Cherry picking organic

Brogdale CherriesIf you read my blog regularly you will have noticed peaks and troughs in my posting. You see I’ve been wrapped up in a new project, quiet a big project, of roughly a hectare in size!

Earlier this year I took ownership of a plot of land that over the last few months I have been working to turn into a cherry orchard. I have written about my project for the Soil Association blog and you can read all about my project here.

Part of the work to get the plot ready has involved speaking to experts and visiting orchards. Back in July I had the opportunity to travel to Kent and visit Brogdale, home to the National Fruit Collection. My visit was for a very specific reason, to visit the annual Cherry Festival.

Brogdale Cherry Sale_For a cherry fanatic the day was a feast for the eyes, with an orchard tour and for the stomach, with an opportunity to taste and array of cherry varieties. However the key thing that I learned from my trip was the importance of having Brogdale as a national repository of fruit varieties (not just cherries, apples, pears, quinces too). As agriculture intensifies  we loose the depth and breath of fruit varieties that are commercially grown.

Whether you are a grower or an eater of fruits I hope that you too will think about visiting one of Brogdale’s open days. In an attempt to persuade you I’m going to share my photos from a very enjoyable day out….

Brogdale Cherry Display smlBrogdale Cherry Sale2Brogdale Cherry Sale3Brogdadle Cheery Orachrd1 smlBrogdale orchards

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My ‘Little Food Finds’: Lincoln Coffee House

Lincoln Coffee 1In spite of the cafe’s name this review is actually about tea and to call it ‘my’ Little Food Find is a bit of a cheek too as my visit to Lincoln Coffee House actually came through a tip off ;-)

Earlier this month I reviewed afternoon tea at Reading’s ‘Cerise’ restaurant. I received a lot of comments on Twitter (@porridgelady) about the review from people who didn’t know that Cerise existed and locals who didn’t know they served afternoon tea. However the comments mostly came from a people recommending other places to find good tea in Reading. Pointing out one overlooked venue was Reading’s restaurant reviewer ‘Edible Reading‘. It was on his recommendation that I popped along to Lincoln, and what better time to have gone than in Afternoon Tea Week.

My first impression of Lincoln was that it’s very much a coffee house rather than a tea room. All exposed brickwork and sleek clean lines means Lincoln would not be out of place in Shoreditch or Hoxton. However my prejudice was quickly overcome when the barista turned into a tea guru when he weighed the leaves with which he was about to make my tea!

Lincoln Coffee 2Taking a seat to watch the very welcoming staff at work, I saw quality tea being made with care. The tea was then presented to me in a very cute little pot with a small bottle of milk and most importantly an egg timer. After instructions I was left wait for the tea to brew, waiting for the sands of time to pass through the timer.

The tea was refreshing and surprisingly plentiful (the pot looked tiny when it arrived) and I was offered a water top up too. It’s also nice to be served cold milk. So often milk that accompanies tea is slightly warm. I sat reading a book and enjoyed the mildly hipster venue with subtle music and constant, but not too busy, customer traffic. However, and for me this is a huge mark against Lincoln, once I had consumed a reasonable sized pot of tea I thought that it would be a reasonable request for the toilets. To be told that they do not have a customer toilet and to be on the side of town that doesn’t have a public toilet, is annoying. I don’t think I’m alone in expecting a cafe to provide a toilet, I certainly know amongst my women friends a clean toilet is a prerequisite for a good cafe.  

So in ‘Lincoln Coffee House’ have I found Reading’s best tea room? Sorry to say, and in spite of the tea attention to detail, a lack of customer toilet means it’s a no.

For those of you with a strong bladder:

Lincoln Coffee House

60 Kings Road, 

Reading,

Berkshire,

RG1 3AA

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Organic September needs a recipe for success!

Organic September

In my post for the Soil Association this month I’m writing on my frustrations with the supermarkets. No not want you might think! You see I’m currently writing recipes for publications that are highlighting the month-long celebration of sustainable food that is ‘Organic September’. But there is a hitch, I’m finding it hard to get hold of organic ingredients in the ‘Big Four’. So in the post I ask the supermarkets to step-up as;

Organic September needs a recipe for success.

