Monday, 29 September 2014

I like Tomato and you like Tomahto … today is "Haf Bach Mihangel"

… that ubiquitous fruit … the red berry of the nightshade family, Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as the tomato plant … is having a bumper year …

Tomatoes or Tomahtoes
… as too are the hedgerows … full of blackberries, damsons, sloes, rose hips, hazel nuts et al …

… the orchards are carrying heavy, heavy loads … hops are hopping happily … bumper harvests for the beer crew, the cider and perry lads and lasses will be well satisfied …

Tall growing hops
… misty fields curve into the horizons hold ghostly runs, creative webs glistening with dew, ripples of tall grasses, thistles, red fescue grasses … weasel runs, vole ‘twittens’, dormice hidey holes …

… following on from Marine Conservation … our fields also need protection … surveys have found that hundreds of species of plant and invertebrate live within the space of just one human footprint in rough grassland –bears thinking about and remembering.

Berries, fruits and hips
Our fields, lands and seas hold a dynamic, complex and ancient web of life …

I’ve written about an oak tree being a veritable haven for wildlife … but how about the humble spiky thistle … offering a rich source of nectar for butterflies – painted ladies, peacocks, red admirals, meadow browns, small tortoiseshells and large white and small coppers all feed on these prickly purple bristles …

Thistle with Meadow Brown

… this same thistle will support more than one hundred species of invertebrate, including moths, hover flies, beetles, aphids and snails … every part of the plant is used in every stage of its life cycle …

We here in Western Europe have had a glorious summer, which I’m happy to say is continuing … bliss – our temperatures are what we had in August – and that was a warm month …

… the mists of mellow fruitfulness draw in … John Clare’s poem “Haymaking” (1793 – 1864) remind us of times gone by – two hundred odd years of them …

‘Tis haytime and the red-complexioned sun
Was scarcely up ere blackbirds had begun
Along the meadow hedges here and there
To sing loud songs to the sweet-smelling air
Where breath of flowers and grass and happy cow
Fling o’er one’s senses streams of fragrance now
While in some pleasant nook the swain and maid
Lean o’er their rakes and loiter in the shade
Or bend a minute o’er the bridge and throw
Crumbs in their leisure to the fish below
-        Hark at that happy shout – and song between
‘Tis pleasure’s birthday in her meadow scene.
What joy seems half so rich from pleasure won
As the loud laugh of maidens in the sun?

Our Indian Summer is not an Indian Summer I understand – this occurs in late September to mid-November ... and is usually described as occurring after a killing frost – we may have had some gentle frosts … but not down here on the south coast.

John Constable's The Hay Wain (1821)
It used to be called St Martin’s summer, referring to St Martin’s Day, November 11th – though that day now has another name: Remembrance Day … an alternative was “Saint Luke’s summer”, whose saint’s day falls on 18 October.

Perhaps appropriately I shall call today’s post in Welsh ‘Haf Bach Mihangel’ or “Michael’s little summer”, as Michaelmas, the feast of St Michael the Archangel occurs today the 29th September.

Hoverflies - various

This will be a misnomer this year … as this week wanes to a close … the weather, here in the UK, is changing and we’re in for more seasonal weather: cooler with some rain.  It had been 5 degC higher than normal!

Ready to enjoy your autumnal harvest … English Bramleys for apple pies … thick and buttery laden pastry (home-made), balanced perfectly with the tart of the apple and the sweetness of the brown sugar … to be smothered in double cream – after a hard-day’s work clearing leaves: just what we need.

Take your pick ... 
We’ve 2,000 varieties of apples (over 7,000 world-wide) growing in our gardens, orchards and hedgerows … and we are planting trees at our homes … a crisp apple from the tree – a slice of cheddar … and a pint (or half) of beer of the 46 million craft-ale pints that are produced from one farm … bumper is the word, this year .. enjoyed in these last of the warm sunny days.

Roast pork with apple sauce and trimmings

A Sunday roast – fragrant roast pork with curried apple relish … followed by ricotta pancakes with sticky maple apple to finish off that lunchtime feast ..

Supper dishes … creamy roasted tomato soup with some herby buttery bread, baked tomatoes with a game sausage or two and mustard mash, pizza with home-made tomato sauce …

Tomato pizza
Baked fruits of varying sorts … pears or apples, damsons tucked into a frangipane tart, blackberries gently stewed served with ice-cream …

Our abundant crops must be made the most of ... bottled, canned, frozen, pickled … yet we must remember our wildlife … which we need to protect, to leave some of our bounty … as the hymn says …

'Lost Count' birthday celebration - chocolate roulade, with
blackberry frangipane tart as another choice
We thank thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, our food;
Accept the gifts we offer, for all Thy love imparts,
But what Thou most desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.

