EAT YOUR WORDS

Brilliant outing yesterday to the newly -extended Carnegie Library and Galleries, Description: Hard Drive:Users:marthabryce:Desktop:Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 10.15.03.pngDunfermline. Award-winning architecture, opening up huge new vistas over the Abbey and Abbot’s House to the west, and the Forth bridges to the south. And a hugely engaging collection of artefacts representing many of the trades and townspeople of past and present. The actual library section is mercifully preserved pretty much as was. When Captain Wunderkind was a baby I used to push the pram up St Margaret’s Street and get lost in the aisles of books, shoogling the pram with one hand and balancing the books with the other, trying to devour a whole chapter before the WK woke up and wailed.

2017-05-23 11.36.10.jpgIn those days there was no tea or coffee to be had in the library – the very idea! Now however there’s a spanking new café with an outside terrace and leafy views through the treetops. The café contract was awarded to a (relatively) local food business, ‘Heaven Scent’ of Milnathort – a nice change from the corporate Costas that seem to take over. Not that I have anything against Costa – except for the global creep which makes it so hard for the local food story to survive. We arrived at lunchtime and I had a creamy, soothing pitcher of lentil soup with a nice crunchy salad with roasted vegetables, and a pair of seeded mini-rolls. The menu was a notch above predictable, with lots of familiar lunch-type options, livened up with little quirks. Pity that, at 12.30 in the day, they’d already run out of  cream of mushroom – but since they only opened last Thursday, I guess it takes a while to bed in. The queue never went down throughout our visit so clearly it’s going down well.

I’ve always been a big library fan, and fortunate always to have access to some good ones. Right now, I’m in the AK Bell library in Perth – on the spacious and silent upper floor, tapping away. Great study space, good book collection in my field (food and drink, mainly), friendly and helpful staff, and a nice, but slightly pricy, café.

My first library was in what had once been someone’s front room at the top end of the Main Street in Ochiltree – a few doors beyond the House with the Green Shutters. I finished the single shelf of children’s books in a matter of months, so my mother and the librarian conspired to find things from the adult shelves that they considered ‘suitable’. Of course they occasionally got it wrong! And thank goodness for that, as my sex education was badly in need of augmentation.

I won’t go on at length about all my libraries but have decided to do a scoresheet, with points out of 5 on the above features, for all you other booknerds out there:

Name and location of library, and the dates I used it Book collection

score 0-5

Study space

score 0-5

Staff helpfulness

score 0-5

Refreshments

score 0-5

Ochiltree, 1964-68 2 0 2 0
Carnegie library, Ayr, 1974 3.5 3 3 0
Glasgow University Library, 1974-77 5 (but all so BORING!) 3 1 0
Langside Library, Glasgow, 1977-86 3.5 1 2 0
Public library, Stonetown, Zanzibar, 2010 3 – but eccentric! 3 2 0
Carnegie Library, Dunfermline – opened 1883, closed for renovations 2015 4 4 4 0
Duloch Community Library, Dunfermline 4 2 4 2
Laing Library, Newburgh, Fife 4 but specialist – local and family history 1 4 0
AK Bell Library, Perth 4 4 4 3
 Carnegie Library and Galleries, Dunfermline – reopened 18th May 2017 4 4 4 4

So the top scorer is …. drum roll … Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries! Go as soon as you can, it’s a brilliant visit and does the townspeople proud.

Ten real-life cooking challenges

Well done Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed on winning Masterchef 2017! Your cooking really inspired me, and I love the light, fresh, vibrant flavours you have brought to the table.

The winner of MasterChef 2017 has been announced

It must be daunting, as an untrained home cook, to be set loose in the professional kitchens of award-winning restaurants, and to produce exquisite platefuls for panels of exalted judges. Quite often, their accolade for a great plate of food was ‘I would be happy to pay for this in a top restaurant.’ This must be scary for other home cooks – it certainly is for me. The measure of your cooking likes in its suitability for fancy restaurants? Terrifying! And yet most home cooks rise to greater culinary challenges on a daily basis.

