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Recently Dan and I have been out foraging a couple of times for shellfish along the part of the Thanet coastline that faces the North Sea, east of the Thames Estuary between Herne Bay and Margate. Once Iron Age settlements, the coastline is flatter than the beaches around Ramsgate and Broadstairs (which lie on the far eastern tip beside the English Channel and are only 30 miles or so from France) and are muddier too. Be prepared for your feet to sink into the sand.

Until around 200 years ago, the Isle of Thanet was separated from mainland Kent when the channel between the two became silted up. Formerly part of the channel, the area to the west of Birchington village, between Birchington and Herne Bay, is now low-lying marshland. To the beaches east of Birchington are chalk cliffs and cliff stacks at Grenham Bay, Beresford Gap and Epple Bay, and a sea wall along the foot of the cliffs inhibits further erosion. The geology of the Isle of Thanet mostly consists of chalk, deposited when the land lay below the sea. The Isle became exposed above sea-level once the English Channel emerged between Kent and France and the sea-level declined. Today, the entire north-east Kent coast is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

I guess you could say I belong to the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall School of cuisine, in that I believe that foraged food when it is wild and in season is food at its best, and once prepared in a dish one can really taste the difference and the freshness of the ingredients.

Two or three pieces of equipment and attire are absolutely necessary when out foraging. Firstly, a pair of wellies as you should expect to get caked in mud; secondly, a waterproof jacket in case of wind and rain; thirdly, a bucket of seawater for shellfish and/or a trug for gathering edible plants such as samphire and Alexanders; and lastly, if you enjoy oysters exactly as they come, an oyster shucker with which to open the oysters so you can savour their salty freshness straight from the sea. As you pick the shellfish, and if you are not eating any oysters immediately, pop them straight into your bucket of seawater and be careful not to spill or tip over your bucket on the way home.

The best time to forage for shellfish is at low tide and, whatever you do, never forage during the summer months from May to August as this is their main growing season. It is safer to harvest your mussels, oysters, winkles and slipper limpets from the rockpools rather than on the beach itself and take only the larger, more mature mussels and oysters, leaving the little ones to continue growing. The beards of the mussels should be visible and the shells closed, and the oyster shells should also be closed. If they are ‘resting’ and slightly open touch them gently to check that they are alive; their shells should close. If this does not happen then they are dead and are to be avoided.

Always forage at a low or receding tide, as if the tide is coming in you can very quickly be cut off from the mainland and stranded, putting yourself at risk of drowning and in need of rescue. Remember that the sea is as merciless as she is beautiful and takes no prisoners with her power. If you are unsure or something doesn’t feel right, head back to shore immediately for your own safety and that of others.

Also remember not to forage during a ‘Red Tide’, which is when the algae bloom can taint bivalves – such as clams, oysters, mussels and scallops – and is highly toxic if consumed. The surface of the water will have a red or brown tinge.

Once we had gathered sufficient oysters, mussels and slipper limpets in our bucket of seawater we made our way back to the car and home.

The preparation of wild seafood is a lengthy one. Oysters, mussels and limpets, for example, will need to be left to soak in a large bowl or bucket of fresh water for at least 30 minutes, in order to ‘purge’ themselves and filter out some of the sand. Wild mussels in particular are very sandy and bearded and they and oysters are normally covered with mini barnacles. If one fails to soak mussels for sufficient time, sand will still be trapped in the mollusc once it is cooked and will be unpleasant to eat. However, do not keep mussels or oysters in fresh water for a prolonged time otherwise they will die.

If you do not wish to eat mussels and oysters right away, you may store them dry in a single layer in the refrigerator, placing a damp kitchen towel over them. Alternatively, you may store them in a perforated tray OVER ice in the refrigerator but never IN ice, or they will die and will be unsafe to eat. Discard any that have cracked shells. Remember, if shells are slightly open, tap gently and they should close. If they do not, then they are no longer alive.

When our shellfish had been soaking for 30 minutes, Dan removed them from the fresh water and scraped and scrubbed off the barnacles under running water and removed the beards from the mussels by grabbing the brown threads between his fingers and pulling them firmly but carefully back and forth and from side to side, easing them away from the hinge. He then returned the cleaned mussels and oysters in a separate container of cold water to continue filtration.

Native to the East coast of North America, Slipper limpets are a kind of sea snail and are an invasive species in the UK and Europe, known to damage oyster beds, thus providing even more of an excuse to eat them. They must not be used as bait or thrown back into the sea because of the damage they cause. Their Latin name is Crepidula Fornicata, but they have many other names including common Atlantic slippersnail, boat shell, fornicating slipper snail and Atlantic Slipper Limpet, and they fasten together in stacks. The smaller shells at the top of the stack are male and the ones at the bottom are female. As the stack grows, the males transform into females and can thus be defined as sequential hermaphrodites. Shells vary in size from 20mm to 50mm, and the maximum recorded shell length is 56mm.

The slipper limpet sea snail has an arched, rounded shell, inside of which is a white “deck” making the shell look like a boat or slipper. Some shells are more arched than others. If you see a single slipper limpet on the shore it will more than likely be dead.

The slipper limpet has almost no predators in Europe and can flourish on several types of hard bottoms and shellfish banks. Thankfully, further expansion to the north is most likely inhibited by low temperatures during the winter which can slow down its development. There have been attempts in France – notably at Mont St Michel, Brittany – to harvest and market the snail, as it is nutritious and versatile and is similar to a cockle in taste and texture. They have a high protein, yellow disc of meat approximately one inch wide and can be eaten raw or gently cooked.

After their filtration Dan removed them carefully from their shells and set them aside. I put them on top of a cheese and tomato pizza, along with some mussels, and finished the pizza with coriander, chilli, tomatoes and a drizzle of garlic-infused olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper, and baked the pizza in oven at 200C fan for around 8-10 minutes, by which time the dough and toppings were cooked through and the mussels had opened.

