img_1073-1This pic of healthy soil was taken on Holt Farm, Yeo Valley’s organic farm in Somerset.

Its 240-herd  of black and white British Friesian provides 1% of the organic milk used for Yeo Valley’s organic yoghurt. (The rest of the milk comes from organic milk cooperative, OMSCo which Yeo Valley farm owners, Mary Mead and her late husband Roger, helped form when they started making organic yogurt in the early 1990s).  

Holt farm – where Yeo’s Mary and Roger Mead first started farming in  1961 – was fully converted to organic by 2009. 

John Wilson has been managing the farm for 22 years. The soil had been damaged by the use of non-organic farming methods: it flooded in winter and cracked in the summer.

The soil had too much magnesium, and not enough calcium. By correcting it with gypsum, it led to more open and crumbly soil. The process took two to three years.
Soil! I am mad for it. Some think it is worthless because it is under our feet.  But without it, we cannot eat.

We grow most of our food on this thin strip of soil perched on earth’s crust.

And, one of the biggest differences between organic and non-organic farming is the way the soil is fed.

Non-organic farming uses chemical fertiliser. This is like feeding a child vitamins out of a bottle. It may give the nutrients needed but it does not nourish. 
In contrast, organic farming uses a variety of biological ways to replenish and nourish the soil including nitrogen-fixing plants such as clover, rotted-down animal manure, and/or green compost.

This is like real food to soil.

O foolish world! Why do we go to the expense of producing factory-made fertiliser (which is also resource-intensive and produces tonnes of greenhouse gas) when you can replenish the soil far more effectively with natural fertilisers?

Healthy soil has more life in a teaspoon than there are people on the planet.

As the nature poet Helen MacDonald says about our poor grasp of the interconnectedness of everything: “The things that live in soil are too small to care about; climate change too large to imagine …”
Holt Farm now has more moles because there more earthworms in the thriving healthy soil for the moles to eat. You see…everything IS connected.

Happy Organic September!



Raw green herby sauce and Organic September

bowl of cooked new potatoes with green vinaigrette dressing

This deliciously green sauce or vinaigrette is versatile in many ways. You can use a variety of fresh herbs or salad leaves such as baby spinach/rocket/chives/dill/ mint, and also combine them. Further versatility comes because the green sauce will zazz up many a dish.

Here it is (see pic) poured over new potatoes. Just cooked, the warm potatoes soak up the fresh, green zinginess.

My idea behind this sauce is to put the greens/herbs centre-stage. They do not merely flavour a vinaigrette but positively overwhelm it. By using the greens raw, you get freshness and taste, and as well as many nutrients as possible because they are not lost by cooking. The raw garlic cloves add further immunity-boosting power, and sparky taste.

I use my trusty blender wand to whizz it all up. About £20,  this is an excellent investment, takes up little room in the kitchen and is fab for smoothies. 

Raw green herby sauce or vinaigrette

Trusty hand blender in blender pot full of greens, with gartlic, lomon juice, balsamic and olive oil standing by

The amounts below are approximate. Natural yogurt is also superb whizzed into this dressing. Or add a spoonful or two of tahini. The greens will produce their own moisture as you whizz it all up, but if you want more liquid, add olive oil – not water , which will make it too watery. 

About 50g of fresh herbs/greens 

1/2 raw peeled cloves of garlic, roughly chopped (I use 3/4 cloves) 

Olive oil  3/4 tablespoons to start

Natural yogurt / 1-2 dessertspoons of tahini (optional) 

Balsamic/ lemon juice (half -1 lemon squeezed)

Add the leaves and roughly-chopped garlic to a measuring jug (something with tall sides that will contain the liquid while you whizz).  Add in a couple of glugs of olive oil, and start blending. Add natural yogurt or tahini if desired or more olive oil until sauce is creamy and pourable. Add vinegar or lemon juice, and salt to taste.

The sauce is a glorious green colour.

If possible, use organic, or unsprayed, ingredients.

Why organic?

