Monday, 29 June 2009

Jamie Oliver (The Naked Chef) and Sainsbury's Feed the Family for a Fiver Advert. Woman's role as cook

I was about to go to bed when the latest advert which Jamie is doing for the supermarket caught my attention. I've enjoyed watching Jamie since his Naked Chef days, he always seems quite natural - a refreshing change.

He still seems pretty much the same, genuine, caring, passionate about good food for all, that sort of thing. I'm all for it. I think it's great to show people who don't know how already, to feed their families for a reasonable amount.

However - why is the team of attractive "cooks" doing all the sticky mixing, shaping, then grilling on the bbqs all women? What message is this portraying to the watching populace? Jamie=head honcho: women=labourers.

Nothing has really changed, has it? His little team labours on around him, cheerfully toiling, smiling, feeding the masses. Why isn't the supermarket confident enough to have some males feeding their families? Why no teenagers learning how to prepare decent food ready for when they either go to uni, or leave home for their first flat? Wouldn't that make it all more relevant?

In the C21, it isn't only women who cook at home.

Come on Sainsbury, be inclusive, not exclusive, on this front. Take up the challenge - have some men there, getting their hands sticky before manning the bbq.


Sunday, 28 June 2009


Confirmed - three firsts for last semester - yippee!!!!! two 70%s and a 73%. I am so happy, and proud of myself - who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

Thanks are due to my excellent tutors, Dinesh, Theresa and Helen, who believed me when I said I was aiming at a first, and didn't laugh at me, only with me. Thank you:-)

Can't wait til September now! Though as I said earlier, I'm not waiting. I've already read a couple of books for Victorian, and started several short story attempts ready for my dissertation.

I'm so lucky to be able to do what I want to do with my time, it's very self indulgent - but, as the adverts keep telling me, I'm worth it!!!

No more boasting - unless I mention, in passing, that my short poem was selected on one of the writing sites, that is. It was only short, and hardly anyone else entered, but still, I'll take it where I can get it!

Happy reading and writing:-)

"wake up dead"

Don't people say the strangest things? I was listening to the TV news a couple of days ago, the day Michael Jackson's death was formally announced. One of his aquaintances said something along the lines of 'If Michael wakes up dead one morning...', my partner, who was staying overnight, and I looked at each other and said 'wake up dead!!! - how do you do that?'.

What other strange things do we say, without even thinking about it? You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear - evidently true. It's raining cats and dogs - really? What are your favourite sayings?

My runner beans are now about a meter high, and the broad beans are approaching a foot. I was very late sowing this year, so I'm delighted that they appear to be thriving. I credit David with the success to a large part, as he sieved all the soil for the three raised veg beds, so there is very little damage from slugs and snails, and almost 100% germination. I expect the little devils will colonise the soil eventually, we all know how well they can climb - I've seen them at the top of my runner bean arch munching away on my plants with evident enjoyment. Oh well, at least this year is easier than most :-)

The swiss chard has self seeded wonderfully, so there is a plethora of vibrant green all over the place, and lots of lovely young leaves to enjoy in stir fries and casseroles. It's growing very happily below the runner bean arches, and will continue to do so until they've grown so densely over the arch that they block too much sun from them. I'll have eaten plenty by then, and frozen some for the winter, too.
My little snowball swedes are thriving, too. It's so lovely to harvest small ones, between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. They are delicious finely sliced or grated into salads, and also cooked in any of the traditional recipes. The snowball varieties don't take up much space either:-)

Finally, the spring onions are gathering strength - it seems to have taken them a while, but they are getting there - probably the heat hasn't helped them, and I haven't been as dedicated with the watering as I should have been, as I've had some silly bug.

I've never really tried growing vegetables over the winter, except the ubiquitous sprouting broccoli, which I absolutely adore - nearly as much as asparagus. I had an asparagus bed at my last house - there was space to indulge in one there, as we had nearly a half acre site. Here, I couldn't justify a bed dedicated to one vegetable which needs the space all year, I simply don't have enough room.

