Food for thought

Research from my alma mater suggests we could improve our health by eating more fruit and vegetables than current guidelines advise.  5 a Day has long been the message in many European countries, the USA and New Zealand, while in Ireland they recommend four, in Denmark it’s six portions, in France they aim for ten, and the Japanese are apparently advised to eat seventeen helpings of planty goodness a day.  Meanwhile in Australia the sensible suggestion is 2 & 5 (not to be confused with the 5 : 2 diet).  If you ask me, the best advice – as summed up pithily by my favourite health journalist Michael Mosley – is ‘eat more plants!’ 

I don’t preach anything (interestingly, not one of my patients has ever asked for dietary advice.  Make of that what you will) but here is a little of what I try to practise.  I’ve never been very good at denial, so not eating deep-fried yumyums or lardy cake has never worked for me, whereas celebrating vegetables and making them the centre of my meal, does.

Here are links to some of the plant-based meals we have cooked over the past week.  All of them are delicious, inexpensive, and not too difficult to prepare – if you have the right tools.  Which brings me back to one of the very thorny issues surrounding health in this country, which is that it’s more accessible to the rich than the poor.  A lot of the media storm surrounding the publication of the study analysing the link between fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality focused on the horror of already ‘having to’ ‘force down’ the recommended five.  I drink a green smoothie most mornings made of handfuls of kale, spinach or lettuce, apples, pears, bananas, lemons, nuts (sometimes even broccoli!), so that’s about four before I’ve even left the house.  I am not exaggerating when I say my life was revolutionised by a Vitamix.  It cost £400.  (I have tried other, less powerful, blenders.  They didn’t cut it.)  You can make most of these recipes without a blender or food-processer, but at the end of a long day at work, I probably wouldn’t.  I don’t have the answers.  If you do, please let me know.

You might notice that a lot of these recipes are by vegan bloggers.  I am an omnivore, to say the least.  If we eat breakfast together and you leave bacon rinds on the side of your plate, I will pick them up and eat them.  (I’m sorry if you find that disgusting.  They are crispy and salty and delicious, and I really hate food waste.)  I can think of fewer things finer to eat than marrow bone on toast.  I love perfectly pink lamb’s liver, melty pork knuckle, and unctuous oxtail stew.  At Christmas time we have a tongue, which I cook from scratch.  If you have ever peeled a tongue, you will know how much I like it to make that worthwhile.  But if you want to know how to incorporate vegetables into your everyday meals and make them tasty and filling and rewarding, these are the people who know how.

All photos are copied from the authors of these recipes.  I can cook and eat fairly well, but food styling is not one of my strong points, and the idea here is to make you want to eat these dishes, not wonder why someone so cack-handed puts their photographs on the internet.

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Vegan veggie falafels in lettuce wraps with apple & cabbage slaw, by Josephine of A Tasty Love Story (possibly my favourite food blog ever)

The best tasting falafels I have ever eaten, or, in the words of him indoors, ‘The business!’  The ‘dough’ was quite wet so they didn’t stay crisply round, and in fact this ended up more like a fried spread than falafel (much like refried beans!).  We ate them in flatbreads with grated raw carrot and cabbage and the dressing drizzled over.  The dressing is amazing.  I thought I might give up on falafeling them and just whizz these ingredients into a dip, but the coconut oil rounded off the flavour perfectly.  Whichever way you do it, make these!  They are yumtious.

ETA: Josephine suggests mixing in flour or psyllium husk to soak up any extra liquid, and letting the dough rest afterwards for 30 mins before cooking.  We had some left over, and by the next day it had hardened up quite a lot in the fridge, so if you have time, chilling the mix before frying might be a good idea.

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 Mushroom and green pea curry (khumbh or dhingri mutter curry) by Kanan Patel of Spice Up the Curry

I found Kanan’s blog by Googling for this recipe (‘mushroom curry blog’.  Original, eh?) and am really looking forward to trying more of her recipes.  This curry was bright and clean and creamy, packed with flavour, immensely satisfying but not heavy.  I made a few substitutions (fenugreek powder as I couldn’t find fenugreek leaves, fresh coriander stirred in at the end instead of powdered because we had some wilting in the fridge) and used very little chilli in deference to requests.  It stood up to my hatchet job well, but I can’t wait to make a more authentic version once I’ve found some methi leaves!

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Cauliflower curry with chard and coconut milk, from The Clean Plates Cookbook by Jared Koch and Jill Silverman, via Tess Masters, The Blender Girl 

I used chopped dried apricots instead of raisins because I don’t like raisins in savoury food, and didn’t top it with dried coconut because we didn’t have any.  This is warming, bright and tasty – and a lot healthier than my beloved cauliflower cheese.  It’s even nicer the next day, when the flavours have had time to meld.