It is a wonderful bountiful year … we can gather, we can leave some for the wildlife, we can be guardians to our lands … and remember to waste not want not.

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday, 22 September 2014

Sustainable Fishing and Marine Conservation Reserves ...

Now we are still a United Kingdom, thankfully!, I can happily say that that conglomerate of countries is surrounded by some of the most productive seas on the planet.

Brixham Trawler, by William
Adolphus Knell (1801 - 1875)
Little wonder that seafood has been part of these islanders’ diet since prehistoric times ... there are some very large shell middens around our shores, showing how important the sea was to the hunter-gatherers of the day.

Shell Midden

Commercial fishing dates back a thousand years, when small day boats worked close to the coast … employing methods used since time immemorial … nets, spears, hook-and-line, and traps.

As the population grew and settled further away from the shores … the fishermen in the latter Middle Ages (9thC – 15thC AD) began to experiment with mobile fishing gear, rowing trawl nets and dredges behind sailing boats.

For centuries these methods served their purpose … there were plenty of fish, which could easily meet demand. 

Railway line along the Devon coast

The Industrial Revolution changed all that … the population grew, railways forged their way across our lands and continents … demand for food and then profits surged …

With recent developments we (humans) can fish til we drip – 24 hours a day, further afield, reaching deeper and deploying bigger, more robust fishing gear, searching by ‘sat nav’ … almost pulling the plug on the oceans …

Those shoals of fish in earlier times were attended by armadas of dolphins, porpoises, whales, tuna, sharks and seabirds guiding the fishermen to their quarry …

The armada of seabirds ... 
The trawls and dredges have transformed much of the UK seabed from areas crusted with sponges, seaweed, sea-fans, anemones, corals and sea-nettles, to open expanses of sand, gravel and mud.

Grilled Dab with lemon butter
sauce on fresh wilted baby spinach
Plaice, dabs and flounder flourish on these open habitats, while previous occupants which need complex habitats with plenty of shelter, like cod, halibut and conger eels have been ousted.

The transformation of the ocean that is underway, from rich and complex to simple and denuded, is a global phenomenon.  Economic catastrophe could so easily occur through this oversimplification … leaving our oceans less able to function effectively in the face of climate change and escalating human pressures.

Lightly cooked Halibut steak
We have lost many of our large, slow maturing species of fish … like skate and halibut … caught before they were fully mature … while dabs, gurnards and whiting are abundant, live fast and die young.

Marine conservation areas are being preserved … and being networked … so vulnerable fish can find refuge, habitats can recover and breeding fish can thrive undisturbed.

Lundy Island - Britain's first Marine Conservation Area
Some frightening facts:

  • 70% of the earth’s surface is ocean
  • 80% of all life on earth lives in the ocean
  • 2.8% of the ocean is currently protected

  • 75% of the Mediterranean is overfished
  • 39% of the north east Atlantic is overfished

Charles Clover, the son of a farmer and founding member of the Soil Association, has always been interested in pesticides, the destruction of greenbelt spaces … but then fish stocks took over …

Global Trawler
… he had accidentally walked into a lecture in Dutch! on beam trawling in the North Sea … to find that the lecturer Han Lindeboom described beam trawling as the equivalent to ploughing a field seven times a year … as a farmer’s son he knew that would be catastrophic to anything that wanted to grow and live there.

As an environmental journalist and a fisherman, he wrote a book … describing that overfishing was contributing to one of the greatest crises of our time … eventually Ebury press took a chance and agreed to publish it (7 years later).

The film from the book
The End of the Line was published in 2004 – it became a huge success, turned into a film in 2009 … advocating that fishermen should catch the right numbers and catch them intelligently … it’s just not saving the fish, but saving the livelihoods of fishermen.  No fish mean no jobs.

People now care if their seafood is sustainably sourced … we are starting to make more informed decisions, while brands have made sustainability a key part in their brand marketing.

In the 1880s:
Charles Napier Hemy -
the Fisherman (1888)

Fishermen across the UK have turned a corner in the last ten years by becoming engaged in trying to conserve fish …

Charles Clover says he’s learnt that one of the best ways to achieve goals is for conservationists and fishermen to work together.

The Foundation's Review (see below)
He has helped establish the Blue Marine Foundation in 2010 – a charity – whose vision is to have “A world in which marine resources are valued, carefully managed and used sustainably.

As the website states:  Overfishing costs 50$ billion a year in lost income worldwide ….

