Beansprouts can be Killers

Who has time to dampen a little bit of cotton wool, pop some dried mung beans or mustard seeds into it and wait for their beansprouts or cress to grow?

In this speed obsessed, impatient world, nobody. We want our stir fry NOW, not in two days time. We need our egg cress sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch, not next week.

Anyway, if there are producers out there who want to produce cress for 30p a punnet (end cost to the consumer) or bags of beansprouts for £1.50, why shouldn’t we pay them to do so? The cost is negligible to us and important to them. It is little payments like this that keep farmers in production. It’s our social duty to buy, buy, buy. And we don’t have the time, right?

Wrong. We have the time, but we’re not organised. We’re not doing what our parents’ and grandparents’ generations did: planning meals for the week ahead; using storecupboard stock like seeds and beans and flours to ensure that we had the breads and cakes we all love to eat. We’re wondering what we want for tea in the middle of the day, or on the way home from work, or as we’re staring desperately into the fridge.

Wrong on another count, too. The farmers don’t rely on us to buy their packaged beansprouts. “There is no supply without demand.” This is a real quote I heard hiphop artist, Snoop Dogg say on a BBC Radio 1 interview last night. It was one of the only sensible things he said. If we don’t demand the beansprouts, the farmers will find something else to produce.

Mass production has its benefits. It isn’t Magpie’s intention to endorse self-sufficiency; it is an impractical non-solution unless you are young, rich and jobless. Soy sauce, rice, vinegar, flours and many of the fruits and vegetables that are the staples of a varied healthy diet in the West would be impossible without cheap, mass produced exports from around the world. How bored this bird would be on a winter diet of kale, potatoes and beef.

The point is that the E.Coli outbreak in Europe this month could have been avoided. If adults did the things that they learn in year one infants, and grew their beansprouts on cotton wool at home, because they knew on Monday that they were going to have stir fry on Friday, all those people wouldn’t have become infected.

Bags of beansprouts smell most peculiar when first opened anyway, even uninfected ones. And Magpie noted when buying cress for the first time ever about a month ago, that the label purported it to be a mixture of mustard cress and rapeseed.  Rapeseed? Since when did mustard cress become so expensive to produce that something cheaper needed to be mixed into it? How much profit are producers really making?

Magpie vows here and now to document the growing of cress and beansprouts this week.

With any luck, she’ll be eating stir fry and egg sandwiches by Friday.

Cheese Scones at 3.30am

Magpie is a black and white bird. Shades of grey are unlikely, but there can be a flash of coloured inspiration, in peacock blue and green if she bothers to lift her wings and let the wind ruffle her feathers.

She fails to understand why the population gladly pays over the odds for mass produced, poor quality products that they could easily make themselves. No argument for convenience or lack of skills will stand up in the face of her disgust.

Take scones for example. (Sc-oh-ns… Scons…However you pronounce  it). An easy bread to make, they are at their best only on the day they are made and best eaten still warm from the oven. What a wonderful and simple experience so many who claim to love them are missing. The solid, bicarb flavoured monstrosities in their infernal cellophane in the supermarket bear no resemblance to the light beauties that make their exit from the home bake oven with a cheesy flourish.

Simple is as simple does. So do. And believe that you can.

8oz self-raising flour (not traditional, but simpler than plain flour with added bicarb)
2oz butter (nothing else will do, I assure you).
scant teaspoon of salt
a healthy chunk of cheddar, or indeed any cheese that is lying forlorn in the fridge.
2-3 tblsp plain yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 180deg C.

Rub the butter and flour (with the salt) between your fingers until there are no more chunks of butter, just a heap of thin ‘breadcrumbs’ that stick together briefly like damp sand. If the butter is squishy, this process is quicker and altogether less frustrating.

Grate in the cheese. Make your own judgement how much you think should go in. (More is better but less is fine). Incorporate into the sand with your fingers.

Tip in the yoghurt and mix gently using a dinner knife (think Kenwood food mixer action) but don’t faff with it. If you over-handle the dough, the scones will be solid.

Dump the dough on a floured work surface and fashion a flat rock with your fingers, making it about 1.5″ in height.

Using a small mug or glass (Magpie still has no cutters, so she improvises with a half pint glass donated one night by a tipsy Janey on her way home from the pub), cut the shapes out of the dough and shake them onto the baking tray.

Place them in the oven on the top shelf or the middle of the oven for around 20 minutes.

Split, slake with butter and consume with gusto, letting the heady aromas of cheese mingle with the saltiness of the butter.

The scones in the picture have been made with a few ounces of wholemeal flour replacing some of the self-raising, so they haven’t risen as high as if they had been made entirely with self-raising and are browner than usual. Himself wants bacon in the morning, not porridge, so Magpie is delivering fibre through a different method from usual. Cunning bird.

You (we) Are What You (we) eat

We don’t just feed our bodies with fuel from the earth’s great bounty. We also feed them with man made rubbish, full of chemicals and pain. If not pain now, then pain in our futures. If not pain in our personal prospects, then pain for our world: the earth and her invisible inhabitants we don’t look to see.

If it isn’t covered in plastic, carried on a black polystyrene board and well-travelled, heat-treated and utterly divest of any natural bacteria, we don’t feel safe. But it is a paradox. We are the safest if what we eat is unmade and simple.

We don’t just feed our bodies. We feed our souls. If we feed our souls the brightly coloured, cellophaned hellbits*, they become addicted to the manufacturers’ dreams. One slice of freezedried, battered, frozen devilfood coming right up. There is only one way to go if your appetite takes your soul this way and down is a big part of that.

Heaven is the only way to go; and with that, hedonism. Glorious cream dishes, with bulghur on the side. Anchovies melted into garlicky, mushy onion, adorning pasta shells, followed by simple, stewed blueberries, glistening in the scant teaspoons of dissolved sugar. Life can be so much sweeter than anything an international chemical company can invent.

Don’t just subsist. Sustain your soul.

*Glossary: Hellbits: that which if we knew what went into them, we wouldn’t feed the cat. Not even a mangy, stray ginger tom. Like kitbits but without the cute kitten commercials and added vitamins. Now with NEW freezedried chicken brains!