It is hard to ignore, almost impossible, food has become not just my addiction, but the nations obsession. From the multitude of television programs, and I am confessing to watching most of them, to magazines, newspaper articles and blogs, food is everywhere. We are also constantly bombarded with what we should and shouldn’t be eating. There is always a maligned food of the moment, responsible for all our problems. It is publicized to the point of irritation and oddly enough coincides with the launch of new cook and diet books, most of which seem to believe that we are completely lacking in logic and common sense and will all be clambering blindly to be on that fashionable bus. At the moment the evil we are eating is sugar. It’s been the subject of choice and the topic of conversation since the beginning of January. It has been vilified and condemned and I for one have had a surfeit of sugar. We all know sugar is bad for us but now even the average fruit is a fiend, honey and maple syrup do not escape, we are being told to avoid it all !. “Eliminate sugar from your diet and you’ll lose weight”, no kidding !, eliminate any one major ingredient from your diet and you will lose weight. Andy and myself have lost over a stone each. What is that I hear you say ” hypocrite “; yes I don’t eat gluten or dairy but that is because I sincerely believe it will affect my condition. My diet is very high in vegetables and very low in carbohydrates, sugars and starch but I would certainly not avoid these foods because if you eat well there is no reason to. The problem isn’t any one particular food, it is how it is grown, processed and consumed. We don’t respect food or ourselves enough. We don’t need to eat sugar, carbohydrate or starch with every meal. Why eat potatoes when you can eat parsnips and pumpkins ?. Why make cakes containing enormous amounts of sugar, when there is absolutely no need to ?. Why is it that so many recipes contain cream, cheese and butter ?. Foods to be enjoyed if you can eat them, yes !, but not used and consumed the way they are today. So before you reach for that packet of rice, think cauliflower, I hope you will see why if you try my Cauliflower and prawn “nasi goreng ” and before you make that carrot cake with all that sugar, please give my Carrot cake a try. Oh and one more thing, I have had my rant, but eat more greens !
January and I breathe a huge sigh of relief, the crazy season is well and truely over, life has returned to it’s normal pace. I have been thinking, preparing and cooking food for the past two months, all for the festive season that lasts little more than a week. Food, which has always been a passion and is now something of an addiction, creating recipes and experimenting with food, although quite often frustrating is also hugely rewarding, has lost a little of it’s appeal. Even I with all my food enthusiasm am feeling a little food overload, a little cooked out !. January and I find myself another year older and hopefully a little wiser, certainly, I know more about what I should be eating. Thankfully the days are gradually getting longer and I know that in a few weeks time, when I look out onto the garden there will be the first splashes of sunny yellow and then spring is not far behind but that doesn’t stop me wanting to be anywhere else but here. Yes I am feeling a little jaded, perhaps I need to recharge those batteries, don’t we all ? or maybe my body is trying to tell me something. So with spring in mind and thoughts of what I should be eating more of, I’m going to try to ignore the chocolate cravings and the continuing urge for comfort food and have instead some super healthy food. You might not feel the need for some extra fruit and veg but your body will thank you for it and I if you are feeling like me, I sincerely hope you are not, and those batteries do need recharging, then here are a couple of vitamin and antioxidant packed, immune boosting recipes - Super C smoothie and Gloriously green smoothie - absolutely no cooking required, bliss !.
