Dry your eyes!

OnionChoppedI use onions in cooking most of the time. However, it can be a very tearful experience, as I am sure you all know! I find red onions seem to catch me out more than most and I can be found sobbing over a Bolognese sauce if I get a really strong one.

So why do onions make us cry? I decided to look into it, after a recent tearful stir fry experience, and discovered something I hadn’t known before – much of it is linked to the sharpness of our knives!

Apparently, chopping onions with a blunt knife makes tears much more likely. When you chop onions with a blunt knife, the blade bruises the surface of the onion rather than slicing straight through. This means enzymes are released that can irritate your eyes. Using a very sharp knife when cutting onions can reduce that as it’ll slice right through, rather than crush the skin.

But what is it in onions that causes our eyes to water? It all starts underground as onions absorb sulphur from the earth. This creates a class of volatile organic molecules and when you push a knife through an onion it crushes the cells and releases amino acid sulfoxides to form sulfenic acids.

OnionsThese then react with the air to create a volatile sulphur compound that, when it comes into contact with our eyes, creates a burning and stinging feeling. The tears are our eyes trying to wash the acids away. Most of the acidity is concentrated in the onion’s root.

But dry your eyes and try some of these helpful tips the next time you’re making Bolognese or any other onion-based delight.

  1. Use a sharp knife
    As identified above, make sure you use a sharp knife – this will cut through the onion more smoothly and cause less crushing which will release less acid.
  1. Put it in the fridge/freezer
    Try putting the onion in the fridge 30 minutes before chopping it or in the freezer for 10 -15 minutes – the cold will inhibit the release of the gases. But don’t keep them in the fridge all the time as this will soften them and make them go off quicker.
  1. OnionGogglesOpen a window
    Chop your onions near an open window so the breeze can waft away the acidic fumes – or even a fan or vent if you have one.
  1. Leave the root
    Chop the onion while leaving the root on so as not to release fumes from the most concentrated area.
  1. Soak it in water
    Chop the end off the onion and then put it straight into a bowl of water to soak. The water will draw out the acid making you tear up less when you chop it. However, this could make your onion taste slightly weaker.

And if none of those work… why not treat yourself to some very fetching ‘onion goggles’ now widely available on line!



Anyone for tennis and strawberries?

StrawberryWimbledonThink of Wimbledon… and think strawberries! The two things are always linked in my mind from my earliest childhood memories. Amazingly, around 27,000 kilos of strawberries are consumed during Wimbledon plus, I am sure, an equally huge amount of cream and champagne!

The red heart-shaped strawberry crops up in images all over the place, it is just so very pretty! But it’s not just a pretty face – they are also good for us… that’s minus the cream of course!

Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamins C and K as well as providing a good dose of fibre, folic acid, manganese and potassium. They have been used throughout history in medicinally to help with digestive ailments, teeth whitening and skin irritations. It’s thought that their fibre and fructose content may help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing digestion and the fibre is thought to have a satiating effect. And did you know their leaves can be eaten raw, cooked or used to make tea?

3StrawberriesThe vibrant red colour of strawberries is due to large amounts of anthocyanidin, which also means they contain powerful antioxidants and are thought to protect against inflammation, cancer and heart disease. Add to that the fact that a 100g serving of strawberries contains only 32 calories and they really are a bit of a wonder fruit!

Strawberries have a long history and have been enjoyed since the Roman times. Native to many parts of the world, hundreds of varieties of strawberries exist due to crossbreeding techniques Like many other fruits, strawberries make their claim in history as a luxury item enjoyed only by royalty. It has been alleged that newly weds were entitled to strawberries with soured cream as a wedding breakfast, believing them to be an aphrodisiac… I never cease to be amazed by just how many things are supposed to have this effect!

StrawberryTeaWhile British strawberries grown under glass are available from about March to November, the outdoor growing season is short and runs from the end of May through July. To achieve maximum yields during this short season, farmers protect emerging berries from the muddy soil by spreading a layer of straw around each new plant – hence the name strawberry.

Well, It’s been a great Wimbledon this year and I’ve managed to catch the odd glimpse – fingers crossed that Andy Murray can win again. I may be caught nibbling the odd strawberry as I watch the finals over the weekend… enjoy!


A whole new meaning to a ‘kitchen garden’!

I am really getting into growing our own veg this summer – gold star to Joanna for ticking box on ‘must do’ list! As you may have realised, I am not one for wasting things. Well, OK, so I am a typical crafter and I hoard things… but I also like to recycle and make use of ‘waste’ products in the garden too. We all go on about ‘being green’ and reducing our carbon footprint, but really, this is all common sense stuff that previous generations did as a matter of course!

Slug off!
If you want to give your garden slugs a hard time and, like me don’t like using slug pellets, save your coffee grounds! Empty the bits left in your cafetière or machine on to the soil around your plants. They not only keep the pests at bay they will enrich the soil too.

Now this idea is a little contentious… but you could try submerging some plastic cups into your veg beds around your plants and fill them with beer. Yes, beer. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and drop into the cups. Richard is not entirely happy about this…

Egg shells are also a pet hate of slugs and snails as they don’t like to crawl over them. I put my empty egg shells into a plastic container, wait until I have quite a few and then take great delight in smashing them into small pieces with a spoon! You can then sprinkle them on the ground around your salads and the critters ought to keep away.

Eggcellent compost
Egg shells can also be added to your compost with other compostable waste. Around a third of an average household bin can be composted including fruit and vegetable peelings, but don’t put whole old potatoes in, as these will grow into plants and create more spuds. You can also use teabags and even shredded cardboard and newspaper along with your general clippings and cuttings but be sure you don’t put in any weed seed heads or those with roots that can regenerate.

Rice water is nice water
When you cook rice keep the water rather than pouring it down the sink. There are several plant friendly minerals that are ideal for giving your plants a nutritional boost.


Hay fever time…

Ah, how we love the summertime – the sun, the long evenings, beautiful blooms, blossom and wisteria, the chance to eat outside and, of course, weekends full of gardening. But, for 18 million people across the UK, the warmer months also bring the misery of hay fever.

The top offenders on the list of hay fever inducing plants changes every year and so do the symptoms and severity of suffering. So, it’s important to know what to look out for and what to avoid each year to ease discomfort as much as possible.

The pollen calendar

  • Tree pollen – late March to mid May
  • Grass pollen – mid May to late July (accounts for 95% of hay fever cases)
  • Weed pollen – end of June to mid September
  • Pollen levels are at their highest on warm, dry days. You can view a five day pollen forecast as metoffice.gov.uk

1. Think about your diet

Altering your diet during hay fever season can reduce your symptoms. For example, reducing how much coffee you drink naturally reduces the body’s production of histamine, which can accentuate a runny nose. Green, white or nettle tea is much more beneficial.

There’s lots and lots of information online about trying to minimise the impact of hay fever. According to Netdoctor, the following diet changes could help hay fever sufferers:

  • Ginger – eating ginger acts as a natural decongestant and anti-inflammatory.
  • Sugar – eating refined sugar causes blood sugar levels to spike and prompts your body to produce more histamine. Opt for fruit instead.
  • Fruit and vegetables – hitting and exceeding your five a day will make sure your vitamin C levels are constantly high and that the immune system is at its strongest.
  • Anti-inflammatory foods – berries, currants, grapes, avocados, oily fish and healthy oils (pumpkinseed and flaxseed) will all help to naturally reduce inflammation of the nose and eyes.
  • Honey – local honey naturally contains grains of local pollen which, when consumed, will help the body develop an immunity to them. Although there’s no scientific evidence to back this up, it’s a well-used, natural method for many.

2. Prepare your home

There are lots of things you can do to try and keep the pollen out. These include opening your windows at the right time, cleaning properly (your house and your pets!) and looking after your bedding.

If you don’t know exactly what type of pollen you are allergic to, it can be difficult to know at what time your allergens are at their highest. However, most flowers pollinate in the morning, between 5am and 9am. So, it is advisable to keep your windows closed at these times. Try to open your windows towards the end of the day, as there will be less pollen circulating the air.

Avoid using feather dusters, as those just lift the dust particles into the air, for them to settle again. Instead, use a damp cloth so that dust and pollen get collected and removed.

3. And finally… relax!

Higher than normal levels of stress and anxiety increases the levels of cortisol in the body that, in turn, can negatively affect the immune system. Stress can also reduce sleep which can have the same adverse affect on our immune system… 

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Posh rhubarb!

It’s rhubarb time! It seems to be a good year for it and you can spot the massive leaves lurking in people’s gardens all over the place. Partner in crime writing, Julia, grows rhubarb and has been giving it away to friend and neighbours as she can’t keep up with this year’s crop! Fortunately, she also enjoys drinking prosecco, or cava (she isn’t fussy!) so I’ll leave her to tell you her latest rhubarb discovery…

“I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so you won’t find me turning out rhubarb crumble or pie, I simply stew it, keeping it quite sharp and eat it with yogurt for breakfast… but you can only eat so much of it and can only get so many tubs in the freezer! 

In desperation, I began looking online for other uses for rhubarb… and came up with a very easy idea for putting a zing into your summer drink selection!”

How to make a rhubarb prosecco cocktail:

First, make a rhubarb syrup:

Makes about 250ml

  • 450g/1 pound fresh rhubarb cut into disks
  • 100g/3.5oz cup sugar
  • 125ml/4.2fl oz cup water


Put all the ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until the fruit is very soft. Turn the heat off and cool in the pan.

Strain through a fine sieve into a measuring jug. Leave the fruit to drain for a few hours and then use a funnel transfer to a bottle or other suitable container. Keeps in the fridge for up to four weeks!

Next, add the alcohol!

Put 1tbsp of the luscious pink syrup in a glass

Top up with prosecco, cava or, if you are splashing out, Champagne

The rhubarb syrup will keep for up to a month in the fridge so why not make a big batch and invite all your neighbours round!

If a cocktail isn’t your thing, it’s also delicious as a porridge topping or drizzled on ice-cream!