Growing your own – sprouted seeds

DSCF1838Around this time of year, we haven’t really got anything growing in our garden that we can eat, apart from some hardy herbs. So while we are waiting for the first asparagus and broad beans and for the ground to warm up enough to plant some salad crops, this is the perfect time to do some windowsill gardening.  You may be lucky enough to find cress, or even better, mustard and cress, in a supermarket – and a wider variety of sprouts in a health food store. But sadly so often these delightful packages of nutrition are hard to find, so it’s grow your own or go without.

This week I have been growing puy lentils, mung beans and alfalfa seeds.

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I love the light crunchy texture of the lentils, which have the flavour of fresh peas. Mung bean sprouts are perfect to add at the last minute to a stir fry.  Alfalfa sprouts make a great addition to an egg mayonnaise or a peanut butter sandwich. 

You don’t need to be a gardener or green-fingered, and you don’t need a lot of space or time to make a success. You can grow them in a jar, or in a special sprouter, as I have here:


There is a huge variety of seeds that are suitable for sprouting. The act of germination and growing of seeds creates a wide variety of changes to the nutritional value and sprouts are reportedly more easily digested and contain higher available nutrients and protein than the seeds from which they are grown. Lots more info here –

Next time I am going to do fenugreek, mustard and aduki beans.

You can buy a salad sprouter here at Nicky’s Nursery along with a huge array of seeds (for those in the UK only).


Growing tips: Make sure that your kit is scrupulously clean. Some larger seeds will benefit from being soaked overnight initially. Then rinse and drain. Rinse the sprouts at least twice daily and do not leave in standing water. Keep in the light or the dark (grown in the dark are more crunchy I hear), but ensure good air flow around them. Keep out of direct sunlight. Aim for a reasonably even temperature of 15 – 20c. Harvest just as the leaves start to show. Sprouts that are ready may be kept in the fridge for a couple of days, but do not store well for longer.

Weekly meal plan – Feb 23 – 30

I am determined to cycle through my freezer and store cupboards and use up some of the ingredients that are lurking and neglected. I seem to have a rather odd assortment of things, but plenty of frozen soup, dried beans and frozen fruits, so these will form the basis of our meals.  I must confess to being surprised at how long some things have been in my freezer and cupboards! I have thrown a few things out as being past their best, but mostly it has been very useful to remind myself of what is there so that I can include them in my plan, before they go the same way. We had a huge crop of cherries the year before last, so it is time to start using up more of those, to make way for this year’s harvest.

With dried beans, having a plan for the week ahead is great, as it helps remind me to get soaking the night before I need them. I have started to sprout some seeds and beans – alfalfa seeds, mung beans and puy lentils, so they should make a nice addition to salads towards the end of the week.

I have a tendency to keep things in my cupboard ‘in case’ I need them. But I am starting to resent the amount of space that is being taken up by things that I don’t use.  Sometimes it is just taking time to put the grey matter to use and come up with some ways of using less popular ingredients that will still be appealing.

I’ve also found that I have a lot of jam. We really don’t eat jam on toast at all, so I am going to have to come up with some ideas for using that without going overboard on sweetness.

From the looks of it, I really only need to shop for some fresh salad and fruit, all the other ingredients are already in stock. Another week that is going to be kind to our budget.

Breakfast on non fast days is either plain yogurt, wholewheat toast with almond butter or a boiled egg and toast.

Starting with Monday then

Monday, Fast Day: Roasted Tomato Soup, Warm Butter Bean, Halloumi and Beetroot Salad, Poached Cherries with Crunchy Oat and Cinnamon topping

Tuesday lunch: Roasted Tomato Soup with Ciabatta, Baked Goat’s Cheese on a bed of rocket with spiced walnuts and beetroot, Fresh Fruit.
dinner: Wholewheat Pasta Spirals with Salmon, Pumpkin and Chopped Chillies in an Oat Cream sauce, Pears with Chocolate Meringue Topping

Wednesday lunch: Mackerel, Hard boiled Egg, Anchovy, Capers, Flageolet Beans and Potato Salad in a mustard-y dressing, Fresh Fruit
dinner: Turkey Milanaise with Celeriac purée and Sauté Potatoes. Sliced Oranges with chopped Dates and Pistachio nuts