So it will be 2014 in a few hours time, but before you start thinking about all those New Year resolutions, I think there is something more important to do. As the end of the year approaches I find myself reflecting on all that has happened this year and how one year can change not just your life but your whole perspective. After all the fear, anger, despair and grief of being diagnosed I sit here and realise how fortunate I am and how much I have to be grateful for. Something life changing can give you a special sort of strength. It gives you purpose and clarity. It has the incredible ability to ground and define . I am definitely not the person I was, in more ways than one, although I seem to have retained all of my annoying traits !. No, I am now more focused, more settled and in many ways happier. I feel like I have finally found myself and what is really important to me, I feel a sense of completeness that wasn’t there before. Yes, there were times when I felt that my life was coming apart at the seams and at the beginning I imagined myself as a ticking time bomb, envisaging a restricted and gloomy future, full of all the worst case scenarios. I was ready to throw sensibility and caution aside in fear of a future where I was no longer able or capable, better do it now before it’s too late !. Luckily those thoughts and feelings have run their course, yes I have the odd blip but mostly I am focused on today and that is how I want it to be, enjoying, appreciating and making the most of the now with my Husband, whose love and constant support has got me here and my family and friends. So before you all rush to welcome in the New Year with a new you and forget about the old, don’t forget to celebrate the now with those who mean the most. For me there is no better way to celebrate than cooking and eating good food with friends and family. I have also learnt that a meal doesn’t have to be a culinary masterpiece, it doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or the preparation all weekend consuming !. It just has to be enjoyed !. So maybe I can tempt you to cook my celebration dinner - Cranberry and smoked mackerel tians - Venison with pickled walnuts and apricots - Chocolate and chestnut creme brulee.
Who knows what the future holds but I wish you a Happy and Healthier 2014 !.
Christmas has come early to our kitchen. Back at the beginning of October during my weekly oxygen treatment, a productive hour spent more often than not thinking about and looking at food - I normally take in a recipe book or two from an ever growing collection, a serious addiction, I just can’t resist them !. This time though, I was reading the local MS Society monthly magazine and my oxygen intoxicated brain started to ponder on the idea of a recipe of the month. The more I pondered, the more the idea took hold and I left full of purpose with intentions of contacting the necessary person. Oh but I’m not so brave, doubt set in and my confidence vanished and it took another couple of weeks to summon up the courage to make contact. In my mind it all seemed so simple, all I had to do was send in my monthly blog and a couple of recipes. I was soon to discover that things, as we all know, are never as simple as we imagine they are going to be !. No, in the world of magazines things happen in advance, a whole month in advance. Obvious, yes, I have been looking at Christmas recipes since the beginning of November but it was this small detail that my brain had failed to process. So that is why it has been smelling like Christmas since the end of October, the house has been filled with the delicious smell of mince pies baking and the aroma of alcohol soaked fruits cooking in festive teabreads. I am not really much of a cake person but even I have been unable to resist, Andy is in cake heaven and I will admit that both of us have become a little addicted to the pies and teabread. Perfecting these recipes has put me behind and I am now in a bit of a panic, for the first time in years I have forgotten all about the pudding and and stir up Sunday has been and gone!. I am also very aware that there are no savoury offerings and I would like to tempt you, perhaps, with something a little different for Christmas day. The pudding is on hold but I have a couple of recipes which I think look special and taste special and if you are not going to be a crowd, they are perfect for smaller gatherings. Perhaps I can tempt you to try the Leek and walnut roasted pollock with caper vinaigrette or maybe the Apricot and pistachio roasted partridge with clementine sauce. I have even a little something to go with that glass of sherry or whatever your preference Christmas morning , Smoked mackerel and cranberry blinis. I hope I have given you a little inspiration for Christmas Day but more importantly, whatever you decide to feast on, enjoy !. Pudding recipes, with any luck, next year !.
I have never been tempted to make pumpkin pie before, the idea of it has just not appealed. However having spent a week or two experimenting with squash and halloween a few days away, I decide to put my misgivings aside, completely ignore my intuition and give it a go. The result, although quite appealing on the plate is, unfortunately, seriously bizarre on the palate. It is exactly as I imagined it, despite it’s almost sickly sweetness, it just feels as though you should be eating it as a main with a little gravy on the side. I do not get the attraction and nor does Andy, whose first reaction was “you can’t publish this !”. We don’t get it but are we missing something ?. I’m not sure and because it has a culinary history and, as the saying goes, “each to his own”, it has been saved from the recipe bin. So this recipe with a little twist, Squash and pecan “cheesecake” is for all of you who do get it or want to try it, to be converted or to never indulge again and I wouldn’t blame you !. I used seasonal squash because I just can’t resist them, all their different shapes and colours but if you want to be traditional use pumpkin instead. For all those who know better or are not feeling so adventurous, I hope you will try my Squash and buckwheat pizza or maybe my squash and buckwheat flatbreads.
