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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Take back control of your food

How healthy we are determines the quality and quantity of the life we lead and what we eat is an important factor in ensuring we are healthy and remain healthy. Modern society has lost its connection with food and we need to become more conscious of where our food comes from and how its processed. In the everything now and quickly society we have become dependant on fast foods, ready meals and we think cooking involves opening tins, jars and packets of  ingredients produced by food scientists. We have been deceived into believing that our modern diets are healthy by a food industry with large advertising budgets. But the results of this illusion that our food is healthy are the ever higher rates of obesity, diabetes and heart problems.

Making your own food from raw, fresh and home grown produce is amazingly easy and very satisfying. We made bread today and the kitchen smelt great and the bread, just out of the oven, was delicious. We are trying to make as much of our own food as we can. Making your own food reduces your intake of sugar, salt and fat which are found in almost all processed foods. Not to mention preservatives, artificial colouring and artificial flavourings. Of course not all processed food is bad for us but the less processed the healthier.

It is quite easy, with recipes abundant on the net, to re-skill ourselves and make most of the food products we buy. Whatever we have grown or made in the kitchen always tastes better than the same produce from the supermarket shelf. Eating unprocessed food straight from the garden and cooked the same day in the kitchen is good for our bodies, good for the environment and re-connects us to our food.

It's an exiting challenge to try and make something new on a regular basis. We have recently made marmalade, lemon curd, lemon squash, peanut cookies and lovely cakes. This week we cooked beetroot straight from the garden and the cooking time was much quicker and the taste much better. Most things we buy can be made at home with a bit of research. 

Whenever food is debated, one thing always heard is that healthy diets are not for the poor as a healthy diet is expensive. This is so untrue, a change in eating habits, growing some of your own food and cooking with raw ingredients will reduce food costs.

The recent revival in allotment gardening and the fact that vegetable seed sales have overtaken flower seeds are indications that there is a growing challenge to the control of our food by large corporations. People want healthier food and the best way of achieving control is to grow as much of your own food as time permits. Whether you have time to commit to an allotment or grow some herbs and tomatoes at home you are      
taking a step towards controlling what you eat. Re-skill yourself by learning to grow your own and by cooking and making as much of your own food as you can.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011


We enjoyed a long walk yesterday and returned home with a bag of wild chamomile petals to dry for tea. We love chamomile tea, with its sweet apple smell, its one of the most beneficial herbal teas. Chamomile tea has been used for centuries and is said to reduce stress and induce sleep, help skin conditions, heal mouth ulcers, aid in digestive problems and it can even be added to your bath water to provide a beautiful aroma.

Our petals are now drying indoors after being washed in a colander to remove any insects and soil. The petals will be turned daily to assist drying and avoid mould. Once dried we will store the dried chamomile in a sterilised jar and use it within six months (if it lasts that long).

The tea is easy to make and involves steeping two teaspoons of  dried chamomile in boiling water for 3-4 minutes and straining. If you prefer your tea sweet simply add a little honey to taste.

We have planted a patch of chamomile in our herb garden and although it is considered an invasive weed by some, as it self seeds readily, the more it spreads the better. It is also a beneficial plant for organic gardeners as it attracts bees to your garden. If grown near cabbages and onions it is said to repel cabbage and onion fly and can be used as an organic spray to deter cucumber pests. Sow some seed in an area which enjoys full sun and grow your own delicious herbal tea. Chamomile needs very little care, as a proverb reveals which says, "like a chamomile bed, the more it is trodden the more it will spread".

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Can we really imagine life witthout electricity.

The village of Louroujina suffered a three hour power cut yesterday afternoon and it got me thinking, as other activities were restricted, as to how life without electricity was like in our village less than 100 years ago. We all know how inconvenient life becomes when our electricity is cut for only a few hours. We automatically do things and during a power cut find it hard to remember that the light switch will not produce instant light, the radio will not work or that we can't even run the shower without the electric pump. Our homes and lives have become so dependent on electricity it is really hard to imagine how life existed without it.

Lifestyles in our village have changed dramatically with the advent of electricity and our dependence on it for our everyday lives. Driving around Cyprus you see houses everywhere built high up in the hills where they have a beautiful view of the sea but just imagine without electricity how impossible life in such locations would be. Without electricity, locations were chosen for homes because of accessibility to water. Having water close to your home meant having a cool drink on a hot summers day. Before electricity, all water for drinking, washing and providing water for livestock had to be drawn from a well by hand.

Can we really imagine doing laundry without electricity? Drawing and carrying enough water from the well was a task in itself. We really can't imagine the time and effort put into doing a mere wash before our electric washing machines were available.

