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Local vs Social

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I mentioned before that I was going hippy. Well one of the biggest challenges of my new approach to eating and shopping has been deciding what ethical means to me. Having finally made up my mind I thought I would share my conclusions, make of them what you will…

There’s a big trend at the moment towards shopping locally and buying as much as possible direct from producers. This makes sense to me as it reduces the air miles of your food and helps to support the community around you. Think of the village of independent retailers and producers where profits go back into developing the community and everyone survives on what is available on their door step.

But what about social? I dont mean social in the social media sense. I mean social responsibility – retailers that use their business to make a positive impact on people, animals or the environment rather than solely to make profit. Think Fair Trade. Is it better to buy a locally grown vegetable from a producer who runs a business for their own profits or a vegetable from an ethical trader that is shipping goods to your door but that is putting profits into helping to reduce suffering in Africa?

What about organically grown fruit shipped from Europe vs fruit grown using pesticides in Britain? Or Tomatoes grown outdoors in the sun in Spain vs tomatoes grown indoors with heating in Scotland? Which one has the higher carbon footprint? And its not just food. What about toiletries from your local shop that provides a service to the community, supports other local producers and puts money back into the local economy vs toiletries from a national retailer that stands against testing on animals? My brain hurts just thinking about the list of factors.

I dont think there is a single black and white set of rules but having agonised over it for a while here’s some of my own set of private guidelines I have set myself. If nothing else I hope they’ll prompt some thought and perhaps bring a new perspective to anyone who is in the same locally built ethically sourced environmentally friendly boat as I am…

Rule number 1 – Start with the animals.

Avoid anything that tests on animals or doesnt treat them with the utmost respect. This one is fairly simple for me. I will only buy meat that hasn’t been mistreated and I’m not saving on carbon emissions if it means buying something that was tested by sticking it in a bunny’s eye.

Rule number 2 – Try and grow it.

If you can grow something yourself it doesn’t have to travel anywhere, you will waste less as you harvest as you need it and you can use environmentally friendly pest controls and fertilisers. Not everyone can be completely self sufficient but even just growing your own herbs stops you wasting half a packet you don’t need which had to be transported from producer to shop to you in the first place.

Rule number 3 – Don’t eat anything your great granny wouldn’t recognise as food.

This is a great quote (sadly Ive forgotten where I saw it) that is referring to anything that has an unidentifiable ingredients list and a weird ability to outlast the human that bought it if left unopened. Follow this rule and you’ve cut out a lot of the weird “food like” substances that encourage the use of genetically modified monoculture on a mass scale (nearly all those strange ingredients turn out to come from corn) and probably have as questionable an impact on your insides as they do on the planet.

Rule number 4 – Don’t eat it if you wouldn’t consider making it yourself.

I don’t mean this quite as literally as it sounds and I’m not suggesting you start making everything from scratch but its an honourable idea and if you at least aim to try making something once, or put the effort into finding out what goes into making it, you will be more aware of how it arrived on your plate and probably less flippant about consuming it. If the only way to get a burger and chips was to go out and find and prepare the raw materials yourself you would probably eat a lot less burgers.

Rule number 5 – Don’t be ignorant.

Sometimes one environmental or social factor will outweigh another or it might not be clear and you cant be perfect but you can at least be aware. I will probably keep buying a majority of what I believe to be ethical goods – some things locally, some things from “social” retailers, some things from big chains that have good ethics – but every now and then I will fall off the wagon and nip into a supermarket when the butcher is shut and I’ve forgotten something. However I will at least make the effort to educate myself about what I’m buying so that my less noble purchases become the exception rather than the standard.

Last but not least, write your resolutions down! There’s nothing like declaring a decision in public to make you stick to it. ;)

London Grub

New finds from the latest trip to London….

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Meat sweats after a plate full of barbeque at Pitt Cue Co. It’s dining area is tiny and you have to queue at the door when it opens but the smoked pig cheek with green chilli slaw was worth it. Based on the buzz though the best thing on the menu is the pulled pork so I’ll have to queue again next visit.

