centuries in Britain. The commons – the earth and soil and woodlands used by peasants for farming – became the property of warlords who exploited the need to grow food for survival.

It does not need to be this way! We do not need to run the world for the benefit of might-is-right profiteers!

Fast-forward to the 21st century. One of the problems of producing food in the UK is the lack of available land. Who will be lucky enough to inherit? Most of the land belongs to a small percentage of the aristocracy.

Farming land is rare. Land is seen as an “investment”. Investors buy land to lock up their money, using it like a savings account. This means land becomes prohibitively expensive and makes it difficult for would-be farmers to find a foothold.

But I bring encouraging news. Community farm ownership seeks to break the “land-as-investment” deadlock, and make land accessible for farming.

Let’s take a closer look at this model by visiting Rush Farm in Worcester – which I had the good fortune to do as part of my work with Greenhouse.

Lleyn sheep Rush Farm

Rush Farm is an 150-acre mixed traditional biodynamic and organic family farm in the heart of England. In 2012, its current owners joined with the Biodynamic Land Trust to form Stockwood Community Benefit Society Ltd. The aim is for the Benefit Society to buy Rush Farm and its ethically-run 27-unit eco-property, Stockwood Business Park, from its current owners.

Pic below of current owners, Sebastian, Tabitha and Sophie, three siblings of the Parsons family.

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In this way, the land can neither be passed down to the next generation as an inheritance, nor can it be sold. Stockwood Community Benefit Society ensures the land remains as a community-owned biodynamic and organic farm – for ever.

Is land a community resource for the benefit of many, or a commodity to be bought and sold to profit but a few? In his article Transforming Capitalism, Martin Large of the Biodynamic Land Trust argues that managing land as a community resource can alleviate the current economic crisis.

This is the mechanism: Stockwood Community Benefit Society is selling shares, from a minimum of 100 £1 shares (£100) to a maximum of 20,000 £1 (£20,000) shares. Unlike commercial shares, community shares cannot be sold. Instead, shareholders are supporting a sustainable enterprise.

IMG_0400However, it’s not all one-way – Stockwood Community Benefit Society anticipates paying-out 5% interest a year to its community share holders. Here is a pic of its stall selling shares at Rush Farm fete on the 3 August. The £1 million share offer was launched in May and has already raised about half a million pounds. Offer ends 31 October 2013 so invest now!

A bit more background: Sebastian Parsons, and his two sisters, Tabitha and Sophie, bought Rush Farm in 2005. Their parents, Anne and Adrian Parsons, have managed it as a biodynamic and organic farm ever since.

WOW. Thanks to these enlightened farming methods, the soil is revitalised, carbon-rich, and brimming with fertility. Its native Lleyn sheep and Hereford cattle are beautifully cared-for. The farm’s mixed habitats –  ancient woodlands, wetlands, herb-rich meadows and grassland – are nurtured and wildlife has returned, including bees, butterflies, lapwings and curlews.

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Demeter biodynamic-certified and Soil Association organic-certified Rush Farm sells meat and fresh produce, and also earns an income from the rental from its on-farm Stockwood Business Park (see my pic of a light industrial units) – a vital rural hub employing over 100 local people, and making it viable for them to stay in the countryside. The business park is full of groovy businesses, too.

teiner/Waldorf kindergartenStockwood Business Park even has its own Steiner/Waldorf nursery kindergarten. (Please can I be three-years-old again, and attend?).

Wrapped around a working farm with lush nature, the business park has to be one of the most blissful places in he world to work.

Sebastian Parsons

Sebastian Parsons is also the CEO and co-founder of Elysia, which includes the UK distribution of Dr.Hauschka‘s organic skin care products, and is based at Stockwood Business Park. The voluntary chief executive of the Biodynamic Association, Sebastian also applies Rudolph Steiner’s far-out but incredibly practical philosophy on the interconnectedness of everything (anthroposophy) to to Rush Farm, Elysia, and Stockwood Community Benefit Society.