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My ‘Little Food Finds’: Cerise

Cerise Tea

If you have ever lived or worked in Reading (Berkshire) you have probably heard the rumour that there is a restaurant called ‘Cerise’. With a reputation bordering on mythical, it’s one of those places you’ve heard of, sort of know where it is, but have never actually been to.

My interest in Cerise was recently sparked after reading a review written by ‘Edible Reading’, the town’s very own near mythical, anonymous restaurant reviewer! Edible Reading gave Cerise a healthy ranking of 7.9 (out out of 10) and categorized the restaurant as ‘special occasion’ dining. After a quick look at the restaurants menu on-line my interest was sparked, not by the a la carte dinning, but by afternoon tea!

If you have ever read my blog before you will know that I have more than a healthy interest in tea. I am always looking for interesting tea rooms and of course afternoon tea. Whilst Reading has a fantastic choice of coffee houses, the town lacks a good tea room. I have tried tea in several of Reading’s cafe’s and the offerings range from; dish water to a good builders brew. However nowhere in the town centre serves a proper pot of excellent loose leaf tea and so when I saw that Cerise served ‘bespoke’ leaf tea I was hopeful. 

On a sticky, sultry afternoon, when my work had come to a grinding halt, and with it my good humor, I decided it was time for a break and a Cerise afternoon tea treat. I made my booking on-line which was simple and easy for a weekday sitting. Weekends tend to be booked up so you would need to plan ahead, especially for a Sunday afternoon tea.  I arrived to a quiet restaurant, frequented mostly by hotel guests (Cerise is also the restaurant for the Forbury hotel). I had two seating options, either the very air conditioned restaurant or  the courtyard area. On the advice of the waitress I chose the courtyard and it was good advice!

It’s hard to believe that in amongst all the hussle and bustle of Reading’s central shopping area exists a oasis of calm. The courtyard area is naturally cool and with it’s own water feature, very calming. Gasping I immediately ordered from the menu and opted for the lighter ‘Cerise cream tea’ rather than the ‘full afternoon tea’. I chose Banaspaty tea (from the Assam region, though nothing like a builders brew Assam!) from good selection of tea offerings sourced from Les Jardains de Gaia.

Cerise SconesMy tea arrived promptly followed by freshly baked scones, beautifully arranged with fruit and accompanied with a huge amount of clotted cream and jam. The tea was robust, thirst quenching and well just really good! The scones were light, the plate looked pretty but in all honesty the scones were tiny. No more then a few bites each, after eating the scones I was left with enough cream and jam to layer up a Victoria sponge! However the tea was plentiful and I was offered another pot, I had a second Banaspaty. Then an another, this time choosing Earl Grey which was beautifully presented with lemon slices but the tea was disappointingly from bag.

In spite of the tiny scones my afternoon tea at Cerise was was lovely. The location and the prompt, friendly service that refreshingly came without airs and graces made for a restful afternoon. At £8.50 (plus service) a Cerise cream tea is a good option for hearty tea drinkers (like me) whilst the cake lovers amongst you would need to go up to the full afternoon tea.

Have I found Reading’s answer to a tea room? No. What Cerise excels at is offering high-er end afternoon teas in lovely surroundings perfect for ‘treat’ afternoon teas. Would I go back? For a peaceful break whilst visiting the town, most defiantly.

Cerise

26 The Forbury,

Reading,

Berkshire,

RG1 3EJ

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Butter coffee; Is caffeine reaching new heights?

Coffee

When I heard about the new food trend for ‘Butter Coffee’ on Twitter I thought it sounded quiet tasty. After all we add full milk to make the silkiest latte’s and cream to make a filter coffee that much smoother.  So butter coffee, simple and creamy, what’s not to like? However being a new coffee ‘trend’ it was never going to be that easy!

Meet Dave Asprey entrepreneur, ‘bio-hack’ and founder of ‘Bulletproof’ the bean behind the ‘Butter Coffee’ trend. Now ‘Bulletproof’ isn’t just about lobbing butter into your cooling coffee, it’s a whole system of coffee making from ‘clean beans’ to adding coconut oil and blending butter to make the final cup. It is reported that Dave Asprey was inspired to create this new form of coffee from the 18,000 feet height of Mt. Kailash in Tibet.

