Tuesday 22 January 2013

Our eating habits...

Here in the UK this week there has been a lot of discussion about food, food supply and people's eating habits, in the aftermath of the emergence of the fact that many of the beef hamburgers sold in many well-known supermarkets have been found to contain significant quantities of horse-meat. The problem is not so much the fact that the burgers contain horse-meat (in many countries, e.g. France and Belgium, horse-meat is considered a delicacy) but that the products did NOT contain what they were alleged to contain. Somewhere along the line either someone has been very dishonest or very incompetent. Either of these would be a good enough reason to reconsider whether you really want to buy or consume mass-produced processed foods. I am deliberately choosing this moment to write a little about what my wife Jane and I eat.

Food purchased on the market at Ferney Voltaire, France

Let me say first that we are not fanatical about any aspect of this subject. If we find a genuinely good mass-produced product, we have no qualms about using it. In general though, we like to cook food that is made "from first principles", using raw ingredients. Wherever possible we like to use fruit, vegetables and herbs that I have grown in our garden, but of course the garden is not very big, so it is not possible to be self-sufficient.

Fresh veg from the garden, prepped for cooking
In default of home-grown produce though, we try to buy wherever possible from Farmers' Markets and small local shops. As an example I cite the little butcher's shop about 300 yards from where we live (the Linkway Butchers).

Slow-cooked Jamaican pork
Their meat is just so much better than what you get in the supermarkets. It is consistently more tender and more tasty, and its (local) origins are known. Most of their meat  - and especially game - comes from very close by. Their bacon is particularly good: when you cook it, it goes crispy, not hard, and it doesn't exude loads of watery white gunk like mass-produced bacon does!

Unfortunately the greengrocer's shop that used to be in the same small line of shops as the Linkway Butchers closed a couple of years ago, priced out of the market by its massive competitors, and in our town we only have a Farmers' Market once a month.

Our eating habits are strongly influenced by the cuisine of the places we have lived in or visited. I was born in Malaysia and in my Army days served extensively in Brunei, Hong Kong and Nepal. When we were in Hong Kong, Jane at one stage taught British-style cookery to the wives of our Gurkha soldiers, and in return learned a lot about Nepalese cuisine, along with the local Cantonese style.

Jamaican patties
Later on we both became keen on trying to re-create dishes we encountered on our travels around the world on holidays. The result is that we have an exceptionally wide repertoire of recipes.

Chicken Satay, rice, Gado-Gado and peanut sauce
Actually neither of us feels obliged to follow a recipe too closely, and we often cook meals "inspired by" a recipe, a book, or a chef's style.

Pasta salad with garden veg and boiled eggs
In a typical week we might eat a Chinese stir-fry on Monday, Caribbean Brown Stew Chicken with Rice and Peas on Tuesday, Italian pasta with meat sauce on Wednesday, British-style roast beef with Yorkshire Pudding on Thursday, an Indian curry on Friday, a North African tagine or Middle Eastern meze on Saturday, and something "simple" like Bangers and Mash on Sunday!

Tomato soup with pesto palmiers croutons
We are not vegetarians of course, but we love veg, so our meals often include several different ones. We also love salads and eat them at every possible opportunity.

"Jamie Oliver" salad, with peaches and Prosciutto
Sometimes we eat a snack with a cocktail, before dinner. It's possibly something like this:

Pre-dinner "nibbles"
Jane is diabetic, so we seldom eat puddings - especially not sweet ones - but we do often have fruit (such as home-grown raspberries or blueberries) for dessert.

Raspberries and Blueberries
 I hardly need to remind you that we are very fond of cheese, both used as an ingredient and eaten after the Main, in lieu of a sweet dessert.

Loosehanger cheeses
One final thought: For most of our married life I have been the "Primary Breadwinner", going out to work each day, while Jane has most often been at home, initially looking after the children and subsequently running her own one-person business, so understandably she has done most of the routine cooking. Latterly however, I have been able to take a greater part in the culinary regime.

Reindeer steaks with soft polenta
For health reasons I am now on an 80% working contract, which means that I normally have a 3-day weekend, giving me more opportunity to participate in food shopping and in cooking. That's fine by me. I love cooking and am trying hard to make up for lost time. I feel that if I were to have my time again I might even have been a professional chef.

Polenta with Borlotto beans
A mutual love of food and cooking is one of the things that brings us closer together, and I have had the enormous advantage of having full-time one-to-one tuition! Must dash now, Folks - back to the chopping-board...