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If you’re going to Spittalfields market then go to this wrap stall. Cheap and delicious. I had haloumi and aubergine loaded with garlic and tahini. For breakfast.

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And finally if you do nothing else at all go to Brick Lane market on a Sunday and hit the world food stalls. This mixed plate was only £5 and it could have fed two. I landed up plonked on the pavement to eat it and it was the best thing I had all weekend.

Sourdough

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My first step towards ethical eating is to start making my own bread. Properly. No edible paperweights.

If I let myself regularly visit a bakery I will spend a fortune and neither of our waistlines will thank me but if I make my own I can at least manage the cost aspect. Keeping a sourdough starter seems the simplest and cheapest option and the most satisfying for the baker. Well that’s assuming I get it working!

I opted to start with rye flour because it’s apparently a bit kinder and after feeding my experiment with flour and water for 9 days it seemed to be going pretty well. Yeasty bubbles and everything. On day 9 I decided it looked ready to bake with so I put 200g of my starter with 100g wholewheat flour and 300g strong white flour, roughly 235ml warm water and 1tsp salt. I kneaded and left to prove for a couple of hours. When I went to bed it hadn’t risen much at all so I put it in the fridge over night, took it out in the morning and left to rise while I was at work. When I got home it had risen although still not spectacularly but I figured by that point it was probably in danger of overproving so I stuck it in the hottest oven for about 30 minutes and above is what came out.

The flavour was good and it was edible but very doughy, almost as though it hadn’t baked long enough. I don’t think that would have helped though, suspect it was either my starter wasn’t ready yet, bad proving or I didn’t knead enough. So my starter is in the fridge and will be back out next week for more feeding until I get this right!

Going Hippy

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I’ve always loved food and by default growing up in South Africa I’ve always learned to eat fresh food and cook meals from scratch but Ive never been a true “ethical eater” or food activist. I wont buy something from a company that treats animals badly, I believe in supporting the local community and promoting the Scottish food industry, I support the slow food movement and I buy fair trade goods now and then. But besides meat and eggs, I dont actively check the origins of every item I purchase and I still shop in supermarkets a lot out of laziness. I have always left the truly ethical lifestyle to the hardcore hippies – admiring them, feelling vaguely guilty but not really feeling guilty or motivated enough to join the ranks.

Well, things have changed. I have to say I think Im going hippy.

This is by no means an epiphany, rather its a creeping feeling that has been slowly entering my mind for a while now but there are a few specific things that have finally crystalised these thoughts into action. One was an extract from the new book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by the journalist and acitvist Michael Pollan. In his book he points out that the downside of specialisation in all aspects of our lives, from the production of technology and clothing to food and cooking, is that it breeds dependence and helplessness in us and removes us from all the effort (and indeed potential cruelty, pollution or destruction) involved in creating the products we buy. It becomes easy to forget the value of things, where they came from, and easy to demand cheaper and cheaper prices. Think about it, would you accept £2 as payment for a shirt if you had to sew it yourself? Or £1 for your efforts if you had bought all the ingredients for a lasagne and made the sauce and the pasta from scratch? I dont believe things have to be expensive to be ethical and indeed making them yourself is often cheaper, but equally their value should be recognised and the best way to do this is to keep doing some things in your life for yourself. Im not saying go out and buy a soldering iron and build your own laptop, but thinking about what we buy and cooking our own food shouldnt be be something we always let someone else do for us.

The second catalyst for my sudden resolution was this TED talk by Simon Sinek about how great leaders inspire action via trust, which has nothing to do with food but got me thinking about authenticity in general and doing and saying what we believe (watch it – it will make you think and make you laugh). If I really want to be authentic and true to my beliefs, why do I leave the action to the hippies? Why is it that hard to do? Why dont I put my money where my mouth is and make sure everything I consume has as much positive impact on the planet as possible? Money? Others have already tried it and proved it can acutally save you money so I should be able to as well. Time? What am I so busy doing and what about shopping closer to home takes up so much more time

So there it is… I still have loads of research to do, lists to make and questions to answer (e.g. local vs social shopping but that’s another post) before my plan is fully formulated but I intend to banish the supermarkets, understand what Im buying and see if I can prove that being ethical is not just for the hippies…

Teen Canteen

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This week I came across a new pop up dining event with a special focus on community. The enterprising students of Linlithgow Academy are setting up a temporary restaurant that for the next week will be serving delicious food to the local inhabitants and visitors to Linlithgow. I was inspired by their enthusiasm and determination so I decided to help spread the word by asking them a few questions about the project…

Q: Can you tell me a bit about the project, the people involved and what you’re hoping to achieve?