Thursday, fast day: Hake with Chorizo and Potatoes (Rick Stein recipe) or maybe Hake with a Masala crust (also based on a Rick Stein recipe).  Apple and Ginger Compote with Almond Cream Custard

Friday lunch: Pea and Ham Soup, Scrambled Egg on Toast, Fresh Fruit
dinner: Squash, Stilton and Quince Tart with steamed mixed vegetables. Cherry & Choc Chip Gelato

Satruday lunch: Pizza and Salad, Fresh Fruit
dinner: griddled HalloumiLamb Chops with a Herbed Crust, Skordalia, Beetroot and Jalapeño Salsa (recipes in 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life), Bakewell Tart and cream

Sunday lunch: Pizza and Salad, Fresh Fruit
dinner: Stuffed Butternut Squash, Bakewell Tart and custard

What IS a healthy balanced diet?


It seems clear that the standard advice from governments in the US and UK over the last 20 years or so has not helped to prevent the rise of obesity and diabetes.  Thankfully, opinions are changing as they are coming to realise that their advice was based on shaky foundations. Fat is no longer enemy no 1. Dietary cholesterol is not responsible for the increase in cholesterol in the blood. So once again, we can embrace eggs and natural sources of fat in our diet. 

So with all the conflicting advice over the years, people may be wondering, well, what can we eat?

Here’s a good summary from Dr Mark Hyman, about what we should be eating.

I’ve resisted going down the Paleo route, because I think a lot of people take it to extremes. I don’t live in an area where coconuts grow, so I’m not going to go overboard for them. Leaving out beans and all grains doesn’t make sense to me as a gardener.

Similarly, for me, a completely vegan diet does not sit naturally with me. I like to have occasional fish, small amounts of meat, cheese and eggs.

But I agree with Dr Mark Hyman’s summary and I think that if you were to stick to these guidelines, you would naturally achieve a healthy weight with very little effort and improve your health overall.

The main points:
Very low in terms of glycemic load, meaning low in sugar, flour, and refined carbohydrates of all kinds.
High in vegetables and fruits. The deeper the colors, the more variety, the better, which provides a high phytonutrient content protective against most diseases.
Low in pesticides, antibiotics and hormones, and low or no GMO foods.
No chemicals, additives, preservatives, dyes, MSG, artificial sweeteners and other “Franken Chemicals” that you would never keep in your pantry.
Higher in good-quality fats. Most camps advise good-quality fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Adequate protein for appetite control and muscle synthesis.
Organic, local, fresh foods should be the majority of your diet.
Avoid dairy. According to Dr. Amy Shah, the number one reason to ditch dairy is that it is inflammatory. While some can tolerate it, for most it contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, and may increase (not decrease) the risk of osteoporosis.

I don’t think you can make sweeping changes overnight, but by focussing on mainly seasonal, mainly local/regional, mainly fresh and home made you will be reducing food miles and getting good value. This is where we have got to:


  • We make our own bread, using regionally grown, organic, stoneground, wholewheat flour. Maybe 1 loaf a week between us. The same flour is used for our weekly treat which is a thin crust pizza. For pastry, it can be sifted to make a lighter flour. Locally they grow spelt, the old-fashioned kind of wheat, which I also use sometimes, especially for flatbread.
  • I use brown, red and wild rice grown in the Carmargue, but even this we have maybe only once or twice a fortnight. I use Basmati rice from time to time when we have curry.
  • Pasta is a rare event these days and portion sizes are small. I sometimes buy freshly made pasta (haven’t got round to making my own yet), or wholewheat pasta. But we probably only have it once a month now.


People got scared of fats, which is a shame. A little marbling of fat in meat adds flavour and succulence. I avoid anything labelled as low-fat as it almost invariably has additives and sometimes sugar to make up for the loss of flavour and texture. Fat is satiating and our bodies need essential fatty acids. We eat avocados as a treat and I try and include lots of walnuts and hazelnuts, which are grown locally. I use

  • butter (ideally from grass fed cattle)
  • olive oil (for dressings and low temp frying)
  • sunflower oil for general purposes
  • groundnut oil (for high temp frying)
  • duck fat (for sauté potatoes)
  • Nut and seed oils for drizzling, marinading, dips and dressings


We shouldn’t be eating loads of protein, but we do need a reasonable amount – the guideline is up to 0.8g or protein per kilo of body weight a day, ideally from plant-based sources (for longevity).

