To Cook or Not To Cook?

* by Mark

Our food system is pony.

We all know it, we have all known it for quite some time now, yet what do we do about it?

We all eat roughly 3 times a day or 21 meals a week, knocking one meal off for that missed lunch last week because we were just too busy to stop leaves us with a nice round 20. A family of 4 and we are up to 80 meals a week, that’s a lot of food to be found, bought, prepared and finally eaten. Set in the context that in the 21st century it takes two incomes to survive and have any reasonable hope of having nice stuff to play with on those brief moments off. These two facts come together in, currently a most unfortunate way, let me explain why…..

To Cook or Not To CookI will speak in generalisations and I am happy with that as I am very confident we have all fallen foul of the traps that cause the behaviour our food industry takes advantage of.

Let’s agree we are all busy people and when everyone finally arrives home after another stress filled day at work, college, school or other, we are tired and long to crash on the sofa to rest legs or preferred unwinding activity. Then the issue is raised, everyone is hungry and what is for dinner. Arguments, strops and evil glares my abound at this point as no one wants to do the preparing and cooking and for the love of everything wonderful in this world it must surely be someone else’s turn tonight! Everyone remembering a moment when this has happened yet? So what traditionally happens at this point is the fridge and freezer receive a fully expected visit. Stuff is shuffled and poked and expiration dates checked. A million different homes and a million versions of the fridge / freezer visit but all heading for the same result, what will make the quickest yet still tasty meal. This is the point at which you incorrectly decide that the ready meal you’re holding that only requires 3 minutes in the microwave oven is the best answer. After you have eaten it, you may start to realise the error of your ways and if not in time your body will tell you by changing shape.

Our food supply is managed and controlled by a surprisingly small group of companies. Just because the label says it’s from a company called Happy Foods Inc they in turn may be (probably are) wholly owned by larger company who in turn are owned by a large multinational conglomerate who is owned by its shareholders. Now anyone who has even the vaguest idea of what any individual stockholder looks like (i.e. anyone who has invested in the stock market) then they will know that all stockholders value only one thing in their investment, profit! Profit is king, free money for taking a punt on a company what could possibly go wrong. So for our conglomerate to deliver profits to the ever howling crowd of shareholders it must be profitable. This is obvious I know but it’s also the law, all public companies are required by law to maximise their profits over all other considerations. Now, where does our conglomerate get the money to keep this obligation? That’s right: you and me.

The supermarket is king in this day and age, the high street has transformed into a social area with a few conglomerates with house hold names interspersed with a few novelty shops. Now the vast majority of us when we want food we go to the local supermarket. How many supermarkets can you think of as a pop quiz, naming 3 is easy even 5 is straight forward but try 10 and I bet you will really start to struggle. As we established our food is controlled by very few. Now they watch us and they watch us very closely, how closely I hear you ask. How about this, this is in use in certain areas out there at this very moment…. As you enter the supermarket it locks onto your GPS (oh, mobile phones… don’t you just love them) and they record where you walk and how long you stay looking at a product section. This data is merged together and the supermarket can adapt its layout and what stock sections should be expanded and which can be reduced or even abandoned. So next time you’re looking around your local supermarket ask yourself why are there 4 alleyways of ready-made meals but only one of fresh produce.

We are busy, tired, hassled and with very little quality time to spend with loved ones. They are profit driven relentless observers of our behaviours, just remember that next time you go shopping, what you buy influences the world!

Top Tips for Transporting your Pet

Traveling with your pet can be extremely stressful but sometimes they must be moved from place A to place B and we simply have no choice but to transport them… so we get into a car and drive… but what to do if for example you can’t drive? Well believe me or not, you can get a special “pet taxi” via Shiply.

The idea is rather simple, if you have to transport your pet and you can’t do it yourself, you book yourself a comfortable and licensed pet taxi service, which will be suitable to the type and size of your pet… mouse, rabbit, cat, dog, horse… they transport them all. Wish I knew about this service before we spent almost 2 full days in the car driving to and back from Scotland to pick Bunk up.

Traveling with your pet can be extremely stressful but sometimes they must be moved from place A to place B and we simply have no choice but to transport them… so we get into a car and drive… but what to do if for example you can’t drive? Well believe me or not, you can get a special “pet taxi” via Shiply.Traveling can put a lot of stress on your pet so make sure you follow the tips below which will help you minimise any discomfort a long travel session can cause to your pet.

Prepare a suitable carrier like a dog crate, cat box or a harness; ideally something your pet is familiar with and has used in the past.

Prepare your pet… walk them (if applicable) and make sure they did their business, also don’t feed them too close to the trip.

Prepare food and water, which might be needed in the case of a longer trip.

Make your pet comfortable by providing them with a favourite blanket or chew toy, anything goes so long as your pet loves it.

Remember about any meds, both travel sickness pills (if needed) and any regular medication your pet is taking.