Homes were built in valleys instead of  hilltops also because of heating and cooling. Remember, there were no air conditioners to keep us cool on a very hot summers day. Also, during the winter the valley provided a much-needed reprieve from the strong winter winds. Our ancestors would surely think we had lost our minds to see where we build homes now. 

Now, I wonder what our ancestors did for entertainment? There were no cinemas, televisions, CD players, or computers. Perhaps being without instant entertainment was why villagers spent hours in the local cafes or visiting other villagers. The advent of electricity has caused us to be less neighbourly as is easy for people to stay at home all day with the TV on for company. 

Neighbours were not only for visiting and entertainment; they were also one of the main sources of news and gossip. Our ancestors did not have the luxury of choosing their neighbours, but it was almost imperative that they cooperate with each other. How many people today really visit their next door neighbours, or even know who they are? 

I'm sure trying to imagine life without electricity is as difficult for us as would have been for our great-great grandparents to imagine life with electricity. Just as my thoughts were drifting on to another subject the power came back on and life resumed to normality.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

How healthy is our food?

Our daily diet is important and we depend on our food for our energy, nutrition and health Much of the food we eat is commercially produced in soils that have been seriously depleted of minerals and nutrients because of continuous farming without crop rotation and because of a total dependence on chemical fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides to grow produce. 

There can be a significant difference between commercially grown and organically grown fruit, vegetables and herbs. Many studies have shown that organically grown foods are richer in minerals than commercially grown produce. Most non-organic products have up to 85% less content of magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron, and copper than food grown organically.

When soil is made healthy using organic growing methods, plants become healthier and more pest-resistant and our food is richer in the vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. We may be eating our recommended five a day of fruits and vegetables but if they are not grown organically, or if they have been irradiated, our bodies are not receiving vital nutrients needed. 

Food Processing further robs our food of its nutritional value. The following food preparation methods are listed in order from best to worst. The best way to eat food is raw; followed by juicing; self preserved organic food  by drying or freezing; steaming food leads to a loss of 10% to 35% nutritional value; cooking can reduce the foods nutritional value by between 30% and 100% depending on the method used (boiling vegetables in water can reduce food value significantly); microwaving can destroy nutrients; canned foods; deep fried and lastly processed food which have numerous chemical additives, flavourings and preservatives.

The food industry process food so that it can be sold to consumers at the highest profit.  In a world where our food is largely controlled by large multinationals, we have been conditioned by large advertising budgets to expect food that is conveniently packaged, easy and quick to prepare, has a long shelf life, and tastes good. But are we damaging our health by choosing food that is grown in soil lacking in nutrients and then processed to further reduce its nutritional value. For example, refined white flour contains only 2-3 nutrients, compared to more than 50 in whole-wheat organic flour. 

Grow as much of your own organic food as you can, buy as much organic produce as you can afford, avoid genetically modified food and avoid processed foods by cooking from basic ingredients and using fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Gardening in Cyprus - Tasks for April

April is the perfect month for people used to a north european climate. The sun shines nearly every day, and the temperatures average a minimum of around 10c and a maximum of between 20-25c. There can still be rain, often a heavy thunderstorm which may even contain hailstones, but which don't tend to last more than a couple of hours, after which the sun shines once again.  Locals still tend to wear long trousers and sweatshirts for most of April, but many tourists go around happily in T-shirts and shorts. There is plenty to do in the garden to keep gardeners busy during the month.

As the early flushes of flowers finish on daisy like plants such as marigolds deadhead to stimulate continuous flowering .

Make plantings of flowering plants, shrubs and trees. But first ensure that you prepare and improve the soil

Fruit trees are in blossom and need a weekly soaking down to the level of the main roots and provide fertiliser for figs and loquats.

Fertilise grape vines and give a good watering weekly

After the final  harvest of peas and broad beans prepare the soil for summer crops.

Earth up the rows of potatoes to increase crops.

Continue to pick and preserve oranges, mandarins, lemons and grapefruit while crops last. For preservation ideas go to http://sites.google.com/site/cyprusgardener/home/preserving-and-storing-produce

Plant out ginger in a semi-shaded area

Plant out cucumber, melon and watermelon plants and start some more, for a later crop, from seed.

Plant out okra plantlets

Sow sunflowers directly into prepared soil or plant in pots for later planting

Sow chive seeds or plantlets

Sow leeks, molohiya, summer purslane, radish, rocket, oregano and thyme

Plant out chicory, lettuce and sweetcorn plantlets

Try sowing some sesame

Happy gardening for the month and if you require any further advice or information go to