Grow more food from kitchen scraps

Grow food from kitchen scrapsWe’ve all had elderly vegetables start to take on a life of their own in the fridge or a corner of a darkened cupboard so why not deliberately grow vegetables from scraps?

Lots of things can be grown from the bits we cut off: celery, lettuce, cabbage, leeks, onions, fennel, potatoes and sweet potatoes, garlic, ginger and even mushrooms are possible.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes
Find a potato that has lots of eyes and cut it into pieces making sure that each chunk has at least one eye and leave the pieces on a tray for a day or two to dry out.  This prevents the pieces from rotting in the soil.  Place the pieces in a pot in at least 8 inches depth of soil with the eyes pointing upwards.  Cover with soil and then add another 4” of soil.  As the plant grows keep adding more soil to provide support and prevent it going green.

Onions are one of the easiest vegetables to propagate. Just cut off the root end of your onion, leaving a ½ inch of onion on the roots. Place it in a sunny position in your garden and cover the top with soil. Ensure the soil is kept moist. Onions prefer a warm sunny environment, so if you live in a colder climate, keep them in pots and move them indoors during frostier months.

Leeks, spring onions and fennel

Use the white root end of the vegetable and place it in a glass jar with about half and inch of water.  Leave it in a sunny position.  The leaves will continue to shoot and you can cut these off and use them in cooking.  Leave the white root in the water and it will keep growing.

Each clove will grow into a new plant.  Just put the clove into a pot of soil and place it in a sunny position.  The garlic will root itself and start producing shoots.  As the leaves get bigger keep trimming them down so that the plant’s energy goes into producing a the bulb.

Celery, lettuce, cabbage
These also grow from the white root.  Place the root end in a dish of water – enough to cover the roots but not swamp the top.  Put it in a sunny position, occasionally spraying it with water to keep the top moist but not wet.  After a few weeks transfer the plant to some soil with just the leaves showing over the top.

Ginger is surprisingly easy to re-grow.  Put a lump of the knobbly bit (rhizome) into some potting compost with the newest, smallest bit pointing upwards.  Ginger likes warmth and light, but not direct sunlight and needs to be kept moist. There will soon be shoots and roots and once the plant is ready, pull it up and immediately cut a bit off to re-start the process.  It’s also rather an attractive plant.

Carrots will not regrow, contrary to how they behave.


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I had forgotten about falafels until I was on a photographic shoot yesterday and my models had very kindly provided lunch in the form of falafels, salad and humous in pitta bread.  It was so delicious and made a perfect summer lunch.

Falafels are basically Arab street food; a deep fried patty of ground chick peas, fava beans or both with spices, such as cumin and coriander, and drizzled with hot sauce, pickled vegetables or tahini.  They are very easy to make and you can customize them with things you like such as chilis, onions, garlic or spinach,   They are very nutritious and make a terrific mobile food alternative to burgers or chips. Amusingly, McDonald’s in Cairo serve a falafel sandwich called …..? a McFalafel, of course!
FALAFEL – serves 4

1 x medium bowl
1 x blender or food processor
1 x large frying pan
Kitchen roll (paper towel)

16oz can chickpeas
1 large onion – very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic – crushed
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or 1 ½ tablespoons dried parsley)
1 teaspoon dried coriander
1 teaspoon dried cumin
2 tablespoons plain flour
Oil for frying

Drain the chickpeas and put in the bowl with the garlic, onion, coriander, cumin and flour
Combine all the ingredients using a blender until it forms a thick paste
Form the mixture into balls and flatten slightly
Pour oil into the frying pan to about 2 inches deep and heat to a moderate temperature
Fry the falafels until golden brown (approx 5 mins)
Pat with kitchen roll to absorb excess oil and serve hot or cold

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Sunday Poem 215

I came upon this anthology in Waterstones, in a quiet moment between signings. Michael Symmons Roberts has written six anthologies of poetry and is also an award winning writer and documentary film maker.  The book from which this poem came, ‘Drysalter’ is a mixture of the sacred, the profane, the dark, the light, the spirit and the worldly.  Wonderful stuff.

Immortal, Invisible, Wise – by Michael Symmons Roberts (b.1963)

In such mighty stature he stands,
or rather, he towers above what passes
for a plain here.  And he holds so still,
has held so long, this, his repose,
that no one sees him any more.

In plain air vanished, taken for
cumulonimbus, escarpment, cooling tower agape.
He has become no more or less than sky.
Pylon skip-ropes between his feet,
airliner wing-tips brush his lips,

the sun’s print in his eye becomes
a day-lit pole-star, and although the world
is never silent, there are split-second

When you can hear his long-drawn
breath begin to shape a word.




