Saturday, 22 June 2013

Asparagus Soup

Asparagus soup
I really love asparagus when it's in season, which is now. But I hate throwing away the stalks.

Cue, brainwave!

I made asparagus soup with them.

And it's really, really easy and delicious.

I used the stalks of one bunch and it made enough soup for two servings.

Sweat an onion, a garlic clove, a stick of celery in a mix of olive oil and rapeseed.  Season well and add the leaves from a sprig of fresh thyme.

When they have started to soften, add the asparagus and a small potato if you like a thick soup.

Continue to cook for a few minutes.  Add 300ml chicken stock. Recipe here. Simmer until vegetables are just soft and then blitz to a creamy consistency.

I make stock and freeze in old yoghurt cartons or ricotta tubs. Anything that has a lid really.  It means you always have small quantities handy.

Serve the soup with a sprig of mint (flavour really works well with the asparagus).

And of course some delicious homemade sourdough toasted and dripping in butter.

As my granny said " waste not - want not".


Tags: Asparagus soup  asparagus asparagus stalks summer food  summer recipes  Irish food

Monday, 17 June 2013

What are They Doing to our Food?

Normally I dash off a post. I spent a bit of time on this one. So please read it, digest it and if you think it's relevant please share it.

What the hell is being done to our food?

First off milk.

Back in the dark and distant past, before they had an understanding about producing food for consumption under hygienic conditions, there were problems with spoilage and illness.

The wine industry also had a problem with wine going "off". Louis Pasteur was commissioned to study spoilage in the industry and devised a method of heating the wine to a temperature which killed or delayed the spoilage organisms present. Same method was applied to milk. Problem solved. Or so they thought.....

Problem was that by heating the milk they changed the nature of it. Pasteurisation killed the microbes which cause tuberculosis, brucellosis etc. but it also destroyed the benevolent microbes. These are the little power houses which help you digest the milk and promote the uptake of calcium present. Heating the milk also destroyed the enzymes which help us humans to digest the milk sugar - lactose. So now lots of people developed lactose intolerance.

The inescapable fact (incidentally backed up by lots of research) is that if a healthy dairy herd are milked in a clean dairy and the milk is rapidly refrigerated, there is minimal risk to health. In fact for years on every dairy farm in Ireland, people drank their own unpasteurised milk.

I'm not advising people race off and buy raw milk and anyway even if you wanted to, you probably couldn't. But if I had problems with lactose intolerance, I would be inclined to give it a go.

Second fruit and vegetables.

I know people who only buy organic and refuse to accept that a packet of broccoli wrapped in cling film and imported from god-knows-where, has to be better than locally grown.

Organic does not necessarily mean clean.  It depends under what label organic certification is. In some countries they can claim their produce is organic, only having registered three days before harvest, whilst up to this they had been spraying willy nilly. In Ireland certification is IOFGA or Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association. In the UK it is the Soil Association.

If you buy local seasonal produce you are more likely to get produce which has had minimal intervention. Pesticides and insecticides all cost money and a grower will try to minimise expenditure if at all possible. When produce is grown out of season and has to be transported long distances, this is where you need to be more wary.

A few years ago I tried to get information from both the Department of Agriculture and from the then Bord Glas about what level of residue testing they routinely carried out on imported produce from non-EU countries. Suffice it to say I would be there still trying to get it. But what I did glean was that there was very little carried out as they did not have funding or personnel for it.

Thirdly Meat.

By meat, I mean beef, lamb, pork, bacon and poultry.

Luckily in our wet, windswept little island of what seems like permanent winter we can grow plentiful grass. Dairy and beef cattle spend at least half the year outdoors eating grass. Sheep probably all year.  This means that our beef and lamb is grass fed.  However, supplemental feed is for the most part GM. (unless once again certified organic).

I have done enough ranting in the past about feeding animals genetically modified cereals. However, recently a study was published about the effects such cereals appear to have had on pigs' stomachs.

