Dealing with Diabetes: the beginning of a candid journey…week 1

I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes a little over 13 years ago and was told that after my son was born, things ‘should’ return to normal. They didn’t. This led to a long period in my life where I was in complete denial. I knew my sugars were high and made some concessions, however they weren’t nearly enough. Now, finally, after several false starts in recent years I have chosen my path and have been following it for just one week. The thoughts here are my own, based on very thorough research and I, personally, have seen outstanding results in just a few days. I am following a lower carb, higher fat approach, and, after years of constant hunger, I am finally finding contentment in good food and a general feeling of satiety, for body and soul…oh, and my symptoms are easing too.

My great-grandmother was diabetic. Her death at the age of 72 was due to gangrene from a foot wound which wouldn’t heal. By this time she was on insulin and very poorly indeed. Never particularly overweight, she enjoyed a varied diet of home cooked food and brought up her many children to cook for themselves and eat well.

I started researching ways of managing diabetes about ten years ago and many half-hearted attempts followed, which never really lasted more than a day or two. I exercised more, which seemed to put my sugars up further, ate whole grains, as recommended by the NHS, and saw rising figures annually. I’ve always considered medication to be a last resort, once all other options have been discounted, so I’ve never been prescribed the drugs which are commonly used to treat Type 2.

As of last Friday my blood sugars were between 15mols and 23 mols; today they are between 9mols and 14mols, often just half of last week’s results. What have I done? Reduced my carbohydrate consumption to under 60g of net carbs a day. I’m enjoying a full range of nutritious foods; meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, glasses of wine and even dark chocolate. I start the day with bacon and eggs fried in lard, add a small amount of obscenely buttered sourdough and power through. The first few days were difficult. I was tired and had headaches but then something changed, suddenly I was full of energy. I’ve been sleeping better, my vision is improving, the tiredness which would hit me in the mid-afternoon like a brick wall is gone and I’m feeling altogether, more together.

As a food writer, I spend my days immersed in glorious images and descriptions of fabulous foods. I’ve spent hours trying to work out how my experience in this industry can be used to help others in my position and concluded that a candid post and follow ups might well be the answer, so here we are.

Today I’ve had a lovely brunch, full of good fats; avocado, olive oil, bacon, eggs and lard, a late lunch of homemade Steak Hache made from locally, (moderately) fatty beef mince and garlic green beans. I finished with a small bowl of strawberries and a good dollop of mascarpone. Sound like a diet? It’s not, in fact I dislike the word. Let’s call it a lifestyle change. So, having followed this way of eating for a week, here are my tops tips on how to deal with the first few days.

  1. Stock up on good fats and plenty of eggs: butter, dripping, olive oil, lard, coconut oil and remember ‘Fat is Flavour’
  2. Seasonal veg – try and order a veg box or grow your own. Most above ground veg are suitable for this way of eating. Fibrous veg in particular because the body does not process the carbs from fibre, hence carbs (all carbs), and ‘net’ carbs (which are the carbs your body draw on).
  3. Source some good mince from your local butcher (many are offering mail order or home delivery at the moment) – divide into 180g portions, season with herbs, salt and pepper and freeze in individual portions. When you need something quick for lunch, defrost, shape into a patty and fry, serving with a side of green veggies and maybe some garlic butter. This works with beef, pork, lamb, turkey, venison…any meat and is totally delicious and extremely satisfying.
  4. Berries are your friends – keep a stash of berries in the fridge or freezer. A small bowlful topped with double cream, clotted cream or mascarpone feels very naughty, but really isn’t.
  5. If you are going to include bread in your new lifestyle, choose a really good one…seek out your local artisan bakers and find a great sourdough, something really worth eating and tasty. A small 30g slice has only about 14g of carbs and is perfect for adding a little crunch to breakfast.
  6. Invest in some coconut and almond flour. These are so versatile, and scouring the internet you can find recipes for everything from pizza and flatbread, to cookies and cakes.
  7. Buy some Xanthan Gum – often used in gluten free baked goods, Xanthan Gum adds a certain integrity to low carb baking, helping improve texture as gluten normally does.
  8. Eat cheese. Go mad with mail order, find local and regional cheeses. I find I tolerate dairy very well, some people don’t, and it can push up sugar levels but if it works for you, go for it.
  9. Keep hydrated – drink at least two litres of water (in addition to tea, herbal tea and coffee) every day. When low carbing, hydration is extremely important. Buy a reusable bottle and fill and refill.
  10. Relax – stress causes blood sugar to rise, so a little ‘me time’ will help reduce the levels of Cortisone, and remember this is not a sprint, it’s a gentle stroll. What took several years to create will not disappear in a few weeks, there will be ups and downs.

