Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Blackberries; Those little berries that grow quite happily in the hedgerow for anybody inclined to pick them, wash them and make them into something truly delicious.

They remind me of summer times previous to now when my mum and I would get on our bikes and head for some fields not far from where we lived, in seek of such delights. This was before the modern age of popularity in foraging. At the time I just saw it as a great day out – truly happy to arrive back later in the day stained purple in the face and hands (and probably clothes…) and ready to help turn our free produce into an apple and blackberry crumble; which is invariably what would happen due to the Brambly apple tree which still to this day stands proud in our back garden laden with fruits.

My childhood is filled with food memories like this – looking back whilst writing this it seems like I lived a bit of a fairytale existence as regards food. My mum was not particularly health conscience, she let us eat sweets but my brother and sister and I were also used to the vegetables pulled fresh from the garden in the summer, which as I have written before we pretty much took for granted. In fact, at the time I don’t think I even realised that everyone else on my road did not get food the same way. However, the popularity for foraging seems to now be focused on buzz words – food miles, waste not, freshness – things ironically that the food industry likes to promote. It seems strange that nobody seems to really mention that it is free, of course this is a factor I am sure for some people still, but I think this is the main reason as to why I have these memories, rather than anything of the above. We were not a well off family, and this simply helped the budget along I guess.

However, to some extent, money in irrelevant. And I think that is an important value to learn, but one which the Food Industry never will even though I wish it could, as it definitely might improve the situation of some of our food we consume. Anyway, let us not go into that today. I want to talk about another of my favourite food memories which was in some woods that a friend of my mum happened to own. We used to go there a lot, in fact I had one of my birthdays (maybe when I was about 12?) there; waking up in a tent which had been decorated with brightly coloured balloons among the trees is a memory that not many people my age can say they have.

 The people who owned the woods lived there in a yurt – a fascinating building they had built themselves with willow branches and canvas and one evening when we visited, I remember these huge mushrooms (purely for eating, nothing else) which must have been picked nearby, being roasted over a campfire using a stick and broken up between the group. A piece filled my little hands and being the ever adventurous one when it comes to eating – I took a bite. Smokey, nutty, amazing. And a flavour I don’t think I have had the privilege to receive since.

It is memories like these that keep my interest in food alive. I probably did not have a traditional childhood per say, but when I have had experiences like these, why would anyone want one?

 

Hum. I’m thinking about getting a veg box delivered each week (or maybe every two weeks depending on how healthy I’m feeling) when I go back to university. I know that is the most unstudent’y thing to ponder, but pondering it I am. You see, where I currently live, my landlord has one delivered each week from Boxfresh Organics and I really like their ethos. There is no packaging waste like a lot of fruit and veg in the supermarkets, because it is delivered in a cardboard tray and taken away again by the lovely delivery man to be reused. It is organic, which actually I do not have a preference for due to the fact I did a recipe demonstration representing the Soil Association a while back and came out thinking a lot of the health arguments for organic simply do not hold up too strongly. Nonetheless I would be more than happy to support the organic sector on the grounds that organic farmers are usually better paid, and even more so is this the case when supplying to box schemes that in most cases pay a very fair premium. Supporting local produce, and with it the local farmers I feel is massively important and one ethic which should not just be seen as a ‘trend’.

Now I just have to get over the fact that my brain knows I will be living on a pittance and that with an individual fruit and veg box costing around £11, that equates to a lot of bowls of pasta.

On the plus side, it has got to beat struggling to drag my 5 a day a mile home from the supermarket on foot.

Being a student trying to have a clear conscience is difficult.

Festival Eating

I have noticed that a lot of the popular food blogs write predominantly about the same restaurants that are opening, the same food events that they have been invited to. And as much as I like to read about these, it was seems slightly cliquey sometimes, and besides, I do not live in London.  So instead, being a student, and pretty averse to dining out anywhere for over a tenner unless it is a very important event (i.e. birthdays…yes that pretty much covers the term ‘important’), I’m going to blog on the wonders of festival eating instead.

Festivals. The illusion of rolling out of a mouldy smelling tent, onto damp grass (or due to the proximity of pitch – into someone else’s tent…) and dragging yourself from the previous nights excesses into an absolute air of hunger. It isn’t sophisticated, I am not trying to pretend there is glamour in this type of eating, but nonetheless, we minions must eat. And believe it or not, good food is available for those of us (and there are a few) who are willing (and/or able) to find it.

I went to Glastonbury this year for the first time in quite a few, and having been there a number of times with my parents when I was little, had vivid memories only of the food being on a standard slightly above school dinners. I must explain that my parents used to work for Oxfam on the fields, which meant free dinner tickets in the workers tent; which also meant a lot of soya milk and baked beans – both of which to this day I still cannot stand

However this year I really was impressed by general quality and variety of food stalls, and even more so by the prices – which, at around £6 a main meal really was not bad at all. Festival food in general has a reputation for pretty average burger vans and not much else, when in fact there are a number of popular eateries dotted around the country that now go on festival tours each summer. Maybe to promote their brand and gain recognition, maybe just to make money (they deserve credit – working flat out noon til night over a grill in dying heat as they did this year ) ; whatever the reason I am so glad they do.