Growing with nature increases a crop’s nutrient content, and thus its taste. Let your taste buds be the judge of this statement, but your brain may be interested to know that an international team led by Newcastle University found organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants (nutrients) than ones grown the chemical farming way.

There are two reasons for this. One is related to how the soil is fertilised, the second is how plant fights disease. 

1) Using factory-made chemical fertiliser draws more water into the plant. The crop may grow quickly but is also more sappy than crops grown with natural fertiliser. Food grown the natural way has more density. (Chemical fertiliser is banned in organic farming, which instead uses biological methods, such as composting and crop rotation, to create healthy soil).

2) Plants naturally produce valuable antioxidants to keep disease and pests at bay (which we in turn benefit from when we eat the plant). When plants are sprayed with pesticides, they produce fewer antioxidants because the chemical spray is doing the work for them. (Killing pests with pesticides is a crude way of protecting a plant because it involves lots of nasty chemicals and kills beneficial insects too, such as bees. The organic way is more creative, using a host of natural and biological methods to keep pests away.).

The way we farm affects the food we eat. You get more carrot for your carrot. In fact, the Newcastle team suggests that switching to organic fruit and vegetables may have the same benefits as adding one or two portions of the recommended “five a day”. Just switching a few of your fave items to organic will add nutritional joy to your life. 

So, why not organic your September?



Hard boiled eggs in raw herby vinaigrette sauce

Thank you, my dear acting colleague, Nichola Taylor, from the Barded Ladies, for asking for the recipe.  

Turmeric Tonic 

I love a good tonic.

Here is one I concocted to boost my immune system last week when I played York in six shows over four days (the closest I have come to doing an extreme sport, ever.).

The play was a regendered production (hence me as York) of Henry VI Part 3 by feminist Shakespearian ensemble company, The Barded Ladies.

Things got done with encouragement, creativity and playfulness, rather than dominance and criticism. Made me hopeful: you can run the world  without being a bully.

Here is the tonic recipe, in brief:

I used turmeric root and ginger root. Try health food stores, or greengrocers’ especially Middle Eastern or African ones.

(Omilord, can you imagine how bland food would be in the UK – without immigrant cuisine?).

Peel the roots and cut up small.

If no roots can be found, use 1-2 teaspoon each of turmeric and ginger.

Add the juice of 4 squeezed lemons – organic ones tend to be smaller but juicier.

(I have just discovered Sunita from squeezed organic Sicilian lemons. I felt a right cheat but it uses no preservatives, so there is no chemical aftertaste).

Stop press: Add black pepper and oil to the concoction to increase  bio-availability of the turmeric. (Thanks, Jane!).

Add runny honey to taste. Whizz all together with a hand blender.

A wide awake tangy taste in smoothies AND a savoury dressing. And, of course, for sipping backstage.

Here is some of the feedback the Barded Ladies production received:

Home-made mayonnaise and Brexit

Elderly woman's hands around a jar of thick, yellow, unctuous home made mayonnaise
I arrive the day before the EU referendum vote. London is hot and sticky, under a heavy grey cloud. Later, there is lightning and Biblical rains.

My 93-year-old mother and I agree not to talk about Brexit. It would be too painful and divisive. She believes the Daily Mail. I think it is the politics of hate.

So, I watch her making mayonnaise, Zimmer-framed yet resolute. I admire her spirit.

My mother Fay has been making home-made mayonnaise since the 1950s.

She would not dream of having shop-bought mayonnaise in her home. Ever.

My mother uses a food processor these days but says nothing (‘scuse pun) beats mayonnaise made by hand, using a fork as a whisk.

My sister Gee (see  pics of her 1974 mayonnaise recipe below) eschews a food processor because it makes the mayonnaise too dense, and uses an electric mixer with the balloon whisk attachment instead. She also (I love this refinement!) whisks in the olive oil by hand, with a fork, at the very end of the process.

Gee also adds a teaspoon of warm water to lighten the mixture, if, she says, she is feeling French.

