Category Archives: food & drink

We’re incredibly lucky to have independent retailers in Ilfracombe, who sell real food – not processed cardboard. I also enjoy growing fruit and vegetables, and cooking mainly traditional English food.

My life’s essentials 10: breakfast

My life's essentials 10: breakfast

I’ve noticed that food figures a lot in my life’s essentials.

It is, after all, essential to life for us and I think it figures so highly because I’ve had to look at my diet closely because of my Crohn’s disease and also to prevent middle-age spread.

My aim is to achieve a balance of eating healthily while enjoying meals and having the occasional treat.

Take breakfast as an example: I couldn’t get through the day without it and as I eat it after my morning walk, I am usually very hungry.

In the week when I’m working, breakfast is a serving of natural yogurt followed by porridge. It took me a while to develop a taste for porridge, but now I eat it all year round in preference to manufactured cereals. I really enjoy it and know it gives me fuel to get through the day.

On a Sunday it’s time for a treat and that’s when we usually have a cooked breakfast. Our table is laid with cups and saucers, sugar bowl, milk jug and cafetiere. The toast rack makes an appearance along with the butter dish and knife, and the jars of marmalade and homemade jam line up as if on parade, jam spoons at the ready.

Whereas porridge is eaten on the go, our eggs and bacon, chipolata, black pudding, mushrooms, tomato and hash browns, or occasionally fried bread, are savoured leisurely with accompanying music. (Allegro’s Miserere performed by the Sixteen was a favourite of one our spaniels.) This creates the perfect balance to working days.


Posted in Crohn's disease, food & drink, my life's essentials.

My life’s essentials 7: wooden spoon

Following on from my home baking post, yesterday I realised that the wooden spoon I use for baking has become an essential.

My life’s essentials 7: wooden spoon

As I spend so much time typing on a keyboard, using my iPhone, apps and software, one of the biggest pleasures I take in baking, and cooking generally, is working with ‘real’ things: ingredients I can touch, taste and smell.

I am fascinated by the transition when individual ingredients such as butter and sugar combine to create a fluffy, creamy new substance.


Add eggs, flour and other ingredients and the mixture changes again.

Put it in the oven and it transforms from ‘paste’ into a solid – hopefully not too solid – structure with completely different characteristics. Where has the new texture, aroma and taste come from?

It’s magic.

That’s why I tend to do almost everything by hand and my trusty baking wooden spoon, not used for anything else, made me realise that.

Posted in food & drink, my life's essentials.

My life’s essentials 6: home baking

My life's essentials: home baking

Why? Because the flavours are overwhelming.

And because I know what’s gone into it.

And because it’s been a big part of my life.

And because I find it a very relaxing activity.

And because I like eating it . . .

. . . and sharing it.

When I was young my Mum baked a delicious light fruitcake that we would scoff at Christmas and other holidays and it gave me pleasure to see her enjoying the fruitcakes I made for her when she could no longer bake.

I’m so lucky that my Mum was such a wonderful cook who taught us to cook and bake and that Mrs Z is an equally good cook. What are the chances of that?

Although we strayed into buying manufactured cakes for a while, I no longer eat these, finding them too ‘artificial’.

It remains a treat though to enjoy cake in a tea room or café where you know it is genuinely home made.

Nothing, though, beats the delight of taking home-baked cake or bread out of the oven and that moment when you cut and eat the first slice.

That’s a currant loaf I baked above. I’m afraid we’ve eaten it all.


Posted in food & drink, my life's essentials. Tagged with , , , , , .

I reduced sugar but still eat cake

I’d wanted to do something about it for years. I didn’t think I was overweight, I just felt uncomfortable at times: not right.

I reduced sugar but still eat cake

In 2013, a stomach bug caused me considerable bloating and discomfort for some months. I had to buy bigger trousers as I couldn’t wear 90% of those in my wardrobe. As a Crohn’s disease sufferer, luckily symptom-free for decades, I convinced the NHS to give me a full check-up. The conclusion was that it was nothing serious, but they didn’t know what was causing it or how to treat it. I decided to stop taking the medication they had given me, which was not working, and felt better overnight.

I also decided that, with my history of Crohn’s disease, my age and the ineffectiveness of the medical profession, I needed to do more not only to get fit again but to take better care of my body.

