Category Archives: health

Claudia Roden’s cholent

A soup bowl of cholent: cooked brisket, carrot, onion and potato visible

A bowl of cholent cooked overnight – I cut the fat off before eating but was grateful for it for ’tis the fat that gives the dish flavour

Cholent

From my late mother’s The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden, the cookbook writer and cultural anthropologist

Claudia Roden’s recipe is based on one by Shmulik and his wife Carmela, of  Shmulik Cohen Restaurant in Tel Aviv, which has neither changed its location (where it started as a street kiosk) or menu since it was founded in 1936 by Shmulik’s grandfather. Love a family business. 

This is the first time I have made cholent. What attracted me to this recipe were the marrow bones, a (cheap) nutritional powerhouse.  Also, I could cook it for hours and it was ready to eat when I got home from the Biodynamic Land Trust’s Land Whispering training.

Recipe
1kg (2lb) fatty beef – brisket, breast or rib

2 large onion sliced

Marrow bones 

1kg (2lb) peeled potatoes, whole if small, halved if big

100g (4oz) pearl barley (optional)

250g haricot or butter beans, soaked for one hour (or already cooked)

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and add whole peeled garlic cloves and a peck of dried chilli.

In a large pot or casserole with a tightly fitted lid, brown the meat (in its own fat or in a tablespoon of oil). Remove it, and fry onions till soft. Return the meat to the pot, add the marrow bones, potatoes, barley and beans around it, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Cover with water and bring to the boil. Remove the scum with a large metal spoon, then put the lid on and leave in the lowest oven (225F, 110C, gas 1/4) overnight.

A traditional dish to break today’s fast. Am afraid I did not fast, but I did feast.

It is autumn and harvest time. Happy new year!

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?

Growing farms in the UK

Wicker basket with freshly picked produce on the ground

The day after my mother’s funeral (glitter and gold in her honour), I got my dream job, as marketing and communications manager for the Biodynamic Land Trust, a charitable community benefit society.

The Biodynamic Land Trust grows farms. Founded in 2011, it secures biodynamic and organic farmland for community-ownership, 300 acres so far.

I am excited to be with an organisation working at the grassroots. The grassroots is where it’s at.

How does a community get to own a farm? Through buying community shares.

With interest at an all-time low, many investors are thinking ‘outside the bank’. By investing  in (withdrawable) community shares in an ethical enterprise, money can do good. 

Three freshly-laid eggs in a child's hand at Huxhams Cross Farm

Take Huxhams Cross Farm in Devon. Secured by the Biodynamic Land Trust in 2015, it is achieving great things thanks to community investment. The farm is in conversion to biodynamic agriculture. Its previously-bare fields are regaining fertility through green manures and soil-nurturing biodynamic preparations. 

The fledgling farm has planted 900 orchard trees, two acres of soft fruit, and 3,500 agro-forestry trees. It has a hundred chickens and two Shetland heifers.

Run by food-growing and wellbeing experts, the Apricot Centre, it has also raised a new barn, developed access to parking and organises a weekly box delivery with fellow local farmers, offering vegetables, fruit, eggs, and spring water from Dartmoor.

Signpost at Huxhams Cross Farm

The farm needs electricity and to harvest water, and to build a training and wellbeing centre. The centre will enable cooking, on-farm processing, and on-farm therapy for children (being on a farm is incredibly de-stressing for kids and increases the therapeutic offering). 

Are you inspired to help Huxhams Cross Farm? Invest now in Huxhams Cross Farm community share offer.

Children helping with harvest at Huxhams Cross Farm

POST SCRIPT

I made marmalade on Sunday.

Preserving pan with warm marmalade

I was about to compost the pith and pips when Michael said: whoa, and now its citrusy-ness fibre goes in every smoothie.  By the way, if you can get organic Seville oranges, do. More orangey.

img_2796

For several years I have kept my mother, Fay Winkler, in marmalade.

She was my marmalade’s biggest fan.

Her testimony is below.

 

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.

 

Brexit and GM food

“Waiter, waiter, where is the genetically modified food on the menu?”

