Archive | November, 2012

Grasmere Gingerbread: Another Romantic Notion?

30 Nov
by Deanne

As a child Sarah Kemp knew poverty, and her widowed mother was only too thankful to get her daughter into service with the local gentry. But Sarah was a diligent young woman and she soon reached the height of her profession as a cook.

In 1844 she married Wilfred Nelson of Morland near Penrith, but marriage didn’t solve any problems for Sarah. Wilfred worked as a farm labourer and part-time grave digger, but he was unable to earn enough to support his wife and two children. Sarah worked hard taking in washing and making cakes and pastries for Lady Farquhar, in her home at Dale Lodge in Grasmere.*

When traveling I collect more stories than trinkets. I found the above story on our last day in the dreamy and romantic Lake District. We went to Grasmere, which is probably most known as the home of the William Wordsworth. He is a poet famous for launching what is considered to be the romantic age of English literature. We walked around St. Oswald’s Church, the churchyard of which contains the Wordsworth family graves.Logo for Grasmere Gingerbread

Unexpectedly, just around the corner I became enchanted by a little shop now called Grasmere Gingerbread Shop.* There I collected the story of Sarah Nelson who had a typically hard life in service as a domestic.  (If you are a Downtown Abbey fan, think of the life of Daisy who was in service about a century later than Sarah.)

Sarah won the appreciation of Victorian tourists when she stepped out and established herself as a baker and confectioner in a former school building. Her secret recipe for gingerbread was locked away and sold to another generation. Image from website of Sarah's Kitchen

Being in this space, it was easy to imagine Sarah, in her white apron, sitting outside to sell her treats to the passing tourists in the mid to late 1800’s.

If you are curious to know more you can check out this video and learn how sugar and spice, imports from far off lands came to Grasmere during Sarah’s lifetime and shaped her work.

Do you think I am romanticizing England and small business?  Probably, but I tend to be a dreamer and on vacation in what appeared to be an idyllic setting. 

Back at my computer, when I prepared to write this post I had a reality check about how business can go wrong.  No this doesn’t mean I am against business. However, I am realistic about how we humans can get attached to being right and forget the other important virtues like fair-mindedness. If you want to understand what I mean, check out this article I found about a man who also tried to sell Grasmere Gingerbread.

What about you, have you ever heard of Grasmere’s Gingerbread Wars?  (This a post I found that helped me understand the context for the sad article posted above.)

Watch for our next post to find out what this silly American learned about Yorkshire Tea.

*The graphics and quotes in this post are linked to their source at Grasmere Gingerbread Shop’s website.

Romantic Notions of England: The Lake District

28 Nov
by Deanne

Like many American women, I had romantic notions about England.  After a delightful first day at a farm shop, we found ourselves spending the next three days surrounded by fells for walking, sheep for observing, and stone fences in every direction. For those who haven’t experienced a fell, it is another word for a mountain. 

If you go fell waking, you will no doubt need a pair of wellies.  A bit hard to find in the US, but wellies are ubiquitous in UK shops.  Check out this blogger for her post on posh wellies. If I had to do it again I’d get a pair of cute wellies from an English shop instead of my clunky pair that I bought before I left. ;)A photo of Littletown Farm

Thanks to Francine, who found this gem.  We stayed at Littletown Farm Guest House in Newlands Valley. There is a lot to say about the fantastic hospitality we received the three nights we stayed with Rob and Sarah as our hosts. The food was excellent with farm fresh eggs in our full English breakfasts prepared by Sarah. Rob was beyond kind in addressing our questions and taking care to make sure we had a great stay.

Littletown Farm is a working farm amongst other working farms.  While walking one morning we saw some curious creatures in a neighboring pasture (see photo below).  The looked like pigs but are really sheep. Rob told us they are called Texel .  With a little research, we found that they are known to have hardy and aggressive little lambs and are a meat breed vs. a wool breed.