Slipper limpets and mussels can be gently steamed and their liquor boiled down into stock or broth and the liquor itself can be used as a substitute for clam juice.

Be careful when preparing oysters and, whatever you do, never use a sharp knife to open, or ‘shuck’, their shells as it is dangerous to do so and you will probably break off the tip of the knife. If you do not possess an oyster knife, or shucker, use a screwdriver instead. An oyster knife is short, thick and blunt and a good one can be bought via. Ebay for under £12.00. It is also advisable to wear an apron, to avoid getting dirty.

Hold the oyster curved-side down on a chopping board, keeping a folded tea towel between the shell and your hand, to help you get a good grip and protect your hand. Locating the hinge between the top and bottom shell, insert the knife tip into the crack, push hard and gradually prise off the top shell. This may take a little while and patience may be needed, but just take your time to avoid getting flustered. Once you have prised the shell open, discard the top shell. If there is any seawater in the bottom shell with the oyster, endeavour to keep it there and pick out any fragment of shell. If you are eating the shellfish raw, place the oysters on a plate around a heap of rock salt or crushed ice, season it with a little freshly ground black pepper, a dash of lemon juice and Tabasco sauce, for example, and tip the oyster into your mouth, savouring its salty freshness.

Another good way of eating oysters is by baking them. Dan doesn’t like raw oysters, likening them to ‘swallowing snot’. After shucking the oysters, we placed them on a baking tray and I garnished them with some freshly chopped chilli, grated cheddar, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes, chopped coriander and a drizzle of garlic oil and popped them into a fan oven at 200C for about 15 minutes until they were cooked through and the cheese was bubbling. Served with some good granary spelt bread from the local baker’s they made him a hearty, nutritious supper.

You could also top the oysters with some chopped smoked bacon or pancetta, or simply some breadcrumbs and perhaps a little pesto or tapenade. The possibilities are endless; all you need is a little imagination and courage to experiment.

As for us, we shall be foraging again and trying out some new recipe ideas.





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Last Saturday (15 October) the Performing Arts Centre at Kingston Grammar School hosted the town’s first ever Yoga and Vegan Food Festival, a charity event organised by Kriti Sachdeva of Yogific and her team of volunteers. Admission was just £3 per person (free for children under 12 years) and included the talks, live music and the nine 30-minute yoga sessions, as well as the food and craft stalls. The yoga sessions included one specifically for children.

I had taken a stall, selling my handcrafted cards, jewellery, incense and other gifts. There was a wonderful array of stalls selling everything from cruelty-free cosmetics to tee-shirts and jewellery, vegan and raw vegan food to aloe vera and other ethical and organic products, as well as those publicising Yoga classes for the over 60s, a ‘stop the (deer) cull’ petition, free ‘posture checks’ and chiropractic consultations, reflexology and massage, the list was endless.

An attendance of 200-300 people was expected, but some 500 visitors actually came through the door – many with their colourful clothes and T-shirts proclaiming: “Vegan”, and carrying rucksacks and brightly rolled-up yoga mats, and eagerly browsing the many stalls and chatting with exhibitors, on their way to the classes and talks, and inevitably the event was a resounding success.

Doors opened at 9.15am for the day’s first yoga session and by this time there was already an orderly queue. Food and gift stalls were officially not open until 10.15am, although many exhibitors had finished setting up before trading was set to begin. There are many different styles of yoga available from teachers in the Kingston area, and each 30-minute session enabled visitors to try as many types as they wished.

Vegan and raw vegan food was offered by volunteers of Bhakti Yoga Institute – spicy samosas, chickpea curry with rice, ‘power balls’ (which contained an assortment of nuts), vegan lasagne. I tried some vegetable pakora, £1 for four with a spicy dip.

The Mayor of Kingston, Geoff Austin, and his lovely wife Sheila, and MP for Kingston, Mr James Berry, also attended the event. I met the Mayor as he and Sheila browsed my stall, and he bought one of my Fred and Merlin photo art cards. Fred and Merlin, for those of you who are unaware, are my two cats.

All proceeds from the event were donated to Momentum, which is the Mayor of Kingston’s charitable trust, and an animal welfare charity called Miracle’s Mission.

Founded in 2004, Momentum is an independent Kingston-based charity, which supports children and their families across Surrey and South West London who are undergoing treatment for cancer and other life-limiting illnesses, and at any given time they are supporting over 150 families. Recognising that all families are different, the charity offer support tailored to the needs of each family through their Family Support Programme, which offers both emotional and practical help as well as a variety of therapy services including music, dance and drama. Momentum seek to alleviate some of the stresses that are part and parcel of a demanding treatment plan, by providing trips and treats and respite holidays. They also work closely with local hospitals in order to improve facilities and healing atmosphere during the times children spend in hospital.

Miracle’s Mission was founded in April 2015, and is a UK charity based in Carlisle Cumbria, which aims to protect animals worldwide. The charity was inspired by a stray puppy called Miracle, who was found living on the streets of Borneo. The charity is funded entirely by their own events and by public donations and they receive neither government nor grant funding, and all profits are spent on saving the lives of animals in need and distress.

Miracle’s Mission are setting up their first big project in northern Borneo, known as the Trap, Neuter, Release and Manage Program. In Borneo, too many un-neutered stray dogs and cats are roaming the streets as they compete for too few homes and resources, which has resulted in a population crisis that may only be solved humanely through a neutering program. Constantly competing for food, water and shelter every day means that stray animals lead short and arduous lives that often end in cruelty.

Over 10,000 stray animals wander the streets and by neutering or spaying just one dog it is possible to save the lives of thousands of others being born on the streets. The charity will work alongside local Governments, schools and communities in order to promote the benefits of neutering and spaying and teach people why it is important to care for animals, especially strays who are more vulnerable and in danger of cruelty and violence. Unless urgent action is taken to reduce the number of stray puppies and kittens being born and protect those already in need, many thousands more will spend every day of their lives struggling to survive.