Studies have shown that pigs suffer from very similar genetic and protein malfunctions that account for disorders in humans. Personally, I find the fact this study found such levels of inflammation worrying, if we are as similar to pigs as scientists believe. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions. But one thing I will say, is that if I knew as much when my children were small as I do now, I would have done things very differently.

Poultry and pork are entirely fed on GM cereals (again unless organic, but how often do you see same for sale?) 

In so many ways, even if you want to make changes to your diet, you are prevented at every step. Our food board, Bord Bia to my mind are not doing much to help. Instead of promoting Ireland as a clean, green, GM-free zone they are just playing lip service. The floaty, whispy Origin Green video says a lot about sustainability. But surely sustainability should include a commitment to ban GM?

We have so much potential to produce amazing food and to become the green flag carrier for other European countries and the world, but only if we have a collective will to do so. I genuinely am at a loss as to why we are not or are not at least trying to.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cats and Memories of Macavity

Macavity's the mystery cat: He's called the hidden paw - For he's a master criminal who can defy the law.
T.S Eliot

The only positive impact school had on me (I hated it) was English, or poetry and prose as it was charmingly called. I can still remember so much of what we had to learn off by heart.  I was always in trouble in school for regurgitating stuff that looked like I had copied it word by word. I hadn't; I just had a photographic memory. I could remember car number plates, telephone numbers and the most obscure facts.

I always loved the above line from T.S Eliot's poem. We never had cats at home, always dogs. Dad used to let the dogs out at night and would shout "cats, cats" to them as an incentive to charge down the garden barking madly.

One time he did this and a small runty little kitten was cowering on the path.  I remember screaming at him to take the dog in and I rescued the kitten.  I had rescued magpies fallen from their nests and guinea pigs threatened with the chop. The kitten was just next in the line.

My mother hated cats and referred to the cat as "pukey guts".  The poor cat was always referred to as Puke after that. I studied for my leaving cert with her always perched on my lap.  I loved her.

Years later when I first moved here, it was necessary to have a cat and there has been a large throughput. Some were killed on the road, others disappeared and one died from Feline Aids.

The current incumbent is Kitty or Fat Kitty. We realised a long time ago there is absolutely no point naming a cat in this house.  They are always referred to as kitty.  Has kitty been fed, will you let kitty out, where's kitty etc.

Kitty was dragged out of a farmyard barn, where he was part of a litter living down between big round hay bales.  It was a case of put your hand down and pick the first kitten you can get hold of.  There was more than one litter there. They were very healthy, as surprisingly the farmer liked them and fed them but they were completely wild. Kitty came home and had to be bathed as he was so smelly. Then he got a cold and every morning I had to clean his eyes and nose.  He recovered and is as odd as the dickens today.  He distrusts every human (except us). He vanishes when the door bell rings - up underneath my bed usually.  My brother refers to him as "the phantom cat".

But he is a character and is still a big kid.  When I first got him, Piaf the Jack Russell was a puppy and the two of them played incessantly together. When Piaf had her puppies last August he played with them.  He still plays with the two I kept.

Now I have Spitzy, found on the side of the road a couple of weeks ago (recognise the pattern here?) Spitzy, so called as every time I opened the door to feed her she spat at me. She has settled in now and is getting braver and braver. This morning I found her and Fat Kitty tumbling around the sitting room, playing hide and seek.  She plays with the puppies and even sleeps with them in their beds.

I can't imagine a life without animals. We have always had them here. For a short period when one of our much loved dogs was killed on the road and both kids were at boarding school and I was working full time, we had none.  Every time I reversed the car in the driveway my son said "mum you would really miss the welcome a dog gives you". He was right. 

Tags: Macavity  T.S Eliot  Cats  Dogs  Rescue animals

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

An Irish Summer

My mother always said she had blood from the Spanish Armada in her veins.When we were children she was frequently described as being "black". The reason - she was a sun worshiper and lay out for hours in our back garden - like a lizard basking in the sun.

I inherited her love of the sun. Friends always joke that as soon as the sun pops out, I am stretched in it.

The sun most definitely affects my mood.