I had thought that wheat was part of the problem and sought to reduce my consumption, but I also looked at sugar. I have a very sweet tooth and, although I have reduced my consumption at times, can wolf down sweets with ease.

My wife and I cook most meals from scratch and eat little manufactured food, but I looked more closely at what I was eating. I already ate Shredded Wheat for breakfast but switched to porridge made with milk six days a week – we have a cooked breakfast on a Sunday as a treat. Of an evening, I would enjoy a shortbread finger with my coffee. Out that went, along with all biscuits and shop-bought cake. I even stopped eating my favourite organic yoghurt which had frightening levels of sugar in it.

I started to feel hungry.

I resisted the temptation to open a packet of biscuits or buy sweets when filling up the car with fuel. Instead I started eating almonds and cashew nuts as well as dried apricots (when fresh ones were not available).

The results have been remarkable. Within several months I had lost 8lbs and returned to the weight I was 20 years ago. Some of my new trousers almost fall down when I wear them and I can fit into all the clothes I have in my wardrobe, some of which I have kept for years in the hope that they would one day, by some magic, fit me again.

I’m probably eating as much bread as before, but much less sugar and much less less glucose fructose syrup and other food nasties.

Is my diet boring?


I’ve started baking and eating my own cakes again, because I believe it’s good to have occasional treats, but I know how much sugar I’m eating.

We also eat lots of fruit and veg and my belief is that good quality ingredients make food tasty. They need not be expensive either: root vegetables are very cheap, as are many other basic ingredients.

Is it easy to change diet?

It needs determination.

When I go to a filling station, I always seem to have to walk through an aisle with sweets to the right of me and crisps and snacks to the left. I usually have a bag of almonds in my pocket for fuel.

When in grocery stores, I look at the cakes and biscuits, but the image in my mind of what’s in them puts me off.

When out and about, it can be very difficult to eat well. I won’t buy prepared sandwiches, often full of undesirable ingredients, so usually carry my own packed lunch. I can see how easy it is to revert to old habits.

I have, on several occasions, relapsed and chomped on a packet of sweets, but soon regretted it. Is my body starting to reject the rubbish in these products?

Is it worth it?

I still can’t believe how several simple changes have had such a big effect and how much better I feel. I’m glad I persisted.

So that’s my experience of reducing sugar and food nasties, and how it is working for me.

I would recommend it if you want to give it a go. I have no idea if it will work for everyone, but I’ll be happy if my experience can help you.

Posted in a musing, food & drink. Tagged with , , , , .

Relaxation in the kitchen

Catavelli with Italian Meat SauceI enjoy cooking and find it helps me relax a lot. I’ve been so busy this year that I haven’t spent much time cooking some of the more time-consuming meals I like to prepare.

I was determined to unwind this weekend and decided to try out a new recipe. I dug out a cookery book my Mum bought me just before I moved out of my parents’ home. Yes, it’s an antique. She was determined I wouldn’t move back and appropriated my bedroom immediately for her sewing and art materials.

Anyway, I flicked open the pages and found Catavelli, a type of pasta, with Italian Meat Sauce. Now this is a Good Housekeeping cookery book from 1988 and, while most of the recipes turn out fine and have become standards, I wonder just how Italian the recipe is.

I’ve never made pasta before, although do make pizza dough and bread, so thought I would give it a go.

ZabaglioneI made the dough for the Catavelli and then rolled it out into thin ‘ropes’. These were then sliced up and pressed with a finger to curl the sides. Yes, I did have clean hands. Meanwhile I made the meat sauce with beef, onion, garlic, tomatoes and herbs.

It all came together better than I expected and Mrs Z enjoyed it too. Next time I will make the ‘ropes’ thinner so the pieces of pasta are smaller.

Afterwards I whipped up zabaglione with egg yolks, sugar and Marsala. We don’t have this often as it is so rich, but we really enjoy it and followed it with coffee and a liqueur.

Following a long walk, cooking, eating, red wine, Cognac and coffee, I was completely relaxed after an enjoyable day and a tasty meal. It’s reminded me how much I enjoy cooking and the thrill of trying new recipes. I am going to do this more often.

Do you find relaxation through cookery?

Posted in food & drink.
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