#NaNoWriMo Day 16 – Mindful cookery and a dish to relieve stress

The events in Paris this weekend have rendered me rather mute over the last few days. I wanted to get on to the blog almost immediately, but it seemed a little superficial to be talking about food whilst the people of Paris reeled from the attack.

During this period of reflection I came across a poem on facebook. Written by a lady called Oriah Mountain Dreamer, the first verse reminded me that – rather than being irrelevant – cookery and the sharing of food can in fact be a useful tool in times of distress. I will be discussing my thoughts on this topic at a later date. For now I leave you with Oriah’s beautifully poignant words and a recipe for mindful cookery.


For Paris

Today, may we let ordinary things show us
How to make room for heartache and hope
Baking bread
Letting soup simmer all day
Paying attention to the taste of hot sweet tea
Letting the scent of cinnamon slow us down

Let’s make love to this day
In the way we linger and listen to each other
Finding a way to be still for three breaths
Letting our hands come to rest on the table
Sitting in the centre of Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”
Softening to the sadness

There is a way to be with anger and fear and grief
A way to hold them with so much tenderness
That terror cannot take root
Let us make a light of that tenderness
Leaning into each other, feeding each other
Creating together a heart that can hold it all

~Oriah House © November 13, 2015

I encourage readers to approach this recipe with the same mindset as you might a meditation. Put aside plenty of time, take your time with each stage. Perhaps put on a cd or tune into your favourite radio show. Breathe deep and slow as you stir, try to remain present with the task in hand. I find cooking in this way incredibly useful for processing the thoughts and worries of my week.



I chose mushrooms for this exercise because they are particularly high in magnesium, a mineral that can help relax tense, stiff muscles and aid relaxation. Some also believe that magnesium can ease insomnia, anxiety and headaches – classic symptoms of stress. (Huffington Post. March 2010) Raw cacoa adds a deep, savoury flavour to mushroom dishes and is also a great source of magnesium. And the dry sherry? Well there has to be a little mischief.



  • 2 medium onions
  • 600g mushrooms
  • A good splash of dry sherry
  • A handful of red lentils
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable bouillon
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon of paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon raw cacoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 litre of water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon creme fraiche



  1. Peel and finely chop both of the onions. Remember, take your time. Pour a little rapeseed oil in the bottom of a large pan and gently sweat the onions until soft and translucent. Stir regularly to prevent them sticking. Slow cooking the onions in this way allows them to develop a mellow flavour and infuses the kitchen with one of the best cooking smells ever discovered.
  2. Tip the diced onion on to a plate and set aside.
  3. Inspect the mushrooms. Brush any soil away with a pastry brush. Chop the mushrooms into bite size pieces.
  4. In small batches, fry the mushrooms until golden brown. Add a little more oil if required. Shake the pan occasionally but don’t stir. Tip each batch onto the plate with your onions and move onto the next one.
  5. Return the fried onions and mushrooms to your pan. Splash in the dry sherry and simmer to reduce.
  6. Toss in the red lentils, vegetable bouillon, paprika, cacao, bay leaf and thyme.
  7. Stir well and pour on the water. Bring to the boil and reduce to simmer. Set your kitchen alarm for 30 minutes. Put the kettle on and put your feet. Stare out of a window. Breathe deeply. Anticipate the flavours of the final dish.
  8. After 30 minutes or so, taste the soup and season with extra salt and pepper if needed. Take off the heat and blend until smooth.
  9. Stir in the creme fraiche beofre serving with crusty wholegrain bread and extra creme fraiche if desired.



#NaNoWriMo day 12 – A vegetarian dish full of promise

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.

Amongst the plethora of spices and herbs in my kitchen cupboard I can name only a few that I would class as a ‘go to’ ingredient. One of these has to be the deliciously aromatic ras el hanout.

A traditional favourite in North African cuisine – ras el hanout is simultaneously floral and pungent – made with the very best spices available. The arabic name can be translated to mean ‘head of the shop’ and the array of ingredients in a typical mix demonstrate how it earned this name. It is my opinion that any good quality ras el hanout will always contain dried rose petals. Some of the other components may be:

  • Cardamomwpid-wp-1437762072098.jpeg
  • Clove
  • Cinnamon
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Paprika
  • Mace
  • Nutmeg
  • Peppercorn
  • Turmeric

Ras el hanout is excellent with mutton or lamb. For a vegetarian option it can also be used as a way of adding a touch of the exotic to your winter stew. Match with the strong irony flavour of kale, balance the earthy sweetness of beetroot or pair with robust lentils to create a dish even the most avid of meat eaters will love. Serve with rice, couscous or simply a big crust of fresh bread.


