The cooking Journal
Seasonality, The Spring Onion
The humble Spring Onion, also known as Scallion, is a worldwide star of cuisine appearing in many dishes from Afghanistan to Wales, via Mexico, Singapore and Latvia.

It is part of the allium family and shares many of the benefits that onions, leeks and garlic bring to us in terms of flavour and nutrients.  They can be eaten raw or cooked.  They are high in vitamin A, C and K; they assist digestion and help with blood circulation.

The name Scallion can be traced back to ancient Greece where it appeared in texts by the philosopher Theophrastus (perhaps in a favourite recipe!), and further back to the Bronze Age land of Canaan mentioned in the Bible, and to this day Scallions are used in the rituals for Passover.

Scallions and spring onions have a delicate flavour and are used as a garnish, in salads and salsa.  Many Asian foods ask for spring onions, often using the green part of the vegetable, beautifully sliced in a stir fry or broth.  They go well with seafood as they provide a more delicate flavour and colourful appearance than white onion.

They are an important part of food and festivals.  In Spain there is festival at the end of winter as Spring is beginning to appear, where Scallions are griddled and served with Romesco sauce.  In India they are eaten raw as an appetiser.  In Ireland, Champ is a traditional dish where spring onions are mixed into mashed potato with lots of butter.  In Asian countries such as the Philippines spring onions are ground into pastes with ginger and chillies to make a condiment; in Vietnam they are fermented for a traditional New Year delicacy.

Spring onions are readily available at supermarkets, however they are easy to grow, in a garden or tub and would enhance your herb garden.
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Bread – the staff of life
Bread is one of the oldest manmade foods and is a key part of many cultures and religions.  It is shot through our language too, ‘to bring home the dough’ to refer to money, ‘breaking bread with others’ to represent hospitality, and ‘the best thing since sliced bread’ to signify a new idea.

Bread is part of our everyday life, from breakfast, to sandwiches at lunch, an accompaniment to a meal, a sneaky piece of toast to fill a hole between meals or a midnight snack.  It is a staple in Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and countries influenced by European settlers such as Australia and the US.

The aroma of baking bread is so evocative that supermarkets pipe it to the front of the store to lure shoppers to the bakery department, and it is said that you have more chance of selling your house if there is the smell of fresh bread.

Bread at its most basic is made of three ingredients:  flour, water and salt.  It comes in many shapes and styles, using many types of flour and raising agents – flat bread, chapatti, unleavened breads, sourdough, rye breads, scones and enriched breads such as Brioche, Chelsea buns, and fruit breads.  The number of artisan bakeries is increasing and supermarkets are now stocking a wider range of breads.

Bread is one of the simplest things to make and it’s a good stress buster to knead dough!  It does need time to prove, it can be left to do its thing overnight and you can bake fresh bread in the morning.  You don’t need a bread making machine, but if you have one, why not dust it off and try some recipes.

However, bread does get a bad rap… as the cause of bloating, indigestion, contributing to obesity and gluten intolerance (gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley).  The increases in intolerance to bread are to my mind, and to various bread experts including Andrew Whitley of the Real Bread Campaign, are caused by the additives added to bread to speed up the manufacturing process and extend the shelf life.  This process, known as the Chorleywood Bread Process, was invented in the 1960s, and now accounts for over 80% of bread on sale.  The process involves adding various enzymes, emulsifiers and other “improvers” to the dough. These do not need to be listed on the ingredients and can include bleach, preservatives and reducing agents, which can be made from feathers or animal hair!  Coeliac Disease is the most extreme intolerance to gluten; it is an autoimmune condition, where the body identifies gluten as a threat and attacks it and damages the lower intestine in the process.

Bread when naturally fermented it is more digestible, nutritious and tasty.  There are an increasing number of ‘ancient’ grains coming on to the market such as Spelt, Einkorn and Khorasan which bring different flavours and textures to the breads.  The grains have been traced back thousands of years, so are less processed or modified than some of the more commercial flours.

Why not try making your own bread?  The simplest recipe is probably soda bread, which can be made quickly and needs no raising time – it’s delicious with cheese or a warming soup.