Photo of Texel Sheep near Littletown Farm

Rob recommended a trip to a local slate mine. The mine is called Honister Slate Mine and the trip up the mountain with a glacial valley spreading out behind us was beautiful.  Below is a fun picture of Francine opening a gate on our way up the road.

Photo of Gate in the Lake District

In the gift shop I purchased a book about the mine and enjoyed an inspiring story of a Mark Weir who had a dream to bring this location back to life.  I felt an affinity for his story because the local town people thought he was crazy for trying to make the deserted mine site a tourist destination. His story has a bittersweet ending because he died in a helicopter crash in March of 2011.  From the tributes on Honister’s website, it sounds like he lived a life full of hard work, passion and gusto.Photo of Glacial Valley in Lake District

If you are one of those people who romantically dream about the England of green hills and stone fenced pastures, you simply must visit the Lake District.  Watch for my next post about another kind of Lake District entrepreneur and a gritty reality behind the facade of romance.

A BIG THANKS to Luke Bryce for all the pictures (except the sheep picture, that one was taken with my tablet on an early morning walk).

We Break For Farm Shops

25 Nov
by DeannePhoto of Wall Quote at Farm Shop

Remember when we first heard about farm shops?   Francine wrote about the Village Greens Farm Shop in June.  My first visit to a real UK style Farm Shop and Tea Room was on day one of our 13 day trip to visit her earlier this month.

Steve and I arrived in Edinburgh on a Tuesday morning and Francine, Scott, and Luke  met us at the airport.  After a quick visit to the dramatic Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park, they drove us 17 miles south to Whitmuir Farm. Photo One of Whitmuir Farms

We loved eating a wholesome meal in their organic restaurant and tea room and then we bundled up for a self-guided tour of the farm. Photo of Farm Shop Produce  It didn’t take long to get a little Scotland mud on shoes.

After a wander around the farm we shopped in the store and settled back into the tea room for a pudding with another round of tea before we started our drive to our bed and breakfast. For those who live in the US, a pudding is more than just the smooth creamy stuff we eat.  It is more like a rich baked dessert.

The next farm shop we found was on day four of our trip.  We discovered  it as we were driving toward Barnard Castle just outside of the Yorkshire Dales park. 

Photo of Sheep on a Roof

Scott, being an agile driver, quickly turned the car around so we could check to see if we really did see sheep on a roof. The sheep were on the green roof of  Cross Lanes Organic Farm.  They also had a cafe but unfortunately we weren’t hungry yet.  So we just purchased a few items in the store and took lots of pictures.

Photo of Cross Lanes Organic Farm Shop

The third farm shop we visited was called Manor FarmA photo of Manor FarmSince it was Sunday we ordered roast beef dinners.  The food was outstanding and after our meal we meandered around until we found a barn.  Inside there were pigs who played a game of chase the pumpkin after an employee tossed them one.

A photo of pigs playing pumpkin

Have you ever visited a farm shop?   Each one is unique and special because they are real farms which make them even more fun to discover.   If I visit the UK again, I’d plan the whole trip around Farm Shops.

Common Roots Cafe: Minneapolis, MN

23 Nov
by Deanne

Common Roots Cafe: Minneapolis, MN

 I’ve been planning to visit Common Roots Cafe for a while so when we needed a place to eat before our recent trip to the UK, we decided to stop by for lunch.  I like what their website says about their food and anticipated a great experience.

At Common Roots Cafe we serve great food with character morning, noon, and night. Our kitchen uses local and organic ingredients to create a monthly-changing menu of innovative food made from scratch every day.

Review: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
Localness: 4

Yes, Common Roots Cafe does source their items locally and adapt the menu seasonally. They are quite sophisticated and purposeful about sourcing locally.  It is impressive that they have a chart  on their website that explains that they have sourced from 22 counties in Minnesota and supported 51 producers.