I detected a hint of a amusement on my father’s face, as my parents so generously deposited two bags af windfall apples on our conservatory floor. “Great” I say “that’s two more bags to go with the other two. Well I suppose I have the subject for my next blog, so I had better start thinking !”, a definite smile spread across his face. My father embraces life as it comes and tackles every obstacle or event it throws at him with exceptional calm, courage and a steely determination. I believe I have him to thank for that part of me which can be just a little stubborn and determined. I know I will probably need some of his courage and I just hope in time, I will acquire some of that calm !. Before I share the results of my endeavours in the kitchen, I am going to confess to one of our guilty pleasures and that is pork. Our treat, or if I am really honest, one of our treats for the week is a meal of roast pork and preferably a big slab of belly with plenty of crackling and if you are Andy an equal quantity of apple sauce!. Bad, I know, but pork is Andy’s favorite and if truth be told it is mine and there are times when those little marbled cubes and wafer thin slices are just too delicious to resist and some dishes just wouldn’t be the same without them. I have discovered it is possible to live without bread and cheese but life would be unthinkable without the odd bowl full of amatriciana or a spicy dish with chorizo. Well we now have plenty of apple sauce to go with our roast pork and there were more than enough apples left over for a little experimentation. In fact if I could put apple in it, I did. It goes without saying that there are still a few recipes that need a little tweaking but for now I would like to share my caramel apple cake, a comforting cake for colder days, inspired by memories of the Alps. I have also discovered the delicious combination of apple and mackerel, in an apple and smoked mackerel pate and baked mackerel with apple and horseradish. I hope you enjoy !.
What do you do with a monster marrow, to be precise 3.5kg of marrow ?. A gift from another generous friend, was certainly not to be refused and anything home grown is welcomed with eager arms, knowing that it does not contain any those nasty added extras. Unfortunately it was delivered at the end of a frustrating and unsatisfactory two week cooking experiment with courgettes. Andy’s face said it all. After many unsuccessful courgette meals we had both come to the conclusion that the best thing you can do with the irritatingly wet and bland courgette is eat it raw, pickled, in a cake, try the courgette and chocolate loaf or Andy’s favorite, cut into matchsticks and simply coated in cornflour and fried, delicious. Back to the marrow; feeling unable to do it justice at that precise moment it was left to lurk, being moved now and again, from one place to the next, staring me in the face and filling me with guilt. It was not going to be ignored. So it has, chunk by chunk been added to soups, quiches, cakes and salads, stuffed and baked but like the courgette it has left us feeling a little dissatisfied. Not one to give up without a fight, I have persevered but being the perfectionist that I am, I have only three recipes to share, marrow, walnut and poppyseed cake, sweet and sour marrow, mackerel and beetroot salad and marrow and apple bites. As you can imagine, there is still one sizable chunk left, it will be eaten but sadly my inspiration and enthusiasm has run out !. If ever you are presented with a monster marrow, of course courgettes can be used instead, I hope you will give these a try. For now though and for the rest of the year, I have a feeling that marrow and courgette will not be on the menu, much to Andy’s relief !.