With health claims including increased and balanced energy levels (no caffeine highs and lows) to fat burning and improved mental clarity, Butter Coffee has been an instant hit, especially with followers of the ‘Clean Eating’ trend and followers of the Paleo Diet. However Butter Coffee is not without it’s critics. Dietitians are warning that adding the requisite 80g of butter will calorie load your daily cup by up to 200 calories. 

Like I said at the beginning I still like the idea of Butter Coffee but do you? Have you tried it Bulletproof style? I’d love to know what you think. In the meantime I’m off to the kitchen to pop a chunk of butter into my coffee, homemade style ;-)

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Lone dining or loner dining? Is a table for one the new restaurant trend?

Cheesecake sml

I was interested to read the BBC article this morning ‘Tables for one, the rise of solo dining’. Commenting on how more restaurants now cater for single diners, and noting Amsterdam’s new pop-up restaurant Eenmaal, (which only has tables for one) the article went on to question the motivations of lone diners. 

I recently commented on social media in reaction to the Guardian Newspapers article ‘Table for one? Restaurant offers giant stuffed animals for company’. This article reported how a Japanese restaurant offers its lone dining clientele large Moomin toys to sit with they whilst they eat, in an attempt to banish loneliness. Most social media reaction I received was from those who regularly ate alone whilst on business. These commentators preferred a good book to a large toy for companionship!  However is a book just a way of avoiding gaze from fellow ‘smug married‘ diners?

Now before you paint me as a dining no-mates (as opposed the the Billy variety) I will defend myself by saying there I think there is nothing better than a celebratory meal, coffee, croissants and gossip or afternoon tea and sympathy with girl-friends. However I’m with Inspector Montalbano the legendary lone-diner of Andrea Camilleri’s books, in the enjoyment of eating alone. Montalbano frequents wonderful coastal trattoria where he sits to enjoy three course lunches; the flavours, the aromas, the work of art on his plate, without having to make idle small talk.

As I take my lunch table for one I’d love to know what you think….

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A penny for them; cycling freedom with ‘Penny in ‘Yo Pants’

I love dresses and in this warm weather I’m finding wearing them invaluable. However I also love to cycle and until recently I found to two to be incompatible. There have been many days when I’ve ventured out to collect my bike wearing a lovely frock only to be met with winds that have blown me back inside, to change into the safety of trousers. Ladies you will know what I mean, you want to cycle but you don’t want to show your knickers to all the other road users!

A couple of days ago a friend shared this video with me. Such a simple idea that it’s genius! I wanted to share it with you but also the message behind ‘Penny in ‘Yo Pants”a message for the freedom of all women cyclists.

I take it for granted that any day and everyday I can just hop on my bike and go; for work, for errands and for leisure. Throughout it’s history the bike has been a symbol of liberation for women and a mechanism of freedom.  ‘Penny in ‘Yo Pants’ continues that journey by aiming to sponsor the Afghanistan women’s cycling team through the sale of their forthcoming ‘Penny in ‘Yo Pants’ product.

Have a look at this video to find out more;

If you want to find out more about the ‘Penny in ‘Yo Pants’ Kickstarter fund and more general info then take a look HERE

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My ‘Little Food Finds’: Tutti Frutti ice cream

Tutti Frutti Ice Cream_With temperatures set to soar again in the week ahead, you need ice cream in your life! and I know just the place to recommend….

On the hottest day of the year (so far) I finally got to try ice cream at Reading’s legendary ice cream parlour and cafe ‘Tutti Frutti’. I’d heard great things about the ice cream at Tutti Frutti but the only time I ever seem to visit the cafe was passing through for an early train connection. A latte seems appropriate at 6am on a winters morning but not an ice cream! So I made a promise to a friend that this summer, on the hottest day of the year, I would be buying the ice creams at Tutti Frutti.

When the temperature hit 30c I made the call and we headed for solace of ice cream. We both opted for two scoops in a cup. My icy companion choose strawberry ice cream and frozen yoghurt with lemon curd. I chose pistachio and peach with amaretto.

