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Health Update

I’m going to be trite for a moment, and you’re going to let me. You know all that “you’ve only got this moment, live for it as you never know when it will change” kinda stuff? Well, it’s true. Over a week and a half ago I was admitted to the Countess of Chester hospital. The excruciating pain in my hands and feet wasn’t easing and I had lost the use of my right hand overnight (wrist drop / radial nerve palsy). They ran a number of tests and found out that I don’t have rheumatoid arthritis, I have a much rarer and more aggressive autoimmune disease called vasculitis. Not only that, but I have an incredibly rare variant called Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener’s granulomatosis) or GPA, for short.

The day after, I lost the use of my right hand, my right foot also ‘dropped’ and my left hand is developing medial and ulna nerve palsies. The night before last, the bridge of my nose collapsed with a condition called saddle nose deformity. It may be possible to correct it in the future with bone grafts from my chest, but it’s not always viable or successful.

Currently we are racing to switch off my immune system as it is attacking my nerves, blood vessels, joints and sinuses. The danger is that it will start attacking my internal organs, kidneys are a particular target with GPA. At the moment we don’t know if the disabilities I’ve got are permanent or if I may recover some movement at some point in the future. There may also be further disability caused before we can stop the disease.

I started chemo last week and am being monitored very closely as the disease is very aggressive and constantly changing what it’s attacking. The advantage of having such a rare condition is that all the consultants are taking an interest so I’m getting a lot of medical attention!

There’s a treatment plan in place now for the chemo and drug therapy. Should it go to plan, and something more serious doesn’t happen over the next few weeks while we’re shutting off my immune system, I could go into remission in about 3 years, although it is common to relapse and I’ll need to be monitored for the rest of my life. I may also have some permanent disability, and, of course, the nose issue.

They’re now looking to find me a bed in a rehab centre for long term care and to help me adapt to my current and any further disability and to help with chronic pain management. There’s nothing as excruciating as the immune system attacking nerves and inflamed blood vessels!

So, now more than ever, live in the moment. It can all change so freaking quickly.

Love to you all.

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REVIEW: Plant-based Paleo

Cover of Plant Based Paleo

Originally published on www.ukhandmade.co.uk

I always knew this day would come. Be careful what you mock folks, because it may become your future. It’s time to take a deep breath and admit that I’ve gone from a steak lovin’, red wine drinking gal to a gluten-free vegan all in a few short years. I know a lot of vegans are now choosing to eschew the word aiming for “plant-based” or even “plant-empowered” (yes really) as an alternative descriptor feeling that the term vegan has some unpleasant connotations. And I’ve got to say, back when I was chomping on the flesh and washing it down with a glass of red you could often hear me guffaw “My husband is a vegetarian, but if he’d been a vegan… *sucks in breath / shakes head sadly* I don’t know if we’d be together.” *wink* But here’s the irony, now it’s me whose doing the vegan diet with added limitations for my sins (bye-bye wheat, bye-bye tea and coffee, bye-bye wine and gin *sob*).

But I’ve got a good excuse. I’m in the process of being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, which the doctors suspect is rheumatoid arthritis. As my avid and sometimes slightly obsessive reading of natural health books and blogs will tell you, the best way to control autoimmune conditions is through dietary and lifestyle changes.

So naturally I jumped on the chance to review “Plant-based Paleo” by Jenna Zoe. I was automatically pre-disposed to like this book when it arrived as it has a lovely picture of one of my favourite vegetables on the front – beautiful rainbow chard. It’s one of my best sellers in the market garden and it always looks amazing in photos (and on the plate) as my instagram will testify.

I’ve read a lot about the benefits of a paleo diet, not only for my health condition, but in general. The idea behind the paleo diet, if you haven’t come across it before is to eat like people used to thousands of years ago. However the paleo diet typically incorporates meat and searching for vegan paleo online yields surprisingly few results and all from the U.S. Therefore I was delighted to be asked review a book full of vegan paleo recipes which was written by the UK based Jenna Zoe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m down with converting from oz to grams (actually I just switch my scales to the oz setting, but you know what I mean) and I’m very happy using my measuring cups. But it’s nice to review a British book on a subject you’ve been looking into. It also means that you’re more likely to be able to get hold of the ingredients more easily. Well, that was the theory. But more on that in a minute.

