Saturday, 28 November 2015

"My salad days,when I was green in judgement and cold in blood"

 "My salad days,when I was green in judgement and cold in blood"

Who is old enough to remember Cleopatra (comin' atcha!)? In case you don´t they were a band of three sisters with cloying lyrics and colourful overalls! Oh trivia - They topped the music charts in the late 90's with the help of Madonna who signed them to her record label! And the rest was history....and I am old enough to have taken O levels and A levels,long before GCSE´s were even thought of. I studied Anthony and Cleopatra for English literature and the above quote came to mind recently. I would love to think that when Shakespeare wrote it he was craving a winter salad perhaps.One might believe that "salad" refers to the sort of meal one was once, in less lavish (or more diet-conscious) days, forced to subsist on. Others think of their salad days as times of youthful innocence and indulgence, of brightly coloured, freshly grown adventures. But the inventor of the phrase had neither romantic austerity nor flaming youth in mind.
In this particular context, by "salad days" Cleopatra refers to a time not when she had to eat salad, but when she was like salad. From the fifteenth century on, "salad" could mean any raw vegetable; metaphorically, the young Cleopatra was as "green" (inexperienced) and "cold" (passionless) as a piece of lettuce. At least, this is how she explained her youthful affair with Julius Caesar. Love it or eat, it my current exclusion diet has got me thinking about eating salads in the winter.When push comes to shove salad is not the easiest of things to compose at this time of the year.Here in the Algarve with a more temperate climate we are luckier than most in that we are able to have access to some of the vegetables needed most of the year,but as the year draws to a close tomatoes have lost their summertime firmness and flavour and leaves are hard to come by unless of course you go for the supermarket bagged variety.In most cases these have been washed and disinfected in chlorinated water to inhibit bacterial growth.Oh dear, I am still searching for that salad bag labelled washed in spring water,which probably means old water from last spring anyway.All this is reduces the nutritional value of the leaves.Labels claiming ‘packaged in a protective atmosphere’ actually means that it has been ‘gassed’ in modified air in order to extend its shelf life. No good for what I am currently looking for.One thing the doctor did not omit from my diet was bread.In Portugal, rootling around in the bread bin, it will never be too hard to find day old bread, for which there are dozens of uses.Not in the mood for migas, crispy homemade croutons tossed with olive oil, and herbes de Provence immediately came to mind,  and this would add the baker´s touch to a born again salad of roasted peppers, a touch of fennel and some sprigs of thyme.A simple yet scrumptious salad.
Roasted pepper salad with born again bread                       Portion for one serving

4 baby pimentos,Red yellow orange and green, seeded and randomly chopped
2 pieces of fennel sliced into quarters6 baby pear tomatoes
a  scattering of home made Croutons, tossed in olive oil and herbes de provence

Put the peppers , fennel and tomatoes in a small roasting tray and toss with some olive oil and a few sprigs of thyme.Roast in a hot oven for about 15 to twenty minutes until the tomatoes start to wrinkle and the peppers are softened and have taken on a bit of charred colour.Toss the the croutons among the vegetables and return to the oven for 5 minutes more.Serve immediately.The salad is packed with flavour and coated in oil so should not need any dressing.Add a little vinaigrette if you like.

