Bear Necessities

Round & About

food

Ella Reeves enjoys a summer highlight at the newly renovated historic gastropub The Bear & Ragged Staff in Appleton Road, Cumnor.

Head Chef of the restaurant at The Bear & Ragged Staff
The specials in restaurant of The Bear & Ragged Staff

The Bear and Ragged Staff is a charming gastropub in the village of Cumnor, retaining many of its original Tudor features. I knew we were in for a treat, as my Great Uncle Tom, who lives in the area and has excellent taste, goes there a couple of times a week.

It was the ideal location for a clement summer evening, with a well-kept display of flowers welcoming visitors on arrival. And boy, did we need welcoming. In retrospect, it would have been lovely to have taken a cycle ride to the Bear and Ragged Staff. Or, you could stay in one of the nine lovely rooms on the premises. My clumsy mistake meant we got on the wrong bus, which led to a traumatic journey, but we were put at ease when we were met by the lovely and professional staff.

We started with a drink on the south-facing terrace before dinner. I was keen to try the cocktail menu, and chose a cosmopolitan, which was perfectly balanced on sweetness and sharpness from the lime. My partner, partial to a good rosé, ordered a pinot blush, which went down a treat. Sometimes, it’s the little details that count: lavender and rosemary in little plant pots on the tables. I also noted the biodegradable straws, a good sign of a forward-thinking, sustainable establishment.

The restaurant was managed like a well-oiled machine. The staff were knowledgeable about the menu, answering each question and attending to each request with discreet elegance.

I love a good eatery with a menu dilemma… The kind of place where everything sounds so delicious that you just cannot choose and have to “panic order”. We were not rushed by the ever-patient and charming staff, but our hungry tums and salivating mouths necessitated twe order without delay.

I always wonder if it is fair to review the specials, but I have it on good knowledge that the selection is on par each evening. I was torn between the special starter of blue cheese croquettes with pickled shallots and toasted pine nut salad, and buffalo mozzarella, heritage tomato and basil salad. My decision was made when my partner agreed to let me sample his croquettes.

Digging into the crispy exterior, the blue cheese oozed onto the tangy salad leaves, set off by the gentle crunch of the pine nuts. It was described by my partner as the “best starter ever” and I knew he was genuine as it is rare he would eat his greens with such enthusiasm. I had to agree when I was allowed to sample – just a bit though, that’s shallot!

I dug into my starter and was transported back to my recent visit to Venice, where the caprese salad became my favourite dish to order at any restaurant.  The Laverstoke mozzarella – sourced from the first farm to produce authentic mozzarella in the UK – was every bit as creamy as it should be, complimented by the basil-infused dressing and stylishly multi coloured tomatoes, sweet and plump enough to rival their Italian counterparts.

It was beautifully paired with a sauvignon blanc that was every bit as crisp, fresh and lemony as it should be – just the way I like it.

Then, the mains. Oh, the mains! We both opted for duck, and were impressed by the creative talent of the chef to create two very different dishes.

My choice was the special, a roasted duck breast, served beautifully tender and pink, with crunchy pancetta, hispi cabbage, and a perfectly seasoned ‘jus’. I come from the sort of family where you would set your relatives in a state of panic by setting out a full roast and not bringing the gravy until last, so it took a great deal of self-control to resist licking my plate clean. My partner’s duck Bolognese was a welcome twist on a classic, with crispy duck crumb adding depth through the texture contrast.

Feeling that we were reaching capacity, we opted for a light finish of a trio of Jude’s free-range ice creams (him), and an espresso martini (me). I am known for being fussy about all my drinks (to say the least) and the espresso martini is no exception: it must have the perfect balance of sweetness. They nailed it.

Call The Bear & Ragged Staff on 01865 862329 or visit www.bearandraggedstaff.com

Christine Wallace: in the mix!

Round & About

food

Hello everyone! Is it just me or is there a feelgood factor in the air recently?

In general people seem to be quite happy and smiley. Just passing someone in the street or at the shops seems to generate a “hello” and my goodness, doesn’t it make you feel good!? I put it down to summer, the weather isn’t bad and holidays are on everyone’s mind so lots to be happy about. There also might be a measure of trying to forget that we live in quite a troubled world and the news can be depressing so let’s just live for the day! Whatever it is, I hope it lasts!

July brings hedgerows heavy with berries, fennel to liven up salads and lots more including aubergines and courgettes. Cherries and peaches are at their best and the glorious gooseberry is here. The poor gooseberry doesn’t get a good press and it’s hard to find them, even in farm shops. But there are wonderful recipes using this vitamin C-rich fruit; poached gooseberries with a creamy vanilla custard, gooseberry compote which is super used in cakes or to top a cheesecake, gooseberry jam or the very delicious gooseberry fool. Take 400g gooseberries and cook with 50g sugar over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until soft. Remove from the heat, crush and cool. Pour two tablespoons of elderflower cordial and 1tbsp lemon juice into 400ml double cream and whisk to medium peaks. Add 4 tablespoons of ready-made custard. Fold half the gooseberries into the mixture. Spoon half into four glasses. Layer the rest of the gooseberries, then top with the rest of the cream mix. Chill until ready to serve. You’ll love it!

