Bread Hero, The Better Health Bakery #realbread

18 Jul

The Better Health Bakery

Community Workshop at The Better Health Bakery
(Photo credit cc the Real Bread Campaign)

 Bex Clarke opens the door of east London Campaign member The Better Health Bakery, at which she volunteers.

Tucked away behind Kingsland Road, just around the corner from Haggerston station in Hackney, is the Better Health Bakery. Taking up most of the ground floor of an unassuming industrial building, the bakery has now been going for about six months, with a focus on traditional handmade artisan bread made using all organic ingredients and a sourdough levain. Many of the loaves are left to prove slowly in the fridge overnight for around fourteen hours, and then baked early in the morning.

Dough to be different

What sets this bakery apart is that it is run by the Centre for Better Health, a charity that has been working in Hackney and its surrounding boroughs for over fifty years. The charity provides support for adults who have suffered from mental distress, helping them find or regain their place in the local community. Over the last three years, it has put its energy and expertise into three key services: low-cost counselling; a training and employment social enterprise; and a community hub offering courses and workshops that range from literacy to yoga.

Social enterprise

In 2010 the Centre began to explore using the social enterprise model to enable people living with various mental health issues to gain on the job training. This involves giving trainees opportunities to learn new skills, build confidence and engage in team working, helping them move closer to employment. Ashwin Matthews, the Centre’s director, said ‘We wanted to shift away from simply running a sheltered employment workshop to a model that built individuals’ confidence, employability skills and provided a genuine path to further training or employment. We were also keen to develop a real business that had the potential to sustain itself financially.’

The first such project set up by the Centre involves trainees making products for the healthcare industry, offering them the chance to learn the whole manufacturing process. While looking for a secondary enterprise to build on this, Ashwin found the inspiration locally. He explains, ‘I saw Ben from E5 Bakehouse cycling around one day and just stopped him at the side of the road. The making of Real Bread was something that seemed to tick all the boxes, both as a project to support recovery and as a commercial activity. The skills and therapeutic process of making long fermented, quality bread, as well as the satisfaction in selling that bread to people in the local community, captured our imagination. It’s from that conversation that we are where we are today.’

The Swedish Chef

A key member of the team is head baker, Robert Agren, who hails from Sweden. Formerly a chef and originally coming to the UK to study graphic design in central London, he was soon tempted back into the kitchen. It was while working his way up through the kitchen ranks to become a chef that he discovered the wonders of Real Bread baking from a fellow chef who knew how to work with wet doughs to produce satisfying sourdoughs and ciabattas.* When not at work, he carried on experimenting with sourdough at home, supplying a local supper club. He also started volunteering two days a week at the aforementioned E5 Bakehouse, which eventually led to a job there.

Robert’s plan had been to set up some kind of bakery himself in east London but when he heard about the Better Health Bakery project, he approached the Centre to offer to set it up and lead the bakery team. ‘I have always been interested in community projects and the idea of sharing knowledge with others, so this was an opportunity for me to explore this further. It is great to see what the art of bread making can do for society,’ he said.

100% Rye Sourdough (Photo credit cc the Real Bread Campaign)

100% Rye Sourdough
(Photo credit cc the Real Bread Campaign)

Yeast tenders

At the moment around three trainees can be found in the bakery on any given day, each on a placement of one to four days a week for three to six months. On top of baking skills, they benefit from ongoing training in health and safety, first aid, numeracy, literacy and IT skills, all designed to help open up routes for them into employment, catering or further training. More than this, making Real Bread from scratch is a labour intensive and therapeutic process. It’s a true craft and skill that the trainees can get involved in. Seeing wild yeast, flour, salt and water turn into a physical loaf is rewarding, a little magical and it gives people a sense of achievement.

To monitor trainees’ progress and ensure each receives support tailored to his or her own needs, the charity uses a tool called Work Star. This is incorporated into a framework for one-to-one sessions, where trainees can assess their own journeys and progress from the start of the placement. It provides the basis for each trainee to identify key areas he or she would like to work towards and set goals in relation to these. Work Star focuses on seven core areas, which range from job-specific skills to stability. The self-assessment dynamic of Work Star is crucial so that the trainees can see their own progression, build confidence, self-belief and ambition.

Getting better all the time

The Better Health Bakery’s Real Bread is proving popular, particularly the Country Sourdough, Country Rye Sourdough, and the baguettes made with a mix of sourdough levain and a yeasted poolish. Loaves are already available from Stoke Newington farmers’ market, supermarket antidote Unpackaged, and a range of local cafés, pubs and restaurants.

The Centre has a very holistic approach at its heart, looking at mental health from a social perspective. In May this year the bakery opened its doors so local people can now drop by for their daily loaf, coffee or sourdough sarnie. As Ashwin says, ‘Hackney has so much happening right now, but often the people we work with are not part of that buzz. Being able to open our doors and invite our neighbours into the bakery offers our trainees a chance to be included in it.’

Though relatively new, already some of the trainees are really keen to learn more about baking pastries and cakes, with which the bakery is currently experimenting. There is also talk of having a weekly pizza day, where they can learn how to make pizza and enjoy a shared lunch. Now the bakery is open to the public, it will give the trainees more opportunity to learn skills in a range of roles such as customer service, food preparation and barista training.

As Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, ‘there is not a thing that is more positive than bread.’

betterhealthbakery.wordpress.com  @BakeryHealth

* I’m not going to get into a debate as to whether the plural of ciabatta should in fact be ciabatte…though you’re welcome to do so in The Real Baker-e [ed.]

**This article originally appeared in the Real Bread Campaign members’ magazine True Loaf. Find out more and join at realbreadcampaign.org**

Mighty Perennial Spears

3 Jun

Charred Asparagus

Charred Asparagus

It’s a lean time of year, the hungry gap, when the winter crops end and we wait in anticipation for the start of the main season. Greens are in particularly short supply, hence the celebration of the first harvest of asparagus at the start of May. Their bounteous sugary green spears, pushing up towards the light, ready for their month of fame.

Asparagus originates from the eastern Mediterranean and can also be found growing wild in maritime habitats throughout Europe. I don’t have the space to try and grow it, but friends tell me once it’s established, it keeps going providing you keep on top of the weeds. It’s worth having a go with one-year-old crowns, if you have the space to dedicate to it, and well draining soil.

If not, then look out for it at your local farmers’ market, it will be the first thing to go, so it’s worth getting up early for. Here’s a quick, satisfying dinner I came up with last week.

Charred asparagus with tahini yogurt, sumac and toasted hazelnuts

Takes about 30 minutes – Serves 2

500g asparagus 

handful of hazelnuts 

2tbsp of sumac 

For the sauce

20g tahini 

60g of thick yogurt 

1tbsp lemon juice 

half a garlic clove

For the bulgar

cup of fine-grain bulgar 

cup and a half of boiling water with a touch of bouillon powder 

1 small onion

1 clove of garlic 

1. Rinse the bulgar well and place in a large bowl. Cover with the boiling water and add a touch of olive oil. Cover with a tea towel.

