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Nayeli's Hot Mexican Punch

15 Feb 2010 08:00:10

This is a deliciously exotic and original punch I helped make with a Mexican family I stayed within the beautiful quaint town of Guanjuato (it´s about a two hour drive north of Mexico City and absolutely worth the trek out there). New mum Nayeli explained to me the finer points of making this traditional punch. Mexican´s many make this for Christmas or Posada which is a time of celebration and many parties are thrown the week before Christmas. Nayeli says that if you smell it in the streets you know that Christmas is just around the corner. But it's a wonderful drink in any season. 

To make roughly 6-8 litres of punch combine in one or two large pots (terracotta Mexican bowls are preferable of course but you´ll achieve the same flavour with the trusty ol European variety):

2 sliced apples
2 oranges segmented
20 whole pitted prunes
6 small quartered guavas
half a pineapple cut into 2cm cubes
an 80cm length of sugar cane cut into 1cm x 20cm strips
a handful of dried Jamaican flower petals (you can find these in specialty health food shops)
4 large peels pods of fresh tamarind
10 fresh halved tejocote (a native Mexican fruit similar to quince, which you can use instead)
A handful of sultanas
2 handfuls of sugar
1 stick of cinnamon
4 litres of water

Head for about 1 hour then taste to see if all the fruit flavours have combines and the sugar has dissolved. Pour into small terracotta cups and add the sugar cane sticks so that they stick out of the cup (a little like you’d pop a stick of celery in a Bloody Mary).

Though pregnant with her second child and the fact that she has a generally displeased taste for alcohol (how very “un-Mexican” she says), Nayeli suggests adding rum for an even more warming effect on those cold winter days (it is the festive season after all!). You can also add pecan for a more nutty flavour.

This is a great alternative to mulled wine though the flavour is very different you will certainly impress your winter party guests.

Going Organic In Cuba…

9 Feb 2010 06:22:46

… if only there were such a thing. One thing I’d heard plenty about before I arrived in this fascinating country (Sam for one was eager to discover what I’d find) was that in the city street there were abundant pockets of organic garden. It made sense being a communist country where international trade is restricted with its neighbouring nations (specifically the USA and Mexico) that the Cuban people would have a somewhat sustainable, localised food culture. The organic part made sense to due to the lack of funds to pay for anything (like pesticides) than what the earth naturally provides. 
The reality? The first part of my stay was in a small Casa Particulars (like a B&B but, like everything in Cuba, under strict guidelines provided by the government) in Central Habana. The streets here are narrow and grey and the buildings in much of the city are decrepit and falling down which is a real shame as their concrete shells show marks of once spectacular architecture. Even so, it would not be too hard to imagine some greenery around the place but all that could be found are a few small pot plants on the balconies of the odd home or a small 4 x 4 metre plant shop.
So arriving in the country´s tropical fruit off season might explain what it was near on impossible to buy fresh fruit and vegetables (of any kind) except for at a couple of the big hotels. A concierge informed me that he could not find fresh produce anywhere on the streets of Habana, and he was looking hard as his son was ill and needed naturally derived vitamins and minerals to avoid buying expensive medication the doctors told him he required.

The fresh salad at the hotel restaurants (consisting of a slice or two of tomato, a bit of cabbage or cucumber if you are lucky) is imported at a special price by the government as they seem to desperately be trying to attract tourists to the country. There are supermarkets but they are really only 3 x 3 metre shops with a few cans of soup, juice and if you’re lucky super sweet yoghurt. As you can imagine the word “organic” is pretty much unheard of to the majority of people here.

The closest you´ll get to an organic Cuban experience is to stay in one of the Casa Particulars to get close to the people and their culture. The second casa I stayed in was just across the water of Central Habana in Gran Parque Morro and was called El Canonazo. Apart from the tasty food in their decent and clean restaurant (which does include some fresh fruit and vegetables by the way) there are chickens and ducks running freely around the garden. A little bit more professionally run than most casas which are literally family casas (homes) so if you´d prefer an even more organic stay go for one of these. Be warned however, the comforts of the big hotels don’t exist here and you generally pay for what you get.

Either way as soon as you step out onto the streets it’s impossible to miss what this country is all about – 52 Fords, Cuban cigars, rumba and salsa music and a people untouched by the temptations of the consumer-heavy west. You can´t get many places in the world these days that are more organic than that!
Something I'm quickly realising about the states is that it has just about anything any person could possibly require: glamour and glitz (Hollywood luxury touches most of the big cities), extra mammoth portions of fries (even a poor man cannot starve here), history (Native American national parks and Statue of Liberty type monuments scatter the country) and of course some of the most spectacular natural landscapes  in the world (from the dense Redwood forests of Oregon to the stunning Californian coastline to the arid desert-scape of Nevada). It is a beautiful country, despite many of us foreigners more obvious political and cultural objections to it. Nicki struggling with her organic fruit and veg bags

There is one thing I'm struggling with finding: fresh fruit and vegetables minus the additives. There is definitely fresh produce out there; it's just that it's in concentrated areas. Forget organic in Walmart (the budget friendly supermarket). There is fruit and veg but it's perfectly supernatural (if you know what I mean). I spent a good four hours shopping in there for a 9 day journey. I had to check the ingredients list on every single item I picked up for signs of 'edibility'. It's not normally a finicky, health obsessed characteristic of mine but soon became one as I discovered all sorts of nasties in apparently 'natural' and some 'organic' products. If it wasn't doused with abstract ingredients it was packed with salt and sugar - the apparently 'wholegrain' (grainless) bread tasted like a sweet bun and the nuts tasted like they were grown in the sea.