Networking is what it’s all about … KENZO, the Paris fashion house, approached the Foundation to partner with Blue … and dedicated its Spring/Summer 2014 collection “BLUE” …

As the models strutted down the catwalk this autumn dressed in sweatshirts emblazoned mysteriously “NO FISH, NO NOTHING” … the tweeters were saying Blue's ruling the catwalk ... 

The creative directors had grown up around the Ocean so were passionate about Marine Conservation and particularly the Foundation’s active do approach.

Their 2013 pdf Review gives you more information – about where they’re working around the globe and with more specifics …

Ocean trawling - denuding the seas
The transformation of the ocean that is underway, from rich and complex to simple and denuded, is a global phenomenon.  

Economic catastrophe could so easily occur through this oversimplification … leaving our oceans less able to function effectively in the face of climate change and escalating human pressures.

Sustainability for all flora and fauna – each species contributes something to its surrounds, or other species … we all depend on nature in some way – and if we mess, as we are doing, with our seas as well as our earth – we are in for a dire time.

This is why it is so vital that we rebuild life in the sea and establish some areas off limits to all fishing.

The Ocean touches nearly every aspect of our
lives - making it essential to the economic, social
and economic well-being of  everyone, everywhere
c/o Ocean Publications
We need to understand the vital need to balance conservation with human development – an essential to our survival.

Blue Marine Foundation website – and see their 2013 Review …

Charles Clover’s “The End of the Line” book (check out the blurb) and film …

Their future
Enjoy life ... but think – where did it come from … am I wasting resources … can I source nearer to home … the butterfly effect applies here … each tiny flutter and change will help our grandchildren and their future … 

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Creature Comforts: the Big C Hop … Let’s Cut out Cancer …

I missed this … I was dissolving monasteries on Monday, with Henry VIII and the Reformation swamping me … I gave a two part talk on, believe it or not, the “Dissolution of Monasteries 1536 – 1540” … so forgive my remissness for Monday’s Big C blog hop …
The Big C for Cancer Hop in aid
of all those will a serious illness,
particularly Melissa

Melissa Bradley has been diagnosed with malignant cancer and thirty of us bloggers are writing funny incidents about life with cancer, or as I will with terminal illness … please see Michael di Gesu’s blog for participants.

Cancer, or any degenerative illness, is always incredibly difficult to deal with for the sufferer, but in some ways more so for those around their near and dear.  What to do and how we deal with it …

I’ve learnt a great deal from bloggers about other illnesses and the day to day effects – since my mother, and uncle, were ill I’ve come to appreciate how challenging, and life changing these times can be.

The words I use are C words: Care, Concern, Compassion, Courage, Communication, Conversation … but more importantly I’d add being with your loved one along their journey … sharing and laughing as much a possible – and remembering, always remembering, to put yourself into the sufferer’s shoes (or bed, as may be more likely) … it’s not about us – it’s about them, I repeat: it’s about them  …

My mother went to St Pancras Workhouse to wait out the transfer to Eastbourne after she had sufficiently recovered to live on … we were lucky her brain was a live wire …

St Pancras Hospital

My mind matches my mother’s … probably more so … and if you want to know more about St Pancras and the workhouse … search for St Pancras and about 5 posts will pop up …

Right, back to the Workhouse … as it was incredibly hot in July 2009 I was glad we were on the north side of the building … ‘our’ room was about 15 feet tall (2.5 m) and probably that square too – room for two hospital beds.

There were trees outside keeping the room shady, and keeping any breeze that might be around out – in fact I’m not sure if we could open the windows much – and, of course, there was a large metal fire-escape staircase blocking what was left of the view …

We remained there … as my mother was always warm bodied … and I think because we remained in the room, the other lady decided to do so too …

This was the holding place for patients until they recovered sufficiently or the paperwork was completed and signed off – ours had to go to Cornwall – and could ‘go on’ … home, care home or as in our case Nursing Centre.  (We were there 3 months).

I only visited three to four times a week (usually) … as it was a 2.5 hour journey each way … plus my visit time, or two visits – depending on how things were …

Our other occupant was a
lady .. fairly hairy though!?
One day I arrived to be greeted with the word “XERXES” ……. uhm, uhm … I’d just travelled from the South Coast, across London by tube ... 

... a walk passed the new development at Kings Cross/St Pancras Euro Star terminal, by the British Library, passed those finials on the washing lines I blogged about if you search, through St Pancras graveyard … to be greeted by mother smiling at me with “XERXES” ….

