The love of Food

In 1981 I made my first miso pate. I was working as the ‘cook’ in a new wine bar in Newcastle in the north of England and determined to have some vegetarian food on the menu. It soon became one of the most popular starters. I’d just returned from living in France and Belgium and cooking for a diplomatic family who ate a lot of red meat. Obviously too much for my system as I rarely ate it again afterwards. This was my initial foray into vegetarian food.

In the following years I became less of a meat-eater and more of a pescatarian. I started reading labels on the food that I bought, and with that knowledge I started to reduce the amount of processed food and foods with additives in my diet. I then spent three years in Tanzania during a time when processed foods were unheard of – and why would you even think about them when the markets were full of freshly grown produce and abundant seafoods from the oceans?

By the nineties I was primarily a vegetarian although I still ate fish and seafood. I was living in South East Asia and there was an abundance of fresh vegetables and amazing fruits, although not necessarily the ones I was used to. I remember amongst the many dinner parties that were so much a part of the expat lifestyle, being asked if it was possible to put on a vegetarian one that everyone would enjoy. How could I not take up the challenge?

It’s strange that when a new concept in eating is first embraced, those that choose to try out the ‘new’ food or style of preparing and eating the food will do so for various reasons – it’s healthier, it’s trendy, it’s what everyone is talking about etc etc. So to many Westerners vegetarianism was associated with ‘hippies’, regardless of the fact the millions of people around the world are vegetarian through not only dietary choice but also through poverty, religion or culture.

So when I had my vegetarian dinner party – which of course was a resounding success – I realised that for some of those present, they had never really had a vegetarian meal in their life, unless of course you can count baked beans on toast.

Now I’m into raw food and I really love kale. I can get more excited by a plate of kale chips than regular potato chips. The texture of zucchini pasta doesn’t bother me in the least, although I found it strange the first time I ate it. Yes, the smell of freshly baked bread still has me salivating, and I will still eat it smothered in butter, yet I find that I’m healthier eating a diet of mainly plant based foods. I used to think I needed the seafood to ensure I had enough protein in my diet, but the farming of salmon has questionable practice, the levels of mercury in some fish is exceedingly high and overfishing is turning into an environmental catastrophe for some species.


Food has always played a large part in my life. I love food. I love the social side of it and having never lived in poverty, I love that I can choose to buy what I want. I’m pleased that over the years it has become easier to buy organic and seasonal produce and it has become easier to go out for a vegetarian meal without being offered pasta or more pasta … I once asked why vegetarians were expected to survive without any protein, save a dusting of parmesan cheese – presuming they weren’t vegan – and the confused looks of those I asked gave me the answer: a lot of people don’t really think about what they are eating and what it contains.

The latest buzz word is ‘sugar’. For so many years people have been oblivious to how much sugar was actually in their diet … but that I will save for another post.



Bald to Beautiful


I first became interested in henna when I lived in Zanzibar. Weddings and other celebrations involved lavish henna application to hands, arms, legs and feet. 

Henna has been used for centuries as a part of many cultural traditions and thus the symbolism within the art is varied. It has become an important part of the expression of culture and has daily and ceremonial use. Henna has traditionally been regarded as having blessings and was applied for luck as well as joy. It has also more recently become a form of body art and way of expressing body image.

My daughter as a young teenager found she had a natural gift for henna art, which also gave her an income. Recently a friend undergoing chemotherapy asked my daughter to do a henna crown. The results were stunning…

My friend said it allowed her to go out of the house without self-consciously covering her head – she felt ‘dressed’.

The Master

I entered the room apprehensively and walked across the wooden floor to where the group of people stood chatting. A few of them smiled a welcome. A petite woman dressed all in black greeted me and said my name questioningly. She explained that we would start the class in a few minutes to allow time for payment and for some to take a quick bite to eat or have a drink. Once I’d paid she led me to a man who was standing eating a large piece of homemade carrot cake. He was the centre of the group in all ways. With a welcoming smile and laughing eyes he welcomed me.

“Have you done Tai Chi before?” he asked.

“I have. A few years ago when I lived in Singapore.” I was nervous in front of this man whom I had heard so much about.

“What form?”

I was aware that he wasn’t the only one listening. “It was with a Master Ang and it was his own Yang style.”

“Great.” It was said with sincerity where I thought he might have been dismissive.

I smiled waiting for him to continue.

“We do the Beijing 24. It’s a short form. We started last week, but I’m sure you’ll catch up.” He turned to wash his hands in the sink before drying them and running them over his closely shaven head. All his movements were deliberate.

I looked at the others and saw they were all making moves to be ready for the start of the class. A few walked across the room and spread out. Most were barefooted some wore soft shoes. I removed my sandals and found a space. The boards were shiny, well worn and smooth underfoot.

