Sunday, 27 November 2011

I’m Sorry I’ll Misread That Again

Apparently we have a dilemma in this country. We are both starving to death and yet at the same time eating ourselves into the obesityrecord books.
The news about the middle classes turning to food charities and co ops has a major clue in the description: Middle Classes!
Those of us who watch frankly too much television will have noticed the growing trend for arts and crafts, homemade and home grown, even as far as some fools building their own houses (home grown home?) . The overriding thing that sticks out through all of it is the fact that people can afford to mess up, to a certain extent. If you rent your own home, work for just above minimum wage and live on your overdraft limit, packing everything in and starting up as a self sufficient small holder isn’t possible. Making your own Christmas presents with help from the local W.I. isn’t cheap alternative is you’re using silver clay at ‘just £15 per key ring’.
Essentially, those people who are turning to food banks are there because they can’t afford the organic free range farm produced Fennel infused Manuka Honey they are used to, not because the price of Tesco Value Spaghetti Hoops has gone up again.
Surviving a recession isn’t just about changing your budget; it’s about changing your mindset too.
The obesity item has some obvious points but also hides the underlying truths that belie the headlines.
Many older women have worked in dull repetitive jobs, in factories and supermarkets, jobs that involve sitting a lot, repetitive muscle action and until recently almost always allowed smoking as a means of relieving the boredom. As any athlete will know, if you stop using those muscles, however big or strong they are, they will change into fat or loosen up to the point that the skin can’t return to size, resulting a lot of the time in what we commonly call ‘bingo wings’ and more. Legs that have been pressing a machine pedal or over forty years won’t just return to those slim shapely pins of youth.
Add to this the very fact that during their working careers these women are also raising children, often alone. Fast food is getting cheaper and those value hoops are an easy option.
If you can get a few hours each week to take up an exercise class just to vary the muscles you use or a couple of mornings or half days off work each week to prepare and freeze some proper home cooked meals, maybe one day a week to keep an allotment where fresh fruit and vegetables can be grown, there would be less risk of adult obesity.
But why, specifically, are we so high in female obesity?
Simply put, men have more opportunities to jobs with more variety. The wages offered to manual workers on production lines is usually the lowest level. It is often referred to as ‘pin money’ or an extra income to boost the main wage, traditionally from the male earner but much less so now. Factory work such as this is also usually flexible hours which makes it more suitable for workers who have school age children, again traditionally female staff. So, poor diet, repetitive jobs and responsibilities at home are all factors that I believe lead towards high female obesity figures.
Why the United Kingdom?
The United Kingdom was once a world leader in so many fields that involved manual labour. Manufacturing, building, fabric mills, and mining were all jobs which favoured stockier stronger builds. As times changed, populations grew that threw up a genetic dominance for the stronger, shorter person. When those jobs and careers declined, those people stayed and continued to breed. People built to swing heavy hammers and load carts were finding themselves stacking shelves, operating tills and working long shifts in call centres.
Yes, the same changes have happened in other countries, other careers and other cultures but we once ruled an Empire that we fed with those factories are still there but they don’t have such a dominance of fast food or rather unhealthy fast food outlets. They have climates maybe more suitable for outdoor exercise or perhaps it is just that they have a history of better diets.
Anyway, I’m no expert and my views may be so far off track but they are just my views.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Indulgent Chocolate Brownies

• 250g unsalted butter
• 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), crumbled
• optional: 75g dried sour cherries pre-soaked in cherry liquor
• 80g cocoa powder, sifted
• 65g plain flour, sifted
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 360g caster sugar
• 4 large free-range or organic eggs

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Line a 25cm square baking tin with greaseproof paper. In a large bowl over some simmering water, melt the butter and the chocolate and mix until smooth. Add the cherries, if you’re using them, and stir together. In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and sugar, then add this to the chocolate and cherry mixture. Stir together well. Beat the eggs and mix in until you have a silky consistency.

Pour your brownie mix into the baking tray, and place in the oven for around 25 minutes. You don’t want to overcook them so, unlike cakes, you don’t want a skewer to come out all clean. The brownies should be slightly springy on the outside but still gooey in the middle. Allow to cool in the tray, then carefully transfer to a large chopping board and cut into chunky squares. These are excellent served with a good strong espresso.


Thursday, 7 July 2011

Boshed Squash Means Sweet Treats!

I like to grow stuff. That's the simple bit. I actually thrive on successful plants, that's the rub. 
The problem is, I don't like just accepting failure, particularly my own.
Typically, my wife has taken to raising plants at home for me to plant out at the allotment, which has been a great help but the most recent and most important introduction was a pair of Squash plants. I'd name the actual variety but they were from a selection pack and neither of us can remember which so for now, they will remain 'The Mystery Squash'.
Anyway, the plants were tended lovingly for a few months by the very dedicated under gardener until the time was ready to take them to their new and final home, a well manured,pvc covered bed at the plot. I had installed a length of old downpipe into the soil to help direct and deep watering too, as all the Cucurbit family like a lot of liquid to swell the fruits. I even added a generous sprinkling of (organic) slug pellets. Not because Squash are especially prone to slug attack, just that at my plot, everything is prone to slug attack! The pvc mulch and straw heavy manure was always going to prove a haven for those slimy pests so a good dose of protection was obligatory.
In the end, despite all these precautions, the plants lasted little more than a fortnight before they had been entirely devoured, leaving not even a tiny shred of stem.
The disappointment and eventual acceptance that something had failed miserably,that I had failed miserably and that this was something my wife, a much less experienced or qualified gardener had managed to raise very successfully before handing over to me, its would be executioner, was all mine to suffer. I could have wallowed, denied or just ignored the fact but instead, I girded my loins and decided to set off to the Garden Centre, armed with my Father's Day gift voucher and in search of replacement plants.
At this point, I'd love to say we found replacement plants, they are doing fine and we expect a fine crop of Butternut,Pumpkin and Little Acorn for soups, pies and roasting.
I'd like to, but I'd be lying. There was a half price sale on the bedding plants range. We resisted. They had ornaments at a reasonable cost but again, we resisted.It was hard but we even resisted the BBQ offers.
When we found the vegetable plants section, it was, as one would expect this late in the season,almost empty. There were plenty of Cabbage plants, many Lettuce and other salads but alas, no Squash. I have plenty of Brassica, Lettuce and others but I needed Squash. 
My only solution in the end was to find a vegetable that would be equally different to the run of the mill supermarket staples as Squash are, that would benefit from the growing conditions I already had prepared an that could go in now, mid to late summer.

As luck had it, the Garden Centre were clearing some packs of Sweet Potato plants. Easy to grow in milder areas (I live in the warm sheltered South West), and, yes, best planted out late June or early July!

Now, I like Sweet Potato as a food, my wife/under gardener/ head cook likes making me food with them in and it's another thing to add to my list of growing achievements so in the basket they went. 
The added advantage of being suitable for growing in a large pot also meant we could have a plant in the garden at home but controlled, as well as three at the plot. Should the plot not be protected enough, we still have the fall back option in a pot at home. 
Just as a final bonus, as I thought about writing this blog, I was reading last months gardening magazine. In it, I stumbled across an article about attractive plants to grow in pots. Which plant was included? 
So, by late October, early November, I may not be hollowing out a Jack O'Lantern but I should hopefully be scoffing Sweet Potato Pie!