  • 1-2 carrots
  • 1 medium onion
  • A bunch of kale or other dark winter greens
  • One small squash
  • Bay leaf or two
  • One tin of tomatoes
  • One tbsp of vegetable bouillon powder
  • Half tbsp ras el hanout
  • Tin of chickpeas
  • Large handful of red lentils


Finely chop the onion and carrot before gently frying until soft and translucent.

Whilst they are cooking prepare the squash. Peel and cut into bite size pieces. Wash the kale and strip the leaves from the tough stalks. Set aside.


Return to your pan. Add the vegetable bouillon and ras el hanout, bay leaf and tinned tomatoes. Stir well. Pour over 250ml of water and stir again.

Rinse the chickpeas before tipping them into your stew along with the red lentils.


Simmer for around 45 minutes to an hour, until thick and glossy and all of your vegetables are cooked through. Taste as you go along, season to taste before serving.

#NaNoWriMo day 10 – dare I say Christmas yet?

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.

The countdown to Christmas is a subjective one. Personally, I would prefer not to give it a second thought until at least the 1st of December. In my recent call for topics to be discussed during this week of #NaNoWriMo I received a call for advice. Rebecca Oliver asked on LinkedIn – “What about the etiquette of Christmas – when is it proper to start eating mince pies?”

It is my assumption that we now begin to celebrate the silly season earlier than we ever have before. I grew up to tales from my grandparents of going to bed as a child on Christmas eve without a decoration in sight – only to wake up the next day to the miraculous arrival of a fully decorated tree and all the trimmings.

So what of the food? Stir up sunday seems to appear in the late 16th century with a reading in church used on the last Sunday before advent. 

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It is thought that these words would herald the beginning of the preperations for Christmas celebrations – the women and daughters of the household would then return home to make the pudding – with plenty of time given to it to mature for the big day.

christmas cake mixJump forward to 1653 and Oliver Cromwell’s parliament build on the existing concerns of the court of Charles I by banning the “gluttonous…and ungodly” celebrations of the twelve days of Christmas currently seen in this period. At this time delicacies such as mince pies still contained red meat, dried fruit and spices and were eaten all year round by those who could afford the ingredients. Indeed many of the foodstuffs we now associate solely with Christmas were not yet part of the yuletime activities.

By the 18th century the rowdy traditions of twelfth night were back in place and spawned the wide spread popularity of the dense Twelfth Night cake that would go on to be our modern day Christmas cake. It was not until the Victorian era that many of our current Christmas traditions arrived.

So, how does this answer the question of Christmas food etiquette? It tells me that instead of beginning our celebrations before Bonfire night has passed, perhaps we can wait until stir it up sunday before working our way through the first batch of mince pies. After all, tradition says that we are allowed to continue celebrating until January 5th. That’s an awful lot of mincemeat to get through.

#NaNoWriMo day five – culinary fatigue

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing about their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game and write a short piece every day through November.

Day five of posting every 24 hours is most definitely going to be brief. In many ways it will act as my confession.

I bloody love food. There is nothing more likely to trigger a flush of excitement than finding an ingredient that I haven’t tasted yet, an old recipe waiting to be reawakened or the arrival of a new cookery book.

However, even the most ardent food lover occasionally suffers battle fatigue. On these days the very idea of stepping up to the hob makes my heart sink. I still want to eat – I purely lack the mental energy to think through a worthwhile recipe.

At such times as this I have two fall back positions. Scrambled eggs with chilli or pasta with a simple tomato sauce. I suggest that you make the sauce, toss it into a huge – big enough for two – bowl of pasta and keep it all to yourself.



1. Something capable of adding a good hit of umami – bacon, chorizo or anchovies.
2. Tin of chopped tomatoes.
3. A teaspoon of vegetable bouillon powder.
4. Chilli flakes
5. Good pinch of dried oregano
6. Pinch of sugar
7. Salt and pepper to taste


Gently fry your umami of choice in a little olive oil. Tip over the tomatoes. Fill the empty tomato tin to around a third full of hot water and add this to the pan too. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Stir in the bouillon powder, oregano and chilli flakes. Simmer for five minutes.

