Food for thought…

With the recent horsemeat scandal and a number of other stories in the press casting doubt on where our food comes from and what it actually is, it’s not surprising that a number of people are now considering vegetarian and even vegan diets as the way forward. Some of my friends have been doing this for a while, but the longest serving vegetarian/vegan I know has to be my friend Joan Court – who became vegetarian as a teenager some 77 years ago, and is also a confirmed vegan.

Global FruitLocal author Joan explains that the United Nations have said a global shift towards a meat-free and dairy-free diet is necessary if we want to be able to eat sustainably in the future and reduce the impact of climate change; and a look at some of the UN figures that have been published in recent times also suggest that over a third of the food produced globally goes to waste – which sounds bad enough in itself, but even more worrying when you consider that food production accounts for 70% of our freshwater consumption, 80% of deforestation and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Joan CourtMahatma Gandhi – who Joan worked alongside in the 1940’s – suggested that vegan diets are beneficial for our own health:
It is very significant that some of the most thoughtful and cultured men are partisans of a pure vegetable diet
…and vegetarian and particularly vegan diets are, of course, kinder to animals – something Joan is all too keenly aware of. After moving to Cambridge in the late 1970’s to study social anthropology, she co-founded Animal Rights Cambridge – the longest serving animal rights group in the UK. They hold regular monthly meetings in the Mill Road area and have been involved in a number of local and national animal welfare campaigns – from persuading the Michelin starred Midsummer House restaurant to remove foie gras from its menu, to campaigning against live animal exports.

Animals BetrayedJoan’s latest book, Animals Betrayed, features interviews with a number of animal rights activists across the UK. It gives an insight into many of the issues faced by those campaigning for animal welfare and also sheds some light on why some of them first chose to become vegetarian/vegan. Some of those interviewed also talk about animal consciousness – a topic that has been the subject of much research and debate in recent years, including at the 2012 University of Cambridge conference ‘Consciousness in Human and Non-Human Animals‘.

Joan will be signing copies of her book at the RSPCA Bookshop on Mill Road on Saturday – 30th March – between 2 and 5pm. If you can’t make Saturday but would still like a copy of the book (published by Selene Press and priced £12.50) it’s available via Amazon or by phoning (01223) 311828. Joan will be happy to talk about a host of animal welfare issues on Saturday, so it’s a great opportunity to find out more …and she might even share her tips on the best Mill Road places to do a vegan food shop!

Book signing: ‘Animals Betrayed’ by Joan Court 
Saturday 30th March, 2-5pm – at the RSPCA Bookshop, 188 Mill Road CB1 3LP

Award-winning Mill Road

There have been a few winners in the Mill Road area already this month and so I thought I’d give them a well-deserved mention…

Cambridge Wine MerchantsCambridge Wine Merchants
Independent Drinks Retailer of the Year
(Drinks Retailing Awards)

Run by friends Peter and Hal who met here in the City, Cambridge Wine Merchants opened its first shop on Mill Road itself back in 1993. They now have seven branches (mostly in and around Cambridge, though one is in Salisbury) and host masterclasses as well as tasting events and training courses. Although I have bought wine from their shop on Mill Road, I have to admit that most of my visits have been when I have been looking for small presents – the shop has a huge selection of weird and wonderful miniature spirits and liqueurs (not to mention beers!), many of which I haven’t seen anywhere else! The Drinks Retailing Awards were held earlier this months in London and Cambridge Wine Merchants scooped the Best Independent Drinks Retailer award – for the third time!

Cambridge Women's Resources CentreCambridge Women’s Resources Centre
Finalist
(Cash For The Community campaign)

Cambridge Women’s Resources Centre is based on Hooper Street and provides resources and opportunities for women, including training, networking, friendship and one-to-one support. They also have an on-site creche for users of the centre and are open to all women in the community. The centre was recently chosen as one of 25 local community groups who will share a £10,000 pot of grant funding via the Cash For The Community campaign (other groups who will share the pot include Headway, formerly of Mill Road). The campaign was set up by the Cambridge Building Society and Cambridge News, and the amount each group receives will depend on how many tokens readers of the Cambridge News collect and submit for their chosen group before 8th March.

Hot NumbersHot Numbers
Best Independent Coffee Shop
(Discovering Cambridge Awards)

Hot Numbers opened as a coffee shop almost two years ago, but has quickly grown its repertoire and now hosts various music nights, gigs and art events – for example on Thursday night Hot Numbers will be playing host to acoustic guitar and bluegrass with Kate Vowles, and next Tuesday sees the fortnightly Dr Doodleys Drink & Draw meet up. The shop also recently merged with Williams Art next door and is now a coffee shop and art gallery all in one. The Discovering Cambridge Awards were set up last month by local MP Julian Huppert and are aimed at celebrating the independent shops and businesses we have here in Cambridge, with a winner being chosen in a different category each month. Hot Numbers were voted Best Coffee Shop, winning the very first award in the competition (an over all winner for 2013 will be chosen at the Mill Road Winter Fair in December).