The official line is still to eat whole-grains and base your diet around starchy carbs. For me, this advice is clearly wrong but life’s a learning curve. Low carb diets have been successfully used to treat diabetes since the 18th century, so what’s changed?


New Year, Old Me…..just paying more attention to Time and Balance

I rather like January, it is a month filled with family celebrations, lots of birthdays and parties. Britain’s ‘fresh start’ mindset is still clinging on but in reality we are probably now thinking that the comfort foods are definitely calling.

For me, Balance is going to be my key word for 2019, something which needs to apply to all aspects of my life…diet, mood, calendar. Why eat food which makes you miserable, it inevitably leads to overeating and, eventually, failure in whatever healthy path we put ourselves on. January is always diet month. There appears to be two types of dieter, the first fully embraces optimal health, posts images packed with colourful superfoods, understands the nutritional content and feels the buzz…the second tries to mimic ‘normal’ foods with low fat, low calories alternatives…these are the people who claim that potatoes sprayed with oil/water products and baked in the oven are a ‘real treat’ – they are only trying to prove this to themselves. Their diet, which, on the surface is filled with fruit and veg actually contains a lot of junk; fillers, palm oils, sugars. Yes, this is controversial, but subscribing to quality over quantity is manageable…for life.

Having been a member of a well known worldwide slimming club, I can see that only now, after several decades, are they finally coming round to a more holistic approach to diet and lifestyle. It is to be commended, but the number of people who criticise the company for making lean chicken, fish, fruit and pulses ‘free’ foods whilst their old ‘treats’ of cake bars etc ‘cost’ them far more than they ever used to, is quite astounding.

The UK is looking towards a more flexitarian approach to food, quality meat and fish, in smaller portions – with lots of lovely veggies, fruits and pulses…this isn’t really a diet, it’s just common sense. It’s all about engaging our senses…how much more pleasure can one get from a small toasted slice of sourdough spread with organic, cold salted butter and topped with a little rare-breed dry cured bacon, over a huge bowl of cereal drowned in skimmed milk? I know which I would choose, unquestionably.

Time is important, time to eat, time to relax, time to enjoy. Embracing the little things in life; a hot cup of leaf tea, one homemade delectable biscuit or a leisurely Sunday lunch with friends or family. January is a time of hibernation, of Cwtching Up as we say in Wales, of Hygge as favoured by the Danes. Drinking mugs of hot soup around a brazier on a frosty night or a family Pizza making frenzy, all these make us feel warm and comfortable and our worries are abandoned in that moment.

Mindfulness had become something of a craze, rather than something which is essential and natural to each and every one of us. Slowing down is, holistically, good for us,  and so many of us have forgotten how to relax, myself included. Living in the moment can be applied to everything, it creates a healthier mind and in turn a healthier body.

So, this month, you don’t need to subscribe to Dry January or Veganuary or anything ‘on trend’ – if a decent steak or G and T makes you happy, and keeps you in the moment….just enjoy it and leave the baggage and the guilt behind.

Time and Balance is the key.


The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: Easy Entertaining.

I am extremely proud of my Welsh heritage and although there aren’t many exclusively ‘Welsh’ traditions, we do have some excellent recipes to satisfy the hungriest of guests over the Christmas period.

Feeding a party is quite a challenge, but sometimes, especially in the colder weather it’s nice to offer guests something a little more substantial that the usual mince pie and canapés. In fact, cooking a large pot of something delicious is far easier, creating less stress and allowing more integrated time with your guests.

Entertaining at Christmas shouldn’t be stressful. Make sure you have a really good cheeseboard, lots of decent bread and a generously filled pot of casserole, soup or stew. Obviously, mulled wine is essential, as is mulled cider, but a great casserole filled with slow cooked beef, game or a really good Cawl, the hearty Welsh lamb and barley stew which is served traditionally with Caws (cheese) and Bara (bread), is sure to satisfy the pickiest of guests. The beauty of many of these dishes is the simple fact that they look after themselves, require the cheapest cuts and are full of the most delicious flavours.

