Thursday, 28 February 2013


Snowdrops in my garden.  If you want to plant snow drops now is the ideal time of year. 

At last the sun is beginning to shine.  The snowdrops are out in the garden.  I managed to grab a few precious minutes and pick a small bunch for my desk to keep me company. It was whilst I was listening to some audio earlier that I was fiddling about looking for a quote and I came across a poem.  It took me a moment to take in what I had read, because I assumed the words had only ever existed on a long wrecked memorial.

At the bottom of the valley betweenBrixworth and Pitsford on the A508 in Northamptonshire there is a memorial that as a young girl I often walked past.  I was told that a local lady died at the spot in a hunting accident and her husband built it in her memory.  When I was about fourteen it was smashed to bits by anti hunt campaigners.  I memorized the words as it was restored.

Not long after it was smashed to bits again. Someone took a sledgehammer to the words for a second time.  I suppose ironically they probably believed that they were carrying out the very advice in the words they were destroying.

It has been over a quarter of a century since I last read the words.  I’ve never needed to read them again because they were etched into me.  I remember deciding with passion and an unwavering belief in human kindness, that these words were the principle foundations upon which to live me life.

I shall pass through this world but once.
If therefore, there be any kindness I can show,
or any good thing I can do, let me do it now.....
For I shall not pass this way again.

So it seems that these are not after all these years the words of the heartbroken husband, but a poem…  with a second verse.  The exact identity of the author is disputed, but Stephen Grellet, an 18th century French/American religious leader has been credited in most references I have now read. In reality I don’t think that who wrote the words changes much.  It is the words themselves that have guided my decisions all through my life. 

The second verse, again is disputed as an add on, but the new words have as much relevance today as they did when they were written in the 18th century and seem to capture something more.

Thinking about it, these words have laid the foundations for my Buddhist practices, and reading them again today was like meeting up with an old friend again. 

2nd verse.

If I can anyway contribute to the diversion
or improvement of the country in which I
live, I shall leave it, when I am summoned
out of it, with the satisfaction of
thinking that I have not lived in vain.

Stephen Grellet, (1773–1855)

Monday, 18 February 2013

A week in Grenada with Mott Green

Mott Heads up The Grenada Chocolate Company which produces single origin 'tree-to-bar' chocolate in hand made batches.
I think anyone watching me right now would wonder what I am doing.  I’ve started this diary entry a dozen times or more and metaphorically there is a bin in the corner full of scrunched up balls of paper after dozens of first attempts at opening this dairy post.

It was through Chantal Coady of Rococo Chocolates that I was introduced to Mott Green of the Grenada Chocolate Company and I was invited, along side one of my all time favorite writers Xanthe Clay, to spend a week finding out more about The Grenada Chocolate Company, and the Tres Hombres ship that is now on it’s way back to the UK with 50,000 bars of chocolate on board.  As I'm sitting here thinking back, the week was so incredible I actually don’t know where to start. I thought about writing everything up like a day-by-day journal starting at the beginning, but really I want to write about the way this trip to Grenada has affected me.

Meeting the Farmers and Edmond Brown who grow the Cocoa and the crew who sail it back to the UK 
I flew to Grenada last Monday with Xanthe Clay who writes for the Telegraph.  Xanthe's articles are so beautifully written. Her words always transport me to wherever she is in the world and I have always loved her writing style. The way she weaves atmosphere and romance in her features without forgetting the practical aspects of cooking makes her a brilliant writer. She also has magical ability to include lots of information whilst keeping up a good pace, but what I like best of all is that she is a mother and a wife and she chats about family life, giving a wonderful warm human aspect to her work, and her recipes consistently translate to real life. We’d met a few times out and about but I was nervous all the same.  I hoped so much that she would like me. In real life she is equally fabulous as her column.  She is really one of the most adventurous fun and inspirational women I have ever met, and I know perhaps Xanthe is laughing and blushing if she is reading these words..  but forgive my honesty.  I am writing from my heart and speaking the truth as it is.

Since I came back from meeting Lulu Sturdy and spending time at Ndali Vanilla in Uganda I’ve been trying to find the answer to that little voice whispering to me that something more has to be possible here. Perhaps it was stepping away from my identity as a wife, mother, and daughter that meant I tuned in to the people around me, but I have come back from Grenada not only bringing back with me spices and Rum, but clarity and purpose.

Everything on Grenada was intense. The food tasted more delicious, the music sounded more soulful.  It was as thought some one turned up the volume in the world. The heat, the flavors, the sounds; and now that I’m home I know that the people I met on that beautiful little island will have a played a part in changing the way I see things forever.

Grenada itself has an easy laid back appeal.  People wave. People smile and people take the time to say hello and how are you.  It’s a beautiful place, but more than that, it’s got really lovely people.  People that make you feel welcome and having been let loose on the Island to explore ourselves I found myself stopping at the side of the road, chatting to fishermen, photographing laughing children and eating amazing food.  It’s an extraordinary place.

Time to consider life. 

It is on this Island, where the Caribbean see meets the Atlantic ocean, the spices and cocoa trees grown in fertile volcanic soil in the warn tropical sunshine, that there is a revolution is happening.  This is where the very best fair working practices happen and the farmers and workers benefit from the chocolate being made just a few minutes away from here it is grown. It is here that the Tres Hombres and her crew moor their beautiful cargo ship, and load the chocolate into the cargo hold.  It is this synergy between people, beliefs and possibility quite literally set my core on fire

Mott Green is the man behind the Grenada chocolate.  He is a shrewd 46 year old year  NewYorker, with intense blue eyes, clear vision of what is right, achievable and fair; with insatiable energy he has teamed up with the Tres Hombres fair transport cargo vessel.  The fit is perfect; with a natural synergy between Motts cooperatively produced artisanal hand crafted chocolate bars and Captain of Arjan’s principles of fair transport on the Tres Hombres ship.   

