Philosophy Sugar: health policy SavetheOakTree vices
Comments Off on Sugar. Just stop eating it.
Mrs Ermine has her vices. Namely red wine and coffee. I’m not claiming to be super clean living. But there is one substance that I really try to avoid: refined sugar (and while we are about it, refined carbohydrates in general).
I used to smoke. I only gave up when my first husband lost a third close family member due to a smoking related illness. I still craved cigarettes, but I just stopped because it just wasn’t worth the risk. Actually I smoked about three cigarettes on my 40th birthday, and I shall smoke a few more on my 50th, 60th etc. They were great. But that is it. It is hard to give up a vice, but it is possible. I have decided that red wine and coffee do me more good than harm (coffee for what you can control, red wine for what you cannot…) all things considered, though I do achieve some level of moderation in both.
But sugar (like smoking, and indeed sugar is now being referred to as “the new tobacco”) just isn’t worth it. Yes, sugary shit is delicious. If I have a jar of chutney from The Oak Tree Farm’s preserving group in the house, I will happily eat it in one go – that is the siren song of the sugar in it. So the answer is: don’t have any sugary food in the house. That way, if I want chocolate, ice cream, etc I need to walk to the local coop and pay for it. I’m sufficiently impecunious and lazy not to do this more than about once a month.
So I was surprised (or did I really just feel resigned?) to read in this article in the Guardian that food manufacturers are just trying to swap sugar out for artificial sweeteners etc in processed food and struggling. Because of course there is no way in which people could change what they eat voluntarily.
Naturally our government has abandoned all ideas of a sugar tax, hell – it might upset their (big business) establishment pals. Indeed when I organised a protest outside the Bury St Edmunds Sugar Factory earlier this year about the fact that sugar is heavily subsidied in the UK, they saw fit to organise an enormous (though apparently friendly) police presence, and no doubt I am now on some kind of “internal terrorist” database, or something equally depressing.
Yes, why don’t we tax the hell out of sugar, just like we do tobacco (and alcohol)? Or at least stop subsidising growing sugar beet. And then maybe we could use some of that money to be more supportive to little ecological farms like mine. Because the horrible truth is that our little farm that is good both for the enviroment and people may have to close due to lack of funds due to unlevel playing field of current food/farming policy. #SavetheOakTree.
Comments Off on I’m short of cash again, so I’m back.
Dear Readers of Simple Eating in Suffolk. It has been a long time, but I am back. Before you have visions of me gorging myself on all sorts of fancy food and hang the cost, I haven’t been, but it is true that I have been less skint than usual thanks to earning the UK minimum wage for a few months … until recently. It is a long story, utterly intertwined with the fated of my beloved farm. #SavetheOakTree.
But, in short, I need to save money on food (and everything else) again in a big way so I may as well share my adventures with you lovely people… so watch this space!
New York Wild food: duck liver ramsoms
We’re going to have to stretch the definition of “Suffolk” a bit this week as Mrs Ermine is visiting an old school friend from Suffolk who now lives in New York. Ermines are reasonably adventurous creatures, but for some reason this one had never got around to crossing the Atlantic due to a mix of lack of funds (at times), a bad reaction to friends’ descriptions of cities where no-one walks (which sounds to me like something akin to hell) and more recently, simply due to being tied to The Oak Tree Farm.
But the glamorous Natalie, invited me to visit enough times that I assumed she wasn’t just being polite, and made the place sound like a fantastic adventure that would make a much needed change to horizons limited to the hedgerows of my 12 acres.
And here is fried duck’s liver and ramsoms (known here as “ramps”) from the local farmers’ market with leftover takeaway rice and endless supply of earl grey tea from the supplies that I stuffed into my luggage to keep my expat friend in supplies.
It is a big improvement on my first culinary adventure yesterday. Which was a trip to MacDonalds. Not a good experience, frankly.
