Warming Up

Slowly and gently, the ground is getting warmer. Each night it cools a little less and each day it warms up a little more. And you can see it everywhere on the allotment and in the garden. Grass seed is germinating, peas are popping up, strawberries are blossoming and the insects and butterflies are busy doing their thing – which is generally good for the garden as long as it does not involve eating the produce!

It was a favourable twenty four degrees Celsius in my little conservatory at the shed and warmer in the greenhouses. With very little rain, a good part of my afternoon was spent treading the path between my beds and the tap, filling up a double load of watering cans to make sure my young shoots make it to good plants. Once that was complete it was on to the main intent of my visit; Canes.

I have managed to get hold of some really heavy duty canes this year from Amazon. I really recommend spending out on these as they are much thicker than your average B&Q sticks, a good 18mm diameter at the base. I bought 50, though I could have easily used more.

I have been using them where I need the greatest strength and then infilling with my lighter canes where it was less important. They look good too; being that bit thicker has definite design advantages and my wigwam for a squash or two has a strong, business like feel about it.

It is not quite time for much planting out, though I have planted out my broad beans. The other seedlings are too young and the ground still a little too chilly for them. I have some solid plastic cloches turning up next week, so that will help warm up the ground and protect the youngest – especially from the cat!

Other than that, it is mostly just watering and getting ready. The weeds haven’t got going yet and all the ground is dug, so there is little else to do. But it will all change very rapidly over the next few weeks…

The Bow Tie DuckIn a different life (yes, I am not completely consumed by cooking and allotments) I design the occasional website using a rather clever content management system called ProcessWire. The warm community that affectionately gathers around this very good bit of software often shares its latest creations; websites designed and developed for a plethora of interests from composers to artists, luxury villas to municipal sites, festivals to food.

Today, one particular site showcased by Julien Marie caught my attention; partly because of the good design but mostly because of the rather luscious looking leg of cured ham resting front and centre on the home page.

The Bow Tie Duck is a considered collection of irresistible offerings imported from choice suppliers in Europe into Manila, Philippines. It is far too easy for us in the west to assume that all peoples of the Orient only eat their own, amazing cuisine, but of course western influence in the style of the French, British and Portuguese goes back many generations and there is as much love of things European as we love their traditional offerings, albeit at an import premium possibly beyond the average salary.

“Our first job is to be the curators of your palate. We keep on travelling around the world, tasting and negotiating products for your pleasure.” A bold claim, especially from a company geographically remote from its suppliers.

But the range, while not huge, is manageable, and certainly the venture seems to be taking careful steps in introducing items that are at least familiar to both ex-pats and locals. Manila being many leagues from my home in the UK, I cannot assess its impact against the existing cosmopolitan market of the islands.

The food list is separated into three simple categories: The delicatessen is a small collection of mostly French sausages ranging from the familiar saucisson, a red label item which I assume will be something like Bastides, to the famous Morteau and a solitary Boudin.  It will be interesting to see how this range is expanded with perhaps some of the more fiery Italian Genoan salamis or perhaps the best of the Spanish hams.

The Signature foods sections is unembarrassed by any idea of low cost. Foie Gras (becoming controversial now in Europe), Plougastel Oysters (flown in from the commune in Brittany I assume and nearly as good as some of the heartier British and Irish offerings),  and of course, black truffells and caviar, are ready to bedeck the plates of those with more credit than sense.

But this is what this company is about. It is not about cheap imitations or quick food fixes, but is aimed at those that truly love those things that are otherwise so hard to find ten thousand miles from source.

The last section of the site offers a small collection of wines, all French from what I can see.  I have not been through all of these, but wines such as Château La Croix Saint Estephe 2007 retail for around £15 a bottle in the UK and Domaine de Bonserine Côte Rôtie  La Garde 2003, which is a delicious offering from the Syrah grape, sells for between £50 to £70 from a broker – so they are not weighting the list with inaccessible wines.  They are also having to compete with companies such as Manila Wines and other companies that import large quantities. Alcohol, especially wines and whisky, from Europe is much sort after and the export market is buoyant and large.

