Do you suck?

Published in The Herts Advertiser 17th August 2017

Are you reading this sipping an Aperol Spritz, iced coffee or maybe a super green smoothie, complete with a straw? Maybe not, but imagine the last time you did… Was there a straw, or maybe two tucked in your glass? What happened to it after you finished your drink?

Bar Azita strawsIn most bars, pubs, cafes, juice shops and homes, as soon as a straw is finished, after being used for a few minutes, it goes straight into the landfill bin. With so many big issues in the world right now, it might seem a very small thing, but a recent campaign in St Albans and Harpenden has opened my eyes. We have, as a global population, got used to using tons of disposable plastic, and the shocking fact is that most of it is not recycled. Straws are a great example of plastic items that are used for a very short time then thrown away; we can reuse water bottles and plastic containers but straws are sheer extravagance.

I met Emma Tyers who is behind the Refuse the Straw campaign in St Albans. She has, in just a few weeks, managed to contact a huge number of local food and drink businesses about this issue, and already 20 have stopped providing plastic straws, with most offering eco ones instead. Emma explained that “the campaign was inspired by Plastic Free July, an Australian initiative which has gone global, but the showing of Plastic Ocean as part of the Film Festival definitely spurred me on. Plastic straws are a great example of wastefulness, as they are a product which is usually totally unnecessary, used briefly, and usually not recycled. One person not getting a plastic straw may seem like a small step, but if we can get the whole town doing it, permanently, that will make a big difference'”.

The first evidence I saw of this was in The Beech House, which is a very busy cafe, restaurant and bar. They have a sign on the bar saying that they won’t automatically provide a straw, but you can ask if you need one. So far, no one has missed them!

Emma suggests that businesses can switch to more eco versions, such as recyclable paper or compostable starch-based PLA plastic straws. New products are being launched all the time, and businesses can find them easily online. The Green Kitchen on Hatfield Road uses washable steel ones, which I imagine would look really great in cocktail bars too.

So many local companies have decided to ditch plastic straws, that I can’t list them all, but at time of publication: Craft & Cleaver, Dylan’s, The Lower Red Lion, Bar Azita, Charlie’s, Lussmann’s, Smokehouse Deli, The Garibaldi, Blackberry Jack and the Oddysey cinema. Special mention must go to Inn on the Park, who not only have made the move to more eco straws, they are also getting rid of plastic butter packs and cups, using paper cones instead. The big chains are getting behind it too, with All Bar One phasing out plastic straws.

What can you do as a customer? You can simply decline if offered a straw, or if a straw is put in your drink, hand it back and maybe say that it’s not needed? As Emma told me “there will always be some people who do need one, but the rest of us can rediscover sipping and slurping”. Black plastic is apparently the worst to recycle, so ignore those containers of black cocktail straws you get on bar counters.

In just a short time Emma has made a real difference to the town’s wastefulness. Ideally, she’d like the whole town on board. It seems a no-brainer; it saves the business money and we don’t create plastic waste which is incredibly bad for the planet. If you are a business owner and would like to join the list, go to facebook stalbansrefusethestraw and twitter @starefusestraw.

Free water tap

More free water points would help get rid of the millions of plastic water bottles we use.

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Prep my salad

Published in Welwyn Hatfield Times 9 August 2017

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you seen the little salad boxes popping up around the area? I always like to support an alternative to the big chains, and Prep my Salad is a great idea: they make boxed salads, that are perfect for an easy, nutritious lunch.

Naomi and Ben live in Panshanger and sell the salad boxes to private customers, for party catering and for events and festivals in Welwyn Garden City, Hatfield, St Albans, Harpenden and Hertford; I met Ben at a local school music festival. They have just catered at the West End Musical Choirs Summer Showcase in St. John’s Church in Hackney alongside food takeaway giant Leon. Prep my Salad also deliver orders to local offices for lunches which makes a nice change from sandwiches. Each salad costs 5 pounds, which includes delivery.

Naomi and Ben make everything themselves; the salads are very colourful, vegan and packed with plant-based protein for a filling lunch. The first salad they developed was the Buddha Box, and this remains a bestseller with quinoa or couscous, roasted sweet potatoes, mixed beans, cucumber, tomato, spinach and avocado dressing or hummus. I tried the Middle Eastern falafel box, which contained roasted red peppers, fruity couscous, falafel pieces, hummus and tahini dressing – delicious. Ben explained that they have developed the range to include regional salads such as Cauliflower Dreaming, Asian Super Green and Mexican Bean, so there is plenty of choice.