Monday, 23 November 2015

When the party´s over, all is not lost. Bring on recipes for a rethink

You might love cheese,you might adore butter, you might love milk and you might love yoghurt, but as you age, sometimes their love for you becomes more than just unrequited.This means your body has developed an intolerance. One common example of food intolerance is lactose intolerance.These so called intolerances can appear at any stage of your life it seems. They just come in the night and steal your health,they do.
Whether lactose-intolerant or sick of cheese and wine parties,(does anyone still host a cheese and wine party I wonder?) there are many other gift horses out there that can give you back the daily dose of calcium that is missing in dairy free diet.Cheese and wine parties,coffee mornings,bring and buy stalls,God forsake,I am starting to sound like my mother.So when you have to by-pass the dairy aisle where do you go to get your calcium? Well as you´ve seen from my recent post there are now many alternatives to milk where no cows are required.
Oat milk,almond milk and rice milk,in which the bovine has played no part.Well now that I have this part of my shopping basket sorted I can excitedly move on to the next aisle, but pausing for a quick pine and small whimper as I pass the butter display."Lovely artistic display today Mr Martins,but I cant stop to purchase even one of your tempting 250g unsalted blocks". Yes, butter seems to be the big bug bear.I can´t believe I cant have butter.Its what I imagine a reformed smoker must feel like.Its an integral part of almost everything I eat,sandwiches,toast,cakes,soups sauces, curries, puddings...  Oh dear,bit overwhelmed,must go home sit down and think things through whilst having a comforting cup of tea with Oatmilk, and perhaps a bowl of hot porridge and luxurious Oatly cream.Just note the instant kind doesn’t boast the same benefits as old-fashioned rolled oats, which are a quick breakfast option full of fibre and the all important calcium that you need.
I can then start tapping on the keyboard to share this blog post of some lactose free recipes with you.
To consume the required 1,000 mg of calcium per day translated literally( in my terms ) this is what it takes,one thick slice of cheddar cheese in a sandwich, a bowl of yoghurt with fruit and a generously buttered toasted teacake.I have barely got past breakfast and I am not allowed to eat the majority of the above and there is still the rest of the days nourishment to be accounted for.
While food intolerances may be mistaken for a food allergy, they are thought to originate in the gastrointestinal system. Food intolerances are usually caused by the individual’s inability to digest or absorb foods or food components in the intestinal tract.
When one finds oneself in this situation Its amazing what you can create when you put your mind to it.Take for example pasta sauces,Many are rich in dairy and cream, well move over marinara,move on macaroni, its time to change to the new bambino on the block, avocadonara,well that´s what I have called it.
Spaghetti Avocadonara
Rich ,virtuous and on the table in under 30 minutes
Serves 6 to 8 so adjust quantities accordingly for a single portion

12 ounces spaghetti

2 avocados--halved, pitted and peeled 
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 bunch small spring onions, roughly chopped 
Juice of 1 lemon 
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Flor de sal and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped parsley, for garnish

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, 6 to 8 minutes. 
While the pasta cooks, make the sauce: 
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the avocados, garlic,spring onions, lemon juice and olive oil until smooth.
When the pasta is ready reserve ½ cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add the reserved water to the avocado mixture and process again until smooth.
 Add the sauce to the pasta and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, portion the pasta onto plates and garnish with parsley.

While still on the subject of pasta dishes Here is a link to my dairy free take on pork and clams with Udon noodles.

Having had time to sit down and think all this through,my new shopping list was beginning to take on a structure and my new route around the supermarket bypassing dairy was starting to make sense.I then encounter two women trollies parked alongside each other and a conversation ensuing as follows...

A    "Where's Tim?"
B    "Oh we´ve got separate trollies this week,he´s gone gluten free".

Its always reasuuring to know you´re not alone in your own personal predicament.
The next stop after the no cow section would be grains and pulses,followed by pasta,canned fish,and in particular canned salmon.To avoid putting a dent in your wallet, canned salmon is a great choice. Here’s the catch: It’s the bones in canned salmon that hold all the calcium, so they need to be mashed up right along with the salmon meat for all the benefits! But don’t get turned off just yet—the canning process softens the bones so they easily break apart and are unnoticeable when mixed in with the rest of the can’s contents. For my boost of calcium and omega 3’s, I feel some salmon cakes coming on.Its the same with canned sardines,you can crunch up and eat the bones. For the rest of my dietary requirements I think a visit to the market will round the list off nicely.I can go nuts about some lovely Algarvian almonds and dried figs,always good to pack some punch and calcium into a mid - afternoon snack.A carrier bag full of seasonal veg like Bok Choi,Grelos (Portuguese turnip tops) and any kind of cabbage,including chinese leaf and not forgetting kale, will be great for stir fries, migas and side dishes.
Honestly, the first few weeks are horrible but then you figure out how to live with it and life goes on. In just three weeks, I've learned a few things, first among them that milk and soy are hidden in strange places. Second is that I prefer to discover some new favourites rather than gag on unsatisfactory imitations  ( I can´t believe its not butter) of things I can no longer safely have. One soon realises that with a bit of initiative there is still plenty one can eat out there, and everything need not be Utterly Butterly.I will keep you posted on how I am progressing.As I said earlier this is an elimination diet and hopefully by trial and error I can narrow down the food items that have been excluded and start to bring back some favourites with maybe the addition of some new introductions along the way.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Olive on the bushes a much travelled fruit

the crimson petal and the olive

Does it ever feel like just a few people have all the power? If it's a government that's run like this, it's an oligarchy. It seems however these last few weeks our one and only olive tree has become an olivegarchy. 
It started life somewhat like a tiny bush in a little pot with a tiny bottle of Tuscan olive oil tied around its trunk. A parting gift from a dear friend.Having already travelled from Italy to England, it then continued its journey with us to the Algarve,so in theory we have an Italian strain of olives growing in our Portuguese garden. This term these olives have come to power in our garden with an overall majority, giving the thespian a chance to stand as the opposition and find a cure .
There are many ways to cure olives, many of them time consuming and complicated.The essential thing is that you extract the glucosides from them – the chemicals that make the olives very bitter when they are just picked.
You can cure them in water, changing it daily, or dry salt them, or salt then smoke them, or you can do it with a rather complex combination of water + brine sequences.For many reasons the thespian settled for salt curing.Being surrounded by an abundant supply of flor de sal this seemed the most logical reason. Secondly this method is great for smaller olives ( like these ones picked from our tree,similar to the Portuguese "Galega" variety)

