The Green Tea Thing

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I’m on the challenge wagon again, and this time it’s Green Tea. Green tea is from the same plant as your standard black or white tea, just harvested at a different stage of growth, and it is widely held to contain a good amount of antioxidants and diuretic metabolism boosting properties. It is basically eastern magic in a mug and will make me a skinnier, happier, faster running guru of intestinal peace, allegedly. And it’s not as bad for you as coffee is.

I drink a lot of coffee. Too much coffee. I have been know to hurt people who suggest that I cut down on it because it’s mine and I like it and can’t you just LET ME HAVE THIS ONE THING!!!!!!!!!

OK so it isn’t the coffee that is bad, rather the caffeine. For quick reference- caffeine is a naturally occurring compound which directly acts on the central nervous system as a stimulant. Basically this means it wakes you up and gets you going with a jolt to your general alertness. It is a drug, and in excess can cause headaches, insomnia, stomach problems, muscle tremors and a rainbow of anxiety issues. In a sensible amount, as in maybe 2 cups of coffee a day, it isn’t a big deal, but it is still a drug. Green Tea contains roughly 1/3 as much caffeine as coffee does with the added bonus friendly chemical EGCG which is currently showing signs of anti viral, anti carcinogenic and cholesterol lowering behavior in medical research programmes. Bonus.

So in the name of self abuse of the highest foodie order, I’m going to try to dump my coffees for green tea because it might be really good for me and after my own recent rant on food waste I can’t really in good conscience ignore this open box of Knightsbridge tea bags on my desk any longer. Here Go.

Day 1:
Coffees drunk- 1 nespresso first thing, 1 instant in the office.
Green Teas- 2
I remember again why I dislike green tea so much, it just tastes of No. Sour, rotting old grass, bleaugh. The key to success today is going to be remembering to take the bag out promptly and not let it get too strong.

Day 2:
Coffees drunk- just the 0630 nespresso
Green Teas- 2
My brewing method is improving, by which I mostly mean shortening and I am reminded of previous green tea interludes when I became convinced that it was dehydrating. I laughed that off as anecdotal/a good excuse to stop before but must overshare with you today that I seem to be peeing very little. Any metabolism boosting properties were certainly not evident on my Wednesday night run.

Day 3:
Coffees drunk- 1 nespresso first thing
Green Teas- 3
I am desperately thirsty today. Still not much action in the pee department. Mild compulsion to kill at 2pm. According to the Livestrong guide these 3 green teas have equated to the caffeine I would have had from a single coffee, so perhaps this is some sort of withdrawal rage though I suspect it might be more to do with men being idiots.

Day 4:
Coffees drunk- Half the early nespresso because I got up late
Green Teas- 3
I cannot stop peeing and my mood has improved, though this is likely to be entirely Friday related.

Day 5:
Coffees drunk- 5. It’s Saturday and there’s no green tea in the house.
Doses of caffeine containing cold and flu medication taken: 4
Hours slept- roughly none.
Incidents of suspected heart palpitations: 3 (but Ben Barnes was on the telly so…..)

Day 6:
Coffees drunk- 2, both weird ginger spice variations with almond milk.
Moscow Mules used to soothe Snow Fear and isolation- too many.

Day 7:
Coffees Drunk- Half an early nespresso
Green Teas- 3. I already hate the taste much less than I did last week.

In Summary:
You know, as much as I love a cup o’ Joe, I think my obsession/addiction/over consumption issue is actually just hot drinks in general. I am something of a massively habitual creature, and an early coffee is something I enjoy pretty much every single day, usually in the company of the morning headlines and there is no acceptable substitution for this. Ever. However, once this initial caffeine fix is met I am actually quite happy to rock on through the day with all manner of warmed hydration fixes and I’m going to ditch my weekday workdesk coffees for good. I’m also going to put some limits on myself on the weekends too, when my worst caffeination damage occurs.

A week isn’t time enough to prove that the tea did it but I’ve lost just over a pound in weight this week without much real effort and managed to rid myself of a uncharacteristic acne outbreak.  I’ve also put my general fluid intake up by about 20% as I now don’t fear that mid afternoon cuppa will keep me awake all night. All good things, but the biggest player in my coffee dump decision came from a joyless night home alone over the weekend. Saturday kicked off with a back to back americano binge which then clashed in the afternoon with a full on attack of the Manflu. Having shit to do and places to be, I dosed myself up on cold and flu tablets and tried to soldier on. Each of the 4 doses taken added effectively another espresso on my intake. By the time I lay twitching in bed at 1am with a godawful stomach ache, staring at the ceiling and contemplating life, love and whether or not Dorian Grey would be able to share his selfies in a modern day interpretation, it occurred to me that actually caffeine is really not very nice for you.