Inner page image from Plant-Based Paleo showing Breakfast Crumble

I’ve made about four recipes from the book so far and they’ve all been delicious! I started with Breakfast Crumble, mixing my gorgeous organic Jonagold apples with an almond, coconut oil and coconut palm sugar topping and serving it with coconut yogurt. I’ve had the Date-Orade a few times after my morning yoga sessions as, according to Jenna “ the coconut water and salt balance out the lost liquids and sodium from a hard sweat”. I’m not sure that my 20 minute gentle stretching morning yoga routine classifies as “hard sweat” but it makes me feel zen to have something this delicious and healthy afterwards. The Hemp Tabbouleh with Pea and Mint Falafel were uh-mazing. The herby, seedy, green leafy, fresh salady mix of the hemp tabbouleh made by mixing parsley, mint and kale with tomato, onion, cucumber, hemp seeds and pomegranate seeds was a mouth sensation all of its own. The pea and mint falafel were light and flavoursome, although I must admit mine crumbled into pieces and didn’t hold their shape while cooking, but that didn’t affect their taste one jot. The lemon tahini dressing was a nice sharp counterpoint to all of the flavours.

Inner page image from Plant-Based Paleo showing Hemp Tabouleh

Remembering the deliciousness of the organic coconut yogurt I’d brought to go with the Breakfast Crumble (and the ouchiness of the price of it), I was eager to try the recipe for Coconut Yogurt in the book. Unfortunately I had a fail here. The recipe calls for you to leave the yogurt in the oven for 24 hours with just the oven light on. And it was then that I discovered that I don’t have an oven light in my main oven. Weird. Seeing as I had my coconut milk and probiotic powder all ready to go I thought I’d use the thermos method of making yogurt which I’d used successfully back in my dairy yogurt making days – I even used it to successfully make raw milk yogurt. Unfortunately it didn’t work for the coconut yogurt. But I did make a nice rhubarb and pro-biotic spiked coconut milk smoothie with it and I fully intend to research other methods of making coconut yogurt. The recipe is also bookmarked so that I can make the Berry Chia Jam as soon as my raspberries have ripened to go with the amazing strawberries my plants have been giving me recently.

Inner page image from Plant-Based Paleo showing Coconut Yoghurt

Along with the Jam recipe, I’ve also bookmarked the Sauer-carrot recipe (fermented carrot in case the name didn’t give it away) and the macadamia cheese recipe. I’ll substitute the macadamia’s for cashews though, as organic cashews are cheaper than macadamia’s and something that I keep in my pantry, but I love the idea of making fermented nut cheeses.

“Plant-Based Paleo” certainly delivers on it’s promise of “Protein-rich vegan recipes for well-being and vitality” and Jenna includes some good information in the introduction. Such as “What is Plant-Based Paleo” and “Shopping for Plant-Based Paleo” together with “Essential Ingredients” and “Plant-Based Paleo Parameters” where she talks about what to avoid and what to consider, including meat, fish and eggs if you want a more traditional paleo approach.

Inner page image from Plant-Based Paleo showing Tonic

Where I felt it was slightly lacking was that all of the recipes are what I would call “fiddly,” asides from the drinks. Most of them have long ingredients lists and many of those ingredients are either hard to come by, or expensive, or both. I know that Jenna Zoe runs the online shop www.foodstolove.co.uk where you can source many of the ingredients such as Xanthan Gum and Spirulina powder which is useful. But if you’re just starting out on your plant-based paleo journey you’re not going to have a lot of these ingredients in your pantry which might make it even more expensive, prohibitively so for some. The recipes also take quite a lot of work so aren’t for the beginner cook who isn’t comfortable in the kitchen.