P.S. Jane can take a lot of the credit for our adventures with World Cuisine, by virtue of winning so many foreign holidays - all in a day's work for the editor of the prestigious Competition Grapevine magazine! She writes a blog about competitions, also called The Competition Grapevine and another one called Onions and Paper - named after the most basic ingredients of her two main hobby areas - cookery and crafting.


  1. Wasn't another problem with the 'beefburgers' that some had traces of pork which people may avoid due to religious or allergy considerations?

    We tend to go from first principles too - maybe a trend for 'grow your owners'.

  2. Another great blog! Your fresh fruit and veg look, as ever, delicious and wholesome. We try to buy local but find that all too often time constraints mean we end up in the supermarkets...but one day, we'll do it!

  3. This post is very interesting to read. I like when people cook. I have a friend from Poland who's living now in Gravesend, Kent; she told me that majority of her English neighbours don't cook, because they say they don't know how; they allegedly eat only takeaway. I felt sorry for them because for me cooking is fun and even when I don't how to cook something, I'm always willing to learn! The good point in cooking by yourself is that you exactly know what is in your meal and you can cook whatever you like! My friend was trying to teach her neighbours how to cook simple Polish meals, but I don't know the results. Mark, your wife and you are the best example that English can cook! Your meals look really delicious and they resemble the meals I do myself.

  4. Wow, first, I find it odd that I hadn't even heard anything about them finding horse meat in the beef but then my only source of information is the Internet because I don't watch tv (but still!).
    Before this year we bought most of our meat at the stores out of necessity. I definitely have noticed a difference in our own pork and chicken from that in the stores. I am glad we were able to produce some of our own meat. How I wish we had a Farmers Market or even a Whole Foods store nearby. That would make things so much better but I am stuck buying vegetables at the grocery store.

  5. yippee steam coming off tomato soup, great post Mark has to be one of my favourite`s, interesting with great photos and yummy food, if only you had been into photography long ago you would have had some great shots that I would love to have seen. All the best David

  6. What an awesome post Mark. Thank you for sharing and telling us how you feel about food.

  7. This post has me drooling all over my keyboard. Some wonderful dishes there, but that Jamaican pork is the one which does is for me.

  8. Great post Mark - had me rushing off to get some food!!! xxx

  9. A very good post Mark, excellent reading. It's only a couple of weeks ago I was discussing with a friend, about buying more items from our local farm shops/farmers markets. I grow most of my own veg anyway and also the supermarkets are not as economical as they used to be, (except with the truth).

  10. Thanks for the post and the photos. Everything looks so yummy. :)
    We are very lucky, as there are farmer's markets available to us every day except on Monday. So I'm really spoilt for choice.
    During the growing season I also dig up my own veggies at a pyo farm. The taste of those veggies has nothing in common with the shop bought variety, as you can well imagine.
    I find sourcing tasteful meat is the most difficult task I encounter. Red meat, with the exception of lamb, has no taste at all; Doesn't matter if bought at the supermarket or at the butcher's.

    Horse-meat is less and less sold in France. In the 70's the "boucherie chevaline" (butcher that sells horse-meat) was a widespread phenomenon. They have all but died out now. Sometimes you'll find a small section in the supermarket. I don't know anybody who eats horse-meat.

  11. Wow! Your meals look really delicious!
    Now in the winter we are dependent on the grocery stores, but soon I will be planting our cool weather garden - carrots, onions, lettuce, radishes, etc. The Farmer's Market near me is closed in the Winter. I'm really looking forward to when they open again so I can buy local produce.
    I quit eating any kind of ground-up meat some time ago. Usually I eat chicken or fish, but tonight I made Split Pea and Ham Soup. Though every ingredient was grown somewhere else and trucked in to the grocery store, I felt good about it because there were no perservatives, artificial flavors, colors or other additives that are in commercially processed soups.
    Happy Eating!
    Lea's Menagerie
    Mississippi, USA

  12. A lovely post. I enjoyed reading about the wide variety of food you prepare. Your home-grown vegetables always looks so very special. And as always, great photographs. I'll be checking out Jane's blog. Thank you for the link.

  13. A nice variety of dishes, and reasoned discussion on sourcing locally where possible. I think you are way ahead of the game compared to most.

  14. I do agree with everything you say about your food's choices: to cook food that is made "from first principles", using raw ingredients... from the garden or farmers and small local shops it's exactly what me and my husband do. I'm not an expert in praparing recipes from all over the world, I'm must of all italian conditioned, but I do appreciate your dishes. This is a really nice blog!


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