Category Archives: Nutrition & Sensible Eating

Woolton Pie

No, M'Lord, that's where I wash me smalls!

Woolton Pie was created in 1941 at The Savoy Hotel in London and was named after Lord Woolton who was head of The Ministry of Food.

It can be made with just about any vegetables that you have to hand; fresh bought, leftovers, odds and ends, roasted veg, frozen mixed veg. – the decision is yours.  This recipe is about as Wartime Housewife as it gets, using all the elements of  leftovers, using what you have in the fridge or cupboard, and is very, very cheap.

The basic elements are:
Mixed vegetables
A sauce
A topping of pastry, crumble or potatoes – mashed or sliced


A deep-sided pie dish or casserole

*   Mixed vegetables cut into similar shapes if possible eg julienne strips or cubes
*   White sauce flavoured with cheese or herbs or both (see HERE for recipe)
*   A quantity of shortcrust pastry OR mashed potato OR sliced potatoes
OR savoury crumble mix (see HERE for crumble recipe)
*   Beaten egg to glaze pastry or grated cheese and butter for the potatoes

Pre-heat the oven to 375 / 5 / 190
If using fresh vegetables, steam them very lightly until they are just cooked
Put the vegetables into the dish
Pour over the sauce
Top with mash, sliced potatoes, crumble mixture or pastry
Top potatoes with grated cheese or brush the pastry with beaten egg
Bake in the oven until whichever top you’ve used is golden brown



Filed under Food, Leftovers, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Recipes, Storecupboard

Local meat producers and Waterloo Cottage Farm

British Saddleback

Before the Shire Book of the Month, currently Pigs, changes, I want to tell you about a local meat producer called Waterloo Cottage Farm and the important role that small producers have in selling good meat from happy animals.

Meat is expensive and so it should be.  To produce good meat takes time, through slow fattening on the right kind of food, fresh air and exercise for the animals, slaughter in the least stressful way possible followed by a decent period of hanging before it finally arrives in your kitchen.

With this in mind, I visited local producer Waterloo Cottage Farm in Great Oxenden, Northamptonshire and was given a tour of the farm by owner, Kirsty Clarke.  We met in the light, cool shop, where a mouth-watering array of meat and produce was displayed.  After a brief chat about what I wanted to see, I was taken out through the back door to the business end of the enterprise.

Glorious Pig

I was confronted by lots of open pens, with several different types of pigs enjoying the sunshine.  I was wearing a long skirt and strappy sandals, so I tucked my skirt into my knickers and prepared to meet the pigs and what a gorgeous crew they were.  I have a big soft spot for pigs at the best of times, but being able to climb into the pens and actually scratch them and talk to them was a treat indeed.

Happy Pig

Saddleback Piglets

And Kirsty did indeed talk to her pigs and her care and enthusiasm for the creatures came across loud and clear.  The farm has a herd of British Saddlebacks which are allowed to mature fully in the fields and woods which surround Waterloo Farm, as well as Petrans and Ginger Durocs.  I became extremely soppy when she introduced me to the piglets who were running and rolling with their mother in the straw.

The Clarkes also have lamb and hogget, chickens, ducks and geese and they select beef and veal from local farms who also use traditional breeds.  All the animals have something in common.  They are all reared using traditional, sustainable farming methods which work with nature, not against it.  The animals are free to lead full, natural lives on healthy soil and fed on natural, local feed and the pigs are slow grown until they are 9-10 months which is a significantly longer life than an intensively bred animal. The barley comes from the farmer next door and the slaughterhouse is only nine miles away, the animals being accompanied there in a quiet and unstressed way which is better for the animal and better for the resulting meat.

Looking at the meat in the shop is a very different experience to browsing the chiller aisles in the supermarket.  The meat is darker in colour and more wholesome-looking than perhaps we’re used to and the bacon and sausages sit in great piles, pleading with you to take them home.  The bacon and hams are cured on the premises and their master butcher produces fresh piles of traditional and artisan varieties of sausages every day.

I bought some bacon and something I haven’t eaten for over thirty years – veal.  I have deliberately avoided veal because of the unspeakable practice of veal crating, but with the sure knowledge that the animal that provided this had been happy, healthy and natural, I took a chop home and had it for my supper.

My veal in the shop

I can honestly say that I’ve never tasted meat like it; it was tender, sweet and juicy and so flavourful I could have wept.  I also had some of their dry cured bacon for my breakfast the following morning and, apart from the taste, the most obvious difference was visual.  No white scum stickily coating the bottom of your frying pan here, and two rashers and a couple of fried eggs was distinctly more filling that the abominable mid-range stuff you buy at the supermarket.

