Sunday, 11 May 2014

My first Shannon Hayes inspired meal

"Long way on a little" by Shannon Hayes. 

There's a bit of a story to this meal, which I will try and lead you through sensibly.

The vegetables involved in this meal.

I was reading the other day about good vegetables to eat and hit upon the idea of eating more chilies. I don't eat a lot, but that's now changing. Cancer fighting, good for the sinuses (good for me at the moment, I've been suffering from a bunged up nose all too much recently), but beware eating too much because like so much when it comes to food - it's the middle ground you want to shoot for. So when I saw sweet chili chicken sausages in one of the farm shops local to me - I bought some.

About a month ago I pulled the last of the beetroots from my garden and told people that it was probably the last that I would have in the way of food from last year's plantings. I was wrong. Since then last year's chard, which until recently has done pretty much nothing, suddenly shot into life. As my veg beds are poly culture and overcrowded some plants were rather lost in the background, and the chard very much fall into this group. I am actually impressed with how they're growing, but I suspect they're beginning to bolt. The chickens have been eating the worst of the slug eaten leaves and we've been having the rest. I love this simple vegetable, but it quickly goes over once picked so having it in the garden is fantastic. When you have a small garden it's important to make sure that the food you grow is something you will eat, and it's a good idea to grow stuff which isn't so cheap to buy. Chard isn't cheap and it doesn't keep well (not in my experience anyway). I also suffer from a lot of slugs so will always have leaves with holes in, which is okay because chard is good for chickens too.

I was thinking about the gadgets in my kitchen the other day. I don't have many gadgets, you won't find a coffee machine, expensive food processor or even a toaster enjoying work surface space in my kitchen. But you will find my slow cooker, my dehydrator and my little food processor. My dehydrator was quite an investment but along with having made plenty of jerky (who doesn't love jerky) I've also been preserving lots of excess veg over the winter. Reduced or special offer veg like mushrooms, leeks and peppers have all be dehydrated and squirreled away. In the past they would have all been taking up freezer space, and this way the stuff I have to freeze to preserve gets priority (like meat).

Onwards to the meal itself. Instead of using cabbage I decided to use some of the chard from my garden. This is a really simple meal but it needs a bit of time and preparation. It started two days ago by starting some bone broth. Then this evening I dry fried the chicken sausages. Then I simmered a tin of tomatoes along with half a cup of bone broth and some dried leek. I added chopped chard and when that was nearly cooked I added the pre-cooked and chopped up sausages. The only other thing that I added was some salt and pepper. It was fantastic. The veg served as a simple but tasty background to the sausages themselves. Simply but nutritious food. Fits perfectly with Urban Paleo Simple.

The final meal. Simple, nutritious and tasty. 

I enjoyed this so much that I decided to use the rest of the sausages in a similar way. Only this time I had asparagus, and made the sauce thicker. 

And because everyone loves chickens and free range eggs - look what I discovered in the nesting box the other day. Unless this is the result of someone else's bird using my nest box - the little egg was laid by a two year old hen.

I know it's been months since my last post. It might be ages until my next as well, I don't know.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy 2014

I haven't texted, called or posted to Facebook. I'm not generally a huge fan of huge new years celebrations but I saw the new year in with a friend. I did tweet a few promises to myself as well.

Me: In 2014 I will read 50 books, lose a stone, build a new chicken coop and get a brand new birth certificate in right name/sex.

I have signed up on Good Reads to track my reading. I need to do some detailed designs for the coop and start hunting out some second hand pieces of wood (in order to save money and add some interest to the coop). I also need to contact my GP to get her report for my GRC application. The lose a stone aim has come about because thanks to comfort eating my way through the severe depression in 2013 and then not exercising for 6 weeks thanks to surgery recovery I have put on at least that. 

Health and fitness-wise as at the start of 2013 I don't have specific aims. I will probably have more surgery, leaving me recovering for a couple of months, which will limit things a little. I am returning to the gym again next week and have mostly ditched the comfort eating. The depression has cleared following surgery and the anti-depressant is on its way out of my system. Withdrawal whilst recovering from surgery hasn't been much fun.

Anyway, here's to 2014, may it bring you all you need. Health and happiness to you all!

Friday, 27 December 2013

An exercise in mindfulness

I spent Christmas day alone.

Don't feel sorry for me, I could have spent it with family but opted to spend the day alone. It's horribly easy to get down in situations like this. It's all too easy to feel the pressure to be with people at Christmas and in turn to feel lonely when you aren't.

