An afternoon with Food Tours Havana

We met for our half-day guided walk with Food Tours Havana tour at Mojito Mojito, a lively and beautiful bar in Old Havana. [Funnily enough, but perhaps advisedly as we had three hours ahead of us, we didn’t sample mojitos here] Our guide was Ana Fuentes, who gave us a general briefing before we set off. During the “Special Period”, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and when the US blockade was tightened, very limited food was available, and people created simple dishes which are still made today. For the most part that they cook at home rather than going out to eat as that is too expensive. Most restaurants are state-owned but now a new type of independent restaurant is blossoming – the paladar (the word is a reference to the palate). Private establishments provide better food than state-owned restaurants. They pay their staff better and have more incentive to produce good food and traditional recipes. All businesses pay for premises and setup in full in cash (no loans), often helped by expatriate Cubans in the USA, and contracts are all verbal. There was a boom in new food businesses in the Obama era.

The malanga croquetas (fritters) that we were served at Mojito Mojito were delicious! Malanga (or yuca) is a staple of the Cuban diet as it grows well there and is highly nutritious and filling. It is much more commonly used than potato as a carbohydrate.

With a great band just starting to play in the bar we set off, armed with the bottles of water we were given, for a tour of food venues and quite a few of the sights and history of Old Havana, (including the four squares, all completely different) thrown in!

Ana Fuentes of Havana Food ToursIn a small indoor market we were treated to fresh coconut water (best taken this way as it loses nutrients as soon as the coconut is opened). There was a splendid array of vegetables and fruit for  sale. We were told that papaya is good for tummy upsets but fortunately I didn’t need it for medicinal purposed throughout my visit to Cuba! I just enjoyed the flavour, which was actually much more intense than in other countries where I’ve tried it. We were also told that olive oil is too expensive because olive trees don’t go as well this far south; Sunflower or vegetable oil is used instead.

At the Paladar Genesis we were each treated to a mojito, a cocktail which local white rum which originated in Cuba. Most of the rest of the world uses spearmint but in Cuba they use hierbabuena, which only grows in hot countries and has to be used the same day that it’s picked. Lime juice and a hint of sugar are added. Later on in my trip I had a similar cocktail made with local honey, which was delicious! [Hierbabuena (which translates as “good herb” and is  also known as yerbabuena) has a less minty, more citrus-y flavour that comes from the stem, whereas spearmint has a minty flavour from oils in the leaves.]

Paladar Genesis , Havana

We also enjoyed Caribbean lobster enchilada, made with onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes. [The dish is not the same as the Mexican enchilada]. Local spiny lobsters are saltier and more slender than cold water species. They are orange in colour and salty as a result of the PH level in the ocean. The larger ones go to big hotels and restaurants. There is no big fishing in Cuban waters, so all seafood is sustainable.

By the seafront and docks we visited NaO Bar Paladar, which was damaged by hurricane Irma in September 2017 but soon recovered. Here we ate a very traditional Cuban dish Ropa Vieja (literally old clothes!). This is made with shredded flank beef slow cooked with water, wine vinegar, onions, garlic, and cumin

We finished our tour at dusk close to where we started, at Mango Gelateria where there was a great selection of luscious ice cream. As I said above, people can’t afford eat out often, but they do go out for ice cream!
Many thanks to the lovely Ana for such an informative, delicious, and fun tour!

Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

My view of Al Gore introducing An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Last week I attended the UK premiere of Al Gore’s follow-up film to An Inconvenient Truth, released in 2006. The man himself introduced An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, about the dangers of climate change, what’s happened since the first film, and some reasons to be hopeful. This is a short summary of what he had to say.

Waiting in the queue to go into Somerset House

Waiting in the queue to go into Somerset House

There was a distinct sense of optimism about the future in what he had to say and in the film. 