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Hay Fever (please ignore weird typefaces – WordPress is playing up again)

Unwelcome guests for some

Unwelcome guests for some

Hay fever is an extremely common allergy which affects  20% of people at some time in their lives.  This is annoying at least and debilitating at worst and can interfere with daily activities and sleep patterns, and should not be taken lightly.  It is a form of allergic rhinitis, which basically means inflammation of the mucus membranes of the nose caused by allergy.  For most people, hay fever gets better with age, but recently the pollen count has been so high that people are suffering who have never had it before. I am one of these.  Bugger. But I will not be beaten.

Symptoms: These range from sneezing, runny nose, itching eyes, itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears, and a cough cause by mucus dripping down the back of the throat from the nose.  However, less commonly one may get impaired sense of smell, facial pain caused by inflamed sinuses, headaches, earache and tiredness. Asthma can also be caused and exacerbated by hay fever and these symptoms include tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.  Always have your inhaler with you.

Causes: The most common cause of hay fever is pollen;  from trees (especially birch) – predominantly in the spring, grasses – end of spring and beginning of summer , and weeds (such as docks and nettles) – from spring to autumn.   The pollen is breathed in or gets into the eyes and it is the proteins in the pollen which cause the problems.  Hay fever symptoms usually begin when the pollen count is over 50 and is usually given as part of the weather forecast during the spring and summer months. The pollen forecast is usually given as:

  • low: fewer than 30 grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air
  • moderate: 30-49 grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air
  • high: 50-149 grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air
  • very high: 150 or more grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air

The reason that you have an allergic reaction is  that  your body over-reacts to something it perceives as a threat. In hay fever, the threat is pollen. Your immune system  then behaves as though it were being attacked by a virus and acts accordingly by releasing chemicals which produce the runny eyes and nose in an attempt to flush out the enemy.. The

Weather: Weather also plays its part and you can limit exposure by understanding how it works.  On humid and windy days, pollen spreads easily. On rainy days, pollen may be cleared from the air, causing pollen levels to fall.  During their pollen season, plants release pollen early in the morning. As the day gets warmer and more flowers open, pollen levels rise. On sunny days, the pollen count is highest in the early evening.

Treatment: Standard Medical
There is no immediate cure for hay fever. More often than not, you can get a remedy over the counter from your pharmacist to relieve the symptoms, but if they persist or seem unusually severe, you should consult your doctor, particularly asthmatics and those with a history of sinus problems of ear infections.
Antihistamines are the first line of defence and new and improved versions are being developed all the time.  These help to prevent an allergic reaction from happening in the first place.  Once symptoms have set in you may require corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation and swelling.  There is also a treatment called immunotherapy where one is exposed to small amounts of pollen over time in order to build up the immune response

Treatment: Natural
There are lots of alternatives to drugs that can help hay fever, although if you are in danger from asthma, for example, don’t muck about – asthma kills people.  However, here are some things that can help. Diet:  Allergies of any kind are an auto-immune problem so the first thing to do is strengthen your immune system and optimize your body’s natural defences.

*  Plenty of Vitamin C and garlic which contain flavonoids which are natural anti-histamines.  Eat as much raw or lightly cooked food as possible.
*  Eat plenty of local honey, starting a few months before pollen season.  This follows the immunotherapy course as it desensitized the body to local pollens.
*  Ditto nettles.  Nettles can be a significant allergen so starting eating them as soon as they appear in the spring, either steamed as a vegetable or in nettle soup.
*  Drink lots of water.  Chamomile tea contains bisabol and chamazulene which are anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine.  Green tea contains catechins which are powerful anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory and consequently an immune booster.
*  Sterimar nasal spray made of seawater can be used to flush out the nasal passages
*  The homeopathic remedy Sabadilla Pollenna, if taken as soon as symptoms appear, can offer relief

Practical Steps: Wraparound sunglasses can help to keep pollen out of your eyes An air purifier can help to remove pollen, dust and other allergens from your home or office Dehumidifiers and ionizers in the home help some people Get someone else to mow the lawn Make use of air conditioning in your car Shower and wash your hair when you get in, especially after being in the countryside

Do not despair, my little chums, you can beat this, slowly but surely.

Sources: The New Holistic Herbal (pub David Hoffman 1994)

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Sunday Poem 214

As I was wandering through the grassy, flower strewn hillside at West Wycombe last weekend, I was struck by the tumultuous overtures of the crickets in the long grass.  Also, I have just been watching the wonderful  Jane Campion film, ‘Bright Star’ about John Keats, so I give you Keats and crickets.

