Let's MIY (Make it Yourself)

Not sure if it’s the sea air, being on holiday or just feeling the need to communicate that is spurring me to get writing again.  Lots of things are swimming around in my head at the moment and top of the list is encouraging people to cook more and buy less ready-made stuff.

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A recent blog post from Alex Gazzola Freelance journalist and author, got me thinking.  It seems ironic that we continually ask manufacturers to make more ready-made foods which conform to all of the different food allergies and intolerances we are facing.  And yet, much of what is causing the rise in allergies, food intolerances and obesity is more than likely to do with our diet consisting of a very large proportion of pre-packed, ready to go, processed foods made by these same manufacturers.  

I watched an interesting programme titled The World’s Best Diets.  The country which came top of the list was Iceland and the reason they are so healthy is that they don’t eat lots of processed foods.  It’s that simple.  They cook, they bake, they grow their own produce which they bottle and can and pickle and they eat lots of fish.

I know that for many, the time and effort involved in cooking fresh food seems to make this an unattainable goal and you probably won’t be running out to buy loads of mason jars to pickle your glut of courgettes. Cooking doesn’t necessarily mean hours of slaving over a hot stove.  Making your own pesto will take all of 3 minutes and less then that if you’ve got a food processor or a blender.  That’s probably quicker than getting the jar out of the cupboard and opening it.  And the taste, not to even mention the nutritional benefits will surely mean those 3 minutes were well worth it.

For some, the cost will also be an issue.  It’s true that cooking fresh food with good ingredients will be more expensive than buying a ready-made meal.  That's a sad reality.  However, when you think about what has gone into that ready-made meal and the fact you can buy a lasagne for £1.50 to feed 2 people should give you enough good reasons to steer clear of it.  What kind of meat could you possibly buy at the butcher’s which would allow you to make your own homemade lasagna cost the same?  Just think about that.  It would probably be the lowest grade of recovered meat available. And if you are buying a ready-made gluten free meal, you are in luck because that will cost you a lot more then £1.50 and the ingredients will still be of questionable quality.

Let’s also talk about the elephant in the room. For many, cooking and baking in particular can be daunting.  I appreciate this.  Cooking requires patience, creativity and some skills.  Mostly it requires practice.  Making the same dish over and over until it’s just right. I know that getting it wrong can be frustrating and it can dent your confidence.  The truth is it happens to all of us, even those of us who cook a lot. Sometimes things go wrong.  But remember, out of mistakes comes great things like Tarte Tatin.  That famous dessert is a result of one of the Tatin sisters accidentally putting the pie in a skillet upside down and then into the oven.  What was she thinking!  She apparently was a very good cook but a few sandwiches short of a picnic.  The other sister had the good sense of serving the pie hot out of the oven with a dollop of cream, instead of just putting it in the bin.  Voila!  That’s what I call resourceful.  Out of this unfortunate episode we've got one of the best ever apple pies. 

It’s a bit mean of me to use this as an example as it’s not gluten free, but give me a little time to work on a gf version for you.  Apple season is nearly here so a good time to plan that into the repertoire.

For those of you who have been to one of my classes, you’ve heard me talk about how I bring my palette knife with me on holiday and how I make things like focaccia and how I spend a lot of my down time in the kitchen making up stuff.  Well as weird as that sounds it’s true.

This holiday we’ve had homemade gf pitta bread, a giant Yorkshire pudding drizzled with Cypriot honey, lots of fresh salads, plenty of tahini dressing, a batch of chocolate puddle cookies, tasty homemade beef burgers, and tons of oven chips made with the best Cyprus potatoes in the world. 

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Why?  I hear you cry.  You’re on holiday for God’s Sake! Give it a rest! Go and lounge by the pool like a normal person.  But here’s the thing.  I can’t give it a rest because even on holiday, I want my family to eat good food.  I don’t want to eat cardboard bread from the supermarket, I don’t want to eat biscuits that taste of sawdust and I don’t want to ingest a whole load of chemicals in order to avoid gluten.

The most surprising thing you will hear is that with a basic kitchen and ingredients I bought here at the local supermarket (I did sneak a bag of Doves Farm Plain Gluten-Free flour into my bag by the way, only to find that the local supermarket sells it!)  all of the above involved very little effort or time.  Just to prove that I've not been chained to the oven or to my computer, here are a few little images of us on holiday.....


Even if you are not as crazy as I am, can I encourage you to return from holiday, rested and refreshed and ready to cook up some good simple food? It doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t need to be time consuming.  There are lots of recipes, blogs and books out there (like this one), which will help you make good simple meals the whole family can enjoy. 

The good thing about being gluten-free is that you are not expected to be NORMAL.  This leaves the door open for being creative and thinking on your feet just like that plucky Tatin sister.

Someone recently asked me what we have for breakfast, whilst they munched on a very large almond croissant.  I said, in a rather flamboyant way, “tomato soup”.  The look I got was priceless.  I then went on to explain that not every country starts the day with toast and jam and lots of wheat-based sugary things like ALMOND CROISSANTS!  In some countries, breakfast consists of soup or a plate of ham, salad and cheese.  What could be nicer then to start the day with a bowl of homemade chicken soup or a bowl of hot buttered rice.  Maybe not in the heat of the summer but surely a good idea come autumn. 


All lifestyle changes require effort and persistence.  This is tricky to do and even trickier to stick to, but my suggestion is to build in a new recipe into your repertoire every week (have a look at some of the recipes on my website and my book now available on kindle)  Sign up for a cookery class.  A knives skills class may be one of the best investments you will ever make.  A specialist gluten free baking class will also help. Buy yourself a really good cookbook (Leith’s Bible is excellent) or look online for courses and videos which explain and show how to master some of the basic skills. Most of all, enjoy getting it right and getting it wrong.  Whatever happens you can feel proud of your achievements. 

I look forward to hearing your progress.  Please feel free to contribute to the discussion and share your views and thoughts.


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