Archive for October, 2009

Recipe for Lamb Curry for a Diwali Feast

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

We are in the middle of the diwali festival, the Festival of Lights.  This is a 5 day festival with the main celebration being on the 17 October this year.  I love diwaali, even though we are not Hindus here.

I love what it stands for, its legends and the idea of having a fun festival rather than the sobre festivals of British christianity (even if we all go home after church and indulge a bit).  I love the practicality of being able to pray for wealth and making puja to Lakshmi, rather than the embarassed about wanting to pray and hope for profit.

We always celebrate diwaali with friends – none of us are Hindu – but we like the smells and the food and the music of India.  We have got some traditional Indian decorations including icons of my favourite Ganesha with his large tummy and his delight in the finer things of life.  My granny gave me an old ivory Ganesha from colonial India as well as a buxom Lakshmi, both of which I treasure.  My maternal grandmother, Gromi as I called her, was German and the Lakshmi was the only item that she retrieved from her bombed house after the war; the Russian troops had used it as a candle stick and it was covered all over in wax, so the looters had thought it of no worth.

Then we have the wall hangings, door hangings and bells and lights and candles and lamps and so on.  And there is the food.

I have been cooking every evening this week.  We will be having Keralan fish and prawn curry, homemade chicken tikka, Punjabi lamb curry, dhal, saag aloo, Gujerati green beans, as well as breads, samosas, bhajis and sweets galore.

But the best part is friends.  They are the flowers in the garden of life.  We are celebrating with our dearest friends in our village, and we can all let the light, food and light shine in and home the gold will glister our futures.  It is a time to forget the hassles of life, throw off the stresses and strains of the daily grind and overindulge and believe that love conquers all.

Thank you and praise to Rama and Sita, and Hanuman, Ganesha and Lakshmi.

Here’s how I made the lamb curry:

20g fresh ginger, peeled and chopped finely
8 garlic cloves (peeled and chopped finely)
3tbsp organic vegetable oil
2 whole organic green cardamoms
2 whole black cardamoms (optional as a bit harder to get, but see
5 curry leaves (or 1 bay leaf)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped finely
750-800g diced lamb
½tsp organic Fairtrade turmeric powder
1tbsp organic coriander powder
1tsp Fairtrade organic garam masala
½ tsp sea salt
4 medium tomatoes, pureed, or a tin of chopped tomatoes
500ml water
Handful of fresh coriander leaves (cilantro), chopped finely

Put the ginger and garlic in a pestle, with a teaspoon of water and mash to  a paste with a mortar.  Alternatively, you can use a small coffee grinder.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add the cardamoms, curry leaves (or bay leaf) and stir fry for 15 seconds, then add in the onion.  Turn the heat down a bit and fry the onions until translucent and just turning brown at the edges; this will take about 7 minutes.

Now add the lamb cubes and stir fry for 3 or so minutes, then add the ginger-garlic paste, spices and salt.  Cook until the mixture is dry; this takes about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the water, bring to the boil, then lower the heat; cover and simmer for 45 minutes.  Stir occasionally to ensure it does not stick, and add any water if you need to.

Just before serving, add the chopped coriander leaves and stir in.

The Icefjord Commitment

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

“Amidst the wisdom and majesty of water, ice and sunlight, we have prayed within the realm of our own traditions.

Now we stand side by side in acknowledgement of our responsibility toward God’s creation.

We recognize the interdependence of all life, that in its many manifestations sustains this planet, and realise our dependence on this myriad of relationships.

We commit ourselves to the simplest acts of love, compassion and gratitude toward the vast web of life.

The Earth is a living entity with incredible healing powers, and we have much to learn.

It is the task of our generation to leave this sacred Earth, in all its wisdom and beauty to the generations to come.

Let the work begin.

We make this pledge before the whole of creation.”

This statement was made by several religious leaders who met under the auspices of His All Holiness Batholomew in September 2007 at the mouth of the Ilulissat Icefjord in Greenland.

Recipe for Roast Pork With Apple Sauce

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

It’s that harvesting time of the year, with the trees turning a golden brown and the fruit fulsome on the trees.  I picked an armful of windfalls from our garden and took them inside to make apple sauce to have a with a delicious joint of pork that we had.  The joint was delicious – slow roasted with roast potatoes, home-made apple sauce and carrots with broad beans.  This is how I made it.


1.4kg free range pork with thick covering of skin & fat
6 decent sized cooking apples
1tbsp orange juice
2 Fairtrade cinnamon sticks
1tsp Fairtrade ground nutmeg
3 – 5tbsp Fairtrade caster sugar, to taste

To prepare the pork joint, score through the skin but not all the way through the fat, say about 0.5cm.  Then repeat this every 0.5cm across the skin.  Next rub 2 teaspoons of sunflower oil over the surface and liberally sprinkling it with sea salt; massage the sea salt into the skin and set aside.