So I lost a bit of weight and some spots, what else? I wont say I feel desperately more energetic or clean or any of that but with the exception of that skittery night of roughly 90 minutes rest at the weekend, I have slept better in the last week than I have for some time. More specifically I am getting to sleep a lot sooner, having retained the same bedtime, and consistent quality of sleep is something that impacts on many aspects of health and in particular successful weight loss. Also, sleep, hello! I like sleep! And I want to kill the Mr much less if I’m not awake to be disturbed when he starts snuffling and talking about saucepans in his dreams, which he actually does quite a lot. So there you go, Green Tea may also be proven in time to be a martial aid of sorts.

I still like coffee too, so that early nespresso is staying but other than that, it’s going to be mean and green all the way.

 

Some extra reading if you fancy it: https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/the-face-off-coffee-vs-tea 

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Easy Food Waste Wins

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There’s been a lot of press grumble recently about the horrors of food waste in the UK, culminating this week in the East Of England Co-Op food stores announcing that they will now continue to sell dried and canned food past it’s best before date. This is a great move by the Co-op, for altruistic and PR reasons alike.

You may have heard the stats- more than 7 million tonnes of food waste is getting chucked in the bin every year in the UK and this has spawned all kinds of celebrity chef books and interweb offal recipes but why do we care? It’s only food, right?

Right. If you don’t despise the idea of paying to put stuff in the bin (weirdo) there is also the consideration to make that we are running out of landfill space. Your lovely government types also seem hellbent on removing every scrap of public service that they can get away with, and this includes your friendly neighbourhood binman. If I lived in a house roughly ten miles to the right of my own, my rubbish collections would be halved for austerity measures written by a bunch of suits who get a fully stocked free canteen every day. Any idea how much gets chucked out from there on a daily basis?
I digress.
Food waste is also potentially really shit for the environment- especially when you start pouring your out of date pint of semi skimmed down the sink or consider the extra CO2 miles involved in transporting all of your manky carrots and mouldy bacon to the local tip.

I could go on but I won’t, instead I’m going to chuck out a few ideas of how you can easily reduce the amount that you waste in your home without resorting to a biomass burner or bonebroth and gruel heavy diet. Make a change, man in the mirror, all that shiz. Here go.

Compost.

My compost bowl getting filled up!

As a gardening bore, compost availability is a direct indicator of my general quality of life. No, I don’t get out much actually, why do you ask???
On a serious note, if you have a garden then you have some call for compost and kitchen bits can really boost it by varying the nutrients and fibre availability from rotting down your garden waste alone. To be very clear, I am only talking about veg waste and eggs shells you do not want to put any meat, bones, dairy or bready produce into compost because it will go rancid and stink and attract rats and maggots and other such beauties. Any kind of raw or cooked fruit or veg, coffee grinds and some teabags* are fine compost fodder, eggs shells and the odd sheet of newspaper are also winning additions for your home made dirt. I’m not just talking about potato peelings and carrot tops here either. Forgot about that box of mushrooms in the back of the fridge for two weeks and now they look like they’re covered in ectoplasm?  Compost. Discarded lime wedges from your G&T? Compost. Peas, swede and cabbage left over from Sunday lunch plates (because there’s always room to finish the yorkshires)? COMPOST.
And don’t tell me compost is a pain. It isn’t. If you have 2 square feet spare in the back of the garden you can compost. Just buy a bin it won’t be more than £15 if you google shop and put it on some bare earth in the back and away you go (get one with a little hatch at the base).  Then keep a tasteful, over priced Compost Caddy handy for your trimmings or, if you are a Luddite like me you can just use a bowl and empty it out as you go. If it isn’t enough that you get to give a little bit back to your begonias next spring, you will also support worms and similar buggers in your garden and save yourself money on those horrid food waste bin liners.
Go extra- if you are a gardening fan save your cheese rinds, broken biscuits, cake scraps and apple cores for the bird table.

*check manufacturer info for these as some teabags contain plastics

Shop smart and shop late
I do the famed British ‘Big Shop’ once a week and by Wednesday I’m usually stopping in at our local convenience store of choice for top up items. Over the past six years of coupled bliss I have learned three many things from the Mr, including the unbridled joy of Vulture’s Corner- that little end section in the fridge aisle of yellow stickered wonders. Thanks to the often non-science used to calculate the BB4 date you will find all sorts of treats here with significant savings due to being within 24 hours of the fictional turn of the clock when all food turns to evil fairy dust. Not sure what to do for dinner? Look here first, and save yourself some money and the rest of us another couple of inches of landfill.
I feel it necessary to add that this tactic does not work if you buy stuff you don’t need or won’t use just becuase it has 80% off. Like 5 pints of milk for 30p when you live alone or three kilos of turkey mince that no one likes. Do however opt for anything that you can freeze but remember to do so as soon as you get home.
Go extra- stop buying stuff you don’t really like. Just stop. Life is too short to waste on quiona salads that never get finished. 