Which leads me to wonder – why doesn’t the BBC create a different kind of cookery competition? One in which home cooks are judged for extensive skills in all their normal tricky kitchen manoeuvres? In this kind of competition, we could have rounds on (disturbingly) real-life situations. Here are my ten top suggestions:

  1. A week’s worth of packed lunches for a family of five – creating and delivering the lunches, and responding to customer feedback
  2. Providing healthy post-match snacks for your son’s or daughter’s football team
  3. Laying on a celebration buffet for 20 people including your mother-in-law, three children, a vegan, and someone who is gluten-intolerant
  4. Three items for a fundraiser at the local school
  5. Menu for a street party
  6. Consolation supper for a failed driving test
  7. New resolution weekday suppers following a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes
  8. Birthday picnic for 12
  9. A meal which has to be prepared in advance and served within 30 minutes of arrival home, following a special event such as your stepdaughter’s first stage appearance
  10. Team challenge: a wedding breakfast for 50 people at a budget of £4 per head

2016-06-20 11.05.32.jpgWhy would this kind of approach make good viewing? Firstly, because everyone should have the enjoyment of good food as a regular part of life, and most of us can’t afford to pay for it outside the home. Secondly, because lots of people don’t know how to cook nowadays, and we need a bit of relevant inspiration. And thirdly, because it’s important to be in control of what we put into our bodies.

Finally though – because it’s a joy to get your sleeves up and lay on a bit of a spread, be it ever so modest; and it’s great to develop your skills and have them recognised.

Saliha, good luck with your ambition to combine your medical experience and training with the redesign of the British diet. It would be absolutely fantastic to breathe new vigour – drama, even – into the drive to reduce childhood (and other) obesity.

Ringing the Changes

The Cross Party Group on Food at the Scottish Parliament the other week was as usual very informative and particularly topical for me. The theme was ‘The Future of Reformulation’, with speakers from the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen. Dr Alan Rowe kicked off with a roundup of what’s been going on to date, and why we need to reach further. Everybody, he says, has been trying to reduce the fat, sugar and salt in their products (not sure I agree with that – there are extravagant claims for sugar reduction in the breakfast cereal sector which don’t bear much examination). However there are lots of challenges facing Scotland which need further reformulation efforts.He cited climate change, Brexit, ‘westernisation’ of diets in India and China which in turn have led to hugely increased incidences of diabetes and CVD in those countries; and ongoing famine in large tropical stretches of the world.

Dr Rowe’s colleague, Professor Baukje de Roos, continued with a range of possible developments, and gave brief accounts of three case studies for further discussion:

  • Farmed salmon have much less Omega 3 than theirImage result for images farmed salmon wild cousins. This is because they derive their Omega 3 from their own diet, which, in farms, has been largely based on rapeseed oil. There are other concerns about farmed salmon too; their Vitamin D content is lower; and they suffer from sea lice which are eaten by other fish. The Sunday Times last week ran a feature on the near-extinction of sea wrasse, which are being captured and put to work on the farmed salmon. According to a study at Stirling University’s Institute of Aquaculture, Omega 3 levels in farmed salmon have halved in five years; and as we all know, Omega 3 provides huge health benefits to humans. If something isn’t done, we might as well get our Omega 3 out of a bottle; and what a loss that would be.
  • Mussel farming has been described as the most sustainable form ofImage result for images mussel farming in Scotland meat production in the world – with no environmental impact at all, according to some sources. Mussels are extremely rich in Vitamin D, with a special metabolite that makes them as rich as Vitamin D supplements; and again, Vitamin D is a vital part of our diet in helping us absorb calcium. People who live in sunnier climes can get a lot of the Vitamin D requirement from sunshine; alas this is not the case in Scotland. Hence the desirability of increasing mussel production and consumption. However mussels are also very high in salt, which is a concern.
  • Plant-based protein sources, such as fava beans, hemp, buckwheat, lupin, and peas, are all grown in Scotland. They are high in protein, low in fat, high in fibre, rich in micronutrients and phytochemicals; anti-inflammatory; and high in satiety, giving you a great ‘fuller for longer’ result. Top 6 Plant Based ProteinsBut none of these foods enjoy much (if any) popularity, or have been developed by the food industry. And meantime Scotland has one of the worst records for obesity, diabetes and CVD in Europe. Could we develop a more popular food that increases protein and the above listed other benefits? Maybe a food that is currently perceived as unhealthy, such as a pie? Because of its satiating qualities, such a pie would be lower in calories and cheap to produce (just like the original Scotch pie!) I’m onto it! A good veggie pie? What’s not to like?