I read a quote recently and it was able how in English we have two words to describe the two sides of being on your own; solitude to describe the joy of being alone and loneliness to describe to dark side of being alone. Something to that affect anyway.

I feel like mindfulness is about examining the here and now, even whilst working towards something. I didn't spend my Christmas day comparing myself with what I might have been doing, or what I had done in the past, I focused on the moments which made up my day. I had control of the remote (and being Christmas and having the ability to record stuff to then watch later) I could enjoy watching some tv. I also enjoyed going out for a walk with my dog back in our old village. Despite the rain and the wind and the cold I got to enjoy running around with my dog. I read. I watched the Doctor Who Christmas special. I then did my washing up before watching some classic Doctor Who. Everything was on my schedule and this allowed me to focus on things I enjoyed. It wasn't big, it wasn't flashy, it was quiet and simple and an exercise in mindfulness.

There are many situations in life where we can look at them in different ways. Being alone can be a joy or it can be a horrible time of loneliness.

I spent Boxing Day with family. I felt pangs of sadness when I left them to walk to my car but then I looked up at the beautiful colour of the darkening sky, noticed the cool freshness of the air I was breathing, the weight in my hand of the bag full of presents I had been given and I felt blessed. What a wonderful moment in time.

I hope you all had a good Christmas, however you spent it.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Maybe this time I will post something I write . . .

So since I got out of hospital nearly a month ago I have written out a few posts and then meant to come back the next day to editing and share.

In short - surgery mostly went well. I got haemotoma on one side, so I spent a total of four days in hospital. Lessons I have learnt for future hospital stays include taking a food parcel in with me, along with a sim card for my phone with a massive amount of data allowance plus something like my kindle. I was on twitter and facebook a lot whilst I was in hospital and also read LOTS. The less said about hospital food the better. All I'm going to say at this point is that there was far too much gluten and no where near enough protein or vegetables.

Since I got home I have slowly regained movement but my energy levels have been pants. I was struck today by the thought that maybe part of my problem is withdrawal from my anti-depressant. Aside from the withdrawal stuff there is now no need for me to be on medication for depression. I now need to decide whether to carry on with the withdrawal or whether to go back onto medication and just get my feet back under me after surgery.

One thing I have managed to do with my time is read. I think I'm on my 8th book since I went into hospital. Some of them have been novellas, but I have also read Rosemary's Baby, Pinocchio, A Doll's House and am now on The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Yeah I've been playing with those lists of top 100 books and realised that I really wished that I had read more.

The real downside of surgery has been that now my belly sticks out more than my chest. All that stupid comfort eating.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Poly culture and keyholes - summers over

As I explained earlier in the year I have been experimenting with poly culture beds and a keyhole bed. My keyhole bed isn't a proper keyhole bed (no keyhole) but does include the principle of a central compost heap providing nutrients and water to the rest of the bed.

This summer started wet and then get hot and dry. My radishes and lettuces bolted for this reason. They were both in the main (normal raised bed) and I was lazy when it comes to watering. When it was really hot and sunny I think I used a lot of water and lugged several watering can fulls of water over to the main bed. Stuff bolted because I got lazy. It was no great loss about the radishes - housemate likes them but I don't, and the chickens LOVED the greens. I did get a lot of salad out of the main bed before it was all too far gone. Although I pretty much had one harvest after another (limited choice) it felt like I got a lot out of each harvest. The main bed really did suffer from a lack of water. I had added a water butt to the garden but in another spell of long, hot weather like this one I don't think it would be very long before it would run dry.

As for the keyhole bed and water it was a dream come true. When it was very wet water drained out of the bottom and when it was dry it kept plants watered as long as I kept the compost topped up regularly with stuff that had a high water content. There was a dry crust to the soil but below the crust it was moist, the soil was a mix of homemade and bought compost. Early in the summer I had a couple of tomato plants in a pot. They were dying because I couldn't get enough water to the roots. I put them both in a corner of the keyhole bed. One was too far gone by the time I moved them but the other took off happily. From that day to last weekend when I pulled the last of the tomatoes off before they rotted off, I did not water them once. Not once. Normally growing tomatoes means careful water management, but the bed did all of that for me. A lovely example of "look after your soil and your soil will look after your plants". I only got one or two off the plant ripe and ready to eat, you can see the rest below. Not bad for a plant which wasn't watered. But as you can see most of them are green rather than red, I blame the nasturtiums.