2. Chop the onion and the garlic. Fry on a low heat in olive oil.

3. Chop the garlic for the sauce and whisk the remaining ingredients together. Add a touch of salt to taste.

4. Get a large frying pan hot and brown the hazelnuts. Smash up roughly.

5. Give the pan a quick rinse and heat again. Add 2tbsp of olive oil and add the asparagus in a single layer. Cook for around 3-4 minutes depending on the thickness of the spears. Season with salt and black pepper.

6. To serve, mix the fried onion and garlic with the now cooked bulgar. Divide the asparagus on to two plates. Top with the hazelnuts, dollops of sauce, and sprinkle with sumac. Enjoy!

Custard Tart Ahoy – Pasteis De Nata

23 Apr

Tarts!

Tarts!

I’ve always had a bit of a thing for custard tarts, especially the ones in Lisbon with that crispy buttery pastry and sweet custard that just melts in your mouth. The ancient Pasteis de Belem, which has been baking with their secret recipe since 1837 is the place to go in Lisbon. A tiled temple, baking over 16,000 tarts a day, all made by hand in the bakery. You can even go and peak at the creamy delights being made.

There is a considerable Portugese community in London, Stockwell being the hub and some of the best Portuguese pastries are to be found along Goldborne Road, W10.

I couldn’t really find a recipe I liked so I’ve put together my own, inspired by a couple I was reading through online yesterday. They aren’t quite up to Lisbon standards, largely on the pastry front, but went down well with Bacon who is Portuguese!

What you’ll need to make 12 tarts to be proud of.

Takes about an hour

12 hole muffin tray

For the custard

4 free-range or organic egg yolks (you can freeze the egg whites to use at a later date)

30g cornflour

1 x vanilla pod or good quality vanilla bean paste

400ml organic full-fat milk

125g caster sugar

finely grated zest of an organic clementine or similar citrus fruit

For the pastry 

300g puff-pastry

1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon

1 tsp of caster sugar

And

butter, for greasing

plain flour, for dusting

icing sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat your oven to 200C, 400F, gas mark 6 and grease the muffin tins liberally with butter.

2. In a medium sized pan on a low heat, add the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour, and whisk gently to combine the ingredients until thick.

3. Add the vanilla, about a quarter of a teaspoon if using paste. Gradually add the milk and whisk continuously. Using a wooden spoon, continue to stir the custard until it comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and cover to prevent a skin forming.

4. Dust a clean surface with a mixture of flour and icing sugar and roll out the pastry into a thin rectangle. Cut the pastry into two and dust the bottom layer with the cinnamon and caster sugar mix. Place the second piece of pastry on top and roll tightly, cinnamon bun style. Cut the roll into twelve slices, about an inch each.

5. Lay each slice on the dusted surface and push into a circle. Roll out into 10cm discs, using a rolling pin or handy glass bottle.

Circle time

Circle time

Roll out

Roll out

6. Press each pastry disc into the muffin tray, rolled side up. Make sure there are no air bubbles.

Tray time

Tray time

7. Spoon in the now cooled custard into the twelve pastry cases, about two tbsp each and sprinkle with a touch of caster sugar.

8. Place the tray in the middle of the oven for about thirty minutes, turning the heat down to 180C after fifteen minutes and rotating the tray for an even bake. The custard should be set and golden brown, and the pastry crisp and brown.

9. Allow them to cool in the tin and serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon powder, and a strong milky coffee!

They don’t keep that well, so share them with a neighbour, make your friends smile, or take them to work. Oh and do you know that secret recipe?…

Satisfied Dough

26 Mar

Baking with sourdough is never going to be an instant hit, it’s a learning process that once you get, you’ll be addicted to the charm and character of your dough and that final loaf.

When I first started my loaves were disappointingly flat and pretty heavy, they are now well risen, lighter and have a delightful open crumb. From what I can gather, this is a combination of how active the starter is, the temperature and time allowed for the bulk fermentation, the flour and shaping of the dough, so basically all the key steps of baking with a wild yeast. I also haven’t bought a loaf of bread since June 2012!

Bonita wheat starter, 50% white, 50% wholemeal

Bonita wheat starter, 50% white, 50% wholemeal

At the moment my first winning loaf is a Pain au Levain recipe with a hydration of 68% (the percentage of water to flour) adapted from Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters made with a rye leaven. Just under half the dough is made from the leaven so it is quite sour and a cold bulk fermentation is used for three/four days at the bottom of the fridge with a turn twice a day. The rest of the flour is white stoneground organic, so the result is nutty and reasonably light, perfect for spring, wherever it has gone to.

I still have a way to go on shaping, which can only be improved by more practice. This recipe is great as you don’t need to be around all the time, just early in the morning and in the evening. The bread will also keep well for a week, if you don’t munch it first. I normally freeze the second one for later in the week or give it to a friend.

Day two fold

Day two fold

SCHEDULE for two medium sizes loaves

Day one

1. Feed the starter in the morning to make her super active – equal amounts of cold tap water and flour mix (I keep Bonita in the fridge these days and feed her once every fourth day).

2. Mix 100g starter with 300g light rye flour and 600g water that evening and leave out overnight in a large bowl with a kitchen towel covering it (it needs at least 12 hours to do its thing).

Day two

3. The leaven should be bubbling away. Mix 700g of the leaven with the final ingredients – 850g white wheat flour, 24g sea salt, 230g water. Compost any leftover leaven or make pancakes.

4. Knead the dough without adding any extra flour, for around 12 minutes until it’s smoother and satiny.

5. Shape into a round and oil a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl covered well with a clean plastic bag so the dough cannot dry out.

6. In the evening press the dough out flat and shape firmly into a round and place back in the fridge covered as before.

Day three or four

7. In the morning repeat the above process and again in the early evening if possible,  so this is done at least four times.

8. In the evening remove the dough from the fridge to warm up, about two hours depending on your kitchen then divide the dough into two, shape, dust in rye flour and place in proving baskets or a large sieve lined with a cotton kitchen towel or linen cloth.  Leave to prove until the dough comes back slowly when poked with your fingertip, between 2-3 hours.

9. Preheat the oven half an hour before baking (220 c) with a baking stone or metal tray on the bottom of the oven.

10. Gently turn out your first loaf onto a well floured wooden board and slash, spray with water and put the loaf onto the stone or tray. After 25 minutes move to the top shelf for another 10 minutes for a browner crust. Leave to cool and enjoy that first mighty slice. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Three day Pain au Levain style sourdough

Three day Pain au Levain style sourdough

Pain au Levain style sourdough

Pain au Levain style sourdough

The second loaf is more of a 24 hour loaf with a hydration of 65% which you’ll need to be around the whole day on and off, from Daniel Stevens River Cottage Handbook, a fabulous book as an introduction to baking. I gave my sister the book for her birthday a couple of weeks ago and a bread kit. She’s been baking her way through the book with uni friends queuing up for tastings.