Beef Stew with suet dumplings, the Gascon favourite Poule au Pot or even a hearty vegan lentil and brassica stew – these are perfect for the cooler weather – they freeze well and hold well, allowing guests to dip in, at will over the course of the evening.

Entertaining shouldn’t be complicated, the company, candles and generously poured wine is the true focus of the evening. Sometimes the simplest foods prove the best, after all, we are heading for the most indulgent period in the culinary calendar so why not tuck into some family favourites – these comfort foods can be eaten without excuses – the diet doesn’t start until January, remember!


The Abergavenny Food Festival 2017 starts with a baaaaa….ng!

 

Last night I was delighted to attend The Abergavenny Food Festival Community Feast in the old Market Hall and I have to say, I was extremely impressed. This year’s decorations were bird themed and the air was seemingly filled with owls, chickens and chicks; the vegetable bunting was genius. IMG_7260

The Community Feast is the festival’s way of saying ‘thank-you’ for all the hard work put in behind the scenes by the community to make the festival what it is. It certainly was a ‘feast’ judging by the sheer quantity of food…..

The hall certainly looked fitting for a great harvest feast and the food, in association with Abergavenny’s own Angel Bakery was delicious. We were served organic pasture-fed Black Welsh Lamb roasted with herbs and garlic, huge platters of salad, colourful basil infused Panzanella, golden-roasted whole potatoes with rosemary, sauces and gremolata and generous slices of The Angel Bakery’s fabulous sourdough to mop up the juices;

All the cutlery, plates and serving dishes were biodegradable,  adding to Abergavenny’s eco-credentials and the atmosphere was rather akin to the great village feasts in France that I enjoy every summer; it was buzzy yet intimate and I met some very interesting people.

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Pudding was an equally spectacular effort; cloud-like, Summer Fruit  Pavlovas arrived at each table and were set upon with relish. The evening’s entertainment was provided by Welsh folk band Allan Yn Y Fan and the feast was opened (after a speech from festival CEO, Aine Morris)  with two Georgian feasting songs performed by a local choir. There was also a rather interesting short talk from the ‘Abergavenny Just Food’ group who’s current manifesto focuses upon Food Justice and campaigning for a fair, affordable and sustainable food system for Wales.

The evening finished with a traditional Twmpath dance and I think we all went home extremely full and rather merry (although that was also thanks to the rather moorish red wine which, though extremely light, was deceptively strong!)

Although I attended as a guest of the festival all views and options are my own.

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#sourdoughseptember

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So, it’s now officially #sourdoughseptember and a perfect excuse to indulge in proper bread. I first discovered sourdough some years ago in France – its French name is Pain au Levin. It seemed only to be sold in artisanal bakeries and I often wondered what exactly gave this wonderfully flavoursome bread its flavour – fast forward X number of years later and I bought my first sourdough loaf from the then fledgeling Hay-on-Wye based baker, Alex Gooch. Immediately I was taken straight back to France, it was an almost Proustian moment. Over the ensuing years I have made it my business to find out more about this delicious bread; have attempted (and failed) to make it, researched its health benefits and sought out the best in my local area, and a little further afield.

Back to basics

Sourdough gets its intense and slightly acidic flavour from natural yeasts which are created through the fermentation process. Not be confused with moulds, yeasts only have single-celled growth habits. The final taste of the bread very much relays upon the atmosphere in which the starter grows; in fact bakers have noticed distinct changes in flavour when a starter is moved from one part of the country to another; we all have invisible good bacteria surrounded us and this makes or breaks the flavour of the final product. I won’t go into exactly how to make Sourdough but a #sourdoughseptember on twitter will bring about all sorts of baking advice. However,  I do recommend the legendary Bread Matters book which is my bible of baking and has several sourdough recipes to choose from, including gluten free.

The World’s Most Famous Bread

The fashion for sourdough in the UK predominantly stems from the opening of Paris’ legendary Poilane bakery in London, producing what was, at the time, Britiain’s most expensive bread. I have occasionally picked up a loaf or two in Harrods and it is good but there are now many contenders out there which equal, if not outshine it.