However, if you’re already well into your whole food journey, have a nicely stocked pantry or are willing to invest in some new and exciting health food ingredients, and are comfortable spending time in the kitchen then I’d definitely recommend you check out “Plant-Based Paleo”. It’s recipes are interesting, healthy and tasty and will bring some variation to your meal time repertoire. Oh yes, and being a gluten-free vegan is awesome! We have the best food. Fact.

Plant-Based Paleo by Jenna Zoe, photography by Clare Winfield
Published by Ryland Peters & Small

ISBN-10: 1849756120
ISBN-13: 978-1849756129

www.rylandpeters.com/plant-based-paleo

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STASH (A short story)

It’s National Sstashcover_lowreshort Story week, so here’s a short story for you. Click to download a copy as a .pdf | .epub | .mobi to read on your other devices. Feel free to share but please note the Creative Commons licensing regs around Non-commercial use, Attribution and ShareAlike.

There’s me and there’s my Mum and that’s it. I’m thirteen years old, it’s summer and I’m waiting for my period. I suppose there used to be Dad too but he went away when I was little and now Mum whirls around with bottles of vodka and brown plastic bottles of pills, smoking fags and being angry and shouty.

I stay out of her way because we don’t get on. When she is snoring on the sofa I sneak around her blubber pinching her fags and sips of vodka and slipping some of her small red pills into the lining of my coat to add to my stash.

My stash is getting big now. I keep it in the hollow of a rotting tree wrapped inside three black bin liners in Ingram Barrell’s field. The only person who makes Mum angrier than me or my Dad is Ingram Barrell. His farm starts where our garden ends but his farmhouse is away through the woods and the fields between so we hardly ever see him.

I’ve been wandering around Ingram Barrell’s land since I was old enough to give Mum the slip and wriggle through the gap between the hedge and the broken fence. But I’m not the only person who walks unwelcome on his grass and hides in his trees. I see traces of other people – their beer cans, used condoms, porn magazines and fag butts that they leave behind. I never see them though, just as he never sees me. We’re like ghosts walking around and catching glimpses of each other but never meeting.

I collect the bits of these other people and add them to my stash. I really like their porn magazines and it’s a good day when I find one whose pages aren’t too soggy and a really long fag butt. I take them to my tree and reach my hand inside, gripping at the plastic all slippy in my fingers. I lift it out and shake off the woodlice and earwigs and undo my special knots. That’s how I know that no-one has been looking at my stash, no-one could do my special knots in the same way. I would know that someone had found my stash and I would make a fire and burn it and then run and run until I found a new place. But no-one has found it yet. It’s mine.

Today I don’t find any new porn magazines or fag butts on the way to my stash but that doesn’t matter because I’ve got three fags that I stole from Mum, two red pills and half a bottle of vodka. I’m going to read my favourite porn magazine, one of the first I ever saw — if you don’t count the ones the boys tease us with at school. They yell at us, pointing at the ladies’ fannies and flicking their tongues up and down like snakes.

“Got your BOOBS yet, girls? Do you wear a BRA? Urrrghh! I bet you touch yourself DOWN THERE!”

Today I’m sure that I’ll get my period. I’ve never had a period and every day I hold my tummy in my hands and beg it to come. Sometimes I get angry and hit my tummy but it still doesn’t come. I want my period. I want the sanitary towels that come in pretty square packages with bows on the outside to catch my period in. Then I’ll be a woman.

I want a little black handbag with the plastic packaged squares of the sani towels in it and a pretty gold powder compact like I saw a lady with on the bus once. My body won’t be thin and gangly with nubbins for breasts and straight up and down any more. I’ll be curvy and round with a waist and a bum and big boobs with brown nipples like the ladies in the porn magazines. I’ll wear lipstick and flick my hair over my shoulders and all the boys will want to be my boyfriend and all the girls will want to look like me.