A word or two about a few of the exhibitors.

Panacea Health & Beauty natural health store. Established in 2006 at Kingston-on-Thames, this family-owned business has 5 branches in London and Watford, the Kingston branch is based at The Bentall Shopping Centre. They offer a wide range of the latest products to bring you a natural and healthy lifestyle and have a loyalty card scheme. Products include nutritional supplements, sports nutrition, aromatherapy, homeopathic remedies and herbs, natural and chemical-free cosmetics and skin care, and health foods (including wheat- and gluten-free and lactose-free). The health bar snacks are absolutely delicious! To find out more, visit

Food for Thought health food store. Voted Independent Retailer of the Year 2016 in the Kingston Business Excellence Awards 2016, the business sells raw, vegan and vegetarian and ‘free from’ organic health foods, natural skincare and body care, vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements and homeopathy, as well as many of the more unusual products that are difficult to source elsewhere. I was offered a sample pack of BonPom Raw Organic Mulberry Crumble. This is a very versatile sprinkle comprising nothing but Turkish organic dried white mulberries and is a healthy substitute for sugar. It is also ideal for snacking or for sprinkling over ice cream or porridge (perhaps along with some sliced banana or chopped nectarine, for example) or stirring into yoghurt. The local shop premises are based at 38 Market Place, Kingston. Their website is to find out more.

RUDE Veganz. A new business launched at the beginning of September, their website is currently under construction. Their quirky products include limited edition hand screen-printed garments, including T-shirts, for all ages, and fashion tote bags. Their products are 100% ethical, fair share, eco-friendly and vegan – style with attitude! Check out their Facebook page or send a direct message to @RUDEVeganz.

Tropic Pure Plant Beauty. An affordable, natural, vegan and cruelty-free range of skin and body care, sun care, tanning products and cosmetics, backed by Susan Ma and Lord Alan Sugar of The Apprentice. I met Tropic Skin Care and Beauty Consultant Shabari, who has been vegan for over 20 years and looks glowing. The products are available either directly from Shabari or from her online shop and she also offers pamper packages which range from facials and hand treatments to makeovers and brow definitions for a range of special occasions such as office parties, baby showers, hen and pre-wedding pamper parties, along with a variety of gift sets. I tested one of the eyeshadow palettes and found the colours to be ‘true’ – they blended well and smoothly and did not rub off or fade, and a little goes a long way. I particularly like the sparkly silver! To find out more about Tropic or Shabari’s services, follow her on Twitter @ShabariTropic or Facebook or visit her website at

Saf Life. Raw vegan products certified organic by the Soil Association. The business was established back in 2006, the driving force being to help people achieve their optimum health and wellbeing through holistic nutrition. Some of the snacks are also certified organic. The nutritious products are developed in-house and are packed with flavour. Grab-and-go packaging, ideal for quick and healthy snacking. Gluten- and dairy-free, the products are made at 46oC and are packed with protein and fibre, and contain no refined sugar. Choose from kale crisps (kale tossed in seasonings and then dehydrated for crispness – delicious!), cereal bites (a blend of fresh and dried mixed fruit, seeds, nuts, and superfoods to make a crunchy snack for under 90 calories) and activated crackers (a combination of fresh fruit, vegetables and seeds/nuts) to name a few. To find out more, visit or follow them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Yogific, organisers of this event, offer Yoga and Bollywood Dance in Kingston, Staines and Egham. To find out more, please visit their website or contact Kriti Sachdeva on 07481 898608 or





Daily Prompt: Transformation


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via Daily Prompt: Transformation Transformation . . . the larva becomes a caterpillar and finally emerges as a butterfly – the metamorphosis of nature.

The Tower card in the Tarot deck, one of the major arcana speaks of a rapid, life-changing moment. The event will come swiftly, when one least expects it, and it will be a major happening, not merely a change. A house or job move (perhaps, even, to another country); a marriage or a divorce; a separation; a new beginning.

Change is only temporary; transformation is permanent and one’s life and even one’s attitudes, have the ability to adapt and blossom beyond all recognition. Change is ‘mending’ or ‘fixing’, and suggests that one is righting a wrong or something that is imperfect. Transformation goes way beyond this. It speaks of energy shifts, reawakening and reinvigorating of the chakra centres, allowing oneself to go with the flow, see where the road takes you. Maximising one’s potential, making the most of every opportunity. Reinventing oneself just because it feels right, not because something is not quite right.

Transformation. The bud of the lotus flower gently unfurling and then overnight – whoosh! Sudden and shocking and exhilarating.

Transformation. It lies within us all.









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Last weekend, I placed my online order with ASDA and, whilst browsing the impressive array of groceries in the gluten-free ‘aisles’, I caught sight of Helen’s Gluten Free Seeded Bread Mix for £2.45. Curious to test it out, I added it to my order.

The Seeded Bread is one of three available bread mixes – the others being Sandwich and Brown Bread – and, like the other products in the range, are gluten- and wheat-free.

The price of a gluten-free loaf has come down considerably in the last year or two, but not all are appetising. My favourites to-date have been Genius and Marks & Spencer, although the Asda loaf isn’t bad either. Some of them though have a strange, dry cardboard/powdery texture, unpleasant to my taste buds.

Helen’s Seeded Bread Mix weighs 300g net and will produce a 550g loaf, so at £2.45 is still reasonably priced for a brand name. The mixes are produced by Virginia Health Food Ltd, Carrigaline, County Cork, Eire (Republic of Ireland, for anyone who doesn’t know).

Helen, it should be noted, is a real person, not a marketing ploy. According to her website, Helen O’Dowd was raised on a farm and is a qualified nutritionist, food scientist and mum. Her product is based on a fundamental belief that a diet and lifestyle based on natural produce is paramount in maintaining one’s health and wellbeing and, as a busy working mum, she recognises how difficult it can be to make sure that the whole family receives the right balance of nutrients each day.