The Sea TreeThe Sea Tree
One of three local winners
(Local Business Accelerators competition)

The Sea Tree opened on Mill Road nearly five years ago and is now well known locally for its wide selection of fish (and of course chips) to eat in or take away – though what may be less well known is that you can buy fresh fish and seafood to cook at home (I have a particular liking for their fresh King scallops!). The Sea Tree is one of three winners that have been chosen in the Local Business Accelerators competition for the Cambridge area (the other two being Cambridge Van Man and Whey Forward Industries) and will receive a free advertising campaign in the Cambridge News and mentoring from local business leaders, as well as the chance to scoop the top prize in the national competition later in the year (which includes a £10,000 advertising campaign, a years membership of the CBI and mentoring from Dragon’s Den star Deborah Meaden).

There's something about Mill RoadThere’s something about Mill Road
Winner of 50 copies of ‘Mission: Explore Food’
(The Geography Collective book competition)

Well, I couldn’t really write this article without giving myself at least a mention could I (!). The Geography Collective have written a book called Mission: Explore Food, which has lots of tasks and missions for children to do and teaches them (and indeed adults!) about the food cycle. They recently decided to give away fifty copies (worth £1,000) to a library in the UK and entrants had to write a blog post all about the book and which library service they would give them to. I didn’t let the fact that we don’t actually have a library service around Mill Road put me off applying (!) and it seems the Geography Collective thought that this made the Mill Road area a particularly deserving winner. I was thrilled to win the books for our area and will be distributing them amongst my chosen list of twenty local groups who I think would particularly benefit from receiving them – this includes Romsey Community Garden, Romsey Mill, Friends of Mill Road Cemetery, Argyle Street Housing Co-operative Kids Group, the RSPCA Bookshop and Ridgefield Primary School, as well as lots of other organisations doing good things in our community. You can read my winning blog post here.

More local winners?
You can collect and submit tokens on behalf of Cambridge Women’s Resources Centre (or whichever of the 25 groups you want to support) in the Cash For the Community campaign, tokens are printed in the Cambridge News every day until 1st March and must be received by 8th March. Also, the category for this months Discovering Cambridge competition is music and bookshops – so don’t forget to let Julian Huppert know what your favourite local independent in this category is by the end of the month.

It’s great to live in an area that has so many fantastic community groups and independent shops and businesses. Well done to all the recent winners! If you’re aware of any others I’ve missed then do let me know.

What’s your favourite coffee shop?

MP Julian Huppert has just launched a competition – Discovering Cambridge – to find the best independent Cambridge businesses. He is asking the public to nominate their favourites and there will be a winner chosen in a different business category each month – with the over all winner being announced in December at the Mill Road Winter Fair. This sounds like a great idea and should hopefully highlight the importance of using our local independent shops and businesses (which shouldn’t be too hard to do around Mill Road!).

The category for January is ‘Best Coffee Shop’ and you can vote for your favourite via Twitter, Facebook, email or post – just remember to do it before the end of the month.

Boards outside some of the cafe's on Mill Road: (L-R) Cafe De Paris, CB1, Neide's Deli Cafe, Limoncello & Cafe Otto.

Boards outside some of the cafe’s on Mill Road: (L-R) Cafe De Paris, CB1, Neide’s Deli Cafe, Limoncello & Cafe Otto.

Even though I’m fairly sure I know a coffee shop when I see one, it’s worth noting that as well as being “a shop where different types of coffee are sold, either to drink or as beans or powder” the term ‘coffee shop’ can also refer to a small informal restaurant where drinks and small meals are served, sometimes in a larger shop or building” – so I assume that café’s and the like can also be included. There are several such places around Mill Road, the vast majority of these are independents and include:   Cafe Otto, Neide’s Deli Cafe, Café De Paris, Hot Numbers Coffee, LimoncelloCB1, Cornerstone, Rotana, BLD’s, Urban Larder, Black Cat, Snakatak; and you can even get a cup of coffee at the RSPCA Bookshop. There are probably others too (apologies to those I’ve missed) but these are just the ones that spring to mind.

Although I have my favourites, I think the competition is a good opportunity to try them all out – well, as many as possible (there’s only so much coffee a girl drink in one month!). It would be great to see one of our Mill Road places win the best coffee shop accolade, but the important thing is that we use our independents – so make sure you go and enjoy some of the local cafes this month.

Also – those of you following me on Twitter or Facebook will know that last week I asked for peoples favourite budget-friendly eateries around Mill Road, as I am writing an article. The article will be a short list of my favourites (which may include cafes, restaurants, pubs etc) but I do want to mention places that other local diners like – so do join in the conversation on Twitter or Facebook and let me know what would be on your list.

Christmas on a budget…

It’s been a difficult year for many and if you’re on a tight budget you’ll be looking to make whatever savings you can over Christmas. Here are my top Mill Road tips if you’re watching the pennies and are yet to get organised…

TreeDECORATIONS: Sally Ann’s charity shop have Christmas decorations from as little as 10p for a 3-metre long coloured hanging decoration, and it’s also possible to make a small tree very cheaply – fold a piece of A4 card or paper into a cone shape and staple in place, then wrap a length of tinsel around the tree and secure at the top by poking the end of the tinsel through the cone opening. The bottom end can be stapled in place.

