Category Archives: eating well on a budget

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! 

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.

 

 

Real food lover, Fay Winkler 

Grandmother and granddaughter shelling peas at kitchen table, both focused on task

My mother, Fay Winkler, died on the 11 January 2017.  My mother is the original real food lover, who inspires her family with a love of cooking and an ancestral knowledge about what makes real food.

I have often referenced my mother on this blog. And I am not going to stop now. For instance, we have inherited a huge file of recipes including traditional Jewish dishes made by my grandmother. I can’t believe I have not yet posted about Fay’s chicken soup. 

Fay’s pavlova
Fay’s home made mayonnaise
My grandmother’s beetroot soup
Fay’s fish soup with fennel

In my 2010 blog on Fay’s fish soup made with wild sea bass, she talks about her fishmonger, Pat, in Tachbrook Street market, London: “If he packs up, I’ll pack up” she says.

Fay and Pat the fishmonger go back a long way. Here they are in the 1980s.

Fay Winkler shopping from Pat Wright fishmonger Tachbrook Street Market London SW1 in the 1980s

 

 

 

Fay believes, “good food begins with good ingredients”.

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” she says.

You have to buy the best – be it organic, free-range, fresh, seasonal, local and/or artisan – to make a good meal, she says.

If the ingredients are good, no need for complicated recipes (as her mother said before her).

Ingredients, ingredients, ingredients. The only three words you need to know when it comes to cooking.

My beautiful mother aged 93

I love you, Fay.

 

♫ Good, good, good, good bacteria ♫

A Kilner jar of sauerkraut made by Real Food LoverI wrote this long piece about good bacteria for the Sustainable Food Trust, which has given me permission to republish it here (slightly edited).

Thank you, Sustainable Food Trust.

♫ Good, good, good, good bacteria ♫

Recent research on the role of bacteria suggests we need a radical rethink about what makes us healthy.

Thanks to advances in genetic sequencing, scientists are starting to discover, categorise and understand the importance of the vast universe of microbial organisms that lives invisibly on, in and around us.

In May 2015, results from studies conducted by Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, showed that a ten-day diet of junk food caused the loss of 1,300 species of beneficial bacteria in the intestines.

Professor Spector said: “Microbes get a bad press, but only a few of the millions of species are harmful, and many are crucial to our health.”

Instead of bacteria being our deadly foe, it turns out the vast majority are really our best friends – and our oldest.

According to the Human Microbiome Project, our ‘live-in’ molecules – the single cell organisms including bacteria and fungi that are neither plant nor animal but in a category of their own – have evolved symbiotically with us and our pre-historic ancestors since time began.

Like the best of relationships, we are inter-dependent. We provide energy via food to our single-cell friends: in return, they perform a myriad of life-giving activities.

As it is in our gut, so it is in the soil. The idea articulated by Sustainable Food Trust, director Patrick Holden, that healthy topsoil thrives because of microbial activity – functioning in a similar way to human digestion – illustrates the interconnectedness of everything.

In the dark of topsoil, microscopic microbes perform vital tasks to maintain the health of soil life. Meanwhile, in the dark of our digestive system, trillions of tiny microbes are likewise busy keeping our bodies healthy.

The role of beneficial bacteria is multi-functional. A key role of both soil and gut bacteria is digestion. These beneficial bacteria break down nutrients into digestible forms that can be assimilated by the plant’s roots, or the gut lining in our intestines, enabling both plants and humans to thrive.

As well as bacteria being an essential component of digestion, beneficial bacteria also help to repel disease and are a key component of a healthy immune system.

The number of microorganisms living invisibly in the world is mind-boggling: one teaspoon of rich garden soil can hold one billion bacteria along with fungi and other microorganisms.

As for the bacteria in a symbiotic relationship with us, the majority live in the walls of our intestines. This community of diverse bacterial species, called the gut microbiome, weighs about two kilos.

There is a clear analogy between soil and human digestion and, according to nutritionist and author Daphne Lambert, there is also a direct relationship. In her book Living Food: A Feast of Soil and Soul, she traces the origins of soil eating for health, drawing on recent studies to argue for increased exposure to soil to build immunity.

Daphne Lambert writes, “Today our food industry kills off these organisms and together with our excessively clean households this means few if any of these soil-based organisms manage to find their way into the human digestive system.”

