Posts tagged ‘Sarah Raven’

February 20, 2013

A meat-free month

I spent January as a vegetarian. Nothing to do with the recent UK scandal about horse meat and food security (which became news after I’d started)  but for my own personal reasons. I’m not squeamish about meat eating – after all, I have long owned a copy of John Seymour’s ‘Complete Book on Self Sufficiency’,which contains the unforgettable line  ‘first lure your pig to the killing room’, but it’s the sheer quantity of meat that it seems people are eating that I am uncomfortable with.

Meat used to be revered. Reserved for High Days and holidays, a piece of meat would be cooked – perhaps for  Sunday dinner – and then the left-overs used through the week to make more dishes. Thrifty cooks still do that now, and there are a proliferation of good cook books and websites on thrifty cooking and eating. But what makes my stomach turn is the unthinking way in which meat is eaten all the time – and largely poor quality, untraceable meat, in mince, burgers, chicken nuggets, etc etc.

It’s simply not sustainable for the planet for an ever increasing population to eat meat in the quantities we do. Huge emerging middle classes in quickly developing countries are now eating more like the UK or USA, when previous traditional diets were largely vegetarian. Great swathes of rain forest are getting cut down to graze beef cattle. Field after field of grain is grown – not to feed people, but to feed animals that will then feed people. The difference in resources required is enormous.

And as for fish, it is a worry that the humble mackerel, once the king of under-appreciated fish, has now made it’s way onto the MSC‘s list of unsustainable fish. I’d say the MSC is the best place to look if you’re interested in making good choices about the fish you eat.

I’m not suggesting that the world turn vegetarian. Though it would help, and it will be interesting to see what impacts the recent horse meat scandal has on the long term eating habits in the UK – though really I suspect very little. What I’m suggesting is that, by reducing the amount of meat we eat, choosing it carefully when we do eat it, and really enjoying it, instead of mindlessly buying another burger, we might help reduce the impact on the planet’s resources. I know that it is something of a middle class answer to talk about ‘making friends with your local butcher’ as not everyone has the luxury of either the time, money or indeed butcher, to make that decision, but choosing to eat less meat is within everyone’s grasp.

So, I shall climb down from my soap-box now.

What I’ve realised after a month of vegetarianism is that it can be much cheaper. A bag of lentils as a source of protein is far less expensive than even the cheapest cut of meat. I wanted to spend the month cooking proper food, not heating up vegetarian pre-prepared stuff, and I found that everything I cooked was cheaper than a meat containing equivalent.

I ate more vegetables too. I realise that this sounds obvious but I do not think for one second that a vegetarian diet is immediately healthier than an omnivorous one. After all, crisps, sweets and chocolate are meat-free, and I have met vegetarians in the past who have existed largely on chips. But when I’ve taken the time to cook new vegetarian dishes, it’s felt really positive, and not a second rate option.

I have a goal to try one new vegetarian dish each week for the year, and I’m keeping a little record of what I’ve cooked. I have been using Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Veg Every Day’ and Sarah Raven’s ‘Garden Cookbook’ a lot, and also the recipes which come from Abel and Cole. My veg box is a place of ever increasing interest because of this shift in my eating and I can only hope that my allotment will be too.

I said that I’d had a month of vegetarianism, and since the end of January I have re-introduced meat into my diet. I’ve eaten meat twice. On both occasions, it was a really considered choice, in places with a strong provenance. I didn’t regret my decision, and thoroughly enjoyed what I was eating. Mindful eating definitely is a key, in my mind, to that decision. Apart from those two occasions, I have remained meat free and I am likely to carry on eating like this for some time.

(Incidentally, if you’re looking for good articles on the recent horse meat scandal, and the UK attitude to eating horse meat, try Them Apples)

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August 31, 2012

A posy by the bedside.

I’ve not managed to grow many flowers this year on the allotment. My ambitions for great armfuls of dahlias were ruined by the slugs that have had a wonderful time working their way through my plants, and the sweet peas haven’t fared much better. Thankfully, I do still have enough to bring home. The great thing about sweet peas in particular is that the more you pick them, the more flowers you get, as the plant continues to try and produce seeds.

You might remember, a while ago, I decided to try and sort out my bedroom and make it a tranquil, child-free space. Well, that didn’t go exactly to plan. The stacks of books are still there, the laundry regularly overflows and the yin and yang of cycling (aka my Pashley Princess Sovereign and my husband’s Specialized road bike) are currently propped up at the end of the room.

So, despite my beautiful grey walls (Farrow and Ball’s French Grey, which I love) and white bed-linen, it’s not that haven of tranquility I imagined. I’m not giving up though. One of the ways to bring a little beauty into the chaos is by adding flowers to my bedside table. That way, when I wake up, the first thing I see are beautiful flowers and I can imagine for a split second that I’m the kind of person with a bedroom worth featuring in a design magazine. Then reality kicks in, obviously. And that’s if I haven’t been woken up by my three year old son launching himself, elbows first, onto my bed anyway, which is how I’m usually catapulted into each morning!