Local producers do an incredible job of farming.  Not only do they help to preserve the rare breeds but they also help to preserve the very land on which they’re reared because of the sustainable ways in which they farm.  The meat hasn’t travelled huge distances and is therefore beneficial to the environment in a wider sense.  They are also firm protagonists of old skills such as proper butchery and artisan methods of preparation and, because of the renewed interest in this kind of food, many farms  are taking on apprentices.  Waterloo Cottage Farm also runs meat craft courses to encourage you to get the best out of their meat.

We must support these local producers in their endeavours by shopping with them whenever we can.  I have said it before and I will keep saying it until you do as you’re told; eat less, eat better.  Learn how to use to meat to get the best out of it and, I am convinced that properly reared, slow grown meat actually fills you up more so you don’t need as much of it.  Eat less, eat better.  It’s better for all of us.


Filed under Animals, Ethics, Food, Livestock, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Regional, Slider

The body knows what it needs

One of my very own lymphocytes taken using a Box Brownie. Incidentally I was delighted to discover that when I downloaded this image my computer 'scanned it for viruses'

I do think that often our bodies know what food they need and sometimes crave something that will rectify a deficiency.  A yearning for milk or nuts or oranges can be an instinctive way of topping up our minerals, Vitamin C, salt or protein.  A craving for chocolate and Richard Armitage is a sure sign of the body’s need for endorphins. I expect.

Last week both the boys had three days off school with diarrhoea and vomiting. Boy the Elder vomited occasionally but loitered palely on the sofa with a volume of Keats and a lace handkerchief, whilst Boy the Younger positioned himself on the lavatory with a bucket between his knees.

I rarely get actual symptoms of anything, but feel like death as my body goes into battle with whichever primordial set of viruses the boys bring home, probably generously donated by the parents who refuse to let their children stay at home when they’re poorly.

This week, I was clearly not only awash with lymphocytes but I had also run out of my migraine tablets.  This resulted in my spending all of Sunday night, and most of Monday, moaning in pain as the rainbow triangles darted in front of my eyes whilst trying to decide whether I was going to vomit because of the virus or the migraine and whether the stomach cramps were going to confine me to the bathroom indefinitely.

As it was, I was spared the bog and bucket fandango, and the application of boiling hot water bottles to the back of my neck and head alleviated the migraine sufficiently for me to drive the boys to school.

However, it is now Tuesday night and, although I was fine this morning, I was obliged to lie down for an hour before Scouts to re-charge as the nausea had set in again.  My giblets were gurgling and rumbling like a dysfunctional lava lamp and I felt as though I needed to eat something to appease the God of Wind.

As I collected Boy the Elder from Scouts, I was handed a small piece of apple cake which they had made during the session.  The smell of freshly cooked apple called to me, the light, fragrant sponge sang to me and I knew that the only thing that would make me better was a piece of apple sponge and custard.

I ran into the Co-op, grabbed an Eve’s Pudding for One and a tin of Ambrosia Custard, shoved it into the microwave and chowed it down.

I am cured.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  You’re never alone with custard.


Filed under Food, Health and Fitness, Nutrition & Sensible Eating

Joy of Soup

Red Winter Soup

One of the lovely things about the darker nights and colder weather is that home-made soup is on the menu more often.

Tonight we had Red Winter Soup which packed full of Vitamin C to help ward off colds.

In our local Co-op this morning I found four tins of Chestnut Puree in the bargain bucket for only 34p each so I bought them all for future use in Chestnut and Bacon Soup

Pea and Ham Soup

With root vegetables becoming seasonally cheaper, lovely lentil and vegetable soups can be recycled for days.
Make a huge pot and on Day 1 cook some chops or chicken pieces in it.  On Day 2 add some sausages and on Day 3 eat it on its own with good bread and a chunk of decent cheese.

Raid your local butcher or delicatessen and ask them for ham bones for hearty Pea and Ham Soup.

There are still patches of new nettles out there

And of course, let us not forget that Halloween is coming up.  Don’t just carve pumpkins, scoop out the flesh and use it for Pumpkin Soup.

And the beauty is that most soup can be made from Storecupboard Ingredients!   Put Soup into the ‘Search’ box for more souper recipes.


Filed under Food, Leftovers, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Recipes, Seasonal, Storecupboard

Zinc and the Spotty, Listless Youth

Other people have written whole books about zinc and the implications of deficiency, inadequate dietary intake and those who have an increased need for this mineral.  I am going to concentrate on just one aspect of it, because it is topical for me.  Teenage boys.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral, present in all tissues,  and which occurs in the body in large amounts, second only to iron. It is well known for its important role in the immune system  and the body’s ability to heal and repair both internal and external wounds and also for the regulation of the skin’s oil gland function.