This is a company who have a small list, but are keeping it exclusive and deliver to your door – and if the service matches the expectations of the well designed web site, then they will be a contender in a very competitive market. I wish them luck, even if they are just a little out of my way!

Dispatches – Channel 4

Well, going by the Dispatches programme tonight on Channel 4, when ever you buy a low fat product – and by that they mean a product that is promoted as a low fat alternative to a normally high fat product.

Unsurprisingly, the low fat versions, although lower in fat, were often still high enough to qualify for a red traffic light. Well, when a product like cheese is made mostly from the fat part of milk, no one should really be surprised.

More revealingly was how inaccurate manufacturers are allowed to be with nutritional information – up to 30% is acceptable. It is noticeable that this 30% appears to be ABOVE what is quoted and not below!

But however horrifying the revelations on the programme might have been, it did leave out a far more important worry about the amount of fat, sugar, salt and so on that we consume and that is our growing reliance on manufacturers to come up with low fat (or low anything else) versions of our favourite morsel rather than using our own knowledge of food.

Years ago, the Daily Mail in one of their “we hate Prince Charles” campaigns, decided to pounce on the Duchy Original Organic Pasty and denounce it as an unhealthy food. SIX HUNDRED CALORIES they shouted from the rooftops with their jaws sticking out and best “disgusted of Tonbridge Wells” hat on.

But, of course, this was nonsense. Firstly, the product manufacturers never claimed this was either healthy or a diet product, simply that it was made from good quality organic ingredients. Secondly, it is a Cornish Pasty, a meal in a pastry designed for Cornish tin miners – it is MEANT to be a high calorie dish – not a snack!

And this is the point. If you want to eat mayonnaise, make a beautiful, home made one with best olive oil, but do not pretend that it is going to low fat, it is not. So, if you want it, don’t eat much of it.

If you want fried chicken, then accept it will be high fat – don’t have a bucket load, just have a couple of pieces with lots of salad and no fries.

If you want to reduce your fat intake. move to foods that are naturally lower in fats and cooking methods that do not add too much. Poach chicken breasts in wonderful stock with loads of vegetables till just done and still moist – it is gorgeous. Eat white fish steamed or grilled with mashed veg made with lots of black pepper and garlic.

And where you do want something fatty, get a really good NON low fat version, but just enjoy a little, rather than stuff your face.

Should we trust the manufacturers? NO WAY!

But we should not blame them either – we need to take responsibility for our diets, buy fresh, simple (and cheap), eat smaller portions of the right food for our needs, and go tell Big Food PR men to go and lie their bums off to someone else.

Yet again, the Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) deals offered by supermarket chains have hit the news amid concerns about the huge amount of domestic food waste across the EU – Ninety MILLION Tons ever year. BBC News

In a report from the House of Lords (PDF) the European Union Committee says that supermarkets must take more responsibility for food waste and not just pass it onto the consumer disguised as great offers.

But of course, the story is far more complicated than that and goes back many years.

If you look at the amount that each of us eat on average every day, it has increased hugely over the last fifty years. We complain that food is expensive now, but we do not realise that your average chicken is not bigger than it was, we eat more potatoes, more of everything – our portion sized have increased and our expectation of portion sizes have increased.

The food industry has benefited from this greatly, but they are not an innocent bystander. Over the years, the food industry, especially through the supermarket chains, have encouraged us to buy larger and more often than ever before – 30% extra, buy one get one free, bigger bottles, tins, more oil, more sugar, more salt to make things moreish…

This is not about competition because you will often see the same offers repeated across many apparently competing chains. This has all been about increasing our expectations and desires and then fulfilling them by selling us yet more.

And the result?

We eat too much, get fat and want more.

And we waste vasts amounts.

We all do it – none of us are exempt. As a population we have simply walked into one huge trap, and the food industry has made enormous profits from it. As we get fatter, so do their bank accounts.

Seedlings in greenhouse
Growing quickly now

Things have definitely woken up at the allotment and tiny little shoots are turning into sturdy little seedlings.