Fay’s home-made mayonnaise 

The risk factor is curdling – when the oil and egg separate. So make sure the eggs are at room temperature. Emulsify the egg yolks with mustard, then add the oil very, very, very, slowly, drop-by-drop.

Then – once the risk of curdling has passed – pour oil in a thin stream, whisking all the time. You can speed up the streaming of the oil. Add lemon juice or a dribble of vinegar to thin.

If it curdles, do not despair but start again with one egg yolk and add the curdled mixture, again – s l o o o o w l y!

My mum uses 1/2 pint of oil, which equals 10 fluid ounces, of which 7 or 8 fluid ounces is sunflower oil, and the remaining 3 or 2 fluid ounces is olive oil. My sister Gee (who makes mayonnaise without such exact measuring) says in other words: use mostly sunflower oil.

I use organic oils because organic certification guarantees oils have been cold-pressed by mechanical (not chemical) means, ensuring maximum nutrients and top taste. 


2 egg yolks
Two egg yolks is the minimum whether for 1/2 pint or 1 pint of oil. Keep the egg whites in the fridge (or freeze them) for future meringues or cocktails. 

1/2 pint of oil of which most is sunflower oil, with top-up of olive oil

1 heaped teaspoon dry mustard powder (my mother thinks ready-made mustard is sacrilegious but Gee, free-thinker that she is, believes this makes the mayonnaise bitter and swears instead by Dijon mustard.).

2-3 or more garlic cloves cut-up

Using a food processor, electric balloon whisk or a fork, start by combining the egg yolks and mustard. Add garlic. Add oil SLOW-BY-SLOW until the mixture emulsifies. Then, once there is no risk of egg and oil separating, gently add the oil in a thin stream – whisking all the time!

Juice of half – one lemon, as little salt as possible to taste and a light shake of cayenne pepper. (In another departure from the status-quo, Gee adds seasoning – salt (1/2 teaspoon to 1/2 pint of oil) and paprika which is less spicy than cayenne – at the very start because otherwise, she says,  the salt does not mix in properly).

I cannot end this post without adding, for the record:

I am European. I am international. We are one family.

If money and weapons can move freely around the globe, why not people? Especially people displaced by war.

I am not saying the EU is perfect (obvs). It needs reform. But, hey, the UK has its own unelected bureaucrats and neo-liberal project. Surely reform (like charity) starts at home?

The Brexit campaign was led by vile hate-filled propaganda which has legitimised hate, unleashing a rise in racist crimes

Many who voted to leave are angry, and this anger (zero hours contracts, underfunded public services and unaffordable housing) is correct. But to conclude the problem is caused by the EU and immigration is a severe misdiagnosis resulting in the wrong medicine, which will only make conditions deteriorate.

Leave is the operative word. I feel the grown-ups have taken leave of their senses. I feel left in the hands of an irresponsible parent consumed by their own crazy agenda.

I am “returning” to the comfort of mayonnaise. 

Hand written mayonnaise recipe

Hand written mayonnaise recipe

Sore throat? Use the whole lemon!  






I had a sore throat. My mother said:

“Drink hot lemon. Use the whole lemon.”

Yeah, yeah, I know about lemons. Indeed, lemon water  – a squeeze o’ lemon  in water plus the peel – is my daily, refreshing, health-giving drink.

But, wait….

The whole lemon? A revelation.

“In the days before antibiotics, that is what we used,” says my mother, now aged 93. “My grandfather used to gargle every morning with warm salted water to prevent infections.”

Lemons deliver an impressive 187% of a person’s daily value of Vitamin C, as well as a host of other disease-fighting nutrients, according to Dr Mercola.

So I squeeze the juice of a whole lemon in a mug of boiling hot water and add a dessertspoon of honey.

Don’t stint on the honey. It makes it delightful to drink – and honey adds health-giving properties.

I cannot mention honey without comment: How outrageous that pesticides used by chemical agriculture are killing our beautiful bees.