The idea for Prep my Salad started when Ben began prepping his salads for the week ahead on a Sunday night. His colleagues were so impressed, they offered to pay for some salads if Ben prepped some for them too! Naomi suggested they start selling salads to neighbours and friends and the business grew from there; “We love the idea of providing people with healthy, tasty and convenient lunches without any of the hassle of making it themselves”.

I like that Prep my Salad use only biodegradable packaging (made from plants); I do wish all takeaway companies would use this now – it is easily available online and costs just pennies more.

You can also buy Prep my Salads for parties and they do platters from 20 pounds each; this is a great idea if you are planning a barbecue or big party and want someone else to do the salads. They are in discussion with Peddling Pizza to join up to do parties as well. If you would like to contact Prep my Salad, visit http://www.prepmysalad.com.

Cauliflour Dreaming

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Will new cafe be a Hiit?

Published in The Herts Advertiser 3 August 2017

Hiit sign

Have you been to the new cafe HIIT on Holywell Hill, St Albans yet? HIIT, as all gym bunnies will know, stands for high intensity interval training, and is a clue to the nature of the food found inside. Co-owners Rob Ashman and Kris Tyrell have backgrounds in gym training and wanted to start a healthy eating cafe in the area; the food and drinks on sale are largely plant-based and offer an interesting alternative to many of the local chains. You will find it opposite Nando’s; the choice is yours!

I met Rob and Kris just after the opening weekend, and they were pleased with the early positive response from customers. I like the interior of the cafe, with three large sharing tables with laptop sockets and a row of seating in the window, although the layout might have been clearer with the counter near the entrance. You can choose prepped salads, snacks and pressed juices from the cabinet or go the counter to order smoothie bowls, bagels, smoothies and hot drinks.

Andy Mayersbeth is in charge of the kitchen, and has worked with nutritionist Jason Hamilton to create the menu. I think the Build Your Own bagels and toasts will be really popular; you can order wholemeal, gluten-free, sourdough and rye and top with salmon, egg, avocado, chicken,pesto etc to make your own combination. These work out at 3.50-5.00 each which is pretty good value. I ordered an acai smoothie bowl which came topped with nuts, seeds, granola, coconut and banana which was lovely, although icey cold so best on a hot day.

Coffee is by Lulu Coffee Company, who have a fab coffee shop in Ware; it is really delicious, so it is lovely to have it available in St Albans. You can get the usual espressos, flat whites and cappucinos along with Special Brew teas (although they were out of chai when I asked). You can get almond, soya and coconut milks to go in your hot drinks, so ideal for anyone avoiding dairy.

Hiit ownersThe box salad lunches include salmon, falafel, chicken and beef and my friend chose a beef salad with cauliflower rice and pineapple salsa. At around 8 pounds, the lunches aren’t cheap compared to other takeaways, but you are getting good-quality ingredients, and a reasonable size. Rob and Kris explained that they have put the macro info on the lunches, but it wasn’t correct on our salad; it’s early days though, so mistakes will happen. I was a bit surprised at the prices of some of the snacks (the broccoli snack pot was very pricey), but I think the team may adjust these as they see what sells well.

Embrace the Cake make all the cake products for HIIT, and the selection varies each day. All the cakes are vegan and free from refined sugar, and are dairy and gluten-free. I really liked my Rawreo ‘cookies’ made mostly from dates and cashews, with a nice layer of cashew cream in the middle. At 4 pounds for two they are not cheap but they do contain expensive raw ingredients. The nut-coated energy balls ‘Ferrero Rawche balls’ were nice too, with enough in a bag to share back at the office. Embrace the Cake also make The Jaffa ‘cakes’, pecan pies, choc berry slices and carrot cakes.

Rob and Kris are using Nelson’s in Hemel for the meat supplies and Ross&Co from Watford for their organic vegetables and fruit, and I am pleased to hear that they are using Biopac for some of their packaging.

hiit salad cake smoothieWe now have some good healthy eating cafes in St Albans, with The Juice Pharm near the Arena, and The Green Kitchen near Oaklands. It makes a welcome alternative to the ubiquitous muffin and sandwich places, so I hope all you fit locals will give it a go!

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Being Mary Berry (ish…for a day)

Codicote Village Day Bake Off

Published in Welwyn Hatfield Times 26 July 2017

For such a small village, Codicote really knows how to throw a big party! I went along to the Codicote Village Day last weekend to judge the Bake Off competition, and I was so impressed by the scale of it; there was a lovely parade, food court, performances, stalls and fairground rides.

bakeoffsignThe baking competition took place in a large marquee, in true Bake Off style. The theme, along with the rest of the festival, was Under the Sea. There were three categories: small cakes, large cakes and showstoppers; all were anonymous until after judging, and any age could enter, so we had children’s entries competing alongside adult entries.

