Carrot and Marmalade Cake

As many of you know, I am originally from Florida. Lived there 24 years in fact. Twenty-four largely sun-soaked, carefree years. But now I call Edinburgh, the beautiful capital of Scotland, home. Although I miss my family and friends, the year-round, bathwater-temperature climate, and the cheap and abundant seafood, I truly love my adopted city. I love the warm, but appropriately cautious people (you would be as cautious if your ancestors endured a similar border-raiding history); the vibrant cultural scene; the handsome nuanced buildings, often in gardens I used to think only existed in movies; and the wealth of nutritious and delicious produce – from brambles to venison. I have even grown to, if not love,  at least appreciate the certifiably crazy weather. Florida merely has a climate, punctuated by thunderstorms and the occasional hurricane, but no real weather to speak of – or seasons.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, whenever I meet someone new – a British person – the conversation often goes something like this: “You’re not from around here. Where are you from?”   Me: “Florida, but I’ve lived here over 20 years.”   Them: “Good God!…Why?” Then I get an opportunity to let said person see this beautiful, green and pleasant land through my eyes. Admittedly it’s rainy, blowy and a bit parky (cold), but if we had great weather everyone would want to live here. I’m sure there would have to be some kind of quota system to visit our tiny loch and mountain-dotted country. I don’t do Florida down, but I like to remind folk of how much we have here. They probably still think I am a bit bonkers though.

But one thing we don’t have here, and that I miss very much, is citrus. Good old Florida citrus: tangelos, grapefruits, minneolas, limes, lemons, pomelos, uglis, tangerines, mandarins, satsumas and even the little, fairly useless kumquat.  Continue reading

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Sweet and Spicy Munch Mix

As promised, I am here with the first of my healthy festive food ideas for sharing and keeping. Today’s little recipe is so tasty you will probably make it but end up keeping it for yourself. No shame in that. Even so, this more-ish, healthy treat is extremely easy to put together; a second batch to pop into decorated cellophane bags or cute jars will not be a chore. If you have a reasonably well-stocked wholefood kitchen  you probably won’t even need to brave a trip to the shops. As a gift idea perhaps pair this Munch Mix with a batch of my Lower-fat Granola (add some dark chocolate chunks or chips to amp it up), or you could put it in a large Kilner-type jar with a vintage spoon. We are using a traditional Chinese spoon to self-serve out of our nearly depleted jar. Note to self: make a fresh batch soon.

And speaking of giving homemade presents. Some of you may be thinking it seems a bit cheap, that spending a bit of dosh is expected. Well, my feeling is that it shows that you care enough about the recipient to spend time and creative effort. I won’t give homemade gifts to everyone (I would if I had more time), and my family at least will get a few bought things too, but it feels good to put together an array of ingredients and produce something to share. Unfortunately I am no cop at decorating and packaging things, but I hope my modest culinary efforts will gloss over the lack of visual finesse. I don’t want it to look too slick and production-line, now do I?

Over the next few posts I will offer you my rhubarb and cranberry chutney, a Middle Eastern twist on chocolate bark, a fool-proof funky mayonnaise with accompanying wholegrain mustard, my favourite brownie recipe, and a few ideas on packaging up herbal tea and cocoa. I also hope to give you ideas for cookbooks to buy for yourself or a foodie friend, and fun but functional kitchen gift paraphernalia recommendations,  including an exclusive peek at a very good friend’s great new textile range. But for now, here’s my take on an idea I got years ago from the American Institute for Cancer Research website. It was a keeper. I hope this one is too. Continue reading

Good-For-You Granola

Hands up, who likes granola? Excellent, that’s most of you. But did you know that some of the granola we eat should really be re-classified as dessert? Despite its rather saintly image, most granolas are quite high in both sugar and fat. And we tend to eat rather more than the suggested serving size. Unless I weigh it out, I know I can certainly tip in quite the little mound. And no, not even the fact that it may float innocently in unsweetened soya milk and be topped with decidedly healthy fresh berries makes it a super-healthy breakfast choice. If granola were a person I believe it would be batting its lashes coquettishly before leading us very astray.

