Christmas gift idea – invest in a farm

Farm school in crocodile formation on sunny fields of Huxhams Cross Farm
Confound Christmas consumerism with a gift for the world! 

Huxhams Cross Farm (above) needs investment and here’s why. In the UK and Europe, small farms are getting swallowed up by big ones – 3% of farms own 52% of EU land.

Ecological farms such as 34-acre Huxhams Cross Farm in Dartington, Devon benefit the bigger picture.

Unlike industrial farms, they practice farming in a virtuous cycle. Every good thing leads to the next.

For instance, the farmers at Huxhams Cross Farm are alleviating climate change by capturing carbon in the soil. Carbon-rich soil is fertile soil full of too-tiny-to-see-with-naked-eye microbial creatures which break down nutrients to feed it to the crops, and build fertility year-on-year.

Fresh biodynamic veg and local food for local delivery near Totnes

As well as alleviating climate change and healing the land with biodynamic farming methods, the farmers (below) are producing healthy nutritious local food. Talk about a win-win-win solution.

Farmers, Marina O'Connell, Bob Mehew and Dave Wright on the land at Huxhams Cross Farm

Apricot Centre co-directors and farmers Marina O’Connell and Bob Mehew (centre), joined by their grower, Dave Wright. [IMAGE: Beccy Strong]. 

Tenanted by sustainability experts (above), the Apricot Centre, Huxhams Cross Farm has two cows, Damson and Daffodil, and a mobile flock of 100 White Leghorn chickens (below) whose biodynamic eggs are much in demand.

White leghorn chickens at biodynamic Huxhams Cross Farm

Human-scale farms do more than produce good food. Along with a band of volunteers, Huxhams Cross Farm has raised a barn, and planted over 3,000 trees and over 2,000 soft fruits plants using permaculture design methods, building community with purposeful activity. 

The farm grows wheat for local flour and trees for Dartington’s agroforestry  project which is pioneering ways to make farming viable. Not to mention the  farm’s weekly farm clubs and local food delivery service. 

Huxhams Cross Farm has got this far thanks to community investment through  Biodynamic Land Trust not-for-profit community shares. (Am the charity’s communications manager, she says, declaring an interest).

Now the developing farm needs further investment to build an on-farm centre for many worthwhile purposes. 

Preserves made by the Apricot Centre

The low-carbon centre will offer a kitchen for farm-to-fork cookery activities for children and adults, as well as jams, juices and chutneys production. It will be a training space for permaculture and biodynamic farming methods and a base for the Apricot Centre’s well-being service for vulnerable families.

Invest in Biodynamic Land Trust community shares for Huxhams Cross Farm to build this centre.

Do you know you can also invest in community shares on behalf of others, including children? Once you have invested, the Biodynamic Land Trust will send your recipient a card, followed by a share certificate in the name of the shareholder to be transferred to the recipient’s name when they reach 16. If they are interested they may also receive quarterly updates from the farms by email or post.

Together we can change the world for the better, one farm at a time.

Migrateful – sharing food makes us human

“Some anthropologists say that sharing food is what makes us human.”

So says Jess Thompson, co-founder of Migrateful, where asylum seekers, refugees and migrants teach their traditional cuisines to the public.

Personally, I bless migration for transforming modern British eating. Can you imagine a world without pasta, curry or houmous?

Jess has spent the last two years supporting migrants and refugees in Morocco, Dunkirk refugee camp and Tower Hamlets. 

She points out that the word “companion” is derived from the Spanish “con pan” meaning “with bread” – a companion is someone with whom you share your bread.

Jules and Jess, co-founders of Migrateful
Above is a pic of the co-founders, Jess Thompson (left) and Jules Mazza-Coates whom I have known since she was little. Jules was brought up to believe the act of sharing a meal helps build human relations, and that preparing home-cooked, fresh food can be simple and cost-effective. After working with refugees in Calais refugee camp, Jules supported their integration 
in the UK. 

Every Wednesday at the Migrateful chef training in London, the chefs – from Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ecuador, Cuba and Pakistan – take it in turns to teach the group how to prepare their cuisine.

Majeda shares Syrian cuisine with Migrateful

Majeda (above) leads a Syrian cookery class for the group. A mother of two, she arrived in the UK a few months ago. “I wish I were in Syria now, I know my country needs me and I miss my two boys and husband so much”.

What is her story? Majeda was working as a children’s therapist in the capital when war broke out in Syria. Thousands of Syrians fled to Damascus after their homes were bombed by the Syrian government. Majeda organised an initiative to feed her displaced countryfolk. The Syrian government imprisoned her for four months for feeding Syrians from areas under occupation. 