The organisers asked me to taste every entry so the cakes could be judged on texture and flavour as well as appearance. We started with the small cakes; I really liked Henry’s octopus cupcakes, with long jelly arms, and he won second prize. The winner was Valerie Warwick, with beautiful pale blue cakes with little sea creatures on top.

seacreatures

Valerie also came third in the large cake class, with a delicious coffee cake. Rose Smith was second with a beautiful heart-shaped panache cake, covered in chocolate-dipped strawberries. I loved the winning large cake, made by Emily Hatch; a tequila lime drizzle cake, which apparently contained a whole bottle of tequila! The cake was presented with a sombrero, maracas and a soundtrack; when I pressed play a mariachi band played, which went very well with the cake!

The seaside theme was most clear in the showstopper category, and I loved the sea creatures cake with a giant crab on top by Lorraine Grimshaw, which won second place. The winner was Gemma Grey’s beautiful seashell cake, which was covered in coconut ‘sand’ and hand-painted edible shells. Both also tasted lovely. Well done to all the contestants and winners; it was a real joy to taste all the cakes! All the prizes were donated by Kitchenaid.

codicoteWIThe fair was an excellent community event, with every local group taking part. I bought delicious gooseberry jam from the Codicote WI stall, and a cup of tea from the tea tent run by the local school. Well done to the event organisers and community groups; it was a lovely day out!

seashellscakeGemma1stplace

THE WINNER! By Gemma Grey

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Foraging at Auberge du Lac

Published in The Herts Advertiser 20th July 2017

salmon elderflowersI was intrigued when Matt Edmonds took over as head chef of Auberge du Lac earlier this year, leaving Searcys at the Gherkin; was Hertfordshire’s well-known restaurant about to get a new shot of London energy? What would this mean for the classic French approach they are known for? I was even more intrigued when Matt invited me to go foraging on the estate and to talk about his new direction for the Auberge.

I went to meet Matt and sous chef Anthony Raffo (from Texture and Pied a Terre) at the old hunting lodge on the Brocket Hall estate; it is a short drive from Wheathamstead, through gates and along the pretty drive until you reach the Auberge, opposite the main house.

Matt explained that his menu focuses on British, seasonal ingredients, and that he often forages for ingredients on the estate. He showed me the watermint growing by the lake that they use for infusions for crème brûlée and cocktails (blanched of course). Just along, there was a patch of nettles, which they have used for soup.

The Auberge sits in over 500 acres of grounds, with a huge variety of trees, and as we explored, Matt pointed out that they use Douglas Fir pine needles with one of their pork dishes, and whole branches for the canape displays. They also use some of the tree barks for syrups, taking inspiration from modern Scandinavian cooking.

mattantony

Blackberry bushes edge the estate and are in flower at the moment, and the chefs use these for salads and to flavour gins. When they fruit, the chefs will collect berries for compotes, to go with desserts and meats. The elderflower shrubs had just finished flowering, but we found a few sprigs and plenty of elderberry capers, and Anthony explained that they will deep fry the capers until they puff up, to go with fish. We were also able to pick wild cherries from the trees that line the golf course. We could see poly tunnels on the estate that are no longer in use, and Matt explained that he would love to bring them back to life, and grow more of their own ingredients, as at Le Manoir Quatre Saisons, and I can see the potential here to take this beautiful restaurant in that direction.

A set lunch of three courses for 24.50 is a steal; it is available Wednesday to Saturday and if you haven’t been to Auberge before, do book for this. When I went, the menu included South Coast Plaice with cauliflower and watercress, and Saddle Back Pork Fritter with apple, Secret Farm Leaves and Douglas Fir Pine.

Auberge du Lac has always been popular for special occasions and you have to book well ahead at the weekend: the eight course tasting menu looks amazing, and at 85 a head, will need to be! I spotted nasturtiums and chickweed on the menu, along with the very best British ingredients such as Portland scallops and Belted Galloway Beef, so Matt is true to his vision. He is unfazed about allergies and dietary requirements, and can adapt his dishes for you so do talk to your waiter if you need any changes.

mattwatermintBack at the restaurant Matt cooked me a dish using some of the ingredients we had found, and my salmon with elderflower flowers, bronze fennel, apple and elderflower vinaigrette was truly beautiful; I felt very spoilt. Matt and team use their classic French training and presentation skills to showcase seasonal, British ingredients, and it is a delicious combination.

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Foraging at Auberge du Lac

Published in Welwyn Hatfield Times 12 July 2017

I was intrigued when Matt Edmonds took over as head chef of Auberge du Lac earlier this year, leaving Searcys at the Gherkin, and even more so when he invited me to go foraging while we talked about his new direction for the Auberge.

