Archives for the month of: March, 2014


I’ve decided I’m not going to write a post about Guava Jelly, even though Bob Marley singing about it is happy and sexy.  Enjoy the song and feel reprieved…

Instead I am going to share all those web links that accumulate in files on my computer. I guess these offerings of links really do illustrate the Kitchen-Counter-Culture approach to food, cooking and eating.  Here goes:

A farmer in the Philippines inspiring soil health with Lacto-bacillus (the critters in our ferments)

And the Importance of Good Soils in Harnessing Carbon as a response to Climate Change

and a piece on a visionary seed-saver in India connecting Climate Change and diversity of rice varieties.

How the Quinoa brou-ha-ha may be conceptualised differently in the North and the South issues of “malnutrition, commodity markets, land degradation, and globalisation.”

There’s a campaign that’s very important protecting the interests of small and poor farmers in Africa against the land-grabbing and market-dominating tactics of big corporations–Read this Red Pepper article as well as this interesting portal.  Here’s a link to the World Development Movement campaign.  This is important. Food Security for people means small systems, not being marginalised in the big ones.  Where we still have any leverage, we must use it.

An interesting piece on the world history of Rhubarb and how to think of it as a savour ingredient– I’ve used it really successfully in Indian “curries” (whoops, sorry!) so can vouch for this.

A recipe for an alternative soy sauce though calls for beef stock.  Interestingly I remember being suggested a vegan beef-stock alternative as a good mixture of black-strap molasses and soy sauce.

A wonderful list of things to do with dandelions — I love these kind of lists — and there are so many more ideas as well.  Dandelions, in their abundance, are such an incredible gift, and feeling thankful for them is a spiritual practice of spring and summer for me.  Here’s a recipe for Spicy Fried Dandelion Flowers.  And a piece on Dandelion Root and, among other things, dehydrating them.  A few weeks ago, inspired by Pascal Baudar of Urban Outdoor Skills (operating in dry Southern California so very different from my cool moist world here), I made a kimchi with lots of dandelion leaves– it turned out really well.  Get ready for a fun Dandelion post from Moi-Meme coming up in the next few weeks 🙂


Getting personal: After all those years I had migraines, small ones and large ones, I did come to believe a leaky-gut hypothesis, and pretty much feel healed by eating very very low (though not no) gluten and sugar.   This article talks about a the role of Zonulin in Leaky Gut syndrome from a Paleo point of view.

Here’s a fun list of ways to get fermented foods in your diet throughout the day, for health and healing maybe of that Leaky Gut…

Last but not least, and on a differetn and happy note, this seems like a really fun thing to do with children who, like mine, were or are Roald Dahl obsessed: Lickable Wallpaper as in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. 

On Bergamot and Blackberry Leaf

Thank you Wikipedia for reminding us that these informative, pleasure-giving engravings are our COMMON heritage, ie, in the Commons!)


This morning on the radio: not enough talk about the IPCC report, Boo Hiss!  Climate and how we are going to shift the destructive ways of society is the most important topic there is!

But good anyway: mention of a new study linking the Bergamot in Earl Grey Tea with effective reductions in heart disease.  I do love Earl Gray, so feel encouraged to indulge.  Read here about all the goodness in Bergamot extract.

A few questions arose–

Do we consider that these studies took place at universities in the regions of Italy that grow the most of these citrus fruits, thus maybe the researchers are not scientifically neutral, or maybe they are, and it’s all ok?

Do we wonder about the life and conditions of the people working on these farms in Italy, much as years ago the Body Shop  tried to promote community / Fair Trade for the bergamot in their cosmetics?    I remember there being an expose of workers in Haiti who picked the oranges for Grand Marnier— is the citrus industry universally brutal?

So many varieties of citrus, and our knowledge of them is really so limited:  are citrus varieties going the way of homogeneity like so much else in the world food supply managed by agribusiness?

And could I grow Bergamot here in mid-altitude, mid-latitude Wales?  Not really.  Turns out the wonderful Monarda, aka Bee Balm, aka Bergamot, is something completely different even if the smell of the flowers is reminiscent.  But I think someday I’ll try to grow it anyway, for all its own wonders and charms.