Aldeburgh Ingredients Orford Recipe Suffolk Coast Uncategorized: oysters seafood valentines
Comments Off on Oysters for the faint-hearted
The busy season at The Oak Tree Farm is well under way. While I love my work (most of the time!) it is good to get away from it all from time to time, and think about something totally different. Fortunately Mr Ermine and I live close to the particularly lovely Suffolk coastline, and we are also the proud owners of a baby camper van, which means we can enjoy fine local food without paying restaurant prices.
First stop: Aldeburgh for Fish and Chips. Of course.
Then on to Minsmere, the RSPB Nature Reserve, where I was delighted to watch an Oyster-catcher fussing over its nest in just the same way as a chicken (you can take a girl out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl…). I was then really quite shocked to watch the boy bird (I’m guessing which was which here) take over sitting on the eggs!
Mr Ermine explained that some bird species do this, which astonished me. You’d never catch a self respecting cockerel or domestic gander sitting on a nest of eggs. They are far too busy showing off. Delighted by this display of equality between the sexes, I announced a craving for seafood, so (Mr Ermine being an obliging chap) we continued to Orford. This is not an original thing for the Ermine household to do on a sunny day, if I am honest, but I did have an original idea. Well, fairly original.
I like oysters. Mr Ermine does not. At least we assume he doesn’t. Or can’t.
You see, Mr Ermine is allergic to mussels. He first found this out in Brussels. He ate a large pile of mussels and then imbibed a large quantity of strong beer, as is traditional in the city. And was then violently sick afterwards. There was always the suspicion that it was the beer you see, but, as a measure of precaution, he avoided mussels and other bivalves for many years after that.
He bravely tried one or two of my mussels on a romantic weekend away a couple of decades later: no problem, hooray! So, he tried a whole bowlful of his own for lunch the very next day. All went well until mid-afternoon when he started to feel a bit queasy. Then a lot queasy. Then he was hanging over the comfortable pub bedroom’s toilet bowl sounding anything but romantic, to be honest, poor chap. Unsurprisingly he announced he didn’t need any dinner that evening. Which was terribly unfortunate as we had booked a fancy Valentine’s dinner complete with pink fizz and oysters to begin with. Frankly my company wasn’t much fun for him, and vice versa, so I pottered down to eat my dinner alone. It is testament to my love of good food that the lure of it was greater than the embarrassment at eating a Valentine’s dinner alone.
Curiously, I have eaten an oyster-related dinner alone in a restaurant on Valentine’s day once before. I used to work as a traveling company rep in France (a very long story…) so I would routinely eat out in basic French restaurants. I was incredibly fortunate to be doing this in France, not Britain, as basic restaurant food in France is frankly, much the same standard, if not better, than “posh” food in Britain, only served in more generous quantities. I was halfway through the meal before I realised why there were so many dewy-eyed couples dining that evening. I had been too busy enjoying my cooked oysters.
Now, I do enjoy raw oysters, and in France they are considered to be a very nice, but almost routine, food. Available in supermarkets for a very reasonable price and particularly plentiful and popular at Christmas. Oyster knives are a regular kitchen implement that cost anything from a couple of euros, not ten quid minimum like here.
So when I saw cooked oysters on the menu I jumped at the chance to try them. And very good they were too, cooked with white wine and cheese, as I recall. Bigger and tastier than mussels, and less of a challenge than raw oysters. So I thought I would try cooking them myself. I bought half a dozen oysters from Pinney’s in Orford for £3.20, which isn’t bad for a change from everyday food.
As soon as we got home (the campervan grill isn’t hot enough for this) I grated some cheese and mixed it with homemade bread crumbs.
After opening each oyster I drained off the excess water , then sprinkled a generous layer of the mixture over, and put them all under a really hot grill for five minutes or so until the topping started to brown.
They were really very good indeed! Recommended.
Better value elsewhere Homegrown Hungry Gap Ingredients Philosophy Uncategorized
I don’t buy veg much as I get reject veg as part of my wages. I’m second in the “veg hierarchy” at The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, which goes like this:
- the best veg for farm members’ veg share boxes.
- ok but fiddly to prepare (small, slugged, carrot flied…) for farm growers, including me.
