A Greener new year

Up to a couple of years ago those of us who were even mildly concerned about global warming and the environment were considered to be eccentric and alarmist – how could a vast planet be affected by our lifestyles. Sounds incredible, but it unquestionably is, and we are all part of the problem. In the words of Al Gore, ‘it is an inconvenient truth’!How quickly this attitude is changing, one virtually can’t pick up a newspaper or magazine nowadays without being made aware in a myriad of worrying ways of the impact of global warming on our lives – Freak weather, water shortages, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, extinction of species……No matter how blasé one is, we can no longer ignore the scientific evidence. Now that I’m a granny I’m concerned not only about our children’s but also our grandchildren’s future.

Instead of living with gay abandon we would do well to emulate the philosophy of the native Iroquois people of North America who demand of their elders that they only take important decisions after considering the impact it may have on the seventh generation yet to come.

We can all make a difference in our own lives, we need to learn how to live within nature’s limits. Consumer demand for alternatives has meant that retailers, local councils, even governments, are starting to provide alternatives.

The demand for organic food is skyrocketing in the US and the UK and is fast being looked on not as a luxury but as a necessity. Waiting lists for allotments are at an all time high. Sales of herbs and vegetable seeds reached record levels last year as more and more people discover the joy and satisfaction of growing some vegetables or even a few herbs.

Its not just the food business that is responding to the challenge, top clothing designers and some of the world’s best known make-up companies are racing against time in a bid to ‘out-green’ their rivals. Almost overnight its becoming essential for politicians to show leadership on environmental issues.

So what can we do apart from recycling and changing to more energy efficient light bulbs. Well, we can make a decision to buy as much local food as we possibly can. It’ll be fresher, in season and healthier for us. There’s also the feel good factor of putting money back into our local economy, and the knowledge that we are contributing to reversing the decline of rural communities. This will reduce our carbon footprint and have the knock on effect of reducing emissions from ‘food miles’.

Not everyone will be persuaded of course but already young and old are discovering the joy of growing some of their own food, keeping a few hens, the food scraps from the house can be fed to the hens and come back as gorgeous eggs a few days later. The hen manure can go onto the compost to make the soil more fertile to grow healthy nutritious vegetables. How can throwing a ‘ready meal’ into the microwave compare with the joy and satisfaction of preparing a meal made from even some of your own home grown ingredients.

There is already a significant shift in attitude at grass root levels – five young couples in this area are keeping 2 free range pigs again, as well as growing vegetables and keeping hens, others are keeping bees. None are farmers but all are passionate about the food they feed to their families and have a strong desire to create an alternative life style that not only enriches their lives but also has a light carbon footprint.

Those of us who have a lawn or even a window box can grow something if we so choose. After all, 80% of the food grown in the city of Havana is grown within the city of Havana in an urban agriculture system. Cuba was of course forced into that situation initially by the political situation, but we are all, whether we like it or not, going to have to find a way to wean ourselves off our dependence on expensive fossil fuel and explore ways to relocalise our food system.

The enormity of the problem can seem overwhelming but even a small change in how we shop and eat can have profound and far-reaching implications – depending on how we use our energy and spend our food euro, we really can made a huge difference to the planet, our farmers and food producers – lets make this our resolution for 2008.

Happy New Year to all our readers.

Hot tips for a Greener New Year.

Buy ‘LOAF’ – local, organic, animal friendly and fairly traded.

Buy fresh local food rather than imported or processed food.

Avoid buying packaging which cannot be recycled or composted

If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.

Minimise your car journeys – keep yourself well supplied with milk, sugar or whatever you find yourself driving to the shop for.

Only boil as much water in the kettle as you need. (Eco shop stock special kettles for this purpose – see below)

Check out www.ecoshop.ie (currently at Glen of the Downs Garden Centre, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow but moving to Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow early this month) Tel 01-2872914 Email: contact@ecoshop.ie www.ecoshop.ie
Eco friendly and fairly traded, food and drink, babywear, clothes, home and garden needs ,toiletries, cleaning products, pet food, books, stationery and much, much more.

Buy seeds to grow your own –

Brown Envelope Seeds, Ardagh, Church Cross, Skibbereen, Co Cork – 2008 catalogue now available – Tel 028 38184,email: madsmckeever@eircom.net www.brownenvelopeseeds.com

Buy fruit and nut trees –

Irish Seed Savers Association, Apple and Pear Catalogue and seed catalogue available from Irish Seed Savers, Capparoe, Scariff, Co Clare Tel 061-921866 email:

info@irishseedsavers.ie www.irishseedsavers.ie

Woodkerne Nurseries, Gortnamucklagh, Skibbereen, Co Cork – specializing in fruit and nut trees – Tel 028-23384 email:woodkernenurseries@eircom.net

Bareroot trees available at Skibbereen Farmers Market (Saturdays 10-1) Bantry Farmers Market (Fridays 10-3)

Look up The Organic Centre, Rosinver, Co Leitrim for courses and training programmes www.theorganiccentre.ie Tel 071-9854338 info@theorganicentre.ie

Carrot and Cumin Soup

Serves 6 approx.

A little freshly toasted and ground cumin adds a Moroccan flavour to carrot soup.