Makes sense doesn’t it? Because everything is connected!

Photo 03-12-2006 07 01 49 PMSebastian’s grandfather was David Clement, a pioneer of Britain’s biodynamic movement. In 1933, Clement bought Broome Farm (also in Worcester) which became an agricultural research centre, and for half a century, the Biodynamic Association’s headquarters. But, sadly, in the 1980s, Broome Farm was sold  and lost to biodynamic and organic management– to the Parsons’ chagrin.

“My sisters and I never spoke about it at the time,” says Sebastian. “But much later we found that each of us had resolved to one day buy Broome Farm back. We never did. However, when we bought Rush Farm, we felt we had achieved our aim, and fulfilled our commitment to the land.”

More social history, this time about Rush Farm. Under its previous owners in the 1950s, Rush Farm inspired the writing of The Archers, the world’s longest-running radio soap opera.

Radio Times Nov 1951

Radio Times Nov 1951

Early episodes were recorded at Rush Farm and its nearby pub, The Bull, at Inkberrow, while Rush Farm’s fireplace featured as the Archers’ fireplace on a Radio Times cover (viz pic). And if that is not enough farm gossip, Olympic showjumper, Pat Smythe, used to ride at Rush Farm, when it was a stud farm in the ’50s and ’60s.

Now Rush Farm is in the limelight again, thanks to its Stockwood Community Benefit Society share offer to secure the biodynamic and organic farm’s future – for ever.

Community investors – be part of the solution! Invest in this worthwhile sustainable enterprise (with 5% return). Deadline ends 31 October 2013.

Best week in Bantry, County Cork

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I won a literary prize. Published in the 2013 Fish Anthology, and launched at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry  7 – 14 July 2013.

I do not usually go to literary festivals (preferring music/dancing ones) but hey, how many times do you win an award? I had always wanted to go to Ireland so I made a week of it.

And what a week. For a start, I hit the heatwave. Instead of being bent over laptop while sun shines, I was at leisure, in nature, by the sea. I could not believe my luck.

I had booked a hotel half-an-hour walk from the town. Built in the 1970s, the Westlodge hotel was the first of its kind with a spa. So I started the day in the hotel pool.

In the grounds, I found a place to meditate (word used loosely – basically try to to sit still for five mins.). Pic below.

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Then I found a hidden back-route towards town via the grounds of Bantry House (just visible in distance, below).

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Ancient trees line this magical route

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as I headed past the back of Bantry House, a Jacobean statement of oppressive English might-is-right.

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I preferred its ruins, below.

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Or I could divert to the sea to a corner of the bay, beside the Abbey graveyard on a hill, where families swam every day in the Mediterranean-hot July.

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And friendly women to look after my bag, and give me the local low-down.

Food-wise. For breakfast, soda bread. Real bread.

Raw carrot salad in Bantry House cafe. Delicatessen take-aways from The Stuffed Olive to eat on the steps of Bantry Library in brilliant sunshine.

And joy of joys, an organic cafe and store.

Organico is one of Europe’s pioneering organic shops. Founded in  the 1990s selling wholefoods to hippies, it now caters for the increasingly mainstream demand for good food grown properly.

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Organico Cafe also had the latest copy of one of my favourite eco-magazines, The Land

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Tangent-alert as I praise The Land: a publication that believes social justice lies in access to the land, gives eye-opening history on Britain’s 500-year-old land-grabs, and reports on current efforts to access, and work the land, sustainably.

Back to food: fish and chips in the hot evening sun in Wolfe Tone Square. The Fish Kitchen looked nice but I never got there.

Festivals can be stressful if you suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). A lifetime of this disease has taught me coping strategies. I lie down a lot and breathe, and accept I spend my whole life missing out. Here is the West Cork Literary festival programme, a long list of events I missed.

