How To Make Fruit Vinegars: easy, delicious, versatile

making fruit vinegarWhat’s the first thing that springs to mind when I say/write ‘vinegar’? In Britain it would definitely be ‘fish and chips’. In an eco-warrior’s house it might be ‘cleaning spray’. I don’t think many people would say ‘fruit’.

I may be showing my age but I wouldn’t be without a bottle or two of fruit vinegar. Just as I like to see a sticky shelf lined up with mismatched bottles of homemade jams (very Little House On The Prairie), I now like to see a few bottles of brightly-coloured, sharp-sweet fruit vinegar alongside. I used to think they were only good for drizzling over fancy salads, but I have come to find that fruit vinegars are as useful to me as ‘regular’ vinegar – just in different ways. In fact, it is a very inexpensive way to make lots of things more special. Continue reading

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Quick Hot Chocolate Sauce with Iced Berries

hot chocolate sauce with iced berriesHave you got your romantic meal planned? Asparagus? Oysters? Caviar? Perhaps Spaghetti Bolognese a la Lady and the Tramp? Or, are you being whisked off for a slap up meal, after having sipped Champagne in a rose petal bath? Well, if you are like me and not particularly romantic, forward planning, or fond of lolling in baths, this quick and easy recipe is a cheat’s way of getting in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. Continue reading

Summer Berries Crumble Tart – A Slice of Summer

Gosh, it feels like ages since I last put fingers to keyboard. All thumbs here. As I am feeling somewhat rusty this might be a bit brief.’ Yay!’ I hear you cry. But not because I have nothing to say. Oh no. Continue reading

Kale-Berry Smoothie

“Oh, thrice and four times happy those who plant cabbages.” Francois Rabelais, 16th century French writer

M. Rabelais might now be in the minority with that opinion, but from a health standpoint, he’s spot on. Cabbages have been cultivated for at least 6000 years, probably originating from wild, non-head forming greens (acephala), of which modern kale is perhaps the truest descendent. Our forebears may not have known why kale and cabbages are so fiercely good for us, but historical figures have thought well enough of it to pass comment: Pythagoras praised it as an all-purpose remedy; Hippocrates (who else) declared it “the vegetable of a thousand virtues”. Continue reading

Sweet and Tangy Berry Tabbouleh

There is nothing quite like waking up on a Saturday knowing that you are going to go mattress hunting. At Ikea. That maddening enforced maze. Those cute little scenarios that you can never recreate. And those blasted tempting meatballs. Unlike many families, we do not enjoy shopping. I detest the lighting in most stores and the claustrophobic feeling in all but the most unaffordable of shops; Mr A, well he is a guy; and Miss R likes shopping well enough when given a wad of money and a cheerio-goodbye from her parental benefactors (slightly unfair, she actually doesn’t mind hanging with me).

I know we are atypical in this respect. One only has to go to Tesco or up into town on a weekend and one can see two- and three-generations of family strolling together, carrier bags swinging in unison – little Johnny and Jessica with an ice cream, and Ma and Pa with takeaway lattes or some such. How I envy their calm mien. With us it is more like Mr A hovering on a double yellow line and Miss R and me dashing about like demented wasps trying to get whatever vital item it is that we lack. Stressed and sweating we then pile into the car, like thieves making a getaway.

I used to adore shopping, both proper and window. I can’t quite put my finger on why I would now rather stick pins in my eyes than schlep uptown to spend money I don’t have on something I don’t need. Perhaps it’s the largely indifferent service, or the feeling one is being manipulated (Ikea, I am talking about you). Or that I don’t care for what passes for fashion these days. Despite loathing it more than I loathe watching Gran Prix (which is saying something) sometimes you just gotta do it. And today was the day. To be far it wasn’t too hideous. Mr A sat in the car listening to rugby while Miss R and I flopped on beds. Quite an odd experience rolling onto one’s side and looking straight into the eyes of a stranger doing the same thing two feet away. Anyway, Miss R found a mattress. But little did we realise until we read the fine print that their mattresses are “European sizes”. Miss R’s bed frame is good ol’ John Lewis, some 10 cm shorter. Much sighing in silence on the way home. And we didn’t even get any meatballs for our troubles. Continue reading

Beetroot Zinger Juice

beetroot zinger juice in glass

Juicing is a subject close to my heart. Many of the people I advise and teach at the Maggies Cancer Caring Centre are going through chemotherapy when they come to the Centre. Most want to do everything they can to eat well through treatment. Evidence shows that those who are well-nourished tolerate treatment better and reduce their risk of infection. But sometimes this is very difficult to do. Because almost all chemotherapy drugs  affect taste, appetite and digestion at least somewhat, doctors and dietitians advise those affected to eat what they feel like eating and what they can taste and digest well. This is also what we advise. But I always encourage those who cannot tolerate raw fruits and vegetables to juice them. That way they can get the nutritional benefit without filling up on bulky lower calorie foods or deal with the effects raw produce can have on a weakened digestive system.