- veg trimmings & truly ropey veg for the chickens and pigs.
- waste that even the pigs wouldn’t eat (or I don’t want them to eat for fear of piggy belly ache) goes on the compost heap.
So a walk round the veg department of a large supermarket in my company can be a rather explosive experience. Mr Ermine has already spoken on the subject of the freshness of vegetables, perhaps “inspired” by my rantings, but on a recent trip to a large supermarket to buy a bottle of whiskey as a leaving gift for a colleague, Mr Ermine made mistake of letting me wander through the veg department.
“HOW MUCH!?” I was genuinely shocked. I guess I had always hoped that our veg boxes at The Oak Tree represent good value, particularly given that our lovely members help to grow them, but in this one visit I realised that they might offer excellent value.
So lets revisit a recent veg box from The Oak Tree Farm at around the time of this supermarket visit:
I should say straight away that being a member of The Oak Tree Farm is a very different experience to shopping at a large supermarket. To give you an idea:
Large supermarket: open 7 days a week/choose what you want/you just need cash/big range of produce all year round.
The Oak Tree: veg box harvested once a week/ultra fresh local veg/community of friendly people/commitment and work needed/only seasonal veg/parties and other social events thrown in.
…so it is daft, really, to compare the two. We are also in the hungry gap, so frankly if our veg is as good value as the supermarkets right now we are doing really well: this is a low point of the vegetable year at the farm.
Just so as you know… The Oak Tree is not certified organic, and here is why from our website, “All cultivation at The Oak Tree is done without artificial fertilisers, pesticides or other chemicals, and we use only natural non-chemical pest control and fertilisers. Organic certification costs around £500 per year and imposes considerable paperwork overhead, and would sometimes mean we need to transport things further and thus increase our carbon emissions.”
But what the hell, I can’t resist doing the comparison anyway…. so let’s go through this recent veg box step by step, and compare. Some of the prices I am looking up today (20th April) some are taken from that fateful trip a fortnight ago.
500g carrots: I’m going to compare with organic carrots as this is one vegetable where I would actively avoid the flavour of “conventional” supermarket veg. They taste vaguely of washing up liquid to me. Equivalent price £1.42/kg, so 61p
400g parsnips: neither of the two major retailers I checked offer organic parsnips at the moment, so let’s settle for the normal ones. Equivalent price £1.49/kg, so 57p
2 leeks: Do we take organic ones or not? There is a big price difference. Our leeks taste good and are fresh, so I am going to take the organic price of £2
200g sprouting broccoli OR 1 cauliflower: Frankly our caulis are just as good, and almost certainly fresher, than that organic one, and that sprouting broccoli looks a bit on the large size to me… so lets call the equivalent price £2.
150g borecole flower sprouts: this is our fancy name for the buds of kale before it flowers. They are very similar to sprouting broccoli, a bit nicer in my opinion, so let’s make them the same price as the “organic tenderstem broccoli” at £2.50/200g, so £1.87
150g perpetual spinach: I don’t know of any supermarket that sells this useful winter crop. It is similar to Swiss chard but not as pretty. Not even Abel and Cole stock it. Do you mind if I call it £1? It takes quite a while to harvest!
200g mixed salad leaves: hmm, let’s see. The ones that looked most similar to ours were these, but then we don’t throw in a little sachet of salad dressing. However I doubt these were picked on the same day they were sold… so let’s call it quits, eh? Our salad leaves are very popular! Equivalent price £2/90g, so £4.45
small bunch of radishes: A supermarket bunch was 70p, and it is sure to be bigger than this, so let’s call ours Equivalent price 40p.
I started writing without having worked out the equivalent total price, so I am as curious as you to know the “supermarket equivalent” total price. It is £12.90. Compared to our current weekly share price of £7.50, which is set to increase to £8 this June. I shall stop worrying whether or not we offer good value.
For the sake of accuracy and fairness, we do ask our members to stick with us (for a minimum membership of one year) through good seasons and bad… this has been a good hungry gap. Last year was not. Thank you to everyone who stuck with us through the bad times, so we can all enjoy the sunlit uplands together. Community Supported Agriculture: sharing the risks and rewards of farming.