When I did venture out, things happened: I made good friends, had four strangely synchronistic conversations about getting writing help with mentoring from Fish Publishing and/or a Creative Writing MA, and caught some great speakers including:

Executive director of Amnesty International in Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, and the author of Beyond Belief - his story of sexual abuse by a priest, how he successfully sued the Roman Catholic Church, thus making way for fellow survivors to break their silence.

Colm O’Gorman was joined by a young man transitioning from the female gender he was born into, whose mum spoke from the audience, fierce with love for her son, causing some audience members to sniffle, so moving it was.

I also went to the best talk-ever on oceans ever by marine conservation biologist, Professor Callum Roberts. Clear, articulate and accessible speaker. Get his book, The Unnatural History of the Sea.

Callum featured in the powerful film on overfishing, The End of The Line, with eloquent descriptions of the destruction wreaked by the fish’s most efficient predator (us). Memorably, Callum had said: “The amount of fishing power we have at our command far outweighs our ability to control ourselves.”  Talking about bottom-trawlers which dredge the sea-bed:  “the signs of destruction brought up on deck by the trawl would make an angel weep.”

The high-point was Wednesday and holding a copy of the 2013 Fish Anthology in my hands. Thank you, Fish Publishing (thought-up by then-fisherman now publisher, Clem Cairns, hence its name).

It was a mixed emotional time because my winning memoir was about my late husband, the author Adrian Reid. He died 27 years ago, but love is not linear, and loss does not obey the passage of time.

On Friday, a sell-out talk by former president Mary Robinson – what a woman! I rose spontaneously with the massive audience to give a standing ovation. Yes, she has  privilege, but she is on the side of the angels, as far as I am concerned – including raising awareness of climate change. Mary Robinson said: Ireland must follow Scotland, and create more renewable energy - wind, solar, and especially tidal. 

In 1971, she told us, she campaigned for the legalisation of condoms, and was reviled by press and clergy. Archbishop McQuaid called her a “curse upon the country. Mary Robinson said: Nothing has been as bad as that experience. (Not exact quote as audience was asked not to use mobiles and I use mine for taking notes).

The interviewer was journalist Alison O’Connor – acute, sober, intelligent. More, please.

Then on Saturday (after the ferry ride to Whiddy Island and poetry) a talk by Jane Murray Flutter on her late mother, the author Rumer Godden whose books I read and re-read as a child.

I always meant to write to Rumer Godden and thank her for writing the book for adults, The Peacock Spring. Her compassion for a teenager’s unplanned pregnancy helped me when I was expecting my first-born – then, in late 1970s, I was “unmarried” and my child was “illegitimate”.

I do not take feminism – or indeed any respect for human dignity – lightly. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”, a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

My Bantry week  took place against the backdrop of the Irish government debating whether women whose lives are at risk should be allowed a legal abortion.

No one wants an abortion. I know from my own experience it can be devastating. But surely, this must make it more imperative to treat a woman who has an abortion with kindness.

Thankfully, the de facto practice (allowed but not legal) of abortion became law on Friday 12 July. Nevertheless women who cannot prove their lives are at risk will still travel to England to have abortions, and poor women will get into debt to do the same.

So many significant meetings.

Deirdre whom I met on the aeroplane from Bristol who drove me to Bantry even though she lives in Cork, taking me up-to-speed on Irish politics, giving me insights into a country’s painful past transmuting to healing; Bogusia, poet (thanks for quirky humour and pics!), and Debra, Core Process (Buddhist psychology and mindfulness-based) psychotherapist and life-skills mentor, who gave me a great swim in a deserted bay, a bed for the night (her bookcase had few books not on my Bristol bookcase) and drove me to Cork the next day. And Carole (Bristol connections), and her friend who told us about Alexander technique for swimming.

More memorable conversations: talking about abortion with an Irish farmer (he thanked me keeping my first-born), and a gentleman on the bus to Manch Bridge who explained how Ireland (unlike England) largely escaped invasion by the Romans, and the Anglo-Saxons, leading me to conclude: its Celtic roots more intact, maybe that’s why the church came down so hard on Ireland’s earthy spirit.