Sprinkle over the sugar and stir well. Continue to simmer until thick and glossy. Taste again to check the need for extra seasoning and add salt and pepper if required.

#NaNoWriMo day four – the noble bay leaf

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.

Day four of my challenge to write a blog a day throughout #NaNaWriMo and my thoughts turn to a commonly used – but much underestimated – evergreen herb. The common or garden bay leaf.

bay leavesThe bay leaf didn’t always have such an inconsequential role in society. It’s Greek name Daphne is a nod to an ancient myth in which a river nymph must be transformed into a bay tree to protect her from the lusty pursuits of the God Apollo. This association with nobility is the reason for the use of bay to adorn the heads of early Olympian athletes and later, Roman emperors.

History also sees bay used for its many medicinal benefits. In his publication The Complete Herbal  (1663) Nicholas Culpeper lists it as being “singularly good” for use by women to treat difficulties in the womb, bowl and bladder. 

The flavour of bay can be tricky to pin down and is rarely experienced alone. Presence of eugonol gives it a similiar note to clove and makes it an excellent partner to warm earthy spices, beans and tomatoes. In addition to bay’s typical use in soups and stews it can also be a flavourful addition to puddings and sweet dishes. One of the most effective ways to acheive this is to create a milk infusion which can then be used for custard, ice-cream or even a sharp lemon tart. I encourage to try the recipe below and give the not so humble bay greater consideration in your cooking repertoire.


  • 450ml milk
  • 5 bay leaves
  • two centimetre long piece of lemon peel, white pith removed.


  1. Place all of your ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan and warm gently.
  2. Bring carefully to the boil and simmer for five minutes before removing from the heat.
  3. Set aside for half an hour before removing the bay leaves and using the milk as required.

My #NaNoWriMo day three – How much soy are you eating?

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.

As my food writers version of #NaNoWriMo enters day three I thought that it would be good to take a breath from the recipes and consider a question of diet. Well, two questions. How much soy are you eating? Why?

First, the issue of how much. Health experts are often reminding us about the hidden dangers of certain foods. As someone who likes to be mindful about how and what I eat, I regularly check labels for concealed ingredients such as salt, sugar, trans fats and palm oils. I am not alone in this. But have you considered looking for soy before putting that food item in your shopping basket?

I recently met a friend for lunch in one of the larger coffee shops. The reason for this departure from my usual cosy, local cafe is that said friend has a moderately large number of food allergies and needs to be extremely careful about what she eats away from home. She knew that the establishment in which we had arranged to meet had a wide choice of options that didn’t contain one particular added ingredient – soy.

As one of the 14 allergens included on the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation, soy must be clearly labelled as an ingredient on food packaging. But how often is it seen as an added ingredient and why? My experiences of eating out and cooking with my friend is that it turns up more often than you may expect. Here are some of the foodstuffs that may contain soy as listed by Allergy Uk

  • Bread
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Cakes and biscuits (confectionery with a biscuit base)
  • Canned and tinned soup
  • Chocolate
  • Commercial fruit products
  • Crackers
  • Crisps
  • Flavoured crisps
  • Frozen dessert
  • Ice cream
  • Meat products: cold cuts, beef burgers, meat paste/pies, minced beef, sausages, and hotdogs
  • Milk (coffee whiteners) or cream replacers
  • Pancake and waffle mixes
  • Pasta/pizza bases
  • Ready – meals (convenience meals)
  • Sauces (including Worcester sauce, sweet and sour sauce, Teriyaki sauce, stock cubes, gravy powders and some cook-in sauces)
  • Seasoned salt
  • Snack bars

This list goes some way to explain why my aforementioned friend struggles to eat anything she hasn’t carefully sourced herself. So why are manufacturers adding it to our every day shopping list? Allergen Uk give this explanation –

Soya can also be used in foods as a texturiser (texturised vegetable protein), emulsifier (soya lecithin) or protein filler. Soya flour is widely used in foods including; breads, cakes, processed foods (ready meals, burgers and sausages) and baby foods.

Let’s take a look at one of the examples from Allergy Uk and break it down. As one of the most commonly consumed foodstuffs world-wide, we can’t ignore the use of soy in bread. Firstly, it comes in the form of soy flour. This offers a bleaching effect on the wheat flour and smooths the kneading process by changing the texture and water absorption of the loaf before baking. It also creates a softer, more voluminous loaf. (Independent.co.uk, 2011) Sometimes it is also added as an emulsifier in the form of soy lecithin, giving the bake an apparent – but rather artificial – appearance of the ‘ideal’ loaf and slowing the rate at which it goes stale.

