Feb 142013

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

Another week passes in Aberdeen; Jamie Oliver’s new Italian restaurant had its first tasting sessions, and bookings extend way into the future. I feel kind of badly that no one told the poor guy we were ‘closed for business’, having rejected the Granite Web.

Then again, since 6,000 people will be in the promised jobs created by Donald Trump, this will mean we need more restaurants, too. Since the government said it, it must be true.

Our city council has put forward a plan to spend £56 million and improve our city centre and our roads.

To think – we could have spent only £84 million more, forgotten about fixing the few potholes we have, and built a granite web instead. Sophisticated culture-seekers would forget Venice, Paris and Rome to come walk up one side of the web and down the other.

I did say I’d be pleased to stop writing about the web, but its supporters, realising their vision is the only vision, are still using their influence to float this idea.  They are going to flog this dead horse a while longer it seems.

Flogging dead horses is something which has been going on in Europe for some time as far as our meat is concerned anyway. Which leads to some definitions for the week

Labelling problem (modern European Union compound noun) – a minor, unimportant event where something has had the incorrect label put on it.

Thinking of dead horses, I wouldn’t worry too much about eating horse meat. Sure, you may have been paying through the nose for beef, or perhaps you’re buying budget ready meals for you and your family. Meat is meat of course. Except for the small fact you’ve probably been cheated and lied to so someone could make a profit at your expense.

Just because meat packing companies were lying about what the meat actually was, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they’d mislead us over anything else, does it?   Some people might care about hygiene, animal welfare issues including transport, but I’m sure everything’s fine on that score. You can bet on it (and you could probably have bet on that hamburger you’re tucking into when it was alive).

Don’t worry about anything to do with your health and diet; the European Union are having a meeting or two on the horse meat issue. Result! I’ll bet you feel better already.  First and foremost, they’ve decided they were in no way at fault in this situation. I’m sure we agree.  I for one would hate to nag my MEP over this issue, or saddle him with any other worries.

EU agricultural regulations might just be a tad complicated, and might be enforced differently from one country to the next (or not enforced at all), but it’s nothing to do with our lawmakers, their abattoir inspectors, their agricultural policies, etc. According to news website EU business, the EU Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent reassuringly said at a news conference on the possibility of a British ban on EU meat exports:-

“We’re not talking about a food safety issue.   Nobody got sick as far as I know. It’s just a labelling issue. So at this stage a ban on anything would not be appropriate.”

The Commission itself could only legally take action if there was proof of a health issue, he added.

Old Susannah is so happy to learn no one got sick.  Guess that’s the end of the food worry.

I’m sure it’s unimportant, but if you’re interested, some of the drugs we give horses to treat ailments such as inflammation  include ‘Bute’ – a medicine which arguably is linked to cancer in humans. But no worries.  ‘No one got sick.’

If a person did come in contact with cancerous materials, they’d instantly ‘get sick.’ Thankfully we have great scientific minds at work in the EU and not just politicians trying to worm their way out of tough situations via damage-limitation exercises in spin.

We’ve established that a person might not be instantly physically sick just from eating horse (which is a staple meat in many places – so much so it makes me wonder why the EU spokesperson had to say ‘no one got sick’).  I’m sure this little misadventure in mis-labelling  will be totally comical to the thousands of horse-lovers who’ll find out they’ve eaten horse meat when thinking they were eating something else.

The EU’s Muslim population will likewise be delighted to find that pork might have contaminated their food, too. Perhaps we’ll have a new brand of horse steak ‘I can’t believe it’s not burger!’

we can’t have countries just going around deciding what they’re going to do on their own, can we?

Sadly, there are those who don’t take the EU’s word at face value for some reason or other.  Damian Carrington of the Guardian has written an article asserting that EU policy change was responsible in part for this situation.  He’s found a few so-called experts (like some guy Dr Mark Woolfe, head of food authenticity at the FSA)  to back this position up.

Since the Guardian is a left wing paper which actually criticises national and EU government initiatives, you can forget about Carrington’s piece (which is here in case you are interested – http://www.guardian.horsemeat-scandal ).

But why is the EU so keen to insist no one’s got sick?  This is what they said about any import bans:-

Owen Paterson, the British environment secretary… ruled out restrictions on imports of European meat into Britain, saying that such measures could be considered only if food safety issues were involved.

“’This appears to be an issue of fraud and mislabelling’” Mr. Paterson said.”

Yes, no health issues, just labelling.  Only the worst kind of cynic would think that the EU was more interested in politics, power, damage limitation (or heaven forbid money) than our health. Furthermore, we can’t have countries just going around deciding what they’re going to do on their own, can we?  Where would we be then?  If only there was something in place to give farmers a fair, just and reasonable financial aid…

Common Agricultural Policy (modern EU compound Proper noun) an European Union system by which farmers and agricultural land holders are given a subsidy.