It is an essential component in the absorption of vitamins, particularly Vitamins A and B Complex and plays a major part in digestion and metabolism.  Vitamins A and B are also critical for the effective function of the liver; poor liver function causes chronic fatigue and poor utilisation of nutrients.  You see how it’s all linked?  Our bodies are constantly striving for stasis, which is why a balanced diet is so important.

Zinc is predominantly absorbed in the small intestine and the body only absorbs what it needs, the rest is excreted.  A diet which is too high in fibre will result in zinc deficiency as it binds the zinc and carries it away before it can be absorbed.

Zinc is essential for all growth, including sexual maturity.  It is also thought to increase male sex drive because of its ability to regulate testosterone in the prostate.

A deficiency of zinc can be at the root of much of the ghastliness of teenage boys.  How often have we been confronted with a spotty, greasy, lacklustre, lanky specimen of humanity who is constantly tired yet restless and unable to concentrate?  Teenage boys are particularly prone to growth spurts and the demands of this, coupled with the physical demands of puberty frequently deplete the body’s resources of zinc.  Boys also often seem to crave milk during their teenage years and, although calcium is also vital, large amounts of it can adversely affect the absorption of zinc.

Boy the Elder is showing signs of such ghastliness on all fronts, particularly the spots and the outrageous and expensive growing that he insists upon doing.  At 13, he is 5’7” and has size 9 feet and this all takes its toll on a chap.  He has a stupidly healthy and varied diet but there’re only so many herrings I can shovel into him during the average day.

I, too, suffer from acne which, in my case is definitely hormonal and I have to keep up a constant regime of skincare to keep it under control.  We may be at opposite ends of the chronological scale, but the causes are similar.  Hormones.  When Pandora opened that box, it wasn’t all the evils of the world that floated out, it was hormones, I’m convinced of it.

To this end, we have both started taking a zinc supplement in the form of a 15mg tablet (amino acid chelate), once a day.  Within a week, my skin has shown tremendous improvement.  Boy the Elder’s skin is slowly improving but we have found that the supplement has to be taken every day without fail for it to be effective.  Washing his face would also help, but that is much harder to do apparently.  He is also definitely more lively and less irritable towards his brother.  Result.

The recommended daily zinc intake according to the National Research Council is:-
Children aged 1-10   = 10mg
Males aged 11 upwards = 15mg
Women aged 11 upwards = 12mg

Good sources of zinc include:  fish (especially the oily varieties), shellfish, chicken,  meat, green leafy vegetables, green peas, pulses, nuts, egg yolks, and wholegrains.

Soil exhaustion and the processing of food negatively affect the presence of zinc in our food and organic, natural, unprocessed foods generally contain higher levels of zinc.

So, if you want your Neanderthal son to buck up, have a go at wacking up the zinc; you may be pleasantly surprised.

‘The Nutritional Almanac’ by Gayla J Kirschmann and John D Kirschmann.  Pub. McGraw-Hill, fourth ed. 1996

‘Nutritional Medicine’ by Dr Stephen Davies & Dr Alan Stewart. Pub. Pan 1987

The Complete A-Z of Common Ailments and their Natural Remedies’ by Judy Jacka.  Pub.Foulsham 1995

‘The Manual of Conventional Medicine for Alternative Practitioners’ by Stephen Gascoigne.  Pub. Jigme Press 1996


Filed under Children, Health and Fitness, Nutrition & Sensible Eating

White Fish cooked with Humous

It’s all fish with me at the moment.  This recipe is really quick and tasty and full of chickpea goodness.  You can use any firm, white fish – I used Whiting because it was on special offer in Waitrose and I happened to have half a tub of humous leftover from yesterday’s lunch.  I’m afraid we had troughed it down before I remembered I should have photographed it.  Next time.


1 x frying pan

1 good knob of butter (approx 2oz / 60g)
White fish fillets
Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley (1/2 tablespoon of dried)
Salt & Pepper

Melt the butter in the frying pan over a medium heat
Place the fish fillets in the pan
Sprinkle the fish fillets liberally with lemon juice
Sprinkle over the parsley
Give each fillet a good twist of salt and pepper
Smear 1 generous tablespoon of humous over each fillet
Cook the fish over a medium heat, turning occasionally
When the fish is cooked through add a couple of tablespoons of cream to the pan
Cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes until the sauce has thickened
Put the fish onto warmed plates, spoon the sauce over and serve with new potatoes and crisp vegetables


Filed under Food, Leftovers, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Recipes

Fruity Chicken Salad

This is my absolute favourite salad because it’s filling, colourful, nutritious and delicious.  I’m afraid there’s no picture until tomorrow as I made the salad but I eated it … before I remembered to take a picture.  It serves two people.  I like a dark green salad such as watercress or rocket because the bitterness sets off the fruityness of the mango nicely.  Save a little of the mango to mix with the mayonnaise for a fruity dressing.


