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.
As a way of saying sorry for not sussing out the measurement thing beforehand, I thought I would do us a proper lunch. Looking in the fridge and cupboards I knew I had ingredients enough to do a batch of my Triple Tomato Soup (I used tinned Cirio tomatoes instead of fresh – absolutely fine and dandy), as well as some day old bread to tear up and dunk into olive oil and little mounds of nutty dukkah. I also thought I would put together a grain salad that seemed to have gone down well with the lovely ladies at my Fife nutrition session the day before. They kindly wanted the recipe and as I hadn’t written it up I thought I would take this opportunity to do so and share it with you too. I have made it a number of times, always a bit different. When pomegranates are at their best I use them, and sometimes I use walnuts or pistachios instead of pecans. But always dried tart cranberries and always pomegranate molasses. I really love the sweet and tangy surprise they give the taste buds. Grain dishes can be sweet (think fragrant apricot studded couscous) or tangy (think traditional lemony tabbouleh) but rarely are the two combined. I reckon it really works, but you be the judge.
Nutrition Notes: Quinoa is the base ‘grain’ here (it’s really a seed). Nutty tasting, highly nutritious and simple to prepare, quinoa is a favourite in our house and at my nutrition workshops. You can use it as a straight swap for most pasta and rice dishes and to bodify and texturise salads such as this one. Way back in my very first post I extolled the virtues of this extremely useful and delicious grain, so check Quinoa and Smoked Mackerel Fishcakes for more information. I’ve even got a dodgy first-post photo of raw and cooked quinoa for you. Love the harsh shadows…
But another goodie in here is the blueberries. Long thought to be a bit of a damp squib nutritionally, scientists have found that this American native holds a lot of health promoting chemicals within in its dusky blue skin. It isn’t over-endowed with the more obvious vitamins like A and C, but what it does contain – in abundance – is potentially much more useful to us.
Without going all science geek on you (again) I should let you know that some of the most potent cancer-fighting substances are bound up in this bouncy berry’s royal blue colour. The high anthocyanidin and proanthocyanidin content is thought to be responsible for the exceptionally high antioxidant activity (and potential) found in blueberries, helping neutralise waste from our metabolic processes that can – along with toxic invaders such as ionising radiation, cigarette smoke and poor diet – cause permanent damage in the form of cancer and premature ageing. Antioxidants are not the be all and end all though, as studies have shown, but they are still incredibly useful when consumed in a varied and colourful diet. No supplements please.
Perhaps more interesting and important in the long run is the potential for anthocyanidins and proanthocyanidins (try typing those quickly!) to curb the development and progression of cancer. ‘Anthos’ are known to stop DNA synthesis and therefore cell growth, in lab-grown cancer cells. This rapidly leads to cell death – apoptosis, to be technical. Other colourful fruits have this potential too, but because blueberries have as many as 30 different anthocyanidins – more than the typical four or five in other antho-containing fruits and veg – the potential for amazing cancer-nipping activity is greatly increased. Anthos are also highly anti-inflammatory and, along with tart cherries, can help relieve pain from rheumatoid arthritis.
Before I lose you completely, just to say that proanthocyanidins have similarly cancer-zapping features. Again, only lab studies here, but proanthos have been shown to inhibit the growth of various types of cancer cell lines, with colon cancer being the most studied. Studies are close to unequivocally establishing that proanthos “disrupt the angiogenic development of new blood vessels and may therefore help keep microtumours in a latent state by preventing them from acquiring the blood vessel support network they need to grow” (from the book, Foods to Fight Cancer by R Beliveau and D Gingras). Other studies show that proanthos seem to “reduce oestrogen synthesis and can thus help counter the harmful effects of elevated levels of these hormones.” There are also some pretty fascinating studies on their positive effects on the brain regarding memory (including Alzheimer’s disease), coordination and balance. Most using amounts equivalent to a daily half-cup of blueberries. In other words, doable.
Other Ideas: Berries are so easy to add into the daily diet that it would be churlish not to. Chuck them onto cereal (maybe try them on Good-For-You Granola?), whirl them up in a smoothie, toss them into a green salad, puree them and stir into yogurt or cream, add them into baking, grains (like here), juice them, compote them, have as they are for a satisfying sweet snack. They can even be married with red onion, chilli and herbs for a funky salsa to go with fish or chicken. Blueberries and most other berries are best fresh and raw, but you can still get goodness from a blob of homemade jam too.
In Season: Looking at a site called Seasonal Berries I found that here in the UK we grow blueberries commercially from June to late August. Before and after that they come from Poland (not too far) and then Argentina (a bit too far for me). As a seasonal foodite I will be hunting out the final UK-grown punnets of these unique little berries before succumbing to Polish imports. Drawing the line at Argentina I will hoard local berries in my freezer and use them as fresh throughout the winter.
US readers will know that you can get US-grown blueberries at any time, with Florida and California picking up any slack from the key-growing states of Maine and Michigan in the winter. If I still lived in Florida I would probably have a go at growing the interestingly-named rabbiteye, but as I would also probably still keep hens I could be sure that even if my brain and cells couldn’t benefit at least my girls would be fit as fiddles.