Perhaps if we were only willing to contribute some small amount of money to farming in the EU, things like this wouldn’t happen. Here is a quote which may be of interest on that score:-

“The CAP cost British consumers £6.7bn in 1998 and taxpayers footed a further £3.4bn to fund the scheme. The total was equivalent to £3.30 per person per week in Britain, or £250 per year for every man, woman and child.” – Elliott Morley, Agriculture Minister, 1999

Ah the old days of the 1990s, when there was hardly any money to go around.

I guess we’d better up the subsidies or we might wind up with more ‘labelling problems’ (which are of course not serious or anything to worry about).  You might think this level of subsidies was quite a (horse) gravy train, but you’d be wrong.  In fact, a website tells you a bit more about the value for money we get from CAP http://farmsubsidy.org/news/features/2012-data-harvest/ .

I must say, the figures we’re talking about start to make the granite web’s cost look as inconsequential as the web itself looked.

I’m sure every CAP penny is fully accounted for and only spent on practical necessities (although the Guardian would have you believe differently guardian-budget-battle-brussels ).  Just because the EU has issues with creating a complete, transparent set of accounts which can be successfully audited, approved and published, doesn’t mean anything’s amiss.

Finally, lots of the blame seems to be falling on Romania, where this type of food labelling might or might not have started.  The Romanians quite rightly threatened to veto the new EU budget; it seems they were unhappy with a few things including their CAP.  I guess this threatened veto and its implication in the ‘labelling’ problem might answer the question posed by Monty Python: ‘What did the Romanians ever do for us?”  (Just don’t mention the Price Wars).

Supermarket Price Wars (Modern English compound noun)

I’m sure it’s completely unrelated to the way EU policy is implemented in the UK, but supermarkets put a tiny bit of pressure on farmers to get the most produce for the least money.  You would think CAP subsidies would make up for any low profit margins.

CAP subsidies are easy enough to get in the UK – there is hardly any paperwork (if you’re an accountant and EU law expert); there is no bureaucracy (e.g. most animals need 3 ear tags for openers or farmers are fined) , and our government always pays EU subsidies to farmers accurately and quickly (except for that time we got fined a few million by the EU for making farmers wait months for their subsidies).

Back to the supermarket issues.  We all know that petrol prices, rail freight, taxes and so on have had tiny increases.  This has made farmers costs go up like everyone else’s have.  Are they getting more money from the big chains to cover their costs?  Not so much.  Our benevolent supermarket chains strive to keep customers happy.

Someone’s profit margins have to go down for the prices to stay low, and it’s certainly not going to be the supermarket’s

This is not because they want to gain as much of the market share for the grocery sector as possible; nor because they want to make it so small competitors don’t stand a chance.  It’s because they genuinely like us all, and want to give us as much stuff as cheaply as possible.  And that’s where the farmer happily plays his part.

The supermarket price wars are the never-ending battle between the giant chains to keep their prices as low as possible.  Result!  Farmers might get just a little bit squeezed.  Someone’s profit margins have to go down for the prices to stay low, and it’s certainly not going to be the supermarket’s profits that get cut.

Has a farmer grown carrots which are not all identical in size and shape?  He or she will have to get rid of the bad ones, and only get paid for the perfect looking ones.  Farmers should be grateful big chains buy their produce at all.

Where does animal welfare fit into the supermarket price wars?  Your customers who care about how animals in the food chain are treated when alive and/or who can afford to pay for better looked after animals will buy free range, organic chickens.  Those on a budget will find there’s budget meat for you.  Just don’t expect the animals have had a great life in the outdoors on the farm.  And as we now know, don’t even expect the animal meat you buy is the meat you think you’re buying.

Maybe it’s time we started buying food from local producers directly.  Maybe it’s time we stopped insisting our vegetables should all be perfectly formed.  Maybe we should make animal welfare a priority, and stop shipping live animals around the country (and the world).

Or maybe we should just sit back, have a frozen shepherd’s pie or two, and wait for the EU to make it all better.  Eventually.

Are you really so hungry you could eat a horse?

If perhaps you would rather ‘aid a horse’ ….. read on.

Some people have this crazy notion that horses are animals that work all of their lives, and deserve to be treated with more dignity than to be sold off as burgers when they age.

One such place is the Bransby Home of Rest for Horses, Mountains Animal Sanctuary (which had some of its Christmas donations stolen and its premises vandalised ) – and of course locally we have Willows, which is inundated with abandoned horses and ponies.