I often wonder if we are more inclined to enjoy the flavour of a sourdough from our local area because the local yeast flavours are somehow more familiar to us? Perhaps there should be a study of it!

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In 2007 Bath was introduced to Richard Bertinet, whose outstanding bread is now available mail order across the country (as is Polaine). Richard now has five books to his name, and several shops. I was introduced to his bread, rather unusually at the fabulous Gloucester Services on the M5 and a soft boiled egg with a slice of buttered Bertinet  are things dreams are made of! However, I am not often in Bath or on the M5 and the annual subscription is a little over my budget so I have had to look far closer to home. Interestingly, Bertinet is also famous for producing the first authentic sourdough tin loaf; a feat which took years to perfect and is now sold at selected stockists.

I was so delighted when my local Waitrose store started stocking Alex Gooch’s bread; it makes sourdough readily available to a much wider audience and with no compromise on quality. DO NOT buy the Sourdough Flavoured breads offered in the Speciality sections of Supermarkets, most of these have added sourdough powder for flavour which is actually quite revolting.

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So for a while it was just me, the toaster and Alex’s bread but then I discovered The Angel Bakery in Abergavenny; different flavours again and just as delicious.  Sadly, its just a little too far away for regular consumption.

 

 

 

IMG_6059 Then, one day earlier this year, I was taking a shortcut through one of the little squares off Monmouth’s high street and I spotted Madeleine’s – a great big, handwritten blackboard in the window announced fresh sourdough, made with three ingredients; flour, water and salt. It was as if my prayers had been answered. However, there is one problem….if you don’t get their early it sells out!

I don’t often eat bread per se but when I do I want perfection, and now I realise how much of my life has been wasted consuming mounds of the Chorleywood-method bread, cheap and cheerful overly processed white. Originally, bread was unleavened, ancient cultures then realised that yeasts, created through fermentation, would lighten the bread, thus evolved the yeasted bread of today.

Healthy Choice

Real sourdough actually heals the gut and there have even been groundbreaking tests which have show that some celiacs can tolerate small amounts of sourdough (I wouldn’t recommend it if you are a Celiac but do google the research). Good bacteria plays a big role in our overall health; Sourdough can reduce bloating, helps keep blood sugar levels regulated – it keeps well too, a good sourdough loaf can be toasted for up to a week, there is no mould growth – it just goes stale.

I do hope that sourdough bread is not going to be one of the food fads, popular for a few years and then off into obscurity only to resurface in ‘alternative’ cookery books twenty years hence. Sourdough deserves to be a British staple; bread has been at the forefront of the western diet for centuries; its had its bad times but now, hopefully the good times are here to stay.

For more information: https://www.sustainweb.org/realbread/


Delicious, Inspiring and Fun-Filled! Family Fun @ Abergavenny Food Festival 2017

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The countdown has now officially started and in just under two weeks Abergavenny plays hosts to its internationally renowned food festival, and food festivals have come a long way since they comprised a few stalls of locally produced food, a beer tent and several catering vans.

ABERGAVENNY FOOD FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 17/09/2016

 

Now, perhaps you would, initially,  think twice before taking the younger family members for a ‘fun day out’ to a food festival but you’d be very pleasantly surprised. This years festival is absolutely packed with family fun; whole zones geared towards the little ones and a plethora of workshops – and of course child entry (under 16) is free which is always an added bonus! (although you will need to ask for wristbands when buying adult tickets)

I believe that it is so important to introduce children to food in a positive and fun way, new tastes are far more readily accepted in a relaxed environment and we all know that children are far more likely to eat new foods which they have helped to make.

The study of food sources, field to fork style, should be integrated into the national curriculum, the earlier the better. Britain is riding a wave of obesity and education is the only thing that can prevent this – a recent survey showed that a shockingly large percentage of inner-city children didn’t even know that milk comes from cows!