Ah, I wish I had a nice cuppa Earl Grey with which ponder and research these issues…

In the meantime, I was reminded of a successful experiment last year, making what I saw referred to as Iron Age Earl Grey? Or was it Stone Age Earl Grey? Or….  Ancient Land of the Celts Earl Grey?  You get the picture.

Brambles are everywhere, and the leaves are nutritious and useful from a herbal point of view.  (And for the tannins, they are great stuck in a fermentation of vegetables to aid in keeping the crunch!)  Here’s another concise description — “Blackberry and Raspberry Plants in Herbal Medicine.”

So when you are out foraging, in byways and fields or a suburban back garden, and  if you find yourself this spring digging the aggressive vines and suckers that shall indeed inherit the earth (not the meek!)– pick the lovely young leaves off the blackberry stems and let them dry inside.    Beat them a little– crumple, rumple, wear them down….  Then let them live in a moist tea towel for a few days, ferment a little, then dry them out again, for use and for storage.  They will have the most lovely perfume, comparable to the bergamot in Earl Grey, and a slight, enjoyable bitterness in the health-giving, foraged tea you make with them.



And Bread Begat Bread, and Pizza, and Cake, OR, How To Use, Not Waste, a Stale Loaf of Bread.

If you are in Mid-Wales, living in or near Llanidloes, and you like good food, there is the wonderful Andy’s Bread — organic, often with Welsh grain, “artisanal,” and truly locally made and enjoyed.  It’s too good, in my humble opinion, always absolutely delicious — mainly and extremely challenging to my wheat problems, because I can’t have just one little sliver– I end up eating half the loaf.

So somehow I must have hidden from myself this hunk of his Vermont Sourdough, because I found it stale- hard as a rock, as pictured above.

I thought to make breadcrumbs, but didn’t fancy grating it, and our food processor is on its last legs.

I could have shaved the stale loaf into pieces, and soaked them in a vinaigrette to use in a salad, or put them in the bottom of a brothy soup, which I imagine as something old-time and nostalgic in France.

Instead, I chose to experiment, and see if I could begin a sponge for a new loaf of bread– in other words, to use it as a mother, or as a baby, I’m not sure which.  So to my children’s consternation, I soaked the thing in water.

soaked bread, shredded

After soaking, as in the photo above, I shredded it, marvelling in the recyclability of bread.  At this point my goal was to make a new, bubbly, yeasty starter– so I added more water, and a little white flour.  Oh, how could I resist throwing in that handful of leftover brown basmati rice, knowing that white basmati is sometimes considered the perfect ingredient in a baguette? –and let it sit, to see if the yeast would come alive.

Two days later, nothing really seemed to be happening, but wanting to take some kind of action I added a hodgepodge of flours: Rye, Khorasan/ Kamut, and Gluten-Free White Flour.  30 years ago, a Goddess of an older Norwegian woman, who herself made incredible, earthy breads, taught me this way, and that’s just how I do it.  Throw it in, mix and match…  Oh yeah, this time I threw in a handful of caraway seeds as I would were I making rye bread.


Can you notice above, the chunks that remain of the original soaked bread, the brown at the top the crust?

It took more than a day to get a little bubbly,  as the natural yeasts were activated by eating sugars present and doing their emitting of carbon dioxide, at which point I added olive oil, salt, and enough flour to make a proper dough which I could knead and and form into a sweet loveable ball and wait for it to rise.


And rise it never actually did, I think because maybe some honey or sugar would have helped, or maybe a more vibrant colony of yeasts from the beginning?  But never mind– the original loaf was still NOT WASTED, which was my goal, and I rolled what there was into lovely bases for my childrens’ supper:


This is to say that bread is a magic ingredient and bread can beget bread, or in this case, pizza dough.

And last year, bread begat cake, a Sourdough-leavened Chocolate Cherry layered cream cake, reproduction of which for the purpose of blogging please stay tuned. x





The End of the Lime: Some Top Tips

The End of the Lime, or, How Not to Waste that Precious Little Dehydrated Organic Golf Ball That’s Come All the Way from Mexico.

There they were, free for me to take, because otherwise they’d be thrown-out and wasted. Un-pretty, un-sellable, un-loved.

Did you know:  if you cut a lime in thirds, on the vertical axis, you get sections that yield the most juice. Different from the geometry of other citrus fruits.