A: In January 2013 the BBC came to our school and asked us to set up a takeaway – that’s all they said and we were left to decide, fundraise and advertise all by ourselves. Our management team is a real mix of people but that makes it all the better! We’re aiming to create a “Guilt Free Night Off for Mums” whilst being healthy, easy and having the ability to personalise the customer’s food to their tastes. The project has taught us so many things – I can now budget, work to schedules and I’m (a bit) less clumsy and messy than beforehand. I genuinely believe everybody taking part has learned something that will help them in later life. What we want to achieve is a redefinition of takeaway – we’re not a greasy chippy or a repetitive pizza place. We’re taking the essentials of speed and easiness whilst providing food of a restaurant standard using locally sourced ingredients. Community has also always been important for us and we’ve attempted to show this in many ways. We held assemblies at the local primaries to discuss local sourcing and how to help farmers in the area; we’ve used produce from nearby where possible and asked the townspeople to invest in the business.
Q: What happens after the week is over?

A: After the week is over us sixth years get back to normal life – which involves very little school work and quite a lot of parties. We’re still unsure of what do do with the profits – ideas have been putting it to local charities, spending it on our ball and holding an event to thank everyone who helped us. However, an idea I really like is to set up something memorable. Whether this is a community garden where people can learn to grow and produce food or it is a fund to spend teaching children in town about food I’m not too sure, but I really want the legacy of Teen Canteen to last beyond the week we are running. The potential is massive and we’ll make sure to take advantage of it!
Q: What type of food will you be serving and do you have any food heroes that have inspired you?

A: We decided to cook Scottish Soul Food – our own unique genre. It involves using the best Scottish ingredients available to us, cooked long and slow with plenty of passion and flavour. It’s the homely food that everyone craves when it’s cold outside and a proper family meal. The food doesn’t necessarily need to be Scottish ‘themed’. E.g. we have a smoky meatball stew and salsa verde on our menu. The main thing is it’s all been made using the best ingredients the country can offer. We’ve been inspired by quite a lot of people after some trips we made. Tom Lewis at Monachyle Moor showed us how prime ingredients can make the best food when treated simply and Ross Baxter of Dunbar bakery showed us how community and food can be linked so closely. Most importantly though, the two chefs who we have worked with closely, who have advised us and helped us understand the practicality of our ideas; Fiona Buchanan and Jonathan Macdonald of Scoop Events in Glasgow. They both helped us go from a bunch of teenagers with some crazy ideas, to teenagers who understand the food business and how we can turn the ideas we have into reality.

Q: West Lothian isn’t an obvious choice for an underground dining event. If you had a choice between staging the canteen in Linlithgow or Edinburgh would you swap?

A: I think we would stay with Linlithgow – the idea of our business being immersed in the community is key to the project and it works perfectly in a small town such as ours. Even though the project may gain more popularity and make us more money in a city, I believe that it’s going to bring so much more to here where everyone talks to each other and cares about their hometown. In my mind, our project should become a flagship and do two things, the first is it should prove to the population teenagers can be proactive and actually accomplish something and secondly it can inspire more people to try this – whether that is a school wide thing like us or simply a bunch of friends who are going to make some good food and take it to their local market to sell. In a city I think we would lose this ability to inspire. We are totally unique in Linlithgow whereas in cities this has been done before, just not by kids!