This recipe uses less starter than the first loaves and has a less sour taste as the bulk fermentation is done over four hours, a much shorter time, but it’s still a great loaf for a weekend treat, as it’s 100% white flour. It’s pretty much the same process as the first loaves, but done over a shorter time with a warm bulk fermentation. What’s your experience of baking with wild yeast?

24 hour white sourdough

24 hour white sourdough

Shoots of Anticipation

1 Mar

Salad drawer

Salad drawer

It’s the first day of March, the official month when Spring starts to break through the grey and green shoots push their way up through the ground looking for light and opportunities to spread their seeds.

Growers are ablaze with excited chatter about which seeds to try out this growing season. A friend of mine who has been growing in London for years recommended The Real Seed Catalogue, based in Wales. They only sell open-pollinated seeds (non-hybrid) in a range of rare heirlooms and modern strains bred for flavor, not for the needs of supermarkets.

You automatically become a member of their seed club through requesting seeds. This is due to EU legislation, which in practical terms means that in the EU there is now an official list of vegetable varieties, so varieties not on the list cannot be sold to the public. Through the membership you are no longer seen as a member of the public, and get the change to grow amazing seeds with many a story to their name, and play a part in protecting seed diversity.

Seeds come with much anticipation, nurturing that potential through the right conditions for germination to the first seed leaves and then the emergence of true leaves, you know the plant is really determined to grow. This is the first bit of magic which largely happens under the soil’s surface. Now new life is here, we need to make the most of it by working within natural cycles to make the most out of its potential.

I’ve been a bit keen this year and ordered my seeds at the start of February. I’m growing in containers as I live in a converted school, so the playground is my edible challenge. We’ve upcycled an old drawer and a hardboard container from a skip by drilling some holes in the bottom for drainage, linning it with plastic and given it a lick of paint, perfect for an urban kitchen garden. They are all right by a sunny south-facing wall, so the tomatoes should be in their element.

The drawer is perfect for cut and come again salad leaves so I’ve gone for some Shungiku, a favorite of the Japanese and very peppery. I’m hoping some of my companion plants from last year reseed or I may buy some small plants to replace them in early May.

I’m trying out some more vine tomatoes as they flourished last year, although they were a bit tightly packed and did require lots of watering. This season the variety is an early cropping vine, Stupice, from 1954 Eastern Europe, a little larger than the average cherry tomato and known for its heavy cropping and rich flavour. They will be undersown with some mixed Nasturtiums to add some diversity, food for pollinating insects and ingredients for salads or butters.

Smells of summer

Smells of summer

I’m also really excited to be trying out some mouse melons, which are a tiny type of lemony cucumber. A natural climber known for its heavy cropping and stunning little fruits. Perfect for summer salads and pickling!

Containers are made for climbers so continuing with that theme I couldn’t resist trying some green pole beans, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, originally from the native North American Cherokee people. As they were driven from their land in 1838 by the US government in a forced march to make room for European settlers, they carried the bean with them and it has been passed on ever since. One of the most famous seeds of solidarity.

Which interesting varieties are you trying out this year and where do they originate from?

Love Your Brassicas

1 Nov

Gleaning cauliflowers in Kent

Fields of brassicas (Photo credit cc Feeding The 5K)

It’s a wonderful time of year for veg, autumn is the second spring right here in grey old blighty. Wild mushrooms are popping up under our feet, knobbley colourful squash are pilled high ripe for inspection in church halls, fresh wet walnuts are taking centre stage on the kitchen table eagerly cracked, baby leeks simmer ready for a weekday soup dinner and brassicas are harvested with green delight.

Brassicas are a family of veg that boast broccoli, kale (curly, Red Russian, dinosaur…) cabbage (red, white, green, Savoy, Napa…), brussel sprouts, pak choi and the often shunned cauliflower, not forgetting its close relation the Romanesco cauliflower, which is a definite looker.

Cast your mind back to school, queuing for a lunch of overcooked veg, bendy spoons and steamed puddings buried in cheap tinned custard layered with tepid skin. Now all that is going to disappear once you try my roasted cauliflower recipe which is so easy to make. It’s alive with flavour and has a super crunch that will be unrecognisable from those school memories.

Roasted cauliflower with a sultana, caper and parsley dressing

Serves 4 as a side salad or starter

Takes 25 minutes

For the roasting pan

1 x cauliflower, outer leaves removed  (the leaves are edible so don’t waste them, treat them like any other leafy green)

1 x tsp of cumin seeds

4 x tbsp of olive oil

For the dressing 

1 x tbsp of  soaked juicy Turkish sultanas (soaked overnight or for around five hours)

1 x tbsp of  Italian capers

1 x tbsp of decent red wine vinegar

1 x clove of crushed garlic

1 x tsp of pomegranate molasses (optional)

a good handful of flat leaf parsley

a generous pouring of your best olive oli

Topping

a good handful toasted sunflowers seeds or toasted flaked almonds

1. Turn your oven onto its hottest possible setting and prepare the cauliflower by carefully cutting it into medium sized florets and adding it to a large roasting tin. Toss with the cumin seeds and olive oil. Roast for around 20 minutes until browned, shake the tin after 10 minutes so the florets get an even colour.

2. While your cauliflower is roasting away get the blender out and add all the dressing ingredients except the olive oil. Blitz and add the oil until you have a thick dressing, tasting as you go and seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. Toast your seeds or nuts in a hot dry skiddle or frying pan taking care not to burn them.

3. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and allow to cool. Toss with the dressing and sprinkle with seeds or nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature. Eat alone or with a chuck of sourdough or an earthy grain such as spelt.

I’d love to hear your twist on any unloved autumn veg.

Roasted cauliflower with a sultana, caper and parsley dressing

Roasted cauliflower with a sultana, caper and parsley dressing

Urban Foraging in Stokey

24 Oct

Ingredients for Hedgerow jelly

Meeting outside Abney Park Cemetery on Stoke Newington High Street we were greeted with flasks of fresh coffee and some delicate mulberry and London honey muffins to start a morning tour of true urban foraging.

Expert wild food forager, Nick Saltmarsh guided us into Abney Park Cemetery opening our city eyes to the edibles below our feet in the cracks of the pavements and next to the rubbish bin – pineapple weeds, nettles, tomatoes and dandelions. Nick reminded us that our urban landscape is fascinating, and a surprisingly richer environment that the countryside, perfect for delicious foraging.

Inside the cemetery were the true delights – juicy sloe berries, tiny raspberries, hogweed, hawthorn berries and leaves, elderberries, elderflowers, rose hips, blackberries, dewberries, mulberries, dock leaves, hedge garlic, pine needles and the ‘juicy ear’ fungi which are usually found on the branches of elder trees, and yes they really do look like tiny ears!

The first essential for any keen forager is a book of poisonous plants and fungi, so you can be one hundred percent sure of what you are eating. In other words, the golden rule is to achieve a positive identity before any picking or eating takes place. And just in case you weren’t sure, under the 1968 theft act, foraging for personal consumption in a public area is not theft.