Go Flexitarian
I am honestly not one to push that V word on anyone, but there is mounting evidence out there that making a modest reduction in your consumption of animal produce has a significant impact on your own immediate health and that of the planet we all live on. I love meat and you can take my cheese from my cold dead hands but I stopped buying meat for weekday consumption about five months ago and I can’t say that we have suffered for it. In fact our weekly shopping bill has come down by about fifteen quid/ 25% for this and we very rarely find scary furry stuff in the fridge any more. It’s dead easy to let a broccoli rot away in the drawer when you have all that tasty chicken to put in a curry after all. By swapping out meat in most of our dinners we use a lot more long-life items like canned beans and lentils and never, ever miss our five-a-day veggie goal. This does not make us the vegan police, it has made us a bit better off though as most vegetables and pulses are cheaper than meaty options and last a lot longer.
Go extra- make an active choice to cut fresh meat from your Monday-Friday menu unless you have found a yellow sticker deal, then enjoy your Sunday roast all the more for it. 
Check Your Storage
It is amazingly easy to decrease the shelf life of your shopping with how you store your grub, and also easy to avoid. Take your veg out of the wee plastic bags before it goes in the fridge to keep air moving and avoid early slime spoilage. If you can’t keep your potatoes in the dark then at the very least avoid any direct sunlight on them and don’t keep bananas alongside your other fruit (unless you are trying to ripen them quickly).
Go extra- always keep strong tasting stuff in good quality sealed tupperware boxes in the fridge to avoid them tainting other foods. The worst offenders are onions, cooked eggs and strong spices. Chocolate is particularly susceptible to taking on bad tastes from the fridge too so make sure you eat it all at once or, if you do store it, keep it well sealed. 

Give It Away.
Give it away give it away now.
Ahem.
Remember that multi buy deal cereal thing you fell for only to discover that you actually hate museli? How about your home made hummus phase that died out before your chickpea stockpile was even slightly depleted? Get nine boxes of biscuits for Christmas when you’re starting a strict low carb regime on new years day?
Don’t chuck it. Please. Poverty is a shocking and consistent problem in the UK with a heart breaking number of families reliant on food banks and breakfast clubs to ensure that they hit three meals a day and while you might argue that this isn’t really your problem you can still be part of the solution. If you have in-date and hardy items in your cupboards that you are not going to eat then please,  please don’t throw them in the bin. Foodbanks provide essential aid to families who may well not be that far removed from your own and will accept that pack of pasta that you can’t eat on your Atkins plan with open armed glee. Many supermarkets have a foodbank collection point or you can look up your local one here: https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/
Go extra- some food banks will also accept donations of cleaning items and toiletries if you can bare to part with that 1996 bottle of radox that you keep knocking off the end of the bath. 

 

a couple of additional links for the extra inspired:
http://www.wrap.org.uk/
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/may/06/more-than-8-million-in-uk-struggle-to-put-food-on-table-survey-says
http://www.approvedfood.co.uk

The ACV Challenge- The Write Up.

vinegar read the first part here

I have to start with both a disclaimer and an apology on this challenge report, which is some weeks late now. In my defense, I extended the period to two weeks as basically I wasn’t sure that anything had had the chance to change in just seven days. In further explanation to my tardiness, basically: NaNoWriMo. My free keyboard time has been otherwise engaged recently.

But here we are and here I am and what was I doing again? A tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar in a glass of water, first thing every day with the hope of some relief of IBS symptoms and potential other health boons as per acres of Broscience and circumstantial bumf on that there internet.

What happened? The diary notes started painlessly enough:

Day One: My shot of vinegary water at 0620 hours this morning was, perhaps shockingly, not something that I would call a pleasant experience. One tablespoon of ACV in a tumbler of cold water, blasted back all in one go. I thought this wouldn’t be so bad what with my usual affinity for food and drink on the winkier end of the flavour scale. Not so, my friends, not so. It’s minging. The general unpleasantness clears quickly, however.
Some hours later at the day job I am receiving a little bit of noise from the stomach area and a borderline unpleasant and mildly stripped sensation in the mouth not unlike when one eats too much grapefruit. My coffee tastes like crap, but that might be a user error (I’m looking at you, kettle colleagues).
As starting reference points, I had a craptastic nights sleep last night so it is hard to imagine that my start of week selfie wont be vastly improved upon later in the week. I am clad in my little red Next frock which was very snug in the tummy first thing. All is normal.

I am going to add at this point that I’m not sharing those selfies with anyone, I look like crap at half six on a Monday morning and no end of vinegar drinks is going to fix that. You don’t need to know.

Day Three: After another astringent start to the day yesterday I was not looking forwards to my shot this morning and I thought I might lessen the pain by diluting my ACV in a bigger glass of water. This was a mistake, as it just resulted in more stinky harsh vinegar water to get through before I could hit the crumpets, and I must admit to discarding about a fifth of it into the sink when my gag reflexes threatened to kick in. This must be why some people advocate making some weird kind of tea with warm water and honey to mask the taste but I will not be taking this step because A) Adding sugar to the mix defeats the object of the taking the vinegar as a a tonic to an empty stomach and B) I don’t have time for that shit, I already get up early enough thanks.