All of this feels rather unnecessary and goes a long way to explaining why many food lovers feel that white, supermarket bread has lost it’s soul. But does it really matter that they are adding such ingredients to our regular diet? The jury seems to be out. My own instinct tells me that it can’t be good to be consuming something on a daily basis without total awareness on behalf of the consumer.

An online search quickly reveals numerous articles expressing concern and outrage about the dangers of soy and soya phytoestrogens in the diet. Some believe that it can cause problems with thyroid function, even complicate the sexual development of infants. Advice from the governmental bodies seems scarce. The most balanced article that arose during my search is delivered courtesy of Scientific American, 2009. I will leave you with their conclusion and encourage you to carry out your own research before reaching any decision of your own.

Some researchers believe that waiting for proof from long-term human data may come at a price. “The current scientific evidence isn’t enough to say that exposure to these compounds is toxic, but we also can’t say with certainty that there is no effect,” he (Akingbemi) said. Some researchers believe that waiting for proof from long-term human data may come at a price…

…Patisaul compares the effects of genistein to Bisphenol A, or BPA, the estrogenic compound found in plastic bottles that many scientists suspect can harm brain and reproductive development. “Genistein does the same thing and yet we are supposed to be eating tons of it because it’s supposedly healthy—it just doesn’t make sense,” she said.

Do you have a food issue that you would like highlighted by The Greedy Wordsmith? What are your concerns about preservatives and additives in food today? Please comment in the box below.

#NaNoWriMo Day Two – Fruit gin for Christmas

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.


This morning I received a request for a post on sloe gin. As the season for sloes – and therefore – sloe gin, is almost passed I have chosen to concentrate day two of #NaNoWriMo on the more generic fruit gin.

Autumn is the perfect time to get ahead with gifts for Christmas by getting busy in the kitchen and putting all that seasonal produce to good use. On top of the array of jam and chutney recipes an online search will reveal many preserves of the more liquid variety in the form of cordial, vinegar and alcohol.

The beauty of fruit gin is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to create excellent results. Whilst I don’t choose the supermarket value gin it’s not necessary to shell out for a luxury brand name either. Add to that the opportunity for picking fruits – such as sloes or blackberries – for free and it is a relatively inexpensive gift for the grown-ups in your circle.


A large clip down jar
350g – 450g of fruits such as sloes, plums, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries or blackcurrants.
1 litre of gin
200g of caster sugar


1. If you have a hard fruit like plums or sloes prick all over with a fork. Soft fruits can be simply dropped into your jar and ‘puddled’ with the end of a wooden spoon.

2. Tip in your sugar, seal the lid and shake well.

3. Cover the fruit/sugar combination with your gin, seal the lid a second time and shake again gently.

4. Leave to mature. Whilst sloe gin generally requires twelve months to develop, most of the others only need a couple of months. Remember to go back to the concoction every so often and give it a good swirl around.

Simply decant into small bottles to give your fruit gin as a gift or stash in a secret place for private use in times of emergency.

Do you have a hot topic that you would like to see discussed during my food writers nod to #NaNoWriMo? Please add in the comments below.

My #NaNoWriMo day one – World Vegan Day

With the world around me talking, tweeting and generally enthusing over their part in #NaNoWriMo I decided to get in on the game by writing a short piece on my blog every day through the month of November.

As 1st November also marks World Vegan Day there was a certain inevitability about my first post. Please excuse the photographs as they weren’t intended for public consumption.

As a food writer passionate about our history, the medieval area is a joyous era to begin. You may wonder why I would start a post for World Vegan Day with a time period renowned for its heavy consumption of meat? Despite this carnivorous revelery amongst the rich, it is also true that in the early medieval period at least three out of seven days a week were considered fast days. On these times devout members of the community would abstain from eating meat, dairy and eggs.