Anyone any ideas as to what would be good to try? I've got some cabbage seeds to sow in July for the spring, but that's about it. I tried Lamb's lettuce, but didn't think it worth the bother, it was so lacking in flavour. I'd love to hear suggestions, please!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

carrots and cancer prevention

I was sent a link to this article in The Independent, and logged on to read it. You might find it interesting, so I've copied it below to save you the trouble of having to follow a link - though the following is what I've copied from my e-mail - it looks good, but doesn't seem to work properly. Bizarrely, if you click on it it will tell you it couldn't find the page, but if you then click on the back arrow, it will take you there!! news/carrots-cooked-whole-better-at-fighting-cancer-1706917.html

So, here is the article:-

Carrots cooked whole 'better at fighting cancer' By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Carrots boiled whole before being cut up are better at fighting cancer and are tastier than when they are sliced before being cooked, a study has shown. It may require a bigger saucepan but cutting a carrot after boiling it could boost its health-giving properties by a quarter. Researchers at the University of Newcastle found that "boiled-before-cut" carrots contained 25 per cent more of the anti-cancer compound falcarinol than those that were chopped up first.And the sugars which give the carrot its distinctively sweet flavour were also found in higher concentrations in the carrot that had been cooked whole, so the vegetable tasted better as well as being healthier.The health benefits of falcarinol were first discovered four years ago when Kirsten Brandt, who led the study, found rats fed on a diet containing carrots or isolated falcarinol were a third less likely to develop tumours than those in a control group."Chopping up your carrots increases the surface area so more of the nutrients leach out into the water while they are being cooked," said Dr Brandt. "By cooking them whole and chopping them up afterwards you are locking in both taste and nutrients. We all want to try to improve our health and diet by getting the right nutrients and eating our five-a-day. "The great thing about this is it's a simple way for people to increase their uptake of a compound we know is good for you."The team presented their results at a conference in Lille, France, yesterday. They also carried out a blind taste test on almost 100 people comparing the taste of "boiled-before-cut" versus "cut-before-boiled" carrots. The response was overwhelming with more than 80 per cent saying that carrots cooked whole tasted much better.

But .... if we all start to cook our carrots whole, what does that do for the greenhouse effect? If it takes, say, ten minutes to cook sliced carrots, and only about seven for diced, how long is it going to take to cook whole carrots? Fifteen, Twenty minutes? ... obviously it will depend on the thickness of the root, and its length, but you see what I mean? And will the root end be soggy compared to the stalk end, being so much thinner?

I shall try cooking them whole and see what I think about the flavour, then decide whether it's worthwhile to me. That's all we can do, really, isn't it? Decide for ourselves. I tend to think my diet's pretty healthy, and don't plan to get any cancers, although I can hear you all saying "Don't tempt fate!". It's so long ago that I ate meat that I should be relatively safe on the CJD front too. We'll see. Let me know what you think!



Unofficial, of course, as results day isn't until the 26th. However ..... having arranged to collect my marked work, I trailed into town, climbed four flights of stairs to my tutor's office, only to find that he'd e-mailed me ten minutes earlier to say "Don't come down, your portfolio's not here, sorry!". Since I'd been on my way at the time, I didn't receive it, obviously. It transpires that all firsts are sent away for external moderation, along with all fails, and a sample few of the middles. He said I hadn't failed, and wasn't a middle of the roader, therefore I'd got a first, unless the moderator took against me, which wasn't likely. The only first in the cohort!!!!! So I left with my head barely fitting through the door, another first - yippee!!

I spoke to another tutor later, who told me I'd got a first in her subject too, subject, as before, to moderation. So, unless three moderators take against me, that's a one hundred percent achievement in the firsts department this semester. I'm on track, and just hope nothing goes wrong in my next, final year.

If you see a body reading Jud the Obscure, sticking post-it notes in the pages, and scribbling on them, that's probably me, reading ahead for next January - that's what you call dedication, folks! Or insanity, as one of my friends kindly said!

It's raining

Today it's raining. I expect most of you are groaning at that. Not me. The garden is really dry, and appreciates the good, long, refreshing drink it's receiving. Much better than me taking cans of water from the water butt and allocating water to each plant individually, or, horror of horrors, using the hose pipe, which I have resorted to on a few days, when it's been really dry and sunny.