He feels that humanity is now rising to the challenge.  He urged us to commit to being part of the solution (although for this audience he was surely preaching to the converted) and to spread the word, via social media and elsewhere. The situation is very dangerous: we can win, but the movement needs to get bigger. Taking personal action is imperative: we need to put pressure on public officials and on the businesses we patronise to change their policies and actions to remediate the effects of climate change. In particular, Gore finds the success of renewable energy and the fact that prices are crashing down very encouraging. By these means he thinks we can solve global warming in time. He does not feel that Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement means the end of international efforts as there is so much will to make it work from the other nations; also many cities and states in the US are continuing to follow the Paris Agreement. “The damage I feared Trump would do has turned out to be less than I feared.”

100% of the proceeds from the film will go to training his team of Climate Reality activists; one of those here in West Sussex is Carrie Cort of Sussex Green Living

For me, as a member of a team of Climate Ambassador for the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, I found it all very inspiring.

This is me in a crowd of 2,000 people in the courtyard of Somerset House in London!

 

 

My visit to Mark Diacono’s Otter Farm

I was lucky enough to visit Otter Farm as a reward for investing in a crowdfunding project – billed as “A Taste of Otter Farm – a tour of Otter Farm with Mark, including a two course lunch”. Both of these elements were well up to expectations!

I’d met Mark a few times at food events organised by my friend, the cookery writer Rosemary Moon, at West Dean Gardens near my home in Chichester. Otter Farm is in East Devon, very close to the River Otter and near to Honiton. Previously Head Gardener at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage empire nearby, Mark left a few years ago to work on his 17-acre Otter Farm. Over time he has developed an orchard and a vineyard, built a house featured on Grand Designs, and built the subject of the Crowdfunder, a kitchen garden school: “a place to learn about growing, cooking, preserving, building, fermenting and more”. Both the house and kitchen garden school are designed around eco-friendly principles, the most noticeable element being the green roofs, which are clearly visible because of the way the buildings are designed.

The event was attended by about 18 of the 45 people who had pledged for this reward. We were greeted with jugs of mint or “cucumber” water (refreshing on a warm summer’s day). The latter contained large sprigs of salad burnet – the smaller leaves are best used in salads but the bigger ones work really well in water and do taste of cucumber. I’m not a fan of commercial flavoured water and even a slice of lemon in water can be too much for me, but I loved the herbal water and will be trying this at home! Once the whole group had assembled we were given delicious canapés of beetroot puree garnished with summer savoury. These were accompanied by a fabulous cocktail of Mark’s home-made limoncello topped up by his own sparkling wine. I had sampled Mark’s herbal cocktails at West Dean, so knew this would be good, and I was glad to be staying at an Airbnb just a short walk away!

Mark with his home made Limoncello

Mark with his home made Limoncello

Next we were treated to an in-depth tour of the newly planted vegetable garden, based on forest gardening principles with mostly perennial plants. Cob was used in the construction of the kitchen garden school and Mark decided to use it for the walls of the garden too, adding a real rustic feel. The garden was full of plants I had never heard of, or variants that were new to me, even though I thought I was quite well up on unusual vegetables and herbs.

Egyptian walking onion

Egyptian walking onion

I’ll cover just a few of the plants that particularly caught my eye or appealed to me in some other way, otherwise there would be far too many to cover! The Egyptian walking onion produces onions similar to shallots but what is different about it is that it grows its next generation of onions at the top of the stalks. These mature during summer, sending out small roots and shoots of their own. The flower stalk falls over, and the bulbils root where they touch the ground. The next year these form onions in their new location, grow a stalk with bulbils on top – which then falls over to repeat the process. Continuing with the allium theme, we were also shown Welsh onions (not from Wales and not an onion as we know it as it doesn’t grow bulbs) and society garlic grown for its flowers and more like chives than garlic and so named because apparently it is less pungent on the breath!