I mentioned that the theme for the meeting was very timely for me. That’s because, along with four colleagues on my Food Innovation Masters course, I was working up a presentation for examination via Dragon’s Den, based on our challenge to develop a reduced-sugar product for children (along with the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). Our group worked on a reduced-sugar granola which I may say was delicious and used completely natural ingredients, and achieved a 40% reduction in sugar over the industry standard. There were lots of very technical bits to the project which I may say were more the forte of the rest of the group. My best contribution came in the marketing recommendations … I don’t suppose Scott’s Porridge Oats will be knocking on our door anytime soon but here’s our product image, for your information/entertainment:

MUNGO’S MIGHTY GRANOLA is a reduced-sugar Scottish premium breakfast cereal, made with fantastic Scottish ingredients, including oats from Angus and raspberries from the Carse of Gowrie. Mungo’s granny was the one immortalised in Rabbie Burns’ famous poem ‘To a Mouse’ – there will be a free toy mouse in every package … well I don’t know if this is ever going to hit the supermarket Image result for images running miceshelves but let me tell you this – you can make it at home (I did, on Wednesday night) and it’s brilliant. The one thing that I know for certain went well at the Dragons’ Den presentation is that when we handed the bag round the Dragons for tasting, the whole lot was scoffed in minutes!

 

 

 

 

 

Maggie’s Munchies

On Wednesday I participated in the fourth of four nutrition workshops at Maggie’s in Dundee. Sue, the tutor, is a retired dietitian, and runs this group for people who live with Cancer, on a drop-in basis. The aim is to explore how various dietary choices can support your feeling of wellbeing on your Cancer journey.2016-09-04 15.15.54.jpg

I don’t have Cancer; but I’ve recently been studying the connections between the so-called Mediterranean Diet, and Cancer prevention. My friend Amanda works alongside Maggie’s, and when she heard about my interest, made the necessary introductions. This has been a brilliant opportunity for me, to see how theory gets translated into practice, and I’m very grateful to Amanda and Sue, and all the women and men with Cancer who allowed me to join in their conversations. It was a privilege.

Sue’s four sessions were based on the government’s Eatwell Guide. So we had two hours on each of Fruit and Veg; then Carbs; then Oils and Fats; and finally, Salt and Sugar. In each session, Sue prepared some recipes and talked us through the whys and wherefores of various foods and their provenance. There was plenty time for discussions. And then we ate all the food! What a brilliant learning opportunity – so much better than just reading a recipe book, or even watching a dish being made on television. I saw things being made that I’d read about – like Bircher Muesli – which I just didn’t fancy enough to try. (Oats soaked overnight in milk? Doesn’t sound promising …) Yet the results were delicious, and I’ll definitely make it again.

2016-12-10 20.41.11No surprises in the fact that there isn’t a magic dietary bullet for Cancer. The advice is the same as eating for general good health: lots of fruit and veg, high fibre unless it’s upsetting your system (sometimes affected by the condition or the treatment), oily fish a couple of times a week, and avoid processed foods because they are usually high in salt and sugar. Not too much red or processed meat, not too much dairy. Straightforward, really. But we all get into ruts, cooking the things we know; and Sue showed us some dishes which were easy and tasty and unknown to many of us.