This way there's a good reservoir of water building up underneath all my thirsty vegetable plants, that they can tap into when their roots get far enough down. There are 23 runner bean plants now, in two beds, preparing to twine up the arches, which are waiting above them. With so many plants thriving - and I have to say, there is very little evidence of slug damage, probably due to the fact that these are the new beds that David built for me, and all the soil is sieved and mixed with my own produced compost - I'll be able to pick the beans when they're very young, which will be a real treat. Normally I'm left with only a handful of plants once the pests have feasted on their organic treats. I can quite understand why they prefer my vegetables - I'm sure they must be as health conscious as the rest of us!

The broad bean seedlings are now a couple of inches high, and I'm looking forward to their lovely, furry pods of beans. If I'm lucky, I might get to freeze some, you never know.

The baby turnips, Snowball, I think they are, form a green mat at one end of a bed. I transplanted a dozen or so, to thin them out, and the next day they looked terrible, wilted and browning, despite my watering them. However, yesterday, they had perked up, recoverd beautifully, and their siblings have more room to grow in the original site. Yippee!

The Jerusalem artichokes are growing again, and some potatoes I failed to spot last year when harvesting are shooting up. Food for free, so to speak. I remember when I was very young, Mum would cut sprouting eyes from potatoes, and plant them in the ground. She epxlained that during the war, that's what people did to save money and resources. I found it amazing then, and still do today. It really is free food - and organic too - brilliant.

So, it's raining, and I'm pleased. Maybe you'll be less bothered by it now, too.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Will Kaufman on Woody Guthrie

Last night I went down to the uni to listen to Will talk about, and sing some of the songs of, Woody Guthrie.

I've been to see Will once before, and found his blend of talk, slides and songs to be both entertaining, informative and interesting. He has developed a knack of blending visual and auditory information very well. I wish I'd done one of his modules!

I've loved folk-type, and "message" music for decades (though I don't feel old enough to be able to say that), singing along with Bert Jansch, and Peter, Paul and Mary before I left school. Although I know some of Woody's works, I knew nothing about the man himself, nor his motivation.

Will told of Woody's life with a father who was closely associated with the Klu Klux Klan, racism surrounded him as he grew. He narrated sad tales of racial murder, showing a slide of a postcard made from a photograph of a negro couple who had been summarily executed by hanging; their bodies suspended from ropes tied to the spars of a mighty bridge. Their crime? Their teen-age son had shot a policeman who called at the house; he subsequently bled to death. The boy had fired at the policeman through fear - bad things always came of "officials" calling at the house. Their true crime would appear to have been black in colour, and to have lived in an era and state which believed the "black man" to be only one stage removed from animal, and treated him as such.

It's so hard to believe that such a relatively short time ago, we treated our fellow man in this heinous manner. Sadly, some people, who would consider themselves to be intelligent, maintain the fiction that the colour of our skins is an indication of our worth as human beings. I suppose I'm lucky; I was brought up in Bradford, Yorkshire, and don't really remember a time when it wasn't a mixed race city. Different colours of skin, different languages and cultures were all around me.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Meeting up, good food and chat

I've just remembered I wanted to mention a small, but select, gathering in a local tapas bar last week.

Every last Thursday in the month, members of Lancsveg who feel so inclined,meet up for a drink and a bite to eat. May's meeting was in Duk, in Preston, Lancashire, a subterranean tapas bar with an extensive menu.

I actually turned up at its sister restaurant, Pond, and was kindly escorted up the road to the correct venue by a lovely barmaid/waitress, who made sure I arrived safely, and got herself a few minutes of fresh (well, city-fresh, so maybe a misnomer) air.