So, does this mean you should relegate your favourite granola to the status of treat? Or, perhaps, just try an easy, no-brainer recipe instead? To help you make up your mind I have had a wee look at some popular UK brands, as well as a read of an interesting article that appeared in the Daily Mail newspaper. Despite knowing that commercial granolas are certainly not for dieters, I was quite taken aback by how ‘dessert-like’ are many of the brands – good, trusted brands. That’s not to say we should not have them. They aren’t evil or bad for us, just not what we think they are.  Continue reading

Late-Summer Salad and Triple Tomato Soup

This morning I realised we are experiencing an inexorable slide to ‘porridge weather’. All summer I have been vacillating between starting the day with berries and yogurt, poached egg with asparagus, and a breakfast bruschetta of chopped cherry tomatoes, olive oil & basil on sourdough. All very delicious and light. But this morning – without any thought behind it – I reached into the cupboard and pulled out a forlorn packet of Scottish porridge oats. Using a half and half mixture of soya milk and water, I simmered this companionable pairing before adding dried goji berries and a grating of apple. And it was heavenly. If that doesn’t say ‘autumn’ I’m not sure what does.

But it wasn’t just the instinctively pre-hibernation breakfast that signaled summer’s end. Although it doesn’t yet feel too chilly, the other omens are abundantly clear: more than the odd brown leaf on the lawn, mystery mushrooms colonising under the oak tree, a lower, moodier sky. But my most accurate harbinger is the two extra bodies on the bed. Today Mr A and I awoke to find our cats nestled and immovable among the folds of the the duvet.

Over the years we have realised that as soon as Max and Mimi pad up from the cool and serene downstairs to warm and cosy upstairs, summer is well and truly behind us. So, barring a freak heat wave (highly unlikely) it won’t be long until we fire up the central heating and start moaning about the cost of it.  Until then it is an extra layer and the comfort of cat-warmed feet. Continue reading

So Summery Chickpea Salad

I love being away. Especially when it’s to familiar, yet massively exciting London with my family. But, boy do I love coming home. I bet you are the same. There is something about your own bed and bath that is quite primal. Safety and familiar-comforts ultimately trump the unknown – however much fun. But we really had a terrific time, despite some pre-travel nerves at arriving while the situation in London was still volatile. Well I was jittery, Mr A and Miss R were their usual breezy, up-for-it selves. And they of course were right. We had a ball.

Although the riots and the lead up to them were deeply worrying and unsettling, the London we experienced was universally uplifting and positive. Everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful and polite – from the harassed Tube station staff (I was the zillionth person to ask the same dumb question), the stall holders in every market we visited, to the alarmingly young and fresh-faced policemen and women we asked directions. Even when I just about took out an elderly lady with my oversized ‘new’ vintage bag, having spied yet another pop-up vintage market to blow my money in, she just smiled and said, ‘It’s awright, my love’.

We also have the same experience in Paris. It always surprises us that London, and Paris in particular, is perceived as being populated with surly, eye contact-avoiding citizens who would sooner spit on you than help you. A little effort with the language, a show of politeness, and a smile are all we have ever found necessary to get on in these famously bustling cities. Maybe we have just been lucky but I do think that a bit of the old ‘do unto others as you would be done by’ can’t hurt.
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Turmeric and Lime Salmon with Baked Lime-scented Rice

I’m hunched over my laptop while the rest of Edinburgh – and many thousands of visitors – are queueing for some of the 2542 different shows on offer during the three weeks of the Edinburgh Fringe. Like the original, more high-brow Edinburgh International Festival, ‘the Fringe’ is part of 11 official festivals that pop up annually in Edinburgh – six during the peak tourism months of August and September. One of my favourites is the Mela, a smaller southeast Asian festival with an international flair. You can watch flamenco, bhangra, African drumming and capoeira while munching on mainly Pakistani and Indian delicacies and waiting for a sari fashion show to start.  Multi-culturalism at its most accessible.

But the Fringe – officially the largest arts festival in the world – is arguably the best known and best-loved of all the festivals. Comedy is definitely king in this city but serious and not so-serious theatre, music of all descriptions, poetry readings, children’s shows, cabaret,  dance and physical theatre are all here as well. And you can see something almost 24/7 –  great if you are jet-lagged and have no idea what time, or even day, it is.

