Monthly Archives: May 2016

Reading List (31/5)

OMG, we can eat fat? The battle of our stomachs and the ‘right’ nutrition advice. Apparently one of the spokespeople for the National Obesity Forum claimed that Carravaggio’s still life paintings showed ‘ideal’ foods to eat, Jonathan Jones at The Guardian was skeptical. There is also the role of the brain in influencing what we eat, sometimes even when our stomach is telling us we are full. I think we should talk more about balance, rather than demonising all industrial food (Ghostpops!) and making all foods cooked from scratch the salvation, is there a middle ground? And we need to talk about the problem  of this advice being targeted at the individual – eat fewer calories! – rather than talking about structural issues in the food system, the food industry and the problem of poverty. The reason we don’t all eat vegetables cooked from scratch all the time? Time, money, life…

This. So much this.

Should we all be vegans? Veganism is on the rise amongst young people aged 16-34. I wonder about this a lot, not least because part of me worries that I should at least try and be vegan some of the time. But then I remember cheese and my desire to become vegan wanes. But, I’ve been wondering recently about the focus of vegan arguments – that veganism is good for the environment and is a more ethical way to live – and I think that part of the problem is the way vegans do not talk about how food stuffs, including cheese, charcuterie, and the like, form part of our wider food cultures – ‘meat cultures’ if you will. I cannot imagine, for example, telling Andrés that we would no longer be eating jamón or chorizo, or telling my relatives that our braai will be only vegetables. Such foods form part of cultural identity and part of who we are, and are therefore impossible to conceive of life without. Has anyone got anything I can read about South Africans and braai culture by the way? I’ve been thinking about this over the weekend – meat cultures, relationships with fire, men’s cooking cultures – whilst watching the first two episodes of Cooked.

This rather lovely poem, in the style of a Greek tragedy.

Eater’s ‘Guide to the Whole Entire World‘ – by which I want to read ‘popular eating cities’. Anyone else feel the need for guides for Edinburgh, Johannesburg, Cadiz, Madrid, Sydney, Maputo, Helsinki and more?

Selling tacos in Copenhagen.

Researchers in Aberdeen are investigating the use of native Scottish plants in diets to increase metabolisms (and solve the obesity crisis).

Ruth Rogers, of The River Cafe, on food and clean eating.

We need more women in science. This article describes how, instead of saying ‘we need more women in science’, we need to look at how academia is structured to negatively affect female scientists in their early careers.

My friend Deniz put me onto a new podcast this last week – The Guilty Feminist. So far, I’ve laughed out loud to their ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ episode, particularly the challenge to have a Tinder profile that features cats.

I also listened to the Cherry Bombe podcast with Allison Robicelli. I love her, and how much she rails against the establishment, particularly the food establishment. It is so refreshing. Clean eating she is not.

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Eating with the Princess: Hackney

I have been eating my way around London in the last few months. I’ve been down for research and to attend the Princess’s graduation and when my sister and I are together, we eat. It is our thing. When our parents join us, we continue to eat but with slightly better budgets. This is the first of a photo collection series of our eating adventures together. I’m starting in Hackney, where we spent a Saturday wandering purposely from food place to food place back in March (before we took the train back to Soho in pursuit of gelato).

We started our Hackney adventure at London Borough of Jam where we bought jam (for reals), and doughnuts. The doughnuts were filled with peach and saffron jam that was to die for. I recently made a vanilla cake filled with the blackberry and bayleaf jam I bought from here and it was superb (recipe coming soon).

Then we walked to Violet Bakery where we ate first lunch (avocado toast, and a divine ham and Comté quiche) and then cake. Violet is just as awesome as I imagined, and the kitchen space is much tinier than I ever thought possible. I’ve baked a ridiculous amount from Claire’s book in recent months too.

We wandered through Broadway Market, perusing all the goods, and popping into several bookshops along the way, and then wandered on to Hackney City Farm, because you know me, I love a city farm. I have never spent time in Hackney or the surrounding areas, but I enjoyed how it felt like a village.