1 x sharp vegetable knife
1 x small bowl

2 chicken breasts – grilled
Dark green salad
1 x large ripe mango – peeled and sliced – set aside a few bits
1 x large ripe avocado – peeled and sliced
2 x large tablespoons mayonnaise
A little paprika
1 x heaped tablespoon pine nuts

Divide the salad leaves between two plates
Place the chicken breast towards one edge of the plate (six o’clock position)
Arrange the mango and avocado in alternate slices in a fan shape above the chicken
Mash up the set aside mango and mix it with the mayonnaise
Place a spoonful between the chicken and the fruit
Sprinkle with a little paprika
Sprinkle with pine nuts


Filed under Food, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Recipes

Lunch at MacDonald’s so only myself to blame

Have a look at the artist, Andy Councils website, its amazing. Click on the link below

As Boy the Elder was spending the day with a friend, I allowed Boy the Younger to choose what he wanted for lunch.  ‘Can we go to MacDonald’s, please?’ he asked nicely.  We very rarely go (for so very many reasons) so off we trotted.

We sat down with our food, when in walked a giant group of people.  Two enormous women with two children who were so fat they couldn’t walk properly.  There was also a very thin woman and her thin daughter – I feared for them.

I have never seen so much food on a table, all mixed up with piles of wrappings and cardboard and tubs.  The children were running about, the women were getting crosser and crosser and the children got louder and louder.  Then they got up to get more food.

We all know the dangers of being severely overweight – heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes etc.  I’m a bit overweight myself, but I am an adult who is responsible for my own health and wellbeing. My children have hearty appetites and enjoy their food, but they also get plenty of exercise and, because they eat healthily, they can eat junk from time to time with a clear conscience.

Adults who allow their children to get that fat, and therefore expose them to lifelong health problems, to say nothing of the teasing they are likely to get at school, are guilty of neglect and consequently abuse.  There is no excuse.

Andy Council is the illustrator who made the above picture:

I downloaded his picture off Google without asking and his picture on this site does not indicate Andy’s endorsement of my article.  His work is fabulous so have a look at his site.


Filed under Children, Education, Food, Health and Fitness, Nutrition & Sensible Eating

Nettles – the free alternative to Spinach

In which the Wartime Housewife points out that nettles gathered from the hedgerow are free whilst spinach costs over £1 per bag.  Plus a recipe for Egg Florentine Au Naturel.

Nettles - free food

While Boy the Elder was tramping through the Brecon Beacons this weekend, Boy the Younger and I decided to strike out into the countryside ourselves.  When BTY fell off his scooter for the 3rd time, he got, complaining miserably that he had been stung.  And so he had.  The very first nettles were peeping through the brown, sodden remains of last year’s foliage, vivid green and packed full of venom.

It won’t be long before we can start having Nettle Soup again! we cheered.  But nettles are a perfectly good vegetable in their own right.  The other dish I really like to make is Egg Florentine which is usually made with spinach (which is the ‘Florentine’ bit) but can be made equally well with nettles. It would make an incredibly nourishing breakfast dish as well as a light lunch.

How to prepare nettles for eating

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to wear rubber or thick gardening gloves when harvesting nettles.  Always use the young tender leaves or the tender tops off older plants.  Get rid of any tough stalks and give them a good wash to get rid of any insects or anything else you wouldn’t want to eat.  Then treat them just like fresh spinach.


Rubber gloves
1 x small saucepan or poaching pan
2 x medium saucepan

½ carrier bag of nettles
4 eggs
1 knob of butter
1  quantity of cheese sauce – see below
a little paprika

Make the cheese sauce and keep it warm
Place the nettles into a medium saucepan with a little water and a knob of butter
Cover and steam until tender
Soft boil or poach the eggs
Drain the nettles and divide between 4 plates
Place one egg onto the top of each pile of nettles
Pour cheese sauce over the top of each
Sprinkle with a little paprika and serve immediately

Cheese sauce
2oz / 60g butter
2oz / 60g wholemeal flour (or 2 really heaped tablespoons)
4oz / 120g cheese – grated
½ pint / 300ml milk
1 pinch mustard power / ¼  teaspoon ready made mustard

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan then slowly
Stir in the flour and mustard powder to make thick paste (a roux)
Add the milk a bit at a time, stirring constantly
Simmer gently until the sauce has thickened slightly and then stir in the cheese

The sauce can also be done in a bowl in the microwave.  Follow the steps above but instead of simmering in a pan, pop the bowl in the microwave for about 3 minutes, taking it out to stir occasionally.