The Helen’s products are made using linseed, or flaxseed, because it contains ancient gut-soothing properties commonly found in traditional medicine for thousands of years. The linseed is made even more precious by combining its ancient properties with modern cold-milling technology, which enable the highly functional nutrients within the seed to be more readily absorbed.

The front and back of the bread mix packet are colourful and informative and the packet itself is composed of a wax paper-type plastic that is recyclable as mixed plastics. The bread mix is also yeast free, making it suitable for anyone with a yeast intolerance, and is high in fibre. The packet claims the mix is “ready to bake in 2 minutes” but by the time I had gathered together and mixed all the ingredients and poured the mixture into the loaf tin, it was nearer five.

The ingredients and nutrition information (based on a loaf containing buttermilk and butter) are also clearly listed on the back of the packet along with an image of Helen herself, which gives the product a more homely and familiar appeal. There is also a smartphone scan for recipe ideas. An average 100g slice will provide you with 262 calories, 9.3g fat (of which 1.5g are saturates), 31.8g carbohydrate (of which sugars are 3.0g), 7.5g fibre, 8.9g protein and 1.0g salt. The ingredients are: Potato starch, Rice flour, Linseed flour, Mixed Seeds 22% (Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, linseed), Sugar, Raising Agents – Sodium bicarbonate, disodium diphosphate, sea salt, Stabiliser: Xanthan gum.

Helen professes to use “top quality, nutrient dense, wholesome ingredients so you won’t find any synthetic stabilisers, preservatives or flavourings in any Helen’s products.” Now this ethos certainly fits my own philosophy; I endeavour to steer clear from additives and use only natural ingredients as much as possible. Certainly, nearly all the listed ingredients are familiar to me, but what on earth is disodium diphosphate? If disodium diphosphate is indeed a natural additive, from what is it harvested and how is it produced?

According to Wikipedia, disodium pyrophosphate (sodium acid pyrophosphate) is an inorganic compound comprising sodium cations and pyrophosphate anion (whatever that is). It is a solid, white and water-soluble compound that helps to maintain acidity and supplement nutritional values with widespread use in the food industry. It is used in various grades as a leavening-agent in baking powders and combined with sodium bicarbonate releases carbon dioxide. Grades vary according to the speed of action required. In the United States, the compound is “generally regarded as safe” for use in the food industry. As well as its use in baked goods, it is used in tinned seafood to maintain colour and prevent purge during the canning process. It can be used in the curing of prepacked meats, converting sodium nitrate to nitrate and enabling the meat to hold more water; it is also used in hash browns and other potato products to prevent the potatoes from darkening. In baking powder, disodium pyrophosphate is often labelled as the additive E540. Well I never knew that . . . sounds a bit like a chemical to me! However, I should like to point out that this is only my opinion and I would be interested in hearing from Helen herself or anyone else ‘in the know’, who might enlighten me further.

The baking method for the seeded loaf is detailed clearly on the reverse of the packet. To make the loaf, simply add one beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of oil or melted butter and 260ml milk or buttermilk. Although this recipe is clearly not vegan, you could substitute soya or almond milk for the dairy and replace the egg with a tablespoon of vinegar (which also acts as a raising agent and stabiliser) if you can live with the disodium diphosphate and Xanthan gum (incidentally, chia seeds are a good alternative to Xanthan gum in recipes).

So on Friday evening I preheated the oven to 200C (400F/Gas Mark 6). I then greased my 2lb loaf tin with vegetable oil. As my tin isn’t non-stick, I oiled it really well. In a bowl I whisked one medium free-range egg and to it I added the milk and vegetable oil and the bread mix and gave everything a good stir. The recipe doesn’t state whether the egg should be medium or large but as I had only medium I hoped for the best. The mix was quite runny at first but I mixed it for two or three minutes it became smoother and thicker but was still on the loose side when I poured it into the tin. The mixture reached about one-third of the depth of the tin and in hindsight I could have used my ceramic loaf-tin-shaped dish but the recipe doesn’t state what size tin to use. In any case, while a 1lb loaf tin would produce a deeper loaf it is not likely that the cooking time would be much reduced, if at all, as a consequence.

I endeavoured to make a deep slit in the dough lengthways with a knife but as the batter was quite loose, the slit was not pronounced. I sprinkled some sesame seeds on top, as per the recipe, but if you have none available you could perhaps use a sprinkling of sunflower or pumpkin seeds or a handful of linseed. I popped the loaf tin on the middle shelf of the oven and after about 35 minutes, removed the loaf from the oven and tested it with a skewer and, although the loaf was a pleasant baked golden brown, the skewer did not come out completely clean so I returned it to the oven for a further 10 minutes so the cooking time of 40-45 minutes is accurate. Oven temperatures do vary though and had I baked the loaf in my last oven, which was hotter, even at the same temperature on the dial 30-35 minutes would have sufficed.

After a further 10 minutes, I removed the loaf and retested it; it was ready. Leaving the tin a few minutes’ to cool slightly before handling, I ran a knife blade around the edges of the loaf and shook it out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

The loaf had a pleasant, home baked aroma and was well-risen with a good, deep golden brown crust. It cut cleanly with a bread knife and I could clearly see a good quantity of seeds running through the crumb, which was nice and light – not heavy or leaden at all – and had a round, nutty flavour with none of that aforementioned unpleasant papery texture I had been apprehensive about. In fact, neither myself nor Dan would have realised it was gluten-free unless we had been told. We ate ours with local butter and a mixed salad for supper, but Helen recommends topping the bread with banana or jam for breakfast or perhaps spreading with hummus and guacamole and topping with tomato or some fresh basil as a lunchtime treat; the bread is also fantastic sliced thinly for gluten-free party nibbles. I would present these topped with a little smoked salmon and cream cheese with dill, or perhaps some homemade artichoke pate or a teaspoon or two of finely chopped roasted Mediterranean vegetables.

