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9 May 2014

Digging for victory

Admittedly there is nothing more in the war-time theme here other than the title - except perhaps for the fact that gardening was something my grandfather did during the war and passed on to my father who passed it onto me. I will be forever grateful of growing up in a home where having flowers to admire was equaled by having vegetables to enjoy all year around. Since moving to Bristol I have tried my hardest to maintain a kitchen garden, and fortunately given the space I have out back I have previously had a glass greenhouse and now several smaller polythene houses and tubs. When I first moved here I was delighted to find that the city was ostensibly a good place to think about growing your own food and buying locally grown and produced food (see image 4). I got on board and have been eating my own vegetables and herbs ever since including potatoes, carrots, mangetout, tomatoes, cucumbers (image 3), spring onions, radish, lettuce, courgette, turnips, as well as basil (green and purple), mint (English [image 1], spear, and chocolate), sage (green and pineapple), oregano (green and variegated), coriander, fennel, dill, Vietnamese coriander, lemon balm, parsley, and rosemary. While shopping at a well-known supermarket I noticed that a polythene wrapped back of herbs was 90p for around 30g. An entire plant was £1.50 – I sprung for the whole plant, with a view to planting it somewhere in our herb patch. However, by this logic my entire garden will be a herb patch by the end of the summer, so how can I prioritise? What herbs are most useful or practical to grow? Although I enjoy gardening I tend to attack the job in much the same way as my cooking, read the instructions, and then just have a go. Either it works, or it doesn't. Admittedly, I won't be running a farm (well) anytime soon, but it tends to work fairly well for me, but herbs? The bane of my life! Some I plant one year and the seeds never emerge from the soil, the next year I plant up the same thing and it grows and spreads ferociously (c.f. this years bountiful coriander, image 2). In the end I've resolved to plant herbs where I can without worrying too much about, while keeping in mind those that are a little more sensitive. If there's any advice I can give (and take myself) moving forward: mint should always have it's own pot (like potatoes it dominates and strangles other plants); and basil emphatically does not grow as well on this continent as it does in the Americas, don't put it outside, definitely don't put it outside before July, in fact probably keep it inside and nurse it like a child. Images: 1 - Preparation for mint julep cocktails, and perhaps more importantly, mint julep cupcakes 2 - Still trialing macarons, these from Stokes Croft with the soft green backdrop of our herb patch behind 3 - Cucumber seedling, grown from seed with a propagation table and hardening off in the greenhouse 4 - Bristol Food Connections talk at the Canteen, Local Food: Pollyanna or panacea?

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9 May 2014

Food Connections Markets

I have now had to expand my ‘shopping locally’ challenge to include the markets of the Food Connections Festival. I had a lovely weekend over the bank holiday – it was my Grandma’s 90th birthday, and I made her some lemon curd (with lemons, butter, eggs all bought on Gloucester Road, of course). Then my family and I spent a very enjoyable day wandering around the Food Connections tents in the city centre. I spent an inordinately long amount of time in the produce markets, including having a very lengthy conversation with the woman selling a range of unusual flour. I ended up buying some ‘Emmer’ flour, made from an ancient ancestor of wheat. God knows what I’m going to do with it, but she seemed to think it was the next big thing. At the harbourside produce market I bought these lovely tomatoes. Presented with pride by the stall trader, they were so ridiculously bright and juicy-looking that I couldn’t resist. I find tomatoes that are this good don’t need much else with them. I mixed them with some spring onions and pine nuts, and drizzled the lot liberally with olive oil (that I already had in stock, does that count?!). That’s what I love about produce markets, you can discover new ingredients that you wouldn’t otherwise. Being able to talk to the person producing them makes the whole experience much more personal, and infinitely more enjoyable than just picking something off a supermarket shelf.