These were so hard, I wasn’t sure I could even get a knife through them. Then I had the brain-wave to just throw one in with the chicken bones, zest and all, as the acidic element that helps those bones offer up their mineral goodness into the stock that is the basis of so many soups.  Despite my efforts to get this family eating lower on the food chain, when we do eat something with bones, I make the most of them this way.  All scraps (except Brassicas, which get bitter [though that may be a gospel I’m ready to question]) from leeks and onions and carrots and parsnips and bits of herbs and nettles and potato skins (if not green) and and and…

(I love this post on the wonderful blog Foodways Pilgrim on Potato Peel Broth)

In this case, I knew the stock was going to the agent of transformation for the leftovers from a curry my husband made for supper, to become, with  red lentils and some yoghurt, a soup. And there was the lime, looking forlorn, and I wanted to sour up that curry soup, and I wanted some of that calcium out of the chicken bones, and I just, maybe a bit recklessly, plopped it into the simmering stock.

(Here’s a great article on why not to use the word “curry” as I just did.)

In the morning, I strained the stock and examined the lime, and it had rehydrated in a beautiful way, and conferred it’s sharp bright lime-ness into the liquid.  Now I am bemoaning the times in life I’ve tossed Citrus Rocks.  Now I know to reconstitute them this way.

And the soup was delicious.

I wonder if just soaking in plain old water would work?


PS On the Lime Shortage that’s causing prices to skyrocket:

PPS: A top tip from a very nice lady I met: put dried out lemons and limes briefly in a microwave if you have one for the freer flow of juice….


Last week I received some exciting seeds in a Seed Swap, yet I still need to order a few more packets of particular veg I want to grow, so I’m thinking about seeds…  I know so little really, so what I share may seem basic, or maybe not…

In a recent post on Syngenta’s  Kumato Tomatoes, I discussed some social-political-ecological problems inherent in the patenting of seeds, in this case, a hybrid variety.

This is a really good, concise piece by Vertical Veg on the problems with F1 hybrids.

Hybrids are often promoted by big seed companies, but they are less desirable for small, ecologically minded growers.  Open Pollinated seeds, as this excellent resource of a website explores:

“are naturally pollinated – by insects or wind; not enforced pollination or in-breeding.  

•contribute to food plant biodiversity

•are adaptable – they are genetically variable and therefore able to adapt to climate change, to particular landscapes and environmental conditions and evolve along with them.

can be seed-saved by farmers, market gardeners, home gardeners and allotment holders.

•seed saved will breed true-to-type plants, resembling parent plants – unlike hybrids.

•can be used to develop local varieties.

are non-GM, non-hybrid, and non-patented.”



I’ve lost the stained photocopy of my fool-proof marmalade recipe.

And I’d just bought a bag of organic, discounted end-of-the-line Seville Oranges, and some Blood Oranges, which to me are sweet-bitter-tart red-juice heaven.  So I needed to proceed without that perfect recipe– perfect in proportion, and in technique, and see what I can remember….

I remember:

the best thing is to save the pips/seeds and soak them in water for as long as possible, for a natural pectin.

from experience, many recipes call for too much water, which you end up wasting time and energy boiling off.

reading somewhere that old time peeps stuck in other fruits available (apples, for example), and a carrot now and then…

So that’s what I’ll do then: Divide my giant pan of orange peels and make four batches:

Orange  (Seville and Blood) and Beetroot Marmalade; Orange and Parsnip Marmalade; Orange and Carrot Marmalade, Orange and Beetroot and Parsnip and Carrot Marmalade.

The idea is to augment this essentially exotic (though traditional) preserve with a little bit of a local/seasonal ethos– and feel good about the vegetable content.

When I make jams, I’ve always been successful with the Joy of Cooking proportions done in volume measurements (the American way, vs. weight).  The recipe for jam from berries says 4 cups fruit to 3 cups sugar.  Wary of white sugar, I always try to reduce amounts, aware nonetheless that jam is after all a fruit and sugar preserve, and needs the sugar to gel and not go mouldy.   So with my Blackberry Jam, for instance, I’ll usually go for a very generous 4 cups to a very very scant 3 cups, and sometimes reduce further.  This will still taste super sweet to me.

