Friday, August 10, 2012

Braving the blackberry bush

Yesterday I picked 2 kilos of blackberries 'in the wild'. Armed with red dotted wellies, a long sleeve shirt, gardening gloves and glamourous sunglasses I wrestled my way through the blackberry bushes to find my treasure. Most of the fruit was very ripe or close to being overripe, so I put it all in a big pot, added about a kilo of sugar and let it come to a boil slowly for about an hour. I then ladled the juice from the top and strained it straight into a sealable bottle with the help of a small sieve and funnel. The fruit that was left I put in jars as jam. All up, the whole exercise took about half a day, but I was outside in the sunshine having some delicious quality "me"-time and eating fresh fruit straight from the blackberry bush, then I filled the house with sweet cooking smells from the blackberries that were simmering on the stove and the result was three jars of jam and a bottle of syrup to enjoy in weeks to come! In my view, it was totally worth it and great fun!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wildlife sanctuary on a rooftop

As I expand the number of plant varieties on our rooftop, currently about 50, the variety of wildlife seems to increase alongside to it. Not only do we have our very own bumble bee who helps me pollinate the zucchini (courgette) flowers, but we also get frequented by the most beautiful dragonflies and butterflies. Our garden sports an impressive collection of spiders who do a marvellous job of keeping the mosquitos at bay. An army of lady bugs works relentlessly on their campaign against aphids and other such unwanted intruders. The compost bin is the megapolitan place of residence of numerous insects and micro organisms. And the cats? Well they have the easy job, I guess. Except for the occassional hissing to scare off other neighbourgood cats and birds, they live the good life, luxuriously bathing themselves in the sunlight.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Sassy summer lunch!

This morning I baked bread and worked in my rooftop garden. Time flies when you are having fun so before I knew it, it was already past lunch time, so I decided to treat myself to a delicious herbed salad.

- a handful of endive leaves, washed and torn to bite size pieces
- a small bunch of radishes, halved (use the greens too if they are fresh)
- two table spoons of sweet corn
- a big bunch of chives and parsley, medium finely chopped
- a can of mackerel in tomato sauce
- a quick dressing of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mediterranean Morning Toast

This toast has all the goodness in it to help you start your day and bursts with flavour! It's a real summer breakfast as it requires fresh tomatoes (summer fruit), but you can also make it in other seasons with preserved tomatoes in the shape of chutney etc. This dish provides you with carbohydrates, vitamins, necessary daily dosage of healthy fats and fibre. 

Simply toast one or two slices of bread, drizzle a little (organic) extra virgin olive oil on it and sprinkle some sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper on top. Slice one tomato and arrange the slices on top of the bread. Tear the basil leaves by hand and put it on top of the tomato.

I don't recommend eating this breakfast dish on the go, but perhaps it is a good excuse to sit down and enjoy it slowly whilst reading your newspaper and close of your breakfast with a good espresso or herbal tea.

Variations: if you dare, you can half a clove of garlic and rub it onto the freshly toasted, warm bread. You can also vary this recipe by adding thinly sliced feta or mozzarella cheese.

Interesting: Did you know that Mother Nature was so smart to make sure that the summer fruit that is called tomatoes contains lycopene which prevents skin damage from UV rays? So enjoy your daily dosage of this delicious fruit AND some sunshine! 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The joys of organic gardening

Even though I didn't have the opportunity to sow on time (i.e. in early spring) 
my rooftop organic garden is blessing me and my family 
with plentiful harvests regardless!

Puy lentils have such pretty lilac flowers!

Gardening becomes even more fun when you get to wear red dotted wellies!

Homegrown potatoes!

A fine harvest of radishes

Parsley, zucchini (courgette), eggplant (aubergine), chili, radishes, cumin, fennel, tiny little tomato plants 
(will they ever grow big enough to provide fruit before the season is over? 
I pray for an Indian summer, since Dutch summer has been rather disappointing so far!)

OrganicSassy goes out gardening!

Rocket (ruccola), fennel, carrots, cucumber, legumes (chick pea, white/brown/black bean and dwarf beans/white haricots) and more tiny tomato plants

Baby zucchini (courgette)! I will let them grow a bit bigger though...