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Pesto brown rice with sautéed greens by Amanda of Pickles & Honey

I always cook too much rice, and then am slightly at a loss for what to do with it.  Well, now I know!  I can’t think why I’ve never done this before, since adding pesto to risotto is one of my favourite things.  Maybe because for some reason I don’t really like cheese with brown rice.  (I know, specific huh?)  This was my first attempt at vegan pesto and it went well with this meal, leaving the rice and greens bright and clean, but for coating pasta or stirring through risotto I might stick to parmesan.  The lemon juice is a really nice addition making for a zingy vibrant pesto which I will definitely use again.

Lentil-Loaf-1-3Glazed lentil walnut apple loaf, adapted by Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows from a recipe by Terry Walters

This recipe reminded me of an amazing nut strudel I ate at Fellini’s (before watching The Grand Budapest Hotel), and I was looking forward to trying it all week.  I skipped the glaze, and replaced the pesky raisins with chopped dried apricots.  It wasn’t quite as good as the strudel, but is definitely a new favourite recipe. Wholesome, tasty, savoury and satisfying, it makes for plenty of great leftovers.  Oh, and it didn’t fall apart!

I was out two nights this week (eating a halloumi and portobello mushroom burger in the pub for a colleague’s birthday drinks, and some yummy Egyptian food at a friend’s wedding).  The Bank Holiday weekend left time for some slightly more elaborate food preparation than usual, and because I was thinking about this post I looked up new recipes instead of recycling old faithfuls, but otherwise this was a fairly typical week in our house.

I don’t often get on my soapbox on this blog.  If this sparked any thoughts, comments or complaints, let me know.  And please pass on the good word.

Eat more plants!

Posted in breakfast, cooking, life, soapbox | 6 Comments

And, breathe

The first things we do when we get here are to unpack the car, turn on the water, note the metre readings, switch on the storage heaters, make the bed, have a drink.  Depending on the time of year and time of day we might light a fire.

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After that I like spending a few minutes out here.  Listening to the sheep crop the grass and call to their lambs, and the answering bleat which changes pitch throughout the year, the rustling leaves and the burbling brook if it’s been raining a lot, the occasional curlew, maybe a startled pheasant.  Smelling the cool sweetness and earthy damp or sundried grass.  Feeling the sharpness of the wind or the sun on my skin.  Often, the rain in my hair.

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Tomorrow I will look for the lake which might have formed in the hollow at the bottom of that hill, or see if it’s been and gone, leaving field mushrooms in fairy rings.  We’ll find snowdrops or daffodils along the bottoms of stone walls, bluebells or badger sets in the wood.  I might pick nettles for soup or wild garlic in the lane, apples from the old tree or maybe those mushrooms if I’m feeling brave enough.

But for now I’ll just stand here a moment, feeling something unfurl.

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Posted in life, noticing | 4 Comments

Box clever

Stuff vs experience is always hotly debated.

I am the first person to connect stuff with happiness.  (OK, maybe the second).  But there is evidence to suggest that buying activities rather than objects – and ideally choosing pastimes which involve sharing and being with others – is the route to happiness.  Being out of full-time work for a while made me reassess some of my spending priorities, and I’ve started to think less of a treat as something to be carried home wrapped in tissue paper than as time spent with people you love.  If that person is yourself, that’s no less wonderful.  One of the nicest things I did last year was to treat myself to breakfast for one at The Wolseley on the way home from a particularly brutal set of night shifts.  I may have been less well kempt than my fellow breakfasters, but that haggis with fried duck egg was glorious.

Reading Duchesse’s recent post about the cost of culture Stateside, and Pierre Foglia’s point about the replacement of art with armchair columnists and consumerism, hit home.  It also made me realise was how lucky we are to be living in London, with its wealth of possibilities on our doorstep.  Knowing I was about to embark on a job working normal hours, able to make plans in advance (and actually stick to them! Amazing) I resolved to get myself to the theatre toot sweet.

So obviously, when I received a text from Will inviting me to the opera, my first thought was ‘Why is he texting me in the third person?’

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… quickly followed by ‘A box!  Crumbs.’

Will is a muscian.  He thinks sitting so close to the stage gives you the best balance between the singers and the orchestra.  Marginally restricted viewing means that the tickets are cheaper, too.  This box between four of us worked out at £46 each.