Social garlic

Social garlic

Moving onto herbs, sweet cicely has attractive fern-like leaves, has an aniseed flavour, and can be cooked with rhubarb using less sugar because of its natural sweetness implied by its name. Scotch Lovage has red stems which answered a question for me – I saw Scotch lovage in a kitchen garden a few years ago, just labelled as lovage, bought some lovage seeds, and wondered when they grew why they didn’t have red stems! Apple mint (which I grow myself and used in my much admired apple and mint [or apple and apple mint jelly]!) is very good in water. Mark recommends growing mint in pots if you grow more than one, otherwise they cross and the individual taste can’t be distinguished. Mark is a big fan of ginger rosemary. He also grows several varieties of hyssop, including anise hyssop, very good for attracting bees.

One strange fact I learned was that dahlia tubers were eaten 200 years ago; this makes me wonder if that is why they are often grown on allotments, particularly by the more elderly allotmenteers? Perhaps they are carrying on a tradition for cut flowers that originates in them being grown to eat. Mark is growing fuchsias for their fruit, which is also something you don’t get to hear about much!

Szechan pepper bush

Szechan pepper bush

On the way back to the house we saw Japanese pepper and Szechuan pepper plants.  The latter should be picked when bright red (useful advice for me as I bought a plant from Mark a few years ago and it has produced a good crop for the first time this year!). The peppercorns can be used fresh or dried in the sun so that they go through a pepper mill. Another variety of Szechuan pepper is apparently very lemony. We all sampled a Szechuan peppercorn so that we could feel the tingly, numbing sensation it produces on the tongue!  Among the more unusual fruit trees grown here are the plumcot tree (I’ll leave you to guess which trees ones have been crossed here!) and the Juneberry, a fruiting species of Amelanchier.

Back at the house we were treated to a splendid lunch of local belly pork (Mark runs courses on butchery) followed by a most delicious chocolate cake. The chef for the day was Matthew Williamson, former co-owner of Flinty Red restaurant in Bristol. To accompany the food we had Mark’s own cider and wine – I sampled both and thoroughly enjoyed them!

Mark can be found in my neck of the woods in the Gardening Theatre on all three days (11-13 August 2017) of the West Dean Chilli Fiesta.

Me and my Eco journey

My name is Diana Morgan. I was born in the mid-1950s and became aware of environmental issues in my teens. We were a Guardian-reading family, getting good coverage of such matters; Doomwatch was on TV (a drama series about a secret government agency tackling environmental emergencies); Friends of the Earth launched with a publicity stunt dumping non-returnable glass bottles on the doorstep of Cadbury-Schweppes. The holes in the ozone layer at the poles (and the role of CFCs in that) became a concern, as did global warming, now more correctly known as climate change.

Not being good at sciences at school I pursued an arts degree; in any case, environmental science courses were in their infancy in those days. For a couple of decades afterwards, I took an avid interest in eco matters but did little of a practical nature, apart from being a member of organisations such as Friends of the Earth; although I do believe it is important to put your money where your mouth is even if you are not taking action yourself. My activism in the 1980s and 90s mainly involved going on CND and Anti-Apartheid demonstrations, both very pressing issues at the time. I recycled as much as I could in the days before kerbside collections.

Since moving out of London to Chichester in the mid-90s I have become an active member of Chichester Organic Gardening Society and Transition Chichester. In 2010 I became self-employed for the first time following redundancy, working as a freelance social media marketer (with green-related and local food clients where possible). Soon after, I added another business to my portfolio as a distributor for Wikaniko, a UK-based cooperative selling all kinds of eco-friendly, healthy, and natural goods. I trade as EcoStepByStep.

At the time of writing, I am stepping back from routine social media work in favour of more writing in the green sphere (blog posts and copywriting for clients) and of developing EcoStepByStep. I have also recently become one of a team of WI Climate Ambassadors.

My interests include nature, travel, photography and walking. At some point, I changed from the teenager who told her mother “I’m not an outdoor person” into … an outdoor person, some of the time!

So what’s next? Really, it’s wide open. I want to spend more time on environmental projects, both professionally and personally – working on turtle protection is one cause that really appeals to me!

This is the first stage of my evolution from eco worrier to eco-warrior!