I can’t say as the day by day account goes that there is much more to add to this. Drinking vinegar water is not palatable and hangs around for long enough to spoil your first coffee of this day. This should may be enough to put most people off the regime entirely. The one thing I do note is that on almost every day I took the acid test, my morning appetite seriously reduced. A quick scan back over my food diary shows that pre-lunch snacks just stopped. I ate breakfast before I left the house at 7ish every day and then didn’t think of anything else until my main day job break, some time between noon and 1-30.  Did I lose a ton of weight over these two weeks then? Er, no. From the looks of it my calorie intake stayed about the same but I don’t remember being particularly hungry on those afternoons. More likely, as a smartpoints counter, I just used up those snack points with my dinner instead so all in all, no real net effect there.

My bloat has buggered off though, in fact typing this now almost three weeks on, my day to day humdrum symptoms (nausea, pain, massive hard belly that plays like a snare drum etc) are completely gone. Before you reach for the bottle, I had a single and severe, erm, let’s call it ‘attack’ five days ago so I am certainly not touting it as a cure either.

Today, my little red Next dress fits just fine and my sexy jeans don’t hurt to sit in for more than half an hour BUT I am over a kilo up on the scales from my first day on this experiment. Huh. My summary on the whole thing? A solid Meh out of ten. All this observations could have happened on their own or because of something else and having given up the morning shots of sour glory I have not reverted to my previous discomforts. I’m not about to fix the Vinegar Drinkers banner to my battle steed just yet.

Apart from being an unpleasant start to the culinary day, chucking back constant lugs of acid can have proper undesired effects on one’s teeth, gullet and stomach over the long term though I am not against investing in some of the capsule form ACV products the next time I find myself in gastro-trouble and see if there is any helpful effect from that.

I’m sorry not to have a more conclusive, um, conclusion but basically I think that the way ahead is to keep the vinegar in the salad dressings, lay off the sliced white and remember to keep more gut friendly grub like kimchi, saurkraut and natural yoghurt on the menu even on the good days.

Well that was boring wasn’t it? As you were.

 

 

Hands Off My Gin!!!!!

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When did a G&T become so complicated?

The humble gin and tonic appears to have become this year’s pulled pork and I cannot pretend to be happy about it. It has to be expected these days to face a smugly recounted list of nineteen gins, twelve origin countries and seven potential tonic varieties when you pull up an artistically industrial chair in your local craft-bar of choice- afterall when paying a tenner for a double and mixer who doesn’t appreciate an over educated and self important barkeep openly judging your vote for Mediterranean Fever tree over a Schweppes Slimline?

Ahem.

It is another thing entirely to find yourself constantly bombarded with endless gqarnish gimmicks and badly thought out G&T side products. Sweets- aren’t these for kids? Ice pops- ok but with an 18 label. Cakes- acceptable at a push but it is a bit of a push. Lip balm- you’re just being bloody silly now. This is going too far and before long we shall be nipping to Boots to pick up some gin and tonic ‘flavoured’ eye drops along with our Unicorn coloured B12 supplements and salted caramel hair home hair dye kit. Has the time actually come where there is such thing as too much gin?

I remember in the mid nineties falling in love with a certain era- defining Britpop album, only to have it ruined for me when some crunchy-permed mouth breathers started belting out one of the more popular singles in the corridor between 4th lesson French and last lesson Maths. Horrors. Twenty years on that song has never been the same. In a similar way, my love for a G&T (something  of a Boomboom family birth right) is absolutely not something I need to share with a bunch of affectedly hip idiots in too-tight trousers living their life through irritating snapchat filters. This cannot happen again.  I will not suffer being forced to share my seat on the gin and tonic bandwaggon with the mixology equivalent of a Kings of Leon ‘fan’ who only knows the words to Sex on Fire.

Let us be clear, I am in no way opposed to a marginally tarted up G&T, firmly grounded in the proven and subtle science of complimentary aromatics and all that gastro chemistry guff. Some peppercorns, a wee sprig of thyme, a sliver of grapefruit zest, why the hell not? If it makes for a tasty consumption experience and a pretty Instagram post then go right ahead, I’ll try two. It makes sense to experiment, because gin is by no means a standard recipe when it comes to distilling and all sorts of ingredients (what Gin Twats will call ‘Botanicals’) can be added to the process with notable difference in the end products. I can’t tell you what is responsible for the nuances of flavour in a shot of Opihr vs a nice nip of Bathtub but I can tell that they are different and as such will benefit from being served with different mixers or garnishes. This is all good. What I cannot cope with is your common or garden chain restaurant of choice offering Summer G&T Specials or Gin Clubs that basically involve a single measure of Gordon’s poured over not enough ice and served with a sad scrape of citrus fruit and a half acre of non-descript greenery in a red wine glass.