Performers from all over the world come to Edinburgh to make their name
during these three intense, and at times overwhelming, weeks. Perhaps they have been inspired by the likes of Hugh Laurie (House), Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean), Steven Fry (polymath) and Emma Thompson (Oscar-winning actress etc), among many others who were talent spotted in this very city. Even if you never make it to a show (and locals complain bitterly in the local paper about the ‘London prices’) it is a must to at least wander around the Old and New Towns celeb spotting (John Malkovich two days ago) and watching the brilliant (free!) street performers and their eclectic audiences. It’s a real spectator’s paradise too, watching all the Lady Gaga-wannabes, perambulation-challenged fashionistas (which is amusing, as it almost always rains) and the period-costumed performers catching buses and hailing taxis. Maybe when I finish writing this up I will grab my umbrella and go do some celeb-spotting myself. But first, the salmon. Continue reading

Lebanese-style Broad Bean Hummus

I will let you in on something: I am typing this while eating pink peppercorn dark chocolate. Yes, little miss eat-your-greens is merrily chowing down on some delectable chocolate noir au poivre rose, to give it its proper name. I discovered it in the impulse buy section by the tills at good old TK Maxx. Normally I am immune to the lure of the well-thumbed packets of oddly flavoured liquorice and jelly beans that are the usual checkout fodder at said retail emporium, but my trash-o-meter must have been out of whack. It does have pretty pink packaging, so I can just about blame the buy on grounds of physical attraction rather than greed. But we know better. If you are interested, it is from quality Belgian brand Dolfin, who have a beautiful website that helpfully offers convincing health information to lessen the guilt. For more about benefits of chocolate and why not to feel guilty about it, see my earlier post. I subsequently saw ‘my’ chocolate in the posh chocolate section of Tesco  (no, I didn’t know they had a posh section either, let alone a chocolate one) but have resisted buying a job lot. Just to leave some for you. I’m not normally that nice. It’s well-balanced, not too bitter and comes in a petite 70g size – enough for two to share, or not…

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Brazilian-style Black Bean Salad

Today I have been busy preparing the lunch that will round off tomorrow’s nutrition session at the Edinburgh Maggie’s Centre. Although I really enjoy facilitating the sessions, I also love to prepare the food. I love the rhythm of trawling around the local shops, picking up and sniffing the produce (sometimes indulging in a sneaky squeeze), chatting to the merchants and shop assistants, and just generally taking my time getting the best of the day’s offerings. Sometimes I make do with just a supermarket (boring but expedient), but I also try and get to the lushly fronted greengrocers’ shops in nearby Stockbridge, stopping by Armstrong’s for immaculate, fresh fish for our dinner. As a special treat (or if I am under-budget)I head to Earthy Market in Newington for the most sumptuous whole foods displays in Edinburgh: baskets of amazing breads (seaweed sourdough is Miss R’s favourite), a Welsh dresser full of pulses, seeds and grains, shelves of every ingredient you can think of for the well-stocked pantry, and captivatingly gorgeous wooden crates of best-of-season fruits and vegetables from nearby Phantassie Organic Farm and other quality suppliers. But, if I am honest, I am also there for the cafe. Can’t recommend it highly enough (and neither can the reviewers). Not only is the daily-changing menu a testament to fine seasonal cafe fare, it is presented so lovingly and at a price that puts lesser-quality cafes and restaurants to shame. Please go if you live even vaguely nearby. You can also buy top-notch local vegetables, herbs and decorative plants to plant your own personal oasis of useful beauty. If you go on my recommendation, tell them food to glow  sent you.

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Aubergine Parmigiana – Lower Fat

I’m afraid this is a bit of a cheat. Our three-day week – thanks to lovely Kate (err, Katherine) and William – has got me feeling a bit lazy, so this will be a quick post. Not only is it a quickie, it’s borrowing from my last post – Wild Garlic Pesto Risotto. In that post I made a wild garlic pesto that I used in a simple spinach risotto. Think of this recipe as the sequel. A good one. Not like Superman 4, or Rocky V. God forbid. Continue reading

Wild Garlic Pesto Risotto

You will know us by our carrier bags and scissors, our bottoms in the air as we bend low beside forest-lined riverbanks and reach deep into thorny hedgerows, sniffing and snipping. We are the foragers, and it is our time – of year, that is. Yep, it is the start of the Great British freebie-athon known as foraging season. First in line to be picked is wild garlic. Looking a bit like lily of the valley (which is poisonous) but smelling distinctly and unmistakably of garlic you can now find Allium ursinum (wild garlic/bear garlic/ransoms) under the broad-leafed trees that line streams and rivers all over Britain. Although it is free to pick, if you buy the pungent leaves in a greengrocer’s or market expect to pay quite a price. So don’t. Wild garlic season is short but potentially very rewarding for those who bravely take up the carrier bag. Continue reading