Flavour: 1

We ordered Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup, Black Bean Burger, Fennel and Apple Salad, and Sriracha Chicken Tacos.  Photo of Black Bean Burger

The description on the menu for the tacos was enticing and had us all excited: free-range pulled chicken with sriracha glaze, onion, pico de gallo and cotija on corn tortillas. When the taco plate arrived it looked wonderful.

The soup was unflattering, the burger had too big of bun which made it hard to eat, the apple salad was very good.  The chicken tacos, I am sad to say, were really bad.   The ingredients were all there but no flavor and the chicken itself actually tasted bad. Perhaps it was old.  This is really sad because these organic ingredients have so much potential to shine if the food is just prepared with care and attention to detail.  Photo of Chicken Tacos at Common Roots

Pleasant Surprise: No

We were more disappointed than pleasantly surprised.  Everything we read about the place on the website prior to our visit set us us to have high expectations.  They obviously have good intentions, but did not execute them well, at least not the day we were there.  We noticed that even though the place was busy, most people had coffee and perhaps a bagel but no one seemed to be eating from the lunch menu even though it was about 12:30 on a Monday.  This picture of the soup shows how little they care about presentation.   The butter doesn’t even look appetizing. Photo of Soup at Common Roots

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 3

There were not too many pictures of the space on the website, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  From the pictures I saw  about the space on the website, I was expecting it to be a little cold without much charm.  Even though the place was busy, I would not say it was a warm and inviting space.  The service didn’t really help our sense of comfort either.  They were not rude but they were not warm.  The tables up front by the big windows looked to be the most desirable but they were all taken when we arrived with people having coffee and working on laptops. 

Overall Rating: 8

Stopping by the Common Root Cafe as a way to send us into the world of airport food and overnight travel was overall a disappointment.  I really wanted to give them a stellar review because of what they are attempting to do in terms of sourcing food and applying sustainable practices, but sadly, expect for the salad, the food didn’t meet even our most basic expectations in terms of taste and presentation.


Common Roots Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Silk Road: Missoula, Montanta, USA

4 Nov
by Deanne

The Silk Road Restaurant—Missoula, MT

While we were on the road  in September, we tried to adhere to eating in a healthful manner.  We learned that it can be challenging when you are away from your garden or farmers market to eat whole, mostly plant based foods.  But we did find a restaurant worth sharing in our Real Local Cooking Restaurant ReviewsThe Silk Road is located on Higgins Avenue in Missoula, Montana and was a pure delight.  Once you own a restaurant, you are very hard to please so it means a lot when I say this place was wonderful.Photo of Spicy Eggplant at Silk Road

Review: (Real Local Cooking’s criteria)
Localness: 3

Photo of Gazpacho Verde at Silk Road

Yes, they do source many of their ingredients locally.  They also have a seasonal menu, but that is not what makes them great. Read on and look at the pictures and you will see what makes this tapas style restaurant worthy of  our praise.

Flavour: 5

Each and every little dish was a treat. We truly did crave many of the dishes the next day and even now looking at the pictures our taste buds get excited.  We really, really liked the Spicy Garlic Eggplant.  We have never found an eggplant dish we enjoyed this much.Photo of Skewered Beef

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

For our family, when we find a place that earns a rating of 5 on flavour, it is a pleasant surprise!  It is something we hope for every time we painstakingly research a restaurant and walk through their door.  We leave most restaurants, as you can see by our other reviews, unimpressed in the flavour catagory.

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 5

The waiter was really outgoing which set the tone for a fun evening.  The table had maps and postcards under glass and matched the eclectic nature of the menu.  We were very comfortable and found ourselves chatting with the ladies at the next table while we ate bites of our little plates.

Photo of Grilled Summer Squash at Silk Road

Overall Rating: 13+

One interesting aspect of The Silk Road is that they do sell spice combinations used in their dishes.  A  person could purchase them and then experiment in their own kitchen.  We have referred our cooking class students to this service provided by The Silk Road.  So even if you can’t visit the restaurant and you like to cook, we do recommend looking over their seasonal menu and selecting a spice blend to try a similar dish at home.