After her release, she continued her support for the displaced Syrians. Eventually, threats from the state became too much. For the sake of her family’s safety, Majeda had to leave Syria. 

At Migrateful, Majeda cooked a Syrian meal. She said: 

“I believe there is a relationship between cooking and love and that preparing a meal for the one you love, combining your skills and your feelings to create something, can convey a lot to the person. I have a real passion for cooking and I think that passion is one of the things that makes me a good wife, mum and friend”.

Migrateful’s next class is a vegan Ethiopian cookery class in Brixton, London, on Monday 30 October. 

Ethiopian vegan cooking in action with Migrateful

Migrateful comes to Bristol on Monday 6 November to teach Argentinian cooking with José (see pic below).

José teaches Argentine cookery class to interested group at Migrateful

When we break bread together, we become companions.

Viva companionship! 

Vegan Taster Menu at the Agape

So Nadia persuaded Julian to cook us a vegan meal. Not just any vegan meal. Julian made it a fine dining experience, concocting a taster menu that took us on a gluten-free vegan tour of the classics. 

Julian Miles in chef's whites

Chef Julian Miles

Loved this door-opening moment with Julian in his chef’s whites. Turned out Julian worked at Demuth’s, Bath (a vegetarian and vegan cookery school whose pioneering vegetarian restaurant is now with new owners, Acorn Vegetarian Kitchen).

Julian’s partner, Ellen, is vegan (and most of us were gluten-free). This night was a playful response to their experience of restaurants which barely cater for a free-from clientele.  

Where is the gourmet vegan food? Where is gastronomy for coeliacs?

Here is a taste of Julian’s taster menu.

Amuse gueule: Arancini, BBQ houmous with garlic chutney on melba toasts and smoky tempura

Chive and mushroom consommé with tamari-smoked and paprika-roasted mushroom slivers

Those tamari-smoked and paprika-roasted mushroom – I want the recipe.

Carrot lox, cucumber sushi rolls with tamari pearls, tofu ‘fish’ with curd bean skin, triple cooked chips, fresh pea mousse and apple cider vinegar jelly

A complex crispy succulent and fresh experience with taste sensations. Real Food Lover fave.

Another pic of my fave

I have no image that does justice to the refreshing bliss of Julian’s aromatic gin herbs and lime sorbet. Another keeper.

Tofu and vegetable fajitas, nachos and guacamole with home-fermented sriracha cream

Home-fermented sriracha cream with chilli, onion, and garlic  – want this recipe too.

Little gem lettuce, coconut ‘parmesan’ biscuit, and miso dressing

A kind of mayonnaise on the lightest crisp biscuit – using coconut was brilliant (instead of the ubiquitous soya).

Vegan creme brulee, light and dreamily-delicious

Crème brûlée

I adore cream but it does not love me so this creamily-delicious yet dairy-free crème brûlée was a dream.

Thank you, Julian and Ellen, for a creative taste-tastic evening at the Agape (as we dubbed it) Living Room restaurant. 

Eggs fried gently in butter

Socrates Satrapoulos took a small skillet from a row of pots and pans. Carefully, he turned on a burner on the gas stove, then adjusted the flame as low as possible, until it was barely visible.

“Give me two eggs.”

Someone handed them to him.

“Butter!”

Holding the butter in his hand, Satrapoulos began his lecture.

“First of all, you must never use oil with eggs. Use a pat of butter.”

He dropped the butter into the skillet, then placed the skillet over the fire.

“When the fire is low,” he continued, “the butter doesn’t burn. It melts slowly, and retains the fresh taste of butter.”

Everyone watched fascinated.

“As soon as the butter has melted, remove the skillet from the fire. Then break the eggs into it. One, two. Now you add salt and pepper” – he glared at the chef – “not after the eggs are cooked, but before they are cooked. Then cover the skillet, and place it over a very low heat.”

He turned towards the chef. “And now, when I remove the eggs from the fire, the yolk will be firm and covered with a thin, translucent layer.”

He removed the skillet from the stove, lifted the lid, and thrust the skillet towards the chef.

“Smell!” he ordered.

The delicate and appetising aroma of fresh butter wafted through the galley.

“And that, gentlemen, is how one cooks eggs.”

– from The Greek by Pierre Rey 

Book opened on fly leaf and my mum's Fay Winkler's writing

I found this extract in our late parents’ book collection. In the flyleaf of a fiction paperback, titled The Greek, my mother had written: see p.38 to fry eggs.