We ended the day getting ice cream (not in Hackney) at Gelupo in Soho. Pistachio gelato that doesn’t taste of almond essence for the win.

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Reading List (24/5)

In case you feel like you’re not doing enough, this. A reminder that things sometimes take time.

Should health advice be regulated? And an interesting article on ‘The Hemsley effect‘.

Feeding children breakfast at school.

Brainpickings (aka Maria Popova) delivered a commencement address at UPenn this past month and fortunately (for those of us who weren’t in the audience), she has published it on her site. I love this paragraph in particular:  ‘Strive to be uncynical, to be a hope-giving force, to be a steward of substance. Choose to lift people up, not to lower them down — because it is a choice, always, and because in doing so you lift yourself up.’

There is a new issue of Cherry Bombe magazine out. I’m saving it up for when we travel to Spain next month. But I’ve been listening to the Cherry Bombe podcast slightly obsessively all weekend. Favourites so far include Alice Waters and Fanny Singer talking about their book My Pantry; Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin, the owners of Ovenly, talking about their bakery, their book, and their sustainable business practices; and most recently, talking to Ana Roš (one of the new chefs on Chef’s Table) about women in professional kitchens. Talking about making kitchen life and motherhood work because she had to do both, she said ‘we should listen to ourselves. If a chef is not happy then sooner or later you start feeling their unhappiness in their creations’.

 Chefs on the future of food. And have you heard there is a second season of Chef’s Table coming out? I’m a little excited (May 27th plans sorted). Burnt Toast, the Food52 podcast, talked to director David Gelb last week about the new profiles.

This feast. Supper club inspiration if there ever was one.

A trip to Antarctica.

Kitchens and politics.

For Emily – a South African braai explained (by the New York Times). When my Mom came to visit in December, she bought Andrés The Democratic Republic of Braai, to inculcate him into family traditions.

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Saturday Night and Sunday Morning at Small Food Bakery (Part II)

Whilst Part I discusses all the loaves we made, and the dinner we ate on my Saturday Night, Sunday Morning baking course at Small Food Bakery, I found that I wanted to also write about making croissants and danish pastries and the last post was getting quite full. So here is the other half of the two-part series on my baking experience at Small Food Bakery.

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In between all the bread making, we also made an enriched laminated dough from which we generated croissants and pastries. We ate some of these for breakfast at the bakery on Sunday and the rest are currently in my freezer, waiting to be eaten at the weekend!

Unlike the sourdough and rye dough mixtures, which we made up ourselves, the croissant dough had been made up earlier by the team at Small Food because it needs to rest a significant time (at least 2 hours, preferably 4) in the fridge before being used. The dough was thus already super cold before we started to work with it. Kim taught us ‘single fold’ lamination.

Single fold lamination is achieved by rolling the dough out into a rectangle, and placing the butter in the centre. You then fold the pastry around the butter so it is entirely encased. It is then a case of rolling another rectangle and folding the dough up in thirds – so the bottom third up into the centre and then the top third over the bottom third so that you have a parcel of sorts. You then give this a quarter turn and perform the process again, rolling and folding the dough. If the dough becomes ‘tense’ you can place it in the fridge before rolling it out and folding it for a third and final time. This creates 27 laminated layers and results in a flaky, beautiful, buttery croissant. (This is the same technique for making puff pastry but that you roll and fold six times, resulting in the thousands of layers.) Once you have performed your three turns, rest the dough in the fridge to give it a chance to relax (and to make your life easier when you come to shape the pastries).

When you are ready to roll it out, remove the dough from the fridge and roll it into a square. We then divided the dough into four rectangles that would make shapes for four croissants and 5 pastries – cutting two rectangles into triangles, one rectangle in half and one rectangle into thirds. The triangles we rolled up into croissants (they look like little Eiffel towers before you roll them), whilst the halves became pain au chocolats and the thirds became danishes of various kinds. These were then egg-washed and placed in a clingfilmed tray to proof overnight. Kim told us that for pastries, the temperature and atmosphere are hugely important because they are so delicate. This is one of the reasons they are so difficult to recreate at home.