On the Grasshopper and the Cricket – by John Keats (1795-1821)

The poetry of earth is never dead:
When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead.
That is the grasshopper’s – he takes the lead
In summer luxury, – he has never done
With his delights, for when tired out with fun,
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of the earth is ceasing never:
On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
And seems to one in drowsiness half-lost,
The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.

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A very sad day indeed

Jeremiah 20 Sep 2010This has been a tough week.  It is the last week of term and also Boy the Younger’s last week of Primary school.  This means that there seems to be an event at the school every two and a half minutes, all of which require me to DO something or BE somewhere.  In between this, I have to fit in my normal work and spend a day on the Fens shooting for seven hours for the Grace and Glory photographic project.  I am proper knackered.

Yesterday afternoon, I had finished work, been to BTY’s sports day and had run home for a cup of tea and a rest before heading out for his school play at 5.30pm.  As I got out of my car, my next door neighbour came out with a very anxious expression.

She had found one of my cats, Jeremiah, dead in  her garden.  I went round and there he was, lying in the grass as though in a deep sleep.  He was stiff but warm from the sun and his mouth was full of grass.  There wasn’t a mark on him – no sign of injury from fighting or being run over – he just looked as though he had fallen asleep in the sun.  Smog, my other cat, was hovering beside him, standing guard and she followed me back as I carried his little body into our own garden.

I sat on the bench with him cradled in my arms, stroking his head and pulling the grass out from between his teeth.  I can only speculate what happened to him.  Perhaps he ate something poisonous and he had a stomach ache which was why he was eating grass, perhaps he had a heart attack, we shall never know.  He was only four.

The boys sat on either side unable to take in what had happened and BTY and I cried and cried.  Boy the Elder was worried that he didn’t feel like crying but, as I told him, we all grieve in different ways and we should never feel obliged to put on displays of emotion just to demonstrate to others that we feel deeply. Grief is a private and intimate thing and we don’t love less for not displaying it.

The timing of the cosmos being what it is, BTY had to perform in his school play and, to his credit, insisted upon going ahead with it.  We wrapped Jeremiah in an old towel and placed him in a lidded wooden box and put him in the shed until we could decide what to do with him.

The garden soil is solid clay so burial there was impossible and cremation at the vet is too expensive.  We decided that we would bury him in the woods which rather suits his adventurous nature.  We had found him as a lost kitten in a hawthorn tree, so it seemed a fitting end.

We walked into the woods, and found a place of soft earth under the dappled light of hawthorn trees, at the end of a long-disused railway track.  We took turns at digging, hauling out tree roots and clearing twigs and stones.  We laid him in the hole and covered him over with soil.  We found some bricks from the former embankment to edge the grave and covered the top in loose chippings, having planted some flowers on the top and placed the lid of the box at the head as a marker.  I shall use the rest of the box to plant flowers in.  BTY said some prayers, we lit some little candles and quietly walked home.

I can’t quite bring myself to take up his food bowl yet and it will be some time before I remember not to call him in at night.  He often slept on BTY’s bed and I would creep in at night to find them curled up together in blissful peace, a picture of calm and happiness.

The sadness of losing a pet should never been underestimated.  For some people, their pet is their sole companion and their reason to get up every day, and to lose that animal is akin to losing a family member and the feelings of loss are the same.

For us, Jeremiah was a gift.  He came to us out of the blue and we loved him deeply.  He was an independent cat who wandered abroad and who had learned to knock on the back door to be let in. He occasionally wee-ed on the carpet and would torment small animals for fun.  But his love for us was genuine and freely given and I hope that wherever he is now, he has gardens to explore, furry things to chase and a full tummy.

Jeremiah's grave

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Two Minute Review – 22: Get Him to the Greek

TimerFilm                 Get Him to the Greek

Certificate:      15    (but it really should have been an 18)

Starring:          Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Sean Combs, Colm Meaney

Director:          Nicholas Stoller

I have just watched ‘Get Him to the Greek’ with Russell Brand.  Whilst I recognise that fancying Le Brand is dirty and sinful, it is a film of unexpected depth.  Certainly it descends into farcical anarchy fairly quickly (farce REALLY not being my thing) when record company lackey, Aaron, is charged with getting fading, drug addicted rock star, Aldous Snow, from England to the USA for a comeback gig.

But when it all hits rock bottom, another layer of the film emerges which has some genuine emotion and some proper grown up points to make about the real nature of the music business.  I was also flat out impressed that Brand actually sang all the songs of his character and did them well enough that I thought ‘I’d actually listen to this, on a record and everything’.