For example, we had mung bean salad; red pepper soup; winter dried fruit salad, with yoghurt and toasted hazelnuts; lentils with red onions in a mustardy-horseradishy dressing; soda bread rolls; smoked mackerel, beetroot and potato salad; hummus; spicy red pepper dip; lemon-tossed popcorn; little oaty-cranberry bundles. And the Bircher Muesli as mentioned earlier. It was all beautiful to behold, and delightful to eat, and left you feeling nicely satisfied afterwards. There is no hardship at all in eating like this; it just takes a bit of planning. Sue’s approach to the recipes was very refreshing too – if you don’t like one ingredient, just substitute another. No major fuss about measuring – a handful will do. We were given recipes too. The links I’ve added here aren’t Sue’s but have the same kind of slant. Also, you can buy a recipe book from Maggie’s.

Maggie’s Centres are architecturally acclaimed, and provide a calm, warm, safe space where people can drop in, have a cup of tea, a chat, browse some great resources, get some specialist advice if they need it, share their experiences with other people with similar conditions, and attend a range of classes if they want to. The emphasis is on empowerment – nurturing people through some difficult times and helping them find the courage and confidence to carry on. People who go there praise the skills and dedication of the doctors and nurses and others who help them on the clinical side of their treatment. And then they say that Maggie’s gives them back a sense of themselves.

I hope none of you ever need Maggie’s – but if you do, I’d say this; you couldn’t find a better source of wisdom.

The birks, the birks …

Wonderful weekend in Aberfeldy – so wonderful it has taken me three days to write it up! Just an hour and a quarter’s drive away but it felt like continental Europe, what with the sunshine, the quirky shops, the local beer, the farmers’ market, the ar2017-04-01 11.06.48.jpgthouse cinema, the ukulele band, and oh! the Birks of Aberfeldy! A wild, dramatic gorge with tumbling streams and crashing waterfalls, acres of wild garlic scenting the birches, and even a statue of Rabbie Burns sitting obligingly on a bench, waiting for Five Women on an Adventure to pose beside him. Good soup and sandwich lunches including a creamy Cullen Skink and some pinky-fresh crayfish tails … and an impressive array of gins back in our swanky lodgings to keep us merry while preparing dinner. Oh yes it was a very good weekend.

By luck we were in town for the first Sunday of the month which is when the farmers’ market arrives. Delicious produce as always but one stall intrigued me more than most – the one giving away free cotton bags to encourage us shoppers to remember to take a bag with us when we go shopping.2017-04-02 09.54.04 ‘Never use a single-use bag again,’ was the smiling challenge from Fiona, who works for Zero Waste Scotland at Perth and Kinross. Now I hate waste but frequently forget the bag, so was very happy to air the ‘Love Food Hate Waste’ logo. I had a conversation with Fiona which was really quite inspiring, and gave me some fresh ideas for a new project I have in mind. More of that after the exams!

Completing my joy of the weekend was a great bookshop at the Millhouse – cosy café downstairs, and the Troubadour informs me he once played a gig upstairs there, a couple of decades ago. After my cuppa I browsed the bookshop and found these two gems – 2017-04-05 17.54.07.jpgtiny troves of wisdom, and I’ve read them both cover to cover since coming home. Will be extending my marmalade and oatmeal repertoires over the next week or two.2017-04-05 17.54.35.jpg

Next time you’re in Aberfeldy, I recommend the Habitat café, the Millhouse as above, the cinema coffee shop, numerous quirky gift shops, and the Ailean Chraggan hotel/restaurant at Weem, a hamlet just a mile out of town with good local beer, a wonderfully helpful waitress, a fresh chef, a nice open terrace and the above-mentioned delightful Cullen Skink.

Fresh and local

Yesterday was my first day without classes for a fortnight and I was definitely in 2017-03-24 10.27.02.jpgholiday mood. The Troubadour and I started the day with a trip to Ingin Brae – translates as Onion Hill! but I don’t want to go all Parliamo Glasgow on you – to collect some wild garlic which is just coming alive. Great pungent aroma in the car on the way home. Then I attended a workshop organised by Local Food Works, at the beautiful Falkland Estate, and led by Stella Colleluori, a local chef, caterer and food event sytlist. The workshop, ‘Spring Larder’, was about using whatever’s fresh in the immediate area right now; and we proceeded to make cheese 2017-03-24 14.44.12.jpgand spinach tarts and lamb souvlaki. Stella also made a batch of tzatziki to go with the kebabs.