I follow the method that Sophie Grigson used in her fabulous book “Meat” which says that you cook at 180oC for 30 minutes per 500g plus an extra 20-30 minutes at the end for safety.  This should cook the joint perfectly and give you a good crunchy crackling; it certainly works for us, but the key is the skin & fat on the outside and how you prepare it.

As for the apple sauce, I peeled, sliced & diced these and bunged all of the ingredients into a heavy pan with a lid on.  I cooked this at a low-medium heat for 20 minutes.  I took out the cinnamon quills, then pulsed the apples to a fine sauce and served this cold.

I served all of this with roast potatoes and the vegetables.

You should buy the best quality pork you can find, as the classic supermarket meat is tastless and full of water.  Free range or rare breed adds a lot of flavour that seems to be missing from the bland kit that the big shops sell.  Try your local farm shop or a mini-multiple like Booths.

Steenbergs’ Annual Organic Audit

Friday, October 9th, 2009

This week heralded our annual audit by the Organic Food Federation, which is one of the UK’s original organic auditors. 

Organic Food Federation was set up by Julian Wade in the mid 1980s after he returned to the UK having worked for many years in Brussels for the European Community.  As such, it was one of the first independent bodies to start developing standards for organic farming and processing, and to start auditing against these; this was when all standards were private rules and before the EC had introduced any legally effective bits of legislation.

Nowadays, despite the hype from some of the organic certifiers, the rules on organic are mainly determined in Brussels in chunks of detailed legislation.  The latest rules have the catchy names of EC Regulation 834/07 and EC Regulation 889/08.  Certifiers then add some of their own private rules that are not legally required to differentiate themselves from each other, for example Organic Food Federation is at the forefront of organically farmed fish, which is a relatively new area.

So what does an audit entail.  At the Organic Food Federation, we are actually monitored all year around and have a constant two way dialogue between their technical team and vice-versa for the agreement of recipes, suppliers and checking on processes for importation.  They also need to be involved in any import licenses that we need to obtain.  They also have the right to inspect us at any time (without warning) and to visit ports of entry into the UK to check that our imports have a chain of custody.  In short, they can do what they want!

The inspection at Steenbergs factory involved a review of some of our primary paperwork:

(i) A complete review of all our suppliers’ organic certification under EC law and defra import licenses, checking them for validity and that all the products that we have on our organic licence are matched up by a legal sources of raw materials;

(ii) Random sample review of our internal processing paperwork through the chain of custody, ie order to goods receipt to micro/chemical laboratory testing to production records to dispatch documents and invoices.  Also, they look at cleaning records, pest control records etc.  This bit is the nightmare as you are always worried that one piece of the paper trail is missing or unclear as we have thousands of records every year.

(iv)  The stock reconciliation.  This takes months to prepare, or at least it feels like that.  It checks that in terms of weight we can prove that all our outgoing stock and warehouse stock reconciles back to the same weight coming in; it’s a mass balance check that everything on one side of the scales (what’s come in) balances with the other side (what goes out). 

This is a really tough test and (I think) the most powerful check that is done in the organic audit.  In the end, we are organic and that’s what we believe in and we do not have any intention of faking it, so the organic certificates, internal paperwork etc is unlikely to be actually wrong (and we should have picked it up throughout the year with our own internal checks), but doing a mass balance reconciliation that brings together records from all over the business is complicated and full of areas for potential error creeping in, eg wastage, products that are organic but are used in 1 or 2 of our non-organic blends etc. 

There are always things that need investigating further and/or working out what has happened, but in the end we get there and 2 lever arch files of seemingly random figures comes together to show how everything balances in the scales of truth.

The auditor also does a walk-around the premises to check that we are doing what we say we are doing, especially looking at segregation, cleanliness and chatting with staff to ask them about clean downs and how the forms are filled out.

It was a long, hard tough day, but we emerged out the other end of the process tired but signed off for another year, subject to paying our annual fee for a new organic certificate.  A job well done.

Schools, Hospitals and Mosques for Afghanistan

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

Following on from my blog of the other day, I contacted the Department for International Development (DfID) yesterday through their website to ask them the following questions:

  1. Are you building/repairing any schools in Afghanistan? If so, how many?
  2. Are you building/repairing any hospitals in Afghanistan? If so, how many?
  3. Are you building/repairing any mosques in Afghanistan? If so, how many?