Also in shops is new-season lamb (the best is from Kent). Lamb breast is a great make-ahead meal – slow cooking turns a cheap cut into a luxury. Tom Kerridge’s breast of lamb with broccoli, anchovy and caper dressing is lovely!

The Greeks and Romans are returning! Stretch Didcot’s Roman Festival at the Didcot Girls School on Saturday, 7th July (10.30am-5pm) will have more than 20 different experts and events, including me! Tickets are a fantastic £4.

Visit www.christinebakes.co.uk and please get in touch!

Is a vegan diet healthy?

Round & About

food

Society considers a vegan diet a “healthy” lifestyle choice (both for humans and the environment). But is it? Some of the most severe and chronic health conditions I see are often connected to current or past veganism.

The science is convincing; vegans are far more likely to present with a number of key nutritional deficiencies compared to omnivores, particularly B12, omega 3 essential fats, choline and bioavailable forms of calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin A and D. Our cells require optimal nutrient levels to function. When cells malfunction, we develop disease.

Our digestive system closely resembles other predatory animals’ and is designed to break down animal protein with stomach acid. Herbivores do not produce stomach acid. Plants are difficult to break down, which is why herbivores have a special stomach (a rumen) containing significant quantities of bacteria whose sole purpose is to release nutrients. If you watch a cow eating, you’ll notice grass is regurgitated multiple times – “chewing the cud”. The human digestive system has very few bacteria in the stomach (stomach acid is very hostile to gut bacteria), with the vast majority residing in our version of a rumen, the colon (which is as far away from the stomach as possible) and located after the small intestine, the key part of the digestive system that absorbs nutrients (in herbivores the rumen is before the small intestine). We are designed to absorb the vast majority of our nutrients from foods broken down in the upper digestive systems (animal proteins/fats), with indigestible plant matter passed to the colon, where the gut bacteria get to work and produce a raft of essential metabolic by-products that we have discussed and confer considerable health benefits.

I’m not advocating we eat lots of animal protein; it should be the “garnish” with veg centre stage! I’m pointing out that abstaining from all animal protein is not “healthy”. A vegan diet is essentially a form of fasting.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 0118 321 9533 or visit www.entirewellbeing.com

Gluten-related disorders

Round & About

food

If you are presenting with any chronic health or wellbeing conditions that cannot be explained, then a professional assessment should be advised for the following disorders.

Gluten-related disorders (GRDs) are fundamentally caused by the inability of the body to properly digest gluten (the storage protein in grains), typically driven by imbalances in the bacterial species of the gut in combination with genetic predisposition. If identified, eliminate gluten from a diet permanently in order to repair the damage.

Coeliac disease (CD) is the autoimmune variant of GRDs where the immune system attacks and destroys the small intestine reducing the ability of the body to absorb nutrients. CD can be diagnosed using a combination of blood, genetic and physical assessments.

Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) are not an auto-immune disease, but is no less serious. This evidence is based upon results of a large study that reviewed 351,000 intestinal biopsies clearly showing that there was not only just as much inflammation detected with NCGS as with CD, but also that the increased risk of early mortality was 72% with NCGS compared to 39% with CD.

There is also a “new kid on the block” called non-coeliac wheat sensitivity (NCWS), where gluten is not necessarily the trigger, but instead significant immune system reactions are being triggered by other components of wheat. You can start to appreciate that both gluten and wheat can have serious implications on individuals that do not have CD but instead NCGS/NCWS.

Simply eliminating wheat or gluten, in your diet, before you have had a professional assessment is not advised.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 0118 321 9533 or visit www.entirewellbeing.com

Food is the most powerful medicine

Round & About

food

We all know that the NHS is under considerable pressure. The cost of diabetes alone to the NHS is over £1.5 million per hour, says Diabetes UK. The conventional medical view on type 2 diabetes (T2D) is that this condition is irreversible and requires long-term medication to control.

T2D typically responds very well to specific dietary and lifestyle interventions. Working in collaboration with their GPs, I have seen, firsthand, clients come off/reduce their diabetic medications by making substantial changes to their diets and lifestyle.

I am therefore somewhat perplexed by the fanfare that has surrounded the results of a very recently published randomised controlled trial in The Lancet, that has concluded that after the participants focused on a weight loss programme for 12 months that ‘almost half achieved remission to a non-diabetic state and off antidiabetic drugs. Remission of type 2 diabetes is a practical target for primary care’. This is great news, but not new news. There is considerable existing evidence to suggest that calorie restriction (in particular carbohydrate restriction) is one of the most beneficial approaches to optimally managing diabetes, which, after all, is an intolerance to carbohydrate. Obviously any such intervention does need to be carefully managed by a suitably, qualified health care practitioner in conjunction with the client’s GP/medical consultants. The reality is that standardising this type of approach, has the potential to save the nation around £7 billion.

It is time to stop simply focussing on how much more money the NHS requires and really start thinking about reducing overall load on the system, by using well-managed dietary and lifestyle interventions that are supported by unbiased science. Food is one of the most powerful medicines known to human kind.

Call Mark BSc (Hons) BA (Hons) mBANT CNHC on 01183 219533 or visit www.entirewellbeing.com