Climate change v Diet change v Packaging change

A LOT of pompous, tub thumping goes down as far as climate change issues go. Climate does change. We contribute by living here. Protecting ourselves in so far as we can is an obvious, serious ambition.

Diet change also attracts a similar band of uninformed nutritional illiterates, usually cheered on by anonymous vested industry fat boys.

Manifestly what we have been eating for the last 20 years or so has changed our bodies. We are fatter. We are less healthy. Or you can spin it another way and say we live longer and that introduces us to new health stresses.

Either way it is relatively modern event, defined by an industrialisation of food production and an increasingly global uniformity in what is available to eat.

Even in France they do not necessarily eat French food anymore but they do eat french fries. The boundaries have been torn up.

The first layer for prime public consumer concern in such a commercial free for all bunfight is food security. The bigger the society the bigger the risk to which evidences BSE, foot and mouth, e-coli, horse meat sold as beef which is the most compelling proof that the food industry in Europe is totally out of control.

The second layer of concern is what eating these foods on a regular basis is doing to our health. Transparently the rise of food allergies is not unconnected. We reach that point where we are lacto intolerant, where we are histamine sensitive, where we have gluten reactions because we have been eating so much of these things. And as we get older, we will become more sensitive not less.

Worryingly, a new report in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, part of the British Medical Journal group, highlights another dimension altogether, namely scientific concerns as to how synthetic everyday chemicals are leaching into the diet from packaging.

As with many food/health issues, it is the drip drip long term effects that are the concern. Some of these chemicals like toxic formaldehyde and other plastics are regulated but have never been tested in the long term. You are the guinea pig. Or you may pass the effects down your genes to your children.

Formaldehyde is used in fizzy drink bottles. Other commonly found chemicals in packaging that are thought to disrupt hormone production are bisphenol A, tributyltin, triclosan, and phthalates. In total 400 chemicals may be/could be implicated.

“Whereas the science for some of these substances is being debated and policy-makers struggle to satisfy the needs of stakeholders, consumers remain exposed to these chemicals daily, mostly unknowingly,” says the report.

There is more here. The very caution in that quote rings loud alarm bells.

R and R – raisins and rhubarb

RIMG0218RHUBARB is a blessing at his time of year, a welcome shot of colour, vitamins and roughage, even if it lacks the flavor of the summer crop but twice as welcome nevertheless. In fact it is outshone in this recipe where the raisins take over. These were from Afghanistan…

Trim the dirty bottoms of the rhubarb – you can keep the flowers at the top – and strip out any woody skin that comes away, chop in to short lengths. Cover the base of the pan and cover with water – the juice is very drinkable – and a spoon of sugar (it can be quite sour, I used brown cane here). Add in a few dried raisins for contrast. They will plump up in the juices. Bring it to a simmer and watch for the moment the stalks burst – about four or five minutes. Take off the heat. Chill. It should be cold.

Greek yoghurt goes well, but it does not need it.


Cardamom tea

RIMG2872THE sparseness of Ethiopian terrain may not lead you to suspect that the cuisine necessarily has hidden treasures, but it does, not least in the fiery heat of its chili and also its basic injera flour which form spongy flatbread bases for its spiky slow cooked dishes. But it also champions a tea of cardamom which is also alkaline.

In historic Indian medicine, the Ayurveda, cardamom seeds are sucked after a meal to help digestion, the more necessary after a spicy, often acidic curry. Cardomom counteracts a build up of gases and reduces the mucus levels.

Along with ginger – it is the same family – it has been used to counteract overeating and to freshen the breath. It contains cineole which cleans the mouth. This is the Ethiopian version as served at the Marathon in Kings Cross – it is just green pods and hot water. Ethiopia is also known for its coffee, so the fact that the cardamom gets on the menu at all says something.

Arabic versions can go a few steps further adding peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon and ginger – all alkaline. Adding sugar and milk on the other hand slightly misses the point, although honey is often added.

Vegetable tea

A VEGETABLE tea is a viable alternative to the acidity of coffee, black tea and even alcohol. It does not take long to make and you can adjust different according to that you can fund in the market. At this time of year rhubarb can substitute for lovage. Best to make it on the strong side and then dilute.