I went to meet Matt and sous chef Anthony Raffo (from Texture and Pied a Terre) at the old hunting lodge on the Brocket Hall estate; it is a short drive from Wheathamstead, through gates and along the pretty drive until you reach the Auberge, opposite the main house.

mattwatermintMatt explained that his menu focuses on British, seasonal ingredients, and that he often forages for ingredients on the estate. He showed me the watermint growing by the lake which they use for infusions for crème brûlée and cocktails (blanched of course). Just along, there was a patch of nettles, which they have used for soup.

The Auberge sits in over 500 acres of grounds, with a huge variety of trees, and as we explored, Matt pointed out that they use Douglas Fir pine needles with one of their pork dishes, and whole branches for the canape displays. They can also use some of the tree barks for syrups.

Blackberry bushes edge the estate and are in flower at the moment, and the chefs use these for salads and to flavour gins. The elderflower shrubs had just finished flowering, but we found a few sprigs and plenty of elderberry capers, and Anthony explained that they will deep fry the capers until they puff up, to go with fish. We were also able to pick wild cherries. We could see poly tunnels on the estate that are no longer in use, and Matt explained that he would love to bring them back to life, and grow more of their own ingredients, as at Le Manoir Quatre Saisons, and I can see the potential here to take this beautiful restaurant in that direction.

mattantonyThe menu already reflects Matt’s new approach, with dishes such as South Coast Plaice with cauliflower and watercress, and Saddle Back Pork Fritter with apple, Secret Farm Leaves and Douglas Fir Pine. A set lunch of three courses for 24.50 is a steal. Auberge du Lac has always been popular for special occasions and you have to book well ahead at the weekend: the eight-course tasting menu looks amazing, and at 85 a head, will need to be! Back at the restaurant Matt cooked me a dish using some of the ingredients we had found, and my salmon with elderflower flowers, bronze fennel, fresh apple and elderflower vinaigrette was truly delicious!

salmon elderflowers

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So much going on this weekend!

Published in The Herts Advertiser 6 July

There is so much going on over the lovely summer months; I hope you enjoyed the St Albans Street Festival as much as I did? It was so busy, with many food stalls selling out, so thank you for your support!

kidsatredbournThis Sunday (July 9th) is Redbourn’s turn to host a summer get-together. Now in it’s 5th year, the Fete de Velo has grown and is now a huge village event, with lots of food stalls, a Pimms and beer tent, as well as the fun run and bike rides. It is open all day from 8 until 6. There is also very exciting news: Channel 4 will be filming at the event as part of their Village of the Year competition – good luck Redbourn!

The food sounds great, so well worth popping along to picnic on the common. The main organisers of the event are Lindy and Simon from The Hub, which is well-known in the village for its lovely cafe and nearby cycling shop The Bike Loft. The team will be selling coffee to keep everyone going. Ashridge Delicious were at the St Albans Street Festival two weekends ago, and they do large pans of paella, and Thai Esan will be there doing delicious Thai lunches and snacks, so do head to the common for lunch.

paella

For pud, look for the vintage icecream van, or Mastercrepe who specialise in crepes and galettes, which my kids always love. There will be a Pimms and beer tent, or you can always pop into the Cricketers and Hollybush for a drink.

You can buy supplies to take home too: there will be stalls selling jams, chutneys fruity gins, vodkas and rums. Browns Breads and Cakes has a very popular regular stall at the markets in St Albans; they do excellent sourdough loaves and pastries. For info on the cycling events, pop into The Bike Loft for info.

I also have a little space left to remind you about the St Albans Film Festival happening this weekend. You can take a picnic to the open air cinema by the Cathedral (no glass please), or buy drinks and snacks from local favourites Jon’s Streatfood and The Pud Stop. Pimms, Prosecco and popcorn will be sold by the Abbott’s Kitchen, which is based in the large marquee outside the Cathedral at the moment. You can also get a special pre-film pizza and drink just down the hill at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks for 6 pounds. There is also an amazing prize for the best costume for The Blues Brothers film showing on Saturday night: you can win a pub crawl around The White Lion, White Hart Tap, The Boot, Craft and Cleaver, Fighting Cocks, Rose and Crown and The Beech House – ouch.

IMG_5212There are also two more Open Food Gardens to enjoy this year on Saturday 19th July in York Road and Glenferrie Road. If you would like ideas on how to grow your own fruit, herbs and vegetables, or just enjoy how others do it, pop along to this lovely annual event. All addresses and times are on transitionstalbans.org.

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