We eat beef, chicken, duck, turkey, pork and lamb in their various forms. I do find that these days we have much smaller portions and that by adding more other ingredients to dishes and having more vegetables alongside, a small amount can be made to go a long way. Choose organic or at least free range sources for meat and fish wherever possible.

Fish is a bit of a minefield, as stocks need conserving and farmed fish may be subject to questionable practices with regard to antibiotics and the source of their feed. If I lived nearer the sea I would go and find where the local inshore catch is landed and buy from them. As it is, I tend to choose sustainable fish from European waters for the most part.

I’m going to be featuring more recipes using plant based sources of protein over the coming year – nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, quinoa and tofu as well as those which have smaller amounts of meat, but still pack plenty of flavour and lovely textures.

And I will definitely be featuring eggs and continuing to use some cheese.


We cut out cow’s milk many years ago now and have soya milk in tea and for occasional use in cooking. I do have some cow’s milk natural yogurt and cheese, but we have such lovely goat and sheep cheeses to choose from that I find I actually use those by preference in many cases. Cream is an occasional treat.

Fruit and Vegetables

Yes, lots. The more local the better. Living in the midst of farmland it is relatively easy to feel connected to the seasons – but I find that not only is it usually better value to have seasonal produce, it is such a joy when new things arrive. I really am not attracted to tomatoes or strawberries in the midst of winter. I would rather have them frozen or dried or from a jar. But parsnips and leeks are just the job on a cold winter’s day and an orange or an apple will finish the meal just nicely, thank you. 

Swiss Chard Carrots Asparagus Rhubarb

Smoked Fish Tart with Orange Gremolata

In those fondly remembered days when we lived on board our yacht Oasis in the Caribbean, one of our favourite visits was to the French islands Les Saintes. There we had a memorable Smoked Swordfish Tart at Le Genois



It is fairly unusual to find smoked swordfish or marlin outside of the Caribbean I think, but sometimes here I find smoked tuna slices, which fits the bill perfectly.  I haven’t tried it with canned smoked fish, as the texture of fresh (or defrosted) is so much nicer.  You can use smoked salmon or trout instead.

For a non-fast day, I made this with a wholewheat shortcrust base, but it would work equally well as a crustless quiche – just make sure that you use a really good non-stick dish or grease it really well. You can have 4 generous servings from your tart – it comes to 488 calories with the pastry version – but just 260 per serving for a crustless one, so that would be a lovely main dish for a fast day, to serve with a crisp green salad or steamed vegetables.  The serving shown in the photo is just 1/6, at only 320 kcals.

bourgdesaintesJust imagine that you are looking over crystal clear blue waters and feeling the tropical heat…  

You can get a glimpse of the lovely islands of Les Saintes (and other delightful places) in my cruising journal.




Smoked Fish Tart with Orange Gremolata
Serves 4
A delectable savoury tart which makes the most of a small amount of smoked fish. Served with an intense gremolata.
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
For the pastry
  1. 150g wholewheat flour (or half and half wholewheat and plain white)
  2. 75g unsalted butter
  3. pinch salt
  4. water to mix
For the filling
  1. 150g smoked tuna (or swordfish, marlin, salmon or trout)
  2. 3 eggs
  3. 200ml soya milk (or dairy milk)
  4. 1 small red onion, finely sliced
  5. 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  6. salt and black pepper, to taste
For the gremolata
  1. 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  2. 1 tsp capers, drained and chopped
  3. zest of 1 orange
  4. 1 clove garlic, crushed
  5. 2 tbsp virgin olive oil
  1. Crumble the butter into the flour and salt and add enough water to make a dough.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160c while the dough rests in the fridge, wrapped in cling film.
  3. Grease a quiche dish.
  4. Roll out the pastry quite thinly and line the dish, then trim the edges.
  5. Bake blind for 10 minutes covered with paper and baking beans, then 10 minutes without.
  6. Remove the dish and raise oven temp to 180c
  7. Lay the smoked fish evenly over the pastry (or directly into the dish if going crustless).
  8. Distribute the finely sliced onion over the top.
  9. Beat the eggs in a jug and top up to 300ml with milk (or milk and cream if you want it more luscious).
  10. Season and add chopped parsley then pour over the fish.
  11. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the egg is set and the top golden.
  12. For the gremolata, mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl.
  13. Serve the tart hot, warm or cool, with the gremolata spooned over.
  14. Garnish with orange slices.
  1. As this has no cheese, it is easily adapted to be completely dairy free, using a good quality sunflower or olive oil based spread as an alternative to butter for the pastry.
  2. I use soya milk, but oat milk or dairy milk would both be suitable.
  3. The original gremolata was made with finely sliced spring onion, parsley and lemon zest, which is equally good.
  4. I had pastry left over from the above quantity - enough to make a couple of individual tart cases for another time.
Focus on Flavour