The real test of the bread would come on Saturday, when it was maybe 16 hours old. I was exhibiting my arts and crafts at the Kingston-on-Thames Yoga and Vegan Food Festival and took with me a sandwich made from two slices of the gluten-free loaf spread with Whole Earth crunchy peanut butter and I have to say it was still delicious and free from a papery texture. The last of the bread also toasted well for breakfast yesterday morning, so an excellent result!

Although I normally hand bake my own bread from scratch without any artificial additives, I would definitely use this bread mix again were I pressed for time purely because it tastes so good and I will probably order one in – perhaps the sandwich loaf mix to see what that is like.

In addition to the bread mixes, Helen’s fantastic range includes a Breakfast Protein Crunch Mix with Raspberries and Breakfast Seed Toppings with Goji berries (both of which I think might go well as a topping on organic porridge), Gluten Free Scone Mix, Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcake Mix, Gluten Free Dessert Crumble Mix and Gluten Free Pastry Mix, all designed to help make mealtimes and teatime treats as convenient and nutritious as possible. They are certainly useful products to keep in the storecupboard to use when one is pressed for time and needs to prepare something in a hurry, or for those of you who are not confident cooks as the recipe mixes contain clear step-by-step instructions to help you produce perfect results time after time.

Helen’s range is also ideal for those who suffer from gluten intolerance or sensitivity or from coeliac disease. Some people, such as myself, find that eating wheat can leave them feeling bloated and uncomfortable and can produce flatulence, acid reflux or even lethargy. I have had a wheat intolerance all my life ever since I was 3 months old, when my mother added rusk to my bottle which caused me to suffer a ruptured bowel; I am also sensitive to soya and sugars, including lactose so for me, it is wiser to follow a gluten-free or low gluten diet as far as possible; I seem to be able to tolerate spelt.

The main protein in wheat, gluten originates from the Latin word for ‘glue’. It provides bread dough with the elasticity to trap in air to give the bread its familiar open texture.

Coeliac disease, meanwhile, is a condition that affects the small intestine and causes a permanent immune reaction to ingested gluten. If coeliac disease is left untreated it can result in damage to the lining of the small bowel, causing lack of absorption of essential nutrients and the development of anaemia, osteoporosis and other medical conditions including chronic joint pain and arthritis. It is possible for coeliac disease to develop at any age, including in those who for most of their lives have always eaten products containing gluten. The only effective treatment for a coeliac is to completely avoid wheat and foods containing gluten.

Today, coeliac disease is being diagnosed more and more and although statistics indicate that 1 in 100 people suffer from the condition, it seems to be even more common in people of Irish descent – despite my estimated 45% European autosomal DNA, I do have some Scots-Irish heritage.

Now it has suddenly dawned on me that the fibromyalgia with which I have finally been diagnosed might actually be a symptom of coeliac disease, especially given my intolerance to wheat products and the like, and I am thinking that I might see my GP about taking the blood test (about the only blood test I haven’t actually been put through in the last few years for my endocrine system woes), if only for peace of mind. At least then I might know for sure with what I am dealing and what further adjustments to my lifestyle I may need to make in order to maintain optimum health and vitality.

Some spectators believe that dietary problems have been aggravated or even caused by the Chorleywood Method of producing bread for the mass market, compared to the more traditional, artisan-produced loaf.

The Chorleywood process (CBP) of mass-producing bread dough was developed in 1961 by the British Baking Industries Research Association in the village of Chorleywood, Hertfordshire. At the time, few wheat varieties in Britain were of sufficient quality to produce high-quality bread products, and the CBP allowed a much greater proportion of lower-protein domestic wheat grain in the flour. In 2009 some 80% of the bread in the United Kingdom was produced by this method. Instead of the older bulk fermentation process, the CBP is capable of using wheat containing lower protein and produces bread in a shorter time than more traditional methods, meaning that a loaf of bread can be produced from flour to sliced and packaged in around three-and-a-half hours. Quick-ripened bread dough is achieved by adding ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), fat, yeast, emulsifiers, enzymes and other artificial additives, followed by intense kneading by high-speed mechanical mixers for about 3 minutes. The argument is that the CBP can use wheat with a lower protein content because some protein is lost during the bulk fermentation of traditional bread, which does not happen to the same extent in factory-produced doughs. It can also be pointed out that CBP is simply a method of producing quick-ripened bread dough and that factory-based bread-making with mechanical processes has established since at least the 1860s.

The high-speed mixing in the CBP generates high temperatures in the bread dough, which is cooled in some advanced mixers using a cooling jacket. Sometimes chilled water or ice is used to counteract the rise in temperature during the mixing process. Air pressure in the mixer headspace can be managed to ensure gas bubbles retain the desired size and number. Operating regimes consist of pressure followed by vacuum, and atmospheric followed by vacuum. Pressure control during the mixing process will affect the texture of the crumb in the end product.

In high-volume bread production, the dough is cut into individual pieces and left to “recover” for between 5 and 8 minutes (intermediate proving) and then each piece is shaped or moulded, placed in a baking tin and moved to the humidity- and temperature-controlled proving chamber, for 45-50 minutes. The dough is then baked for 17-25 minutes at 230oC. The loaves are then removed, or de-panned, from the baking tins and sent to the cooler for about two hours, after which they are sliced and packaged ready for dispatch to shops and supermarkets. In the United Kingdom, the dough piece is ‘cross-panned’ during moulding, whereby the dough piece is cut into four and each piece turned by 90o before being placed in the baking tin. This enables the bread to have a finer and whiter crumb texture and slices easier.

A far cry from the lovingly handcrafted, artisan-produced loaf!