It’s summer and I’m waiting for my period. Mum is drinking vodka from a chipped glass and reading ‘Take a Break’, coughing up her fag breath all over the pages. I slip out the back door and down the garden and through the gap to freedom. Even though It’s really hot I have my special stash coat on and I can feel the three fags and the two small red pills in the lining. The half bottle of vodka that I found in Mum’s stash behind the cleaning products in the bathroom cupboard is splashing about in my other pocket. I’m happy.

As soon as I’m on the other side of the fence on Ingram Barrell’s land I can breathe again. I always scan the fields looking for his stomping figure in his wellies and flat cap but I’m hardly ever rewarded by the shock of seeing him. I saw him the other month though and I crouched down behind a bush and hid until he disappeared. The fright made me hug my knees and giggle with delicious naughty thoughts about what he might do if he found me. But he’ll never find me unless I want him to. I’m too clever for him.

Maybe when I’m a woman I’ll go and show him my woman body, all flicky hair and lipstick lips with vodka breath and a cigarette dangling from my fingertips. Maybe then I’ll let him catch me and see what he does.

Because I’m sure that today I’m going to get my period I unscrew the cap on the bottle of vodka and wash down one of the small red pills to celebrate. I don’t always eat the small red pills right away, I save them for special days. Sometimes Mum has white pills but I prefer the red ones, they’re red like my period will be.

I take another swig of the vodka and it burns my throat and so I take a fag out of the stash coat lining. I take out my matches and make a fire like the one burning down my throat to my tummy from the vodka. I light my cigarette and pretend that I have my woman body.

I walk slowly but deliberately to the woods where my stash is hidden in the rotting tree. I swing my hips and take little swigs from my vodka bottle and dangle my fag from my fingertips just like I’ll do when my woman body comes. I imagine the hot eyes of all the boys and the girls eating up my new body. I imagine the hot eyes of Ingram Barrell all over me, his angry face and his angry man voice telling me off but then stopping when he sees that I’m grown up now.

I’ve reached the rotting tree. I walk towards it smelling the dark, comforting smell of the woods after the sharp brightness of the sun. I reach my hand inside the tree and grab the plastic all slippy on my fingers and lift out my stash and put it on the ground. Next I empty out my stash coat. I put the bottle of vodka — nearly all gone now — on the ground and then line up the box of matches, two cigarettes and the one small red pill in order of their size.

I spread out the stash coat and sit down on it. With my stash bag in front of me I undo my special knots — one, two, three — and I look inside at my stash. There are red pills and white pills, whole fags and long leftover fag butts and my porn magazines.

I’ve also got two packets of sani towels that I stole from the shop in the village. One of the packets has bows on the wrappers like that lady on the bus had, and the other is the new kind with wings. I’ve got the ends of Mum’s make up in there too. Stubby pink lipstick, green eye shadow, a nub of an electric blue eyeliner, some black mascara that is drying up and a cracked piece of mirror that I found in the woods.

Because today I know that I’m going to get my period I decide to take out one of the sani towels with the bows on the packet in preparation and I line it up next to my vodka bottle, matches, fags and one small red pill. Then I look through the porn mags until I find my favourite one. The lady on the front is wearing a pretty see-through lacy bra and pants so you can see her brown nipples and hair down there. She is smiling a big lipstick smile and winking at me.

Sometimes I read the stories, but mostly I just look at the pictures of the ladies with their woman bodies. I trace my fingers around the curves of them and imagine that It’s my woman body that I’m feeling the curves on. The lady in the middle pages doesn’t have any clothes on and you can see all of her woman body, except that she doesn’t have any hair down there. The staples cut across her fanny and boobs but she still smiles up her big woman lipstick smile at the camera.

The vodka, the small red pill and the sun are making me sleepy and my tummy feels woozy. This is because I’m going to get my period today and I decide to lie down on my stash coat and wait. My tummy is making a gurgling noise and I imagine the red period coming and turning my girl body into my woman body as I catch it all on one of my sani towels from the packet with the bows on.