The picture below shows why I blame the nasturtiums. Actually I blame myself, I didn't realise how much they would grow and grow, but as you can see they did a good job of taking over and limiting the sunlight for the rest of the bed. The fence is on the east side, it's in the house's shadow during much of the day, and the nasturtiums limit the light getting through for the rest of the day and into the evening. I will grow tomatoes again next year, but I will give them a spot which gets more light.

Despite the challenges of light there are some lovely beetroot in there, the lettuce grew okay, and aside from the caterpillars the kale's okay too. About the only thing which didn't grow well was the green beans. I was expecting them to do well because there's a lot of carbon in the bottom layer of that bed, but apparently not. I'll try again next year and see how they do. Ah, the pak choi wasn't the happiest in there, so that's two things. This became the adopted home for a number of my plants. The tomatoes, then kale and then some chard plants being sold cheap at the garden centre. I'm really happy with the way it's gone. Plants would have benefited from more light, but as it's needed no watering and until recently (as things have thinned) no weeding I will say that I feel that this is about as simple as I could make gardening. My techniques need improving but the method is sound.

The poly culture bed. 
Currently it's been taken over by marigolds, and I think they've now self seeded themselves too. 
Unlike the keyhole bed, which was mainly filled with bought plants, this was largely sown all at the same time. Despite how tightly packed everything is, it has felt like a productive bed. Next year I will grow fewer lettuces and radishes, more carrots, no marigolds, and I haven't planned what else yet. The only "weeding" that has been required has been from the wheat which self seeded from the straw mulch and removing plants that have finished. The sprouted wheat, the radish tops, odd lettuce leaves etc have all gone immediately to the chickens so I wouldn't really say that I weeded as they were all useful. Chickens learnt to stick their heads through the chicken wire to pick stuff, and the bamboo frame kind of really fell apart a fair bit. The soil has shrunk a fair bit so I will add compost to the top at some point in the winter. Thanks to the chickens I have a fair bit to add from the compost point. 

These beds, and this style of gardening might not have yet produced me too much in the way of food, but it has required very little of the way of maintenance. In return I've had enough salad for myself and to share, the joy of freshly picked carrots and beetroot, chicken food, a constant pesto base, flowers, and the pleasure of looking out into my garden and seeing my own mini jungle. Now for next year I just need to get those chickens enclosed but happy so life isn't just confined to caged areas.  

For more information of how I originally constructed these beds please see this post:

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Enjoying the sun - paleo style

Paleo is so much more than just about diet. In the Paleo Solution Robb Wolf talks about food, but also exercise, stress, sleep, and spending time with fellow human beings. At the moment in the UK we're experiencing probably the longest sunny spell we've had in a couple of years. Warm and sunny after a year or more of near constant rain is a welcome thing. We Brits are used to our inconsistent weather and when good weather comes our way we yearn to be out in the sunshine, making the most of it whilst it lasts. I'm combining our natural tendency with some paleo-based advise.

Safely enjoying the sunshine - do I need sun screen?

"Prehistoric men and women didn't wear sun screen!"

There wasn't a gurt hole in the ozone layer in prehistory! 

Sunshine. UVB. It lets our bodies produce Vitamin D but also burns our skin and damages DNA. The key to enjoying sunshine safely is that we need SOME exposure to sunshine without sun screen blocking the light necessary for us to make the very important Vitamin D BUT not so much that it damages the skin. Either limit the time spent in the sunshine, cover up, or wear sunscreen (after getting a bit of exposure to produce some Vitamin D). I found this advice that has been signed up to by parts of the NHS and some important charities. The gist of it is pretty much - Vitamin D is important, get some sun exposure between 11-3 during the summer, but by some we mean about 10-15 minutes if you're white (times will be longer for those who aren't white, but they don't provide any further guidelines). My personal experience is that if I build up my exposure then I can gradually tolerate longer periods in the sun without burning. This seems to be the experience of Loren Cordain as well judging by his second book. 

What shall I do in the sunshine?

It's not terribly paleo to spend your sunshine time sunbathing. It is a brilliant opportunity to get outside and PLAY. Have a kick about, throw a frisby, play tennis or play golf. Or if you're feeling adventurous then go for a hike or bike ride, or go horseriding, go climbing, or canoeing, or sailing, or walk a camel (or the dog). 

If you can't get far from home then maybe just go for a walk locally, possibly even barefoot. Or do some yoga outside. Or have a picnic in the garden (with a friend or two if possibly). Spend some time watching the wildlife around you. Take time to notice the song birds in the garden, the amasing way that plants seem to almost grow before you eyes at the moment. If you're lucky enough to be able to get further from home to watch wildlife, please do. Understanding the natural world around us was vital to our ancestors, and doing now helps slow you down and reduces stress (which hey - is a good thing). Nature is also beautiful and a little bit of fresh air and sunshine does wonders for one's well being. 