Most of Helen’s products – except for the Golden Linseed Crunch and Linseed Crunch with Cranberry and Almond – are Coeliac UK Crossed Grain approved. To read more about Helen O’Dowd and the products she offers, to view recipes and videos, find stockists or to order online, do visit her website:








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Last Thursday morning, Dan and I received our first Nethergong small vegetable box (which hardly looked small), a wooden pallet-style box (recyclable, of course) containing a variety of vegetables: a large Romanesco cauliflower, celeriac, watercress (from Wingham), a large red cabbage, and Red Kuri squash, as well as the staples of bunched carrots, potatoes and onions – all that, for just a fiver.

We had met the people from Nethergong the previous Saturday afternoon, where they were exhibiting at the annual Broadstairs Food Festival. With over 100 exhibitors, The Food Festival showcased the very best food and drink that local producers have to offer, and the event was attended by some 40,000 people over the weekend. Better still, entrance to the event was absolutely free although donations of £1 per person were welcomed on the door.

Nethergong was running an introductory offer of any half-price vegetable box for a first delivery and, having received Riverford organic boxes on many occasions and knowing what we might expect, did not hesitate to sign up for one. We chose to receive a £10 box every fortnight delivered to our door on a Thursday and we paid the £5 up front for our first box.

While we were there we also bought a bunch of the most beautiful watercress, which we were told came from Wingham. Earlier in the summer while we were house-hunting, we were due to view a delightful period cottage on Watercress Lane, Wingham Well, with stunning views over open fields towards Wingham parish church and a 200 feet rear garden backing on to woods. Excited at the prospect, our joy was cut down to size when, two days before we were due to view it, the property was under offer – less than a week on the market. All worked out well in the end though, as we had a second viewing of an early 1930s period semi at Dumpton Park, on the Ramsgate-Broadstairs border, and it had our name on it. So here we are now, settling into Kentish life!

Run by the Jenkins family of Netherstreet (8 miles from Canterbury), Nethergong Vegetable Boxes were established 7 years ago. The business owns a smallholding and Nursery at Nethergong, growing a variety of herbs and specialist vegetables. The Jenkins family got the idea for Nethergong Nurseries after growing tomatoes in the back garden over the past few summers. The tomatoes tasted so much better than anything one might find in a shop that the family began to think that there must be a market for fresh, local produce and the concept was born. The vegetable box scheme works with a group of local farmers around Thanet and Canterbury, in the heart of the Garden of England. Most of the suppliers are small growers, the smallest farming only ten acres, so the vegetables are an important source of regular income.

With its rich and abundant natural resources, East Kent has been described as the new Gastronomic hot spot in England, attracting talented, quality chefs to the kitchens of Canterbury, Faversham and Whitstable, who are inspired by the high quality produce that Kent has to offer.

Also with our vegetable box was a cheerful, friendly and informative newsletter, which included tips on how to store the vegetables and two recipes; the first, Jamie Oliver’s spicy Squash soup, which serves 8 people, and the second, for a Celeriac and Walnut salad. I shall certainly look forward to trying both.

To store red cabbage, simply keep it in a cool, dark place. We keep ours in the pantry. After all, in the old days, before the days of domestic freezers and refrigerators, that is what a pantry was for. Indeed, refrigeration was unheard of until after the end of the Second World War and many homes were without such appliances until at least the 1950s.

Each Monday, Lewis of Nethergong posts the contents of the week’s veg boxes on the home page of the website. The logo and design of the website reminds me of the Riverford one and I wonder whether they use the same website builder or provider or the same web consultants, although I have been reliably informed that Riverford has now taken their website in-house and reworked it. The big difference is that Riverford has a team of self-employed distributors, or franchisees, whereas Nethergong is a small, family-run business offering service with a more personal touch. Another difference is that Riverford deliver produce in recyclable printed cardboard boxes.

Lewis emails customers to advise them of weekly ‘specials’ that they might wish to add to their boxes. These include free range eggs, fruit and fruit boxes in season, local artisan bread, cheese, and fruit juices. All the customer need do is respond with their choices and they will be delivered with their box. Payment is online by debit or credit card or over the telephone and cheques are also accepted, made payable to Nethergong Nurseries – the same payment methods then, as Riverford.

So on Thursday evening I decided to start cooking with the vegetables and served sliced carrots, mashed potatoes and a homemade liquor with our pie. The carrots were bunched and tied, with their tops on and were irregular and covered with soil like a ‘real’ carrot should be – no namby-pamby prewashed supermarket carrots here. I gave them a good wash and rinse in cold water and they peeled easily. I cut them into round slices and popped them in the basket of the steamer. I used one large and one small potato, again, nice and dirty with soil, washed and peeled those and chopped them into small chunks and popped them into salted water in the pan section of the steamer. One end of the large potato was disappointingly mottled with bruises and I had cut this end off, but they were ‘real’ potatoes after all.

With the pie in the oven and the vegetables cooking, I made some liquor using some of the watercress which I added to a roux made with a knob of butter, tablespoon of cornflour, about ¾ pint blend of semi-skimmed milk and water, and salt and freshly ground black pepper. I then removed the sauce from the heat and whizzed it with a stick blender until the softened watercress was fine and blended with the sauce, then added a good handful of fresh chopped parsley, returned the sauce to the heat and checked the seasoning.

The carrots were just al-dente and the potatoes nice and tender; I transferred the carrots to a dish and kept them warm, then I drained the potatoes and mashed them with milk and a good knob of butter and seasoned well with salt and pepper.

The carrots and mashed potatoes were delicious and flavourful and the liquor had a delightful peppery zing, which really complemented the plate.

Since then I have simply steamed some of the Romanesco cauliflower and served it alongside homemade lasagne (made with Scottish minced beef, fresh tomatoes, a glug of red wine and a diced onion from the veg box), and again it was tender (without being steamed to death) and flavourful.

Dan and I are looking forward very much to receiving our next veg box.

Nethergong delivers to the following areas: –


  • Faversham
  • Whitstable
  • Herne Bay
  • Thanet
  • Sandwich
  • Deal
  • Dover
  • Folkstone

And neighbouring villages.