It’s up to us to change this, to teach them the joy in a homegrown, misshapen carrot or a crudely formed loaf of homemade bread. Society has become used to perfection in all foods, from a visual perspective as well as taste; we must reduce waste, embrace the wonky veg and encourage future generations of passionate foodies.
Aine Morris, CEO Abergavenny Food Festival - credit Kirstie Young PhotographyAine Morris, Chief Executive of Abergavenny Food Festival says:

It has been proven time and again that kids who have the opportunity to grow fresh produce are a lot more likely to eat their vegetables! Children are naturally pre disposed to connecting with nature, being outside, and exploring the world through taste – who doesn’t love sticking their hands in the dirt?
“It is essential that we give young people as many opportunities as possible to learn about the natural systems that we are all so dependent on. Otherwise, how can we expect anybody to value our relationship with nature in the future?

 

So what exactly can we do to help encourage a positive, lifetime relationship with food?….Abergavenny Food Festival might just have some of the answers…

 

 

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Blas o Gymru Travelling Kitchen

 

Join the Travelling Kitchen at Abergavenny Castle for a culinary historical journey through Wales. We’ll be cooking some savoury and sweet recipes, showcasing local ingredients and using traditional Welsh recipes, some with a modern twist.
The workshop, on Saturday 16th September at 10am is suitable for 7-12 year olds. At the end of the workshop children will take away a picnic bag of the food they’ve cooked to share with their families and a recipe booklet so they can cook the recipes again at home.
Free Event

Kids and families Farmyard takeover
IMG_3227“We are handing the Farmyard over to the next generation on both Saturday and Sunday morning between 10:00 – 12:00 with a host of fun and interactive experiences aimed to get children, and adults too, excited about food and farming. Learn about the realities of farming and food and get stuck in to some fun hands-on workshops, interactive demonstrations and exciting and inclusive bite size talks, accessible to all.
Activities include wild tea making with foraged foods, felting with wool, animal handling, games, challenges, milling flour and more.
The programme of ‘Back to Basics’ talks for kids and families include exciting and interactive discussions on Stardust in our Soil: where things grow and why and what our soil is really made of; The Magic of Seeds; and How to Keep Pigs Happy. Topics to inspire budding farmers, growers, gardeners, food producers and inquisitive minds of all ages. We want everyone to get involved and to learn something new from the talks and demonstrations on hand, and encourage you to share your own questions and opinions around the topics of food production and farming.”

 

ANIMALS

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Saturday
• Chickens in a bird-handling pen that public can enter (from 10am-noon only)
• 2 x Berkshire pigs
• 2 x Pygmy goats
• 2 x Sheep
• 3 x Goats: Billy, mum and kid (with special goat-milking demo at 12.10pm at the pens)
• There will also be Goats milk soap & wool available to buy from the Hepburn’s goats next to their pen

Sunday
• Chickens in a bird-handling pen that public can enter (from 10am-noon only)
• 2 x Berkshire pigs
• 1 Ram
• 2 x Sheep
• 2 x large Saddleback Pigs

 

FAMILY FARMYARD TAKEOVER DEMO TABLES & KIDS WORKSHOPS (in the speakers tent) – Saturday & Sunday AM from 10am – noon only
 Saturday
Ø  Interactive Blackboard – Nessie Reid will be asking topical questions throughout the Family Takeover slot & encouraging kids to write their ideas & answers on the blackboard
Ø  How to keep happy pigs props, pics & info and a pig meat cuts display board with Martha Roberts, local pig farmer and small-holder (The Decent Company)
Ø  Flour-milling & learning about different grains & their journey from field to bread – Talgarth Mill
Ø  Food & farming related activities (puzzles, games, colouring, challenges) plus kids can have a go at dying eggs & learn about the protective covering on an egg (overalls will be provided) with Greenmeadow Community Farm
Sunday
Ø  Interactive Blackboard – Nessie Reid will be asking topical questions throughout the Family Takeover slot & encouraging kids to write their ideas & answers on the blackboard
Ø  Wild tea making with foraged foods & info on safe, fun foraging for kids – Liz Knight (Fine Forage Foods)
Ø  Felt-making demos & workshop plus a felt & wool display and info on working with wool – Emma Bevan (Ffolky Felts)
Ø  Flour-milling & learning about different grains & their journey from field to bread – Talgarth Mill
Ø  Food & farming related activities (puzzles, games, colouring, challenges) plus kids can have a go at dying eggs & learn about the protective covering on an egg (overalls will be provided) with Greenmeadow Community Farm

 

Kids Cookery Classes

Always a winner in my family!