Comments Off on Non-food items
In my days as a cash till operator in shops, before all the fanciness of bar codes, you used to select a category for the item you were ringing up on the till. Even for a summer student job, it was bloody boring, but repetitive enough that one of the category names stuck in my mind: “non-food items”.
I won’t labour the topic of this post, as it isn’t strictly within the remit of a blog called, “Simple Eating…” But if you’re going to save money on everyday items, you won’t be limiting price-watching to food. Even a girl with simple tastes like Mrs Ermine needs some basic toiletries and so on, so I thought I would share my choices with you. I’m not claiming to be the best groomed girl in town, I’m most certainly not that. But I brush up at least clean and non smelly on a very low budget.
Shampoo – I use supermarket basic stuff. It is fine. It turns out that Mr Ermine helps himself to my shampoo, and his fur looks shiny enough. I don’t think he bothers with conditioner.
Conditioner – I use something a bit above the basic range, but wait until it is on offer an buy it in bulk. Last time this lot was on half price offer I spend about £25 on over 10 bottles.
Split end control – Coconut oil, neat, rubbed in to the ends of my hair when dry. A small pot costs next to nothing from Superdrug and lasts ages.
Soap – Imperial Leather, the original stuff, from Wilkinsons in town which is the cheapest I’ve found, though I haven’t checked for a while. It is nicer than really cheap stuff and it reminds me of my grandmother.
Bubble bath – an essential thing for any lady farmer, though a bath is even rarer than a shower here at Ermine Towers (see below). I get pretty cheap stuff from Wilkinsons and add proper lavender oil bought from a nice lady on ebay.
Deodorant- I used to find buying deodorant an absolute pain in the arse. Basically roll-ons didn’t work (as a farmer I sweat a lot) so I needed a pretty powerful solid deodorant. Most of the time these are really expensive so I used to wait for a special offer and clear the shelves, but I still ended up hunting round and paying too much in between times.
But now, I am happy to say, I simply buy thai crystals from a nice person on ebay. I hope they will forgive me using their picture. This set of four lasts forever and costs under £14 including postage. Every so often after a little too much red wine I give one away to a friend with much enthusiasm, which means the set of four doesn’t last as long as it could, but it is good to share the love.
I tried not bothering with face “skin care” to save money for a while but my face got irritated, oily then flaky in succession. I have sensitive skin which periodically reacts badly to something, most recently some washing powder that we finally had to chuck out when the source of the back itching was pinned on that rather than something nasty picked up from the chickens.
I tried various cheap and expensive “skin care” items before I finally settled on this lot:
Facewash – one thing I actually spend some money on, though it last for ages: Clarins foaming facewash which seems to go through various iterations, extra ingredients and whatnot, and makes my face feel comfortable and not itchy, unlike cheaper stuff I have tried. I only use it when I shower which is <shock> not every day, normally I strip wash each morning, washing my armpits and ladies bits with a flannel and basinful of water. My mother used to call it “top and tailing”, like a bean.
Toner – according to some Guardian thing I read people don’t use toner any more, they use serums. Well I use a house plant spray filled with soft water from the water-butt that collects rainwater from the roof of Ermine Towers. Free, effective and avoids any skin reactions.
Moisturiser – again used only after a shower. I get it from Aldi, again it seems to vary, but it always costs £2 for a pot that last ages. It has won awards, but I didn’t know that when I first bought it, I just couldn’t afford anything else.
Spot control – tea tree oil bought from the lavender oil lady on ebay. Very useful for all sorts of skin eruptions and so on.
Ingredients offal Recipe Uncategorized: liver paté. pate
Comments Off on Reject liver paté
Every cook who aspires to improve their skill needs an honest critic. Particularly a cook who is pushing the boundaries of how little they can live on. Mine is Mr Ermine. I confess that, at times, I struggle to be gracious about my good fortune in having such an honest commentator on my cooking, but in my calmer moments I am grateful as he helps me to keep the “well” in “eating well for less”.