Just don’t. Please.

If you are going to get on trend with all the cool kids then don’t just blunder in there and start chucking about the rosebuds and chilli peppers willy nilly like a bull in a juniper shop. The execution of a perfect G&T only requires the basics of a mid range gin, a reasonable quality tonic water, ice and a slice.

Here cometh the first rule of gin: LOTS OF ICE. Then a bit more ice. Seriously fill that glass up. Then sneak another bit on top.

You don’t need a mega expensive secret recipe export strength gin or a violet tinged, organic water carbonated with angel farts. Fever tree and schweppes make excellent tonic water. The co-op own brand one is also more than alright, though sadly only available by the bottle rather than in those handy single serving tins that wont go flat.

Here cometh the second rule of gin: mix it with fresh and fizzy tonic.

Big bottles go flat quickly unless you are pouring a large round, so shop wisely and recycle your containers like the responsible grown up that you are. You can actually end your gin craft here with a minimalist slice of lime if you want to and that is perfectly OK. G&T, done. If you are going to get into syrups and twists and garnishes then for Tanqueray’s sake get it right!

Here cometh the third rule of gin: Less is more.

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A 2016 Christmas special G&T from the older male sibling. The exception to prove the rule on over garnishing.

It is a cocktail, not a live art installation and more often than not a slice or a stem will do the job nicely.  Personally I believe you should draw the line at two additions for fear of ending up with a weird muddle of gin-ish flavours which is just a waste of Mother’s Ruin. Make those reasonable sized additions too, no-one needs to be stabbed in the eye with a six inch rosemary stalk whilst trying to avoid choking to death on stray cardamom pods.

A fine G&T is a fine thing indeed, nectar of the very Gods on a hot day or a cold night or a particularly stressful morning in airport security as I once experienced trying to leave Las Vegas. It is a simple but precise art, which can by all means be experimental but must never, ever be dumbed down to mass production ready-meal status and should never, ever be served from a tin (unless you are already three sheets to the wind at a festival or facing an unavoidable apocalypse within the next half hour). So just try, will you please? Put in a little bit of effort, learn a few tricks by all means but treat this cocktail with the respect and affection that it truly deserves. Or just stick to a bloody jack and coke and leave my gin the hell alone, you animal.

 

Those who wish to explore the art of a G&T would do well to start with The Gin Manual by Dave Bloom and check out @ginmonkeyUK on that there Twitter thing. 

Chlorination Chicken

Chlorine_Tile

Before we go any further I must thank dozens of witty social media types who came up with this easily hijacked pun about the latest Brexit related horror that is the possibility of US chlorine washed chicken ending up on your Sunday roast plate in the UK. Well done you.

The table-top impact of Brexit has been doing the media rounds recently as our glorious leaders start to chat about that pesky EU divorce and the resulting impact on the import/export market in the UK. Cut to Liam Fox, half witted Trade Secretary who threw out a casual remark about the possibility of importing American chicken to our fair shores. Cut to someone pointing out that it is common practice across the pond to wash chicken carcasses in a chlorine solution to remove all those pesky food bugs that have accumulated over the sad, short and filthy life of a mass farmed yankee chicken. Cut to general outcry about why we don’t want any of that over here thank you very bloody much.

It’s a bit sad really, because in this blogger’s opinion yes, chlorine washed chicken is a vile and horrid idea but not for the reasons you might immediately think. For clarity, chlorine is an element, a halogen, atomic no 17. It is both complex and common stuff you know, found in plastics and mustard gas and, er, table salt. Yes, table salt. The kind you put on your chips. Before you get upset about chemicals in or on your dinner, it is important to understand them. Breathe in some nice elemental chlorine gas and you are likely to die in a really unpleasant fashion. Treat some water with it and you have yourself a nice, clean pool to swim in. React it in the right conditions with explosive alkaline-metal sodium and you can pair it with some limes and tequila to liven up a Saturday night. OK so the last one will give you a headache but its not the health disaster that various panic artists might have you believe. There is chlorine in your tap water and in your own stomach acid and although having your breaded nuggets pre dipped in thin bleach might not be very palatable in theory, it isn’t something one should really worry about too much.

So should we happily accept a US trade deal which will bring chlorine treated chicken to our supermarket shelves?

Hell no!!!!!!!!!!!