2017-03-24 13.19.54.jpg

Local Food Works is a Climate Challenge funded programme, and they run monthly workshops on the use of local products, as well as a food market and community meals. Their aim is to support the growth of local food producers and also to reduce our carbon footprint by making good food more locally available. Certainly we’re blessed with some great artisan food producers in Fife, and for our tarts we had locally milled flour, local butter, milk, cheese and cream, local spinach and garlic … and even local smoked sea salt. There’s a lot of inventiveness going on and as you can imagine it was a pleasure to work with these lovely ingredients.2017-03-24 14.58.20.jpg

For the souvlaki we had lamb from Minick’s, a local butcher, lean and tasty. We threaded up the skewers with red and yellow beetroot slices, and leaves of onion; all marinated in  Scottish rapeseed oil  and cider vinegar, with thyme, rosemary, and a little mint that had just poked its head through the soil that morning. The beetroot, Stella confessed, was an experiment in the interests of keeping the whole dish local. She hadn’t tried them on skewers before. I got the job of slicing them and although I kept them as thin as I could, I’d say they would have been better at least parboiled first. But hey, you have to try these things! The colours were beautiful so that’s half the battle. Stella was an inspiring and encouraging presenter and we were left with a great feeling for buying and cooking local – and not bothering too much about the calories!

On the topic of artisan food, I was delighted to hear via Twitter last night that Errington cheese is back on the market. I’ve been trying to check out the full story and it looks as if the legal challenge isn’t yet over; but all power to Humphrey Errington’s elbow for the fight he has had on his hands, and for sticking with it.

Finally, leaving you with a view of some of the spectators at Ingin Brae yesterday morning …

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Cupar Farmers Market

Had a good outing yesterday to the Cupar Farmers’ Market. Weather dry and brightish, just fine for mooching around the stalls. Maybe not quite fine if you were actually on duty behind the counter, I bet they all had multiple layers of thermal underwear and woolly socks. 2017-03-18 10.32.02I met some of the producers I’ve been reading about recently – like this producer of chilli jellies, who started off his business in the family kitchen in Abernethy – our next village – and is now turning out loads of different flavours. Who would have thought there was a whole business to be created from chilli jelly? 2017-03-18 10.35.04

Then there was the Real Hot Chocolate Company, giving out free samples which just go down a treat in a dry, brightish March. I bought a couple of packets, one in vanilla and the other with smok2017-03-18 10.42.47.jpged chilli. Bit of a chilli theme developing here. I do think free samples are a great sales aid. Surely nobody could walk away without buying something after such a tasty wee mouthful?

The longest queue, as always, was at Spinks’ smokie stall. Spinks are one of the main purveyors of Arbroath smokies, and at he farmers’ markets they always smoke the pairs of haddock in the middle of the road, so you can see and smell them from miles around, and it’s very enticing indeed. I bought myself a wee smokie, and also a piece of smoked mackerel which I had for my supper last night. The texture of a freshly smoked mackerel is so buttery and firm, the flavour so sharp and mellow2017-03-18 10.58.45.jpg at the same time. I think this might be my Death Row Dish, should I ever be unlucky enough to need such a  thing. The concentration needed to lick your fingers free of all that lovely oily fishiness would keep your mind firmly off the ordeal to come. More chillis with a mother-and-daughter business, selling all things chilli – I bought chocolate this time. And then a fantastic bready spread fr2017-03-18 10.48.11.jpgom this baker who had brought his wares all the way from the other side of Callander.

And finally, 2017-03-18 10.47.27.jpga great range of infused rapeseed oils from a farm just south of Edinburgh. I’ve written about rapeseed oil before. It’s really getting the artisan treatment these days, and is said to be just as nutritious as olive oil. My young  Italian colleagues at Uni scoff politely at the idea of rapeseed oil substituting for the mighty olive; but one of these days I’m going to organise a  little blind tasting and see how we come off. Furthermore, Supernature does tours at the farm where you can go and see how they press the seeds etc; so that’s a treat for after the exams. If anyone would like to accompany me I’d be pleased to organise a wee tour.

