Notes from the Green Party MEP for East of England. Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

English Apples

Today I bought an Early Windsor apple, as well as some more Worcester Pearmains, on Norwich market. On Cambridge Farmers' market on Sunday they were offering Worcester Pearmains and Tydeman's Early Worcesters, but I think the Worcester Pearmains are the ones to have.
I'm adding a link to a lovely site with pictures of lots of different varieties of English apples, here...

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Natural Refrigeration

For our holiday in Greece this year we spent some idyllic days at a place called Sangarada, on the Pelion peninsular. Sangarada is actually a collection of four villages suspended below the road on a steep hillside several thousand feet above the sea. Wonderful springs of water gush out of the side of the hill and tumble down the steep gullies, which are wooded with dense deciduous woodland and criss crossed by ancient paved paths.
Our village was called Agia Paraskevi, after its church. Beside the Church was the Plateia, and in the Plateia was a Plane Tree. Not just any plane tree. A plane tree like this:

The trunk of this tree is wide enough that you could stand ten or eleven people in front of it, across the diameter. The tree is thought to be the oldest in Europe, possibly 1500 years old. In this picture you can see someone standing in the fork of the tree...

and in this picture you can one of the branches, propped up by a stone pillar...

On the last day we were there it was rather more chilly than other days, because there had been a thunder storm in the night. We came back after a walk and went to sit at the café under the Plane tree by the church, for a drink. It soon became apparent that the place under the tree was not just cool and shady, it was like a fridge.
Well, of course it would be like a fridge, because what a tree does is fetch water up from underground and evaporate it through its leaves. And that's how a fridge works, because in order to get the water to evaporate it takes heat from the area below which is then cooled in the process. In this case, no doubt, a good deal of extra water was being evaporated —all the water that was still lying in drops on the leaves and branches after the storm. But it made us realise that sitting under a tree is cool on a hot day, not just because it's shady, but because it's actually doing some additional refrigeration work.

Since the invention of electric refrigerators I think we've rather forgotten about the effectiveness of natural refrigeration. It's not clear to me that we need to run our fridges at all most of the year. A cupboard in a shady place outside the back door, covered with a wet cloth, would be at least as good if not better.

And you know those pictures of people carrying their lunch in a red spotted handkerchief tied to a stick carried over the shoulder? (Pigling Bland has the lunch in a spotted handkerchief but I can't find a picture of the stick anywhere....). Well, the secret is that you make the cloth damp, and it keeps your lunch moist and also chilled. And you carry it hung from a stick so it doesn't make your hands cold and wet, and it gets maximum evaporation. Clever, no? I recommend it. There's no good need for a cool box...

Saturday, 8 September 2007

English apples

This week's great joy is the arrival of Worcesters!

Great bargains in charity shops

Today I bought
  1. A bundle of dark green towels (a face cloth, two hand towels and a bath towel), still tied up in a tartan ribbon and with the label attached, pure cotton, made in Turkey, very nice.
  2. A black silk shirt for Robin, originally Marks and Spencers
  3. A rather special woollen shirt traditionally made in Tequile, for myself.
Tequile is an island in the Lake Titicaca, where life is still splendidly traditional. The men do the spinning and the weaving. The shirt was brand new, still with its original paper label which informs me that the price was $45 (I paid £4.99) and that it was imported from Tequile by Dreamweaver Imports, California.
Well, I'm a little puzzled by the history of this before it reached me.
It's probably too tickly for a shirt (unless I'm going in for penitential hair shirts) but it will make a nice sweater.

Great bargains in charity shops

Introducing a new occasional series about the joys of shopping for recycled goods.... Do add your own stories in the comments section

Beetroot in citrus sauce

A long time since I provided a beetroot recipe, so here's another one we used to do rather frequently in the 1980s.

about 2 lbs beetroot (no tops required)
water to cover
1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
1 lemon, rind and juice
1 orange, rind and juice
2 1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 oz butter

NB items 1 to 4 of the method should be done a bit in advance, or you can reheat beetroot that is already boiled and ready from another day.
  1. Scrub the beets carefully (we want to use some of the cooking water, so we don't want dirt in it).
  2. Put them in a pan and cover them with cold water. Bring to the boil and boil for about 45 minutes to an hour until tender.
  3. Drain off the liquid into a jug (we need about half a pint of this: the rest can go).
  4. Allow the beetroot to cool a bit, then peel them and slice them thinly.
  5. Mix the cornflour to a smooth paste in a jug, with a little of the cooled beetroot stock.
  6. Add further stock to make the sauce up to half a pint.
  7. Add the lemon rind and juice and orange rind and juice to the jug and mix well. Turn it into a large pan and heat gently over a low heat, stirring all the time until it thickens.
  8. Add the salt, sugar and ground cloves to the sauce.
  9. Add the butter and beat it in well with a wooden spoon.
  10. Heat the sauce to piping hot. Then add the beetroot and continue over the heat until the beetroot is thoroughly hot through.
  11. Serve hot as a vegetable accompaniment to strong dark meat or other winter meals, and with red wine. It goes well with Christmas dinner or on Boxing Day.

Things useful for bringing up children without a car

Living in the city!

One important thing for the car-free family is to live in town, near a station and on a bus route, preferably a bus route that takes you to the station if it's not walking distance.

We've always lived on the wrong side of the city for the station. I suspect this isn't accidental, because the prices get higher and the quality of the housing goes down the nearer you are to the station.

The explanation of the poor quality of the housing is presumably because the station was a dirty smelly smoky place in the nineteenth century, and the only dwellings that grew up there were for the railway workers. I can think of some exceptions in the grand roads near Cambridge station, but over the railway bridge on Mill Road illustrates the phenomenon I have in mind.

The explanation of the high prices now is the London commuters, I presume.

So walking distance will probably need to be sacrificed if you aren't yourself one of those well-heeled London commuters. And that's not such a terrible sacrifice, because after all, you can easily afford to take a taxi to the station whenever there's too much luggage for cycling.

Many people think it's nice for the children to grow up in the country. But actually this is just putting a noose round your neck which will eventually strangle both you and the children, certainly by the time they become teenagers. What a child needs is a locality with lots of local friends, who play in the street or at each others' houses, and the freedom to come and go from School and from each others' houses without needing to have Mum come to fetch them. Unfortunately with today's small families, it's hard to find a neighbourhood with a sufficient concentration of children of the same age, but it's much more likely in a family neighbourhood in the city than anywhere else.

And one shouldn't be seduced by the thought that the house prices are cheaper in the country where there are no bus routes. Because (as I said before) the financial cost of running a car is far greater than you would suppose, besides the very considerable cost in happiness as a result of the lack of freedom and independence that it causes in your life and that of all the family.