I turned to page 38 and found the recipe, above. My mother took food seriously.

Fay Winkler dancing Greek dancing

Fay Winkler performing traditional Greek dance

 

Published in 1974, the book is about a Greek jet-setting millionaire. Fay loved the high life. She also loved Greece. She fell in love with Greece in the 1970s. She felt it was her spiritual home. She loved the people, their passion, the dance, the food. 

My mother Fay Winkler a few months before she died aged 93.5

Fay Winkler Nov 2016


My mum (above) died in January, aged 93. She was a glamorous, obsessive, elegant, cultured, opinionated live-wire until the end. 

A few months before Fay died, she was interviewed for a documentary film about love, titled All That Is directed by Wessie du Toit

Fay never saw the film. It was screened at the ICA earlier this month and will be on Channel 4 TV in a few months time.

My mother looking glam and full of joie-de-vivre

Fay Winkler circa 1970s


Fay used to cook me fried eggs for breakfast when I stayed with her. I was grateful to be mothered by my mother when I was a grandmother.

My mum would heat the olive oil really high, add the eggs, put a lid on and then turn off the flame. 

We are trying to remember if she used butter or olive oil and now I cannot ask her. 

I cook fried eggs in olive oil as I have done since the 1980s influenced by my late husband, Adrian Reid.

I love using this recipe from The Greek because a) It is in dialogue b) My mother made a note about it c) Butter tastes luxurious.

How do you fry your eggs?

 

 

Good food needs land

I love working with the Biodynamic Land Trust. Then the dream thing happened and I went to Brussels for a few days for work. I am grateful to the Access to Land EU conference organisers for supporting my travel.

[Brexit rant: It took two hours by train from Kings Cross, London to Brussels – of course, am in Europe. I apologise for Brexit. In a loo in Brussels, graffiti proclaimed “I voted Remain” to which several had added, “me too” including me (always have felt tip for such occasions).]

Back to the conference: it was held during June heatwave in the peaceful and collegiate setting of the Franciscan centre, Notre Dame Chant d’Oiseau.


We held some of the workshop sessions outside under the comforting shade of a beautiful tree.


If you care about real food, you have to care about the land. 

But land is not valued as a place to grow food. Land is seen as an investment – a place to lock in-money. The EU subsidy system distorts the market further, favouring rich landowners over small ecological farmers delivering healthy local food, and protection of soil and wildlife. (The EU is not perfect. Obvs. It needs reform.).

Brexit is a messy, expensive pain but it is also an opportunity to reshape UK farming, and many organisations are seizing the day.

26 June 2017: Brexit negotiations began, and 80 food and farming organisations released their food policy plan for agriculture, A People’s Food Policy.


The Biodynamic Land Trust was one of the 80 organisations supporting the People’s Food Policy.

The Biodynamic Land Trust’s current community share offer is for Huxhams Cross Farm in Dartington, south Devon (near Totnes). Below, is a picture of the farm’s magical wooded area where local children come to learn about land and farming, and be outdoors in nature. They love it.


I invite you to look at the Huxhams Cross Farm community share offer and hope you will be inspired to support this grassroots investment in community-owned farms for our sustainable future.

Kefir soft cheese 

White soft cheese with olive oil and a sprig of rosemary
Kefir cheese is a mind-blowing taste-tastic discovery.

The freshest cheese I have ever tasted. And I brought it into being! 

I am in awe I can make cheese. And such a digestible and delicious one at that.

A soft cheese, it is dreamily delicious with olive oil, chopped fresh garlic and a tiny sprinkle of salt. Or try Annie’s recipe with pureed herbs. (Thank you, I will).

Kefir grains in strainer
Here is the daily kefir milk and kefir cheese routine:

  • Strain the fermented milk in a non-metallic sieve or muslin cloth
  • Keep grains* for the next batch, and, if plentiful, for cheese**
  • Drink the fermented milk (or use in a smoothie)
  • Place the strained grains in a clean jar and, leaving room at the top for expansion, cover with fresh, room-temperature whole milk (preferably organic for added nutrients and taste plus care for dairy cows, wildlife and the soil)
  • Cover with breathable cover or do kefir the anaerobic way  ***
  • Let jar sit at room temperature (or airing cupboard) away from direct sunlight for 24 hours approx. Non-cold is key to encouraging those kefir grains to do their fermentation thing
  • Repeat!

**Strain the grains for cheese through a muslin. My casual method: Let the grains sit a few hours in the strainer – plastic/non-metallic it has to be.