These and similar organisations get just a little bit less than are doled out in EU CAP subsidies.  If you can spare some time or money, you could do worse than making a donation to an animal welfare charity of your choice.

 Next week:  a look at the exciting new plans for golf course No. 2 for the lucky Menie residents, a look at Aberdeen city’s plans, and for me, a look at my vegetarian cookbooks.

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Feb 142013

After the revelations about problems in the food chain, vegetarians are probably feeling a bit smug; those folk who for religious reasons avoid certain types meat will be feeling quite concerned, and investors in food testing labs will be rubbing their dividends with some glee! Duncan Harley writes.

FrayBentosThere is of course nothing new here.

Throughout history products such as milk and sugar, coffee and tea, mustard and ketchup, baking powder, butter, cheese, flour, olive oil, honey, spices, vinegar, beef, pork, lard, beer, wine and canned vegetables have been subject to adulteration on a regular basis in the developed world.

Driven by the profit motive, manufacturers and distributors are prone to dupe unsuspecting customers by bulking out foodstuffs with cheap substitutes.

The old stories about sawdust in bread, chalk in baking powder and the adulteration of beer with water all have some basis in truth. A recent case in China involved the adulteration of milk with melamine. After a brief trial in 2008, two executives of the company concerned were sentenced to death and shot.

In 2012, a study in India conducted by the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) across 33 states found that milk in India is adulterated with detergent, fat and even urea, as well diluted with water. At the turn of the 20th century, industrialization in the United States saw an uprise in adulteration and this inspired some protest.

Accounts of adulteration led the New York Evening Post to parody:

Mary had a little lamb,
And when she saw it sicken,
She shipped it off to Packingtown,
And now it’s labelled chicken

Back in the 18th century, people recognized adulteration in food.

“The bread I eat in London is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum and bone ashes, insipid to the taste and destructive to the constitution. The good people are not ignorant of this adulteration; but they prefer it to wholesome bread, because it is whiter than the meal of corn [wheat].

“Thus they sacrifice their taste and their health. . . to a most absurd gratification of a misjudged eye; and the miller or the baker is obliged to poison them and their families, in order to live by his profession.” – Tobias Smollet, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771)

There have been recent warnings that all might not be quite right within the UK meat supply chain. The Food Standards Agency published a report in 2003 entitled “Survey of Undeclared Horsemeat or Donkey meat in Salami and Salami-Type Products”.

Horsemeat2The results from a range of outlets, including supermarkets, independent retailers, catering suppliers and independent butchers indicated were seemingly inconclusive in that only one result showed horse meat in food.This was at the time put down to cross contamination at a French food plant named as “Busso Freres”.

The company promised to introduce additional quality controls to prevent the “mixing or cross contamination of meat species”.

Between September 2006 and September 2009 a Ravenscorpe firm ran a £200,000 food scam on fake halal meat.

There have also been countless instances of so called “organic” foods and “free range eggs” being found to be fake in the UK.

Now I have no problem eating food which is honestly made and honestly labelled. A quick search of my food cupboard reveals a well known brand of tinned pie which I, perhaps unwisely, purchased in my local pound shop since it seemed too good a bargain to miss.

The first two ingredients are listed as “water 30%” and “beef 25%”.

I have wine in the house which will have been clarified using “bulls blood” and beer in my fridge which has been fined using “Isinglass” which is of course a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. I have on one occasion eaten horsemeat and probably had donkey meat in a Cretan restaurant on a few occasions.

It appears to me however that food regulation has to a great degree been outsourced to suppliers and manufactures quite far down the food processing chain. The end user has little control of the food content beyond either refusing to buy or simply trusting the description on the packaging.

The high street shops and supermarkets seem to be hampered by too many processes along the way making it difficult to track the origin and up until now the content of the foodstuffs they sell to us.

cows beef2Like the banking industry before it, the food industry has betrayed its customers. At what point from the slaughterhouse did the cow become a horse? The bigger question is why no-one is checking.

It’s a bit late now checking samples to find it’s all horse. As consumers we have the right to have our food labelled properly, what’s in it, if a ‘natural ingredient’ is actually some animal gland secretions or if chemically treated  then what with?

This way we can make an informed choice as to what we eat and feed to our families. As vegans say “a horse is a cow is a sheep”. Perhaps we could all get back to home cooking, to be more aware of the ‘crap’ we can avoid, and to choose a healthier option whatever our diet – meat, veggie, vegan etc.

After reviewing the FSA’s response to this and the 2003 salami scandal, I am not sure there is much hope of a government that wants us to be healthy!

Horse meat is around 25% of the cost of beef.