The location, Abney Park Cemetery, is rich with history, originally a park around a grand house, turned into a non-conformist Victorian cemetery, taken over by a trust that planted an alphabetical arboretum, now managed by Hackney Council. It’s considered the largest woodland ecosystem in London and straddles two distinct types of landscapes, Oak woodland and heathland.

We then wandered along Church Street to Clissold Park taking in the diverse mix of fruit and nut trees – cherry plum, peach, pear, fig, hazelnut almonds and walnut, the most common in urban areas. In Clissold Park we stood in delight under a magnificent fruiting mulberry tree, which had black juicy berries just out of hands reach!

It was nearing lunchtime, so we jumped in a couple of taxis to cookery teacher cum culinary anthropologist Anna Colquhoun’s house in Highbury to find out how we could make the most of our urban edible landscape in the kitchen.

Fortunately, Nick had been foraging earlier in the week and Anna’s kitchen was stuffed with wild fungi, hedgerow berries, mulberries and wild greens. First up were some triangular wild weed filo pies, which had been made earlier in true Blue Peter style. Anna then introduced us to the wild mushroom speltotto with Nasturtium butter, which would be our lunch. We all chopped and stirred as Nick filled us in on more wild fungi facts.

Wild mushroom spelt risotto

Lunch ended with chestnut flour crepes with wild berries and ricotta cream. We also tried out some of Anna’s homemade liquors (made with bay, sloe berries and walnuts) on our way out which had a real punch!

A large festive dark red pan had been bubbling away with a mix of edible hedgerow berries and some apples – on the way to being a hedgerow jelly. This was to be our take away gift, perfect with hard cheeses and cold meats.

I think we’ll all be looking around London in a more inquisitive way now we’ve had a taste of the abundance under our feet, above our heads and at arm’s length. Together with a good field guide and a book of poisonous plants and fungi, London really is delicious for foraging.

Roger Phillips illustrated guides come highly recommended for all things wild food.

This was originally posted on the Jellied Eel with some edits.

**This adventure was hosted by Food Safari**

Bonita Applebum, you got it going on #sourdough #realbread

21 Sep

Bonita on her first day

I’ve been playing with sourdough since making my starter at the beginning of June. She’s called Bonita Applebum inspired by the hip-hop classic from A Tribe Called Quest’s debut album – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. It’s all part of the nurturing and feeding process, giving her a name, you respect her and she respects you, well that’s the plan.

Bonita was started by mixing half strong white flour and half strong whole wheat flour with an equal amount of lukewarm water. She was then hand mixed to get the consistency of thick double cream with no lumps! She was then left in a cool, shaded part of my kitchen with a clean tea towel covering her for three days. Bonita was now bubbling away happily, in other words she was fermenting and ripe like a strong cheese, ready for her first feeding.

To feed her, around 80% of the wild culture is discarded (You can make sourdough pancakes with this) and replaced with equal amounts of lukewarm water and the flour blend mentioned above. I then fed Bonita every day at roughly the same time, the morning is a good time for me. I could see the balance of the yeast and bacteria establishing themselves with the rise and fall of Bonita. She also had a very distinctive aroma, sharply acidic and then sweet just after the feeding.

Bonita Leaven!

Bonita Leaven!

My first sourdough bake was three weeks later when Bonita was rising and falling in a predictable pattern. I now keep her in the fridge with a loose lid and feed her every fourth day and get her out two days before I’m planning to bake!

My first ever county sourdough loaf!

My first ever country sourdough loaf!

Just an important note about the type of flour I have been using – it’s organic, stoneground, unbleached, strong bread flour from Doves and Marriage’s in Essex. This is to ensure my bread is full of nutrients, often lost during roller milling and the spraying of pesticides, environmentally friendly and unadulterated unlike most of the bread consumed in Britain today.

My current sourdough bible which was recommended by a friend of mine is the distinguished  Tartine by Chad Robertson. The sourdough country bread illustrated recipe is about twenty six pages long, but don’t let that put you off, there are lots of other recipes which I’ve yet to try!  Although, real bread does take time, so don’t rush it. If you’d like to experiment I’m very happy to share Bonita.

My second attempt

My second attempt

As you can see my loaves have come out rather flat, although with a decent crumb, I’m working on getting a better structure and final rise. The below loaf is a country rye, with twenty percent of the flour being a light rye flour. It was delicious but also a bit flat and not the best shape. Today I’m trying out Chad’s baguette recipe which uses part sourdough leaven and some dried active yeast with a mix of plain white flour and strong white flour.

A light rye sourdough

A light rye sourdough

Find out more about the rise of Real Bread here and find your nearest source with the postcode finder.

**A starter is a mix of flour and water in which natural yeasts and bacteria grow to produce a bubbly mixture that is regularly fed with more flour and water**

From Protest to Progress, what’s next for capitalism?

22 Mar

Last night we, Itchy and Bacon went to a debate organised by nef, the new economics foundation which discussed the Occupy movement and the ways in which we as individuals and collectively as part of various social movements can move away from the current economic system which is not working for the 99%.

It would have made sense to Storify the event, although the network coverage wasn’t great and it wasn’t really a tweeting crowd, so I’ve done a little blog.

The headline speaker was Ross Jackson, the author of Occupy World Street, a global roadmap for radical economic and political reform who spoke of how current global financial practices are driving economies to the brink of collapse and his plan of action to allow countries to regain control of their own economies through what he calls ecological economics, through a new WTO and a new World Bank, sovereign trade and the reduction of capital flow.

All of which will be led by a handful of small countries that are ready to break away from the current system with the support of global social movements. This is of course a very simplistic way of describing his strategy, but outlines the barebones of a real alternative. Here are a couple of quotes from Ross which really stuck out:

‘Economics is politics in disguise’

‘Capitalism has many different meanings to different people’

‘The World Bank, the WTO and the IMF are currently the biggest barrier to sustainability’

‘A massive gap between ideas and what’s happening on the ground’

‘Current system doesn’t recognise limits to growth’ (See the Impossible Hamster)

Fanny Malinen from Occupy London was very positive and upbeat about the future of the Occupy movement and did stress the important of institutional reform. Here are some quotes, Occupy isn’t going anywhere:

‘The Occupy movement shows that global and local movements are part of the same picture’

‘Main strength is the diversity of the movements (and the people involved)’

‘Not just a protest, it is a process’

‘Not just about the physical place (St Paul’s etc)’

‘There has been a significance change in discourse’

‘It’s about where next’

Danni Paffard from Move Your Money UK and UK Uncut explained why it’s so important to have ‘Protest and progress at the same time’ and why a large part of the campaigns she’s been involved with are about ‘educating’ people about the current system and how you can make tangible steps such as ‘Moving your Money’ as part of ‘creating dialogue for what we actually want’. Dannie was almost animated when she described how she’s often asked ‘what’s wrong with the banks?’

‘Everything!’

‘Lots of us believe we live an ethical life, but who has your money!?’

‘It’s such a massive problem, it’s almost intangible’

March is move your money month, you can pledge to move your money now. We’re moving our money this month.