To read more about 'The Real Bread Campaign' click here
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The Alchemy of Food – motivational speaker with a difference
Public speakers come in many shapes and sizes – some are motivational, some inspiring and some frankly obscure.  In my corporate life (before becoming a chef), I sat through many conferences and team meetings with guest speakers – from drivers of sub-sonic cars, to bobsleigh teams, to a woman who rowed solo across the Atlantic, to someone who used geese as an analogy for team building.

All these speakers encourage us to change our lives, or at least our work lives, how to work fitter, faster, smarter, be more competitive and so on.  Very few look at how we look after ourselves to meet those challenges.

‘The Alchemy of Food’ presented by Kumud Gandhi is the exception.   Kumud is a food scientist, published author and keynote speaker on health and wellbeing for peak personal and professional performance.

‘The Alchemy of Food’ is an inspirational non-jargon scientific look at the food we eat and motivates us to understand what we consume and the affect it has on us.

During the interactive speech, Kumud covers the nutritional and medicinal benefits of herbs and spices, and why certain ingredients are put together in a recipe.  Kumud explains how the medicinal value of ingredients, known to our ancestors, that has been lost in the mists of time is present in modern day recipes and medicine.  For example we don’t know why lemon is paired with fish, apart from it tasting nice! In fact it helps us digest the fish.

Using her food science background, Kumud explains how certain foods can affect our health and wellbeing including the changes in our brain, our levels of resilience, need for hydration and nutrition.

The difference with the Alchemy of Food from other motivational speeches is that you can make an instant change to your life, health and wellbeing through understanding what you are eating and how it affects you.  For team managers, it can be part of managing your team and dovetail with your corporate wellbeing programme.   It is always very well received by our clients who go away inspired by ‘going back to basics’ on flavour and information about the ingredients we use every day.

So what was life changing from all those speeches I sat through?  What did I learn from the sub-sonic car driver and the bobsleigh team?  Not much.  Debra, the woman who rowed solo became a friend and her example of ‘choosing your attitude’ encouraged me to run a half marathon.  And as for the goose-herder – the goose bit him, which is some form of feedback and the most memorable part of the speech!

‘The Alchemy of Food’ can be a one off presentation at a team meeting, or the introduction to a team build and is an excellent way of learning about health and wellbeing.

If you are interested in having a different motivational speaker at a team meeting or conference, please contact:  Kumud@thecookingacademy.co.uk

 
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Sleep hygiene… should we be counting sheep?
There is nothing better than waking up after a good night’s sleep.  However for many people a good night’s sleep is a distant dream and lack of sleep can seriously affect our health and wellbeing.

Some people can function on very little sleep and famously Margaret Thatcher allegedly only needed 4 hours’ sleep a night.  However most of us as adult need an average of 8 hours’ sleep a night to function properly.  We spend a third of our lives asleep so it is important we get the benefits of good sleep.

We need sleep to recharge our bodies, if we are deprived of sleep there can be long term health issues such as obesity, heart disease and type-2 diabetes as well as long term memory loss and dementia.   Not getting enough sleep can result in you putting on weight, because you have reduced levels of leptin the chemical that makes you feel full and an increased level of ghrelin which stimulates hunger.  It can also affect your immunity, so if you’re susceptible to picking up any cold or bug going round the workplace, you may be lacking sleep.

In terms of mental health, lack of sleep or poor sleep can affect our mood, increasing negative emotions leading to an increase in anxiety, depression and stress.  Sleep helps our brains rest and often helps us process thoughts and face the next day with a more positive attitude.

Research on sleep patterns has suggested that trying to catch up on sleep by having long lie-ins at weekends does not make up for not sleeping for long enough during the week.  However if you have been sleep deprived for a while, it is a good idea to let yourself sleep for as long as possible.  Go to sleep when you feel tired and get up when you wake up, rather than relying on the alarm clock.

How do we improve our sleep?

Sleep improves with routine, by having a pattern or schedule for sleep you will get into the habit!  Even add it to your to do list, however sleep shouldn’t be the thing you do once you’ve completed your to do list.

The habits to adopt to help you sleep include:

  • Sounds strange but make a to do list before you finish the working day for the following day so that it’s all down on paper, this will help you ‘clear your brain’ of thoughts that might be distracting you

  • Light exercise and fresh air during the day will help you sleep

  • Avoiding caffeine too late in the afternoon and evening (coffee, tea, Red Bull, Coke, etc)

  • Have a warm bath or shower

  • Try and have set a regular bed time and get into the routine of going to bed at the same time every night.

  • Read or listen the radio or an audio book will help distract your brain

  • Alcohol can make us sleepy initially but it will affect our sleep if drunk in too large a quantity


The environment where you sleep is also important.  This may sound obvious but there are some small changes you can make to improve your bedroom for a better night’s sleep.

  • Make sure your bed is comfortable, that includes the pillows and weight of the duvet/bedclothes

  • Ensure the bedroom is cool, between 18 and 24 degrees

  • Don’t have any screens in your room, TV, smart phone, computer or other gadgets

  • Good curtains or blinds on your windows to shut out any light and noise from outside


As for counting sheep… that is more likely to keep you awake than help you drift away to the land of nod.

 

For more information go to the NHS website

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Resilience
Resilience is a topic that comes up in many corporates and is often a training course for dealing with stress and work life balance.  However an individual’s resilience can be affected by many external factors apart from work and a one size fits all approach simply doesn’t work.  How people manage stress will be different depending on the person and the levels and types of stress they are facing.

In a recent global survey by IBM, work is seen as one of the biggest contributors to stress.  This was attributed to the speed of change in business across the world, and in certain areas the uncertainty of the political situation.  This is particularly noticeable in the UK with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit with the deadline of 29 March fast approaching.    Added to this the speed of communications and the ability to be online 24/7 has resulted in business cultures expecting instant responses to emails and texts.  This hardly allows for a work life balance.

Stress can have a positive effect in the short term, with adrenaline kicking-in to help us cope and work at peak performance.  This is a basic human response to a situation, going back to the primitive reaction of ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ when faced by a sabre toothed tiger.  However over a long period of time stress will have a negative impact, affecting sleep patterns, and mood which can result in burn out.

There are many ways in which an individual can boost their ability to cope with stress, work life balance and increase their resilience which is beneficial to both work and home life.

Managers need to make sure workloads are balanced across teams, and also set a good example themselves.  It’s no good to be demanding instant or out of hours responses to emails or phone calls.  If your team is always ‘on call’ they may be engaged with the company or work, however stress levels increase and work life balance takes a hit.   In France a law was enacted in 2017 to give employees the right to disconnect from work out of hours.

Compartmentalising our workload, ie breaking it down into manageable chunks and focusing on one task at a time will help.  It is estimated we receive 11m bits of information a second, but we can only process 40 bits of information effectively.  Added to that, research shows that if we are interrupted it can take up to 23 minutes to get engaged properly with the activity again.

Taking breaks in your work is also essential, to rest your brain, stand up and walk about to give yourself a break from the screen and desk, but also give yourself a different view which can aid thought processes and give mental clarity.   90 minutes’ work is deemed to be the maximum time for effective concentration.   If you’re able to take a walk around the block, this will give you fresh air, exercise and a different perspective.   When you’re home, if you have to go back to the emails, limit your time and set boundaries for your colleagues so they know you are not available!   With the time you’ve given yourself ensure you spend quality time with your family and friends, pursue your hobbies and get some good sleep - we all need down time to be able to recharge our batteries.

Eating nutritious foods and staying hydrated is essential for Resilience and especially for your brain to work effectively - as the biggest muscle in your body it needs sustenance.  Relying on junk food and caffeine or sugar rich drinks will give you a short boost of energy but a bigger fall once the caffeine or sugar runs out.

Finally cultivate compassion – be good to yourself and others.  Research has shown that this increases positive work relationships and with your family and friends, it improves cooperation and collaboration.

Good managers should be able to understand the stress levels of their teams.  Keeping them up to date and informed of what is going on in the company is a great way of helping your team in managing workload.  Resilience reaches far beyond the ‘resilience training’ that HR teams develop that’s often aimed at smarter working.  It should be a companywide change.  Company cultures take time to change, if you can start building resilience as individuals and with your immediate colleagues, you will be supporting each other.

 

Harvard Business Review

People Management
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