It is re-affirmingly alkaline, handy and tastes good…but it is a tea rather than a soup meant for sipping through the day rather than supper.


1 carrot
1 celery
1 potato
½ fennel bulb
1 brocolli stalk

parsley stalks
tsp juniper berrie
1tbs chopped lovage (or rhubarb)
1 tbs chopped parsley
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 bay leaves

Put a big pan of cold water on to boil. Roughly trim – the skins have goodness in them so wash and keep rather than peel – chop your vegetables into equal sizes. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Then add your spices, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat. Leave to cool and infuse for another 10 minutes.

Strain and keep the tea for use through the day – hot or cold.

Baked celeriac

celeriac2CELERIAC bakes really well, without fuss, and the smell fills the kitchen with a homely, snug fug.

celeriacovenDifferent celeriac seem to take longer than others, but as with a baked potato the test is slipping a knife in or in fact as it cooks the flesh seperates from the skin which becomes craggy.

An hour plus. Then you can just hack into it.celeriac3

It works best as fingers but if you go too far then it can mash.celeriac plate

If you let it cool then it can work like a remoulade with an mayonnaise – egg yolk is alkaline, lemon is alkalising, virgin olive oil is alkaline…mustard is not alkaline but the overall percentage is fractional. Here I worked in some diced herbs too – chives and flat leaf parsley.

Braised chicory

RIMG0192CHICORY is alkaline. Not major but sufficiently so. It also transforms magically in cooking. This recipe uses butter but as that is about all the calories we are using, then it is hardly a fuss. 10g of butter = 70 calories. You can use water, wine or cider even.

Take a small pan that is wide enough to fit the chicory split lengthwise. Add 10g butter and melt. Split the chicory lengthwise in half and lay on the butter. Add the water, just enough to half cover. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Take off the lid and cook down the juices a bit more so there is just a couple of tablespoons to spoon on the chicory.

The flavour is quite dramatic. It can work well with white, grilled meats or on toast or boiled new potatoes which cook in the same time.

The laws of mashed potato

mashAS a rule of thumb potatoes for mash are usually not potatoes for steaming or boiling. You want something that collapses. You can treat new potatoes as if they were a mash but you end up with a compromise we call crashed, which is fine but it is not what most people think of as a smooth mash. The whole point of mash is to slip some liquid or in there be that butter, milk, cream or olive oil or even a combo of all of them. or another vegetable.

Good mash varieties are Golden Wonder, King Edward, Wilja and Maris Piper.

If you are still thinking calorifically as it were, a 200g portion of steamed potato mashed with 20g of butter, or a ratio of 10%, roughly equals 140 calories. So relax, Not that fattening.

Add in 50mls or so of hot milk, whisking hard for seriously fluffy.

Some people hold that the potatoes are better baked which is a good trick if you plan ahead and can leave one ready in the fridge for tomorrow. Skin and revive the potato with butter, hot milk = dinner in 30 seconds.

The seasonings for mash are essentially alkaline anyway so be generous with salt, black pepper, nutmeg, cayenne, parsley, zest of lemon. The obvious herbs, parsley, mint, chives all work and used in quantity, say at least a tablespoon when diced and lend a new accent. You might go further still towards the Levant – boil the potatoes with onion, mash with a little oil and butter and milk then scatter in pine nuts, ground cinnamon, a tablespoon of fresh parsley, and a pinch of both nutmeg and chilli.

Of course, the great thing about mash is that it does not simply have to be a potato dish. Many combinations have been elevated to the cult status with their own names. You can choose either to boil both together, or separately.

Champ = mash with spring onions

Colcannon = with cabbage and onion

Punch-neo = with turnips

Most common although it does not seem to have picked up a moniker of its own is celeriac with half as much potato, some garlic (which is alkaline anyway). There are also half and half variations with parsnips. With most of these root vegetables you may want to up the calories with a little double cream. Or just add a few cloves of garlic with the potatoes for an edge…

Fontina with new potatoes and salad

THE Turin variation on fondue uses Fontina cheese heated up with milk, even cream and eggs and if you are lucky white truffles served with new potatoes and ham. None of which is especially alkalising, but an abstract variation is easier to prepare and if you strict about the 20:80 rule as far as the cheese v potatoes and salad goes then it is a balanced result. fontinaFONTINA is a bit overlooked as a cheese, made in the summer from cattle grazing in the Val d’Aosta, it can be wasted being murdered in the heat of a fondue when it is smooth, nutty and delicate eaten cold as it is. Just because it does melt, does not necessarily mean it has to be melted.