Tony Greenham, Head of Finance and Business at nef was the final speaker. Here are some quotes which made my brain throb (in a good way):

Capitalism is a relic’

‘The idea of trickle-down is a mirror’

‘The idea that you grow your way out of poverty is a complete joke’ 

‘Set up your own currency system, set up your own local energy system’ 

The whole debate and vibrant questions from the audience (mostly much older than us) were filled with hope, doubt and inspiration to be part of a movement which is working towards an economy for the people and the planet. It seems a reassessment of our current value system is a crucial place to start.

A Moorish Aroused Feast of Waste

12 Mar

Since reading about the scale of the food waste scandal in Europe a good few years ago I’ve had the pleasure of working with Tristram Stuart on the mighty Feeding the 5k campaign which seeks to illustrate and change the current broken food system focusing on the major issues around food production within the industry and our homes.

In the UK alone we waste a staggering twenty million tonnes of food each year which ends up in landfills and being ploughed back into the land.

On Friday evening chef come food waste activist Tom Hunt with the help of his great team, Tom’s Feast put together a feast of Moorish inspired nosh at The Russet in Hackney Downs Studios, a creative space and café for the local community. The owner Steve Wilson is behind the People’s Kitchen, a food waste and community cooking project at Passing Clouds in Dalston which runs most Sundays.

(Rebecca Clarke)

We arrived to a very welcoming space with five wooden dinner tables lit with candle light and freshly cut daffodils. Pieces of fruit were handed out to us vegetarians and pescatarians.

The canapés stared to roll thick and fast, beetroot hummus with an elegant sprig of dill, potted hare with chili & cacao, smoked salmon & ricotta and cod’s cheek croquettes served with a dill aioli (I think). The highlights being the potted hare and the sweet cod’s cheek croquettes.

(Rebecca Clarke)

We were then seated with an eclectic range of others all happy to feast together on seasonal, organic produce that had been either rejected due to cosmetic reasons, basically not being ‘pretty’ enough or too ‘rude’ and surplus food donated through a range of supplies such as Abel & Cole, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.

Next came the warming Harira soup with E5 sourdough. We were then asked to take a deep breath and make as much space as possible for the main course of salt boiled lamb’s head and tongue which I was expecting to be an almost biblical affair. This was served not as an actual ‘head’ on large wooden chopping boards with roasted fennel, baba ganoush, cumin spiked hummus, lentils with salsa verde, mouth cleansing waver thin kolrabi and enough celeriac boulangere to capsize a small fishing boat. Falafels with tangey harissa were served for the non meat eaters.

After more chatter and booze the dessert arrived, orange jelly with thick rhubarb ice cream on ginger biscotti. Sadly my pictures don’t do this immense feast justice due to the subtle lighting!

Sharing and celebrating food brings us all together which is a great start, but what’s next?

If you are not familiar with FoodCycle and FareShare you should have a read of all the work they have been doing. These two fantastic charities are actively redistributing surplus food within disadvantaged parts of the community with a crew of determined volunteers.

You can also discover more about the work Tom’s Feast does in the UK and sign the pledge to reduce your household food waste and encourage businesses to do the same. It’s a great opportunity to reduce your environmental impact and ease the pressure on global food supplies.

My Sweet London Highlights of #SMWLDN 2012

23 Feb

  1. Share

    Thu, Feb 16 2012 06:11:52
  2. This year’s London Hub, The Design Council sponsored by Google

  3. Share
    Chinwag’s first @smwldn event kicks off at 1pm! ‘Mind the Gap: Avoid a Social Media Skills Crisis’ t.co/yXJcUASj #SMWmindthegap
    Mon, Feb 13 2012 05:07:13
  4. Share
    A lot of truth in finding corporates don’t fully understand these online media positions they are hiring for #SMWmindthegap #smwldn
    Mon, Feb 13 2012 09:31:28
  5. Share
    Interesting stuff at the #SMWmindthegap event re Social Media skills gap. Collaboration to create practical learning is the key. #smwldn
    Mon, Feb 13 2012 10:48:58
  6. Twitter, the Butterfly effect and the future of Journalism in a warehouse in Farringdon
  7. Share
    Only 7% of people are on Twitter. #smwldn #mashupevent #socialmedia
    Mon, Feb 13 2012 15:15:16
  8. Share

    Tue, Feb 14 2012 11:43:57
  9. Share
    Try and read the signal, not the noise @killdozer #smwldn #mashupevent
    Mon, Feb 13 2012 15:08:43
  10. Share
    Over 50% of top 150 news items shared are from traditional news media sources #smwldn #mashupevent
    Mon, Feb 13 2012 14:26:55
  11. Share
    Danger = we think we can tell stories well from our desks – but we can’t @paullewis #smwldn #mashupevent
    Mon, Feb 13 2012 15:01:44
  12. Share
    News orgs create 100k URLs a month but only 10k shared by political influencers @killdozer at #mashupevent #smwldn
    Mon, Feb 13 2012 14:14:40
  13. Share
    Great night at #mashupevent #smwldn future of news event with @annadoble @stevewillbe @titia_k @paullewis @emmajell @simongrice
    Mon, Feb 13 2012 18:47:03
  14. Party time in the Big Smoke!