Thankfully, given my lack of abundance on the cutting patch, a small bedside posy of flowers doesn’t need to be huge to have impact.

The other thing that flowers bring to the room is scent. Even a small handful of jasmine can provide the rich heady fragrance that the flower is famous for, and it’s a wonderful thing to go to sleep with that fragrance swirling around you. In a larger room, the amount of flowers I usually use would get completely lost (especially given my clutter creating tendencies) but by the bed, they’re perfect. I’m really inspired by Sarah Raven who creates beautiful and heavily productive gardens, with the aim of cutting flowers for the house.

In these photos, I’m using a small Emma Bridgewater bottle. I also love to use an empty bottle from REN Rose Otto bath oil, which is little and has a narrow neck, perfect for more delicate flowers and my mum just gave me a vintage half pint milk bottle from Cowes (no pun intended) which will also be put to the same use.

Having flowers in the house  is a gentle reminder to me of my ambition to study horticulture, so I can be more successful at growing flowers in the future. For the time being, these little posies bring me a little bit of joy every day.

May 28, 2012

Cookbook Challenge

Recently I made the rather startling discovery that I’ve amassed a collection of 64 cookbooks. They sit on shelves in the kitchen and sitting room gathering dust, while I reach for a jar of pesto again and again.

Cookbooks are clearly something of an addiction for me. The sheer beauty of them, the gorgeous photography and styling and the promise they offer of a slightly better life, if only you try some of their recipes, draws me in time and again. Yet, I rarely cook anything different. Partly because of a lack of time, partly because my kids are stuck in a place where they refuse to try new things to eat and partly because of the ease with which I get stuck in the pasta pesto routine.

So, in an attempt to make my ownership of 64 cookbooks seem a little more sensible (and urged on by some lovely Twitter friends) I’ve started a mini-challenge, which is to cook something from each of my cookbooks. Originally, the deadline was to cook 35 new things before the end of my 35:35 challenge. However, as I’ve realised that there is a distinct possibility that  I’m going to fail in my challenge (something I’m not thrilled about, but hey, that’s life) I have now given up on that self-imposed deadline and now I’m just going to try to cook something from each of them.

To record this, I’ve set up a Tumblr account which will just have a photo each time I cook something, together with the information about the book it is from.

I’m hoping that this will re-ignite my interest in food, get the kids to try some new things, improve my diet and health a bit and make far better use of my lovely organic veg box and home grown fruit and vegetables. I’ve completed about half a dozen recipes now, and I’m really enjoying it. I’m hoping to focus my attention on things that are relatively quick to make, so I can easily cook them in the evening after work, rather than only making an effort every so often. I want this to be the start of a longer term change in my cooking and eating habits and I’m hoping it will have a positive effect on the rest of my household too!

One thing I’ve noticed though, is how many books about baking I have and how weighted in favour of a handful of authors my collection is. I seem to have every book that Nigel Slater has written, and a fair collection of Nigella, Rachel Allen and Jamie Oliver books too. However, I have not a single book about Thai, Chinese or Malaysian cookery, something I only realised after searching in vain for a Beef Rendang recipe the other day. So, perhaps once I’ve legitimised my collection by actually using it, I can start to add to it and fill the gaps – starting with a book about Asian cookery.

If you’ve got any cookbook recommendations, do let me know. I’d love to hear from fellow cookbook addicts!

March 14, 2012

Allotment update: Seeds or Seedlings?

It is rapidly approaching April and yet again, Spring has caught me off guard. This happens every year. I spend rather too long each Winter, happily reading through my seed catalogue and deciding what I want to grow, and then suddenly there is a mad rush and the proliferation of seed trays all over the house, on every spare shelf, available windowsill and all over the porch. If it’s not compost filled seed trays, then it is row after row of carefully saved loo roll inner tubes, each filled with the requisite pair of bean or sweet pea seeds.

There are several problems with this. Firstly, I look a bit like a crazy person, with my loo-roll-inner filled house. Secondly, the kids are very interested in what is growing and cannot resist a bit of poking about in the compost, which usually ends with half of it on the floor. Lastly, and probably the most important in terms of actual growing, seedlings that are grown in a rush tend to be a bit poor. They’re often leggy and weak, especially the climbers like sweet peas.

Still, it’s always been a matter of principle for me that I grow from seed, because that is what allotment gardening is all about…or is it? As more and more allotment holders are younger people, with jobs or small children – and in my case, both – perhaps I need to approach it differently. After some deliberation, I have decided that there is no shame in buying in seedlings where it makes more sense. So the plan is now to buy seeds where they are to be directly sown into the ground, and buy seedlings of the things that I usually have in my seed trays.

So here is my new list:

Seeds:

Dwarf French Beans. I grow ‘Rocquencourt’, ‘Purple Teepee’ and ‘Cobra’, which are direct drilled in thick rows in a raised bed. Each variety is a different colour (yellow, purple and green, respectively) which pleases me enormously.