Doing it this way, you can work with the amount of fruit and vegetable you happen to have, either more or less than a recipe might specify.  I’ve put over-ripe bananas in marmalade, soft apples…

I halved the oranges, as in the picture above, and squeezed the pips /seeds out into a sieve, retaining the juice.  The skins I cut into fine shreds.  The pips/ seeds soaked overnight in water, and indeed that water became gelatinous in texture, almost like flax seeds when soaked– so one can see why they are a great thickener.  I strained out the seeds and added the “pectin-water.”  And a little more water felt right.

And then I divided that lot of orange shreds, and to each lot added a cup or two of grated veg, measuring then the full bulk and adding sugar in the 4 to 3 ratio above.

(Next time I might cut the vegetables in fine, julienned slivers, for a slight “candied” effect.  When I thought to do this, I’d already committed myself to grating, which has a bulkier effect.)

Then simmer, for ages, until the orange is soft.  Add water if you feel you will need more “syrup.”  Test the jam’s readiness by placing a spoonful on a small plate in the fridge and if when cool it’s the texture you like, it’s ready.  Then place in hot hot hot jars, with a small round of parchment paper on top in case mould does want to grow, and put the lid on promptly.  That’s your marmalade.*

IMG_7060 IMG_7057

The photos don’t show the colours subtly enough– the really red one is the beetroot, the lightest one, the parsnip, and the medium dark one, the carrot.  They all taste very subtly different.

I am crazy for the bitter back taste of marmalade.  I reckon these preserves would be wonderful to make little Christmas tartlets with as well, with walnuts I’m imagining.

On the theme of vegetable jams, here are some nice recipes from the ever interesting kitchens of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

In December I made a lovely carrot jam, remembering Jane Grigson remembering Mrs. Beeton (recipe can be found on this site) — Jane Grigson in the wonderful book Good Things sticks in an almond I think, and talks about carrots being a war-time subsitute for apricots.  The colour is gorgeous.  I decided to up the almond idea by adding almond extract, and would do this again.  I look forward to making jam tarts with this carrot jam.




*Postscript, 16 May 2014.  I’ve been reading about Beet Jam, and came across this explanation why alkaline vegetables are not really shelf stable.  No one I’d encountered before was worried, but I feel dutibound, as a worrywort myself, to mention that Eugenia, below, recommends these as refrigerator jams vs. long term preserves.



A quick post.

When your eyes are open to something, you start to see it. I am interested in ways that ordinary people– that’s you and me, and him and her — maintain involvement with our food and reclaim involvement with our food.

Yesterday at a car boot sale I conversed with this man selling eggs. But he wasn’t selling them for eating. (“You could eat them,” he told me. “But that would be an expensive egg!” They were £1 each. ) These were eggs from breeds of hens and cockerels he’d carefully crossed. The eggs were available for people to buy to give to their own hens to be broody with, and to hatch.


(Car-Boot Sales are wonderful opportunities for people to people selling. I remember amazing Polish bakers at a carboot in Oxford. And of course all the jam and chutney sellers everywhere, and old folks with their pickled onions and pickled eggs and vinegar beetroots. Beautiful garden vegetables. Lots of opportunity for so much more.)

Then this morning, chatting with a local butcher, he told me about the rain-water system he was engineering to ensure that his new duck pond always had water, through wet and dry times. Then he showed me his “Green Eggs,” the rather huge hens eggs which he doesn’t sell really, but happened to have, and the pleasure he gets from crossing different kinds of chickens to see the eggs that result from the crosses.


Of course if these men were Mega-Corporations seeking control of the world food supply, they’d be trying to patent the breeds and the eggs created by careful planning and some serendipity.

Instead they are enjoying a productive, interesting hobby, and sharing for a pittance the fruits of their time and interest– which is the fruit of a chicken, The Egg.

This is Local Food, this is Food Sovereignty, this is Self-Sufficiency. It’s not the supermarket or the garden centre. It’s people and food, closely related. It gives me hope.

Fast Food Spinach Soup

As frequently as possible, I make a thermos flask of soup for my husband for his lunch. This is to use up leftovers, save family money so he doesn’t buy junk or eat out, and give him a portion controlled meal which he says helps him to feel energised rather than overfull.

I have lots to share about soup-making, which I will save for a less sunny day.