In the morning, our pastries had transformed themselves into poofy puffy clouds of light fluffiness. We egg-washed them again before decorating with fruits, seeds and chocolate.

These formed part of our breakfast on Sunday morning. One of the other participants (Adee) had brought some raw heather honey from his bees (I have the rest of the jar in my pantry now – Adee said he doesn’t sell the heather honey so this is a total treasure) and I took some of this years marmalade to share. I also brought my latest granola which I’ve been making with heather honey (recipe coming soon) and which I wanted to share with everyone. We thus ate a breakfast of kings with butter, honey, marmalade and croissants (is there a childhood story here about this breakfast? There might be I think.) There was also sourdough slices and these rather magical buns:

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These buns are made from stuffing the croissant dough into a muffin tray. They are made from the half rectangle shape that makes a pain au chocolat but we filled them with date syrup (and I put some chocolate slices in mine) and then placed them in the muffin trays to proof. In the morning Kim baked them off (they don’t need egg washing or anything) and then as soon as they came out of the oven tipped them out (because the syrup causes the buns to stick to the tray as they cool) and covered them in cardamom sugar whilst still hot. The result is a fragrant sticky flaky bun that is the stuff of dreams.

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Kim dousing the buns in cardamom sugar

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Some filled with raisins, others plain, one with chocolate

I intend to make more of the magical buns this coming weekend, which is a bank holiday weekend and for which all I have planned is writing, writing and more writing so these will see me through I think.

This was a truly wonderful birthday present. And I heartily recommend the course for anyone even remotely thinking about making bread with sourdough…

Small Food Bakery

Primary, 33 Seely Road Nottingham

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning workshop costs £190. Places are available for July and September workshops. 

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning at Small Food Bakery (Part I)

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For my birthday this year I requested a cooking class. When my family asked what they should purchase, this was the best thing I could think of for a gift – a chance to do something fun and learn some new skills. I had a look around (online) at the very many different options available, but in the end chose the Saturday Night, Sunday Morning class at my local bakery – Small Food. The class lasts over 2 days. You spend Saturday afternoon and evening in the bakery and then return on Sunday morning. During this time, you learn loads about sourdough, fermentation, lamination, flour, yeast and sourdough starters. It was a fantastic way to spend (most of) a weekend. Because we learnt so much (and I took so many photos, most of which I want to share), I’ve written two different posts: this one is all about making bread and Part II is all about laminated dough (croissants and pastries).

Saturday afternoon began with the participants (six of us) sitting down with Kim (the owner) over coffee to talk about the plan for the weekend, and sourdough starters – the starting point for any sourdough baking. Kim had sent instructions for preparing a starter and everyone had a version of one with them. My starter actually comes from Small Food, as I had no luck trying to start my own last year and I have been caring for it for a number of months. As such, the flavour and smell is very developed – it smells very fruity, mostly of apples and has a wonderful cider-y (ferment-y), apple-y taste. Did you know you can taste your starter? I had no idea until this weekend when we shared our starters around the table, tasting and comparing them. Some were young, creamy and yoghurty; others, like mine, were more sour, with fruit notes. There is no ‘right’ taste to a starter, it all depends on the flours you’ve used, the water and the yeasts in the local air.

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Ovens to covet at Small Food Bakery

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Then it was straight into work! We began by making a large sourdough mixture, enough to generate four different loaves (for taking home) and two small(ish) pizza bases that we were to eat on Saturday evening. One of the reasons I love making sourdough is getting my hands into the dough, incorporating the flour, water and starter, squidging the mixture between my fingers, feeling and hearing the dough change shape, watching as it absorbs the water and changes into something malleable and usable.

Once we had our bulk dough made – you basically work the mixture until it forms a shaggy dough and has absorbed all the water – we put them into clear tubs and placed them in a proofer (of sorts) to relax. This is called the autolyse stage and allows the dough to absorb water and also lets the gluten relax. Then we mixed up a 100% rye dough from which we made rye loaves and crisp breads. The rye loaf doesn’t require any kneading. You just mix the dough and scoop it into the tin (scooping being the operative word here as the dough is very wet). Then you proof it very slowly at room temperature before retarding the rise in the fridge overnight.

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All this physical work was broken by much coffee and cake. Sarah is the cake queen at the bakery and she had whipped up banana and macadamia loaf cake with cream cheese icing, orange and poppyseed cookies, and chocolate chip and lemon shortbreads. (She also screenprinted the fabulous aprons we got to use over the weekend and have now taken home.) After our tea break, it was time to prepare dinner and flavour our loaves.

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Once autolyse stage is finished, you add in more water and salt, squidging this into the dough until all the water is absorbed and you can no longer feel the salt. We then rested the dough again before starting to perform the ‘turns’ which add structure to sourdough and ensure it doesn’t just collapse and seep all over the counter when you’re trying to shape it. These turns are completed at half hour intervals, so in-between we had time to think about flavourings for our breads. We all made a Radford Wild and a beetroot sourdough. I then made an olive, chilli and seed bread, and a chocolate, fig and pistachio one. When all the doughs were flavoured and resting once more, we turned our attention to dinner.

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Bubbles forming in the sourdough

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Turning the dough on top of itself

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Flavouring the dough

Dinner was sourdough pizza. Each pizza was formed of 250g of dough weight. Nathan provided instructions on how to thin out the dough into something that resembled pizza and then we were given free range to create pizza toppings. They were all baked in the large ovens before being sliced and shared amongst all of us.

I made a potato pizza with creme fraiche and a butternut, onion, mozzarella and chilli pizza that was super thin and crispy. (Potato pizza looks beautiful once baked as the edges of the potatoes crisp up and brown, making the whole thing look a little like fish scales.) There was green salad and wine (and beer), and lots of conversation about food and drink. It was rather hard to muster the energy to stand up again to do more shaping but the loaves were in need of attention!

After dinner we focused on preparing our sourdough loaves. The flavoured doughs had been proofing whilst we ate and were ready to be turned out, bench rested and then folded to provide structure and strength in the baking process. These are then tipped into sourdough baskets (lined with cornmeal) and left overnight in the fridge.

The next morning, we returned to the bakery to bake off all the bread loaves. Kim illustrated how to score the loaf – this has to be done so the loaf can expand whilst it cooks. If you don’t score it, the loaf will simply expand where it wants. By scoring it, the baker is guiding the expansion in a particular way. Scoring a loaf takes confidence. If you are too hesitant you will damage the structure and affect the aesthetic appearance too.

Once the loaf is scored, it goes into the oven where it bakes until a dark golden brown. The bread bakes directly on the base of the oven which is stone and therefore incredibly hot.

Whilst our sourdough loaves were baking, we made stencils for our rye loaves. Stencils are a fun way to decorate loaf-style breads and everyone got to create their own ‘logo’ of sorts for their rye bread.

The last activity with the rest of the rye dough was to make crispbreads. Kim says she came up with these by accident, after over-fermenting a dough but they remind me a lot of lavash and I suspect are fantastic with hummus. The rye dough is formed into sausage-like logs, using water on your hands and on the work surface (so quite messy to recreate at home). The logs are sliced into 2cm long pieces and these are massaged out onto baking paper until incredibly thin and delicate. You can flavour them pretty much any way you see fit – salt, herbs, seeds and the like. They are baked directly onto the base of the oven until crisps – about 7 minutes.

I had an epic weekend. There is nothing I love more than spending time with other food people, talking about food, eating, making food. Superb birthday present (thanks to Mom and the Princess!)

Small Food Bakery

Primary, 33 Seely Road, Nottingham

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning workshop costs £190. There are places available on the July and September workshops. 

Food for Thought Lectures, The School of Artisan Food

This past weekend I journeyed to the rural areas of Nottinghamshire, to the rather lovely Welbeck Estate, to attend the School of Artisan Food ‘Food for Thought’ lectures. It was a truly fantastic weekend of scholarship, writing and thinking about food.

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The whole two days seemed to hang together very loosely – there was no wider theme that really connected the speakers and so we journeyed from the horrors of the food industry to the tiny Cookhouse, to the Grand Tour. It was all fantastic, capturing my enthusiasm for food talk and writing once again. We were also superbly well fed!

Joanna Blythman started us off, talking about what the food industry doesn’t tell us. Her new book, Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets explores this in more detail. She spoke in (rather horrifying) detail about how ‘natural flavourings’ like ‘rosemary extract’ aren’t really related to the rosemary plant at all. If you’re even slightly skeptical about how the food industry works, read her book. On Sunday, in an unexpectedly related talk, James Whetlor talked about his business Cabrito Goat Meat. James and his partner started Cabrito in Devon, as a solution to using the billy kids that otherwise form a waste product from the goat milk industry. The idea was to supply goat meat for people to eat. As their business has grown, they have looked to expand into supermarkets and James spoke with frank honesty about the difficulty of doing this as a small producer. He talked about how the food industry and the supermarkets work to shape choice, by limiting what they will and will not buy from suppliers. It was totally gripping and engaging.

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Bee Wilson spoke about how we learn to eat, the possibilities for teaching our palate’s to like various foods, including vegetables, and how (ideally) the best way to teach children to eat is to allow them to choose from a range of foods (without getting anxious about their nutritional intake). Her new book, First Bite, discusses this in more detail. I spoke to her afterwards because it struck me as an interesting tension that manifests in schools where, because of the unknown (by parents of what children at at school and by teachers/dining hall supervisors of what children eat at home), children lose this ability to choose. In schools, children are encouraged to eat all the food they are given, to ensure they are not hungry. There is little opportunity for the kind of agency Wilson talked about around the school dining table.

One of the reasons I signed up to the talks was to hear Jeanette Orrey speak. Jeanette is the ‘original’ dinner lady, the one who is largely credited for telling Jamie Oliver about the state of school food, and who has worked tirelessly to change school food in the last 16-odd years. She provided some interesting statistics, particularly on the growing problem of hunger in schools, and she urged the audience not to think that school food had been ‘fixed’. Orrey argued that there are still head teachers who do not think school food should be their problem, that there is still tension between the DfE and the DoH about who is responsible for food in schools, and there is an ever growing issue around summer hunger too. She also talked about the tension that exists between what policymakers envision, and what schools can do at the grassroots level (which is what my thesis was all about).

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I loved hearing from the chefs too. Over the weekend, we heard from Olia Hercules on fermentation (her rather exquisite book is only £5.99 on Amazon at the moment); Jeremy Lee on the evolution of British food and this new culture developing around feasting and sharing; and Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich from Honey & Co. I was interested in the way Sarit and Itamar talked about writing their cookbooks, about how channeling the personal is so important, how their cookbooks are about food they want to eat and cook, and how you can read their cookbooks like any other book.

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The food garden at the School of Artisan Food

I particularly loved listening to Anna Hedworth talk about starting Cook House, up in Newcastle (how much do you love her logo?!) and her work putting on events for the National Trust in the Farne Islands (working in foreign kitchens, some without running water). Her pictures were exquisite and made me desperately want to run some supper clubs like we used to do in Johannesburg.

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Food at lunch on Sunday

The weekend ended with two history talks – one on The Grand Tour by Andrew Graham-Dixon and the other by historian Ivan Day. Ivan’s talk was particularly interesting. He talked about food as art as largesse. My understanding of his talk was that in the event of wealthier people having large events, with large displays of food (often created as works of art), the food was later given to those less well-off to have and eat. So architectural displays of food were later dissembled by the poor. This is food as art but also food as art as largesse… Ivan had a fascinating collection of photographs of tables laid with plenty. These tables were then picked at by the wealthy before being given to poor people. In other places, who scenes were constructed from food (as part of a wider celebration of a birth or a marriage of the landed gentry), and then people could destroy them and claim the food. At food festivals in Europe, people were given roasted meats for free as part of the wider celebration. An interesting idea of redistribution of wealth I think.