Take for example my favourite of them at Glasto – Thali Café. A stall which I discovered on the first day of hunger pangs as it happened to be near my (badly pitched) tent. Serving up good portions of curry and popodoms, it must have made a killing, but it kept me happily supplied for a few days. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across the fact it had won “best takeaway” at the BBC radio 4 Food and Farming awards on my entrance back into the real world the week after. Actually surprise is not quite the right word, my taste buds knew it was good, its just you don’t imagine festival stalls to actually be places people eat at in the real world.

Granted, Glasto has an ethical backbone, and therefore the stalls tend to reflect this in their food, however other festivals are increasingly followed suit.

The festival food stereotype has well and truly left this country, so get your wellies* out and go see some music with a lovely bit of grub.

I recommend the following if you are at a festival and happen to see them:

Thali Cafe – YUM!

The Soulful Food Company – Couldn’t find a website but I think this is what it was called? Serving ethically conscience main meals – I had free range turkey meatballs and rice

Tea & Toast- in a beautiful little camper van decorated with flowers serving as the name suggests…

Square Pie – Obviously because Pie is God.

And if you get thirsty (inbetween the cider!): The Orchard Pig – lovely apple juice based drinks but may only do Glasto

And of course, only at Glasto – The Milk Lorry. 80p a pint of COLD white stuff and an absolute morning lifesaver. Definately well appreciated by many, including myself.

 

(*Stereotype no.2 – festival essentials = wellies AND sun cream (no really, follow my words of wisdom and make sure you cover both these bases on packing)

Photo credits: John Cleur and Clare Waddington – Glasto Website. Better pictures than I managed that weekend – Kudos.

I wish I had a garden. Not a big one, not one with trees, and a pond or anything near as scenic, simply one so I could grow something. I find nature amazing. I won’t ramble on about “planting a seed and watch it grow”, we all know how it works; but I speak from experience as a devoted devourer of my mum’s home grown vegetables that there is definitely a marked difference between the vegetables that she grows from her plot and those in a supermarket. Now, I don’t write this on attack of those supermarkets with their identical produce; we all have to get our 5 a day somewhere, but I am right behind the trend in allotment keeping and home growing; waiting lists for allotments are in the 3 year mark in some parts of the country – a few years ago and this land was unattended and sad looking.  It inspires me that as a nation we are finally getting back into the roots of food, as we should be; dirt and all.

I’ve come to appreciate this since moving away from home for university. Before this time, I have to admit I took for granted all the brilliant produce my mum grew singlehandedly in our back garden, which would be pulled from the ground often no more than an hour before it ended up on our evening dinner plates. However, going back there this summer on occasional weekends really has made me appreciate it. Maybe two months ago I sowed some peas (my favourite kind of vegetable) and poked in a row of twigs (collected from a nearby wood) for climbing aid. Since I have been eagerly track their growth which to me seems miraculous when I’m not there every day. Sprouting from the earth – shoots – climbing – flowers – PEAS. And peas it was indeed last weekend. Out I practically danced, colander in hand, to harvest my loot. It really did make me happy. This made me wonder why my mum did it, because I know the hard work involved. It takes alot – you need more determination than just the nice illusion of home growing that the media tends to create. And her answer? “Because that’s what my mum and dad used to do so it just seemed normal to keep doing it.”

I really hope to be able to follow in her footsteps one day. Until then I’ll just nick her produce when I go home…

I really was happy! But i don’t think the whole internet needs to see my face 🙂 Instead, I’ve given myself a pea for a head using really high tech graphics .

I think about food a lot. But it occurred to me the other day – what is it that actually makes us like food for enjoyment and not just simply eat for the sake of filling ourselves with some kind of sustenance? I mean, I did not come from a background which entitled me to dinner in an exclusive establishment once a week with foams and terrines and yet, here I find myself, 21 years after birth, forging a career with food as the main backbone, as if eating it at least three times a day is not enough. Yes I like to eat it, but I think it is more than that. Food is interesting, and is an integral part of culture. For some parts of the world, food is what keeps a community spirit alive, and gives hope to those who have none. I realise that last sentence sounds a little philosophical, but in a more modern sense of rambling, I can see how food keeps people together, whether in the form of a family sit down meal in the evening, or on a lazy afternoon on the grass with a few friends and a picnic hamper.

So in regards this, it makes me wonder where society went wrong with good food with little money. My mum was (and is.) able to make a meal for very little money but with a punch load of taste and nutrition yet the media surrounding food of those on low income suggests the opposite is more common. But really can you blame them, when a frozen chicken Kiev and chips works out a lot cheaper than a salad and a few new potatoes? It is true that as a nation, we are lacking the apparent skills to cook as we did when we had less money in general, but maybe to blame lies somewhere in the food industry who make it so easy for us not to cook?