  15. Share
    Anyone else heading down to #smwldn launch party tonight? We’re ready to get our tweet on! #nokiaconnects
    Mon, Feb 13 2012 15:17:32
  16. Share
    Social Media Week 2012 – BBC, Rory Cellan-Jones
    Fri, Feb 17 2012 21:22:12
  17. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:35:20
  18. Day 2, Happy Valentine’s Day
  19. Share
    We are holding a special valentines session today at @smwldn – Sex, Love and Social Media #SMWsexlove
    Tue, Feb 14 2012 06:26:38
  20. Share
    #smwsexlove – SEO your social profile to enhance your date-ability! Classic! #smwldn
    Tue, Feb 14 2012 08:53:29
  21. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:35:00
  22. Share
    33% of people have broken up with their partner via text message, email or facebook #smwldn #smwsexlove #fishburnhedges /via @edwards_jen
    Tue, Feb 14 2012 08:50:26
  23. Share
    Apparent 65% of young ppl use FB to look at profiles of ppl they don’t know… This is why I set my privacy settings to max! #smwsexlove
    Tue, Feb 14 2012 08:32:22
  24. Share
    If you can’t be at #SMWsexlove watch the live stream, it’s hilarious!!!!
    Tue, Feb 14 2012 08:27:37
  25. Global Keynote with Mark Stephens CBE & Kathryn Corrick
  26. Share
    Q’s for @markslarks on Freedom of Speech, Censorship, Twitter, Privacy tweet us or use #smwfreetweet, we’re all ears, well eyes.
    Tue, Feb 14 2012 10:17:53
  27. Share
    Don’t spend £70-120k on a super-injunction. Spend £50k on a good PR person #SMWfreetweet
    Tue, Feb 14 2012 10:29:44
  28. Share
    Freedom Of Tweet Censorship: Governments Marketing & The Law
    Wed, Feb 15 2012 11:27:06
  29. Share
    Lovely tip “if you want a super injunction, get it at Xmas, no-one’s checking’ /via @markslarks #smwfreetweet #smwldn
    Tue, Feb 14 2012 10:26:57
  30. Share
    You no longer require expensive equipment – anyone can become a publisher. Your success is dependent on what you write #smwfreetweet #smwldn
    Tue, Feb 14 2012 10:38:54
  31. Day 3, The First Ever Unruly Social Video Film Festival
  32. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:34:45
  33. Share
    30% of all online searches are video searches! #svff #smwldn @unrulymedia
    Wed, Feb 15 2012 15:12:48
  34. Share
    Future Hipsters
    Wed, Feb 08 2012 00:04:43
  35. Time for some food & photography from Great British Chefs
  36. Share
    Another fab blog post from @gbchefs #SMWFoodPhotography #smwldn by @tikichris t.co/JzXj4BZk @tomaikens @davidgriffen @tomskitchens
    Fri, Feb 17 2012 02:06:16
  37. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:35:36
  38. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:35:00
  39. Day, 4! The biggest day of the week with The Future of Sharing, Google , The BEEB & The Olympics, The Psychology of Online Influence and more, ohh and the closing party.
  40. Share
    61% of social media users are annoyed with ‘frictionless sharing’ #smwsharing
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 04:49:38
  41. Share
    Mobile users share 2.5 more times than desktop users. #smwsharing
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 05:15:01
  42. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:35:20
  43. Share
    Mark Jones, Reuters: “Frictionless sharing has to have an ’embarrassment button'” – it needs to be undoable if required #smwsharing
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 04:57:48
  44. Share
    Social/digital literacy to understand transparency and privacy is responsibility of State? No, transparency is an ethical issue. #SMWsharing
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 05:40:42
  45. Share
    Trevor Johnson of FB on privacy concerns when printing press, telephone invented. Says people will understand and accept #smwsharing
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 05:38:22
  46. Share
    @claire_coady Indeed, very male panel. Would have appreciated a woman’s perspective #smwsharing
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 05:47:29
  47. Google kick off with Robin Dunbar, Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology, Oxford University and a shop full of sweets.
  48. Share
    Robin Dunbar = total legend. #smwldn #SMWgoogle
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 10:03:27
  49. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:34:18
  50. Share
    Male Facebook users with 500 friends have mutual communication with just about 10 of them according to Fbook data! #SMWGoogle
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 09:52:19
  51. Share
    Social is a core human behaviour, not a destination #smwldn #smwgoogle
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 10:27:05
  52. Share
    24% of shoppers will get on their smartphone and check customer reviews before buying #SMWLDN #smwGoogle /via @kerryjeanlister
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 10:31:10
  53. Share
    #smwldn #smwgoogle The woman from Google who demonstrated Google Hangouts deservces a promotion – she’s just convinced the whole room
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 11:04:28
  54. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:35:54
  55. Share
    Woo! #smwgoogle is trending! Thanks for coming and joining the conversation on Twitter, all.
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 12:53:09
  56. The Psychology of Online Influence
  57. Share
    Im at the psychology of online influence session for Social Media Week #smwpsychology
    Sun, Feb 19 2012 06:04:33
  58. Share
    RT @publiczone: People trust information received on fb at 16%, on twitter 23%, on linkedin 66% #smwpsychology @TheWebPsych
    Fri, Feb 17 2012 19:30:19
  59. Share
    70% trust the reviews of strangers, 90% from those you know #wom #smwldn #smwpsychology
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 09:16:57
  60. Share
    Your personality predicts how happy you are at about 30% – David Stillwell #smwpsychology
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 08:56:29
  61. Share
    Interesting point about curiosity. We’re 10x more likely to share something on fb from someone on the periphery of our group #smwpsychology
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 09:19:38
  62. Share

    Thu, Feb 16 2012 05:40:23
  63. Share
    Psychology, aesthetics and the power of the mind online #SMWpsychology #smwldn live stream aiafrate@constantcontact.com < lots to learn
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 08:29:34
  64. Share
    #smwldn #smwpsychology is now trending in London!
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 09:04:38
  65. Share

    Fri, Feb 17 2012 11:26:09
  66. Taxi, it’s party time again!
  67. Share
    So, who’s going to the #smwldn closing party this evening?
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 12:14:02
  68. Share
    Social Media Week London #smwldn closing party starts … With bubbles. t.co/SBFyFlKj
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 14:06:47
  69. Share
    I’m having a great time! Packed out party, such a pleasure to be here #smwldnclosing #smwldn
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 15:46:37
  70. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:35:20
  71. Share

    RT @ThatGirl_Chloe: So proud of my @NewspepperHQ crew! #smwldn closing party http://twitpic.com/8kse56
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 18:57:11
  72. Share
    Enjoyed catching up with @BexLondonTown @LaurenAlyceMac @paulj85 @JoshSolana & It was great meeting @cloundninerec #SMWLDN Closing Party
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 20:16:49
  73. Day 5, Friday! I was out of action, so here are some pieces of coverage which really made me smile.
  74. Share
    AMAZING that #SMWDNA has raised over £5000 this morning for Mind & Cry charities. Great skills #smwldn
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 09:06:31
  75. Share
    Which city made the most noise during Social Media Week 2012? London! Collaboration is key t.co/vHV9EYJf via @Brandwatch #smwldn
    Mon, Feb 20 2012 06:47:38
  76. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:34:18
  77. Share
    RT @Toodlepip Man on a mission: Sam Michel of @Chinwag /by @LondonlovesBiz t.co/DYHwFCTn < thx @gabbygriffith, made me blush #SMWLDN
    Thu, Feb 16 2012 05:43:47
  78. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:34:46
  79. Share
    RT @smwldn: Already over 210 votes! Still have til Friday to take part in the Social Media Week Awards 2012  cot.ag/wSV4lT #smwldn #smwawards
    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:23:44
  80. Share

    Thu, Feb 16 2012 06:44:35
  81. Share
    Storming end to #smwldn with a cracking #smwsocialbiz session. #smwhugs to all involved for making my Friday. #geekgasm @SMWLDN
    Fri, Feb 17 2012 07:55:54
  82. Share

    Wed, Feb 22 2012 14:35:36

Jars of Winter Sunshine

19 Dec

This year I really wanted to make something, rather than buy something. Thoughtful little edible Christmas presents for my family were it. I was having a think last week while lying in bed with my girlfriend about what I could make that would be a bit of a treat and at the same time affordable and practical.

Lemon Curd, of course, an old classic most loved and documented in the Victorian era served with scones or thickly spread on slabs of dense white bread. It definitely has a tinge of nostalgia around it, almost Famous Five like. It’s also something that’s never the same when shop bought.

All you need is some juicy organic unwaxed lemons, caster sugar, eggs, butter and some spare jars which need to be washed with soap and warm water, then placed upside down in a medium oven for about half an hour.

