Monday, 1 February 2016

Eating differently

Since returning from my trip to France and Spain I’ve been musing over some of the things I noticed. I must admit I’ve become slightly obsessed with the cultural differences between us and our European friends. In particular, the way their deep rooted, cultural relationship with food enables them to live a little more healthily and sustainably. Being more aware of these differences has changed (or maybe just reinforced) the way I think about our food system in the UK and is influencing what I buy and the way I eat.

I’m in awe of how connected people in France and Spain are to the land around them. Growing one’s own food and buying direct from local producers at vibrant food markets is a normal part of everyday life. Before working on farms I felt like I was aware of the basic food shop dos and don’ts: avoid intensively farmed meat, buy free range organic eggs, be aware of seasons and food miles etc.      I didn’t always stick to my rules but I now think that’s partly because I hadn’t fully grasped how brilliant eating local, seasonal food really is. There really is no comparison between the insanely delicious taste of a tomato plucked from the vine in high summer with the all year-round supply of bland, thick skinned, chemically ripened supermarket offerings. I felt a real sadness when we harvested the last tomato at the end of the summer. Not a tomato in sight till the end of May? Shock horror! But, thanks to bottling during the glut, we enjoyed deeply rich and sunny tomato sauce well into the depths of winter. Now that I’m back in the UK, my habits have changed. I’m not attracted to the piles of tomatoes on offer and find myself striding over to the roots and the brassicas when I want salad. I’d rather not wait until good fresh tomatoes come back in late May but it doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice anymore.

The connection to where food comes from was particularly strong in the village of Sandonaña in Cantabria where we had the privilege of living for a month. Cantabria is steeped in its dairy farming traditions and is the basis for their incredible fresh cheeses like Queso Nata, and devilishly delicious, yet simple deserts like Quesada Pasiega and Sobao Pasiego. The recipes have been passed down for generations unchanged. Sandonaña is a village where pretty much everyone not only grows their own vegetables but also owns chickens, pigs and even small herds of dairy cows! They wouldn’t consider themselves    as farmers but also wouldn’t think twice about planting 700 onion sets for themselves. Normal people grow and rear their own food and local producers competed with, and were even embraced by, large supermarkets. 

There’s no doubt that eating in these ways supports a more localised food system and is one deeply engrained in both French and Spanish culture. I’m not saying that either are perfect but I have been inspired by the way the far end of the supply chain is often within walking distance. I also can’t help thinking that their communities are more resilient in the face of a changing economy and climate.

For time poor, city folk without the luxury of a garden, this can seem a bit pie in the sky. But help is available to prove the contrary. Seasons is a nifty app that acts as a harvest calendar that you can carry in your pocket. It tells us when produce is at its best and even gives you lists of local farmers markets. 

The incredible Food Assembly is a pioneering community network who make it easier for us to get hold of local produce. It enables growers and farmers to list a changeable array of seasonal offerings and connects them with customers who can order online and collect face to face after working hours. 

There are so many others too, so I’ll endeavour to keep sharing the wonderful things as I find them. Then we can all be satisfied in knowing what we’re eating and exactly where in the world it has come from.  

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Workaway – a wonderful way to do something new

Sorry for the radio silence chaps. I’m back and I’ve been busy! For the last nine months I’ve been working on organic farms in France and Spain. Together with my sidekick and trusty co-driver Raph we packed our campervan and swapped our city life for an all together more rural one, way up in the Pyrenean mountains. The adventure was made possible by Workaway. It’s a site that gives people like me the chance to live and work with hosts all over the world. I couldn’t recommend it more for anyone who wants to change things up a bit while travelling and learning new skills along the way.

Our desire was to work outside more, grow the food we eat and generally learn how to live a little more sustainably. The experience totally surpassed our expectations, largely because of the wonderful hosts we met; incredibly industrious people who make a living from the land. We helped to grow food for the family table as well as paying customers. We fed animals that ended up feeding us. We maintained gardens and collected firewood from the forest. Our digging, bark stripping and pick-axing built us a home up in the forest canopy. I feel so inspired that I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Anyway, that’s enough of me harping on about the joys of not working in an office (but really, you should have a look through the hosts), but it is what I hope to do as a day job. So expect me to be sharing a broader range of niche but nice things from here on in, as I launch into something a little more green fingered. There’ll still be the same creative musings mind you. And where else would horticulture and illustration combine, but in a place where NicheButNice things are celebrated.

Here are a few pics from the trip. 

We took a lot of photos of vegetables - sad eh? But we were so proud.


Not vegetables this time, just having a Sound Of Music moment. Obviously. 

Thursday, 19 June 2014

AOI Illustration awards - Thoka Maer, a rather beautiful discovery

Loved flicking through the AOI's illustration award winning categories today. I took a particular fancy to Thoka Maer's work. 'It's no Biggie', her little, cheeky pencil drawn and digitally­ animated GIFs are quite charming. 

The interview on the AOI website, gives a great insight into the way she works. I also love the way she describes what intrigues her about her practice... 

My illustrations have been on screens in places I will never see, they've glanced into faces I'll never meet, they were talked about in languages I cannot speak. This modern day ability to communicate over such distances­ it will probably never stop fascinating me." 

What a nice way to think of it? I reckon I could have a good conversation with this lady!

Friday, 30 May 2014

Beta Band - Dry The Rain

By'eck I forgot how good this is...

Was that really 14 years ago? By'eck!!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Viral Videos

The internet's gone all silly. Whether its pages of very silly animals or singing goats, we've all crowded round a screen to laugh at some mundane something or other.

Three appear to be the kings of it all, of late. Their Moonwalking Pony left me tickled last year, but I was truly uplifted by their latest feel good ad; Singing Kitty. It had me punching the air at my desk - and with nearly 3 million views perhaps I wasn't alone (or maybe I was?). It's random and ridiculous sharing material at its best.

Three #SingItKitty app ad

Coke have cleverly tapped into the irony of the disengaged / engaged, with their Social Media Guard ad. Encouraging us to free our lives from Social media - the thing that gets in the way of the real world or 'the thing that happens when you run out of battery.' So we can all share put the 'social' back into our lives.

I'll wish I had one of these next time someone reaches to take a photo of their dinner!

Coke's Social Media Guard

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas jumper watercolours

I recently stumbled across this rather lovely 1950's Christmas jumper on a routine lunchtime venture to Pop Boutique in Covent Garden. I couldn't resist, so here it is on my bed. Hurrah!

Feeling smug and inspired from my retail success, I couldn't help but think how great these festive pieces of attire would be as subjects for watercolours.   

So here they are. Nice eh?

I thought they'd make perfect Christmas cards too, so had some printed. Not quite in time for this years Christmas card rush, but I'll be selling them next year for sure!

Happy Christmas xxx