Do you know anyone clamouring to eat genetically modified (GM) food?

One of the many reasons I voted Remain in the 2016 referendum was because the European Union (EU) largely protects its citizens against this unproven technology.

EU – a buffer against GM

Look, I am not saying the European Union (EU) is perfect. It needs reform. Obvs. 

But, in some areas, it has acted on my behalf.

The EU has also largely prevented the commercial growing of GM crops, only giving permission for one GM crop to be grown. 

In addition, European consumers can make informed choices about whether or not to eat GM thanks to the EU insisting that GM ingredients are labelled (unlike in North America, where its citizens are now campaigning for GM labelling). 

(Sadly, the EU does not label dairy and meat from animals fed on GM, but that is another story, and one that anti-GM campaigners are working on.).

GM is not popular in Europe. Over half of EU countries officially ban GM.

And British citizens have resoundingly rejected it. 

UK governments – Labour and Conservative – are, however, pro-GM. 

So far, the EU has prevented our green and pleasant land being turned into one giant biotech experiment.  

The question is: without the EU, how will our GM-free future fare?

Brexit uncertainty

The pack of cards is in the air.

The terms of Brexit have yet to be set in agriculture, as in all other areas.

Uncertainty creates opportunity.

Food and farming charities and organisations are wholeheartedly seizing this opportunity to lobby for sustainable farming.

However, the seed and chemical corporates are also seizing this opportunity, only in their case, to lobby for their profit-driven biotech future. 

And these multinationals have huge financial resources and well-oiled lobbying machines at their disposal.

In addition, a recent merger of Monsanto and Bayer increases their voracious drive for new markets.

To whom will our government listen, the sustainable food and farming groups, or the multinational corporations?

Hmnnn, I wonder.

Worrying signs

What will the UK government do? 

The UK government has signalled it will not be following the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). That is good – it needs reform. 

However, one of CAP’s merits is that it is strongly against GM. 

In a parliamentary written answer in October 2016, agricultural minister George Eustice said that “as part of preparations for the EU exit, the Government is considering possible future arrangements for the regulation of genetically modified organisms…Government “policy and regulation in this area” should be “science-based and proportionate”.

Possible future arrangements for regulation? From a government in favour of deregulation? Uh oh. 

Proportionate? GM Watch warns this may be a weasel word for “weaker.” 

Forgive my cynicism, but post-Brexit, I fear we are girding our loins for another fight to protect our fields and food from GM. 

Risks of GM

If the UK voted Brexit to strengthen sovereignty, then GM means a potential loss of food sovereignty.

Why? When a biotech seed company genetically modifies a seed, it gives the company the legal right to patent it. Whoever owns the seed (via a patent), controls our food supply. 

Yet seeds know no boundaries and naturally cross-pollinate. When a GM seed lands unlicensed on a farmer’s field, the farmer can be sued. 

The Guardian reports

“The agricultural giant Monsanto has sued hundreds of small farmers in the United States in recent years in attempts to protect its patent rights on genetically engineered seeds” 

Half of all seeds worldwide are now owned by a handful of multinational chemical companies, and their seeds are becoming increasingly expensive.

According to Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at the US Organic Center: “The $70 per bag price set for [GM] RR2 soybeans in 2010 is twice the cost of conventional seed and reflects a 143% increase in the price of GM seed since 2001”.

GM ties farmers into expensive arrangements because they have to buy the proprietary pesticide that goes with the GM seed engineered to not die when sprayed with these proprietary pesticides. 

GM alters the genetic make-up of seeds – a GM seed is not the same as its non-GM counterpart

We do not know if GM food is safe or healthy to eat.

There are rising incidences of allergies in the US where, due to the lack of labelling, consumers have unwittingly consumed GM for decades. There is a growing body of studies which suggests GM food can be harmful

Organic standards ban genetically modified ingredients from every stage of production – one of the many reasons I chose organic food. 

Citizens, be vigilant!

So, fellow real food lovers, I beg you, get informed about the risks of GM.

What do you think?