Tag Archives: healthy eating

Thanksgiving Lite

I was asked to do a cooking demo at Maggie’s in Dundee last night, as part of their support group programme for people with skin cancers. Since it’s Thanksgiving week, and America so much in the news (eeek! Donald T is half Scottish! How can this be true?) I thought I’d do a healthied-up version of a couple of my favourite Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipes. No photos I’m afraid – I got too caught up in delivering my presentation to remember to whip the camera out.Image result for image Lisa Simpson as Statue of Liberty

Anyway, we had a nice butternut squash and peanut soup, served with warm cornbread; and followed by a yoghurt/ custard/ blueberries/ pecan ‘Mess’ (if it’s good enough for Eton College, it’s good enough for me). I substituted butter for oil, and full-cream milk for semi-skimmed, and cut down on the salt. There are so many good flavours in these recipes that you really don’t notice the difference. My recipes below.

A note on chilli: I always find it hard to judge the quantity, as chillies seem to vary so much. This time for the cornbread I used Supernature cold-pressed rapeseed oil infused with chilli, and found it (a) very potent! and (b) very convenient – and more predictable perhaps than your random chilli off the supermarket shelf.

For the Mess, I used the last of my lovely fat blueberries frozen from my day at Downieken farm.

It was interesting researching the background to Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. It seems to have started as an early pilgrim thing and has evolved through the centuries. Here in Scotland we have a lot of thanksgiving services in churches at the end of the harvest season but otherwise I don’t think it’s marked very much. Lots of the donations handed in at these services are sent to the Food Bank, recognising that despite our peace and plenty, many people in the world’s most prosperous countries are still starving. Shocking.


2 onions, 3 cloves garlic, 1-2 chillies, large knob of fresh ginger, grated; 1 tbsp rapeseed oil

2 butternut squashes, peeled, seeded, diced

1.5 litres veg stock

300g peanut butter

2 limes, a bunch of fresh coriander

1.         Dice the onions, sweat in oil for 5 mins or till soft. Add chilli, ginger and garlic and cook for another few mins; then the squash and some black pepper, put lid on and sweat for further 5 mins.

2.         Add stock and simmer 20 mins or till squash soft. Blend. Take some of the hot liquid out of the pot and mix with peanut butter to loosen it up a bit – then pour the lot back into the soup. Heat through again. Add lime juice and chopped coriander; taste and add salt (only if needed) and black pepper.

3.         Serve with optional garnishes – a blob of yoghurt, a sprinkle of peanuts, pumpkin seeds or finely chopped chillies, a sprinkle of coriander


150g each of cornmeal (polenta), and plain flour, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda and 2tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt; 50g grated strong Cheddar

6 sliced spring onions, 1 finely chopped chilli and 1tbsp rapeseed oil, 50g cooked sweetcorn

2 med eggs, 1tbsp runny honey, rapeseed oil, 150g plain wholemilk yoghurt, 150ml semi-skimmed milk

1. Preheat oven to 200 C and grease a 23cm square cake tin

2. Sift and mix dry ingredients into large bowl, folding cheese through after others well mixed. Make a well in centre.

3. Sweat spring onions and chillis in oil till softened but not coloured; add sweetcorn

4. Whisk wet ingredients together and add sweetcorn mix. Pour into well of dry ingredients and mix together – make sure it’s all combined, but don’t overstir.

5. Pour batter into tin and bake 20 mins. Leave to cool in tin for a few mins then cut into 12 squares and serve warm.


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.

Teamwork, Tarts, Type 2 …

Well our big Macmillan effort made £350 on Friday afternoon, thanks to a great team effort. My new pedometer/watch registered 11,500 steps or close on eight miles – my highest yet, and that was just walking round the kitchen, up and down the corridor to the tea rooms, filling tea and coffee pots and dodging round our cheerily chatting customers to pass the buns. Big shout-out especially for our youngest baking donor, Eilidh, who at the tender age of 14 made a huge batch of beautifully, neat, uniform Empire Biscuits such as I could never do in a thousand years.mackerel pate ragged smile

Sorry about the negative note in the title … I am strongly exercised by the need to avoid developing Type 2 Diabetes as the years go by.  So now that the sugarfest is over, it’s back to the healthy stuff. I said on Friday night that I’d never eat cake again … naturally that barely lasted the evening! However – the time has come. Here’s a ragged smile on a plate of smoked mackerel pate which I hope demonstrates my joie-de-vivre at the prospect.

slow-roasting tomatoesAnd here’s a good and easy – and healthy – thing to do if you have a greenhouseful of lovely tomatoes and are running out of ideas: just cut them in half through their equators, scoop out the seeds, sprinkle with olives and herbs of your choice, and dry them (you could hardly call it baking or roasting) at 50 degrees or as low as you can get your oven to go. After several hours they should be tastily chewy and not too charred (stop when they char as they’ll taste bitter). Put them in a screw-top jar and fill it up with a nice oil. A mixture of your best olive and a common-or-garden sunflower will do fine. Add a garlic clove or two, a chilli if you like it hot,  a sprig of rosemary for visual effect, and any other herb you fancy. They’ll keep for up to three months, and give an instant, gorgeous oomph to a fresh tomato sauce. Here’s health!

Mothers aren’t to be trusted

Sometimes the Oldies at work rebel a bit about fruit and veg and I remember the devious depths I have plumbed in the past to try and convince people what’s good for them.minach

For example, when the Wunderkind was six years old he had a certain antipathy to various green veggies, notably spinach and courgettes. Nothing unusual in that of course but I thought I should help him get over it. For his own good, obviously. His cousin Stephen, two and a half years older but less precocious, was visiting at teatime one day and I was serving up spinach. ‘I don’t like spinach,’ says the Wunderkind.

‘It’s not spinach, it’s minach’, says I.

‘Minach? Minach? What’s minach?’

‘Oh a lovely vegetable that tastes great and gives you immense brains and muscles. Do you like it, Stephen?’ (Wink from treacherous mother).

Stephen’s penny drops: ‘Mmm, yes, we have minach all the time, I love it.’

Wunderkind extends the tip of his tongue and licks half a gram of minach from the end of his fork. ‘Yes it’s okay,’ and eats it up. Ha! I win.

Next day I serve up courgettes. ‘I don’t like courgettes,’ says the Wunderkind … similar conversation ensues in which I assure him these are bourgettes, yum yum, and Stephen is nearly wetting himself with the joy of another  joke against Smart Wee Cousin. Wunderkind tastes, swallows, concedes bourgettes are okay whereupon Stephen and I fall about in fits and Wunderkind realises he’s been had. He looks at me as if I’ve murdered the tooth fairy. How could I be so BAD?

Yeah I know. I mustn’t try it on the Oldies. But evil or not, 19 years later, the Wunderkind is still enjoying his minach and bourgettes.