Borlotti Beans: ‘Lingua de Fuoco’. I’ve decided not to grow runner beans this year because we just don’t eat them, but I love these beautiful red beans and a climber always adds some great structure to the plot.

Carrots: Early Nantes’ and the beetroot ‘Candy Stripe’ will be sown together in a raised bed. I LOVE this pale pink beetroot variety. Despite being a huge fan of the taste of beetroot, I loathe the bright pink staining it leaves everywhere and this variety removes that problem. Growing carrots in a raised bed will help remove the carrot fly, as will growing them mixed with other roots and anything from the allium family, so they’ll go in the raised bed next to my onions, which are already in the ground.

Peas: I’ll be growing both a maincrop pea (‘Hurst Green Shaft’) and the ‘Sugar Snap’ variety for eating whole. Hopefully I’ll get better results this year. I do struggle to grow a brilliant crop of peas but they are one of the vegetables that are so much better eaten straight from the plant, that I cannot give up trying!

Leeks: ‘St Victor’. I love the purple tinged leaves of this leek variety. Although they do have to be grown in a seedbed, they’re not urgent so I’ll manage it.

Potatoes: Slightly different, obviously, but the varieties I’ve chosen are ‘Charlotte’, which is a second early variety, and ‘Cara’ which is a late maincrop. This will give me a successional cropping, rather than a great big potato glut.

Dahlia: I’m going to get corms here, not seeds, and grow three different bold coloured varieties for cutting. ‘Happy Halloween’ is a small, bright orange decorative type, ‘Hillcrest Royal’ is a cerise pink cactus type and ‘Downham Royal’ is small ball type in a dark purple. Together, they will look amazing!

Seedlings:

Sweetcorn: ‘Sweet Nugget’ variety to grow in a square block.

Pumpkin: ‘Atlantic Giant’ – this is for Halloween, rather than for eating, so size is everything here! The pumpkin and sweetcorn will be grown together in a variation of the traditional ‘three sisters’ approach, where tall thin sweetcorn plants, climbing beans and sprawling-on-the -floor pumpkins are grown together. It makes the best available use of space, and it looks ace.

Sweet peas: A selection of varieties; ‘Lord Nelson’, ‘Prince Edward of York’ and the original sweet pea, ‘Matucana’. This is the Harlequin Sweet Pea mix from Sarah Raven.

Any other annual flowers I choose for the cutting garden will probably be bought as seedlings too. I am still to decide what else I want to add in.

In addition to this, I want to get some new strawberry runners for Eve’s little garden, if there is time this year.

Although the colours of the vegetables I grow don’t generally have any impact on their taste, the way the plot looks does matter to me. I like it to look pretty! Which is perhaps why I’ve always grown climbing varieties, different coloured beans and peas, flowers and pumpkins. I’ve chosen tried and trusted varieties this year, (all from Sarah Raven, purely because I like the company ) that I’ve had previous success with, as the year is too busy for experimentation, although it will be interesting to see if I get significantly better results having bought seedlings in, rather than growing my own.

Now I have a plan, it’s time to get to work…

January 11, 2012

The Year of the Dahlia.

So, I  realise that 2012 is going to be the year in which lots of things happen. The London Olympics, the end of the world (if you believe the long-dead Mayans) and more importantly than that, my first trip to Rome. Did I mention that I’m going to Rome? I did? Sorry. I’ll stop. For a while, anyway.

2012 is also the year in which I am going to plant more dahlias on the allotment. Lots and lots of dahlias. Which, incidentally, are pronounced like Roald Dahl, rather than ‘day-lia’ because they’re named after a Swedish botanist who also had the name Dahl.

I still pronounce them ‘day-lia’ because that’s how my Grandma says it, and I know better than to argue with her. She is, after all, my dahlia inspiration. Every year, Grandma enters the local show with her flowers and every year she comes away with prizes. Given that she’s a superb knitter too, she’s like the family version of Kirstie Allsopp. This year, although I won’t be entering any shows, I want to be able to go to my allotment and pick great big dramatically bold and beautiful bunches of flowers for my house.

The cutting bed last year.

The lovely dahlias have suffered in the past for being exactly that – a bit too bold and bright, especially those with pompom or spider-like shapes too. Like 1980’s style, they went out of fashion when everyone suddenly decided that minimalism was chic and that bright and blowsy was just a bit common. However, those of us who like a bit of colour never wavered in our love for them. Now, thankfully, they’re back and in a big way.

The main place I look every year at dahlia tubers is the beautiful and inspiring Sarah Raven catalogue. The variety of types, sizes and colours available there is second to none. If this goes anything like my vegetable seed buying from there turns out every year, I am going to struggle to narrow it down to a few varieties and will end up ordering half the catalogue and then spending the rest of the year frantically trying to grow everything. The good thing about the dahlias though, is that they will not end up in seed trays all over the house, like my vegetables…