Filed under Food, Hedgerows, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Recipes, Seasonal

The changing face of breakfast … and hopefully my bottom



My breakfast table

In which the Wartime Housewife takes a look at our dietary habits and why breakfast used to be more important  than it is now and what the implications of that may be.

Sister the First gave me a ‘Modern Cookery Illustrated’ for Christmas which I am struggling to date, as the bookplate is inscribed in 1949-50 but the pictures are clearly pre-war and there is no mention of rationing of any kind.  They also refer to ‘ketchup’ as ‘catsup’, if that’s a clue. There is, however, talk of economy and of  helping to build a fitter, happier Empire.  Now she’s talking my language.

Now another event which has made me look at this book again is one which, I have to confess, fills me with some embarrassment. Deep breath.  Three weeks ago I embarked on a diet.  I have become rather wobbly and I need to lose three stone.  The diet I have chosen is a low carbohydrate, high protein affair which suits my metabolism very well.  One of the important aspects of this diet is having a decent breakfast which will keep you full and give you energy until lunchtime, although they do recommend a healthy snack mid morning and afternoon to try to stop you eating chocolate or cake.

I have talked about the importance of breakfast before, but why do we feel the need to snack all the time?  If you read household manuals or cookery books from the past, there’s no talk of snacking – a small slice of cake at teatime perhaps, where one sits down with a cup of tea in a social way – but no snacking.  I think it’s probably bad habits, not eating sufficiently satisfying food at mealtimes, combined with lack of satisfaction at work and home leading to boredom and dissatisfaction, and lack of exercise. 

Here is a sample of the breakfast menus for a typical week from ‘Modern Cookery Illustrated’.

Sunday:    Baked Apples, Grilled Kidneys and Bacon

Monday:  Porridge, Grilled Bloaters

Tuesday:   Cereal, Brawn

Wednesday:   Fresh Fruit, Fried Mackerel

Thursday:   Cereal, Savoury Omelet

Friday:   Porridge, Kippers

Saturday:   Stewed Prunes, Scrambled Egg

They then go on to eat two more decent meals, the main one being at lunchtime, with a marginally lighter affair in the evening – both with puddings.  There’s plenty of protein and roughage, a little lighter on the veg. than I might be, but they usually compensate for this with fruit.

Now, not everyone was doing manual work, although women were much more vigorous in the cleaning of their homes and probably did more walking.  The other key point is that portions were smaller and I really believe this to be one of the biggest dietary problems and one which is flagged up by all the pedlars of diets.  Control your portion sizes.

In the last three weeks I have only lost half a stone (all of which came off in the first week) but I have lost inches off my wobbliest bits.  The biggest inch loss has been since I started exercising.  I am engaged in manual occupation for chunks of my week and I have found that having a bigger breakfast has given me so much more energy.  I do a bit of stretching and crunching in the evening (and I mean ‘a bit’) and I have also started having a fast walk every day, starting with two miles and then I shall build up to longer routes.  I am convinced that this is how I will regain my former, slenderer shape. 

You see, it’s official.  Bacon and eggs makes you skinny!  Hurrah!

For more hearty breakfast ideas, click on the links below:


Filed under Food, Nutrition & Sensible Eating


The Wartime Housewife has indeed been scrumping.  Whilst prowling the fields looking for Smog yesterday, I came upon a tree, half smothered in ivy and loaded with pears.  Using my jumper as a basket I had as many as I could carry and have left them on a tray in a sunny spot in the kitchen to soften up.  I love pears and, like apples, they are a great fruit for regulating blood sugar.

Actually as I was driving to see Irish Alice this lunchtime, I drove down a road which had apples, pears and plums in astonishing abundance in the hedgerow.  I’ll get my basket.  Meanwhile, here is a recipe for Pear Tart.  I like a nice tart.  I also rather like pears hot with chocolate sauce.


