The amazing avocado!

Well, where do you start with something as amazing as the avocado? They look exotic, have a totally unique taste and texture and are incredibly good for you too! Yes, I know they are high in calories but, if you are sensible and don’t gorge on them, they are packed full of good things that far outweigh their ‘bad’ reputation.

Glance at the fruit bowl on my kitchen table any day of the year and you’ll see avocados in among the apples and bananas as I absolutely adore them. I use them in vegetable smoothies, slice them in a salad and, if you follow some of my beauty blogs, will know I sometimes even slap them on my face as they make a terrific moisturising mask!

It’s one of those foodstuffs – rather like the butternut squash – that I can’t imagine how we ever managed without it. Avocados first arrived in the UK in the 1960s and I can well remember them being regarded as highly exotic, rather decadent and ever so slightly odd! How could it be a pear and yet not be sweet?

Avocados have a much higher fat content than most other fruit, and it’s mostly monounsaturated fat… which means it’s fatty but in a really good way! This makes them  really popular with vegetarians who can sometimes struggle to get enough good fats in their diet.

Generally, avocado is served raw but you can cook with it. I used to serve a dinner party dish where the flesh had been scooped out and mixed with prawns and cheese and then put back in the avocado shell and grilled but, to be quite honest, it’s a rather rich dish and, as avocado so lovely on its own, why bother?

And, of course, they are terribly good for you too. Not wishing to bore you with too many statistics, but here are a few of the more impressive ones:

  • About 75% of an avocado’s energy comes from fat, most of which is monounsaturated fat
  • On a weight basis, avocados have 35% more potassium than bananas.
  • They are rich in folic acid and vitamin K, and are good dietary sources of vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin E
  • Avocados have a high fibre content of 75% insoluble and 25% soluble fibre.
  • High avocado intake has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels.
  • Extracts of avocado have been studied to assess potential for lowering risk of diabetes
  • The avocado is also being researched for potential anti-cancer activity
  • The ability of avocado to help prevent unwanted inflammation is widely accepted and many arthritis sufferers swear by it.

And if that weren’t enough… it’s also great fun to grown an avocado plant from the stone, or pit. It won’t fruit but it does grow into an attractive houseplant!

What more could you possibly want from one fruit? If you want to find out more, there’s lots of information online… but do be wary of crank sites!

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A real tonic

I’ve never been much of a tea or coffee drinker, which is odd as the rest of my family are. I do like herbal teas though, and am especially fond of peppermint tea. I’ve recently bought a sweet little infusion teapot so, once the mint in the garden has grown, I can literally pick a few leaves and stick them in the pot with some boiling water for a very refreshing brew!

Herbal teas have become popular both for their flavour and for the many medicinal qualities they are supposed to possess. It’s claimed they can help with everything from easing a cold and indigestion to fighting infection and nausea. But when choosing a herbal tea remedy, make sure you pick the right one. While fruit flavoured teas – such as rosehip, apple and orange – taste nice, they are developed for their flavouring more than anything else.

Herbal teas on the other hand, such as thyme, peppermint and ginger really do have therapeutic uses. Check the label when you buy – if it mentions real herbs then the quality will be good. Try and avoid any teas with artificial flavourings.

My partner in crime writing, Julia, can’t take cold remedies anymore as she gets a rather violent allergic reaction, and she finds ginger or thyme tea really help when she’s fighting a cold. One of the benefits of peppermint tea is that it’s good for indigestion, so if you have over-indulged (which of course I never do!) it is nice to drink after a meal.

Here are my top five herbal teas:

Ginger: Ginger is a great remedy in the early stages of an infection because, as a warming spice, it can promote a fever and hasten healing. Ginger’s warming effects are also said to relieve rheumatic aches and pains by widening the blood vessels and stimulating circulation.

Chamomile: The small golden buds of chamomile give many people relief from mild insomnia. Chamomile is the principal ingredient in many ‘sleepytime’ tea blends. This is because chamomile contains tryptophan, an amino acid known for its tranquilizing effects. When taken as an infusion, these properties act as a relaxant and help you to sleep.

Thyme: This Mediterranean herb is an effective treatment for colds. This is because thyme contains volatile oils – constituents in the plant that protect it against virus and infection. When taken as an infusion, these properties act as a good decongestant for the chest.

Peppermint: A traditional remedy used for nausea and indigestion. By stimulating bile production in the gall bladder, peppermint breaks down fat in the digestion system, thus relieving nausea.

Nettle: I’ve waxed lyrical about nettles before on this blog! It is good to take when feeling run down as it has a rich mineral content. Nettle is a good source of iron, calcium and silica. Iron produces red blood cells, essential for energy while calcium and silica are important for building bones, hair and teeth.

 

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Cranberry Vodka

It’s always useful to have a stock of ideas for home made birthday or Christmas presents and this vodka could be made all year round. Although this recipe uses cranberries to be festive, you could choose blackberries or raspberries or all sorts of berries instead!

  • 70cl bottle of vodka
  • 300g of cranberries
  • Peel from one orange
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 large sterilised jars

To start with, prick all the cranberries with a darning needle or any sharp pokey tool you have. Now divide all the solid ingredients between the two jars and pour half the bottle of vodka into each jar.

Now put the jars somewhere safe and leave for about three weeks, shaking them each day.

Then strain the liquid out of the jars into a jug and bottle up into suitable gift containers and label  and it looks lovely. Easy!

 

 

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Wine in the Westcountry…

I am fortunate to live in a county rich in locally grown and produced foods. Devon is unique in England in having a coastline on both its northern and southern edges and it’s an area where farming livestock is still an important part of the economy. We are also blessed with lots of artisan cheese makers, bakers and vintners, our climate being suited to all sorts of exciting foody businesses. Through my blog I’m going to take the opportunity to introduce you to some of our local producers and I hope you will be inspired to try their produce and their recipes!

I introduced you to the rather exotic Devon Chilli Farm a few weeks ago and now, equally surprising, I’m going to talk about Devon vineyards. There are no less than NINE in the county and some of the wines they produce are winning awards worldwide.

Internationally, I think Britain is probably more famous for producing gin and beer than wine but in fact, we have been producing wine since Roman times. Historically though, English wines were seen as a bit of a joke, with people making their own peculiar brews such a potato or parsnip wine (remember Reggie Perrin?) while commercially the quality and consistency was very variable. But, since about 1970 – and particularly at the beginning of the 21st Century – things have improved dramatically.

It seems that Devon, and Cornwall too, enjoys an ideal mix of soil and climate making them suitable areas for growing vines. The latitude and longitude are very similar to the well-known wine growing regions of France so it’s not too hard to see why this area is proving successful.

There’s a vineyard just down the road from our village that produces four types of wine, a white, red, rosé and sparkling. Rather unromantically, these days there are no peasants trampling round in great vats of grapes pressing out the juice with their feet (actually, that always put me off a bit!), today it is all stainless steel tanks and white coats, but the wine they produce is excellent.

The best-known vineyard in this part of the world is Sharpham. They also happen to make excellent cheeses, but that’s another blog altogether! Their Sharpham Sparkling Reserve NV recently won the ‘Best International’ trophy at the World Sparkling Wine Competition, beating French champagnes in the process!

If you are in this neck of the woods, the Sharpham estate is well worth a visit. There’s a lovely café on site for lunch before you walk through the vineyards that go right down to the banks of the river Dart and the wine tastings are inexpensive and very enjoyable!!

For more information, do have a look at the Sharpham wine website at www.sharpham.com

 

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Blackberry vinegar for coughs & colds

This week, it’s a guest blog from my writing pal and foraging guru Julia Horton-Powdrill. Julia’s website is full of useful tips, fascinating facts and lovely dollops of humour as is her Facebook page for her annual Really Wild Food & Countryside Festival.

“This recipe is here to coincide with the blackberry season so that you can stock up on this for the winter. Do use local honey if possible, and cider vinegar rather than any other kind.

You will need:

  • 1 pint of fresh, clean blackberries
  • 1 pint cider vinegar
  • 1lb local honey
  • ½ cup brown sugar

Put blackberries in a jar with the cider vinegar and soak for a week, shaking the jar every so often. Strain through cheesecloth collecting the juice in a pan. Add the honey & sugar and bring to the boil, stirring until dissolved. Allow to cool then bottle and close with a tight cork. Store in a refrigerator or cool place. When a cough, cold or sore throat arises, mix a tablespoon of the mixture with 1 cup of hot water and drink.

PS. This combination of ingredients is so versatile, you needn’t restrict yourself to using it just as a remedy. It makes a lovely warming drink even if you don’t have a cold! You can also use it as a marinade, and if you add olive oil it can be used for a salad dressing!”

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