My throat felt much better. So I made myself another hot drink with the juice of a whole lemon. And my sore throat was cured.

I also reach for the raw ginger, and raw garlic, when under-the-weather. What are your favourite natural remedies?

Lemon to be squeezed and South Gloucestershire jar of honey

Junior doctors strike and Cullen skink

My glam mum aged 93

My mum, aged 93, (her pic, left) made me the traditional Scottish dish, Cullen skink.

She bought the smoked haddock at Whole Foods Market.

“Only use undyed haddock” she commands.

A bowl of home made cullen skink

Recipe for Cullen skink

Here is the recipe my mother uses (added/amended after posting): 

Put undyed smoked haddock (500g) in cold water (300 mls) water, bring to boil and simmer for 8-10 mins until fish is cooked. Remove fish with slotted spoon, and set aside. 

While veg are cooking (below), skin fish, flake into chunks removing any bones, and set aside.
Add 2 chopped onion and 2 large potatoes (or instead of potatoes use Jerusalem artichokes!) with pepper and cook  in the haddock’s cooking water for glorious fish taste until potatoes are soft and tender – about 15/20 mins. 

Take off heat, roughly mash contents, add (450 ml) whole milk and (2g) unsalted butter. Bring to boil, turn down to simmer and gently add fish. Gently, reheat. Serve with chopped chives and if desired, creme fraiche. 

(Or drink it cold from a jar as I did happily on my return train to Bristol).

The next day, I received a call that my mother – and Cullen Skink-maker – had fallen and hurt her head. Luckily she had been able to press her Community Alarm and within five minutes of being alerted, an ambulance team had arrived and had taken her to a large London teaching hospital.

And this the day of the Junior Doctors’ strike – against a new contract that will be: “Bad for patients, bad for doctors and bad for the NHS,” according to the British Medical Association reports the New Economic Foundation.

After a scan, my mother was kept in for monitoring, and a battery of tests to ascertain why she keeps losing her balance.

God bless the National Health Service (NHS).

My late dad was one of its first GPs – see Dr John Winkler’s obituary in the Guardian.

The NHS is free health care for all – the embodiment of the world I want to live in.

God bless the NHS.

Animal welfare: fox in charge of henhouse

Is there anyone – apart from a fox – who thinks this is a good idea?

From 27 April 2016, the poultry industry itself will be in charge of writing and upholding its own welfare codes, says the Metro. 

And that is just the start.

“Conservative ministers are planning to repeal an array of official guidance on animal welfare standards,” says the Guardian, whose Freedom of Information request helped reveal the government’s plan to deregulate animal welfare. 

Deregulation is a terrible backward step for a better world.

Campaigners for animal welfare and safe food systems have fought long and hard for regulations, and the battle is by no means over.

Regulations need to be strengthened further – not weakened, in this blatant move to please Big Farma. (Or perhaps it is the current government showing how it can get rid of regulations quite easily without having to leave Europe).

Conservative types (whether anti-Europe or pro-Europe) like to portray legislation as tedious red tape that stifles the entrepreneurial spirit of business.


We need legislation and regulations because (sadly) humans with power and vested interests cannot be trusted.

The Metro poll asks its readers to vote yes or no to: 

“Should the meat industry regulate itself?”

What do you think?

PS So far, 97% voted “No, the system could be abused”. 

PPS I stole my title from the New Economic Foundation blog on poultry deregulation by Stephen Devlin. Read his excellent co-written piece on so-called “better regulation”, in whose name “a large and unaccountable bureaucracy has been created to…mak(e) it more difficult for government departments to pass laws which impose costs on businesses.”

PPPS  Sign the Change.org petition to stop the repeal of animal welfare codes.

Stop press

Campaigning works! It looks as if this controversial deregulation will not go ahead. According to the BBC:

“The government has abandoned a controversial plan to repeal animal welfare codes.
The plan would have put standards into the hands of the livestock industry.”

However, the “price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

So, remain vigilant.