According to Daphne Lambert, there is evidence to suggest that the ingestion of soil-based organisms from a vibrant, healthy soil enhance the functioning of our gastrointestinal tract.

But our modern lifestyles break the link between healthy soils and healthy humans, with fewer people than ever before working on the land and every last trace of soil washed off the vegetables we buy.

But what about the scary bugs? Small children are naturally drawn to soil but it’s usually us adults who start freaking out about the dirt. Take heart that the benefit of handling soil far outweighs the risks. First, the good bacteria outnumber the bad. Second, we develop the capacity to deal with the bad ’uns by the very practice of being exposed to microbes in the first place.

Initially proposed in 1989, the hygiene hypothesis in medicine shows that we do small children a disservice by keeping them in a sterile environment. Getting down and dirty is how our immune system learns to defend us from disease.

Children who develop healthy immune systems in this way will doubtless be better able to resist infections. However, a word of caution: a great deal of our soil has had its inherent health degraded by intensive agricultural methods and intensive farms can be breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria such as E.coli O157, so hand washing hygiene is called for in some situations.

Ideally, we should be able to ditch our antibacterial cleaners too. Rather than obliterating all bacteria, we could take a leaf out of traditional Asian cultures and clean our houses with a fermented solution of probiotics that feeds good bacteria, which then eat up the bad smells, dirt and grease caused by harmful bacteria.

(Yet, in our spoiled and imperfect world there will be exceptions here too, and caution is needed, especially when preparing chicken, which is so often a source of campylobacter infections).

Good bacteria in food

Just as we can colonise our homes [I swear by Libby Chan probiotic cleaner!] and soil with good bacteria, so we can restore health to our gut.

When it comes to the human diet, nutritional therapists commonly agree that the best way to create good gut bacteria via what we eat is to eat more as our ancestors ate and adopt a three-step approach: reduce sugar, raise fibre and eat fermented foods.

Take sugar first. Or rather don’t! Bad bacteria feed on sugar and they start complaining when they don’t get it. Based on a review of recent scientific literature, US researchers found that gut microbes may cause us to crave the very nutrients they need to grow, by releasing signalling molecules into our system.

You can diminish bad bacteria by giving your good bacteria a boost with prebiotics, or fibre on which good bacteria feed. As Daphne Lambert explains:

“The intestine lacks the enzymes necessary to break down oligosaccharides so they move through to the colon where they serve as food for beneficial existing bacteria so they grow and multiply, squeezing out bad bacteria. Oligosaccharides are found in many foods but there is a major one for each season: onions in winter, asparagus in spring, leeks in summer, and Jerusalem artichokes in autumn. Nature really has got it right.”

Finally, fermented foods are important. Bacteriology may be in its infancy, but, according to author and food campaigner, Michael Pollan, every traditional food culture has fermented food in its diet. Think sauerkraut, chocolate, tamari and kimchi.

“Fermented foods not only produce amazing tastes, they also increase nutrients,” says Daphne Lambert. “Growing colonies of microbial cultures makes nutrients more available, and also increases them, including vitamins and especially Vitamin B.”

Fermented foods are low-energy – they require no cooking or refrigeration. By preserving summer foods throughout long winters or saving food from decomposition in tropical heat, humans have survived inhospitable climates. Captain Cook famously took sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) to reduce scurvy on his sea voyages.

Check out fermentation workshops including by Daphne Lambert, [and Annie Levy who turned me on to the joys of fermentation by sending me a jar of kimchi through the post!].

Most bacteria are notoriously hard to culture in a petri dish, so our knowledge of bacteria’s many uses is still severely limited. One of the most widely known bacteria is Lactobacillus acidophilus – the Latin for acid-loving milk bacterium – which predigests food, transforming, for instance, milk into yogurt.

“The more foods you eat that aid digestion the better, and in many cases these foods are beneficial because of bacteria,” says Daphne Lambert. “It is about understanding our relationship with bacteria – not annihilating them. By declaring war on bacteria, we are declaring war on life itself.”

The following is from a collection of over 80 recipes  from Daphne Lambert’s excellent book, Living Food: a Feast for Soil and Soul, which celebrates a gastronomy that is good both for human and planetary health.