I think that I fall asleep for a little while because when I open my eyes again the sun has moved further down the field. My tummy has stopped gurgling and I run my hands over my body to see if my woman body has come, but it still goes straight up and down. My period hasn’t started. I decide to take the other small red pill and wash it down with the last of the vodka.

I get out all of my make up bits and line them up in front of me. I balance the cracked piece of mirror on my knees and smear green eye shadow on my eyelids and draw big blue lines by my top and bottom eyelashes. My hand wobbles a bit so I smudge it in and it looks good. I put on some of the black mascara and it makes my eyelashes go hard and spiky like the prickles on the back of a hedgehog or the whiskers on my Dad’s chin. That’s the only thing I can remember about my Dad: he had prickly whiskers on his chin.

I open my mouth into a great big “O” like the ladies in the magazines and go round and round with my stub of pink lipstick. I pout my lips and blow kisses at my reflection in the bit of cracked mirror and practice flicking my hair like I’ll do when I have my woman body. Then I light another fag.

I was sure that I was going to get my period today. This morning my tummy felt all crampy like the women in Mum’s magazines say that their tummy is when they have their periods. I feel angry and I hit my tummy a few times but that makes me feel sick so I stop. The sun is going down fast now and I’ve finished all the vodka, cigarettes and pills that I bought with me. I don’t want to take any from the stash because I didn’t get my period today.

I put everything back inside my three bin liners, one inside of the other, and do my special knots. I put it back inside the rotting tree and then I put on my empty stash coat and stumble back home. I forget to look for Ingram Barrell but It’s dark now and he doesn’t walk in his fields after dark.

I know what Ingram Barrell does at night, I saw him once. I had drunk nearly three quarters of a bottle of Mum’s vodka, smoked half a packet of fags and eaten three white pills. I turned the wrong way out of the woods and saw the lights on in his farmhouse over the other side of the field. My heart was banging in my chest but I pretended that I had my woman body and I felt strong and brave.

I crept right up to his house and looked in the window. The tele was flickering and I could see the top of his head over the back of his armchair. He wasn’t wearing his flat cap and his hair was brown and curly. The pictures on the tele were of two ladies like in the porn magazines and they were kissing and touching all over each others woman bodies.

I saw Ingram Barrell’s dinner on the table. He hadn’t finished it all and the cat was eating the bits of leftover meat. It looked like Ingram Barrell had eaten a tin of Spam, some peas and boiled potatoes for his dinner. Gross.

I watched as his hand reached over and picked up the whiskey bottle from the floor at the side of his armchair, and I could see the elbow of his other hand bobbing up and down. I ran away fast, flying over the fields, laughing and laughing to myself. Ingram Barrell wants a woman body too!

#

When I get home Mum is snoring on the sofa in front of the tele. A game show is blaring out and a bottle of vodka is empty on the floor. The ashtray is full and bits of ash and fag butts have fallen out onto the table. Her packet of fags is next to it with her chipped glass of vodka and her puzzle book. I step over her fat feet and pick up the vodka and finish it in five gulps. I take a fag from her packet and go to my bedroom and smoke it out of the window while looking at the moon. Tomorrow I’ll get my period for sure.

The next day It’s raining and I don’t go to my stash. I stay in my bedroom all day and hear Mum moving around downstairs coughing her fag breath over her magazines and drinking her vodka from her chipped glass. My period doesn’t come the next day or the next. Then on the day after that it stops raining and I can go to my stash again.

Because Mum has been in all the time because of the rain I don’t have anything new to take in my stash coat, but that is okay because I already have things in my stash inside the three bin liners in the rotting tree.

When I get to the woods I go to the rotting tree and reach my hand inside for my stash bag all plastic and slippy in my hand. I reach inside but there is only rotting wood squishy on my fingertips. My tummy suddenly feels really woozy like it does when I’ve drunk too much vodka and eaten the small red pills. I reach deeper inside but I can’t feel the slippy plastic, only the empty air and squishy rotting wood.