To order your first veg box half price, simply visit the website:-






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Today I had my second consultation with Dave Thompson, Physiotherapist and Body Talk Practitioner extraordinaire.

Firstly, we discussed the effects of my first session, which was roughly about 6 weeks ago. Although some fibro pain had returned in some of joints and areas of the body, the pain was lower level and had not returned to all the points it had previously affected. However, I had experienced some sensitivity of the teeth and gums, particularly on the left side of my mouth – although this had improved over the last couple of weeks or so – and I thought it might have been caused by some kind of lurgy; my mother-in-law had experienced a similar lurgy herself recently which had, thankfully, completely subsided.

We discussed my impending move to Kent and I shared my feelings of uncertainty for the future and my bitter disappointment at the lack of opportunity and thwarted ambitions in London and that, despite my best efforts over the last 11 years, my endeavours had either fallen on stony ground or had been met with resistance and/or lack of interest; I felt that I had failed to make my mark in the arena of industry and commerce and that people’s indifference towards my work had left me unhappy and demoralised.

I feel that I have a lot to offer but it seems that what I do has left little impact in the marketplace. I have been thinking about the future, excited about the opportunities a new start might give me and yet unsure about how my talents and endeavours will be received. I am, however, prepared to try out different things and step out of my comfort zone to make my mark. The ability to earn my own livelihood has always been important to me; it is part of who I am. Perhaps I will go back to school and learn a new skill that will enable me to set myself up with steady earnings, if I work hard enough at it. I do have a few concrete ideas but am not yet ready to share them with you yet; I need to get there, get unpacked and literally get my house in order, time to pause, time to breathe . . . and then explore. I know the right answer will come when the time is right and I am a strong believer in destiny. It will happen if and when it is meant to be: wisdom and experience has taught me that.

So I lay on the couch and the main consultation began. Dave picked up a chemical imbalance in the body, specifically connected to the thymus gland.

The thymus gland is located behind the sternum and between the lungs and is only active until puberty. After puberty, the thymus begins to shrink over one’s lifetime and is gradually replaced by fat. By the age of 75, the thymus is practically all fatty tissue. The hormone of the thymus is thymosin and stimulates the development of T cells (a specific type of white blood cell) which fight disease, viruses and infections. Whilst the thymus gland will not function throughout one’s whole lifetime, during its activity it plays a big responsibility in helping the body protect itself against autoimmunity, whereby the immune system turns against itself, and thus the thymus plays a vital part in the lymphatic system (the body’s defence network) and the endocrine system.

Dave also picked up feelings of sorrow and anger, associated with my concerns about money and earning a livelihood but, more specifically, regarding what is going on in the world. I quipped that perhaps it would serve me well to avoid reading and posting all the negative news stories on Facebook that seems to have become a frequent pastime in recent months! I think I shall be taking my own advice on board more in the future.

Dave picked up a fear of harming myself with knives (cutting myself) whilst preparing food for other people (true) and an intolerance to adrenaline-based injections which was connected to a memory of an unpleasant experience concerning anaesthetic injections in the dentist’s chair some time ago (also true).

I recalled the incident – two or three years ago now – which happened after I had broken a molar on a crostini at a family wedding; I had been booked in quickly for a crown but in the short time between appointments the tooth had deteriorated and, although my wonderful dentist tried to save what he could, there wasn’t enough good of the tooth to make crowning possible and I had to endure an extraction. The tooth refused to come away cleanly and pieces kept breaking away. It took several injections (me being a wimp), half an hour and a variety of instruments before my unflappable dentist (who is, by the way, qualified in advanced and reconstructive dentistry and one of the most client-centred, patient and calm dentists one could ever meet) had removed every fragment and left it nice and clean and dressed to heal, and there am I, sweating and shaking with palpitations in the chair (and fearing I am going to die in the surgery) and then helped out of the chair, deathly-pale and nearly collapsing on the floor. My concerned dentist made sure I had somewhere to sit down and recover before leaving the surgery and wrote across my notes in large capitals: “NO ADRENALINE”.

Dave determined that a cellular repair was necessary. He passed me a cotton wool bud and asked me to swab round my mouth and teeth and tongue and place it in my belly button. Dave used a tapping technique, as I was asked to place my hands on various points of the face and head, take deep inhales and exhales when asked to and at times raise my head slightly off the pillow and back again. Dave asked me to look out for sensations of the body, such as heat, tingling or cold and not be afraid to mention them.

Dave said that my ability to earn a livelihood were connected to a feeling of listlessness and the storage of fatty tissue in the body. He said this feeling was more like a computer programme running in the background but the disk needed to be wiped clean and it would also help to boost the immune system. He wrote a symbol on a piece of paper and placed it on my abdomen to begin the scanning process. This involved the same tapping routine as before, and I was asked to imagine a cartoon of the right and left sides of the brain, along with the thymus and a healing light or symbol, talking to one another. I could see and hear it in my head, the left and right sides of the brain with mouths talking reluctantly to one another at first, then building up towards a babble, and then quietening down into a friendly and amicable banter. My whole body began to tingle, slowly at first, going down the arm through the fingers and then through the whole body, leaving through the feet, to be followed by positive, tingling energy coming in through the feet and spreading through the body in the same way, bringing with it sheer happiness and bliss.

The final task then was to reconnect and balance all the chakras, particularly the connection between the Crown Chakra (spirituality – something that to me is an important part of my identity) and the Root Chakra (survival, making money and prosperity) as well as the Heart Chakra (harmony and self-worth). I was asked to get up off the coach and stand up for this. To begin with I felt really light-headed but I was soon back in my body (with soul maybe lighter and m0re positive) and we finished with grounding meditation that I can call upon when I need to, when I feel I need a boost over the very busy weeks to come as Dan and I set up our new home in an unfamiliar environment with all its successes, stresses and challenges, and provide a boost to my security, energy levels and general wellbeing.