Looking down the peninsula: where
Xerxes built a canal to allow his
invading fleet in 483 BC to cross
the isthmus
Ah ha …. I twigged … the other lady was Greek, could speak no English … so this was my mother’s nickname for her!  We both laughed our heads off … her eyes twinkled and her mouth twitched with mirth, before rendering us both speechless …

We did have another hilarious day in the ward … when Mum and I were totally hysterical and became more so … uncontrollably hysterical … tears rolling down our faces … it was ‘so bad’ – the staff came running, not sure if we were laughing or crying or in total despair …

Helandariou Monastery on
Mount Athos Peninsula, Greece
… actually total despair – my stomach ached, my face had been stretched to such an extent I was more exhausted than normal … but oh so much fun was had – and oh what happy memories of my mother, despite her strokes …

That tale is still to be told … enough for now – I wish Melissa all the very best, with the best outcome … but she’s lost her job, and would be grateful for some help, while she, with her sister, travel this lonely journey … not so lonely with us there …

… and particularly Michael di Gesu, who visits her regularly … and is cheer-leading her journey … the participating blogger’s links are on Michael’s page (here), while Melissa’s posts can be found at her blog … and her – to help with losing her job, and generally all the really difficult things that turn up when you’re seriously ill and have little spare of anything …

Illustration from Kipling's Just So
Stories of 1912

Cancer can be held at bay, cancer can do its damndest … but along the journey we share with our loved ones, or those we decide to connect with along their journeys … humour and laughter, smiles and love, communication and visits will help us all …

To Melissa and her sister … from us all … our stories, our positive thoughts … and our communication with life beyond the chemo walls – many hugs and hopes for your future with us …

I have called the post Creature Comforts … because we all need to remember that we are human and are living despite our situation … when thinking of others is so much more important than thinking of us … whatever the outcome, we find we’ve embraced both ….

My last post mentioned drunken elephants ... and Susan from I think; Therefore, I Yam commented about a YouTube link ...and if you want to see what rotting fruits do to poor African animals - then look across now!  

Laughter is the best medicine ... and this clip certainly does it for me ... laughter lines permanently on show .... enjoy!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Food with Thought: No 1 … South African ...

Food with Thought ... will be a new series when I perhaps mention some food that is brought to mind, after I have attended an event with a speaker, or when we have a meal included at the speaking event.
c/o Trip Advisor: Langham Hotel,
with bathing cart and pier in distance

Eastbourne seems to be full of these things … garnering happy customers and building those essential relationships for their businesses that we as bloggers, authors, musicians, artists et al know about …

Now who could keep me away from a South African lunch with wine?  The “Pudding and Wine Club Luncheon” at the Langham Hotel, which hosts variety of events, this one concentrating on South Africa with a speaker, representing Boschendal wines.

England is having the most incredible Indian Summer at the moment … we are still in short sleeves and flip-flops or something tidier!  Sitting outside the hotel looking out over the sea, promenaders were all around …

We met up, sat outside in the ‘boiling sun’ (what luxury in September) with an orange juice … til I realised our mistake!  Realised when we took our grumbling tummies in for lunch …

… we’d missed out on the “Boschendal Sparkling Brut” – what was I thinking? … I quickly rectified that … it was delicious!  54% Chardonnay, 46% Pinot Noir.

Cue in the clues:  Clean citrus fruit with discreet undertones of biscotti and brioche with creamy mouth feel and a lingering finish.  Well I’m just glad my mouth was untarnished with biscotti and brioche bits! *****+++ stars for me!

Boschendal (Dutch for wood and dale), Cecil Rhodes’ bought this his first commercial fruit estate in 1887, before being sold in the 1960s to Anglo American, the mining giant, but which is now owned by a consortium of investors.

Blanc de Noir Boschendal wine was the wine we often chose … and when my father’s elder brother, who had married a South African, visited the Cape I would fly down and we would frequent their old haunts from the 1920s and 30s … Boschendal being one of them.

Happy memories all round … but back to Eastbourne!  Remember we are known as the retirement town – sad really ... but there’s lots of vibrancy around with interesting goings on … so some of the recipes are toned down a little … as there’s no choice, but guests’ palates are important!!

Forgot about the
photo - there be loin
under the sauce!
Food .. I need food!  How about some “Springbok loin with slithers of courgettes and goat’s cheese – it was good … being called “Springbok Tataki” for any food lovers wishing to know more …

South African game is wonderful – thankfully the Springbok can easily be supported on farms with very low rainfall, and is one of the few antelope species considered to have an expanding population.

This was accompanied by a “Franschoek Pinotage” – pinotage being a red wine grape that is South Africa’s signature variety: it’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut ***** for us!