Last but not least I want to suggest that people use the sunshine as an opportunity to get out to local events, support local businesses and get involved in your local community. Community was vital to our ancestors and it's still hugely important to our mental health. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Paleo meets permaculture, all in my tiny garden

After the chickens ate all my seedlings I replaced the bird netting with chicken wire, and so far so good. However I'm only just seeing stirrings of seedlings so I have decided that my chickens are going to be shut away most of the time now, until everything is a bit more established and able to survive them. I decided to take the opportunity to mulch the bed and as it was windy I threw some twiggy bits on to hold it down. It was a heart breaking process not least because I had used the last of things like beetroot seeds and not wanting to buy more I had to sow some second choice stuff instead.

This weekend we've had both some beautiful weather and a bank holiday. I was feeling impatient. I wanted more stuff growing and I wanted to spend some time in my garden. My courgette and squash seedlings had died (my last squash seedling died following a cat deciding my self watering container with my seedling in looked like a great place to toilet), so I wanted to buy some replacements because it wasn't looking like any of my other seeds were going to germinate. My local garden centre didn't have any squash or courgette plants so I will seek some out at a local plant sale at the end of the month. I ended up buying some dwarf french beans and beetroot plugs. What then followed was me changing plans, doing some quick research, and creating a new bed almost completely from scratch.

This is the original bed, replanted with some beetroot added. You can't tell from the picture but there are now many small seedlings pushing their way up. So it seems that I've only been put back a few weeks, so all is not lost.

As well as my larger beds I also have one small bed that is 1m x 1m. It has been sat for quite a long time now kind of propped up and around a couple of roses. It's had some old mini fence across it and the chickens have enjoyed roosting on it. I've been worrying about the fact that I only have one compost heap and no room for more. I have been reading a bit for the last couple of weeks about keyhole gardening and hugelkulture. Both styles of beds are low maintenance and help get extra nutrients into the soil. I had half a big bag of sawdust which had been sitting round for about six months. It had been sat round because it was chicken bedding but it started to spoil so it was left to be slowly added to the compost heap. Whilst it was waiting I had been adding personal nitrogen to it to help break the wood down. Hugelkulture uses wood as part of a style of sheet mulching, and keystone beds include a compost heap and compensate for the loss of space by having a slope up to the basket/bin. I had paper for the bottom layer, I had wood for the next, I had well rotted cow manure for the next and plenty of compost for my top layer. Everything was ready to go.

I kind of wish I had taken photos as I went, but some of the work was done after it started to get dark, so they wouldn't have come out very well anyway. This is the bed after it was filled and planted. There's paper in the central basket as it helps keep the compost out and will itself rot down. I added some pak choi, lettuce and nasturtium seeds as well, before making the whole thing chicken proof (hopefully). As it's a poly culture bed everything is fairly tight together as I will thin out as everything matures. French beans are also known as green beans and whilst they have bean in the name what you eat is mostly pod rather than bean so are ok in a paleo diet. They also provide valuable nitrogen. Legumes are a simply and useful way to add nitrogen to the soil (something other veg badly need) but obviously they aren't included in a paleo diet so green beans are a good choice. Next year I might grown runner beans for a similar reason, or I might just feed the beans to the chickens. I don't have to eat everything that my garden produces, if I feed it to my chickens it's still producing food (and with the chicken they also produce manure, which is also more nitrogen).If I didn't have chickens then I would be getting ready to give away lots of beans. 

All the beds have been planted with some permaculture principles in mind. Polyculture, forest gardening (different layers), keyhole, hugelkulture, plus providing flowers (calendula and nasturiums) for insects such as bees and food for my chickens. It's about seeking the most food from a small space for least effort whilst giving something back to the world around me. I have seen the argument that the world is only able to support the numbers it does because of industrial agriculture is an argument against paleo being able to be long term or something many people will be able to do. A pocket permaculture farm in my tiny little garden is an example that we can feed people without GMO, without crazy fertilizers, and without carving up yet more land to drain of nutrients. Nutrients and sustainability are important things aspects of paleo. If you don't agree with me, then I suggest you take it up with Robb Wolf.

I don't have space for livestock larger than chickens but that's ok because I can source pretty good meat anyway. This garden should give me fresh, nutritious and tasty veg in the weeks and months to come. I'm really looking forward to those salads. 

Links, for more information: