Please Say Please to Porridge!

oatmeal porridge in ceramic bowl with fresh ripe berries

Porridge can be a bit like Marmite - you either love it or you completely body swerve it! There are even a few Scots who won't give it the time of day (shock horror!) BUT as the mornings get darker and colder, you might want to give it a go!

There are dear alone knows how many ways to make it (rough oats, fine oats, with salt or without, do you really need a spurtle and should you always stir the porridge clockwise - more on that later - do you serve it thick so you can cut it into slices or should you have a thick soupy-like texture?) There are definitely more questions than answers!

So... let me simply direct you right now to Rude Health's 2017 Porridge Championship results on their website - this is the 5th year they have held this fiercely-fought spurtle battle and I think you will see that there is nothing pedestrian or lacking in flair about the fabulous porridge-style dishes you can create with the cheap and cheerful oat! I think this image says it all - concentration or what, young man!

And continuing down the porridge road, in his usual crazily-enthusiastic but always seriously-doable way, Jamie Oliver devotes one of his Food Tube videos to How to Make Porridge 5 Ways which, if you are a 'porridge virgin', I recommend you have a look at and/or if you just know that there is rarely or never going to be time to get the spurtle out first thing in the morning, try my Overnight Porridge Recipe - all the goodness but it can be heated up super-fast and simply topped with whatever fruit is in the bowl, a drizzle of honey (or double cream), a handful of fresh nuts and seeds and a shake of cinnamon or nutmeg powder. And whether you have a spurtle or not, remember to stir the porridge clockwise - Scots legend has it that anti-clockwise stirs up the devil - not worth the risk, I say!

Fiona Kirk Overnight Porridge Recipe.jpeg

Oh and by the way, on the 'good for you front': Oats contain protein, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, Vitamin E and Vitamin B and have no sodium. In addition, they contain large amounts of soluble fibre including beta-glucans, which can help the stomach feel fuller for longer, help to suppress hunger and prevent snacking and are known to lower cholesterol.

Go on, give it a try, join me for a wonderfully-warming breakfast of porridge and let me know when you find the combination that seriously works for you!

For the Love of Our Home-Grown Berries!

Huge thanks to Food52 for pointing out that this week is Blueberry Week and providing a fabulous selection of recipes that champion these little dark balls of deliciousness and greatness! If you don't already subscribe to the Food52 newsletters, I urge you to do so now - it's inspirational!

chocolate dipped strawberries

However, if you live 'this side of the pond' I urge you to celebrate the incredible wealth of home-grown berries that are crowding our shelves right now - particularly strawberries, raspberries and blackberries (or brambles as we call them in Scotland).

Blueberries have 'bagged' a superfood spot - they are low in calories, high in fibre, chock full of immune-boosting vitamin C, offer good levels of bone-building vitamin K and are believed to contain the highest, health-protective antioxidant capacity of all commonly-consumed fruits and vegetables BUT how often do you find 'locally-grown' blueberries on your supermarket shelf? In my experience, occasionally, but not often, WHEREAS just yesterday, the minute I walked into my 'local', I was greeted by an overwhelming, almost 'jammy' and extremely enticing aroma of strawberries, grown only around 50 miles from my city dwelling so there was no competition - the strawberries won hands down for tomorrow's breakfast! Furthermore, the strawberries were around £5 per kg and the blueberries were around £11 per kg - not a difficult decision! 

I read somewhere that not only has the European love affair with blueberries come as a direct result of health reports hailing them as one of the world's most beneficial superfoods but also that we appear to be more than happy to gorge on them because unlike strawberries, they don't require any work - you have to 'hull' a strawberry and that seems to be too big a task for some - what?? 

Just so you know... strawberries, raspberries and blackberries all offer more vitamin C than blueberries and when in season and locally-grown, pack a health-protective punch not too far behind blueberries (particularly those poor little mites that have had to travel a good many miles over a number of days to get onto our shelves)! 

Bag your home-grown berries while you can - the season is short. Have them early doors with creamy-smooth yoghurt and a handful of nuts and seeds, top a couple of crisp breads with nut butter, berries and black pepper or add them to salads for lunch, whizz them up into a smoothie with a dollop of delectable crème fraîche or have them on their own when you need a little sweetness in your world mid morning or mid afternoon or make a spicy berry sauce and serve it with meat or game for dinner (delicious) or when nothing else will do... dip them in melted, deepest, darkest chocolate and tell yourself you are benefitting from even more superfood superiority! 

Oh To Have Been So Misled By So Many For So Long!

I am not alone in having a number of family members suffer the massive life-changing consequences of having a stroke. One minute, it’s all good and the next it’s totally, completely and utterly not. Within the space of just a matter of minutes, a stroke victim loses their independence, often can no longer work, in the majority of cases has to rely on others to help with their everyday needs and assist in decision-making and unless the extent of the damage to both brain and body has been severe and the stroke proves fatal within around 30 days, can only expect this tragic change to their lives to continue for a number of years.

So where did it all go so horribly wrong? Why do statistics indicate that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 6 men of 75 and over are at serious risk? Is it simply age or might diet be involved?

Rationing during WW2 meant very little in the way of fats in diets and as rationing continued until 1954, they continued to be a very occasional luxury - meat and dairy products were in short supply and when you could get them, they were expensive. So why should any housewife lucky enough to get her hands on (and on rare occasions, afford) not treat the family to a good scraping of butter on their toast or a steaming-hot dish of macaroni cheese or a deliciously-creamy trifle for pud? Things were looking up!

But, just as families were beginning to enjoy feasting on delicious and filling fats, along came the ‘fat police’, in the main, courtesy of a researcher by the name of Ancel Keyes who spent years analysing the diets of the healthiest nations in the world and determined that fats were bad for us and would make us sick and fat. His extensive (but now universally-agreed, erroneous in so very many aspects) research prompted governments and health organisations to issue warnings about our fat consumption globally and who were we to doubt the advice of ‘those in the know’?

For some reason, which remains a mystery to those who are professionally, nutritionally trained, eggs continue to be regarded as a dairy product - sorry but no, they don’t come from a milk-producing animal! However, did they come in for some bad press or what! Thanks again to Ancel Keyes, eggs were vilified for decades because they contain cholesterol and saturated fat. But the truth is that cholesterol and saturated fat in animal produce has health benefits.  There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that eating cholesterol-rich foods cause our cholesterol levels to increase. It is estimated that only 20 percent of our blood cholesterol levels actually come from our diet (the rest of the cholesterol in the body is produced by the liver, which it makes because we need it for brain, hormone, nerve and immune system health) and there is no evidence that the consumption of up to six eggs per week increases our risk of heart disease.

Soft boiled egg

It all started so well when eggs became more readily-available post-rationing and ‘dried eggs’ (which few got too excited about) were left to become even drier on the top shelf! "Go to work on an egg" was an advertising slogan used by the UK Egg Marketing Board during the late 1950s as part of more than £12 million spent on advertising, including a series of television advertisements starring Tony Hancock and Patricia Hayes in 1965. The proposition was that having an egg for breakfast was the best way to start the working day and it worked. In a very short space of time, eggs were the breakfast of choice in a great many households but it wasn’t to last. In 1988, the Tory health minister of the time, Edwina Currie stunned the British nation by announcing in a TV interview that “most of the egg production in this country, sadly, is now affected with salmonella”. As egg sales plummeted, the government was forced to offer a compensation package of millions of pounds to cover the cost of purchasing surplus eggs and for the slaughter of unwanted hens, the minister weathered a political storm which ultimately led to her resignation but the worst outcome of all was that eggs were largely removed from the breakfast table and all manner of starchy, sugary and health-threatening breakfast cereals took their place.

And even more frustratingly, in 2007, plans to rebroadcast the original ‘go to work on an egg’ advertisements were rejected by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, which observed that “the adverts did not suggest a varied diet”. This was not just frustrating - it was nothing short of negligent!

So now where are we on the ‘egg front’ in 2017? Well… it appears that an egg a day is linked to a reduced risk of stroke (1). It’s likely too late for many in their 70’s and 80’s to turn back time but boy have they been tragically-misled by their governments, their health advisors and their GPs over the last 50 years!

Who is to say that if they had continued to ‘go to work on an egg’ things might have been different and the stroke statistics would look less alarming but let’s hope that the youth of today, many of whom are more than just a little bit interested in their health, think seriously about the shocking headlines they read before simply reacting to them and continue to enjoy the extraordinarily-amazing health benefits offered by one of the easiest and most nourishing little numbers to fit into their daily diet - eggs!