My heart starts to beat really hard and fast like it did when I went to Ingram Barrell’s farmhouse. Ingram Barrell has stolen my stash!

I don’t know what to do. I panic and start to run about the woods checking all the trees to make sure that I haven’t got the wrong tree. I haven’t. My stash has gone.

I must go home and think of a plan. Maybe I can get some vodka and fags if Mum is snoring.

But when I get home Mum is standing up in the kitchen looking out of the window. I feel sick because I know she is going to shout at me and she’s been drinking vodka all day. I open the door and she whirls around and looks at me. But instead of shouting she says in a small, tight voice, “Ingram Barrell came to see me today.”

I feel like everything is spinning away from me and I hold on to the banister in the hall so I don’t fall over.

“He says he’s got a bag that belongs to you and you’ve got to go round to his farm and collect it.”

I don’t know why Mum’s not shouting at me but I can’t make my voice come out of my body and all my blood is thundering in my ears, so I don’t say anything and go upstairs to my room. I can hear Mum moving around downstairs and coughing up her fag breath but the sound is different today — It’s sharper and has more edges.

I think that she is so angry that she doesn’t know how to be anymore angry and that she might snap and come roaring up the stairs any second.

Ingram Barrell has stolen my stash!

I start to cry bi,g fat, plopping tears onto my cheeks and my arms and my legs. I cry and cry and then I hear the front door close and Mum has gone out of the house. Where’s she going? Why’s she not shouting at me?

I stand up and go to the bedroom window but I can’t see her. Then I get a pain in my tummy so hard that I think It’s going to take all my breath away. I stagger back to the bed and lie down. Red hot sharp pokers are ripping my tummy inside and I know that It’s all the anger of my Mum and Ingram Barrell trapped in my belly punishing me.

The pain in my tummy is rippling across in waves each one bigger and harder than the next. I have no choice and I go to my Absolute Severe Emergency Stash. It has a miniature bottle of whiskey in it, a small version of the one that Ingram Barrell had. I stole it from the village shop last Christmas because it reminded me of his angry face and angry man voice and the ladies on the tele with the woman bodies.

My Absolute Severe Emergency Stash also has one cigarette, a box of matches and one small red pill in it. I keep it all in a shoe box from the last pair of shoes Mum bought me years ago when I was still a kid. I keep it on the shelf in the top of my wardrobe. I made it only to be opened in Absolute Severe Emergency. The pain in my tummy and my stolen stash is an Absolute Severe Emergency so I stand on my dressing table chair and get down the box.

I put the small red pill in my mouth and wash it down with the whiskey. The burning is like the vodka and it makes me forget the pain for a minute. I light the cigarette and lie back on the bed.

Now my tummy is pulsing with the pain and my jeans feel wet and wrong down there. I lie on my bed and suffer my punishment trying to imagine the shape and colour of this liquid pain as it moves and changes. It’s alive in my body, growing and trying to eat me from the inside out. It’s the anger of Mum and Ingram Barrell in my tummy.

After a very long time I hear Mum come in the front door. I hear a thud and then I hear her walk into the front room and turn on the tele. I hear her clinking the vodka bottle against her chipped glass and her cigarette lighter flick flick. Then nothing but the blaring of the tele.

Why is she not shouting at me? Where did she go? Ingram Barrell has my stash and he wants me to go and get it from his farmhouse. The only person who makes Mum more angry than me or my Dad is Ingram Barrell.

The whiskey is all gone and the small red pill has made the pain fainter but It’s still there, whirling around in my tummy making me feel all wrong down there.

I leave it long enough until I think Mum is snoring then I open my bedroom door and creep out onto the landing.

I start to go down the stairs and then I see it in the hall. My stash is in the hall! The pain in my tummy starts up again, the anger stabbing and stabbing. Ingram Barrell had my stash and now my stash is in the hall.