In a darkly comic echo of the circumstances that lead us to the Brexit vote itself, a lot of people are missing the point behind what they think they are angry about. Don’t ask if you should eat chlorine. Ask why it is that anyone would wash their chicken in chlorine in the first place, because I can assure that your average drumstick does not need to be protected from algal bloom.  I could direct you to many wordy and horrifying sources that will tell you all about intensive farming methods and chemical interventions in the UK, and they may well tug on your heart strings and curl your toes and push you further towards almond milk in your latte and Meat Free Monday.  The short follow up to this is that it is worse across the Atlantic. Widespread use of antibiotic poultry feed in America keeps their chickens arguably protected against disease and free to spend their average 47 days of life doing nothing but eat and grow fat. This is good news for the accountants as they get bigger birds and a smaller waste margin. It is also good news for those wonderful singled celled genetic freaks that are Drug Resistant Bacteria. These are all that is left once all that nice medicine has done its work on those chickens- superbugs that medicine can’t treat. If these superbugs get into the food chain, buffalo wing fans everywhere are in for a world of hurt. In the EU, we have some very tight regulations about what it is and isn’t OK to feed farm animals because no one wants an MRSA epidemic. In the states, they just bleach those superbugs away after slaughter. But is this a big deal really? The end result is surely the same and that is safe meat on your plate and no fear that a chicken jalfreezi today will lead to an untreatable case of gastroenteritis tomorrow.

Maybe.

Be in no doubt, the need for chlorinating chicken carcasses comes from filthy, filthy living conditions rife with ever evolving superbugs and seriously unhappy chickens. I remember being an emotionally charged vegetarian for some years and being told by my teenage bestie’s moron of a Godmother that I shouldn’t feel sad for chickens, because they don’t have brains. They do have brains, they do feel stress, don’t kid yourself that just because they don’t write dark suicidal poetry about it that any intensively farmed animal is just a happy bundle of awareness-free sandwich filling.

If, when we leave the EU, we agree to import US raised chicken produce we will have to drop current food safety and animal welfare regulations considerably- you can’t allow imports of foodstuffs not subject to the same governance of those we produce in the UK. We won’t stop the chlorination in the US, so we will have to allow it here and thus the door opens to dozens of shady, cruel and questionable practices that won’t stop at dirty chickens and hormone jacked cows. For a bit of context, it is currently acceptable in the EU to keep a caged hen as long as it has its own floor space equivalent to one sheet of A4 paper. That is the minimum accepted standard. If you give them an extra inch or so of communal space for a scratch and a peck this becomes an ‘enriched’environment for them. That is the bare minimum, and that is considered one of the higher poultry welfare standards found in the world. I don’t think you need to be a militant vegan to agree that this is not the way to treat a living being, even if it is only living for a few weeks until it goes in your oven. I’m not a militant vegan, and I’m not blind or squeamish to the fact that I eat dead things. I’m happy with eating dead things, because I’m picky about the dead things that I eat both for my own health and theirs before they become my dead dinner and I am not alone in this. Infact I’m pretty low intensity on my animal rights activism when it comes to it. I shop free range and use vegan cosmetics when I can and feel guilty about it when I can’t. The more I educate myself on these matters, the more I learn and the more it becomes clear that there are other options on all menus.

I believe and hope beyond hope that the chlorination chicken question will remain eternally rhetorical. We cannot go backwards. In all likelihood, we won’t ever see it here, but we will see increasing pressure on our farmers with reduced subsidies and resulting legislative pressure to make it easier for them to survive against cheaper and lower quality imports from whatever desperate trade agreements we have to cling to when we are done limping out of Brussels. Unless what?

Unless you, the consumer, you the voter and you the person with internet access and a a bank account start to act now because you actually have a huge amount of power in the process of both saving our responsible farmers and improving the existence of livestock in this country.

Ask how your meat is farmed. Ask what kind of hens the eggs in that bit of cake in your local cafe came from. Find out where your local farmers are, how they run their show and buy from them as directly as you can. If your preferred mass supermarket of choice cannot easily and willingly provide clear and evidenced information about the welfare standards on the farms they are in business with then don’t shop there. We vote with our money every single day and it can be politically much more effective than that tick in the box in the polling booth every couple of years (or months as it seems recently).  And while we’re talking about money, stop being so bloody tight. You can’t expect a grass fed, free range, wagu massaged organic rump steak to cost you  less than a bus fare to Mc Donalds.

By supporting farmers who go above the minimum welfare standards we set a precedent and justify a fair market price. If enough people refuse to buy eggs from caged hens, then the market will have to adjust and the politicians will have to encourage and, more importantly, support reform in production because the only way to really ensure better methods is to ensure that as many people as possible are making money out of it. If you buy quality, welfare farmed British meat then your shop will sell out of it, and it will buy in more from those farmers. I you refuse to buy meat that isn’t clearly free range, then it stays on the self, and the supermarkets have to account for that waste in their profits and think about how much they want to source.

Demand quality, demand higher welfare standards and be prepared to pay for it.

Seek out direct purchasing opportunities, support good producers and for heavens sake shout about it rather than crying over chlorinated dinner crises that only exist in the tabloids.

Or carry on with your 99p burgers and enjoy your canned roast chicken. It’s up to you.

canned chicken

Whole. Canned. Chicken. Horrors.