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8 May 2014

Bento Box challenge - day 3

Well this will actually have to be the final day of the challenge as tomorrow I will be at @Bristol for the CBI South West Annual Lunch and on Saturday and Sunday I will be able to eat at home. Hot food today, with leftovers from earlier in the week, ie quinoa, kale, polony, peppers, tomatoes and some red onion... plus what was left of the avocado.I won't be back in London till late Monday night, so tried not to leave anything behind in the fridge that wouldn't survive till then. No #foodwaste! On a much more interesting note, today I chaired a session of the All-Party Agroecology Group in Parliament on local food policies - ie local food, and what national/ local policies are needed to support it. Joy Carey from the Bristol Food Council did a presentation on what has been happening in our city which was very well received. It's very clear that Bristol is in the vanguard on this - but we will lose all our Brownie points if we allow development on the Blue Finger. Seeing the Mayor tomorrow to discuss!

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8 May 2014

May Bank holiday

Then into Monday and, although not an official part of the Bristol food connections, however Redland May Fair offered yet more opportunity to try out lovely produce from talented local producers with @mullioncove making another appearance and @veedoublemoo providing a delicious and well needed ice cream sundae. The allergy meant none of Mullion Coves pasties for me but then, I'd have had to have been quick if I could eat them as they were so popular they sold out before the fair had even officially opened!! Double order next year please! After 12 hours on the Green home but happy after a stunning Bristol weekend which has convinced me that this is the city I want to call home!

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8 May 2014

May Day continued

@bishopstonsupperclub on Sat night where the talented Danielle is more than willing to cater for my allergy and without giving me anything that looks or smells significantly less divine that what everyone is having - hurrah! Four courses of amazing food with great company saw Sat night finished off in style. The less said about the trip to a random and pretty ropey bar in Cotham, the better! Home to bed at 2.30 happy and certainly not hungry! Sunday, not surprisingly, saw a rather more gentile start to the day who a wander down to Park Street to see 'Park and Slide.' In fact, all I could see from the top of Park street was the sea of humanity all the way down Park street and the massive throng on College Green - what a difference a day makes! Another wander round the Ark marquee and the marquees at Millennium Square provided me with some lovely sweet fresh English asparagus as well as a couple of different cheeses from local producers and some stunning looking lamb from a rare breed beastie with those pretty impressive horns! Can't wait to get time to cook and enjoy them (although quite a bit of the asparagus hasn't survived long enough to cook - so sweet that eating it raw is also a delight!)

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7 May 2014

Bento Box challenge - slight digression

This isn't quite on-topic - it's not about the contents of my lunch box - but I thought I might as well take the opportunity to flag up a few really interesting meetings I've been having this week, and last week, on food-related policies. I've just met with the Eating Better Alliance - http://www.eating-better.org/ -and Friends of the Earth to talk about policy options for promoting healthy sustainable diets in the UK, which includes a "less and better approach to meat eating. Yesterday I met with Which? to discuss their recently-published research on #foodfraud - you can sign their petition here - http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/meat-takeaways-horsemeat/ It's so important that people know what is in the food they're buying and consuming. Food Connections has been brilliant in terms of leading the debate in Bristol about food sustainability, food journeys, what's in our food and where our food comes from, but the challenge now is how we can take these messages out beyond the 'foodies' and environmentalists and other easy to reach groups. It's all very well saying that people ought to value their food more, and be prepared to pay more for good quality, local sourced, sustainably produced food, but not everyone has the luxury of being able to do that. Last week I met with #foodwaste campaigners and I'm just about to go into a meeting in the House of Lords to discuss the same topic. And tomorrow I will be chairing a meeting of the All-Party Group on Agro-ecology, on "Local Food Policies and Sustainable Food Cities", which will be focusing on Bristol as an example of best practice. One of the issues we will be talking about is how we can protect the Blue Finger in east Bristol and use it for what it should be used for, which is growing food!