Saturday 16th September
10:00 – 13:00 For kids, by kids BBQ with Freddy Bird
13:30 – 14:30 Ice cream sundaes with Green & Jenks (personally recommended)
15:00 – 16:00 Spice up your lunchbox with Jethro Carr
Sunday 17th September
12:00 – 13:00 Delicious beans with Jenny Chandler
13:30 – 14:30 Get baking with Bill King
15:00 – 16:00 Spice up your lunchbox with Jethro Carr

There is limited availability, places will be allocated on a first come first serve basis.

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Of finally, of course, there are the wonderful stalls. The producers’ knowledge and enthusiasm is totally infectious and many are quite happy to explain products and processes to children; and offer tastes – my son really enjoyed this aspect last year; he actually returned home clutching a ‘souvenir’ sourdough starter….and he knew the science behind it!

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Additional activity for families:

ABERGAVENNY FOOD FESTIVAL, ABERGAVENNY, 17/09/2016

Love Zimbabwe Kids Parade
Saturday 16th September, 1pm – 2.00pm

Pupils from local schools come together to learn and share Fairtrade songs in support of Love Zimbabwe. The march starts at Castle Street Methodist Church at 13:00, before heading to the Angel Hotel and the Lower Brewery Yard stage. At each stopping point songs will be sung and a speaker will say a few words, with the Mayor of Abergavenny closing the parade.
The march aims to raise awareness on sustainable living, global food shortages and the importance of Fairtrade.
Love Zimbabwe is an international charity based in Abergavenny, run by Martha and David Holman. The charity’s mission is to improve quality of life of disadvantaged communities in Zimbabwe through health, education and poverty reduction interventions and fostering sustainable global education in Wales.

Rotary Young Chef of the Year Competition

Saturday 16th September, 9.45am – 10.45am

“We are delighted to be hosting the Abergavenny District Final of Rotary GB & Ireland’s Young Chef of the Year Competition, which will take place in the Market Hall on Saturday morning. The winner of this final will go on to compete against Britain and Ireland’s best young chefs in the National Final in January 2018. Whether you just like to cook or you want a Michelin starred career in the kitchen, Rotary’s Young Chef of the Year Competition is a fantastic springboard to culinary success. Who knows, one day the winner may be headlining the Abergavenny Food Festival themselves!”

This competition is open to all students in full time education between ages 11 and 17. Go to https://www.rotarygbi.org/what-we-do/youth-competitions/ for more information.

Storytelling for Children
Saturday 16th September, 3pm – 4pm

“As part of this year’s Fringe programme, experienced storyteller Alison Newsam who works at schools in the surrounding area will be reading stories at Broadleaf Books in the town. A free event, suitable for aged 5+ with contributions welcome.”

And after all that, I expect the adults will definitely be in need of one of these…..highly recommended, and I have sampled extensively…just to make really sure!

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To try and distill the true essence of Abergavenny Food Festival I asked Chief Executive Aine Morris a few questions:

What makes the Abergavenny Food Festival so successful?
“The festival is all about food with a commitment to showcasing the very best developments in British craft food. Our speakers and supporters love Abergavenny as fundamentally, we are able to deliver a food festival with a community feel to a hugely engaged audience of visitors every year. There’s a special mix of talent, interesting talks, dynamic masterclasses, demos and educational spaces which keep people coming back year after year.”

What are the highlights of this years festival?
“I’m very excited about the return of the Community Feast in the Market Hall. It’s a fantastic way to celebrate the installation of the Market Hall decorations, and say a massive ‘thank you’ to the local town with their own special event.

“The pop-up feast by Edinburgh Food Studio is going to be a real highlight – they are definitely some of the most exciting young chefs in the UK at the moment and I’m looking forward to seeing them showcase their food.

“And for families, The Farmyard will be taken-over by kids each morning of the festival this year. There will be a series of workshops including The Stardust in our Soil and the opportunity to milk goats!”

In three words, how would you describe the Festival?
Delicious, inspiring, fun-filled

So there you have it; what’s not to like? Parking is easy, accessibility is excellent….my main recommendation? Really comfy shoes, because there’s an awful lot of ground to cover!

 

 

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                    For further information: www.abergavennyfoodfestival.com

 


Back to school, foodie festivals….and sticky buns!