Photo of Poached Shrimp

FoodieBytes Restaurant Deals, Menu and Reviews

The Silk Road on Urbanspoon

Bye Bye Blueberries

2 Nov
by Deanne

We’ve been reading story after story about how eating whole, mostly plant based foods has helped people heal their bodies in remarkable ways.  That is why Steve and I decided to start a business that is focused on teaching people about cooking with real food ingredients and creating a few products with ingredients that stand out so people can easily decide whether or not they want to eat them because of allergies or food intolerance.Photo of Blueberries from Focus 28 Diet website

Yogurt,milk, blueberries, green peppers, ginger, black pepper, and sesame seeds are a few of the “good for you foods” that I recently discovered could be triggering my immune system and causing troublesome symptoms. 

Lately I have been eating a lot of blueberries because my favorite brain doctor guru Dr. Amen, writes that they were good for the brain.   In fact, blueberries usually head the list of superfoods.

So, learning that blueberries and the other foods mentioned  above could be the source of some of my symptoms is a big a head scratcher.  Unfortunately the message that my little brain can handle is :  There are good foods and bad foods, but I’m learning that it’s much bigger than this either or option.

It would be nice if that were that simple.  It is true that whole foods have many beneficial properties, but the complexity comes in when an individual’s unhealthy or compromised immune systems interact with the food. 

In July, I discovered certain foods were aggravating what I called “my allergies.”  When I stopped eating dairy products, my sinuses cleared and I could breath through my nose.  Wow, what a big change for me who has been largely ignoring  my chronic symptoms for years.  I just wrote them off as, “That is just the way I am.  I have allergies.”  It turns out that foods really do impact allergies.  It is called oral allergy syndrome. For example I noticed when I ate a peach, I sneezed and my eyes watered.  Photo of peaches

Still something doesn’t quite feel right.  I still get a sore throat after eating certain foods and have a tooth ache that has been lingering for years.  When I visited the dentist, he said the tooth was healthy according the x-ray.  In search of a solution I recently choose to take The ALCAT Test.

This blood test was helpful to my son as he sought a solution to persistent acne.  So when I found that my chiropractor was now offering the test, I decided to have one done.  Here is an explanation from the company that produces the test and explains their approach:

Recent scientific discoveries have revealed increasingly deeper levels of understanding of how food interacts with our immune system affecting metabolism in ways that can be either beneficial or detrimental.  Chronic activation of the immune system and chronic inflammation that it produces is not only the common feature of modern diseases of aging, but also its major underlying cause.

The “wrong” food, although it may be “healthful” for most people, will induce inflammation.  The immune system aims to damage the food, which it mistakes as a harmful invader, such as bacteria, parasite or virus, but also ends up damaging our own body.  Long term exposure can even trigger auto-immunity, where the immune system actively attack our own tissues and bodily structures.

I am early in the process of eating a variety of foods that are compatible for me.  The idea is to take the foods, non-reactive according to a blood test, and rotate them daily so we don’t develop an intolerance to more foods. One superfood, I can eat every other day is spinach another is green tea.  The good news is:  people who eliminate troublesome foods from their diet for about six months are able to introduce them back into a diet that is balanced and rotates on a daily basis.

As I move further along the path to optimal health, I am more enlightened about the idea of good and bad foods.  While I am a bit sad about temporarily saying good bye to blueberries, I know that when blueberry season comes, I will have a healthy immune system and it will be time to introduce them back into a balanced rotational diet.   Perhaps there is something else to be learned about my own symptoms that might not be addressed with this approach. I am sure it won’t be easy, so I’ll keep you posted.

Have you heard about food intolerance? Some of the symptoms that tell us something us up with our immune system and chronic activation due to food intolerance are:

Digestive Disorders



Chronic Fatigue


Skin Disorders


and as the brochure says….many more.