Some further reading on the subject here:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/25/chlorinated-chicken-trade-britain-us-food-standards-globalisation

https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/5235306/The-life-of-Broiler-chickens.pdf

https://science.rspca.org.uk/sciencegroup/farmanimals/standards

 

Salt Masters

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If you have an interest in cooking and don’t live under a stone, chances are that you’ve heard recent buzzing about Himalayan Salt- the pretty pink sensation coming to table tops and bathtubs near you!!!

You may well ask why I care about this and I will give you two reasons. The first is, rather obviously, dinner. Salt is one of the most widely used and massively misunderstood components of a decent meal and if you hadn’t noticed yet, I do like a decent meal. The second is that I’m an Essex girl, and if I have to live with the constant barrage of dubious Dad-jokes and stereotypes associated with my region then I shall take my revenge by constantly shouting about some of the really good people, businesses and products that come from Essex too.

Enter Salt Masters, providing you with oodles of Himalayan Salt products from their base in sunny Romford, just up the A12 from this food fan. You can have a check of their lovely website here  and will see all kinds of products ranging from culinary salt to cooking blocks to bath salts to therapeutic lamps and bricks, and back again. I’d like to talk about their culinary salt for a little while.

So what’s the buzz, it’s just salt, right? We-ll, sort of right. In general terms when we say ‘Salt’ we mean sodium chloride, NaCl for those of us that didn’t bunk off chemistry GCSE, and in the loosest way all table salt is the same in that it mostly contains sodium chloride (usually well over 90%). The origin of Himalayan salt, mostly in the Punjab foothills, gives it a unique mineral profile of additional trace compounds and rosy colouration which makes it stand out from many other culinary rock salts. Salt Masters salt is mined without explosives and processed without additional flavour enhancers or anti-caking agents making the product that ends up at your letter box is pure and pink and unadulterated, right from the source.

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Coarse ground Himalayan pink salt from Salt Masters

You have to take a moment to note that as condiments go, this stuff is very pretty and makes an eye catching filler for your grinder or salt pig- it is has a particularly pleasing look when mixed with dried rosemary leaves  in a clear grinder. The coarse ground culinary salt is great to use as an abrasive when mashing up herbs or spices to make rubs and marinades, much as the way you might use traditional rock salt or sea salt. The fine ground salt will also make a pretty spectacular glass-rim garnish for the tequila fans amoung us.

I think the most striking difference I have found in using the Salt Masters culinary salt though is that it tastes, er, really salty…….That sounds like a daft thing to say as what else would it taste of? But this strength of flavour means you really don’t need to use that much of it to enhance your cooking. Using less is something of a double win as although you do need an amount of salt in your diet, there are numerous medical concerns with consuming too much, and when you don’t need to use as much your stash lasts longer and is effectively cheaper! I have found the pink Salt Masters salt especially effective in sweet dishes to enhance rich desserts that could be potentially sickly otherwise and would recommenced this salt in particular for salted caramel or dark chocolate recipes- I will be trying some in a chocolate fondant the next time we have dinner guests. Below is a really easy salted chocolate fudge recipe which works wonderfully with this salt and is a perfect pick me up with a cup of tea or an indulgent movie night treat. As this fudge uses chocolate to set you don’t need to fuss about with endless boiling or sugar thermometers, you just need a good saucepan and a spare fifteen minutes.

Check out the full Salt Masters site here with free delivery on everything over £50!

https://www.himalayansaltmasters.co.uk/

Pink-Salted Chocolate Fudge

 

Kit:
4″x6″ rectangular baking tin
Greaseproof paper
Silicone backed spoon

100g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate (75% cocoa solids)
1 can condensed milk
230g soft dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp fine ground Salt Masters Himalayan Salt
1/2 tsp coarse Salt Masters Himalayan Salt

Line your tin with greaseproof paper and set aside, then break your chocolate up into pieces. Pleeeeeeeeease don’t use cheap cooking chocolate for this recipe invest in a couple of decent, high cocoa content bars! I particularly like the fair trade 80% dark chocolate from Co-op.
Melt the butter in a reasonably sturdy pan then take off the heat and stir in the condensed milk, then the brown sugar. When thoroughly mixed, return to the heat until it just starts to bubble. Start to stir now (don’t use a wooden spoon) and maintain a low, steady simmer for 2 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and add the fine salt, vanilla extract and the chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is thoroughly melted and combined with the sugar mix.
Return to the heat until it just starts to simmer again then take the pan off, stir quickly once more then pour the mixture into your tin. If you have a silicon spoon use this to level the top or simply give the pan a good wiggle to distribute the fudge out evenly.

Set aside on a heat proof surface for 2 hours then scatter the coarse salt evenly over the top. The fudge will take over night at room temperature or 2-3 hours in the fridge to set fully, do it at room temperature if possible as the set will be better.
Cut into pieces with a sharp knife and serve or gift as you wish, it will keep in an air tight container for a couple of weeks, if you can resist it for that long!

fudge

 

 

*this post has been sponsored by Himalayan Salt Masters and I was gifted two bags of their salt for this purpose, however I would assure you that I would never recommend products or services with anything but my genuine opinion. 