So why not just buy fresh juice from the supermarket? Well, supermarket juices – even ones labelled as fresh and in the chiller cabinet –  are always pasteurised, usually twice. This can lessen and even destroy some of the very compounds that we want from fresh juice. Sure, I drink store-bought juice occasionally but I don’t expect it to do much for me, other than be convenient and taste nice. Tomato juice is the only juice whose main nutrients are enhanced with processing.

In my opinion, homemade, freshly pressed juices are like liquid supplements, but without any of the downsides associated with supplementing while on cancer treatment (many immune-boosting supplements have potential to interfere with treatment effectiveness). People who juice during treatment may find that it helps a bit with energy, and they feel that even if their diet isn’t as they would like at the moment,  juicing helps to cover the nutritional bases.  Once the symptoms subside whole foods are once again on the menu.

During nutrition sessions I offer this juice and it always elicits oohs and ahhs because of the colour, which is a deep garnet and quite creamy looking. When asked what they think is in the juice only occasionally does beetroot get a mention. I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad thing. Suppose it depends on what you think of beetroot. Happily, participants always ask for the recipe. Although I use it in my cancer nutrition classes it is a juice for anyone, ill or well. It’s my family’s favourite juice and mine too, despite the pink-stained fingers. We drink it because we like it. A friend of mine even swears by this juice as a homework stimulant for her boys. Drink it at the first sign of a cold or if you know that something’s going around. Seems to work for us. I could go on and on about juicing (yes, even more than I already have) but I’ll let you see for yourself. Now, get that dust-covered juicer out of the garage, or from under the spare bed, and get juicing.

Science Bit: Known for its blood-purifying properties, beetroot also has a fantastic disease-fighting profile at its most basic level: it enhances the manufacture of white blood cells, stimulates red blood cell production and improves supply of oxygen to cells. This last point is very interesting because a small but well-conducted 2009 UK study demonstrated beetroot’s capacity to boost muscle stamina, probably because of the abundance of naturally occurring nitrates. This may have implications for athletes as well as ordinary folk going about their daily business. I wouldn’t advise consuming the half-litre a day amount achieved in the study (potential side effects include hives – unpleasant) beat) as we can benefit from drinking much smaller amounts, including lowered blood pressure. And don’t be alarmed if your urine or stool is pinkish or red. Many people are sensitive to the betalain and oxalic acid in beets and will experience ‘beetruria’, which looks scary but is completely harmless.

From a cancer perspective beetroot may be useful as it contains a high amount of manganese, which is needed for the formation of the potent anti-cancer cell protein, interferon. The deep red colour is due to another nutrient powerhouse – betanin, thought to help prevent both cancer and heart disease. And if that hasn’t convinced you to try this juice, it tastes darn nice too. Very refreshing, yet invigorating.

beetroot juice ingredientsBeetroot Zinger Juice

This is my recipe for beetroot juice but make it your own by mixing up the ingredients, so to speak: ditch the raspberries, or add celery, or orange. Whatever you have to hand that’s fresh and juiceable is fair game with juicing. The only real caveat is that beetroot shouldn’t make up more than one-quarter of your juice as it is so strong.

1 small or 1/2 medium raw beetroot, scrubbed and trimmed (the smaller the tastier)

2-3 large carrots, scrubbed and trimmed

1 apple and 1 pear – or two of either, scrubbed and cored

1/2 lime, peel removed (the oils in the peel make the juice bitter)

knob of fresh gingerroot – about the size of end-of-your-thumb

handful of frozen raspberries -use fresh if in season but the frozen ones make the juice creamy and luscious

What You Need: juicer (not a smoothie maker or blender); cutting board, sharp knife

Do as your juicer booklet says regarding any preparation of the fruit to fit your juicer’s ‘feed tube’. Once you have made the juice, blend the raspberries in with a hand blender, but if you don’t want the seeds or fibre push them through the juicer between the harder fruits/veg. Drink your juice as soon as possible but it will still be good – and good for you – up to 24 hours’ later if refrigerated and covered.        Serves 2

Extra Tidbit: If you can get beetroots with super-fresh leafy tops juice the tops as well – they are crammed full of a variety of free-radical scavenging carotenoids and other goodies. The tops are also tasty in a stir fry. Because the leaves also contain oxalic acid anyone prone to kidney stones or who has rheumatoid arthritis or gout should avoid eating the tops. If you want to know more about this fantastic but much maligned vegetable click here. If you want more juice ideas, click here.