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6 May 2014

May Bank Holiday in Bristol

So the may bank holiday is finally over and what a weekend of food and fun filled Bristol brilliance it was! Started Saturday morning with a walk down to the ARK food market on college green which at 10.30 was calm and serene and gave me a great chance to talk to some of the amazing producers in the marquee, as well as to line up what I planned to buy on my way back up the hill! Then it was onto SS Great Britain and the market there organised by the ever lovely Sophie from @mullioncove. Any then back across the harbour (thanks handsome man in the ferry!) to the Food Connections marquees around the harbour and the BBC tents too. What a lovely collection of food goodness and what food envy I had at the street food stalls in Millennium square. Having a food allergy sucks most of the time but REALLY sucks when you see all this amazing food just waiting to be tried but can't do the trying! :-( So instead, into @Bristol to listen to one of the lectures organised by @Bristolconnections. 'Starting a food business' was a great hour of listening to local foodie wonders talk about how and why they started their businesses. Each one seemed to involve luck, inspiration, serendipity and a hell of a lot of hard work! The panel included Laura from @hartsbakery, Elly from the Pear Cafe, Nathan of The Milk thistle, Hyde & Co and the new (and booked on Sat til some time in June) The Ox restaurant, as well as a chap from Bagel Boy (supporting his appropriately corporate t-shirt) and the lovely (and ever young) Jenny Chapman as well as a PR chap and a lawyer. All led by the delightful and flowery languages Tim Haywood. A full audience listened intently to each story and asked some good questions as they strive to start their own dream in the food world. Back up through College Green (much busier by now and with the wafting smells of some stunning pizza - garlic allergy now a real pain) to head home. But the day was not done.

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5 May 2014

Day 5: Half Way There

Feeling revision stress so I am going to keep this very simple! Breakfast was porridge again which was good, lunch was toasted malt loaf with butter and to add a little energy I had a fairtrade coffee too. Supper was a very simple leek and potato soup (one I made earlier) and to top it all off I had a nice rhubarb crumble as a treat. Sorry for the brief log but it's time to get back to revision!

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4 May 2014

May The Fourth Of Food Be With You

Today has been brilliant! Had so much inspiration from the food festival yesterday that I have been thinking about food all day. So for breakfast I had a nice change with a brunch instead of my normal porridge which felt like a nice treat. Lunch time was in the name of leftovers! I had bolognese with salad which was quite refreshing and light. But the real bonus of today was my amazing pork chop with a carrot and swede mash and steamed broccoli with a red cabbage and onion gravy. All of the ingredients came from either the local butchers or from my veg box! Another very successful day in my challenge!

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4 May 2014

Day 3

Ok, it's getting down to the nitty-gritty now, and the word "challenge" is beginning to come into its own. What is really becoming clear to me with doing something like this is that advance planning is a MUST! (can I regretfully say that there was very little of that on my part?) Between forgetting to top up my Bristol Pound account before the Festival started and making assumptions about how many Food Connections stallholders that offer hot food actually take the things (answer, hardly any!) lunch was a bit of a creative scramble yesterday. Fortunately No. 1 Harbourside came to the rescue. After a short tour of all of the delights on offer at the Producer's and Street Food Markets on Saturday (and there were many, get down and check it out tomorrow if you haven't already), it was wonderful to sit down to a tasty sandwich at No. 1 Harbourside, who accepted my Bristol Pounds with an open and hearty smile. I then raced off to Hamilton House to participate in the University of Bristol's Soil, Seeds, and Social Change workshop: Local Food, Pollyanna or Panacea, also part of the amazing Food Connections Festival. Imagine my surprise when I suddenly remembered that lunch was on offer there courtesy of the Bristol Hospitality Network (check out their wonderful work with asylum seekers), featuring fresh seasonal veg supplied by Bristol's own urban Community-supported Agriculture project, Sims Hill Shared Harvest! (full disclosure, yes I am on the Board.) While feeling slightly guilty about partaking of this amazingly delicious meal of Indian-inspired cuisine after having just eaten, I felt I could not turn down a couple of modest portions, and it was certainly worth it. The presentations and discussion that followed were very interesting and thought-provoking as well. Thanks to Mark Jackson's team at the University of Bristol for organising. After all that, it was home to help cook up a tasty Stream Farm trout, served with mash and salad straight from our Sims Hill Shared Harvest veg share (pictured above). (I think that I might have mentioned previously that both of these worthy organisations take Bristol Pounds?) It was another delicious meal with ingredients sourced from the fertile Bristol city region foodshed. Thanks to the Bristol Pound Farmlink scheme, out-of-town producers such as Stream Farm can take payment for their products in Bristol Pounds and help enrich our local food economy. I am now hoping that more of the local butchers that Bristol is lucky to possess in such abundance, will soon be taking Bristol Pounds as well!

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