Fermented vegetables

Cabbage is cheap to buy. Once fermented, it adds complex and delicious flavours – one of the joys of life.

Sauerkraut

3 medium-size white cabbage heads (about 2 kilos)

1 four-litre clean glass jar

2–3 tablespoons sea salt

Shred the cabbage and place it in a large metal bowl. Sprinkle over one tablespoon of salt and pound gently with a wooden rolling pin to help pull the water out of the cabbage. Cover with a cloth and leave overnight. The next morning, place about two inches of cabbage into the glass jar and press firmly down, sprinkle with a little salt and repeat until the jar is full. As you layer up you can add spices and herbs to flavour.

Firmly compress the layers of cabbage. Place a weight on top like a jam jar filled with water to make sure the cabbage is completely submerged by the brine (if necessary add a little water). Cover with a cloth to protect from flies. Every day, push the cabbage gently down. Let the jar sit at room temperature. After a week the cabbage has fermented sufficiently to be eaten, but you can leave it for a further couple of weeks. If you are not going to eat the cabbage straight away, fit with a lid and store in a cool, dry place where the tangy flavour will continue to develop. Once you start eating the cabbage, keep it in the fridge.

[Here is my take on Making Sauerkraut.]

Fermented grains

Many grains in different parts of the world are made more digestible through fermentation: in Japan, the soya bean is fermented into traditional fermented foods such as tempeh, soy sauce and miso. In Africa, millet is fermented for several days to produce a sour porridge called ogi, and in India rice and lentils are fermented for at least two days before making idli and dosas. Corn was fermented before using in Mexico, and, throughout Europe, grains used to be soaked overnight in soured milk ready to make porridge in the morning.

It’s easy to start soaking grains and this simple process is an enormous aid to digestion. Soak your chosen grain in water for a minimum of eight hours at room temperature. You can assist the process by adding a little fermented (sauerkraut) vegetable juice or yogurt.

Fermented whole oat porridge

By fermenting the whole oat grouts (whole oats) before cooking, the flavour of the porridge is enhanced, the grains are more digestible and there is greater nutrient bioavailability.

Place oat grouts in a bowl, just cover with water and leave at room temperature for two days. You can leave for longer if you choose to create a more intense acidic flavour. To assist the process, add a tablespoon of sauerkraut juice, apple cider vinegar or kefir to the water.

Strain the oats, saving the soak water, then simply eat the grains as they are with soaked nuts and seeds and seasonal fruits. Alternatively, you can cook the grouts, either in the soak liquid or fresh water, depending on your flavour preference. Gently heat the oats and cook very slowly until thick and creamy. Add a pinch of salt and serve with whatever you fancy.

May your good bacteria flourish!

Beetroot and feta salad 

A bowl of cooked beetroot and feta cheese
There was a time I barely knew you, beetroot. I thought I had your number (only good for borscht) but oh your hidden depths. 

Raw in beetroot and carrot salad, roasted for caramelised sweetness, sumptuous in chocolate brownies

Beetroot’s unequivocal colour makes it a natural dye. Bear in mind beetroot turns  everything red. (Including your urine). 

Red is fitting because iron-rich beetroot helps make red blood cells. Its powerful pigment is due to the super-nutrient, betacyanin. Beetroot has been used medicinally for centuries because it helps detoxify the liver. 

This is my current fave way to eat beetroot. 

Beetroot and feta salad 

The feta adds creamy saltiness to beetroot’s natural sweetness, while the raw red onion adds succulent crunch and freshness. 

You can substitute crumbly white cheese such as Caerphilly, or fried tofu, for the feta.

Two large beetroots or a few small ones 

1-2 small red onions or shallots sliced/chopped 

Packet of feta cheese 

Olive oil and balsamic to taste 

Scrape or peel beetroots. Cut into chunks or cubes, cover with cold water and bring to the boil then simmer for about 25 minutes or until beetroot is easy to cut but not too soft. 

Drain the beetroot (drink the cooled cooking juice!), and put into a serving bowl. Add the cut-up red onion and diced feta. Drizzle the beetroot with oil and vinegar. 

Beetroot grows in the UK, and stores well – a perfect winter vegetable, and very versatile. 

What are your fave ways to eat the beet? 

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.