Complete all documentation including passport or a vet booklet which will have records of vaccinations and your pet identity.

Stay calm! I am sure you are super stressed but passing your stress onto your pet isn’t going to help anyone, so stay very calm and project positive thoughts… your pet is going for a trip and it is going to be fine 🙂

And finally… Make sure there is someone on the other end to meet and collect your pet and make a fuss of them so they know they are still loved and cared for.

Have you ever had the need to use a pet taxi service?

What do you think about the idea of it?

* This is a collaborative post 

Smoky Apple Fondue

Fondue is a perfect dish to be served at any family and friends gathering. It’s easy to make and fun to eat. My cheesy goodness is super smoky, rich in flavour and I am sure it will appeal to any cheese lover out there.

Fondue is a perfect dish to be served at any family and friends gathering. It’s easy to make and fun to eat. My cheesy goodness is super smoky, rich in flavour and I am sure it will appeal to any cheese lover out there.Recently our house was taken over by the Japanese life changing magic of tiding… we totally KonMari’ed the place and as a result we found many funky items we had no idea we even owned… one of them was a lovely Le Creuset fondue set, which we were given as a gift at some point and was just stored in a cupboard and as it gradually worked its way towards the back of the cupboard, it became a case of out of sight and eventually out of mind. Looking at our new found fondue set and a soapstone serving slab from SparHome which we all agreed would make a perfect serving setup for our meal, we decided to give the art of fondue a go… I have to admit we had a great evening and everyone really enjoyed the meal.

The recipe is super easy but it is also super tasty so until we develop something more elaborate I’ve decided to share it with you 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 250g Applewood cheese
  • 250g White Stilton
  • 250ml low alcohol organic cider
  • 1tbsp corn flour
  • 1tsp lemon juice

For Dipping:

  • Cubes of wholemeal bread
  • Sausage
  • Any veggies of your choosing

Method:

Finely grate the Applewood cheese

De-rind (if needed) and crumble the white Stilton

Pour 225ml of the cider into a heavy bottom saucepan (reserve the remainder of the cider) and on a low heat warm the cider till it is hot but not boiling.

Add a handful of your cheese and stir, is it begins to melt add another handful until all the cheese is in the sauce and then add the lemon juice.

Cook over medium heat until all the cheese is fully melted and it starts to gently bubble. Take your time with the stage of the cooking process because if you rush it you do run the risk of the cheese congealing and forming a solid ball and then your dinner is…..ruined.

Mix the corn flour with the remaining 25ml of cider and add into your cheese mixture.

Cook on a low heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes back to a gentle boil and begins to thicken. When you have a nice thick (like custard) shiny but smooth mixture it is ready for devouring.

Pour into your fondue pot and place over a flame to keep it warm and bubbling on the table. Now all you have to do is grab your fork, stab something you fancy on the table and dip it in the mixture and enjoy!

If serving with veggies make sure that they are cook al dente. Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, beans need only 5 minutes of steaming and you are ready to go 🙂

As an addition if you’re that way inclined have a bottle of something on standby, the rules of the game are simple, if anyone drops their item into the pot they must have a drink! Surprisingly nice forfeit and really adds to the entertainment and laughter of the evening. After all this is a slow meal where you eat and talk and laugh and remember that life is good. Our evening was memorable and I hope yours will be too.

Give it a go, go on… you know you want to.

Fondue is a perfect dish to be served at any family and friends gathering. It’s easy to make and fun to eat. My cheesy goodness is super smoky, rich in flavour and I am sure it will appeal to any cheese lover out there.

Coconut Cream Puffs

A super easy to make, sugar free treat for all coconut lovers who don’t want an overly sweet indulgent mouthful of scrumptious heaven. This is a reworking of the classic profiterole recipe with a more healthy bias for the modern health conscious person (who has a love for the wonders of coconut).

A super easy to make, sugar free treat for all coconut lovers who don’t want an overly sweet indulgent mouthful of scrumptious heaven. This is a reworking of the classic profiterole recipe with a more healthy bias for the modern health conscious person (who has a love for the wonders of coconut).

Ingredients:

  • 1 tin coconut milk (not shaken)
  • ~125ml water
  • 50g butter
  • 75g raw organic coconut oil
  • 200g flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 100g desiccated coconut
  • Icing sugar (optional)

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC.

Line 3 large baking trays with baking paper.

Open the unshaken tin of coconut milk and split out the thick creamy part from the watery part. Place the collected creamy part into a large bowl and the remaining watery part of the coconut milk pour into a measuring jug.

Add water to your measuring jug until you have a total of 250ml of the milk / water mixture.

Pick a medium sized heavy bottom cooking pot; add the milk / water mixture, butter and coconut oil. Cook on a medium heat and bring to a boil.

Once boiling reduce the heat to low, add the flour and stir vigorously (seriously vigorously) keep the pan over a low heat for about 1 minute whilst stirring or until the mixture forms a ball and comes off from the edges of the saucepan.