FOOD: If you’re not too fussed on whether or not you eat a traditional turkey, you can get a lovely decent sized chicken (serves 4+) for just £4.20 at the Co-operative supermarket (open today until 5pm) though they are often reduced towards the end of the day if they’re about to pass their best before date – so you may be able to get one for as little as £1.50. It’s also worth noting that with most people plumping for turkey, there’s a good chance the chickens may be overlooked. For vegetables go to Hilary’s Greengrocers (opposite the Co-operative) where you should be able to get a good selection of potatoes and other vegetables all for less than £2. As for gravy, I often make my own anyway by simply combining salt, pepper and a few mixed herbs with a little water and the juices from the meat. I have heard that the Salvation Army Day Centre (just next to St Barnabas Church) is doing Christmas dinner on Tuesday and they are open to all and also need volunteers. I don’t know opening/serving times but contact them/pop in to find out.

Pot PouriPRESENTS: The Co-operative have various different chocolate boxes and shortbread gifts for just £1, including after dinner mints. They also do chocolate selection boxes for £2. Kailash has some lovely scented candles and decorative gifts (many coming in at under £1) and they also sell socks – a fail-safe and ‘traditional’ Christmas present! For fruit stocking fillers, try Al-Amin or Hilary’s for clementines/oranges. Arjuna have some gifts ‘reduced to clear’ (see ground level shelf just inside the door, on the left).

Cuddly toysThe Arthur Rank charity shop has cuddly toys and lots of other festive gifts. There’s also the Oxfam charity shop at the town end of Mill Road (open today) – there’s usually all sorts of goodies available and I have picked up some lovely drinking glasses there in the past. In the spirit of ‘new beginnings’ you could opt to give seeds as presents – Cutlacks (open today) have a lovely selection of packet seeds and each has growing instructions on the back. Cutlacks also do all sorts of kooky and colourful kitchen gifts, such as garlic graters, jam jars and mugs. The RSPCA Bookshop (open today and also Monday until midday) has some great books and they are organised into sections so you can easily find books on a common theme – my top tip is the science-fiction section!

Whatever you do, hope you have a lovely Christmas!

Mill Road moggies

One day last week I was on my way to visit a friend, who also lives just off Mill Road. The journey would normally take me about five minutes, but when I arrived at her house I realised that it had actually taken me nearly quarter of an hour. Unusually, I hadn’t actually bumped into anyone I knew on the way, nor had I stopped at any of the shops I passed. So why had it taken me so long? …the answer is cats!

It’s not that the cats I encountered en route wouldn’t let me pass, rather that I just can’t seem to pass a cat without stopping  (cat lovers will know what I mean, those less disposed to the feline form will probably think I am slightly deranged!). There are occasional exceptions – like if they look particularly scary (rare) or if I have already stopped to, erm, ‘chat’ to that particular cat already that day. Anyway, I worked out that in the space of fifteen minutes I had actually seen fourteen cats! I probably should mention that four of them were at the house of the friend I was going to visit, but that still left another ten I’d passed on the way. I like cats, a lot, but even to me this seemed rather a lot of kitties.

All of the cats I passed appeared in good health and well looked after. However, I know that both the RSPCA and the Cats Protection League have large numbers of moggies that they are struggling to re-home at the moment – so if you can offer a good home to a cat then please get in touch with them. I would offer to re-home one myself, but (almost) all my close neighbours have cats and there’s already a few too many catfrontations in the garden as my neighbouring moggies vie for ‘territory’.

Some cats prefer to be an only moggie, whilst others like the company of other cats and happily exist in dwellings with two or three others – the RSPCA and Cats Protection League can both advise on the temperament of the cats they are trying to re-home and help you find one that suits you. All the cats pictured are looking for a loving home and a new owner someone to own.

An open book (shop!)

I was really pleased to hear about the RSPCA Bookshop on Mill Road re-opening on Saturday – when I first saw the shop empty a couple of weeks ago, I had feared the worst, but it turned out they were just doing the place up!

RSPCA Bookshop

The RSPCA Bookshop on Mill Road, which re-opened on 11th August 2012.

I popped in today to see how they’ve been getting on since the refurbishment, and was greeted with a very warm welcome. The shop is bright and airy with a new blue and white colour scheme and they have books on just about every subject imaginable (though the poetry and science fiction sections particularly caught my eye!). There’s also a growing collection of CD’s, DVD’s, videos and vinyl records; and you can even buy a cup of coffee to enjoy whilst browsing.

It turns out they actually have more books than space at the moment, so if there’s something you’re after but can’t see it on the shelves, it is probably worth asking. They rely on donations of unwanted books from the public – in fact just this afternoon they had a number of fishing books donated, so if this is what you’re angling for then do pop down and see them.

The bookshop is now one of only two bookshops on Mill Road and is a much needed resource in the area (especially since both Browne’s Bookshop and the Libra Aries shop have closed in the last few years). The shop is staffed by volunteers and the money raised goes to a very good cause – the work of the RSPCA focuses on animal rescue, welfare and cruelty prevention – so I for one am really pleased to see it open again and serving the community.