LEMON CURD

Makes 4 small jars

Zest and juice of 8 unwaxed lemons

400g of caster sugar

200g of butter, cut into small chunks

6 eggs and 2 egg yolks

4 sterilised jars, 4 waxed discs, 4 covers and 4 small elastic bands

1. Add the lemon zest, juice, the sugar and the butter into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. Ensure that the bowl is not touching the water.

2. Stir carefully with a whisk until the butter has melted.

3. Mix the eggs and yolks with a folk and add to the glowing lemon mixture.

4. Let it cook, stirring regularly for around 10 minutes, until it is thick and curd-like. The mixture should feel heavy on the whisk like a custard.

5. Remove from the heat and pour into your warm sterilised jars and seal while warm.

6. Once cold, label and make them pretty with ribbon or loved old cloth!

(Recipe adapted from Nigel Slater, 2010)

They will last for about three weeks if stored in a cool place.

Serve generously with meringues, amaretti biscuits, scones and slabs of crusty bread.

There are still five days before Christmas day so get cooking and flood your kitchen and friends with some winter sunshine.

(Rebecca Clarke)

(Rebecca Clarke)

(Rebecca Clarke)

(Rebecca Clarke)

(Rebecca Clarke)

My very first Supper Club

9 Dec

After salivating over the array of supper clubs in East London for the last two years on my best friend Twitter, I finally chose one ten minutes walk from our flat, Leluu & Blyde.

It really excited me the mix of Vietnamese and classic British flavours from the partnership of Uyen Luu, who has been hosting her very own Vietnamese inspired supper clubs for two years and food journalist, sommelier and now chef, Douglas Blyde. Douglas and I shared a few amusing emails as we’d requested no red meat and he came back with a bone marrow salad as a alternative to steak tartare which made me giggle. We ended up with some succulent veggie gyozas which did the trick!

Last night we turned up to a very welcoming flat with three tables all set delicately with vintage china and a large ice bucket for our booze. It was BYO, as all supper clubs should be. We mingled with the other first timers and all shared our love of food, many working full time in the food industry. We were then seated ready for our eleven whole courses to begin.

First up was a very homemade strained vine tomato Bloody Mary with basil which was refreshing and subtle, not like a Bloody Mary. Next up was an oyster filled with seaweed, sesame and stinging nettle jelly.

Plates of immaculate morsels just kept coming and were beautifully described when served. My highlights were the delicate not so Bloody Mary, the pea soup with white truffle croutons and the quail bathed in rose water on a festive nest of roasted parsnips and pink pomegranate seeds.

Enjoy the pictures below, although they were taken on my rather crappy blackberry. The full menu is here for you to admire. Most of the ingredients are sourced locally and from sustainable supply chains. The donation to the cooks and hosts is £35+ per person. Don’t hold back, it’s time to book that supper club.

(Rebecca Clarke)

(Rebecca Clarke)

(Rebecca Clarke)

(Rebecca Clarke)

(Rebecca Clarke)

My four local loves on Hackney Shore

2 Dec

A quick post on my four favourite local shops which all have healthy, local living and access to sustainable food at their core.

Fin & Flounder

First up is Fin & Flounder the friendly fishmonger at the London Field’s end of Broadway Market which has a great selection of sparkling wet fish and seafood which all comes from sustainable sources. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying some tasty Squid, stewed Portuguese style with onions, garlic, chili, tomatoes, parsley and white white and a thick slab of Ling and some sweet Monkfish cheeks, cooked with a fresh Thai green curry paste and lashings of coconut milk. The head of the fish is always the most delicious part of the animal, the cheeks being the gold. They even Tweet! 

(Rebecca Clarke)

Healthy Stuff

On Dalston Lane, this newish health food shop with a small cafe has great juices, smoothies, coffees, cakes and sandwiches served on E5 Hackney Wild Sourdough is a quiet place to hang out with your laptop. Set up by a local couple who now have a young baby, one a trained nutritionist and the other a passionate foodie, they stock a range of Organic fruit and veg and various other staples and you can also refill your Ecover bottles.

FARM: Shop

This urban farm come cafe, workspace and unique event space has been around for a year, opposite Dalston Curve Garden. It was originally devised by Something & Son – ‘How much food can we grow in a shop?’ and is now a fully functioning sustainable business with fish, chickens on the roof and loadsa salad which is used in the cafe. They also have a polytunnel at the back which is great for events or to enjoy a fresh urban snack in the heart of Dalston. If you are interested in creating your own FARM: Shop email these guys here. I have just started working with these guys, the whole shop is run by a range of volunteers! Pop in and get involved. They have just joined Tumblr, enjoy.

(pony cube, Tumblr)

Happy Kitchen

They started off as a vegan bakery, and now sell their products throughout the UK. Their cafe is just by London Fields overground station under the arches which gives it a holiday feel. Happy Kitchen specialise in sweet vegan goodies which use no sugar, just wonderful fruit and a range of savory lunchtime salads and one pot wonders. They also sell loose pulses and have a range of food centered events/classes under the arches. They also have a stall on Broadway Market on Saturday if your feeling like a festive brownie. See what they’re up too. Hopefully the full website will go live soon.

My vegetable of the month: Beetroot

24 Nov

We’ve been getting juicy earth covered bunches of beetroot in our seasonal organic box for the last two months. Get the memories of bad Borscht out of your mind now.

I’ve roasted them for hours in the oven with garlic in their skins served with creme fraiche, pistachoes and lime zest, cooked them and made an autumnal salad like my grandma does with grated carrot, roasted sunflower seeds and bite size pieces of orange, if available with a yogurty citrusy lemon dressing.

I really wanted to do something with a South East Asian twist and came across a recipe in Leiths Vegetarian Bible, don’t be sacred, it’s a fab book, even if you love eating animals. My brother gave me the recipe book whist I was at university and it continues to inspire me and is quite ideally stained with beetroot.

BEETROOT, COCONUT AND LIME SOUP

30g unsalted butter

1 medium onion, sliced

3-4 stalks of lemon grass, trimmed and sliced

800g-900g beautiful purple tender cooked beetroot

1/2 pint of vegetable stock – Bouillon or homemade

1 x 400ml can of coconut milk

juice and zest of one lime

salt and black pepper

Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche and lime zest

1. Melt button in a heavy bottomed pan, add the onion and lemon grass and fry over a low heat until soft.

2. Peel and trim the beetroot (after cooking in boiling water). Cut into largish chunks. Put in the pan with the stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

3. You’re nearly done. The smells should be amazing. Puree the soup in a blender with the can of coconut milk.

4. Pour the soup back into the cooking pan and add the lime juice and season with salt and pepper, taste. Reheat and top with a dollop of creme fraiche and some lime zest. Serve with toasted Sourdough or Rye bread!

(Recipe adapted from Leiths Vegetarian Bible, 2002)

Don’t be intimidated by beetroot, it’s an amazingly comforting and versatile vegetable. You should still be able to get your hands on some, get cooking.