Dry Salted Olives

First prepare the olives – wash them and slit them.
Take a clean Kilner jar,add a layer of natural flor de sal, then a layer of olives, and so on until the jar is full.
The salt will trickle down between the olives, but as long as it’s all packed in there, that’s ok.
Your salted olives will need a shake and a turn ever other day – the olives will soon exude liquid and the whole jar will become rather slushy. That’s great,you´re on course. Keep going.
Start tasting your salted olives after about 3 weeks, and when they taste right to you (saltier, and a bit shrunken, and slightly sweeter than brined olives), remove the olives from the salt.
Once your olives are duly salted, you can eat them as they are, or store them in oil with herbs. They’re pretty damn yummy.
The advantage of not using more complicated cures is that you  can  decide what to flavour them with and marinate them with herbs,garlic,chilli oil and other things like garlic or lemon in small batches to suit whatever suits your taste at the time.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

To comply can be an awfully big adventure

"to die would be an awfully big adventure" so said J.M Barrie´s Peter Pan.
Peter Pan's life is full of exciting adventure but, just like his age, his life never changes.
Well recently my life changed somewhat when my doctor put me on on an aversion diet for two weeks to try and ascertain if there were certain foods that were irritating and upsetting my stomach.This particular diet was lactose free.No dairy, no butter, no cheese, no yoghurt, no milk.,no fruit, no fruit juices. I threw up my hands defeated.... where do I go from here? Apparently I could eat as much bread as I wanted, so no gluten or coeliac worry there mother. I love bread but  how can I have a sandwich without using butter as an emulsion on the bread,olive oil drizzled on the bread thats the answer.Other emulsions can include tapenades,aubergine based paste,pestos,relishes, mayonnaise and chutneys.All was not lost and there was a glimmer of hope.But then if I can have toast,what can I spread on it, not, what? Peanut butter, dripping? What was I going to put in my tea and coffee? Soya milk said the doctor. I pulled a very long face and flatly refused.My dilemma was taking yet another turn for the worse.Have you ever tasted soya milk? How can it be good for anybody?
It is definitely one of the most controversial foods in the world.Depending on who you ask, it is either a wonderful superfood or a hormone disrupting poison.I would go with the latter but as with most things in nutrition, there are good arguments on both sides.My argument is that it is not good for the environment and not good for us.Over 90% of soy produced in America is genetically modified and the crops are sprayed with the herbicide Glyphosate, which may be associated with adverse effects on health and certainly on vegetation surrounding these crops.Because it’s cheap and has certain functional properties, soybean oil and soy protein have found their way into all sorts of processed foods. So many of us (unless we are avid label readers,which I have recently become), are consuming significant amounts of soy without even knowing about it.Has anyone ever seen Organic soya on packaging,I very much doubt it.
Things started to look a little more encouraging when good old doctor J informed me there were other alternative lactose free products that I could try that contained no soya.Yeahhhhh.Hurrah for rice milk and oat milk.His on course GPS landed me perfectly in front of the exact chill cabinet where these very products were being stored.I bought a sample of each including a small 250ml carton which i did not realise until I poured it all over my granola was the cream version for cooking with.Could this get any better.This was pure ambrosia.if you can imagine a bowl of hot porridge on a cold winter morning covered with a layer of thick oaty cream.I was on the side of the gods,but a spirit of control must be applied here or my weekly shopping basket was going to incur a letter from the bank manager.
The rice milk was the right consistency for putting in tea and coffee but I am not sure I would want it on my cereal for breakfast. Its slight disadvantage was that it added a certain sweetness to a hot drink and I am not one for sugar in my drinks.
 The oatmeal milk was by far the superior option for hot drinks and gave a luxuriant alternative to milk or cream on my granola, in fact If it wasn´t for the expense my shopping basket could become quite addicted to it.I expect that it would be quite acceptable to use it as a substitute for milk in baking and certain savoury sauces.

Well I dont know about exciting, but the last two weeks have certainly for me, been an adventure in experimentation and thanks to lovely "Oatly" and its quirky packaging, to die and go to heaven could have been an awfully big adventure,but then I was grown up.
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