One such time was when I served New Zealand lambs’ liver for tea. I can’t completely convince myself, but generally it looks as if New Zealand lamb is reasonably ok on welfare. Please correct me if I am wrong on this. The liver must be frozen for the journey (I just can’t see any other way it can get here without having rotted) and is then sold in a defrosted state in vacuum packaging. Somehow it is ok for re-freezing. I don’t know all that for a fact, by the way, I’m just having a reasoned guess. Generally I either produce my own meat at The Oak Tree Farm or I buy my meat from local farmers, but I was in Sainsbury’s, I needed some main meal ingredients, and there was the temptingly cheap New Zealand lambs liver, each packet under a pound in price. I bought two, and froze one.
Liver, you see, is an excellent ingredient for the impecunious cook who wants nutritious food that costs less. Don’t trust me (and I make no apology for plugging this fine book once again) trust Sally Fallon in her masterwork “Nourishing Traditions”:
The modern person’s squeamishness about “innards”, and general aversion to anything that has actual flavour, has led to a general decline in offal consumption in the UK, which is a dreadful shame for the health of the nation, but bloody great for Mrs Ermine’s bank balance.
I didn’t mention the origins of this particular liver to Mr Ermine. Liver is a borderline food for him anyway: no ox liver, no pigs liver (though I suspect he knows I sneak small amounts of both into mince-based dishes such a chilli and bolognese sauce) but calves’ liver and lambs’ liver are deemed “alright for a change” which is diplomatic code for “don’t serve it up too often”.
As he began to eat this particular lambs’ liver tea there was an almost imperceptible crease across the ermine snout.
An exhalation that was just a little to close to a sigh to ignore. And then there was the longer-than-usual pause of the fork en route from plate to mouth. This wasn’t “alright for a change”. It just wasn’t right. I repeat, he had no clue to indicate that wasn’t from the local farm shop, except the flavour, so he wasn’t being a food snob. I had pushed my money saving too far. He ate it that one time, considering it rude to reject a meal I had cooked for him unless utterly repulsive, but he wouldn’t do so again.
So I was left with the second packet of this pesky liver in the freezer. I guess I could have liquidised it and put it in a chilli, but I fancied trying my luck once again with the ermine palate. The flavour needed to be diluted, and I decided to try making liver paté.
Reject lambs’ liver paté ingredients
- Reject lambs’ liver
- Plenty of onions
- Plenty of butter (if you’re feeling extra hard-up you could use lard).
- Very fatty bacon
- Thyme (of course fresh is nice, but dried from Aldi is fine, and cheap)
- Proper salt
You could add all sorts of other things: mushrooms, other herbs, sausagemeat… the key thing is to have fatty pig meat, liver, breadcrumbs and flavourings. If I had had port to hand I would have added some, but I didn’t.
Reject lambs’ liver paté method
- Set the oven to gas mark 4, 180°C, 350°F.
- Chop the onions up (roughly if you like) and slowly fry them in plenty of butter.
- Once the onions are translucent, add the chopped up bacon.
- Soak the breadcrumbs in enough milk to make a stiff paste.
- Put the cold ingredients into a food processor then add the hot ones – yes, everything.
- Liquidise it all until smooth (I like smooth paté).
- Put the kettle on.
- Butter an ovenproof dish.
- Put the mix in the buttered dish, cover with foil or a lid, and put in the oven for about an hour and a half in a deep baking tray containing boiling water reaching up the dish to half the height of the paté.
This is the sort of thing you can slice to put on bread or toast on its own. It is very cheap to make. Mr Ermine’s verdict? “Good”.
Better value elsewhere Ingredients
Comments Off on Soy sauce is better value elsewhere
I like Kikkoman soy sauce. I always have, from my student days making that classic late 80’s dish, stir fry.
From my local Indian grocers it costs £4.29 for one litre. A certain large supermarket has this exact same product, yes, a one litre bottle of Kikkoman Soy Sauce, on sale for £6. Need I say more?