(Nick Saltmarch)

(Rebecca Clarke)

Blog Action Day: Food waste

16 Oct

Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event which brings together bloggers all over the world to blog about the same global issue on the same day. This year it coincides with World Food Day, which aims to highlight poverty and hunger together with a call for less food waste and action to curb speculation on food commodities.

I have been thinking about the very issue of food waste for a while especially since working on the feature documentary PLANEAT with documentary king Christopher Hird . When I came across Tristram Stuart’s critically acclaimed Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal I could barley step foot in a supermarket or comprehend the impact of food production and consumption on the planet.

In 2009 Tristram with the dedicated work of volunteers and a range of organisations put together an incredible event, Feeding the 5,000 in London’s Trafalgar Square to show the real scale of the problems with our current food system and our domestic habits. Five thousands meals were prepared from food that would otherwise have been wasted because it was approaching its use-by-date, or which had been rejected on aesthetic grounds by supermarkets. I was at the event to take some pictures for the PLANEAT blog and my main memory except the queues of people in the snow was the shock of people saying, “What’s wrong with the food?” and then realising it would all normally be in a landfill. Have a read of some scary food waste facts on the website.

This year another Feeding the 5,000 will be held in a few weeks on the Friday 18th November, see you there.

Food waste is just one issue of many which can be changed through campaigning and taken into our own hands by choosing to grow our own food and source our food ethically in a society where we do have that luxury. For more on the impacts of food speculation have a look here and for some details of where to shop ethically in London have a read of Jellied Eel.

Donor 150

10 Apr

Donor Unknown, a feature documentary which has made it to London as part of  a DIY Fringe , put together by a team of queer creatives to make up for the week which was lost at this year’s 25th anniversary of The London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at the BFI.

It was originally showcased at Sheffield DocFest last year and is now heading to New York for its US Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

This compelling human documentary follows a young women conceived with donated sperm who tracks down her biological father online and discovers more siblings than she could have ever quite imagined and a rather unusual nomadic father who ends his anonymity after seeing his donor number in The New York Times.

It’s a very surreal thought to think that one donor could have up to one hundred children. Some children are not even aware that they have been conceived using a donor, which in itself brings large issues.  There are varying levels of laws and screening processes protecting the donor across the world. The London Women’s Clinic allows ten treatments per donor.

Sarah Garrett from the Alternative Families Show took part in the Q & A session after today’s screening. This London based show educates and advises people who are looking to start a family.

Donor Unknown brings to light some key issues with sensitivity and humor which opens the door to a whole new world of alternative family structures. It feels like we are socially running to catch up with theses scientific developments.

It has been compared to the award winning ‘The Kids Are All Right’, which some say based the character of the sperm donor around the charismatic Jeffrey Harrison, donor 150.

It will be released in the UK in June.

copyright of Redbird Media and Met Film

Bunting for all

6 Mar

It’s half way through Fairtrade Fortnight 2011, 28th Feb-13th March. The most frantic time in the calendar for The Foundation to promote the core messages at the forefront of this consumer movement which started over forty years ago, although only commercially launched in 1988 by Solidaridad.

The Fairtrade Foundation in the UK as we now know it (once 6 staff now over a 100) was officially established in 1992 by a mix of NGOs, CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Traidcraft and the World Development Movement. The first Fairtrade Fortnight was celebrated in 1995.

I have been very much involved in the last two, volunteering and working with The Fairtrade Foundation, Divine Chocolate, Cafe Direct and Ubuntu Cola, who are largely led by women. I am now more of an outsider, although still very much an advocate of fair and ethical trading within my personal life. A crucial aspect of the Fairtrade movement is the dedicated campaigners who are some of the most inspiring and determined individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and working with. Without them this movement would be nothing.

This year the key focus is on cotton, the most common natural fibre in the world, which is primarlarly grown in West Africa. Celebs such as Emma Watson are pushing the ethical trading message with the launch of Fairtrade cotton ranges by People Tree and Topshop.

The core mechanic of this year’s fortnight is a Facebook based campaign ‘Show Off Your Label’ to increase the  visibility  of the label though sharing content, mainly through uploading fun images and encouraging your ‘friends’ to vote on them to increase awareness through online buzz . This is largely incentivized by a variety of prizes from Fairtrade licensees.

A key way to join in this year’s activities is to be part of the more offline activity to set a new word record by ‘Showing Off’ the Fairtrade label by creating the longest ever hand decorated Fairtrade cotton bunting.

This is happening all over the UK in homes, schools, universities, churches, offices and community groups.

The great thing about this movement is that you can become a part of the change just through the way you shop, whether it’s in your local supermarket or an independent shop. We’re all part of the solution. Happy bunting.

Endangered Species

27 Feb

I’ve always been interested in feminism, although no expert I believe it’s a subject that we should be more actively engaged with.

At the moment I’m reading Natasha Walter’s ‘Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism’ which investigates how the traditional words often associated with feminism such as ‘choice and empowerment’ are now being sold back to women in our highly sexualised society where an increasingly narrow vision of feminism and sexuality is seen as the norm. In her own words;

‘I once believed that we only had to put in place the conditions for equality for the remnants of old-fashioned sexism in our culture to wither away. I am ready to admit that I was wrong’

Natasha Walter is best known for her groundbreaking book ‘The New Feminism’, published in 1998 which aims to separate the personal from the political by making feminism, also know as equality accessable to all.

A more controversial thought leader within this arena, Susie Orbach the psychotherapist, writer and public figure who wrote ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ which famously exposes the links between sexual politics and female dieting is back in the public eye with Endangered Species, an international summit which challenges, ‘…the toxic culture that teaches women and girls to hate their bodies’.

The London section of this summit is coming up this week on Friday the 4th March at the Royal Festival Hall. Below is the winning poster which challenges the body beautiful culture and is now on the cover of DIVA magazine and billboards across London.


Holiday in Hackney

26 Feb

I felt like it’s really time for me to get back to blogging, so here I am. I did start a blog in 2009 when I was working on the London Fairtrade Campaign, although I sadly neglected it.

It’s now 2011 in case you were wondering what year it was. I have to double check sometimes.

I’m a recent addition to Hackney and was having a giggle with some friends about the idea of ‘holidaying’ in Hackney. What would you recommend to potential holidayer in Hackney?

Here are a few ideas to start:

  • Enjoy the catwalk of Broadway market, fisheye lens camera optional
  • Pop into The Dove for a pint of Belgium beer, bring your own chair
  • Visit Hackney City Farm to cheer up the donkey, wax jacket essential
  • Have real life cash, note form preferred-unless you actually enjoy paying to withdraw YOUR own money
  • Buy a fixed gear bike  sprayed disco pink
  • Take pictures of your friends in front of a real piece of graffiti
  • Grow a very tidy mustache, optional
  • Carry a cotton bag which has the word Organic on it at least once, essential
  • Lurk in vintage clothes shops on Church Street, fry – up optional
  • Eat a very large burger from a very small plate at Dalston Superstore, only on a Sunday
  • Get lost trying to find that secret party in (another) warehouse

Any contributions to this list would make me smile. Happy holidaying.

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