Meal Planning

If you’ve been watching the recent TV series “Eat Well for Less” you may have noticed that having a meal plan is suggested as a good way of cutting down on your food bills – it is also a good way to avoid waste.  Checking my fridge before going shopping means that I can come up with ideas to use what is left over from last week and sometimes this drives new creative ideas too.  I don’t always create a strict plan for all meals, but I do find that having an idea for most of them really does help, it also saves me from reaching for an easy option from the freezer because I can’t think of what else to do.  I am still continually surprised by how much we don’t eat, not only because of having 2 fast days, but because our appetites are smaller than they used to be. So I am as bad as anyone for buying more than we need… Plus my freezer is groaning with home grown produce, leftovers and various bargain buys….

So, despite not having been shopping for nearly a week due to having a cold, today I have the following to use up:- ¾ of a pumpkin, some broccoli, a few carrots, a leek, ¼ red cabbage, some potatoes that are about to sprout, goats cheese, lardons, duck strips, smoked tuna, peppered mackerel, blue cheese, halloumi, half a pack of feta, tofu, a little chestnut puree, kiwi fruit, some nearly ripe pears, a coconut, some long-life pre-packed beetroot. I also have some cooked cherries and some leftovers from last night’s dinner. I hardly need to go shopping at all really, but we do need some fresh salad and fruit. I have to try and include eggs in my plan, as our chickens are producing 4 most days.  We will often have a boiled egg for breakfast.


Here’s my plan.

Tues for lunch :  
Fennel, Grapefruit and Blue Cheese Salad (leftovers), Peppered Mackerel and  Horseradish yogurt dressing (see above). Fresh Fruit

The recipe for the salad is in my book 5:2 Healthy Eating for Life

Thai style Mushroom Soup (leftovers)
Smoked Fish Tart with Orange Gremolata, Steamed Broccoli and Carrots.
Pancakes with Lemon and Maple Syrup

The quiche could be a crustless one, which would be excellent for a fast day, but as it’s a non-fast day, I will make some shortcrust pastry using half and half wholewheat and plain flour. The gremolata will be finely chopped parsley, capers, garlic and orange zest, with some virgin olive oil. I’ll use one of the blood oranges for this and use slices of orange for garnish. Recipe here


Wed lunch: leftover Smoked Tuna Quiche. Green Salad. Fruit.
Out for dinner

butternut squash soupDSCF1767Thurs, Fast day: Spicy Pumpkin Soup (using leek)
Marinaded Tofu and Broccoli Stir Fry with Cashew Nuts
Poached Cherries with Cinnamon-spiced Fromage Frais




I marinaded the tofu in garlic, ginger and tamari soy sauce. Damn! I forgot to add the cashew nuts!




Fri lunch : Omelette with Lardons, Onion and Potatoes
dinner: Duck, Pumpkin and Coconut Curry, with basmati rice
some kind of dessert using Eggs and Chestnut Puree…with some marrons glacé left from Xmas, maybe an ice cream or a soufflé. Update: Chestnut Meringue Tart, see below… – a triumph!


I’m looking forward to dealing with the coconut. I will make coconut milk and toasted coconut flakes from the flesh – and drink the water as a treat!

Sat lunch: Homemade Pizza with Salad. Fresh Fruit
dinner: Steak Haché (from freezer) with Blue Cheese Sauce, Red Cabbage Slaw,  Oven Fries
Lime and Coconut Ice Cream with Toasted Coconut


Sun lunch: leftover Pizza and Salad. Fresh Fruit.
dinner: leftover Duck Curry, with homemade Naan or Chapatti

Mon fast day: Spicy Pumpkin Soup
Warm Butter Bean, Halloumi and Beetroot Salad

So I managed to shop without buying anything off my list, which was mostly household items, salad and fresh fruit, plus topping for the pizza. My treats are a bag of small Pink apples and 4 blood oranges. If I’ve got it right, my fridge should be pretty empty by Tuesday!