Remove from the heat and put aside to cool.

In the meantime prepare the filling by adding the desiccated coconut into the creamy part of the coconut milk and mix until well combined.

Once your puff mixture is nice and cool, beat in to the dough the eggs, one at the time.

You are aiming for fairly thick mixture…

Use a teaspoon to measure out your puffs… one full teaspoon of mixture equals one puff (you should ended up with around 24 puffs).

Spread them nicely on the lined baking sheets you prepared earlier and space them out evenly as they are going to grow.

In case your fretting because you only have one baking tray then rest assured so do I… I just bake mine one tray at a time in the middle of the oven. The dough will wait quite happily until it is time to create the puffs for tray number two and three.

Bake your puffs for 18-20 minutes at 200ºC.

Do not open the door to check on them as they are prone to simply collapse 🙁 you are looking for just turned golden in colour puffs.

Once baked, remove from the oven and move immediately onto a cooling rack.

Allow them to cool completely before filling.

To fill them simply cut them in half, thickly spread some coconut filling across the bottom half and pop the lid back on.

If desired, to make them look even more delectable sprinkle with icing sugar.

Enjoy!

I hope you will like them as much as we do.

A super easy to make, sugar free treat for all coconut lovers who don’t want an overly sweet indulgent mouthful of scrumptious heaven. This is a reworking of the classic profiterole recipe with a more healthy bias for the modern health conscious person (who has a love for the wonders of coconut).

A super easy to make, sugar free treat for all coconut lovers who don’t want an overly sweet indulgent mouthful of scrumptious heaven. This is a reworking of the classic profiterole recipe with a more healthy bias for the modern health conscious person (who has a love for the wonders of coconut).

*This recipe is an entry into the #Swearbyit challenge with Vita Coco. Find even more great coconut oil recipes and tips on using coconut oil at www.swearbyit.com

A super easy to make, sugar free treat for all coconut lovers who don’t want an overly sweet indulgent mouthful of scrumptious heaven. This is a reworking of the classic profiterole recipe with a more healthy bias for the modern health conscious person (who has a love for the wonders of coconut).

Inspirational Designs from Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces

Inspirational Designs from Channel 4's Amazing SpacesSince its first episode aired in 2012, the ingenuity, creativity and passion shown in George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces has inspired and influenced a variety of DIY-ers across the country to take on their own projects. From customised sheds that float on water to converted public toilets, each of these design projects showed how a creative eye, tenacious attitude and a bit of elbow grease can get you that amazing space.

Below you’ll find a few inspirational designs from the past series of Amazing Spaces:

Cormac Seekings’s Bothy

As a finalist in 2015’s Shed Of The Year, Cormac Seekings bothy was located in a picturesque (albeit wet and windy) Scottish forest. Appealing to our love of DIY and natural materials, this shed was built using nothing but raw material from the forest, including low grade timber, windblown oak, and a natural form of varnish for its finishing touch.

Laura Clarke’s Converted Underground Toilets

In the face of increasingly growing property prices, architect Laura Clarke made the choice to buya disused underground toilet in South London for a nominal fee and convert it into a habitable home.Appearing in the very first episode of Amazing Spaces, this converted public toilet retained the gated steps descending underground but after that you’d never recognise the place. Small but perfectly formed, the amazingly light home makes the most of its space featuring lounge, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Needless to say with its prime location, it has since been valued at over £200,000!

Tracy Caroline Lewis’s Owl House

Another build from 2015’s Shed Of The Year, the aesthetically pleasing and cosy Owl House overlooked coastal sand dunes and was made entirely from recycled materials – it even had a living grass roof just to make it even more eco-friendly. Cosy, with amazing vistas, and all ultra-green, this converted shed was picturesque and built for purpose.

Pete’s Star-Gazing Clifftop Retreat

Using nothing but reclaimed materials from the beach, Pete’s clifftop retreat overlooked the beautiful Norfolk coast. With a background in sculpting and using no plans or blueprints other than the ones in his head, the bohemian shed had two levels with the mezzanine upstairs having a retractable roof for star-gazing with his son.Not only that but the fixed wheels meant it was essentially classed as ‘a caravan’ so he didn’t need planning permission.

Emma And Ollie’s Mobile Cinema

Looking like a collision between a bus and a green house, this mobile cinema was originally built for the Ministry of Technology to show the latest manufacturing techniques to factories around the UK. Lovingly restored from decrepitude back to its 60s glory days, the bus was structurally sound but needed a lot of work and TLC on the essentials. These days it’s a full time business for the couple, featuring restored 1930s cinema seats together with modern projection and surround-sound to seat 24 people for maximum intimacy and uniqueness.

If you don’t have the time or energy to make your own custom build at the end of the garden, there are specialised companies such as York Timber Products who can provide a variety of made-to-order workshops, sheds, and garden offices unique to you.

*Image Courtesy of Liverpool Echo