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This was Die Frau ohne Schatten, The Woman without a Shadow.  I’d never seen a Strauss opera before.  I first discovered Strauss watching The Hours (Meryl Streep in her New York kitchen cooking lobster with Jessye Norman singing Four Last Songs turned up loud.  I fell for the kitchen and the music in one fell swoop), but his operas aren’t put on very often.  This one, staged at the Royal Opera House to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birth, is long and the story didn’t sound promising.  Turn it into a nightmare, with lots of people wearing animal heads, and it looked odder still.

It was wonderful, though.  The animals, doubles of their spirit/human counterparts and omens, were beautiful to watch.

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As was the orchestra.  The only downside of being able to see so much was getting swept away and forgetting to read the subtitles.  (My German extends to ‘Guten tag’ and ‘Zum wohl’).

IMG_1606The Royal Opera House is of course beautiful.

IMG_1630Looking out of the Paul Hamlyn bar

The ROH house white is pretty nice, too.  Reserve yours in advance for the interval and avoid the ravening crowds.

IMG_1639IMG_1628People more organised than us who had booked supper for the interval

The best thing about Die Frau ohne Schatten (and the orchestra and singing were wonderful, and the set design was pretty snazzy so it’s a tough contest) was the conductor, Semyon Bychkov.  I am not a music critic, so have searched  for someone who summed up better than I can what I felt.  In the words of Stephen Pollard, ‘you will never hear a finer performance of a Strauss opera than the blazing, incandescent, tender and opulent reading of the glorious score that Semyon Bychkov secures from the Royal Opera House orchestra … we have the Vienna and Berlin philharmonics rolled into one in the Covent Garden pit.’  I would travel far to listen to Bychkov conduct again.  Apparently he’s a Strauss specialist.

IMG_1616I can’t recommend it to you because that was the last night.  But if you get a chance to see Bychkov conducting Strauss, grab it with both hands.

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The best £46 I’ve spent in ages.  Absolutely no question.

Posted in adventures, concerts, London | 11 Comments

Tea and sympathy

My husband was admitted to hospital with a pneumothorax on Monday.  When they’re big they can be life-threatening.  His was quite big.  This happened on the first day of the second week of my new job.  As you can imagine, life has been a bit stressful recently.  He’s home now and I am taking refuge in a cup of tea.

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This is one of those mugs I bought at the Emma Bridgewater factory shop on a trip to Stoke with some of my best friends.  The tea is Darjeeling, which I keep in a tin bought from the gift shop at Cotehele, when I visited with the very same friends.

Incidentally, I had to make this with a tea infuser, as I have broken my teapot.  So I am now in search of a teapot.  Our wedding china is Wedgwood white, but I think the teapot looks a bit too much like an elephant.  Any suggestions, please let me know!  I’d like to buy something British and not too expensive.  I love these, but would be desolate if I broke one.

Posted in life, love | 15 Comments

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho

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I start tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

Picture kindly borrowed from here.
Posted in life | 14 Comments

This is not a piece of (birthday) cake

This is a slice of toast, from a loaf with a slightly burnt crust to which I forgot to add salt.  It is spread with salted butter and honey my sister brought back from France, and sprinkled with cinnamon (thanks Tabitha!).  It is good.

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I’ve been trying to bake bread for about a year and a half.  My first few loaves didn’t rise properly.  The next couple stuck to the tin.  I learnt to read the recipe (um, yes, well done me) and grease the loaf tins.  Occasionally the crust would burn slightly before the dough was cooked all the way through (or the loaf sounded hollow when knocked on the bottom).  I muddled on, tweaking this, trying that.  Sometimes we would have a few really good loaves for our sandwiches for a couple of weeks.  Then the loaves would burn, or stick, or both.  Or I’d forget the salt.  Often it seems I’m taking two steps forward and three steps back – but hey, isn’t that line dancing?  (I apologise if it’s not.  I’ve never tried line dancing).

As well as the butter, the honey, and the advice from friends, I am grateful for this imperfect slice of toast and a cup of good strong tea for my birthday breakfast.  It is a small paving stone along my path.  It’s a sign of something I’m not particularly good at, and haven’t given up on.  Last year was busy, wonderful, and hard work, I learnt an awful lot (although not, apparently, about bread) and they say life begins at thirty!  I have a feeling this year is going to be bigger yet.

Happy my birthday, everyone!  Any advice about the journey, or bread-baking, gratefully received.

Posted in life | 13 Comments

Happy New Year!

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Wishing all of you the happiest of New Years, and a 2014 full of love and laughter.

Posted in celebrations | 9 Comments