Nov 302012

With thanks to Jenny Oelman.

Aberdeen Sports Village with the support of Hydrasun have a variety of children’s sports clubs and activities, both recreational and competitive.

These will result in more children being active and help Aberdeen produce some future star athletes.

The Sports Village needs your help to contribute in making a snack or meal recipe that will give our young athletes the food they need to compete and be generally active.

A selection of the recipes will be specially selected to feature in their very own book, which will then be sold to schools and the general public.

The two overall winners in each category of primary and secondary aged children will each win a mountain bike.

The competition is open to schoolchildren from P1 to S6.

The closing date for entries is 20th December 2012.

  • Your recipe must have a name or title
  • Aberdeen Sports Village reserves the right to modify the recipe.
  • Mountain bikes will be awarded to one primary aged winner and one secondary aged winner.
  • A number of recipes will be selected to feature in an Aberdeen Sports Village recipe book.
  • Recipes do not have to be original.

Contact Aberdeen Sports Village Linksfield Road, Aberdeen AB24 5RU.

Tel: 01224 438900
Email: info@aberdeensportsvillage.com

May 242012

By Suzanne Kelly.

Some months back I had a chance to take a full day course at the Nick Nairn Cookery School, but I never got my schedule straightened out in time to sign up.

Instead, I found time for ‘Quick Cook: Classic Crepes’ – a two hour lunchtime course.

I am not the most easily pleased person, but I can truly say this course was everything it should have been – instructive, enjoyable, hands-on, perfectly structured, and the results were delicious.

I already knew how to make crepes decently – so I thought.  Louise’s techniques (different and clearly superior to my usual style) were demonstrated with enthusiasm and clarity.

We were all flipping crepes and turning out beautiful, perfect golden specimens by the time Louise was done with us.  The other students were clearly having fun, and one woman was profusely thanking her friend for taking her there as a gift.  And that was even before we tasted our handiwork.  The immaculate, state-of-the-art cooking area and dining bar were a joy to work and eat in.

The savoury crepe we were making was to be filled with a smoked haddock and cheddar sauce with herbs.  I decided to taste some of the herbs before adding – and I’ve never had better except perhaps from my garden.  Louise explained what to avoid when buying smoked haddock (ie artificially coloured fish which often has other additives) – what we had ingredient-wise was the best you’d be able to get – I wish I could remember where in Scotland the cheddar was from.

As we sat down to eat the crepes we’d created (garnished with rocket), Louise demonstrated how to do Crepe Suzette.  This dish may be retro to some, but I personally love it, and it is apparently gaining in popularity.

There was no time for us to make the dish ourselves – but with the skills we had learned and what was demonstrated, we will all be able to replicate it at home. Suffice it to say that the Crepe Suzette she served the students was better than any I’d ever made, or that I’d ever been served.  (I make my own variation which I call ‘Crepe Suzanne’ with Jack Daniel’s – and I’ll be trying that very soon with my new skills).
I’d learnt a better way to cut and dice, a faster and more successful way to make white sauce, and I’ve taken away a dozen other hints and tips.

Don’t bother trying to get on the next crepe course – it’s already sold out.  But whatever your level of cooking or your specific culinary interest, there is a course for you.  I’ll be on the next full day Nick Nairn course I can get on.

Eleven out of ten.  This is a win for Aberdeen, and I wish the school every success.

May 172012

By Suzanne Kelly.

Nick Nairn’s long-awaited Aberdeen Cook School, which opened its doors on 9th May, caters to a demand from would-be cooks from across the country.  The £500,000 project is providing further jobs and a tourism boost to the north-east of Scotland.
The new Aberdeen Cook School has been a passionate desire of Nick’s for several years and is located in a stunning listed building – formerly St Nicholas Kirk’s old church hall in the city centre – which has been transformed into two separate state-of-the-art foodie havens.

Work on the building has been carefully designed to enhance original features such as the carved mouldings and stained glass windows, alongside striking stainless steel and white kitchen areas, designed by Kitchens International.

The new cook school follows on from the success of the Nick Nairn Cook School in Port of Menteith, near Stirling, and Nick explains:

“We have a disproportionate number of people coming to our existing school from the north-east, so an Aberdeen school seemed a natural progression.  Also, the north-east is a farming community and some of the finest produce comes from here.

We have found that cooking enthusiasts from this area are passionate about developing their skills and particularly enjoy entertaining at home.  They can commit time to learning due to their working patterns and disposable incomes.”

Nick will also be trialling a brand new venture in the new cook school, with after-work and lunchtime classes at its Quick Cook Bar.  This is a new urban concept where participants can cook, learn and eat in two hours, picking up invaluable tuition from basic knife skills to creating culinary masterpieces.