For the past three years the first week in September brings last minute packing of saddle bags for a cycle adventure. Last year it was the Velodysee, a bike ride from the Spanish/French border town of Hondarribia to Roscoff. An amazing ride and blissfully kind to the legs, being mostly flat. Two years ago we crossed the Pyrennees from the Atlantic to the Med and from day one after reaching the top of our first mountain, we finally realized what we were about to undertake. The memories of utter exhaustion and the emotions experienced on reaching the top of each mountain will remain with us always and oddly enough leave us with a desire to return and cycle one or two of them again!. Three years ago Provence and the culprit, Mont Ventoux, our first taste that left us wanting more. This week leaves me feeling more than a little sad, an adventure this year, is not to be. We are lucky in a way that we had nothing planned as it looks as if I have just experienced my first relapse. Mild though it was, it was a wake up call and has made me realize just how debilitating they can be. So as well as feeling sad, I am feeling a little sorry for myself but I am now more determined than ever that this year is going to be the exception, we may have to rethink the mountains and the miles but bicycle adventures, there will be !. This week has been spent at home, making the most of what we would have missed and we are missing a lovely time of year. September is glorious and we have been trying to make the most of it. Gentle, early morning bike rides with a little stop here and there to gather what’s on offer in the hedgerows. Returning home with our bags full to concoct in the kitchen. The cupboard is now full of blackberry jam and jelly, there are a few things brewing and infusing in various vessels which will require a little time, a little patience and some willpower. But for immediate consumption a blackberry, apple and hazelnut or a blackberry and lime cake. Cycle adventures will now be planned for October!.
This week I was anticipating sharing a delicious bread recipe and on top of that miracle it was going to be a loaf without yeast or bicarb. My usual realistic approach to gluten and dairy free baking had been replaced by a rather unaccustomed optimism. I believed I could possibly overcome the impossible with a sourdough starter, where this blind faith had come from, who knew, especially with the never ending mound of crumbs on the bird table. Unfortunately my starter had other ideas and after a week still showed no signs of starting, although I am convinced that it is now happily fermenting away at the bottom of our compost bin. After a little more research, starter number 2 was more obliging and by day two it was very, very gently bubbling away. By day four, something was not quite right, and it was showing no signs of life, still, I was reluctant to consign it to the overfed bin and I have hopes of nurturing it back to life, but I am taking no chances and so starter number 3 is under way. Well, as you can imagine, my optimism is firmly back where it belongs and the reality, which is proving far more entertaining, is don’t expect bread any time soon and if it does happens, it will be a miracle!. However two delicious fish recipes I can provide. Thanks to a generous friend, we aquired a nice bag of mackerel the other week. Normally I would either just bake it whole or pan fry the fillets, but at this time of year the larger ones I find are much more oily. I prefer to use them in a citrus salad, try the mackerel, kohlrabi and orange salad or add them to a spicy sauce, try the spaghetti with tomato and chilli mackerel. It might not be bread but I am hoping you can do without for now!.
Ignore it; I could no longer. Sometimes you just have to give in, admit defeat, surrender yourself to the craving and indulge. For the past two weeks I have had one serious craving for chocolate. There is no other way of describing our previous consumption of chocolate other than gluttonous. We ate it almost every day, knowing that our weekly cycle rides burned off the weekly chocolate intake, along with alot of other excessive weekly intakes, which I am sure will all eventually be revealed. But give it up; we did, along with all the rest of our favorite foods. Admittedly it took a while longer, but in the end we did, mainly because finding a bar of chocolate without dairy and that dreaded ingredient that finds it’s way into everything, soya, seemed to be an impossibility. I have had a few moments of weakness and with delightful anticipation, have eaten the odd square or two. But there the desire abrubtly ended. That memory of chocolate satisfaction remained elusive, the only thing I experienced was sugar, eating a square of chocolate, I can now only best describe as eating a cube of sugar. Delicious medjool dates, I have found, satisfy that need for something sweet and, for that chocolate hit, I can now happily nibble away on cacao paste or nibs. However last week even these were not enough, so I have been concocting in the kitchen and the craving has been satisified. Here are two ways to use a basic chocolate custard and turn it into something that will satisfy any chocolate craving. My favorite has to be the chocolate truffle and raspberry tart but the chocolate cream cake was so dangerous it was taken to the office to be finished by Andy and Mike, his colleague and our friend, who also happens to be number two guinea pig, although I don’t think he realizes it. His responses, while of few words, need a little deciphering but are eagerly awaited and apparently this cake is a winner.