Berry tasty

When I was at High School we put on a show one year – ‘Christmas Strawberries’. I can’t actually remember anything at all about it … which doesn’t say much for the excellence of the production – except that I couldn’t understand the title. Strawberries only grow in the summer (a challenge in Scotland, as according to Billy Connolly, we only have two seasons – June and Winter!)

There’s a great berry tradition here in Tayside – raspberries, most famously, but other berries too – and a rich tradition of whole families decamping to the Carse of Gowrie for a week in the summer, to work on the berry fields and earn a bit, have some fun, get some sun and meet up with old friends. Nowadays however, the bulk of the picking is done by Eastern European citizens on short-term contracts – hard, messy work which keeps so many of our industries going.

The current BREXIT discussions have made things very uncertain for these fellow citizens however. The politicians haven’t done anything to reassure them they can stay, now or in the future, even though many of them have been here for years. For farming, this is a huge worry, and many farmers are forecasting that they will be unable to recruit enough workers if this situation is not resolved. It has been said that our very berry tradition may be at risk.

So I was very happy to read in the Courier the other day of an Angus-based farmer who has developed a strain of strawberry with a growing season extended by three whole months. Abbey Fruits in Arbroath uses a biomass heating system with a wood-fired oven to warm the water and air in their polytunnels. This will give Scottish berries a better chance of competing with those from further afield. Apparently the first crop has already been harvested (and the weather outside tonight is very chilly, definitely not strawberry-season weather) and sold to Waitrose.

We don’t have a Waitrose anywhere near here but I wanted a photo of strawberries to illustrate this post, and went to Lidl at lunchtime. Their strawberries were from Spain – and I know Spain has had a weather-related poor harvest this year – £1.69 for 400g, pretty reasonable. They tasted better than I expected. Unfortunately my camera battery ran out at the crucial moment and I have now scoffed the strawberries! So no photo …

Crossing fingers that in our ongoing political turbulence, there’s room for someone to make a sensible gesture and confirm that our European workforce can stay among us.

Less meat, more veg

Radio 4’s Farming Programme had an interesting feature yesterday morning about

2016-09-25-16-33-17
Harvest Thanksgiving, Newburgh 2015

vegetarianism in Germany  – apparently the government is introducing a controversial ban on meat at government receptions. This is on environmental grounds – it seems that in Germany they take very seriously the costs of producing meat vis-à-vis a vegetarian diet. Indeed, from the programme I gather that this is a hot potato (!) in German politics, with vegetarians identified as crazy left-wingers compared with the conservative cattle-munchers.

Can you imagine such a debate happening in Scotland? For a start, despite decades of awareness of the issues, there is little high-quality or high-profile public debate on the sustainability of meat-farming. It’s an international rather than merely national issue, as previously ‘developing countries’ increase their appetite for the ‘western diet’ over traditional vegetarian habits; hence an increasing global demand for meat.

The meat-versus-veg debate is frequently over-simplified. Scotland has a wealth of high-quality, compassionately-farmed beef, lamb, pork and increasingly, venison – not to mention game birds and the whole of the fishing industry. Apart from the deliciousness of the product, meat’s importance to the economy, and a vast cultural heritage, there are jobs to consider. I’m certainly not in favour of wholesale vegetarianism, imposed or otherwise. But I do go along with the many leading academics, environmentalists, farmers and food writers that we should all be eating less meat; and what meat we do eat should be of high quality.

Much research has linked heavy meat-eating to high incidence of cancer and heart disease. Decades of research findings have found that diets high in vegetables and fruit have a strongly protective effect on our health. Fish also enjoys a favourable profile in health and diet research. I’m certainly not an expert on these areas; but I know that these messages aren’t new. The links I’ve made highlight just a few sources of authority, but there are many more. I reckon it’s time Scots took the evidence to heart. Maybe we should revertPopeye to childhood role models:

I’m Popeye the sailor man – I lives in a caravan – I fights to the finish cos I eats me spinach – I’m Popeye the sailor man!