He walked, almost gliding, to the front and everyone fell silent. A large grin lit up his face. “Let’s warm up,” he said spreading his legs apart and beginning to shake his body. We followed in a series of movements and stretches. Some minutes later he stopped. He stood motionless,  eyes closed, serene, with his hands placed over his kwa. I copied, watching through half-open eyes, unsure as to whether or not they should be open or closed and not wanting to miss anything. Then he let out a massive burp. I was shocked, but saw his posture and serenity hadn’t changed. Then other burps followed around the room. I was soon to realise it was the awakening of the kwa, and when I too had mastered it my burps would be just as profound.

“Let’s begin.” He opened his eyes. “I’ll go through the whole form first.”

We watched in awe. He moved as if in a trance. The soft black fabric of his tunic, swayed and fluttered with the movements. The energy in his body, obvious with each slow change of posture. His mastery of the art form showed us how body, energy and mind all became one.

When he had finished he looked around unfazed by the feeling of reverence around him. “Okay. It’s your turn now.”

Singing Wren

“What’s going in that pot?”

“Dad wants to put the bamboo in it,” I say for the fifth time in twenty-four hours. My gaze falls on the large Malaysian plant pot across the lawn at the far side of the garden.

“Oh” Mum continues wiping the glass of the outside table. It’s smeared with cheese and the debris of yesterday’s eating.

I watch her and wonder how her brain is now working. What would it be like to start to lose your memory? Outwardly she appears the same if not a little older and more shrunken. She jokes that she is shrinking each year. It isn’t a joke. She visibly shrinks before our eyes as she reaches the last of her octogenarian years and moves towards her next decade. What do you call someone in their nineties? A nonagenarian. That sounds wrong. It should be some not none.

She pauses on her way up the steps to the back door leading into the kitchen, tilts her head, listening. “Oh, he’s been calling for his mate all week.” She sets off again as the bird’s high-pitched song dances around the garden. “Poor thing.”

I look around scanning the rose arch, yew and hawthorn hedge, the scattered shrubs and summer flowers, searching for the wren. I know it is a wren for she told me yesterday when we walked around the garden. She had named the plants and knew which season they would be in flower and the colour and size of blossom, which ones were scented and which ones they’d placed in the wrong spot, where they couldn’t flourish.

A lifetime of knowledge.

Don’t forget Rosemary




Hot olive oil splashed on my finger as I dropped the pattie into the frying pan. I swore and jumped back, withdrawing my hand before swiftly running it under the cold tap. The water came out lukewarm, after all, the temperatures had been in the high 30s all week. It did little to abate the pain.


I fumbled in the over-laden freezer. The relief was immediate but the ice-cube dissolved in my hand, drips running down to my elbow. As soon as I removed the ice, the pain came back, intense. I swore again at my carelessness. It had been years since I’d had a bad burn.


I used to always leave a bottle in the kitchen. Where was it?  My daughter would have been using it in the bathroom. The bottle was leaning against the tea tree and neem bottles in a small basket. I dipped my throbbing finger straight into the bottle. It felt good, but still hurt like hell. I removed my finger and examined it. No blisters. Give it time I told myself and went back to the kitchen to rescue the patties with my hand held out in front of me in an oily middle finger salute. Left handed I turned the patties. The chickpeas hadn’t stuck; I’d used enough oil for that.

Minutes later, nursing a ‘medicinal’ cup of tea, third finger still pointing to the heavens, I realised the pain had gone – completely gone. I’d forgotten how wonderful lavender oil could be. Twenty odd years ago when I first discovered aromatherapy I had marvelled at how effective the remedies were and how useful the oils were, whether mixed in creams, inhalations or as insect deterrents, and also how they could give balance to life simply by drifting in the air.

Where had all that knowledge gone?

I sipped at my tea and looked out of the large french-window. I glimpsed the basil behind the rosemary bush and thought it needed some water to revive it from the intense heat. I’d already lost two of my basil plants and didn’t want this one to meet the same fate. What was basil good for apart from its yummy taste? And what about rosemary? Wasn’t rosemary good for memory?

Maybe that’s why I forgot to use the knowledge I once had at my fingertips. Did it take a burn of the aforementioned digit to remind me how once I had revelled in the knowledge of so many useful things that I now, apparently, neglected to use. But why? If they worked so well, how could I simply forget to use them?

Or had I forgotten?

The diffuser sits in the middle of our living area and the heady fragrance of geranium frequently wafts throughout the house. I can’t remember why I so often choose it but it always makes me feel good.

I look it up now as I write this and see that it is, amongst other things, an uplifting tonic. So of course that was why I so frequently used it over the years. And there is always a bottle of thyme next to the diffuser; I use that when someone has a cold or flu. Then the tea tree and the eucalyptus I leave in the laundry and the citronella for keeping the creepy crawlies at bay and the clove oil that is great for toothache or breath freshener… the list goes on.

I hadn’t stopped using the oils, they were simply so ingrained in my life that I no longer consciously thought about their usage.

Or maybe I just need to start using a bit more of that rosemary oil … if only I could remember where I put it.