I don’t want my stash any more. I was going to burn it and run and run if ever anyone found it but now I feel like it would be too heavy for me to even pick up. It would burn me if I touched it and the plastic wouldn’t be slippy in my fingers any more.

I have to get it out of the house before Mum sees my stash! Why are Mum and Ingram Barrell punishing me? All I wanted was a woman body and my period to arrive. Then I would have flicky hair and a lipstick mouth and all the boys would want to be my boyfriend and all the girls would want to look like me.

Where can I hide my stash? Ingram Barrell knows about my rotting tree in the wood now so it’s not safe. I can hear Mum snoring over the blaring tele noise and I decide that I should put my stash in my bedroom for now and then I can find somewhere to get rid of it when the pain has stopped.

The stash bag seems so heavy and it makes me feel sick when I touch it. All I wanted was a woman body and my period to arrive.

I lug it upstairs. Each stair feels like a mountain and my back begins to ache. I go into my room and put my stash in the corner and then sit on my bed and look at it. I can see from the knots that it has been opened, and I feel undone.

The anger pains get sharper and my punishment continues. My cheeks are flaming with the pain and the whiskey and the red pill. My stash sits in the corner of my room like a big, black, cloud, so angry with me for letting it be taken away from the rotting tree and my loving fingers.

I need some more pills but I don’t want the ones in my stash. My stash is tainted now with Mum and Ingram Barrell and I hate it. I’m going to burn it.

I go into the bathroom and look in the cabinet for pills. I find some of the white ones and a tiny bit of vodka in one of the bottles behind the cleaning products. I take two of the white ones and wash them down with the vodka.

My tummy squishes as I swallow them down and I need to have a wee real bad. I sit down on the toilet. Then I see the red hot anger of my Mum and Ingram Barrell.

My period has arrived and I start to cry.

END

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From Tower Block to Four Acres: Summer 2014

Originally published in UK Handmade magazine.

Summer in the garden is the time of abundance. The reward for the labour of earlier in the year is paid off when the crops are ready to harvest. Peas and beans pop up all over the place with leguminous joy. The vine crops of tomatoes and cucumbers hang heavy and ripe turning the greenhouse into a jungle, and courgettes practice their camouflage skills hoping to hide and grow into big, fat marrows. At the height of summer I need to harvest every day, whether that be salad crops, peas and beans, tomatoes or those prolific courgettes, masters of disguise.

It's so lush and tropical seeming in the top mobile glasshouse right now. Cucumbers and tomatoes reach to the ceiling and nasturtiums sprawl and spiral round the poles.

This abundance is something that I find amazing about the garden. We harvest and it gives us more. And more, and more. The generosity of nature is wonderful. My role as caretaker of the garden is to make sure that the plants have all they need, to be their primary carer as it were, but they give back so much – food to eat, and plants and herbs for medicine. Peppermint for digestion, lemon balm for headaches and chamomile for hay fever to name a few common ones.

And all this abundance starts from a tiny seed. My purple sprouting broccoli plants were one of my greatest teachers in the garden in my first year. Those plants took a whole season to grow – I sowed the seeds in March, transplanted the young plants in July and then nurtured them throughout the autumn and winter. By February they were five feet tall – only a few inches shorter than me! And then they produced their delicious purple sprouts. I’d had no idea that purple sprouting broccoli could grow so tall or took so long to come into fruition. Of course, there are other, quicker, earlier cropping varieties, but I feel that I learnt a lot from that plant. And the fact that each of those huge plants came from a tiny seed that is about a millimetre – the size of a pin head – is amazing.

Anyone want some rainbow chard? I just harvested 6kg! #nofilter

I think it’s really important that we remind ourselves that all our fruit and vegetables come from seeds. One way you can do this which is fun for you and your children to start rebuilding the connection is to save the seeds from vegetables that you have eaten and enjoyed and plant them up the following spring. Next time you have a lovely squash from the farmers market save the seeds and pot them up. It really is that simple. When I’m planting my crops it makes me smile to remember that a pea seed is, well, a pea! The pea is the seed.