It’s at this point that I have to apologise for the poor quality of my photo. Frankly the ice cream was sooo good, and melting so fast! That, well quality photos were the last thing on my mind when I could have ice cream in my tummy :-D

All four flavours were really good and the portions really generous – seriously don’t try the 3 scoop option. For me the best, hands down, was the peach and amaretto. Not only was it an interesting flavour combination it was an excellent one. Refreshing, fruity and creamy, everything really good ice cream should be.

So does Tutti Frutti’s ice cream live up to expectations? Yes. Do I recommend Tutti’s to you? Most definitely. Ice creams are freshly made on-premises everyday so you will always have something new and innovative to try.

 Tutti Frutti 

Reading Railway Station (near ticket office)

RG1 1LT

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The clear nutritional benefits of organic food

Organic is differentYou might have seen a headline in the papers or heard something on the news, as tomorrow (15/07/14) a ground breaking piece of research is being released that shows

“Significant differences in the nutritional content of organic and non-organic crops”

Research led by Prof Carlo Leifert of University of Newcastle will show that organic food has more of the antioxidant compounds linked to better health and lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides. 

This new research shows that “switching to organic crop consumption is equivalent to eating one or two additional portions (to the recommended “five a day”) of fruit or vegetables per day”

As an advocate of organic food this research finally gives me, farmers and growers alike, the opportunity to tell people just how beneficial eating organic food is. For years we have been barred from saying what we all knew empirically, because we did not have the ‘proof’ to back our claims. Now this extensive study, conducted by an international research team, will illustrate;

  • Farming method affects quality: the quality of food is influenced by the way it is produced.
  • More antioxidants: Organic crops (cereals, fruit and vegetables) have significantly higher concentrations of antioxidants than non-organic.
  • Fewer: Pesticide residues and heavy metals like in organic crops.

Whilst the full research is not released until tomorrow in the British Journal of Nutrition, you can read a summary of the paper here;


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‘Little Food Finds’; Postcard Teas

Postcard Teas2

I’ve become a little obsessed with ‘First Flush’ Darjeeling tea of late. This preoccupation has come about purely because I have found it so hard to get hold of the tea this year. Anyway two tea fixations came together last week as I finally got the opportunity to visit London’s ‘Postcard Teas’. 

Situated off Bond Street, one of London’s busiest shopping roads, Postcard Teas is an oasis for the tea parched. I visited on a stifling hot summers day and walking into a fresh, cool store and being instantly offered tea, well I was won over!

After a quick perusal of a wide (but not daunting) selection of teas I quickly opted for the ‘Spring Darjeeling’ and took my place at the long wooden table in the centre of the store.

Postcard Teas1I was presented with my tea by Jonathan Nunn, with whom I discussed the tea’s origin, picking and flavour. Jonathan explained the difference between ‘First Flush’ and ‘Spring’ Darjeeling to me and he was spot on. Postcard’s Spring Darjeeling has no hint whatsoever of the bitter, slightly acrid taste that some First Flushes offer up. The tea was paler than I have come to know Darjeeling but this did not, as I feared, mean a weak flavour. On the contrary the Spring Darjeeling had a fullness of flavour with a real freshness to it.

Whilst Jonathan kindly made me a second infusion I took the opportunity to explore Postcard Teas. The stores name derives from the postcards of tea that can be sent around the world. You pick the tea, either in the shop or on-line and it will be dispatched to your chosen recipient. You can also buy normal caddies of tea in the store which can be refilled. However Postcard Teas is more than a gimmick, with a staff of experts, a strong sourcing policy and proof of provenance for all teas sold,  Postcard is a haven of superior tea.

Postcard Teas3

I only have one last thing to say about Postcard Teas… at the moment tea has become synonymous with ‘afternoon tea’. At most establishments this means piles of sandwiches and sticky cakes over quality tea, properly made.  Afternoon tea in London also carries with it a premium price tag, often undeserved and riding on the name of the up market establishment rather than the quality of the actual tea being poured. Against this then it is so refreshing that Postcard Teas put tea first, puts tea on the table without cake so it’s fine flavour can actually be enjoyed.

Postcard Teas4

Postcard Teas

DERING STREET,

NEW BOND STREET.

LONDON W1S 1AG

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