Cue in the clues:  Hot baking fruits with a sweet juicy mouth feel and integrated French Oak softening the finish

We had brief talks from the Boschendal expert giving us some background to South African wine growing … and from the chef – a young chap who had come down from the cut and thrust of London … I reckon we’re lucky …

I just enjoyed the colourful artistic
branding ... nothing to do with the post!

The chef had selected Springbok loin … interestingly I have a newspaper cutting on Cape of Good Food from March this year … and as described South Africa’s most inventive chef, Luke Dale Roberts thinks Springbok is one of the best meats.  I wonder if he got his idea here …

Once the menu had been decided … then the wine expert could work his magic … hence the red wine with the game starter … 

But it was good!
Next we had “Butter Fish with coconut cream and yellow rice” (gamey South African fish)   … the chef apologised he’d somewhat overdone the turmeric in the traditional Cape Malay yellow rice …

The term ‘Cape Malay’ springs from the Indonesian slaves who over time intermarried with other groups … and who have a particular identity in South Africa. 

While 'Malay' may have originated from the Malayo-Portuguese language that was the lingua franca in Asian ports.  (South Africa began to be settled by the Dutch in the mid 1600s … but Bartholomew Diaz, the Portuguese explorer had rounded the Cape in 1488).

To cheer ourselves up even more … the “Franschoek Chenin Blanc” matched up to the ***** level!

Cue in cluesA delicious medium dry white, full of fresh tropical fruit flavours” …

In South Africa the Chenin Blanc is also known as Steen … but may well have been one of the first vine varieties to be grown in South Africa by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655, or via the Huguenots fleeing France in 1685.

Wine expert now … the vintage we tried for the Chenin Blanc was only bottled this last Spring (here) Autumn in South Africa … so we had a 2014 vintage … (we were only served hotel quality wines ... not available via retailers)

The South African Chenin Blanc is slightly fuller with a higher alcohol content …

Cape Dutch home with vineyards
Vineyards will not process grapes under five years old, and they will carry on producing for at least another 30 years thereafter … as the vine gets older the grapes are richer and fuller in flavour …

… the vines, if they are top quality, could produce for another 30 years after (sixty years of production) … there will be fewer fruits … but the wine will be quality.

We were also encouraged to join in the quiz … simple – but not easy to win!!  Neither of us won a bottle … one table had three winners … something fishy going on?  No I don’t think so … it was very much guess work … we failed!

Add caption

Hungry again?  How about an Amarula Mousse Tart with Cape Gooseberry coulis?

Background to Amarula … the elephants were renowned for getting drunk at fruit falling time … rushing to their favourite tree … leaning and thumping the tree to release their fruits and then guzzling them all up … what happens the fruits ferment and we have drunk elephants … I’ve never seen a drunk elephant!

Those clever elephants led those cleverer humans to their tree … and now the Amarula Spirit lives on: the actual alcoholic beverage was launched in 1983 … its taste is a fruity caramel …

The label ... 

The distiller has made elephants its symbol for the drink, and supports the elephant conservation effort: co-funding the Amarula Elephant Research Programme at the University of Natal, Durban.

Not my favourite … but I wasn’t going to turn down the dessert and I do enjoy Cape Gooseberries, with or without their chocolate bottoms (see petit fours) …

To go with our drunken elephant drink dessert we had the Boschendal Vin D’Or … this was positively delicious … look at the colour …

Cue in clues:  Naturally sweet with a lovely concentration of pineapple, green apple and raw honey flavour with an undertone of vanilla spice. *****++++!!

Another note … on Noble Rot wine … some of the most famous dessert wines are made from grapes mouldy with Botrytis cinerea, which sucks water out of the grape whilst imparting flavours of honey and apricot to the future wine. 

Mouldy Reisling Grapes
The Hungarians are thought to have inadvertently discovered this type of wine … they had mouldy grapes, but they were vinified anyway and then found to be rather good … Noble Rot sets in!

Finished off with Colombian coffee and petit fours … no photo of the coffee … just the petit fours … they were good too …

Chocolate truffles with a Cape
Gooseberry dipped in dark
chocolate  (we also call them Physalis)
So there you have it … an excellent and interesting lunch, and we shared our table with some fun guests … so we talked, laughed, learnt and had a wee tipple or two – and oh yes some South African style cuisine - before wending our way home on another brilliant English Indian Summer’s Day.

Bathing Hut
Our next one - promoting Brazilian food and wines … should be interesting …

Now are you hungry?!  The South African Pudding and Wine Club Luncheon was particularly good … with lots of South African memories …

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories