Counting On … day 17

30th November 2021

Today is the feast of St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. Here is a recipe for vegan haggis, not entirely my own, but  having no note of the original recipe, I cannot credit its creator.

Haggis. Serves 2-3

50g  Puy lentils

50g pearl barley


1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large carrot, finely chopped

75g portobello mushrooms, finely chopped

½ tsp ground allspice

 ½ tsp ground black or white pepper

90g pinhead oatmeal

½ tbsp marmite

1½ tbsp brown sauce or treacle

Sauté the onion and carrot in a little oil till soft. Add the mushrooms and the spices. If need be add a little more oil.

Add the barley and lentils. Add about 400ml hot water and yeast extract. Feel free to add a sprig of thyme. 

Simmer until the mixture is very thick, adding more water if necessary. 

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Stir in the oatmeal and brown sauce and tip into a greased loaf tin and cover with foil. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 30. 

Leave for five minutes, then turn out and serve.

Counting On …

16th November 2021

Adopting a plant based – ie vegan – is one easy way of reducing our carbon footprint. Here is another vegan cake recipe – vegan baking is straight forward!

Golden Parkin (sorry – no picture as we ate it all up!)

1 tbsp camelina or chia seeds soaked in 3 tbsp of warm water

100g margerine, 6 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp syrup

2 tbsp oatmeal, 8 tbsp flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 2 or 3 tsp of ground spice (I used a mix of cardamon, all spice and cinnamon

150g grated squash

Method: melt the margerine and add sugar and syrup. Add all the other ingredients and mix well. Add oat milk if needed to create a dropping consistency.

Bake: tip into a lined tin, approx 180 x 300mm, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes until form to touch.

Eco Tips

Vegan cakes and bakes: these are all easy to make and it is good to be able to provide vegan eats at church events and the like. It is also a good idea to offer plant based milks too.

Chocolate Cake

100g vegan margarine

150g sugar (I use brown)

1 tbsp chia or camelina seeds

25g cocoa

175g flour (I use spelt flour) plus 1 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda 

50g dates 

Oat milk

Soak seeds in 3 tbsps warm water – they will gain jelly-like texture

Melt the margarine.

Chop the dates and add along with  the sugar, cocoa, raising agents and flour.

Add the seed mix (this is an egg replacement).

Add enough milk to bind to a soft dropping consistency. 

Tip into a tin (approx 300x200mm) lined with baking parchment.

Bake at 170C till  spongey and firm – about 20-25 minutes 


100g vegan margarine

3 tbsps of sugar (I use brown)

2 tbsps of syrup

200g oats or thereabouts  (NB use gluten free oats for a gluten free bake)

Melt the margarine. 

Add the sugar and syrup.

Add the oats – if it still seems very syrupy you can add some more oats.

Tip into a tin (approx 300x200mm) lined with baking parchment.

Bake at 170C till golden brown – about 20minutes . Cut into pieces whilst still hot.


200g vegan butter 

220g flour (I use white)

50g polenta 

50g sugar (I use white)

Rub the butter into the flour.

Add polenta and sugar and mix.

Tip into a tin (approx 300x200mm) lined with baking parchment.

Bake at 160C  till pale gold  – about 20minutes . Cut into pieces whilst still hot.


75g vegan butter

220g flour (I use spelt flour) plus 1 tsp baking powder 

50g sugar

75g sultanas/ raisins/ currants

1 tbsp chia or camelina seeds

1tsp ground nutmeg

Oat milk 

Soak seeds in 3 tbsps warm water – they will gain jelly-like texture

Rub butter into flour.

Add nutmeg, sugar and dried fruit.

Add seed mix

Add enough milk to create a dry dough.

Place spoonfuls in ‘rocky’ lumps on a greased baking tray. This should make about 8.

Bake at 170C till golden  – about 15- 20minutes .

Halloween Scones

Food waste is a big contributor to global warming. Waste can occur anywhere from on the farm, whilst in transit, at the supermarket or in the home. In the home we should aim to  use all the food we buy. So here is a recipe for using up raw pumpkin – or squash. It is also cooked in a frying pan rather than in the oven which will use less energy. It is also plant-based  – another plus for the environment. 

250g self raising flour

60g vegan butter

1 tbsp of chia or camelina seeds

150g raw pumpkin/ squash

4 cardamom pods

Oat milk

Mix the seeds with 3 tbsp of warm water. Mix in the seeds from the cardamon pods. 

Cut the butter into,cubes and rub into the flour.

Chop the pumpkin into small pieces.

Mix everything together, adding enough milk to create a soft dough. 

Heat a frying pan with a little oil in the bottom.

Roll out the dough and cut into rounds or triangles. Place these in the pan. 

Cook for 5-10 minutes or until browning on the bottom. Turn over and cook on the other side.

Enjoy plain or with jam. 

Growing Mustard Leaves

What we eat and what we waste all contributes to the size of our carbon footprint. Locally grown food usually has a lower carbon footprint, even more so if we have grown it ourselves! And we are most until unlikely to waste food that we have grown. Today’s project is growing some food that we can eat.

You will need a waterproof container such as a bowl or am empty margarine tub, some absorbent material – I’m using some clean paper serviettes that cafes so often give out with pieces of cake, and some mustard seeds.  

Place the absorbent paper in the bottom of the bowl. Pour enough water over the paper so that is all wet.  

Sprinkle some mustards seeds over the top. Place in a warm bright place. Each day gently water your seeds.

If you want to grow mustard and cress, sow the cress seeds 2 or 3 days before the mustard seeds as they grow a little more slowly.

Count Down

Action 96: Pumpkin pasta sauce

Allow about 100g of pumpkin flesh per serving.

In a little oil, fry some chopped garlic and a couple of sprigs of thyme. Add the chopped pumpkin flesh. Stir and cover pan. Allow to soften over a medium heat. After about 5 minutes add a little water and 1 dsp of yeast flakes per serving. Cook till soft. Blitz with a hand blender to a smooth sauce. Add pepper to taste. 

Mix the sauce with a pasta of your choice. Top with a sprinkling of chopped nuts.

Organic Food Fresh Pumpkin Healthy Vegetables

Count Down

 Action 91: can you challenge yourself to a plant-based November? With squashes and pumpkins and mushrooms and brassicas very much in season, lots of delicate and hearty meals await you. Try out a hole range of different plant-based proteins – fava beans, pinto beans, cannelloni beans, Puy lentils, Carlin peas, blue peas, black badger peas, tofu, walnuts, almonds …. I am sure you can have a different one each day!

Eco Tips

Swooping to a plant based diet 

  • Plant based milks: some have added vitamins, typically A, D, B2, and B12, as well as various minerals like calcium and iron; protein levels are much less than in dairy milk but few western diets are deficient in this; choose milks that are produced from plants grown in Europe as this minimises their carbon footprint; if the milk splits when added to hot drinks, you might want to choose a barista grade milk; you can buy oat milk in glass bottles and reduce packaging – eg from Milk and More.  1 litre of oat milk has a carbon footprint of 0.9kg as opposed to 3kg for dairy milk. Oat milk also uses less water and less land.
  • Plant based substitutes for yogurt, Greek style yogurt, crème fraîche, double and single creams, are also available and can be used for cooking too. 
  • As well as margarine, you can also buy vegan butter. This has a similar taste and texture to butter and is good for baking where the recipe calls for dairy butter.
  • Vegan mascarpone can be made by blending a 300g block of silken tofu with a carton of Oatly whippable custard.
  • Plant based cheeses are varied. Violife feta style cheese has a pleasant taste as does their mature cheddar. The latter can be grilled but tends to shrink as it is bubbles. Nut based cheeses can better mimic the texture of cheese. 
  • Coconut milk adds a pleasant taste to soup and gives a silky creamy texture. Coconut milk also makes for a good rice pudding.
  • Aqua faba – the water in which dried beans have been cooked – has a gelatinous texture and can be used as an egg substitute. It works well for making mayonnaise and meringues. You may sometimes need to add a little xanthan gum for extra stiffness. To replace eggs in baking, use commercially made egg replacement powder (eg from Super Cook), aqua faba or chia seeds mixed with water (1:3 per egg). The chia seeds swell and become glutinous.
  • Tofu can make an acceptable substitute for scrambled eggs but needs suitable flavourings such as pepper, fine herbs etc. 
  • Replace meat protein with a variety of beans, peas, pulses and nuts. You will spoilt for choice: in our cupboard at present we have whole and split yellow peas, ditto green peas, blue peas, Carlin peas, black badger peas, split faba beans, green and orange lentils, cashew nuts, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts and pistachios. The beans, peas and pulses are UK grown sourced and sold by Hodmedod’s.            Lentils have a carbon footprint of 0.9 per kg compared with 6.9kg for chicken and 27kg for beef – and needs less land and water.
  • Lentils make a good substitute for mince. Puréed peas or beans make a good sauce to mix with pasta or vegetables. 
  • Combine beans and pulses with grains – eg wheat, rice, corn –  or with grain-based foods such as pasta and bread. The different amino acids from each will combine to give a better overall quality protein intake.
  • Replace meat or fish with tofu (made from soya beans) or sextant (made from wheat protein). These products offer a variety of different textures to meals.
  • Include yeast extract and yeast flakes in your cooking to ensure a good intake of vitamin B. Opt for ones that include B12 which is hard to obtain from plant sources. For iron eat beans and legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, and wholegrain cereals and breads. For calcium eat nuts (especially almonds) and seeds (esp. chia), figs, leafy greens, beans and pulses.
  • For vitamin D you may wish to consider a supplement. Sunshine is a good source of vitamin D but even so many people in the UK are deficient.
  • Vegetables and fruit are always important for flavour, texture and nutrition. But not all fruit and vegetables are equal. Out of season strawberries, blue berries, and asparagus for example are not sustainable and are often brought in by air.  Avocados and mangoes, amongst others, consume vast amounts of water as they grow, and such crops divert water from other essential uses. 
  • Eat food that is in season and try out unusual items such as salsify, cardoons, quinces etc.
  • Organically produced produce is preferable to non organic if only because the the excess nitrates from fertilisers runs off the fields and polluted water ways. And insecticides and herbicides are a real threat to biodiversity – including in our own gardens. 
  • Locally produced food is again preferable, reducing air/lorry miles and reducing the length of the supply chain.

Count Down

 Action 80: Autumn is a good time to enjoy spicy cakes such as gingerbread and Parkin. Parkin is a traditional cake made in Yorkshire and Lancashire using oatmeal and treacle. Also known as tharf cake or, in Derbyshire, as Thor cake – the latter is more a biscuit than a cake.  Here is a vegan recipe for Parkin: if you are not a fan of treacle, use extra syrup instead.

The Green Tau: issue 20

Biodiversity and food production 

Last week’s Green Tau weekly began a mini series looking at biodiversity. We noted that despite the relative smallness of humanity in terms of global biomass, we humans are dramatically and drastically altering the planet’s biodiversity. This week I want to look at the impact food production has on biodiversity. 

Over the millennia humans have domesticated both animals and plants, selecting and breeding species, and developed farming practices that would best provide food. In the process, humans extended their control over land that had previously been wild, which in turn has limited the land available for wild animals and plants. 1000 years ago, less than 4% of habitable land was farmed. This increased over the centuries, and particularly so from the mid 1800, when the area of farmed increased from under 25%  to the current 50%. (Habitable land is land not covered by glaciers, 10%, nor barren land such as deserts, sand dunes, bare rock, salt flats etc, 19%). In Europe the area of farmed land is now declining slightly, whereas it is continuing to expand in Africa, Asia, China and parts of South America.

Currently there is much media coverage about the clearance of the rain forests in Brazil to create new agricultural land plus accompanying access roads. This process destroys unique habitats with the loss of many plants, animals, birds and insects etc. It also destroys the millennia old way of life of indigenous people.  It is easy to see how such expansion of farming land exacerbates biodiversity loss. The same problem also arises in Africa, Asia and China. Mangroves have also been cleared to make way for shrimp farms, palm oil plantations and rice fields. 

A perhaps previously ignored consequence of expanding farming into previous areas of wilderness, is the increased contact between wild and domesticated animals. This allows diseases to spread more rapidly between the different species. What might be an insignificant virus infecting a wild animal can become a highly infectious virus in domestic animals. These virus can then spread to humans. Such zoonotic diseases include the Ebola virus, SARS and the current Covid 19.

Over the millennia, much of the UK has also been deforested to make way for farm land. Tree coverage  in the UK stands at about 12% which is much lower than most other countries in Europe. Top of the league is Finland with over 50% tree cover; Spain and Portugal are around 35%; France, Germany and Switzerland around 30%. As trees provide a great many habitats for other plants, birds, animals and insects, as well being good stores of carbon, the government’s climate advisers now recommend  tree cover should be increased to 17-19%. As well as planting new trees, it is also important that existing trees are protected: it takes many years for a tree to reach maturity and whilst they are still saplings they do not provide much habitat for other wild life. 

It is not only trees that have been cleared to make way for farming in the UK. Wetland areas such as marshes and bogs, have been drained. This destroyed the unique habitats of many different plants, insects and animals. In the same way, clearing hedgerows has had a detrimental affect on biodiversity. There is now a growing awareness of the importance of restoring and maintaining a diverse range of habitats to support different plants and creatures. Where the area of a particular habitat becomes too small, it may fail to maintain populations of plants and creatures at a viable level. However creating a corridors between habitats enables larger populations to be supported. Hedgerows perform this task on a small scale, as can railway lines and road verges.

Not only has farmland been expanding over the centuries, but what is farmed has changed. Increasing global trade, colonialism and the intensification of farming, has produced a agricultural system that now grows a very limited number of plant species. Two thirds of the world’s food comes from just nine plants: sugar cane, maize, rice, wheat, potatoes, soybeans, oil-palm fruit, sugar beet and cassava. 

Such a concentration makes our food supply vulnerable to the effects of climate change and diseases. This year’s durum wheat crop has been much reduced because of  exceptionally dry conditions in Canada (the harvest is down by a third) and wet ones in Europe. Nearly half of all the bananas grown in the world are one variety, Cavendish, even though there are approximately 999 other varieties. The Cavendish banana is now threatened by a fungus which could wipe it out.  

This over concentration on a limited number of species has meant that many local and older plant varieties have been marginalised – another form of biodiversity loss. However the value of such plants is now being recognised. They can provide alternative crops better suited to local growing conditions and/or changing climatic conditions. Such species include quinoa, which  can be grown at high altitudes, teff which like quinoa can be grown at high altitudes and where water supplies are limited, millet which can tolerate high temperatures, and einkorn which needs less nitrogen – ie can grow in less fertile soils – than wheat.

The same pattern of concentration occurs in animal farming too. Nearly all the world’s diary cows are based on one single breed, the Holstein. As with arable crops, there are advantages of protecting and promoting rare and ancients breeds of farm animals. But in terms of biodiversity what is more incredible is the sheer biomass of farm animals. They account for 60% of all mammals on the planet (of which cattle and buffalo  account for 40%); we humans account for 36% whilst the remaining wild mammals a mere 4%.

Globally 77% of agricultural land is used to raise livestock. This includes land used to grow animal feed. Yet this 77% produces less than  20% of the world’s calories. Land used for livestock could be better used to produce plant based food that would feed a greater number of people and/ or rewilded to increase biodiversity. Factoring in the carbon footprint of livestock, especially cattle, there are even more benefits to be gained from reducing livestock levels.