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One thing leads to another ...

"By my rambling digressions I perceive myself to be growing old."

Benjamin Franklin

It's another uninspired day. Perhaps my brain activity for the day had been spent in my weekly Italian lesson. So I resorted to a slightly new trick/stimulus whatever you like to call it. Over time I have randomly been collecting blog titles that caught my fancy and noting them down, with the thought that one day I might look at them and see what they were all about. I think I started doing this when I was looking for inspiration for a new title of my own. Never found by the way.

So today is the day, and the title I picked is that above - Essex girl cooks healthy. It was a random pick from my list too. I'm not even being methodical and starting at the top of the list. Why did I (a) note it down in the first place, and (b) decide on it today? The answer to (b) is simpler - almost a sticking the pin in the page somewhere kind of thing. (a) is because I am from Essex. Well, sort of. Essex is sort of a forgotten county when you think of England, so I like to boost its reputation every now and then.

My first years were actually spent in London. London E6 to be precise - i.e. East Ham. Then we moved further out along the green district line to the slightly greener Hornchurch which is where I lived until I left home. Back then it was in Essex. Since I have been in Australia it has been absorbed into London as part of the Borough of Havering. So technically I suppose I'm a past Londoner. But I like the notion of being an Essex girl, and I did spend most of my teens out in the Essex countryside where my high school was. In London's green belt. These days calling someone an Essex girl is derogatory - it wasn't so in my youth. Bimbo like is the idea I think. So I find a perverse kind of pleasure in being one - because I know I'm not - neither a bimbo (and I never was), nor an Essex girl. Essex is also rather beautiful away from suburbia. It's quintessential English rural countryside. Gently undulating, with a muddy coast. Mild, gentle, old. Ok - so that's the first digressions.

Essex Girl Cooks Healthy - whoever she is - she does not give a name - began her website, which is purely a recipe website, when her husband was diagnosed with high cholesterol. She tried to find ways of lowering his cholesterol without resorting to pills. I'm afraid I've resorted to the pills. But her online search for solutions was not that successful:

"I looked online for advice about eating more healthily and lowering cholesterol naturally, without drugs – and found the healthy eating scene online (and in reality) to be very depressing, confusing and often trying to sell you stuff…"

And I have to say that this cheered me enormously. Anyway she then decided to eat more healthily - no processed foods, less meat, more fish, more veggies and legumes, less dairy - indeed no butter, cream or cheese, and to pass on her new-found recipes - both her own and from others - online. So she started the blog. No mention of oats which is interesting. I thought this was the main thing you were supposed to consume if you want to lower your cholesterol.

So it's a pretty simple site, and I suspect it may well be a sort of 'dead' site because the recipes on the Home page seem to date from 2014. The earliest recipe I found was from 2012 but nothing after 2014. Which makes you sort of wonder about what happened doesn't it? Did he get his cholesterol down? Did it all get too much? Did she miss the cheese? Did she just run out of ideas? Where are they now? Still in Essex? Maybe motherhood took over her life. I see the subtitle for her website is 'love cooking forever', so I hope she is still cooking - and, more importantly, enjoying cooking.

I wonder how many phantom websites there are out there? I've left two of them myself - one which was an earlier version of this one, and the other which was an account/diary of a now long-ago European holiday. How long before all of this ephemera disappears into the ether from whence it came?

Anyway to make myself feel as if I was doing something approaching 'research' about foodie blogs on the web, I thought I should check out a recipe, so I picked Mackerel Bialys because I was intrigued by 'bialys'. I mean it just looked like a fishy hamburger to me. Which it sort of is, but the bialys, it turns out are special. They are a special Ashkenazy Jewish kind of bun. Everyone refers to them as a kind of bagel but I really don't know why, because (a) bagels have a hole in the middle and (b) you apparently boil bagels before you bake them which somehow makes them shiny. So quite different it seems to me.

I also looked up her recipe for bialys, which is borrowed from New York Cult Recipes by Marc Grossman. The main thing about them, and the thing that is common to all but the trendiest chefs is the dent in the top (as in a bap) and its filling of fried onions and poppy seeds. And actually it seems to me that the bun itself is really rather like a bap, although perhaps a little crunchier.

I'll show you some pictures from various websites but not the links - I doubt any of you are going to have a go at making them. It's a bit esoteric isn't it? I think we Australians would more likely mix the onions in with the dough anyway. But the pictures will show you how much one simple thing can vary.

The first two are 'inauthentic' in that there are black olives in the first and cheese in the second. Somebody said they were time-consuming but no more than any kind of bread it seems to me.

However, in the course of checking out the pictures and the recipes I learnt a couple of interesting things. First that nowadays they are indeed a cult food in New York - i.e. hard to find. Mostly the bagel is the thing. In Melbourne too - I found a comprehensive article on the website Nosher which listed the best places for Jewish food in Melbourne and found only one reference to bialys. Secondly, because I knew that Claudia Roden had written a massive tome on Jewish Food, I looked her up and found she had written a very interesting but not too long article about the history of Polish Jews. I did learn a few things there - not the least of which was how Poland has not been Poland throughout history, and how the Jews were not always persecuted.

All a bit esoteric and a waste of time really, but interesting nevertheless. If I can get excited about baps, then others can get excited about bialys. Oh the name comes from a town in Poland called Bialystok, which is on the border with Belarus and which has a rather grand palace, nicknamed the Polish Versailles..

Onions and poppy seeds. The poppy seeds do seem a bit Jewish to me. I don't know why, and it's an intriguing and attractive combination that you could use in all sorts of ways I would think. I'll try and be a bit more focussed tomorrow. David is suggesting gnocchi because that's what we're having for dinner.


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