I hate to waste a minute of it and that includes having to do anything other than soak it up when it appears. I always envy the peoples of the Mediterranean who just take it for granted.  How they sit by choice in the shade. How they can plan an outdoor meal or a barbeque and never have to worry if it will rain. I envy how they wrap up to walk on the beach when it's eighteen degrees as if it was below zero.

I don't want to appear negative but we have just had over a week of Irish summer. For more than seven days we woke to blue skies and balmy temperatures. For the first time in years I sat in the shade as a preference. We ate out without thinking about it. We had a barbeque and didn't worry about rain.

It took us collectively as a nation, completely by shock. Two years with no summer to speak of and the coldest spring in decades yada, yada, yada . The statistics go on and on....... 

For the first year in absolutely ages I have planted nothing in my garden. No herbs, no vegetables, no salads. After how disastrously they all grew last year I decided that without a poly tunnel there really was no point. Now it is catch up and I am heading off to buy vegetable plants and some bedding and praying to the sun god that it continues at least warm enough to make it worth while.

The animals here, completely unused to it quickly adapted. The pigs in particular slept for the hottest part of the day and when they eventually ventured out again, most of the field was in shade. The rose early and retired late. They became Mediterranean.

I often wonder what other nationalities think of our collective obsession with the weather. But you know when you can afford to take something for granted you have no need to comment on it.

A cold cider in the hot sun
Maybe and just maybe we will get a few more days and then the statistics will again be quoted. The warmest summer on record.....

If wishes were promises.

Tags: An Irish summer 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Oregano Pesto

I was weeding this morning and discovered that my oregano plants had gone into overdrive.

I wondered could I make pesto with it. Now I'm beginning to wonder is there any herb you can't use for it.

Oregano pesto is really delicious. So is rocket pesto, parsley pesto and of course basil pesto.

At this time of year the leaves are really soft and almost downy. Later in the year they go slightly darker and tougher.

Remove the leaves from the stems and add a good handful into blender, a garlic clove, a tablespoon of pine nuts, a good piece of Parmesan, salt, pepper and enough olive oil to make it all come together.

Taste and add more of whatever ingredient you think it needs.

If you are a sucker for punishment you can always make it in the traditional way in a morter and pestle.

Toss into drained pasta and add a selection of summer vegetables lightly sautéed (I used courgette, oyster mushrooms, mange tout, cauliflower and spinach).

Add in a few pieces of fresh Mozarella and you have a delicious, summer meal.

Tags: Oregano pesto  Oregano Summer meals  Irish food  Summer recipes

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Egg Overdrive

Decorated egg boxes for Alzheimers fundraiser
Rearing chickens and ducks for eggs, is truly either a feast or a famine. In the depths of winter what I wouldn't give for dozens of eggs instead of having to use them sparingly. Then in summer it's the reverse. How do I think of ways to use them up?

I don't think I would ever tire of my own eggs. They are free range, organic, fresh, deeply yellow and full of deliciousness and goodness. The insipid stale offerings from supermarkets quite literally pale in comparison.

To see poultry living the way mother nature intended, rooting about, dust bathing and sunbathing is good for my soul.  I inherited from my father a deep distaste of animals being confined and reared in unnatural environments. I would rather not eat the eggs at all from intensively reared birds.  Apart from the cruelty, the eggs are not healthy coming from chickens fed a diet laced with antibiotics and genetically modified cereals.

Apart from the obvious use in baking how many other ways can you think to use eggs?

Here are a few ideas.

Delicious brunch - poached eggs served on sourdough toast and wilted spinach with Parmesan shavings. The best hangover cure ever.

Spanish omelette with wilted chard and wild garlic.                                                                          

Carbonara with my own bacon and eggs. Parmesan from Rome courtesy of my sister.

Spinach, bacon and Parmesan quiche with a spelt and buttermilk pastry. Green lentils cooked in chicken stock and a green salad.

Eggsellent (sorry, couldn't resist)

Tags: Eggs, Egg dishes, Spanish omelette,  Irish Carbonara,  Irish food,  Free range eggs, Poached eggs