But hurrah! I've finally found a place (outside the organic hippydom of San Francisco) that feels a little like Greenwich (London) in terms of the fresh produce and organic products on offer. Bend Farmers Market PosterBend in Oregon, a small town of 80,000 people has a beautiful little park and lake beside which a farmers’ market is held each afternoon. Yet to find a market with dry foodstuffs I have indeed found a few cafes with organic fair trade coffee which I'll be heading to shortly. It seems Oregon has a couple of these organic gem towns. I passed through another small town called Ashland that had an excellent local consumer food cooperative which invited anyone to invest a 'one-time, refundable equity investment of $100 for the 'long term health of our community'. Another dime I found in Ashland was a funky little café called Grilla bites which sold the most delicious organic salads and 'grillas' (toasted panini style spelt bread sandwiches). The highlight was the extract from the book Another Turn of the Crank by Wendell Berry on the back of the Grilla Bites menu which highlighted some of things required from the people for a community to flourish and last. A few points I liked were: always supply local needs first. (And only then think of exporting their products, first to nearby cities, and then to others); see that the old and the young take care of one another... the community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young and; always include local nature - the land, water, air and native creatures - within the membership of the community. Grilla Bites Cafe home of delicious organic snacks

It seems much of the real organic places are huddled together in the towns that want it most and work to building the demand to support it. When fresh organic produce is rare it seems to me it is in the places that lack community, where every street looks the same and where there is a Wal-Mart in view (which is often - think MacDonald’s every 100miles along a highway and you'll envisage the Wal-Mart effect). Consumer choice makes the community and if you choose genuine organic you create an organically grown community right!?

Restaurant Review: Saf

15 Dec 2009 15:00:05

Now if you're the kind of person who, at the suggestion of tonight's meal out as a raw food eatery, raises a couple of suspicious eyes then I've got a challenge for you. I'm almost a vegan, but not; almost a raw foodie, but not. My body needs a good old fry up every now and then and my taste buds say I should follow that lead. So when I say Saf, a raw food restaurant, is delectably scrumptious, and kind of curious, it's not because I'm devoted to a raw food diet and can't find anything better in town to suit my raw needs.

Saf is the place you go when you want to stare at your food for a second, first to figure out what it is you're eating (though the waiters do a brilliant job of explaining each person's individual dish as it comes out), and second to appreciate the gorgeous creation that it is.

The Saf Chef's (try saying that one ten times over!) have created a ‘plant-based botanical menu' where almost all of the dishes are cooked below 48°C to preserve optimum nutrition and flavour.

I had the Saf Bowl which included teriyaki glazed smoked tofu (THE best I've had) organic brown and mixed seeds rice cake (absolutely tastier than it sounds), wok fried pokchoy, lotus root kimpura kimchee (a very interesting one indeed, wouldn't eat it alone but balanced out the other flavours surprisingly scrumptiously), seasonal chutney (apple mine was and it was another surprising and tasty accompaniment in the mix).

The Saf Bowl was £12.95 but prices for mains range from £11.50-14.50. Starters from £6-17 and sides from £3.75-7.50.

Beyond the food you will find organic fair trade coffees, fresh juices, gorgeous cocktails (they are sublime and change regularly so are always quite unique) and a new gourmet beer. Saf have newly opened a new organic wine shop with quite the fine selection of wines to choose from. They have also just opened on Sundays for apparently London's best Vegan Roast but if you're keen to try this not so traditional Sunday roast you better get there early as tables go quick and they only serve it from 11:30-15:30pm.

Saf's opening hours are:
Lunch - 11:30pm till 3:30pm
Dinner - 6:00pm till 10:30pm
Bar food & drinks - 11:00am till late

152-154 Curtain Road

To make a booking call 0207 613 0007 (Book the Chefs Table if you want an up close and personal with the raw and organic delights you're about to be fed. Chefs table includes 7 courses for £50 and optional £25 Organic Wine pairing. You also need a minimum of 6 people to book the table but if you can, it's a real treat!)

For more information about this superbly delicious raw food dine visit

Organic Guacamole

13 Dec 2009 15:00:05

1 ripe avocado
½ red onion
½ tomato
½ red chilli
Handful fresh coriander
Lime juice to taste

(all organic of course!)

Finely chop the onion, tomato, chilli and coriander.

Scoop out the flesh of the avocado (making sure you scrape the inside of the skins well with a spoon to get as much of the bright green coloured flesh as possible to give your guac a lovely colour).

Add the avocado to the other ingredients and mash with a fork until the desired consistency (lumpy or smooth it's up to you).

Add lime juice, salt and fresh black pepper to taste.

*Note: you can make this very quickly in the food processor but you need to be careful that you don't make it too smooth so that all traces of the tomato and onion disappear into the paste.