Nick said:

“ It will be perfect for people who work during the day.  You can pop in after work or do it over a long lunch-break.  It’s also an affordable place for students to come along and learn to cook for themselves.”

The Aberdeen Cook School is employing 10 people, as well as two well-known chefs heading up Nick’s team.

Head chef Kenny Smart, who joins from the prestigious 1906 restaurant at His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen, will run the large teaching kitchen upstairs.  The Quick Cook Bar area downstairs will be overseen by Louise Chapman, previously restaurant co-ordinator for the hugely successful Taste Festivals.

Nick will also teach classes on dedicated days, as well as the cook school’s established chef John Webber.  John brings more than three decades of knowledge and experience, having trained with Anton Eddelman and Anton Mossiman before being awarded his own Michelin accolades in the country house hotels he previously worked in prior to joining forces with Nick twelve years ago.

While full-day classes for 24 people will be held upstairs at the Aberdeen Cook School, the ground floor level will also feature a cook shop, selling essential kitchen kit from a £5 heatproof spatula to a £3,000 Falcon range cooker – and gadgets that gather absolutely no dust.

The new Nick Nairn Aberdeen Cook School also makes an exceptional private hire venue with bespoke options – including Nick himself – being available.  Various gift cards are available for classes as unique, thoughtful presents.

Aberdeen classes start from Sunday 20th May and can be booked now via www.nicknairncookschool.com or by calling 01877 389 900.

Apr 192012

Voice’s David Innes has been taking part in this 12-week programme designed to help men of more ample proportions become, shall we say, less ample and develop good eating and exercise habits.

As we completed a hugely enjoyable and informative programme of information and encouragement with a game of football played at a sedate pace, everyone who had participated agreed that it had been worthwhile.

Yet, as our diligent coaches Scott and Jason informed us, the hard work goes on.

Good practice learned on food intake and exercise will need to be continued if further weight loss and improved fitness are our goals. That will be all the tougher without the weekly session where mutual motivation, support and enjoyment have helped participants succeed to a great extent.

Although the numbers and results are confidential to each participant, here are the dull statistics from my own participation

  • Starting weight on 7 February 92.7kg.
  • Weight on 17 April 84.1kg.
  • A weight loss of 8.6kg, or in real money of nearly 19 pounds.
  • My average daily step count measured by pedometer over 11 weeks was 12167 steps.

I can cover a mile in roughly 2000 steps, so I’ve been walking around six miles per day average. The single most strenuous day saw me achieve 24600 steps, the least successful day – it was raining and I was metaphorically gaffa-taped to my desk, give a boy a break – had me walking for only 3068 steps. Overall, my boots hit the good hard earth 904687 times. I now read food labels.

I am no longer taken in by manufacturer claims of ‘healthy options’, ‘low-fat’, ‘reduced calorie’ and a raft of other marketing slogans, where the less-scrupulous have replaced something in unhealthy proportions with something else, equally unhealthy.

Walking, or cycling on days when the elements don’t conspire against it, is something I now enjoy. It has been fascinating seeing Spring emerge along the Don as I have trod its paths. Something doesn’t seem quite right if I haven’t covered 10000 steps in a day, so I’ll pull on my Keith FC toorie, set the iPod to ‘shuffle’ and pound the mean streets of the ‘hood.

Usually I manage to get home. I don’t even consider taking the bus into town any more. It’s less than four miles and I want to see the house martins return to the old Grandholm Mill as I amble through it.

My knowledge of local paths and shortcuts has improved no end and I can now stride confidently up inclines without getting out of breath or feeling as if someone is tightening a tourniquet around my calves.

No surprise when I’m no longer carrying 19 lb of fat that used to hold me back.

I feel better. My clothes fit better although, alas, they are no more fashionable than they were.

Striding out, with only Rory Gallagher for aural accompaniment, also allows time to contemplate the great imponderables of life – should Stillie push Stuart Walker into midfield for this week’s semi-final against Buckie Thistle? Who is that singing marvellous gospel harmonies behind Mick Jagger? (Merry Clayton, obviously). Will that bloody delivery come in tomorrow to get that customer off our backs? All resolved by the time I’m enjoying a post-exercise flapjack.

It is my intention to continue with this new lifestyle. Maybe I won’t lose more weight, perhaps I won’t make the squad for the Commonwealth Games two years hence, but I should be able to take on The Speyside Way this summer with confidence, cycle to work every day if I feel like it and continue to feel as healthy as I do now.

If you see me striding out through the northern banlieu or rocketing along King Street in 18th gear, say hello – if you still recognise me.