IMG_1722For years, those words, banded about from about mid-June terrified me. I admit that I did not enjoy school; I was classic bully fodder and suffered terribly. Now, Master A is about to start secondary school; luckily he takes after Mr D and is very popular albeit a little geeky around the edges and after twenty five years I am finally at peace…I think (although I have been having anxiety dreams for the past week).

I still associate September with fresh starts. I think it is ingrained upon you as a child that the true New Year is actually your first day back to school in September; I have implemented diets,  started projects and freshened things up, all in that first week of September. Perhaps that’s why I am an Autumnophile.

In other news, the food festival season has now started and most weekends will find me surrounded by delicious foods and sampling all manner of little drinkies, all in the name of research of course. However, as they are on weekends I do have to ensure that Master A, when he comes with us, always has something to look forward to, rather than trailing around after Mum, lamenting his enforced separation from various gadgets. Luckily, he only gets bored after a couple of  hours; he is a cheese fanatic and will, ostensibly,  try anything (even though he is rather more picky at home). Last year saw us sharing our car with a lovely wedge of the famous Stinking Bishop, perry-washed cheese whose odour is somewhat akin to trench-foot!

I do believe in feeding your children a nourishing diet, certainly not without treats though.  I have found that limiting sugar and swapping white for wholemeal, heritage grains or sourdough does help with concentration hugely. I enjoy baking and always make sure that I stock up the tins with lots of yummy treats. This week I have been making Spelt Buns, with an egg-enriched dough. We are split into two camps in our household – Camp Cinnamon (myself and Master A) and Camp Fruit (Mr D), so I made both. Using spelt flour makes these buns more easily digestible and you needn’t kneed quite so much as with wheat flour.

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These can be made with only a small amount of sugar (and a tiny dusting of icing sugar) as the fruit or cinnamon adds its own natural sweetness.

The Bun tradition is Britain is wonderfully regional, with almost every county and often town having its own variety. The most famous buns being the Chelsea Bun and the Bath Bun (which is also home to the Sally Lunn which possible originates from the French Sol et Lune, sun and moon). In Cornwall, Saffron Buns are found; rich, yellow and slightly spicy. Obviously the most famous is the Hot Cross Bun which is pan-British; however if you delve into those dogeared cookery books you’re bound to find hundreds of small variations which give each bun its individual identity.  The lesser know varieties (mostly from the Bun-loving 17th century include;

The Real Current Bun (Hampshire late 17th C)

The Colston Bun (Bristol mid 17thC)

The London Bun (Unk. but NEVER to be confused with the finger bun!)

 

 


In search of breakfast…

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Allegedly the most important meal of the day; and I am inclined to agree. Until I eat breakfast I just can’t concentrate properly – I have read a great deal on breakfast, researched ‘breakfast’ throughout the world, looked in to history it it – and became rather fascinated about it’s changing role in our society.

Breakfast literally means ‘breaking the fast’ – and was only placed at the beginning of the day, as a specific meal, when the fashion for dining changed from one main meal of the day (and a lighter supper) to three meals a day in the 16th century. It is said that the Tudors invented breakfast. Although their breakfast, and indeed breakfasts up until the mid twentieth century were far more robust than today’s muesli and Nutella toast.

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I think the Edwardian breakfast is probably the King; several courses, served buffet style in large houses, comprising porridge, kippers, ‘the full English’ and the odd kidney (of which I am not very fond). The arrival of cereals in the later 19th century brought about the quicker almost ‘grab and go’ breakfast, which is sadly where we generally are today.

Recently, there has been so much contrasting information relating to the healthiness of the ‘Full English’ –  currently, saturated fats are good for us, twenty years ago they were bad….what is the truth? There are now the paleo devotees who preach about piles bacon of runny eggs, the health brigade with their chia, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free choices and the more usual toast and marmalade lovers who just want ‘something light’.

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At home, we enjoy rather varied breakfasts – dependant of course on time and current food ‘fad’. Usually it will involve eggs and wholemeal bread, sometimes bacon and occasionally something exotic like sweet potato rosti and avocado. If we’re feeling indulgent the croissants come out.

One of the easiest Autumn breakfasts is without a doubt, Porridge, made with oatmeal and served with a good glug of double cream and either maple syrup or fruit compote (blackberry being a particular favourite). On the weekend a ‘Full English’ is non-negotiable; buckets of tea both days complete the line-up.