Six of us turned up, having booked for 7pm, the final time for their tapas offer of 3 for £10. Since none of us was starving we opted to order 9 dishes for £30, since there happened to be 9 vegan options - yes, really, 9 vegan options!!!! Every day!!!! Other restaurants, please take note :-)

I probably can't remember exactly what we received, but something along the lines of a bowl of olives, pitta bread and hoummous, a delicious green and berry salad, some Duk fruit stew, I think it might be Peruvian, but don't quote me on that, a couple of different potato dishes, delicious non-meat balls in tomato sauce, I think there might have been a chickpea dish, and I can't remember what else, but it was brilliant value, and such a delight to sample so many different foods, most of which were very tasty - the olives let it down, being pitted, drained tinned olives, in my opinion, and others. Nonetheless, a great evening.

It's always good to catch up with people we sometimes don't see for ages - obviously not everyone turns up to every meeting, this is the real world, not tv! One friend had been "headhunted" and now has a great new job, with a company car - thanks for the lift!, and another gets married very soon - good luck to you both. Another, like me, is studying at uni. She's just sat her exams, and isn't feeling too hopeful about one of them. My fingers are crossed for her. I know I've got a first in one module, and will find out about another tomorrow.

The down side to the night was the noise - it just reverberates around, it has nowhere to escape to, so it's difficult to hear what's being said accurately. Perhaps Pond would be a better choice of venue - it's at street level, so gets daylight too:-)

Still, it was good to catch up, and enjoy a tasty tapas. Hope you get to meet your friends soon, too.


I've sown seeds in my lovely raised vegetable beds, and now the magic is happening. Sturdy runner bean shoots are uncurling, seeking the sun. How can such a fragile thing as a tender shoot have the power to thrust aside the heavy soil like that? How can one small bean seed, (well, ok, maybe half an inch long isn't that small, but you know what I mean) contain within it the energy to take water and nutrients from the soil to grow over eight feet high, and produce beautiful red flowers, then zillions (a technical number) of delicious, long, green pods for me to harvest, day after sunny day?

I don't know about you, but I love to harvest vegetables from the garden, bring them in, cook them and eat them in the shortest possible time, to preserve all that fantastic flavour, colour and nutrients. I've got my mum to thank for that. Despite working full time for much of my youth, we always kept a compost heap, and grew bits of veg. Later, when she retired, she grew much more, and took over the garden of the next-door-neighbour too, who just couldn't be bothered with it.

Back to the beans. One of my favourite ways of eating them is this one-pot meal:

Put a pan of scrubbed new potatoes (salad potatoes, or chopped up "ordinary" potatoes, if that's what you've got) to boil. Use as many potatoes as you would need for your family!

In the same pan put some carrot batons, cut to a thickness so that they'll be cooked at the same time as the potatoes (probably quarter some large ones, or halve some thinner ones.) Use a quantity that looks good in proportion to the potatoes.

Top and tail the bean, wash them, and add to the same pan about 5 minutes before you think the potatoes and carrots will be cooked.

Open a tin of organic red kidney beans, or your favourite beans, but think of the colours as well as the flavour here, this meal is lovely and colourful, as well as tasty! I wouldn't, for instance, use butter beans or chick peas, though I adore both of them, cos they're a bit wishy-washy on the colour front, but I might use black-eye beans, or beautiful green cannalini beans, as long as they weren't too soft!

Make a delicious dressing from the juice of a couple of organic lemons, which you've zested (yum, can't you just smell that lemon zing?), mixed with about the same quantity of good olive oil, a little salt, a little sugar, and a little mustard powder (about 1 teaspoon is what I use). Whizz it all up to emulsify it. Taste it and adjust it to suit your family - we all have different tastes, never just slavishly follow a recipe, never.

Strain the cooking water into a jug - you can use that for making soup tomorrow - and pour the dressing over the vegetables, along with the drained beans. Stir gently, just to mix, stand for a minute or two for the flavours to be absorbed, then serve up and enjoy.

If your garden is providing herbs, then pick a few chives and mint, chop up and add with the dressing. Chive flowers are edible, remember, so don't wasted them, and they also add a little extra colour. If you've got nasturtiums growing rampant in the garden, sprinkle some washed flowers and leaves on top - fantastice colours, and lovely peppery tang.

I feel hungry just thinking about it, and the seeds are only just sprouting - I've a long wait ahead!