1 x rolling pin
1 x 8” / 20cm flan dish – greased and floured
Baking beans and greaseproof paper if you have them
1 x mixing bowl

1/2lb / 240g shortcrust pastry
8floz / 250ml double cream
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of castor sugar
1 tablespoon of sherry or Marsala.  I suspect brandy or Calvados might work as well
4 large or 6 small (scrumped!) pears – peeled, halved and remove stalks and stringy bits

Preheat the oven to 200 / 400 / 6
Roll out the pastry and line the flan dish
Prick the base with a fork
If you have baking beans, put a circle of greaseproof paper on top of the pastry and put in a layer of beans
Bake for 10 minutes or until the pastry is just starting to form a light crust
Remove from the oven and remove the baking beans and the greaseproof paper
Meanwhile, beat together the cream, egg yolks, sugar and alcohol.
Place the pear halves, flat side down, in a flower shape in the pastry case
Pour the cream mixture over the top
Continue cooking for a further 30 minutes


Filed under Food, Hedgerows, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Recipes, Seasonal

A Jolly Good Wheeze

Last night I was taken into hospital because I had an asthma attack.  I started to get really wheezy at about 3pm and, no matter how much I used my inhaler, it didn’t really make much difference.  I rang out local cottage hospital at 8pm and asked if I could use their nebuliser but they said that their last appointment was at 8.45 and if I needed any further treatment they wouldn’t be in a position to give it to me, so it was better if I didn’t. 

At 9pm I called the out of hours doctor who sent a paramedic round immediately and I was put on an nebuliser and given an ECG.  My breathing eased quite a bit, but he was worried that my heart was not behaving itself, so he called an ambulance and I was carted off to hospital, while The Father of My Children came and took the boys to his house.  At the hospital they put me on another nebuliser, an ECG, blood pressure monitor and bloods were taken.  I was also given a large dose of steroids. I was discharged at 2am and left to find my own way home, which meant TFoMC was had to drag the children out of bed and come and get me.    

Asthma is an incredibly frightening and exhausting thing. Basically it’s a chronic respiratory condition characterized by difficulty in breathing, frequent coughing and a feeling of suffocation.  An attack of asthma is often precipitated by physical or emotional stress/anxiety, respiratory infections, air pollution and changes in temperature or humidity.  It can also be related to low blood sugar, allergies or disorders of the adrenal glands.

It usually starts with a tightness in the chest which develops before the wheezing.  Breathing and wheezing are often more difficult while trying to breathe out, but this depends very much on the individual and the causes of the attack.  There is usually a rapid pulse (mine was 118 which is considered severe) and a change in blood pressure.

During an attack, the bronchial tubes become narrowed, either because of a build up of mucous or a reaction to an allergen which caused the tubes to go into spasm.  An inflammatory process takes place causing the tubes to swell.  As the symptoms subside, the tubes relax and return to their normal diameter and breathing becomes easier again.  At this point the mucous may start to be coughed up in the form of mucous ‘plugs’ which soon subsides.

The following statistics have been provided by Asthma UK

  • 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma.  Interestingly, although asthma is severe and can result in death, it was rarely fatal in this country before 1900.
  • 1 in 11 children has asthma and it is the most common long term medical condition
  • The NHS spends £1 billion a year treating and caring for people with asthma
  • Over a quarter of a million have missed days of work in the past year due to asthma
  • The UK has the highest prevalence of childhood asthma symptoms in the world

I had my first asthma attack on my 16th birthday and my boarding school didn’t take it very seriously.  I was not given any tests, but was handed a prescription for an inhaler and left to my own devices.  They didn’t even inform my mother.  I have probably only had half a dozen severe attacks since then, mostly in the last 15 years, and on only two of those occasions did I actually think I was going to die. 

The problem for me is that, because my asthma is so well controlled most of the time, I forget that I have it and do stupid things.  For me the triggers are excessive dust, over-tiredness and stress.  Interestingly today, when I saw my doctor, she suggested that I have a personal asthma action plan in place for if I’m getting excessively wheezy.  This is the first time this has even been suggested to me and seems really sensible. 

She has given me my own peak flow metre which measure lung capacity and we will meet again in two weeks to write the plan.  If I had had this metre yesterday, I would have known to ‘phone the paramedics hours earlier and would probably not have needed hospital admission.  According to Asthma UK, people who have a plan are four times less likely to require hospital admission.  Sounds good to me.

There are also practical and dietary pathways that can be followed to help strengthen the lungs, respiratory and immune system. 

  • Good posture and correct breathing techniques can have a most beneficial effect; asthmatics often have poor posture and I am one of those.  Yoga and Alexander Technique are excellent regimes for asthmatics. 
  • Psychological attitudes can contribute greatly, either through stress or feeling emotionally suffocated and unable to express oneself.  Psychotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy have made significant strides in this area. 
  • Vitamins A, Beta-carotene, Vitamins B complex, B6 and B12, Vitamin C and bioflavinoids are all very helpful and can be obtained in the first instance by including more foods containing these in your diet. Eg liver, eggs, yellow fruits and vegetables, milk, fish liver oil, cheese, marmite, avocados, brown rice, lentils, bananas, citrus fruits and juice, dark green vegetables, cauliflower, peas, green peppers, strawberries, kiwi fruit, whole grains and seeds, honey.  There are no surprises here. 
  • Juicing can be a great way of getting additional nutrients.  I love carrot, apple, parsley and ginger.  Spinach and carrot is great as well.

But please note, I would never, ever advise anyone to use complementary remedies in place of conventional medicine without consulting a qualified and registered naturopath.  People die from asthma and one should never take stupid risks.

I am now feeling fine, rather tired – I spent most of the day asleep – but by tomorrow morning I shall be ready to go again.  I just need to look after myself better and practice what I preach. 

Asthma UK
All about Asthma and it’s Treatment without Drugs by David Potterton, pub. Foulsham 1995
The Nutrition Almanac by G J Kirschmann & J D Kirschmann, pub. McGraw-Hill 1996
The Manual of Conventional Medicine for Alternative Practitioners by Stephen Gascoigne, pub. Jigme Press 1996


Filed under Health and Fitness, Medical, Natural Home Medicines, Nutrition & Sensible Eating

A nutritious wartime pie

I decided to cook a dish from a wartime cookery book that was given to me the other day by a friend.  It is made from pilchards or sardines which are oily fish related to the herring family.  When I was a child we ate loads of sardines, usually in tomato sauce and on toast.  Even though I love a fresh sardine, I find dealing with the bones a miserable business; the tinned variety have no bones to speak of and therefore pose no threat to the genteel gullet.  It can also be made from storecupboard ingredients.

They are also hugely nutritious being packed with vital nutrients like Omega 3 fatty acids as well as Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Zinc, Biotin and Calcium.

We really should re-learn how to eat sardines or pilchards. There is some argument as to the difference between the two fish, but the British fishing bods seem to agree that a sardine is a young pilchard.  Either way, they come in quite close to the shore, are plentiful in number and easy to catch.  Perhaps by eating more of them, we could take the strain off the over-fishing of other species.

This pie is extremely filling and will feed four easily and probably more if you rack up the vegetables.  The original recipe didn’t have chopped egg because they were on ration, but they’re not anymore, so I put some in.  I’m a devil like that.


2 x medium saucepans
1 x medium pie dish
1 x chopping board and sharp knife

1  12oz / 360g tin of pilchards in brine
1 largish potato – peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium onion – chopped finely
1 oz / 30g butter
1 handful of fresh parsley – finely chopped
2 eggs – hardboiled and roughly chopped.
seasoning – I suggest pepper and a dash of tobasco
1 quantity of shortcrust pastry
a bit of milk to glaze the pastry

Preheat the oven to 200 / 400 / 6
Boil the potato until soft and mash it.  Set aside
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan and add the onion
Cook on a low heat until the onion is soft and translucent
Add the pilchards, parsley, eggs, mashed potato and seasoning
Grease and flour the pie dish
Roll out 2/3 of the pastry and line the dish
Pile in the fish mixture and flatten slightly
Dampen the edge of the pastry with a little water
Roll out the remaining 1/3 of pastry and place it on top of the pie
Seal the edges and trim off any excess pastry
Make some slits in the middle and brush with a little milk to glaze
Bake for  about half an hour until the top is golden brown
Serve with several colourful vegetables to mitigate the fact that the filling is on the grey side.
I think a little white sauce wouldn’t go amiss either.


Filed under Food, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Recipes, Storecupboard

Breakfast is all the Raj! So here is a recipe for Kedgeree

Kedgeree is a simple and highly nutritious dish which originated in India.  The Indian version contained lentils, rice and onion and was known as khitchri.  The English, of course, anglicized it, hence ‘kedgeree’, and adapted it in the 18th century to suit their taste by adding boiled eggs and fish.

It is frequently served as a breakfast dish, but also makes a delicious light lunch or supper.  Personally, I love a big breakfast, particularly as I’m not a morning person, as it gives me energy and I feel much more cheerful and ready to face the day.  Sadly, I usually just stuff down a slice of toast and consequently I’m really flagging by 11 o’clock. 

I had a seriously good fry up this morning at the Antiques Market; Steve excelled himself and topped it off with a couple of thick slices of black pud.  Cured my hangover a treat.

For more breakfast ideas, see my previous post.


1 x medium saucepan
1 x large saucepan with a lid
1 x small saucepan
1 x small frying pan
1 x chopping board

1lb / 480g smoked haddock
½  pint / 300ml milk
1 pint / 600ml water
6oz / 180g long grain rice
1 pinch chilli powder
2oz / 60g butter
1 medium onion – finely chopped
2 eggs – hard boiled and roughly chopped
lemon wedges to garnish and squeeze
Fresh chopped parsley to garnish

Pour the milk into the medium pan and heat to a gentle simmer
Add the fish, topping up with a little water if necessary so the liquid just covers the fish
Poach for about 8-10 minutes or until just cooked
Remove the fish from the pan and remove the skin and bones
Break into flakes with a fork
Boil the water in a large pan and add the rice
Give it a stir, put the lid on and simmer until all the water has been absorbed
Add the chilli powder and any salt and pepper if you wish
Heat half an ounce of butter in a frying pan and add the onion
Cook gently until soft and transparent then remove from the heat
Stir the remaining butter into the hot rice then add all the other ingredients
Garnish with a sprinkling of parsley and the lemon slices


Filed under Food, Nutrition & Sensible Eating, Recipes

Children should eat what the rest of the family eats

I was in the supermarket buying sausages yesterday and I was perplexed to see that Jamie Oliver has brought out special sausages for children.  Since when have children had a problem with sausages?  I’m not a huge fan of Mr Oliver at the best of times, but I do appreciate what he was trying to do regarding school meals.  If schools provide lunches then they must achieve decent nutritional standards.  Jolly good, well done, carry on.

My problem with his children’s sausages is, yet again, one of training and good habits.

We should not give children special children’s food.
We should not be running in-house cafeterias.
Children must learn to eat what is put in front of them
Children must learn to appreciate the effort that goes into producing good food.

I am not a complete fascist and I recognise that children have less sophisticated tastes than adults and that there are some things that individuals simply don’t like.  What I absolutely can’t bear is when children (and some adults) will claim not to like something they have never tried.  I will accept that someone doesn’t like something if they’ve at least had a good run at it.  If they eat most things, there is a reasonable chance that they genuinely don’t like something and that’s fair enough.

Fussy children turn into fussy adults and there are few things more frustrating, particularly to keen cooks, to be presented with a grown-up who doesn’t like this and doesn’t like that.  It should have been trained out of them when they were children and it makes them unwelcome dinner guests.

A lot of this goes back to table manners again.  If families sit together round the meal table, all eating the same thing, enjoying good food and conversation, and let’s not forget good manners, those habits will stick.  It probably means that when your children are young, you may have to hold back on the really spicy food a bit or not give them Stilton and oysters at every meal, but surely this is not an excuse to start running a cafe where different family members are eating different food. 

I have sat at tables where three different meals are served to accommodate fussy children.  I’m sorry, but this is parental weakness, a ridiculous use of the cook’s valuable time and is utterly uneconomical.

Ideally, one ought to start from the word go, as soon as your children start eating solids.  Make food that they are likely to eat when they’re older, but without the spices and salt.  Mash it down, but leave some texture in it so they get used to having to chew or at least gnash a bit.  I made all my own baby food in big batches and froze it in clearly labelled portions.  I made soups, Shepherd’s Pie, cauliflower cheese, baked squash, fish cakes, fish pie, liver and onions, fruit crumbles, rice pudding  and so on – you get the drift.  Also, I found some great recipe ideas in Annabel Karmel’s super book on feeding babies and toddlers and I even adapted some of her recipes for all of us to enjoy.

If your children are still relatively young, it’s not too late to start clamping down.  I have Boy the Elder who would wolf down oysters and mussels when he was 7, and Boy the Younger who would live on nothing but Sunday roasts given half the chance, and deep down suspects me of trying to poison him.  I blame the latter scenario entirely on my own lack of discipline because at the time when I should have been strict I was going through a very difficult ‘life event’ and I let things slip.  However, I have since toughened up and we are making progress.

Food is put in front of them and they are expected to eat it.  I give them age appropriate portions and they don’t get pudding until a valiant effort has been made.  If they sit in front of it for over half an hour without eating, it is quietly taken away.  If I know they are being deliberately arsey, it sometimes comes out again at the next meal. The same rules apply to their friends who come for tea.  No alternatives are offered.

But don’t let mealtimes become a battlefield.  There are plenty of ways that children can exercise choice in their lives and it’s up to you to find choices within (your) acceptable parameters that make them feel independent.  Food is not one of these choices.  Fussy children become fussy adults.  Fussy adults are a pain in the arse.  I also believe that people who don’t eat well are often limited in other aspects of their lives and are unwilling to embrace new things in general.  Just a thought.

So Jamie Oliver can keep his poxy sausages and Bernard Bloody Matthews can definitely keep his twizzlers and dinosaurs or whatever other life limiting crap they turn out.  Ditto children’s pizzas, cereals and anything that’s spelled ‘Kidz’.  And while I’m at it, a note about cereals.  If the name has ‘chocolate’, ‘cocoa’ or ‘sugar’ in the title, it’s pudding.  Not breakfast, pudding.

For what we are about to receive…


Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Food, Nutrition & Sensible Eating