When I asked Captain Arjen van der Veen about his dream of making the world a better place through fair food and fair transport he looked straight at me and with easy humour he pointed out the obvious.  “This is not how it could be.  This is how it is.  We are doing it right now.  This is my life and it’s real.”  

In that moment I felt as though I’d been handed the picture to a puzzle I’ve been trying to solve for an age. I’ve quite literally had the pieces all along but not been able to see how to put it together.

Literally as I am typing this, at this very moment in time, the chocolate I saw being made is being sailed back to Portsmouth by Captain Arjen, Mott and the crew.  The chocolate is maturing and developing it’s fruity, textured rich dark sweet flavour, so it for me to step out of my conventional self, stop dreaming and do as Arjen and Mott.  So now it is time for me to really trust my beliefs fully, without questioning, without hesitation.

The cocoa grows on small farms in the rainforest, protected by nutmeg, banana and mango trees.
Seeing a clear view of the world through other people’s eyes I saw myself properly. Vanessa, just as I am. For the first time in years I actually liked what I saw, and I suddenly stopped feeling like I wasn’t good enough.   This wasn’t just a fluke anymore. Call it kismet if you like but to find myself with the opportunity to meet the people challenging convention I‘ve realized that I can make a difference. It was listening to Arjen and Mott when I realised that it’s not a dream it’s just what you do when you believe in something. Both Mott and Arjen live life according to their beliefs and convictions  -   it is an amazing way to live and I want to do the same. 

I thought back at where I was less than three years ago, feeling domestically trapped, in a job I no longer wanted to do, with three young children demanding every ounce of my energy.  I was miserable and yes I determined to follow my heart and change direction. I think meeting Mott has finally made me release that I may actually have almost achieved what I set out to.. and now there is more. Now there is the real chance to not only live the principles of an ethical and sustainable lifestyle but to incorporate those principles into my work and so I’ve decided to fully incorporate these core values into the courses I teach and to change this blog’s name to reflect what is my privilege; to spread the word about how to eat, grow, buy delicious, ethical and sustainable food and flowers, without compromise.

You can buy some of this beautiful dark organic chocolate in Waitrose or at Rococo Chocolates

2nd June 2013 - Addendum 

It is with absolute sadness and shock that I add to this post that Mott died tragically in an accident yesterday.  I am absolutely heartbroken. As I write this now with tears streaming and I am, for once in my life, grateful to my propensity to blurt how I feel as I explained to Mott just two weeks ago on baord the Tres Hombres just what a profound effect that he has had on me.

Chantal Coady friend of Motts for many years and owner of Rococo Chocolates has written a beautiful tribute to Mott on her blog.

The interview I had with him is below.  Rest in peace Mott, for I believe with all my heart that you have changed the world of chocolate forever.

Captain Arjen Van der Veer of the Tres Hombres has a cargo of 50,000 hand wrapped bars of  delicious dark organic chocolate destined for Portsmouth. 


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Giving Up Supermarkets for Lent.

The ginger on my local market earlier today

I’ve minutes to write.  It’s Valentines Day and I have a date with my husband   ...  so I must be quick.  My fingers are numb.  I’ve been carrying bags of food from the market, but as I am thawing out and typing these words I know that the contents of these bags will at least keep me going for a few days.

I’d like to say that I am pleased with myself for shopping on the market but I was irritated by the fact that I forgot the cotton bags, which would not only have saved my fingers but the planet too.  I bought Satsuma’s, shiny dark aubergines, and fresh hot ginger rhizomes.  It seems odd to be back in Northampton, when  a few days ago I was clearing lemongrass away to dig up fresh ginger with a cutlass on a plantation in Grenada, and eating earthy chinks of it with food writer Xanthe Clay.  Still at least I am not being eaten alive by sandflies. 

Digging up fresh ginger in Grenada on the Rose Mount Plantation 6 days ago

The shopping which is literally scattered across the table has taken on extra significance.  You see not only is today Valentines Day yesterday was the first day of lent.  For me this doesn’t hold any particular meaning as I am Buddhist, but it is a good time to reflect. I’ve been watching twitter and there are so many people who want to give up chocolate.  Whilst I appreciate giving up something you love for spiritual reasons, I feel that the overriding majority of people are hoping to loose a few pounds and feel better about themselves.  For me this is a time to do something really positive.  I’ve been reading Joanna Blythman’s book called Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets and it's confirmed things I have known for a long time.. So I've have decided to live for 40 days with out supermarkets.   

Today is the fist day and it’s been a good start.  I’ve discovered many of the household cleaning products I use in a shop called the daily bread in Northampton, near the Bedford road roundabout.  I can’t say that this is going to be an easy task.  I work full time, spend my free time trying to keep up with a large working kitchen garden and I have three young children, so I figure if I can do this than anyone can.

British Tulips on Northampton Market from Spalding. 

 The other reason to celebrate today is that I was at Waterstones helping to launch a book for the Clandestine Cake Club.  Lynn’s book is really lovely.  If you love cakes I can’t recommend it enough, and you will find one of my recipes on page 91. Whilst I was there I caught up with my local MP, who has agreed to talk to me about food labelling in the EU as he was our MP when this was being decided.. look out for a interview on here with Chris Heaton Harris next week. 

Tomorrow I will share some of the adventures I had in Grenada last week.

Tonight I will make noodles.