Rich: the love of my life and proud builder of OrganicSassy's compost bin 
(it has a top lid and a bottom latch and it is lined throughout the inside)

Our family tree: a fig that still has to grow!

Lavender, Thyme and Rosemary

BananaChoc smoothie

Did you wake up this morning feeling a bit low? This smoothie will kickstart your day and energise you! There are few things easier and quicker to make than this drinking breakfast. Unlike a hearty sit down breakfast this will fill you up without making you feel heavy or sluggish and you can have it 'on the go', which makes it perfect for the stress addicts out there. If you suffer morning nausea try to eat or drink slowly (small sips intermitted with short pauses) as to give your stomach a chance to 'accept' the nutrition and start up your metabolism. Bananas are easily digestible, which is why it is a staple food for many babies.

Banana makes a perfect start to the day as it slowly releases energy which delays those nasty mid-morning hunger pangs. It is also high in potassium which, when consumed regularly, aids the cardiovascular system and protects you from high blood pressure and stroke. Another good reason for stress addicts to have banana for breakfast!


  • 1/4 liter / 1 cup of (organic) milk or soy drink
  • 2 peeled (organic and / or fair trade) bananas, broken up in smaller pieces
  • 2 table spoons of fair trade, organic cocoa

We don't need a lot of kitchen utensils, just a blender and a portable mug. 

Plug in your blender and put the peeled bananas, cocoa and milk in the jug. Put the lid on tightly and press the pulse button for 30 seconds and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture in the portable mug, grab your bag and off you go!

Variations: you can replace the milk with plain yoghurt or you can omit the cocoa and add vanilla yoghurt instead of milk. 

Note: there is no need to add sugar as the bananas are already sweet enough naturally. As bananas ripen, the starch in the fruit turns to sugar. Therefore, the riper the banana the sweeter it will taste. Don't be afraid to use bananas with brown skins: they are just very ripe! Any discoulorations on the peeled fruit should be removed, but the rest you can use without any danger.

Photo: courtesy of Laura Leigh Parker

Friday, July 20, 2012

How to make sustainable food shopping easy, fun and thrifty

People often ask me how I manage to have a comfortable lifestyle and feed my family sustainably without breaking the bank or making a fulltime job out of it. Most people are so busy that they barely have time to make it to the supermarket, let alone make sustainable and healthy choices when it comes to buying food. Organic and quality food is often more expensive than the 'normal' product and there are rarely any real discounts on offer.

When you are standing there in that glaringly lit supermarket aisle, the reasons and motivation for choosing organic seem far, far away. The images on packaging give you the illusion that all products come from paddocks filled with wild flowers and happy cows and farmers. The real picture of our food industry and the impact on your health is carefully hidden. However, there are tips and tricks to make your life and food shopping a whole lot easier and take away that nagging feeling that the choices we make in our food shopping are having adverse effects on the environment, (fair) trade and our communal health.

Let me take you on a shopping trip and show you how you can make a positive difference yourself through some simple changes. I have studied and worked in the food industry for years and have done most of the homework for you, so this is going to be fun and easy! Today we will start with 5 basic points to give you food for thought. After that I will take you on a shopping spree!

1. Organic is not the holy grail: this may sound odd coming from OrganicSassy, but there is method to my madness. For instance, I currently live in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and there is simply no way that I can justify buying organic produce that has been transported across the globe. Firstly, the carbon footprint of shipping defeats the purpose of buying sustainable food. Secondly, the produce may have been picked unripe or it's not very fresh, which goes against my philosophy of feeding my family with the best quality fresh produce I can get. Thirdly, a farmer across the world may benefit from your business, but ask yourself why that same produce is grown locally and somehow has to be undercut in price with cheap produce from third world countries. Your local farming community suffers and chances are that the third world farmer who produced the goods is getting only a fraction of the profits. Don't get me wrong, I love organic food, but only if it is grown in my own region. Which brings us to my next point...