 

Are you going to eat….Jackfruit?

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glorious jackfruit, image from wikipedia

Right off the bat, I will confess proudly to being no kind of coconut scented veganuary detox guru. I eat meat, I’m overweight and I’m not sure how to pronounce ‘quinoa’. That’s not to say I don’t see the benefits to this planet and all the bodies on it to eating plenty of plants, easing up on mass meat farming and frankly not putting all manner of living beasts through experiential hell for the sake of a cheap dinner.

Going vegan is not an easy thing to do, I know I tried it. For most of us it isn’t a desirable thing to do either. We like steak and eggs, or honey-chilli-chicken wings, or a low fat mint choc chip whey shake after the gym. That’s ok. Some of us live entirely off greens, nut butter and b vitamin supplements and that’s ok too. What’s not really OK is to make a massive change for the sake of a month in the belief that it will save the world, increase your 5kPB and undo all the damage of three straight weeks of mince pies, cheeseboards and ‘social’ drinking. |Yes, you might drop a few pound in fat and save a few in cash but if you go straight back to mainlining Big Macs and drinking like Oliver Reed when the calendar turns that will all be for nowt. Speaking of drinking, the only thing that irritates me more than the veganuary trend is the Dryanuary bore off. If you need 100% abstinence from booze to stop getting smashed then you have a bigger problem than staying out of the pub until February 1st- which also happens to be one of the financially hardest months for every small landlord and chef-patron out there. If you think you drink too much, seek professional help- a hashtag and a charity donation are not going to fix you. If you think you eat too much meat, for whatever reason, then learn about nutrition and seek out some new culinary tricks.

And that’s why I’m going to talk about Jackfruit: a big spikey looking thing from the fig family that grows in the rainier forests of south east Asia and as such is common in the expected cuisines such as Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and so forth. It is the national fruit of Bangladesh, which I think we can all agree is fascinating. Read more about it here*.

Nutritionally speaking, you get a little under 1 calorie per gram of Jackfruit which is considerably heftier than a lot of fruit despite still being roughly three quarters water by weight. It is also packing in fibre with a relatively high starch content, so hooray for the dieter amoung us too. As per most fruit, there’s plenty of mineral and vitamin action going on here plus a protein content of about two percent by weight and *fanfare* an enviable vitamin B complex content, B6 in particular. This is one, of some, reasons that makes Jackfruit a good go-to edible for the vegan crowd. Another reason is that the firm and distinctly un-mushy texture of a green/unripe jackfruit does very well as a meat substitute to the point of this glorious angiosperm being dubbed as the ‘vegan pulled pork’. Although recent trends will push anything that you are trying to sell as some kind of pulled porkish thing, this claim isn’t entirely without merit. If you know what you’re doing, some canned green jackfruit takes only a small amount of meddling to become shreddable, easily spiced and chucked in a bun with some BBQ sauce. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t going to kid any blind taste testers into believing they are chowing down on Babe’s little brother, but it’s well alright.

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stages of pulled jackfruit from my kitchen

I first attempted a pulled jackfruit affair when rustling up a soulfood dinner for the fam a couple of months ago. I had always had a degree of interest in the jackfruit phenomenon and what better reason to test it than having a vegetarian at the table! I have to say, I liked it. It has a pleasing bite and semi-solid texture not unlike your quorn sausage or questionable pink and white seafood stick product. Grim as it is, I love a dodgy seafood stick in my ramen so this worked for me, particularly when heavily seasoned with plenty of garlic and hotsauce. It is quite difficult to imagine it as a fruit rather than some kind of textured protein product, but herein lies the irony that this also makes it a potentially unpopular choice for the non-meat eaters at your table. Of the six of us eating that night, it was the bloody vegetarain who was least enamoured of my BBQ jackfruit offering, I suspect due to this very meaty texture which is one of the main reasons he doesn’t like to eat most TVP type quorn cutlet or fake burger products to begin with.

Well you can’t please everyone.

And you don’t have to stop at the pulled jackfruit attempts. If you can find a fresh one (try bigger Asian or specialty grocers) the ripe fruit is likened to a sort of banana-mango hybrid, working well in a simple fruit salad or all manner of curries, cakes and casseroles. It has to be said though that on these fair Western shores, the bulk of recipes for jackfruit involve faking some kind of crabcake or meat product. Try this link for various takes along this general theme or if you really just want to run with the hipster vegan pulled pork crowd this is a brilliant, easy recipe that we all really enjoyed from my new favourite vegans at It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken.

So are you going to eat Jackfruit? You might as well, it’s pretty good for you and takes up an afternoon playing in your kitchen and the canned stuff should set you back more than £1.75 a pound. You might really like it, even if you aren’t an insufferably hip and conscientious veganuaryer.

 

*thanks as ever to wikipedia for reference material https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackfruit