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Longevity tips from my 91-yr old neighbour

I’ve become absolutely fascinated (and maybe a little obsessed) with the Blue Zones recently. Scientists have pinpointed 5 places in the world, dubbed Blue Zones, where people live the longest and are the healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece and Loma Linda, California. Researchers found all Blue Zone areas share 9 specific lifestyle habits that they call the Power 9. I urge you to read about the habits but, in summary, it’s what they eat (they eat lots of beans), how they de-stress, the importance of drinking wine (I like this habit!), put loved ones first, have a sense of purpose and more.

The Blue Zones concept grew out of demographic work which identified Sardinia as the region of the world with the highest concentration of male centenarians. I don’t know anyone aged over 100 but I do live next door to a sprightly 91-year old called Derek who is still gigging in a band and cycles off to the gym five mornings a week. He seems to have more energy than me so what is his secret? I just had to find out. I popped over one morning for a chat, armed with a list of questions for him.

Q1. How much exercise do you do a week?

I go to the gym four mornings per week and swim once a week. I’m always busy in the garden, planting, weeding, digging, harvesting, watering etc.

Q2. Do you eat 5-A-Day?

Yes, in fact I never eat less than 10 portions of fruit and veg a day. I grow my own fruit and vegetables but some crops haven’t been that successful this year. Everyday I eat an apple, banana and grapes and lots of vegetables.

Q3. What’s your favourite meal?

A veg stew made in a pressure cooker. I eat meat once a week and fish twice a week. I make my own muesli containing nuts, seeds and fruits and I drink red grape juice and goats milk. I drink coffee when I’m doing a gig just to keep me awake!

Q4. Do you ever eat fast food?

Never. Back in the 1950s I was based in American camps. It was the first time I’d seen a burger. I did eat burgers then but I got into healthy eating whilst in my late 40s so haven’t eaten anything like that since.

Q5. What do you think is the secret to a long and healthy life?

Some of it is down to luck, my mother made it to 99. A good diet helps. I don’t mix protein with carbs. I read a book a long time ago called “The Hay Diet, Don’t Eat Foods That Fight”. I’ve been doing this since I was about 50 years old. It suits me. I don’t rush food, I chew it well. I gave up drinking alcohol in 1952. My Wife didn’t like me drinking so I stopped and I’ve never smoked.

I play the saxophone (3 different types – soprano, alto & tenor) and the clarinet. I practice everyday. I’ve been playing now for 76 years. It’s so therapeutic; you can forget about all your troubles. I didn’t retire at 65 like most people. Life and work pretty much carried on as usual from the age of 65-85. I’ve slowed down a bit now. At 84 I went to Go Ape and loved it!

Derek is a great example of someone who has taken charge of his health and actively seeks ways to improve his chances of enjoying a long and healthy life. If you read the Power 9 you’ll see that his habits reflect those of the Blue Zone people. He’s an absolute delight to listen to and I came away from our conversation feeling really inspired. To make it to age 100, you have to have won the genetic lottery (that’s me out!). For the rest of us we could make a few small changes to our lifestyle to improve our chances of making it into our 90’s. Maybe we could all create a little Blue Zone in our own homes. I know I’ve already started.

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Juggling motherhood & running a business

I gave up work to raise my family. When I say gave up work, work gave me up. I was on maternity leave when a restructure was announced at work. My name didn’t appear on the new structure. I was over the moon! Perfect timing. I was leaving a joyless job that gave me no opportunity for creativity. The salary plus benefits were good but there’s only so many fabulous shoes you can buy! I needed more. I was starting to re-evaluate my life. I loved being at home with my children but once school was looming for the youngest I knew I needed a plan.

I started my business 15 months ago after 18 months of planning. I’d had an idea that I’d pondered over for some time. Basically it was an itch and I needed to scratch it. It was a leap of faith into the unknown. I had no prior experience in the food industry; just a huge passion for cooking and a desire to build a brand around healthy eating.

It has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It feels like a never ending cycle of highs and lows. Working as a small scale food producer with the challenge of a chilled product is not for the fainthearted. Being a mother of 2 young boys is demanding enough but factoring in all the responsibilities of running a business can feel quite overwhelming at times. As well as working during the week I regularly work at weekends. I miss my children and feel guilty that I can’t be with them enjoying family activities. It’s not all bad. Running your own business allows you plenty of flexibility. I’m able to do the school runs and attend school events without having to beg someone for the time off. That means of course that I end up working in the evening but you can’t have it all.

I’m much less organised than I used to be. I don’t have the time to scan the school newsletters and put important dates in my diary. Recently I sent my youngest son to school in pyjamas on the wrong day. He cried and was so embarrassed. We had to borrow some school uniform but it wasn’t the end of the world. Some would say it’s character building stuff! I missed my eldest’s sports day this year because I hadn’t put the date in my diary but had committed to doing a cooking demo on the same day. I managed to get there for the final relay race where his team scooped 1st place. However I missed the rest of the day including him coming 2nd in two running races. As a parent you’re constantly feeling guilty about something.

No matter how organised you are sometimes events just happen that are beyond your control. This is an example of how everything gets thrown up in the air from time to time. I booked a full day with a photographer to shoot some new photos for my website and recipe cards. The day before I spent the whole day cooking and preparing and felt pretty organised. I went to bed but had a restless night for some reason. I was awoken abruptly at 5am by my eldest son vomitting. Disaster! That meant no school for 48 hours. After sorting him out I crept back into bed but lay there wondering how on earth I could manage this set back. Luckily I have an understanding Mum and she happened to be free so looked after my son for the day. What would I have done otherwise? When it’s your own venture no one else can step in and take your place.

There’s a huge amount of satisfaction to be gained from starting and running your own business. I’m really proud that I’m inspiring my children along the journey. They often talk about what business they want to run when they’re grown up. One son wants to make pies and the other has decided he wants to make hot chilli sauce. The chilli sauce son turned to me recently and said “I want to call my company Chilli Cop” which I think is a rather brilliant name but I initially misheard him and thought he pronounced it with a “c” at the end of cop instead of a “p”. I did have a giggle to myself!

I’m also really proud that my children understand what a healthy and balanced diet is. We all love to sit down together at the end of the day and enjoy a home cooked meal (mostly made from my bace products). My recipes are quick and easy to follow so I’m not spending hours in the kitchen cooking meals. It’s heartening to know that my children are getting lots of veg in their diet along with fibre and protein from the beans and peas. We have a healthy relationship with food so treats are not off limits; our mantra is everything in moderation.

Life is good. It can be fairly chaotic at times but it’s a fun adventure to be on. There’s never a dull moment in our household and that’s the way I like it!

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the highs and lows…

I was absolutely thrilled when, on Monday, I received an email congratulating me on becoming a finalist in the Muddy Stilletos award for best Norfolk Food & Drink producer. This news followed a fantastic day on Sunday at the Big Norfolk Sausage Bash in Aylsham. The sun shone, we had loads of fun and sold out of our pots. Don’t be fooled; not every day is so filled with joy. The life of a small scale food producer is fraught with disappointment, burns, endless washing up and not to mention the chilblains from standing outside at events in freezing cold, driving rain and wind. Then there’s the occasions when you spend all week cooking your fresh products to discover that your only event of the week has been cancelled due to bad weather. I persevere with grit and determination all because I’m on a mission to spread the bace love!

I never imagined how hard it would be to get a product launched and then actually sell it. I’ve made it even harder for myself by launching something that is totally unique. Maybe I’m crazy! The hours I spend explaining the merits of my versatile products. It’s a challenging marketplace, healthy eating isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people screw their face up when you mention peas and beans. Fortunately others are open to a new way of eating and embrace the idea that plant-based protein could help the future of our planet. I do feel like the tide of change is coming. Peas, beans and lentils are a sustainable option. They use little of the planet’s resources and are a great source of protein, fibre and nutrients.

I’m trying to do the right thing – bringing wholesome convenience to busy people, not adding sugar, keeping salt content very low, using British-grown peas and beans and not adding any nasties. My pots are recyclable and I use WoolCool insulated packaging for my online orders which is also fully recyclable. I receive loads of really great feedback all the time. My customers tell me that my plant-based protein pots offer them convenience, endless meal options and encourage them to eat healthily. They love the recipes that I share on social media, via my website and the recipe cards that I hand out at events.

I’m making steady progress all the time. I feel proud of my achievements and feel positive about the future of bace. It’s a difficult balancing act though. I’ve got two small children so family life is really busy. I feel guilty about the time I spend away from them at weekends when I’m at events. I’m constantly cooking and then I have to fit in all the other work that comes with running a business. On the plus side they’ve seen me starting a business from scratch so I really hope that I’ve inspired them.

Of course I’d love to win. Who wouldn’t? Though I feel privileged just to be a finalist alongside Candi’s Chutney, Crush Foods, Old Hall Farm and All Fudged Up. I know the first three businesses very well and they’ve been a huge support to me; offering advice, guidance and stocking my products. We’re all doing our bit to bring the people of Norfolk (and beyond) top quality food and drink. We’re all Proudly Norfolk members; an organisation led by a group of passionate foodies. It’s great to feel part of that family.

If you think that I’m a deserved winner please vote for me here. I’m really grateful for your ongoing support and custom. Happy voting!

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chilli ‘non’ carne

VEGAN

“This veg and protein-packed chilli ‘non’ carne has real depth of flavour. A winner with any chilli lover!”

SERVES: 4   PREP TIME: 10 MINS   COOKING TIME: 1HR

Ingredients

1 pot of baked beans with benefits

1 tblsp oil

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 pepper, chopped

125g mushrooms, chopped

265g tin cooked lentils

½ tsp ground cumin

1 level tsp smoked paprika

1 level tsp chilli powder

400g tin chopped tomatoes

1 tblsp tamari soya sauce

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion, garlic, peppers and mushrooms. Saute gently for 5 mins.
  2. Add the cumin, paprika and chilli powder. Cook for a further 1-2 mins.
  3. Add the pot of baked beans with benefits, lentils, tomatoes and soya sauce. Season with salt & pepper.
  4. Bring to a simmer then cover with a lid. Reduce the heat and cook gently for 1 hour.
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minestrone soup



VEGAN

“This soup is super tasty! It’s so easy to make. I use aromatic peas with perks as a base. You just add a load of other veg and let it slowly simmer away while you get on with something else. Add whatever vegetables you like and use frozen veg to make it even speedier. My children love this and always ask for seconds. Serve with hunks of good bread and dive in.”

SERVES: 6-8   PREP TIME: 15 MINS   COOKING TIME: 1 HOUR

Ingredients

pot of aromatic peas with perks

1 tblsp oil

1 leek, cut into quarters and finely sliced

1 onion, chopped

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 carrots, cut into small cubes

1 tin chopped tomatoes

2 tsp dried italian herbs

1 litre veg stock (I use vegan and gluten free)

1 courgette, cut into small cubes

50g spaghetti, broken into small pieces

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan.
  2. Add the onion, leek, carrots, celery and garlic. Saute gently for 5 mins.
  3. Add tomatoes, aromatic peas, herbs & stock. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 45 mins.
  4. Add the courgette and broken spaghetti. Cook for a further 15 mins.



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Feeding time at the zoo…

I love being a Mum. I came to parenthood relatively late in life but it wasn’t without trying. The whole process involved lots of heartache so I’m truly thankful every day for my boys’ existence. It’s not easy though; being a parent or carer comes with its challenges. Feeding my children is one of those parental responsibilities that I take very seriously. Sometimes it’s a joy and at other times (when I’m busy and my children are tired and irritable) it feels like feeding time at the zoo. However busy I am the priority is to give them something tasty and nourishing to fuel their little bodies and minds. That’s how bace began because I don’t always have the time to cook from scratch but want to ensure that my children are getting plenty of veg in their diet.

When you think about 5-A-Day experts say that balance should be more in favour of vegetables. 5 is the minimum guideline so we aim higher! These are my tips for smashing your 5-A-Day and making mealtimes an enjoyable experience.

I always serve some chopped raw veg and salad with dinner. Children tend to love batons of carrot, cucumber and celery plus avocado and tomatoes. You could even serve this before their main meal while they’re waiting for it to come to the table. Get them involved in the kitchen chopping the veg if they’re old enough and capable. They’ll need supervision! Take them to your local farm shop so they can choose their own vegetables.

Go for sharing-style meals. It’s much more convivial and less daunting for children. They don’t like their plates piled high with food. Being allowed the freedom to choose what they want to put on their plate gives them some responsibility. You may need to direct them slightly! My children love Mexican style meals with tortilla wraps, beans, cooked chicken or halloumi cheese, salads, rice etc. They love the whole theatre of it! I tend to serve most of my meals in this way. I’ll even take a pot of chilli to the table with the rice so that I can dish up small amounts of chilli and they help themselves to rice and salad. You can always have seconds.

Serve sides in small individual ramekin dishes. This might sounds crazy but bear with me. I serve coleslaw in this way to my children and they gobble it up. Guarantee that if I put a spoonful of coleslaw on their plate they’d leave it or just push it around. You could do the same with portions of peas and sweetcorn and give them a teaspoon. We call this Norwich City veg due to the colour combo. Children can be mysterious little creatures at times.

I remember Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s speaking some years ago about encouraging children to eat vegetables. He said that children will eat any veg if it’s coated in garlic butter. It’s got to be worth a try and much healthier than a pile of dough balls and garlic butter. Chat about where the vegetables were grown and show them on a map if the veg have come from more exotic climes.

My children love any kind of soup. It’s a great way of getting them to eat a pile of veg in one sitting. I either chop the veg really small or puree it once it’s cooked. Sometimes I puree half of the soup and leave the other half chunky. Either way they’ll devour soup and really enjoy dipping hunks of bread into it. The secret to a tasty soup is a good stock and always start it off with some onion, carrot and garlic in oil. Saute gently for 10 mins before adding more veg such as sweet potato, butternut squash, leeks, swede etc. Lentils and beans bulk it out and make it into more of a meal. Remember that pulses count as one of your 5-A-Day.

And finally, I aim to make meal times an occasion; it should be an opportunity to sit down at a table, without any distractions of TV or tech. Eating together as a family isn’t always possible but we make the effort to do it as much as possible. We play our favourite music and everyone has a chance to chat about their day. It’s a good way to check in with everyone. Pure bliss.

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Keeping it simple

Did you know that you can just heat and serve bace as a topping? It’s so perfectly simple! What could be easier? Just pile on top of toast, sourdough, muffins, crumpets, flat breads, pancakes, rice, quinoa and more. One of our favourite family meals is baked beans with benefits on toasted sourdough with poached eggs on top. The kids love it. Add some avocado or spinach and it’s a full on super-food bonanza!

I adore bread and in particular sourdough. Why not search out some fabulous artisan sourdough such as that made by the Pye Baker? As well as having a bakery in Norwich he pops up at different farmer’s markets throughout the county. This is my favourite way of eating sourdough. Cut a large slice. Toast or griddle lightly on both sides. Cut a clove of garlic and rub over the warmed toast. I then add popping peas with perks and some crumbled local blue cheese. Simple and delicious.