And to wind-up the roll-call: journalist, Paul O’Donahue, who MC-ed the open mike, a true encourager of writing (and author of this great line: “I long to be your kissed”) plus comic poet, Martin Daly who had the open mike audience in hilarity – and songwriter, Steve Millar…Gad the list continues.

Here is the last food I had in Ireland:

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Irish soda bread at Cork airport, just like I’d had every morning in Bantry.

One of the best weeks of my life.

Beetroot and Carrot Salad

Beetroot and carrot salad

I used to think beetroots had to be cooked. Now I am wiser, I know they can be  raw. And may be more nutritious as a result.

Grating beetroots makes crunching effortless while an oil and vinegar dressing adds luxury. Carrots, also grated, are a perfect companion.

You know what they say: eat for colour: orange, reds (and more), each colour containing different immune-boosting nutrients.

I first came across the beetroot/carrot combo at the Better Food Cafe about seven years ago, and copied the idea, working out a version at home. 

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Then turned it into a recipe for Grown in Britain CookbookI wish I had name-checked my inspiration so glad to be doing so now. My beetroots came from  the Better Food Company, too.

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I peeled the carrots and beetroots, above. Grown organically, slowly, biologically, they are chemical-free and needed only scrubbing, plus the skin has nutrients. (But I am not perfect and peeling is faster).

I was taken with the yellow, white and purple carrots, as they used to be before 17th century Dutch growers went monoculture orange to praise William of Orange. Poetically, these 21st century rainbow carrots were grown in Holland.

Bear Fruit Bear Pit
I had bought my Dutch rainbow organic carrots at the Bear Fruit stall (above) in the Bear Pit, Bristol.

The Bear Pit is, by the way, an example of urban regeneration from the grass-roots-up. A dingy subway on a busy city roundabout now transformed by locals into a lively market and meeting place.

Beetroot and Carrot Salad – ingredients for four

  • 600g raw beetroot
  • 600g raw carrots
  • 50g sunflower seeds
  • Dressing: 4 tablespoon olive oil + 50ml balsamic vinegar
  • oil for frying/toasting + soy sauce for seeds
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh herbs (parsley, coriander) or snipped salad cress.
  • 1.1. Scrub/peel carrots and beetroot, and trim tops and tails. Keep carrots whole for grating. Peel the beetroot and cut in half. Grate the raw vegetables, using hand grater or food processor. Combine in large bowl and add olive oil and vinegar dressing.2. If not serving immediately, don’t add dressing yet. Instead, store covered in fridge. Remove 1 hour before serving to bring to room temperature. Then add dressing (below).

    3. For the vinaigrette, put the oil and vinegar in a screw-top jar, put the lid on tightly and shake vigorously.

    4. Gently heat olive oil in a small frying pan and toast the seeds for 3–4 minutes over a moderate heat, stirring to prevent sticking. Add the soy sauce at the end of the cooking, if using. Most of the sauce will evaporate, leaving a salty taste and extra browning for the seeds. Store the toasted seeds in a jar with a lid if preparing the day before.

    5. When ready to serve, add the chopped herbs to the grated beetroot and carrot. Shake the screw-top jar with vinaigrette, then pour over the vegetables, and season to taste. Toss the salad gently until everything glistens. Scatter the toasted seeds.

In Bristol’s green heart, we trust

Gus-Hoyt

Green party councillor, Gus Hoyt, says Bristol’s mayoral Cabinet has a “green heart at its core”. (Image credit Bristol 24-7)

Previously city councillors had voted for their leader. But the Coalition government gave ten of England’s biggest cities the option to vote for its own. Last May, Bristol people voted in a referendum to elect their own mayor, the only city to do so. In November, independent candidate, George Ferguson, became the city’s first “directly-elected” mayor.