2. Go local and seasonal: people often think that local and seasonal food can only be purchased at farmers markets. I'm not an expert on supermarkets in the US, but in Europe, the UK and Australia (places where I have lived) the produce section often has the place of origin on the price boards and you often do have a choice. Sometimes you have to look on the box to see who the producer is and where the product is from. If I can't find it, I either ask the supermarket staff or I just don't buy it. Why you should go local and seasonal? Because Mother Nature is a smart lady and patented her brilliant inventions. Food grown locally and in its proper season tastes better, is more nutritious and has a far smaller carbon footprint than imported food. There is of course also food that is grown locally, but out of season. Holland is a wonderful example. We have huge areas of glass houses where produce is grown on glass wool, lit with special lamps resembling sunshine and fed with chemical plant nutrients. Anyone who has ever tasted a fresh tomato grown in proper soil and with real sunlight knows the difference between the glass house flavourless 'water bombs' and the real deal. Tomatoes grow in summer, they don't 'do' winter. The famous Italian tomato sauce is eaten all year around by preserving the huge harvests of this bumper crop in jars and bottles in summer. In the old days there simply wasn't any fresh tomato out of season. The same principle applies for fresh strawberries and jam. Due to technological developments the food industry and our 'need' for convenience most people don't know in which season crops grow. I could give you a list, but this would apply to the Netherlands and chances are your region has a different climate and therefore different local crops. An easy way to find out is to contact your local Slow Food office and ask for a list, or look it up online or ask and look around at a local farmers market. This will enable you to make informed choices next time when you go to the supermarket again.

3. If it doesn't grow locally: some things may not grow in your region. Here in Holland we would have a hard time growing citrus fruits, for instance. So two of the closest places where it is grown suitably and successfully are Spain and Italy. However, at my local supermarkets I can currently only buy lemons from South Africa. As far as I know the harvests in Southern Europe have not failed, so the only reason I can think of to ship lemons across the globe is money. This is bizarre if you consider that Italy and Spain are one of the worst suffering countries of the EU monetary and trade community. My solution? I don't buy lemons for a while unless I can buy them from a European producer and I make sure that I tell my family while we are in the supermarket so that other shoppers may decide to follow our lead. Another example are apples, a fruit that is grown easily in Holland, but they are mostly imported from New Zealand and Italy. Where do our apples go? To Italy and Germany! The logic behind this is lost on me... One of the best things about eating locally and seasonally? The abundance, variety and unique flavours that every season have to offer. You may not find this abundance in every supermarket, so treat yourself every now and then to a visit to a local farmers market. Get to know the land you live on and the local specialities. People are often proud because their city is famous for manufacturing a well known brand of car for instance, but they rarely know what local treats their ancestors would yearn for when travelling.

4. Substitute: there are many products that can be substituted by a local product. Let's look at Parmesan cheese, one of Italy's most prized regional delicacies. Its flavour is unique and sought after. I personally adore Parmesan cheese! Do I buy it in Holland though? Rarely. Why? Because we have so many excellent cheeses here, of which there are some fine aged cheeses that compliment my pasta or salad perfectly. I also prefer eating certain regional products on their home turf, because the experience is different. Parmesan cheese just doesn't taste the same in rainy, grey Holland as it does in sunny, warm Italy. When I visited New York City I was so lucky to sample local cheeses at Murray's Cheese Deli. The cheeses I bought were my most prized souvenirs to take back home, knowing I would probably never be able to buy them here. Some of these cheeses made by small local producers in upstate New York could compete with some of the finest European cheese. Yet, customers in Murray's deli mostly seemed to think that European cheese making was the unsurmountable summit of dairy heaven. That's a pity, because sometimes treasures can be found right on your doorstep...

5. Be critical: don't believe everything you see and are told. Look at packaging and ingredients lists and decide for yourself if you are happy to feed yourself and your family with it. As a rule of thumb, the shorter the ingredient list and the more names you can recognise and pronounce, the cleaner and more natural is the end product. This is more obvious for some than others. I have a life long allergy to artificial food additives, so I have to be careful about what I eat. But it also serves to be critical so as to not be conned. I have visited farmers markets where produce was on offer that was neither local, nor seasonal. Use your own common sense and don't be afraid to ask questions. One of the most used excuses throughout the food industry is "it is what the consumer wants". You are the consumer, so let your voice be heard. Your local supermarket will only stock alternative products if you ask for them. Consider this “If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito in the room.” ― Anita Roddick

That's all for now folks! See you tomorrow!