As a result of this regular abstention, cookbooks of the period are scattered with receipts suitable for the modern vegan. Many include instructions for making an alternative to milk with almonds, a popular ingredient in a medieval gentry kitchen.

take the quantity of almonds, have them well and cleanly blanched and washed and then have them very well brayed; and take very clean fair water and let him strain his almond milk into a bowl or a cornue which is fair and clean

Website reference – Medieval Cookery

Ingredientsalmond milk 1

  • 150g almonds
  • hot water for soaking
  • 450ml fresh water
  • sea salt


  1. Place the almonds in a large bowl and cover well with plenty of just boiled water. Note: the almonds in my photographs are blanched, but I now know that you gain a much rounder flavour with almonds still in their skins.
  2. Leave the nuts to soak overnight. Don’t miss out this stage otherwise your almond milk will have an unpleasant bitter flavour.
  3. The following day drain and rinse the almonds clean. Place half of the almonds, a pinch of sea salt and 200ml  fresh water in your blender. Pulse until you have a white emulsification. Pour into a large jug.almond milk 3
  4. Take the second half of your almonds and fresh water and repeat the process, replacing the salt with two teaspoons of honey.
  5. Whisk the two batches together with a fork. If you have time, I find that leaving the milk for another day before straining through a fine sieve can improve the taste even further. Otherwise, strain immediately.

The resulting milk in this recipe is lighter, less cloying than many shop bought versions. However, with no artificial emulsifiers it will seperate over time. This is fine, simply shake before use. It can be applied in exactly the same way; to drink, in puddings or tarts, even savoury dishes. For extra interest, try adding flavours such as cinnamon, saffron or raw cacao powder.

 Do you have a favourite flavouring for your almond milk? Is there a topic that you would like to see covered by The Greedy Wordsmith? Help me find inspiration as I blog every day throughout November.

Is eating meat as harmful as smoking?

This weekend the world awoke to hear that the World Health Organisation (W.H.O) had classified processed meat as carcinogenic. The media worked themselves into a frenzy in their attempts to bring readers the shocking headlines.

“Claims by world health chiefs that processed meats can give you cancer and are as bad for you as smoking cigarettes” – Daily Mail Online

“Processed meats do cause cancer” – WHO – BBC News

It all makes good headline but what is the truth behind this most recent decision from the International Advisory Committee? Can the press release from the International Agency for Research on Cancer shine a light on the nuance of these findings?
On red meat

“…the classification is based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence..limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.”

The World Health Organisation (W.H.O) acknowledges that evidence is inconclusive. Do these findings mean that we should give up red meat entirely? Probably not. We may want to consider just how much red meat we consume. Recommendations from British cancer charities and the NHS have long stood at 70g per person per day. Whilst it is an important source of protein, B vitamins and heme iron – particularly for those amongst us who are anaemic and struggle to absorb the nonheme iron in plants – 12st century consumers eat more red meat than our ancestors did. Often in direct correlation with a decrease in the amount of vegetables, beans and pulses found on our plates.


On processed meat. This is where the IARC classification gets a little more unnerving. In this case, the statement is unwavering in its certainty.

“Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”

Group 1 also contains tobacco and asbestos substances, the origin of many claims made in current news headlines.

“Processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos (IARC Group 1, carcinogenic to humans), but this does NOT mean that they are all equally dangerous. The IARC classifications describe the strength of the scientific evidence about an agent being a cause of cancer, rather than assessing the level of risk.”

What does this classification really mean to the man on the street? The statement goes on to say that eating 50g of processed meat can increase the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. Figures from the Cancer Research UK state “In 2010, lifetime risk of developing bowel cancer in the UK was 1 in 14 for men and 1 in 19 for women.” Therefore consuming processed meat must increase this figure by one fifth. It is only through understanding the original level of risk that we can comprehend the true dangers of our bacon sandwich.

The press release from the IARC and W.H.O goes on to conclude that the study of data and recent classification was important “because many people worldwide eat meat and meat consumption is increasing in low and middle income countries.” They also recognise that eating small amounts of red meat as part of a balanced diet “has nutritional benefits” and “these results are important in enabling governments and international regulatory agencies to conduct risk assessments, in order to balance the risks and benefits of eating red meat and processed meat and to provide the best possible dietary recommendations.”

So what shall I be cooking for myself, family and friends in the future? I honestly don’t believe that much will change in my regular eating habits. Bacon and sausage are a rare treat already, though ham may feature less in my lunchtime sandwiches. My husband and I often pad out meat dishes with vegetables, lentils or chickpeas for extra fibre. As for red meat vs other sources of nutrition, I think that the last word should go to one of my favourite food writers, Micheal Pollan and his book ‘Defence of Food’.
Eat food. Not too much. Mainly plants.”