I shall keep you posted as to whether I get any answers.  If you are interested the report about progress by DfID and the United Kingdom is contained in the Evaluation Report at or in summary form at

There’s also an article on Times Online that provides an overview of the state of the UK humanitarian effort in Afghanistan at

A better way to help Afghanistan

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Today, General Sir David Richards is quoted in The Sunday Telegraph as saying “Taliban and al-Qaeda know that the conflict will not be lost in Afghanistan, it will be lost in Britain, America and France, and their tactics are designed to get at that vulnerability.  If you look at the geopolitical consequences of failure, it’s not just in the short term on the streets of the UK.  If the Taliban and al-Qaeda – and, believe me they are one and the same – think they have defeated is, what next?  Would they stop at Afghanistan?”

He then uses the domino argument that used to be used for justification of the Vietnam war, i.e. next on the list would be Pakistan, India etc.

I do not believe that he is correct as I think the underlying cause of the issues is poverty rather than religion.

There are very few rational reasons for war.  The only completely justifiable reason is national security, and I mean a genuinely direct threat to national security; even George Orwell, a committed pacifist, accepted and joined in against the potential of invasion of the United Kingdom by Hitler and the Nazis.  Neither the threats in Iraq and Afghanistan were direct threats to national security; the United Kingdom never used attacks by the IRA in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain as a reason to invade the whole of Southern Ireland.

The only other rational reason for war, although in my opinion it does not constitute justifiable reason for wars, is protection of economic interests (which could have been a reason for the American-led invasion of Iraq, but no senior politician has ever admitted this one).

Wars are started for many other reasons, ranging from the pique of national leaders to power struggles.  Worryingly there has been a massive increase in the number of conflicts since 1945, with a massive jump since the mid-1980s.  I suspect that most of these are internal power struggles rather than wars between sovereign states.

It is time for peace.

These wars will not solve some of the key questions that underlie the rise in global terrorism:

  1. How do you close the poverty gap between the developed world and the developing world?
  2. How do you bring education to the developed world, especially to women?
  3. How do you provide finance to new businesses, especially for women, in the developed world to enable them to start their own businesses and struggle their way out of poverty?

War does not solve these questions and the many more detailed questions about how to remove global poverty.  It treats in a very blunt way the symptoms of poverty.

Think about what good could be done for people’s lives if some of the military expenditure were spent trying to build Afghanistan (and rural Pakistan) out of poverty by promoting education.  Doesn’t even this Labour Government acknowledge the importance of education to pulling people out of poverty; this has been a cornerstone of Labour policy for years, even its mantra “education, education, education”, but one they have failed to transfer to other countries. 

Britain spends between £2.6 billion (2008) and £3.5 billion (2009-10) on fighting in Afghanistan.  In contrast, Britain’s development expenditure is about £100 million a year (Source:  Country Programme Evaluation Afghanistan, Department of International Development, May 2009), none of which seems to be for education.  The USA spends about $3 billion directly via its Overseas Development Assistance, with a further two-thirds being indirect bringing their annual total to $9 billion (Source:  Country Programme Evaluation Afghanistan, Department of International Development, May 2009).

What Britain is doing to help Afghanistan is a drop in the ocean.  It looks pathetic against the Americans input.  Also, all the expenditure seems to be being spent on humanitarian projects and big infrastructure developments.

Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan will fail even if it were to become a military success without addressing the overarching question of poverty, and its solution through building an education system and nurturing an economy.

I would estimate that it would cost about £35,000 to build a school in Afghanistan and support for up to 5 years (based on the $50,000 quoted in the Central Asia Institute web site which is part of Greg Mortensen’s saintly work in rural Northern Pakistan).  Even with the inefficiencies of British bureaucracy, we must be able to build schools for £70,000.

So I think the British Government should commit to building schools in Pakistan. 

The current UK schools building programme is for for 200 new schools each year at a cost of £45-55 billion over the programme. 

So let’s say that the Government should commit to building 200 schools in rural Afghanistan at a cost £15 million, or £3.75 million a year for 50 schools each year.  Intriguingly, that’s less than it costs per school in the UK, which is about £27.5 million, so perhaps we just drop one school from the building programme and commit that to schools in Afghanistan or around the world.

Or how about something even more radical, Britain could build some mosques.  This would show that this is not a religious conflict.  This would act as a counterweight to radical Islamic mosques and support a more balanced and tolerant Islam.  This is also important as much of the teaching is carried out within mosques, especially on the interpretation of the Koran.

Without getting the underlying basics of education correct then you cannot even hope to start solving the economic and political issues.

The downside is that the British Government’s name is so tainted that they may simply not be able to build schools or mosques without causing offence.  If that’s the case, then that speaks volumes about the popularity of our policy on the ground.