Does a directly-elected mayor give more power to the people because they (rather than councillors) are voting? Or does the new role give too much power to one person, the mayor? But that’s another story.

Last November, Gus Hoyt, Bristol North’s first Green party councillor, got a late-night call from newly-elected mayor, George Ferguson, inviting him to join the new mayoral “rainbow” cabinet.  Gus Hoyt explains in his blog why he accepted.

It’s a question because the Green Party is opposed to the cuts - yet the Bristol mayoral cabinet is pledged to cut £35 million. The intention of the cabinet is to minimise hardship, says George Ferguson. “I’m trying to minimise the effect on services,” he says.

Personally, I don’t get this cuts business. For a start, the UK is one of the most powerful countries in the world. To my mind, Austerity Britain is a marketing slogan to cover up the reality which is: “Stop giving money to the poor, so the rich can get richer.” But I digress.

Last night at a Bristol Friends of the Earth meeting, guest speaker, Gus Hoyt – focusing on food and energy – described the positive things the cabinet hopes to achieve.

Green Bristol food vision

  • Make it easier for local food producers to sell their produce, building connections with local supply chains
  • Establish a “nuts-and-bolts” food market at Bristol Temple Meads railway station new enterprise zone - if successful it could be replicated in areas of deprivation
  • Aim to declare Bristol a zero waste city hopefully working with green-friendly Labour MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy, who introduced a food waste bill in parliament
  • One fruit tree to be planted for each Bristol child born so apples and nuts can be harvested at will, and children can learn where food comes from (it really does grow on trees.)
  • Edible beds in public spaces and food production in parks so food can be picked for free
  • Turn Bristol into a food capital. The city already hosts several food festivals – let’s host more
  • Enable more schoolchildren to learn how to grow food to eat and how to cook it.

At this point Gus Hoyt referred to the horsemeat scandal, and how we must bust the myth that affordable food has to be rubbish. When people cook from scratch, food can be healthy, fresh – and affordable.

At this point, let me invoke my mother invoking her mother:

“The secret of good cooking is quality ingredients. The first step to learning how to cook is knowing how to choose quality raw materials.”

My grandparents lived in poverty in the East End – but they knew how to cook. The UK media delights in making healthy food a class issue, as it sneers at middle class obsessions about organic food. Hello?! The true class issue is companies producing rubbish food and spending millions on marketing it to poor people.

Back to last night’s meeting. There was a discussion about the Blue Finger, a stretch of local land perfect for growing food. At the start of the 20th century, Bristol was ringed with market gardens which fed Bristol. Now we buy tasteless produce in supermarkets trucked in from far away.

And should the negative effects of climate change and fuel shortages take hold, making Bristol more self-sufficient in food makes a lot of sense. And more pleasant and healthy, too.

At the Friends of the Earth meeting, Phil Haughton of Better Food Company said that plenty of local farmers would be happy to lease/sell a field the land: what is missing, he said, are entrepreneurs. Meanwhile Joy Carey, author of Who Feeds Bristol, said to make Bristol food-secure, eight main things need to happen including composting, growing, learning to cook and supporting small shops and producers.

Involves all of us

Bristol Food Policy Council (the first in the UK) is developing a food plan with those eight components. Bristol, be proud.

Green Bristol energy vision

  • Bristol to become the go-to-city for renewable energy 
  • Make Bristol a truly solar city
  • Bristol can be “a living university ” for green institutions
  • Aim for Bristol to become the European Green Capital
  • Invite aeronautical businesses to use their expertise to create tidal technology (rather than bomber ‘planes) -  a kind of “swords into ploughshares” idea
  • Secure £10 million to make council houses more energy-saving
  • Work with institutions such as the NHS and universities to make energy more affordable with ‘Energy Partnerships’
  • Wind turbines at Avonmouth are due to open in December
  • Bristol to be 100 % “fracking” and nuclear-free.

So, dear reader, does this gladden your heart? It did mine.