2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

45g (1½oz) butter

110g (4oz) onion, chopped

140g (5oz) potatoes, chopped

560g (1lb2oz) carrots, preferably organic, chopped

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

1.1l (2 pints) homemade chicken or vegetable stock

150ml (¼ pint) creamy milk, (optional)

Garnish

A little whipped cream or yoghurt

Freshly ground cumin

Coriander leaves

Heat the cumin seed on a frying pan, just for a minute or two until it smells rich and spicy. Grind in a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan, when it foams add the chopped vegetables and cumin seed. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar and toss until coated. Cover with a butter paper and a tight fitting lid. Allow to sweat gently on a low heat for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables have softened slightly. Remove the lid. Add the boiling stock, increase the heat and boil until the vegetables are soft. Pour into a liquidiser add and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add a little creamy milk if necessary.

Garnish with a blob of whipped cream, natural yoghurt, crème fraiche or sprinkle with a little ground cumin and coriander leaf.

Note: If you would like a more pronounced cumin flavour, increase the amount of cumin seeds to three teaspoons.

Carrot and Coriander Soup

Substitute coriander for cumin in the recipe above.

Curly Kale and its Cousins

Kale is a wonderful vegetable and at this time of year is readily available in the Farmers Markets. Many people are nervous about buying it as they’re not quite sure how to cook it. It is highly nutritious and has cholesterol reducing properties.

Serves 4 approx.

450g (1lb) Curly kale, destalked (290g /10oz approx.) without stalks)

6 pints (3.4 L) water

3 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground pepper and a little grated nutmeg

55g (2oz) butter

125ml (4fl oz) cream

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, (6 pints (3.4L) to 3 teaspoons salt). Add the curly kale and boil uncovered on a high heat until tender; this can vary from 5-10 minutes depending on the weather.

Drain off the water, puree in a food processor, return to the saucepan, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little nutmeg if you fancy.

Add a nice lump of butter and some cream, bubble and taste.

Serve hot.

Potato Tortilla – Tortilla de Patatas

Serves 6-8

In Spain you must understand, Tortilla is not just a dish it’s a way of life. Tortillas or flat omelettes not to be confused with the Mexican tortillas which is a flat bread, are loved by Spaniards and tourists alike. You’ll be offered them in every home, in the most elegant restaurants and the most run down establishments – no picnic would be complete without a tortilla and every tapas bar will have appetising wedges of tortilla on display. People even eat it at the cinema.

Tortilla de Patatas sounds deceptively simple but its not as easy to make to perfection as you might think.

8-9 eggs, free range and organic

14ozs (400g) diced potato (1.5cm)

6ozs (175g) diced onion

3fl oz (75ml) extra virgin olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tsp salt and freshly ground pepper

The secret of success is to use enough oil. Put a generous (2.5cm) 1 inch of olive oil into a frying pan. Fry the potatoes and onions in the hot oil for about 5-7 minutes. Add the crushed garlic and cook until the potatoes are golden on the outside and soft in the middle. Drain off the excess oil from the potatoes.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add a teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the potato and onion mixture. Put 2 tablespoons of oil back into the pan, when it begins to sizzle pour in the egg mixture then lower the heat, when the egg begins to cook, loosen around the edge continue to cook shaking the pan occasionally. When the tortilla is well set and golden underneath, cover the pan with an oiled plate and turn it out, be careful not to burn your hand. Add a little more oil to the frying pan if necessary. Slide the tortilla back in cooked side uppermost. Cook until firm but still slightly moist in the centre. Serve hot or at room temperature cut into wedges.

Yoghurt

Why would you bother to make yoghurt? Well the yoghurt one makes at home with full cream milk is infinitely more delicious, unctuous and nutritionally complex than virtually anything you can buy plus it works out at about half the price and then there is the buzz you get from making your own!!

Yoghurt can be made from fresh milk but it must be thoroughly boiled first, and allowed to cool to lukewarm before use. The boiling is to destroy unwanted bacteria in the milk which could interfere with the bacterial action of the yogurt bacillus.

1pt milk (boiled or sterilized)

2 teasp. Plain yogurt

Warm the milk until lukewarm (or cool it to lukewarm if it has been bottled). Stir in the yogurt. Pour into a bowl or dish and put into a warm draught-free place until set. This usually takes about 14 hours. The cooler the temperature, the slower the yogurt will take, but too great a temperature will kill the bacillus and the yogurt will not form.

Yogurt can be set in a warm airing cupboard or boiler room, a very cool electric oven (set as low as possible) a vacuum flask with a wide neck or an insulated ice bucket. Or it can be made in a bowl set in a in a larger bowl of warm water, standing in the sink with the hot tap dripping steadily into the outer bowl

To keep the water warm, an earthenware pot with a lid, wrapped up in a warm blanket and put near a radiator will also do the job. The simple aim is to provide steady even warmth to allow the bacillus to grow. Remember to keep back 2 teasp. of your bowl of yogurt as the starter of the next lot.

Yoghurt with Honey and Toasted Hazelnuts

This is my favourite dessert when I eat at Isaacs Restaurant in Cork, its so popular they can never take if off the menu. Its delicious for breakfast also.

Home made yoghurt or best quality natural Greek style yoghurt

strongly flavoured local Irish honey

toasted hazelnuts, sliced

Serve a portion of chilled natural yoghurt per person. Just before serving drizzle generously with really good honey and sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts.

Yoghurt with dates, bananas and honey.

Add some chopped dates and sliced banana to the yoghurt and drizzle with honey.

Yoghurt with Honey and Cinnamon

Substitute freshly ground cinnamon for hazelnuts in the above recipe – simple and delicious.

Yoghurt with fresh fruit

Crush some fresh berries in season and fold into homemade or good quality natural yoghurt. Just before serving- you may want to add a little honey or sugar to taste.