** *Oxygen in or out (anaerobic) for fermentation? Following my previous blog on milk kefir, I had a big discussion with friends on Facebook as to which method was best. It turns out both methods get results.

I sling a tea-towel over the fermenting milk. Am no longer obsessed with the perfect cover/elastic band although it was that detail that gave me confidence when I began kefir-making.

*By the way, kefir grains are not actually grains. They are SCOBYs or Symbiotic Communities of Bacteria and Yeast.

“Ayyyy, my scobys.” Like the Fonz

The SCOBYs, my new best friends, feed on the fresh milk, thus fermenting it, making it digestible and delicious.  Check out the beneficial health effects of kefir and buy grains here too. Or ask a kefir-making friend for grains.

Having generated sufficient kefir grains to eat as soft cheese feels like my reward for tending them.

Ayyyyy. Thanks, SCOBYs.

 

 

Kefir – the details that count

Jar of kefir milk with pretty floral cloth cover

This is my third attempt at making kefir. Worth the effort because although the shop-bought organic one is delectable (especially Riazhenka baked milk) I am less enamoured of its plastic container and price. (And availability since it was featured on BBC’s Trust Me, I’m A Doctor and everyone went mad for kefir).

Enter a blog post on kefir by Penny’s Plate, a Bristol-based nutrionist. My third kefir adventure had begun.

Penny kindly offered me some kefir grains, and dropped them off at our local healthy food shop.

A jar of kefir with floral cloth cover
It gets better. When I picked up the grains at Harvest Bristol Cooperative, I was delighted to find them in a jar with a darling fabric cover (see pic above) secured with an elastic band (the metal lid was while it was being transported).

This has made everything possible. I have hitherto never achieved such a natty arrangement.

The other good thing was the size of the jar. Up-to-now, I had made a pint  and got overwhelmed by the amount.

If you don’t like the tangy taste of kefir, add it to a banana smoothie.

Why kefir? This fermented food certainly feels soothing. Apparently it helps line the gut – and a healthy gut lining enables the absorption of nutrients. According to kefir enthusiasts, it is better than yogurt because its healthy probiotic bacteria actually colonise the gut.

Kefir milk in a jar and plastic strainer over a second and clean jar. Cover and elastic band beside on kitchen worktop

Newbie kefir tips 

Find someone making kefir and beg them for grains. When they arrive, put in a clean jar and top with fresh milk. Don’t fill to the top. Cover with a breathable lid and leave to ferment for 24 hours away from direct sunlight.

milk kefir grains in plastic tea strainer

Strain through a plastic (not metal) sieve and drink (or store in the fridge). Start again with the strained kefir, a clean jar and fresh milk. Store unused kefir grains in the fridge covered in a little milk. The cold slows down activity.

It is good to have a kefir buddy. Tasting Penny’s kefir gave me an idea what I was aiming for. I asked questions, was reassured by her replies. I felt like a new breastfeeding mother unsure of this natural yet unknown activity.

Start small with less than half a pint of milk in a jar. Don’t fill it to the top but leave room in the jar for kefir to breathe.

Get a fabric lid cover cut in a circle to fit generously over a jar with an elastic band to secure it. The cover needs to be breathable and clean. You could use a paper towel. Don’t forget the runner band.

Successful kefir is down to the freshness and quality of the original ingredients – so choose organic milk if you can, and as fresh as possible.

As for all great achievements, you have to get a bit obsessed. You have to fuss over your kefir, check it, swirl it, send anxious texts to your kefir buddy, look up kefir sites (one of my favourites), and hurry back home to check it is not feeling abandoned.
From above inside of kefir milk jar

Kefir grains are not really grains. These grain lookalikes are actually clumps of good bacteria and yeast formed from feeding on the milk. And when recipes say “refresh” the grains, it means give them fresh milk (not water as I have mistakenly done!). 

A large jar of translucent ginger beer

Jane of World Jungle’s ginger kefir

You can make vegan kefir. Like kefir ginger beer. This is how ginger beer used to be made. The real thing.

Use room temperature milk. I had what the French call a mauvais quart d’heure when I thought I had murdered my grains with icy milk. I think they just slowed down. They seem to be recovering nicely now. Thank you for asking.

Young man with three cows

Kees Frederiks owner and farmer of Stroud Micro Dairy, Stroud News and Journal

The lucky people of Stroud can now get kefir made from raw milk. Check out the Stroud Micro Dairy which is situated on Oakbrook Farm, farmland secured by the Biodynamic Land Trust so it will be sustainable farmland for generations to come.

PS I am now communications manager for the Biodynamic Land Trust.

Do you make kefir? Any newbie tips?