Last summer the grass in my main field grew so high that my niece and nephew ran around with their Mum playing “Epic Hide and Seek” for hours. This year they’re not as lucky because I’m not letting it grow so high. But another benefit of their epic hide and seek was that they spread about the seeds from the leeks which had flowered and gone to seed. So this year I’ve got a bunch of leeks in the field which have self-seeded and I’ve not had to do anything to them.

Now they're in the main field!

Sometimes we can worry too much: have I done this right, is this planted in the right place, in the right conditions? We need to let go more, turn life into an epic game of Hide and Seek and wild sow a few seeds at the same time.

And talking of epic games, here’s a suggestion for the champion of epic hide and seek – the courgette, and its friend the pea seed: Courgette, pea and mint risotto.

Courgette, pea and mint risotto
Risotto is a regular meal at Oakcroft. It’s so simple and tasty and can be adapted to include all manner of vegetables which makes it a handy basic recipe to have in your repertoire. The risotto can be made in four simple steps and you can mix and match the vegetables and herbs to your own tastes and what you’ve got in the fridge.

The recipe below makes two generous portions and is easily doubled and halved. It only takes about 25 minutes to make from start to finish.

160g Risotto rice
½ litre vegetable stock
1 small chopped onion
20g butter
Small glass of dry white wine (optional)
1 Medium Courgette, chopped
Handful of peas
Few sprigs of mint
Freshly grated cheese

  1. Melt the butter and sauté the onion until soft. Add the courgette and sauté with the onion for a few minutes until it starts to soften and brown. Add the rice and toss it around the pan to coat it in the butter and vegetable mixture.
  1. Add the wine if using and stir until it evaporates. Add a ladleful of hot stock and simmer until all the stock is absorbed. Add the peas and stir. NB: if using fresh peas add these towards the end of the cooking time as they won’t take as long to cook as frozen.
  1. Continue adding the stock and waiting until it’s absorbed before adding the next ladleful. This is the trick to making a really tasty risotto. Don’t be in a hurry to add all the stock at once and don’t have the heat up too high as you don’t want it to stick to the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat to medium high and reduce it if necessary. Keep stirring to prevent it from sticking to the pan. After about 15 minutes or so the grains of rice should be tender, creamy and soft but still firm in the centre.
  1. Stir in the parmesan, test for seasoning then cover and leave for 2 minutes.

Veganise it: This recipe is very easy to adapt if you’re vegan or don’t eat dairy. Just use a non-dairy spread instead of the butter in step one and skip the cheese in step four. You could also sprinkle it with some chopped pine nuts or almonds for added flavour if you like.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with a large green salad; baby salad leaves, rocket and sorrel is a particularly tasty mix. And how about sprinkling over some chive flowers for a pretty and oniony boost to your salad as a change from spring onions.

 

Lisa Margreet | designer | writer | teacher | farmer | image

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On the cover of a magazine…

Well, at least a tagline for my organic market garden was. The front page of the July issue of Cheshire Life magazine stated “Growing organically in Malpas” under a large header “Glorious Gardens”. Page 224 featured a lovely three page spread about Oakcroft, entitled “No Payne, no gain” (groan). Interesting fact: my surname, Payne, actually means “pagan” and pagan means “of nature”. So I’m “Lisa of Nature”. Rather fitting don’t you think?

Anyway, for those of you bemoaning the fact that you don’t live in Cheshire, fear not! Thanks to the magic of the internet you can read the article on their webpage by clicking here.

cheshirelife_tomatoes_June2014

You can also peruse a whole gallery of images of Oakcroft (and me and Lester!) that accompany the article by clicking here.

And for those of you who really desire it – my hardcore fans 😉 – you can also order your own copy of Cheshire Life magazine through their website to be delivered to your door so you can keep my interview in your scrapbook forever!

 

Lisa Margreet | designer | writer | teacher | farmer | image

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