All in all, I had a fantastic weekend, talking and thinking about food. I’m hoping, now that I have been there, to return to The School of Artisan Food for another course. And I will definitely be back next year for this lecture series!

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Reading List (17/5)

The best pizza in the world. For our next eating trip. I love how the ingredients are all locally sourced, supporting the local economy, and how they’re growing wheat specifically for the pizza bases. (Thanks Jen!) And as a contrast, making your own pizza at home. The comments section is, quite frankly, just hilarious, and illustrative of some of the snobbery associated with culinary capital.

And keeping things Italian – Rachel Roddy’s chocolate almond cake and her list of kitchen essentials. 

What do people think of the decision to close the BBC recipe website? Is there something to be said about the need to preserve such recipe collections?

I’m reading another Sarah Moss novel (I am on a roll). This time it is Bodies of Light. So far, it is all dark Victoriana, tumultuous mother-child relationships and slums. I am loving it.

A tour of the White House Kitchen Garden.

I’ve just read a few academic articles on foodie tourism, which I hadn’t realised is a) a thing and b) I am possibly guilty of participating in. But if you’re way ahead of the game and plan all your travelling around food, here is a list of festivals and events you might want to add to your radar. If I could, I’d go to the national cherry festival.

Women in kitchens in Mexico.

Grief, patience and endurance. This is such a great article about cultivating resilience in the face of trauma.  After losing her mother in a violent attack in Afghanistan, Samira Thomas writes: ‘In that time, it [the grief] looked a lot like a disease to me, one that I had to cure quickly. I have since come to realise that haste to recoil, to return to original form after trauma, constitutes another form of violence. I found no peace in the rush.’ There is a tendency, I think, after great trauma and grief, to long for a return to wholeness, when the world was not painful and simmering behind a curtain of grey fog – to return to the person you were before. Thomas captures understanding that this is not truly possible by reading the poet Hafiz, and through reading, comes to regard the grief as a ‘process of becoming’.

A wonderful essay on how to find your place in the world by listening to your soul. And this advice, to embrace the deep desires of your heart and go for it now.

This fantastic restaurant, that is a family business, practicing sustainability. I love the story about the oyster shells!

Should the state be responsible for feeding children in the school holidays?

Ruby Tandoh has written a brilliant article for Vice, on health and wellness. She writes from personal experience about finding ‘wellness’ and how it left her unwell. She talks frankly about the dangers of excluding whole food groups from our diets, noting that the one thing nutrition science is clear on is variety. ‘Nutrition is an impossibly complicated and contested field, and rarely do we agree upon what is and is not good for us. In the absence of certainty, the safest and arguably most healthy approach to nutrition falls back on variety – of food groups, macronutrients, ingredients. When cure-all good health is promised via the exclusion of whole food groups, that might be to go against the grain of one of the few nutritional sureties we have.’ She links to the moralising of food discourse which has become so prevalent in British society in recent years – the ‘goodness’, ‘cleanliness’ or ‘purity’ of certain foods which then transforms other foods into things impure, unclean or bad and then also transforms the eater of such foods into someone impure, unclean, dirty or morally wanting. [I investigated glutenisthedevil.com that Tandoh mentions in the article. The posts there are all from 2014, and the author comes from a family with a history of coeliac disease. Nevertheless, I particularly enjoyed the second thing I saw on the site, a recipe for ‘easy gluten free roast chicken’. Recipes like that make me want to bang my head against a desk because obviously, roast chicken is gluten free unless you choose to stuff it with a bread-based stuffing…] You can read about orthorexia (where you develop unhealthy obsessions with ‘healthy’ foods) here.

And on the topic of balance, these lemon squares.

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