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Sunday Poem 213

Summer Rain – by Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849)

Thick lay the dust, uncomfortably white,
In glaring mimicry of Arab sands.
The woods and mountains slept in Hazy light;
The meadows look’d athirst and tawny tann’d;
The little rills had left their channels bare,
With scarce a pool to witness what they were;
and the shrunk river gleam’d ‘mid oozy stones,
That stared like any famish’d giant’s bones.

Sudden the hills grew black, and hot as stove
The air beneath; it was a toil to be.
There was a growling as of angry Jove
Provoked by Juno’s prying jealousy -
A flash – a crash – the firmament was split,
and down it came in drops – the smallest fit
To drown a bee in fox-glove bell conceal’d;
Joy fill’d the brook, and comfort cheer’d the field.

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Pink Pear Cooler

I love an icy alcoholic drink on a hot day and this recipe, despite possibly being more of a punch than a cocktail, has actually got pears in it, which makes it health food.

PINK PEAR COOLER – serves 10-12
Pear illustration

1 x medium saucepan with a lid
1 x sieve
1 x large jug – pref glass to show the lovely colour of the drink

2 pears – peeled , cored and sliced
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
2oz / 60g sugar
8floz / 250ml water
1 bottle rose wine (a white Zinfandel would give a lovely strawberry dimension to this)
½ bottle port
4 handfuls crushed ice


A bit of an English garden

A bit of an English garden

Put the pear slices, lemon rind, sugar and water into the pan
Cover the pan and simmer gently until the fruit is soft and pulpy
Leave to cool, add the lemon juice and sieve into the jug
Add the wine, port and crushed ice and stir well
Top up with lemonade and serve

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The Story of the Sloth

Sloth baby in pyjamasI love sloths and I was reminded how much I like them this morning when someone sent me a picture of a baby sloth in pyjamas.  When I had mopped my soppy, emotional self off the kitchen floor, I went to my files and pulled out a children’s story that I wrote in the 1990s about a sloth who lived in the Amazon Rainforest.  It was a gentle story for young children about a rainforest adventure involving our hero, Charlie the Two-Toed Sloth, as well as spider monkeys, harpy eagles, dolphins and flooded forests.

The only problem was, that I cannot draw and I couldn’t find an illustrator  that I liked enough to put the whole thing together.  Any volunteers?

During the course of my research for the book, I went to London Zoo to observe the sloths they looked after there.  The keeper was incredibly helpful and informative and he let me go right into the enclosure and I actually looked one in the eyes and stroked it. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life. I was also the first person to notice that they have a third eyelid! 

The keeper had one of the most interesting skin diseases I have ever seen which was the result of a sloth bite ten years previously. They had been transferring a sloth from Bristol to London Zoo and the sloth had caught him a chomp on the arm as it was being manoeuvered into its container (a lidded dustbin as it happened). 

Sloth mouths are hell-holes of bacteria and foulness and he contracted a disease which incapacitated him for several years, his skin pustulating and cracking like something off Star Trek, accompanied by fever, muscle weakness and general unpleasantness.  But he was a zoo keeper to the bone and as soon as he recovered, he went back to working with sloths. My hero.

Thanks to the National Geographic for this image

Thanks to the National Geographic for this image

One of the reasons that sloths are so virulent is that they are practically one-animal ecosystems.  Because they move so slowly and live in rainforests, their fur has a permanent layer of algae growing on it which provides excellent camouflage amidst the canopy.  That plus the deep fur of the animal provides a home for tiny moths which complete their entire life cycle on the sloth.

The fur has also evolved uniquely to aid their upside down life as it parts across the abdomen and grows out and down.  This, of course, will help rainwater to run straight off.  Even their internal organs are reversed.

They virtually their entire lives in the canopy.  They mate, give birth eat, and sleep upside down, hanging from their long and powerful claws.  They sleep for up to twenty hours a day and come down once a week to defaecate and urinate, and this is when they are at their most vulnerable.  Despite their strength, they are virtually useless on land and have to crawl and drag themselves along the ground making themselves an easy meal for predators such as ocelots, anacondas and harpy eagles.  However they are brilliant swimmers and move easily through the water, their heads held high like old ladies at the municipal baths.

The destruction of the rainforests poses a major threat to their survival. Logging, urban expansion and their use for bush meat.  The fragmentation of their habitat makes mating difficult and they cannot survive anywhere but in the rainforest environment (or very carefully managed conservation projects.  Three-toed sloths fare even worse.  Have a look at these wonderful films.


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