Saying this, there has been a recent resurgent in home cooking, and for that I applaud the industry with simple to prepare, not quite home cooking, not quite ready meal solutions to help those English folk on their way to enjoying food properly again. And maybe, just maybe, it will be a home baked cupcake next week smelling out the kitchen!

Lemon & poppyseed cupcakes

(That last sentence concerning the trend for baking cupcakes could create a whole blog rant of it’s own..)

“We are indeed much more then what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are” Adelle Davis (1904-1974)

Like so much else, this little project was a resolution which was quickly flung to the back of my mind whilst I busied myself well, erm, doing little else of substance. But that’s just the way it is… Isn’t it?

Anyway, I am back. The blog is unlocked for any nature of eyes to view and I am back thinking up an article of substance – it doesn’t seem to be going so well does it…

Molecular Gastronomy – it is the talk of the town I hear. A method to the means of culinary delight, favoured by those restaurateurs of the foodie forefront – Heston & The Fat Duck, Andria & El Bulli – you name it, they’ve created it using emulsifiers, stabilisers, gums (amongst others). A approach to food which results in a scientific spectacular on a plate, or so I’ve heard.

Now I do not proclaim to write this having done an awful lot of research, but increasingly it seems, the media are turning its back on their once favourable spirals of tongue regarding the matter. The main claim of the argument is health related (isn’t it always?!) – The food industry have been put under pressure by the consumer to take out the artificial ‘baddies’ from their products, and yet, apparently these restaurateurs are simply veering in the opposite direction in order to create a dish for their tables which evokes reactions more in keeping with 19th century audiences of magicians. But it’s not healthy they cry, it’s not natural to fill our bodies hydrocolloid systems, block them with gums whom originally were destined only for the Haribo world (and your children…)

I beg to differ, if only  it gets people interested in food, challenging the average perception of what a product should look like, taste like. And ultimately, provoke a reaction. Let the rivalry of opinions in the Food World continue.

Last night, I was presented with a dilemma. Walking into the kitchen after work, there before me, happily sat on the cooker top was a Polenta Flan. Now, I have no problem in trying new things. In fact, as my wonderful Nan likes to exclaim at any family meal (and please excuse the language – it’s not mine…), ill “eat shit sugared given half a chance”. However, on the top of the flan sat a mixture of sundried tomatoes, caramelised onions and, gulp, wait for it… olives. Olives have never ever been my speciality. They are just so pickle-tastic, if that is a word (?) I could use for the occasion, and just simply unpleasant as I can recall from any of the vague memories I have of previous attempts at eating them. These, combined with the polenta, which until then I had never tried but for some reason imagined to be something of a semolina type thing (why? I have no idea…), did not give me hope for the looming dinner.

The flan lay in wait on my plate. I glared at those evil olives and hopes for the best. They gained entry to my fork, and then my mouth. Then, surprise. It was actually rather tasty. My sensory organs were in defence mode for this object of previous detest, but then suddenly a change of mood. Which got me thinking, how is it possible to hate something so strongly, and yet try it maybe a year, two years down the line and find it be not half as bad, if even good to eat. 

 I read somewhere that sensory taste buds are ever evolving in preference to different tastes we experience, and I now have firsthand knowledge of how right this is….

Last week I ate baked beans. I haven’t even attempted to eat baked beans since I was about six. Conclusion: not half bad, but sorry Heinz, no loyal customer here.

n.b. Gherkins still need to be banished from the planet, and I shall stick rigidly to this view. This vinegar infested slimy creature is a slow death to the once handsome cucumber. That is all I have to say on the matter.

(Maybe if gherkins looked like these Japanese origin cucumbers …)

Oh yes, and in other news, of actual substance. (Yes, substance, no heckling needed thank you!) …

Nestle are to jump on the Fairtrade bandwagon I hear? I say bandwagon as if it is a bad thing, but I simply mean it in terms of following other large manufacturers, namely Cadbury’s who have also adopted Fairtrade practises. In fact, I congratulate them on making such a move, despite likely criticism (not directly from me..) that it is probably for their own gains – i.e. to further enhance brand image after disasters such as the baby milk crisis in the 1970s. The first product to go Fairtrade is the Kit Kat, Britain’s most popular chocolate bar, which alone will help 6,000 Africans receive a much fairer price for their cocoa. It has been reported that this move by Cadbury’s and now Nestle will increase the Fairtrade share in the overall market from just 1% to a much more positive looking 10%. Claims are that the decreased margins will not be passed onto the consumer, and so, does it matter if Nestle actually truly do have good intentions or are just doing it for a boost in consumer loyalty. I don’t personally think so, or particularly care if I be brutally honest.

All I can say is; well done Nestle in finally taking a step in the right direction. Fairtrade should be the norm in the industry, not just a label to profit from.