This morning first thing, I had loads to do and had to get out the door. So I took a quick, almost careless approach, which I’m transcribing into second person so you feel you could make it too if you’d like, such was the feeling of success:

7am.  Take out the recycling, lament how much friggin’ plastic there is that even you do not manage to avoid using.

Chop one large leek, saute  in a butter/ olive oil combo while you make the coffee.  Turn off the pan, drink your coffee upstairs with everyone else doing their morning thing.

Return downstairs, kick your son’s shoes out of the way, find some amazing fresh spinach you’ve bought, though a bit at the end of its life, from Great Oak Foods and decide you are too lazy to worry about examining the rather thick stems.  Or even to wash it, as it is organic, and decide if there is some sand, well, “a peck of dirt before you die” is a good motto.

Stuff the unwieldy spinach in with the chopped leek in the pot that is momentarily too small because spinach reduces in volume dramatically.  Throw in a glass of water, and another glass.  Realize you actually have bone broth in the freezer but decide it’s too frozen and too strong a flavour anyway.  Feel a bit stressed about time.   Begin to whirl it all together in your semi-broken food whizzer.  Decide too-pureed doesn’t matter anyway.

Put it back in the pan on the heat.  Add some pepper.  Grate a little nutmeg and think about how stale this spice is though still fragrant but without the top notes.   Imagine how expensive it would have been 400 years ago.

Find the jar of home-cultured Creme Fraiche in your fridge.  It’s a little on the edge but ignore this.  Add a tablespoon.  Add another.  Taste.  All’s fine.   Add some more water. Looks like you think soup should look.  Remember the out-of-date Feta you bought, ponder that it’s so salty but you’ve added no additional salt to the pot. Crumble a little into the soup.   Put in the flask and put the flask on the table and make sure your son’s trombone is in the car and that you know where you are meeting your daughter after school.  Forget to brush your hair.

For the bit you reheat later for your own lunch, garnish with toasted walnuts and pine nuts because they are delicious and they are there in a jar that somehow has lost it’s lid.

Et Voila!

And next time, because it’s spring and the greening ground is offering, it’ll be nettles and dandelion leaves.

Watching this is one of those experiences when your heart beats fast and you are not really sure if you can take in the enormity of all that pure information.  But the data somehow shoots straight in.

The shock is not “just” the hideous “waste” of food — it’s the greenhouse emissions, the land use, the fossil energy, the land, the water.  It’s staggering.  Definitely inspires thought and action towards changing a system that allows all this. in real time.

There’s a flu remedy I believe in. It’s pretty popular in the US and less well known in Britain, where the long spells of cold and damp certainly require some of the fire offered by this “cider” — really, Apple Cider Vinegar.  Fire Cider is a  nutritional supplement, really.

It’s considered “traditional”– of course it seems to take a multi-pronged approach to “tradition,” –but no worries — and has entered the DIY healing vernacular. I make it, and I take and give spoonfuls when extra immune boosting is needed, a cold or flu coming on,  or an infection rises somewhere in the body.  I often drink diluted vinegar anyway for a certain kidney-ish ache I seem to get if I eat too much cheese, and the discomfort slowly recedes. Fire Cider is extra powerful.

I prepare mine every year by finely chopping, in various relative quantities: onion, garlic, ginger, dried chills, horseradish if I have it (which is rarely), turmeric, maybe oregano– all the famous goodies. This article  has good variations and tells the story well,  with variations and possibilities.  They add honey– I never have, but what a good idea. There’s no need for strict rules.

Steep your concoction in ACV (as the hipsters call it) for as long as you wish (3 weeks or longer), then strain.  I tend to use what I’ve strained out as a marinade for spicy pork dishes.  You can be creative of course — make a soup– add it to anything really — marinate your tempeh, eat it plain if you’re feeling brave.

I’m writing now because there’s a campaign I support, to keep the name Fire Cider in the commons, belonging to all of us, at a time when a company in the US has trademarked it.  That means– taking something that belongs to all of us, claiming it for themselves, and profiting thereby.   For Goodness Sake!  (Or if I’m being English, “The bloody cheek!”  Here’s the petition– please sign it:

And if you are on Facebook, there’s a really fun action page called Tradition Not Trademark with photos people send in of their own homemade Fire Ciders and themselves toasting to the Fire Cider movement, and the plea to let local retailers know that the trademarked brand is stepping on our toes indeed!


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