Boil the new potatoes. Take the cheese out of the fridge so it is room temperature. You don’t have to be as ambitious as this salad – a few green leaves and olive oil and lemon dressing will be fine but working with what you might have in the fridge  – web’s, dice up a little chicory, fennel, radish add in some seeds perhaps fennel or caraway and some raisins or pomegranate, Make a dressing of virgin olive oil and lemon. Mix well and serve with the warm potatoes dressed with chives and a slice of Fontina.

Sexy oat porridge recipes

Porridge-e01706b5-c75f-4959-bd01-0af2a1a88383-0-472x310It is strange that some of the best alkaline porridge recipes derive from the Caribbean. This one in the picture is a Tesco fruit super-topper. Porridge’s image as a subsistence food – which sustained huge tracts of northern Europe through the middle ages before the advent of bakeries and yeasted breads – was invariably from plot to pot for many smallholders.

This gruel was improved not just with the very non alkaline brown sugar that was popular with hotels through the ’50s and ’60s – in parallel also geographically ironically with the very alkaline grapefruit. But recipes attributed to the West Indies are often valiantly alkaline bringing in important spices. This one is from The two stage cooking here is achieved by soaking the oats first for five minutes…

Soak the oats in 1 cup of water for 4 minutes. Bring two cups of water and the cinnamon stick to a boil.When the water begins to boil, add the soaked oats along with any residual soaking liquid. Stir in the raisins, reduce the heat to low and cook covered for 5 – 6 minutes or until the mixture becomes very thick. Remove from heat, stir in nutmeg along with sugar and milk to taste.

Porridge offers plenty of other alkaline foods a route to breakfast – a compote of stewed dried fruits – apricots, figs or prunes – or as a disguise seeds like linseed or nuts, especially almonds. If you don’t smother it in sweetener the oats have a distinct, friendly flavour which stems from the magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, Vitamin E, and Vitamin B. They also  large amounts of soluble fibre including beta-glucan, which is thought to lower cholesterol.

There are myriad variations:

Yoghurt and honey porridge – just add a spoonful to smooth and sweeten

Cinnamon and rhubarb porridge – poach the rhubarb with the cinnammon and add a spoonful

Fruit and nut compote porridge – with your own mix of almonds, banana, berry, soaked apricots

And of course you are not confined to porridge oats – other cereals like quinoa and polenta make equally alkaline porridges, but that is another post…

What is on the label?

Oats have a tough outside shell that has to be removed to eat and become groats.  Rolled oats are steamed, toasted groats while oatmeal is ground grouts.



Perfect porridge

Porridge (2)Porridge is so easy that no one ever bothers to write down a recipe. Scottish mothers probably had different versions for each child – gloopy, smoothy, oaty, creamy, firm. There are many different declensions (depending on how much milk is used) before we get to the matter of topping with sliced banana or honey. In folklore porridge was poured into the kitchen drawer in the croft and the menfolk could cut a slice out to take with them in their sporrans on the Highlands. This was made with water, but milk is alkaline neutral and an improvement.

Porridge is always best done in two stages, ie start before you get dressed and leave to rest for 20 minutes. (Which is why the three bears left their porridge to cool in the first place in Robert Southey’s 1837 version). This pause can just be a couple of minutes but the important element is two stages of adding the milk. This creates an extra layer of texture and taste. Changing the milk you use too is a subtle but noticeable sway of ringing the changes.

Warm a small pan and toast the oats for a few seconds first. You need enough to nearly cover the base. Then add enough milk to cover and stir with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until little volcanoes start to erupt. Take off the heat and set aside.

When you are ready, bring the pan back on to the heat and add a dash more milk and stir as it comes back to the boil. Serve at this stage or add a little more milk to change the texture.

It is a funny thing, but porridge is strictly a northern European thing pre-dating dictionaries really derived from pottage. In France though it is hardly known and the translation, according to the OED, is bouillie de flocons d’avoine…so there you go, no wonder it did not catch on…