Yes, I do meditate from time to time and I intend to make time for myself more often, to mediate and to just ‘be’, and I shall certainly be looking forward to what my body has to say at my next consultation.

To book your Body Talk Consultation, fill out the contact form at:

Or, alternatively, call or text Dave Thompson on 07792 886214

See how your body talks to you.











Yesterday Dan and I took Merlin to see the vet for his annual check-up. We knew he has put a fair bit on since his last check-up (when he was 6.3 kg) and he was so heavy in his cat carrier that we had to drive him up the road as he was too heavy to carry the 15 minutes’ walk up the road.

Dominika took one look at him and declared he was overweight. A weight of 6.3kg-6.8kg is fine for Merlin as he is a Maine Coon-Siamese-something else crossbreed and definitely takes after his daddy Michaelangelo with his long whiskers, bulky body, big paws and tiger stripes and has a fascination (like most Maine Coons) for water, but being a greedy puss he has munched his way through too many bowls of cat food and is now at risk of diabetes and heart problems. Dominika said we must be strict with him and deny him treats, and give him only 80g of dry food per day and she wants to review him in 8 weeks.

I  somehow don’t think Merlin the Kitty will be very happy with his new diet regime but it is for his own good. If Fred leaves some of his food in the bowl then Merlin eats that too. We have tried separating them but it just doesn’t work and Microchip bowls cost £99.99 which we just can’t afford at the moment. Fred isn’t quite so bad but needs to lose about half a kilo ideally so we’re cutting both their food down and hopefully this will help them to lose a bit of weight, even if it’s not as much as we’d like. Maybe it will help us to bide some time to shell out for Fred’s microchip bowl in a few weeks when we have a bit more money.

It doesn’t help that Fred and Merlin are house cats and really don’t get enough exercise and Dan is afraid of letting them out and never seeing them again – run over or nicked, as they are the most beautiful specimens with bright eyes and lovely thick, healthy coats of fur – and our garden area isn’t private or safe enough for them to wander without the risk of them coming to some harm.

However, I am determined to have another attempt to put them in a harness and walk them round the garden. They may protest a bit at first but they’ll get used to it!!!



Today Dan and I took a morning train down the line to Barnes Bridge, for a morning of shopping and strolling.

We went to Two Peas in a Pod greengrocer’s at the far end of the high street, opposite Barnes Green. The fruit and vegetables are not cheap but they are of excellent quality and it’s self service with brown paper bags provided.

We chose some broad beans, two huge sticks of beautiful deep pink rhubarb, ripe plum tomatoes, salad tomatoes, a purple lettuce, some plums (to make compote to go with Greek natural yoghurt at breakfast time), and a few other bits. It came to just over £23 which I though was very fair, given the high quality of produce. No more expensive than ordering a large organic vegetable box from Riverford Organic.

The service inside the shop was polite and efficient, and I was particularly impressed by this as there were a lot of customers being served in its small space and nobody had to wait long.

This shop also incorporates a large deli section and I noticed there was an excellent range of dried spelt pasta, two or three types of polenta and some Stoates’ organic bread flour.  I was hoping they might have some of the Stoates’ award-winning Maltstar flour, but there were only two types – strong organic white bread flour and organic plain flour, ground the traditional way between French burr millstones. I bought a bag of the bread flour to make Dan’s loaves for work sandwiches. A 1.5 kg bag was £3.50, quite reasonable given the high quality of this flour. I also bought two sausage rolls, still warm from the oven, rich and meaty topped with a delicious fruit chutney and encased in lovely thin, light flaky pastry and though I usually shun wheat flour I couldn’t resist. I also bought Dan a very chocolaty brownie. We ate the sausage rolls on a bench on Barnes Green and they really were scrumptious with a very high meat content. Two Peas coin them as “the best in Barnes” and I can quite believe it. Dan was super-impressed with his brownie and my stomach didn’t puff out like a football after eating the sausage roll so a very high quality wheat flour pastry.

After our early lunch we nipped across the road to the Sun pub for a relaxing drink and then wended our way back to Barnes Bridge for the train journey home. Waiting for the train we saw the Red Arrows in formation high in the sky perfect day.

A perfect day.


As some people may know, I have always been into cooking and especially baking. I have been doing more and more, specifically because the crunch came in January with my ongoing health problems and I decided to stop eating wheat once and for all. I have intolerances to sugar (including lactose), wheat, soya and a shellfish allergy. I also have to be a bit careful with yeast because I am prone to thrush ever since I caught a really bad cold virus from my mother in December 2013 that gave me oral thrush, and my poor mum’s oral thrush was so severe she had to have a strong course of antibiotics. In contrast, I treated mine with a mouthwash made with tea tree and rosemary essential oils. It took a while to go but it did eventually but I seem to have been left with something in my bloodstream and since then I can get a bit itchy after eating foods containing yeast, especially if my resistance is low. Mushrooms are one of the worst things for me, it seems. I had some shitake mushrooms a few weeks ago when lunching out with friends and the itching afterwards almost drove me crazy.

My body doesn’t like preservatives or additives or the like and I make all my own bread at home with Shipton Mill spelt flour, and also have the occasional gluten-free treat. Today I made two delicious organic wholemeal spelt loaves. My recipe is really versatile because you can add chopped nuts or dried fruit, or include more savoury ingredients like gently fried chopped onions, chopped olives or sundried tomatoes or even a dollop or two of pesto. I then took a photograph and posted my recipe up on the Shipton Mill website: –

So have a go at it and see what you think!



Bursting forth, whitest light

She, of the Golden Realm

Of burnished pinks and silvery hues,

A galaxy above the stars.

From an earthly place released

Her icy fingers reach and flex,

Grasping hard the feathery veil

That spells each letter of her name.

Spinning, spinning into space

Released from suffering and pain,

A comet now she leaves this world

Emblazoned on the skies.