If like me you’d like to go along and try some Scottish Soul Food or help spread the word, you can find details about the canteen via the links below.

teen canteen
Linlithgow Academy
Brae Head Road
EH49 6EH

 

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First of all… people of Britain, if you’re travelling to London from Scotland or vice versa, pay attention. Service station food can be edible! Not all service station food, and in fact not most, but if you are travelling on the M6 between junction 38 and 39 you’re in luck.

We were driving down to London for the weekend and I couldn’t face the thought of a six hour drive punctuated by fast food that tastes like cardboard so I went searching for foodie spots close to the motorway we could stop at instead. It turns out there is an independent service station in Britain! With a farm shop! And cake!

Westmoreland (aka Tebay Services) is accessible in both directions and it has a cafe which we were pleased to find serving proper breakfast and baked goodies with a stunning view of the countryside. I’ll be honest my scone wasn’t brilliant (think it had been baked a while earlier and got a bit tired and heavy by the time I got to it but I never understand how anyone gets scones to stay fresh for more than an hour out of the oven) but the cooked breakfast using fresh local ingredients was delicious. The only thing we didn’t like was the black pudding but it serves us right for trying to eat it outside of Scotland (sorry England its just better here).

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And despite the hour the farm shop next to the cafe was open, complete with butcher, shelves full of interesting jars and loads more baked goods to take with you (good if you happen to hit the cafe at an hour when your stomach isnt quite ready for the table full of cake – or in reality you’re greedy enough to need seconds later on). I’m so pleased the Dunning family decided to create this place and looking forward to my next trip south!

Right now second of all…. you need to stay on that M6 and get yourself to London even if only for one day. However, it must be a Sunday. This is non-negotiable. Now get to Waterloo and head for Blackfriars Street and The Laughing Gravy, for the best Sunday roast in… no just the best Sunday roast full stop.

This is not a gross exaggeration I promise. Friends took us here for the first time this weekend and I spent most of the journey back to Edinburgh trying to decide whether it was frivolous to spend the rest of my salary on weekly trips to London just to spend all my Sunday afternoons in front of their plate of Roast Aberdeen Angus beef onglet.

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This beef is prepared with love. Talk about slow food… its soaked in a locally brewed London porter beer, itself based on a 100 year old recipe that the brewers researched… for a week. I have checked this again with the pub since I got home to make sure I wasn’t so punch drunk on beef happiness that I was hearing things and its true I promise.

Besides the unusual cut of meat and the week long marinade in porter, the beef is served in a heavenly red wine gravy that starts off in a pot big enough to bath in and reduces down ever so slowly to just  a few litres. The exact recipe is a secret of course. To top it off there are beef dripping roast potatoes alongside fresh vegetables and a big spongy delicious Yorkshire pudding to dunk. I also recommend you start your Sunday brunch with a Laughing Gravy Bloody Mary or a Bloody Shame (the non-alcoholic version and not a shame at all) and you add a portion of their slow roast tomatoes which are equally delicious. This is a meal worth travelling for.

So hopefully I’ve convinced a few new customers to go and support these places so they’re still there when I next want to pop in and hopefully a few chefs in Edinburgh will read this and take on the challenge to better the LG Sunday roast so I don’t have to bankrupt myself with weekly trips to London (pleeeeeeaaase)!

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If you made your own cranberry sauce to go with the Christmas turkey and you have lots of leftover sauce then this is about the best thing you can do to use it up, in my humble opinion.

Cranberry Ice Cream

  • 225ml double cream
  • 12ml milk
  • 125g castor sugar
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 250g cranberry sauce (preferably home-made as you know its just berries and sugar) blitzed to a smooth purée with 1-2tbsp brandy

Heat the cream and milk gently until almost boiling. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until creamy and slowly whisk in the cream mixture. Return to the heat and stir until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Take off the heat and cool a little. Whisk in the cranberry purée and chill before churning in an ice cream machine. If you don’t have a machine place in the freezer directly and keep stirring every half hour or so to break up the ice crystals until frozen.

The ice cream is sweet but with the tang that you expect from cranberries so it makes a refreshing end to a festive meal, either on its own, with other festive ice cream flavours, or to balance a hot pudding.

On that note, this will be my last post of 2012 so Happy New Year!

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