I lead a busy life so I don’t always have the time to prepare meals from scratch. When I’m in a hurry I grab a pot of aromatic peas with perks and a pouch of mixed grains. Heat the two and add a side of sliced red onion, chopped coriander, a drizzle of oil and a splash of red wine vinegar. This will easily feed two hungry adults (or hangry in my case as I’m grumpy if not fed quickly!

Now let’s talk garnishes – once you’ve piled on your favourite bace topping how about adding a drizzle of flavoured oil? There’s some great Norfolk rapeseed oil producers infusing with anything from smoked chipotle chilli to garlic & rosemary & dill. How about some toasted seeds from Suffolk based Munchy Seeds? The seeds have got a really tasty savoury flavour and they’re a fab source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Maybe you could crumble on some local cheese or crisp up some good quality bacon and sprinkle on. Then there’s chilli sauce – my Husband is a big fan of chilli. It’s not an understatement to say he puts it on everything (except his morning porridge). Check out Rocket Ship sauces and Chillis Galore.

If I’m going to add a side salad I like something crunchy. Half moons of red onion, finely sliced red cabbage, grated carrot, chopped celery and maybe some herbs – mint, parsley, coriander and dressed with a simple combo of good oil and cider apple vinegar. My children love a salad I call sunshine salad – chopped tomato, cucumber, red onion, yellow pepper and avocado. Now we’re packing in even more of our 5-A-Day.

I love cooking with grains. If I’m cooking rice or bulgar wheat I like to add a handful of quinoa to the mix. Quinoa is gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. It is also high in fibre, magnesium, B vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus,vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants.

Make your life a little easier, just keep it simple. Meals don’t have to be complicated. All you need is a pot of bace and a few store cupboard staples and you too can make mealtimes a breeze!

If you want to find out more about my bace products then take a look at our online shop and get 10% of your first order using the discount code INTRO10%.

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January – how was it for you?

Well, we’ve done it! We’ve reached the end of January. The nights are pulling out and I can see bulb shoots poking their heads through the frosty ground.

How did you get through January? Did you abstain from alcohol or try Veganuary? I took my own route and committed to eating pulses (that’s dried beans, peas and lentils) every day of the month. I completed the challenge. Check out my Instagram account @bacefoods to see 31 different meals using pulses (recipes included).

I used my own products on some days to make quick and tasty meals and on other days I searched out new recipes using different pulses. I’ve eaten curries, salads, tortillas, soups, dals, quesadillas and more. I’ve really enjoyed the variety! At no point did I feel hungry because pulses really do fill you up! How do I feel? Pretty good for this time of year. I’m full of energy in fact. My skin is clear, my digestion is in good order (I’m regular as clockwork if you catch my drift!) and I’m not sporting a post-Christmas muffin top. This is a total relief because I’ll be squeezing myself into a little black number next Tuesday evening for an awards night. bace has been shortlisted for an “innovation in food & drink” award. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

I’ve barely eaten any meat this month. I didn’t set out to avoid meat but it’s just worked out that way. My plates have been piled high with veg, beans, peas and lentils. The whole family have joined it too. I like to think that we’re all doing our bit for the planet. Pulses are a sustainable crop. They can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they’re a water-efficient crop and improve soil health. They’re also good for our health as an affordable source of protein, fibre and other essential nutrients and can help with the maintenance and prevention of diet-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

If you can’t quite embrace a full-on “pulse feast” why not throw some lentils (along with meat) into your next chilli con carne or ragu sauce? They’re cheap and a great source of protein and fibre. Better still, buy some bace pots and get cooking up some easy-to-follow recipes. Check out our recipes tab. I’ve done the hard work for you! That leaves you with little chopping or prepping to do. Our pea and bean pots are not just time saving; they add great depth of flavour and extra veg to lots of your regular recipes.

So what will February bring? I’m going to be focusing on quick & easy family-friendly meals. Given the new #vegpower campaign I’ll be showing you how to pack those veg in at meal times. Please share how you’ve been cooking with bace – post your photos and tell us what you think! I love to hear about what you’re doing with your pots of bace.