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I am one of those strange people of actively look forward to the breakfast at hotels, I’ll often sneak a look at their menu and pre-plan; hotel breakfasts can take you right

through the day without need for lunch of carefully planned – I devote hours searching the local farm shops for the ‘ultimate’ bacon and am totally repulsed by the supermarket offerings with their seepage of white gunk. Eggs have to be free-range, preferably organic (from our chickens if we can find where they lay them) and toasted sourdough or heavy stone-ground wholemeal has to be smothered in salted butter and a little marmalade. Beans, I can leave but mushrooms are usually lurking somewhere on the plate, as is black pudding. In Cornwall we enjoyed hog’s pudding which is a white sausage and often far more palatable than than the red. In Scotland, Lorne sausage squares and a slice of Haggis is included. The Irish breakfast with its potato cakes and soft soda bread is totally yum. Of course, in Wales we have our own full breakfast addition – Lavabread. This seaweed is well cooked, and either served as is or made into little cakes and fried to bacon fat; do not be put off by it’s shoreline credentials – just try it and you will be surprised.

Apparently the healthiest breakfast in the world is from Iceland and comprises Oatmeal, Skyr (a delicious Icelandic yoghurt which gives the Greeks a run for their money), dark rye breads, cheeses and meals. I’d be quite happy to indulge! So this Autumn why not experiment a little – whether adding a twist to the usual pre-school offering or going all out on the weekend, breakfasts is well worth the effort.

 

 


Heavenly Bread @ The Angel Bakery

  

 
Abergavenny is a relatively small, very rural and ancient market town in the north of Monmouthshire but it’s always been far ahead of the competition in its foodie credentials – I have written about the famous annual food festival before and today, on a cold, crisp, sunny afternoon I set off to discover its most recent culinary offering – The Angel Bakery. 

The Angel Hotel is one of Abergavenny’s great success stories – once the hub of the thriving town (my great-great aunt worked there at the turn of the 20th century) it fell a little behind the times but in recent years has been restored and is now holder of the title ‘AA Hotel of the year’ as well as enjoying great renown for its afternoon teas (one of the best in the uk) but that’s for another day – I was here to visit the very stylish Angel Bakery hidden to the side of the hotel in the street which led up to Abergavenny’s famous castle.

The Angel Bakery is beautiful, from its elegant shop to its enormous light and bright bakery with its huge window overlooking the tiny street. Officially opened on the 19th December the bakery predominantly makes sourdough bread, the traditional way with organic, British milled flours. 

  

The Bakers hail from London as does the sourdough culture which, interestingly, is changing in flavour all the time, due to the local water, air and flour. The flour is all organic and each loaf is developed through much testing to decide which flour is best for the job – three different mills are currently used Shipton, Gilchester and Cann Mill however there are plans to use more local mills in the future. Aside from sourdough loaves which come in several different varieties,

 

The Angel Bakery produces splendid baguettes, beautifully crisp, yet yielding, which take me straight back to French summer holidays;

  

 

Buttery croissants which really do melt in the mouth;

  

Rich and vibrant Focaccia which adds an elegant authenticity to a platter of antipasti;

  

And Brioche – the cake of Marie-Antoinette’s famous misquote. The grapefruit glazed individual Brioche is a picture to behold, glistening and unctuous, calling for little more than a good cup of cafe au lait, of course they also make the classic larger sharing Brioche (though who would want to…) with its sugar coating and pleasantly fluted undercarriage – Fig jam is my personal choice with good Brioche although my son favours (rather heinously) Nutella.

  

The bakers are obviously very passionate about their bread, as I was there a batch of fig rye was being placed into tins ready to prove. There is a wonderful newness and lively competence about the place – The ovens are immense and had to be installed before the feature window due to their size. 

   
 

The shop also offers takeaway hot drinks, delicious coffee and tea.  

I see a great future for this bakery – as a champion of slow food nothing beats real soughdough lavishly spread with fresh butter, and sourdough, once the realm of the ‘knit your own yoghurt’ brigade is now very firmly back on the culinary map and as someone who thoroughly disagrees with the modern fast bread of the white sliced generation I for one will be a regular!