Breakfast ideas

There’s been a lot of buzz about high protein – low carb, especially since the BBC Horizon programme ‘What’s the Right Diet for You?’ recently. This programme explored some of the science behind why people put on weight and how they can best lose it. They divided a group of obese people into 3 types – Feasters, Constant Cravers and Emotional Eaters – and devised specific diets to suit them. 

Smoked Trout and Scrambled Egg _MG_3123 _MG_0303 Hot and Sour Chicken and Mushroom Soup

Each dieter underwent a series of scientific tests to find out the main reason for why they put on weight. The Constant Cravers have genes that mean they feel hungry all the time, the Feasters have a misfiring gut hormone that stops them from knowing when they’re feeling full. The final group, the Emotional Eaters, eat in response to stress.

They picked participants for the 8 week trial on the basis that they were quite strongly characteristic of one of the 3 types.  There is an online test which can help you to determine your own type. Most people actually are a combination of the 3 types to a greater or lesser degree and many people may not be significantly aligned with any of the types. The test can be found here, along with other related resources.

For the Feasters, a diet high in protein and low GI carbs, helps boost the lacking gut hormone and increases feelings of fullness

For the Constant Cravers, an Intermittent Fasting diet that restricts calories on two days a week, combined with very low carbohydrate intake on those days, helps to retrain the appetite and enables you to become more accustomed to not snacking or grazing.

For the Emotional Eaters, controlling intake by limiting high fat/high sugar foods and counting calories, combined with being part of a support group to help keep motivation levels high, is very helpful.

In my view, all the types will flourish by following an Intermittent Fasting diet (i.e 5:2), combined with limiting processed foods and cutting back on simple carbs such as sugar and white bread/pasta/rice. A diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, good fats and a variety of protein sources, with nuts and seeds, pulses and whole grains, is the way to go.

We have to be a little careful with the idea of high protein, as pointed out by Michael Mosley in ‘the fast diet’, as research shows that protein, and animal protein in particular, raises our levels of IGF-1, which is needed when you are young and growing but appears to accelerate ageing and cancer in later life. We should aim to keep our protein intake to within 0.8grams per kilo of body weight (per day) and aim to get as much as possible from plant based sources, says Prof Valter Longo. However, protein is very good at keeping you feeling full and so it is a very good choice for breakfast. 

So “revenons a nos moutons“, getting back to our sheep, or the main subject…. here are some ideas for sustaining breakfasts which have ample protein but are low in carbs or use low-GI carbs. I prefer not to have breakfast at all on a fast day, but I think it is a useful tactic when you are starting out with fasting and on any normal day it can stop you from reaching for the croissants mid-morning….

  • Get those little offcuts of smoked salmon and stir them into scrambled eggs… yum
  • How about going oriental and having a spicy broth with tofu?
  • Don’t forget nuts! Some oats soaked overnight in water with toasted chopped nuts and seeds and some fresh grated apple added in the morning makes a fab Bircher muesli
  • Make your own grunchy granola with whole rolled oats, wheat and rye flakes and add plenty of chopped hazelnuts. Stir in some honey or malt extract for a little sweetness and bake in the oven until golden. Then add in some luscious dried fruits. Serve it with natural yogurt.
  • Full fat greek yoghurt, with berries and nuts, or made into a smoothie with a banana 
  • Smoked salmon and cream cheese, on a thin slice of rye bread or crispbread
  • Cottage cheese with sliced pear and chopped walnuts
  • One of my favourites – wholewheat toast with almond butter
  • Another frequent one for us, as our chickens are producing so many – a boiled egg, I usually have it with a slice of wholewheat toast, but you could have asparagus spears to dip in for a low-carb alternative
  • egg and bacon, or egg and ham
  • bacon and mushrooms
  • smoked haddock with a poached egg
  • banana pancakes (banana whizzed up with an egg, made into scotch pancakes), use a little coconut oil or butter in the pan
  • veggie pops – grated pumpkin or squash with some parmesan cheese and ground almonds, mixed with a beaten egg, add some chilli or spice for variety and bake in silicone moulds or cupcake cases

I hope this helps you to avoid the elevenses….