I had been planning to remove the bubble wrap this year, but I just thought I would hang onto it for a bit longer. Although it has been a very mild spring, it just keeps the greenhouse that little bit warmer over night, perhaps just a degree, but the plants seem to like it.

The ground at my plot is completely clear now. Onions have been planted and some peas and broad beans, while others are germinating in trays.  The list of plants is very long, you may have noticed, but there are several varieties of each item and I am only growing small quantities of each, so it is not as bad as it seems.

The pak choi are springing up like mad, so I might transfer these out into the cold frame, and perhaps bring on a couple a little quicker in the conservatory (the one on the shed!)

I still have a few things to plant as not all my seeds have turned up yet. Broccoli and cauliflower, plus some winter cabbages and things like swede and butternut squash (which I forgot) will get seeded over the next week or so, though a couple will not get seeded till next month.

I am also planting some in stages like rocket and carrots to try and spread the harvest.

I have started putting up canes for beans and peas, even though I am not ready to plant out yet. We are forecast a little rain, which will be welcome this week as I don’t want to get into too much watering yet!

Thankfully weed free at the moment, but that wont last!

Reading all the complaints about seven a day, “I haven’t time, it costs too much, it is only for the rich and lazy, it is not possible, there are not that many veg” I thought I would jot down roughly what I am growing on my little allotment this year. Bear in mind, I don’t know whether all are going to be a success, but it has to be worth a shot. There are more than 50 varieties on this list….

  • Rocket Salad’ (organic)
  • Spring Onions
  • Lettuce ‘Seurat’
  • Chard
  • Beetroot ‘Burpees Golden’
  • Beetroot ‘Candy Stripe’
  • Beetroot ‘Boltardy’
  • Carrot ‘Harlequin Mix’ F1
  • Pea ‘Alexandra’ (Maincrop) – white
  • Pea ‘Tendrilla’ – white
  • Peas ‘Blauwschokker’
  • Broadbeans (in bed)
  • Onion ‘Golden Ball’ (Spring Planting)
  • Shallot ‘Pesandor’ (Spring planting)
  • Autumn Garlic
  • Aubergine ‘Money Maker’ No. 2
  • Climbing Pumpkin ‘Munchkin’
  • Cucumber ‘Crystal Lemon’ (organic)
  • Summer squash ‘Tromboncino’
  • Brussels Sprout ‘Trafalgar’ F1 Hybrid
  • Cabbage ‘Minicole’ F1 Hybrid (Autumn)
  • Courgette
  • Pak Choi ‘Green’ F1 Hybrid
  • Broad Beans
  • Nasturtium ‘Crimson Emperor’ – red
  • Broad Bean ‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’ – white
  • Summer Savory – lilac
  • Broad Bean ‘Express’ – white
  • Sweet Corn
  • Leek ‘Autumn Giant 2′ (Hannibal)
  • Dwarf Bean ‘Creso’ – Vita Sementi® Italian Seeds – mauve
  • Climbing Bean ‘Dolcio del Metro’ – Vita Sementi®
  • Climbing Onion Squash ‘Red Kuri’
  • Zuchino
  • Tonda Padano
  • Barlotto
  • Raddichio
  • Broccoli ‘Belstar’ F1 Hybrid (Calabrese)
  • Cauliflower ‘Clapton’ F1 Hybrid (Summer/Autumn)
  • Cabbage ‘Tundra’ F1 Hybrid (Winter Savoy)
  • Florence Fennel ‘Romanesco’
  • Spinach ‘Red Cardinal’
  • Swede ‘Magres’
  • Mint
  • Chives
  • Mooli Radish ‘Neptune’ F1 Hybrid
  • Cucumber ‘Jogger’ F1 Hybrid
  • Purple Sprouting Broccoli ‘Red Arrow’
  • Radish ‘Cherry Belle’ (organic)
  • Spring Onion ‘North Holland Blood Red’
  • Squash ‘Early Butternut’ (organic)

Oh, plus 5 varieties of tomatoes and 5 peppers. Now, who says there is not enough choice out there?