Adventures in Spain (part 1). (And another Sunday reading list.)

So I promised a catch-up post and this is the first of a few. Whilst I have been writing my thesis in (what at times felt like) a hermit-like cave for many many months, I have somehow managed to fit some fun in around it too. After I redrafted my conclusion at the end of May, Andrés and I made a trip to Spain so I could meet his family and see his hometown. It was my first time in Spain and I absolutely loved it, although I desperately need to work on my Spanish (currently non-existent). I discovered there is nothing more frustrating than being unable to communicate with someone, particularly when you have many many questions to ask.

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Andrés comes from a small town (he swears it is not that small but really, when you come from Joburg, everywhere else seems pretty tiny, and yes that is my Joburg-biased voice talking) called Chiclana de la Frontera. It’s on the Andalusian coast, near Cadiz. Chiclana has the most incredible beach (the picture above) where we spent several afternoons swimming, hanging out and sun worshipping. I met various members of Andrés’ family – his parents, his grandparents, various uncles and cousins. We ate a lot – I even tried tiny fried birds (I am not convinced).

We spent several mornings in Chiclana’s town centre. Andrés took me to the covered market, where you can get fresh fish, fruits and vegetables and meat. We wandered aimlessly along the cobbled streets, went down to the river, and visited several cafes for fino and tapas. I particularly loved how over the hours of lunchtime people popped into the cafe (where we stood at the bar talking and watching the goings-on) buying fino or beer and talking to each other. It was such a significant change to my own experience of people rushing from one meeting to the next, grabbing lunch to go and rushing off again. Here there was time to talk and share a drink, and the occasional snack too.

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One day we drove to Cadiz, which, alongside Seville, was one of my favourite places. I loved everything about Cadiz – the clear blue water, the fig trees, the food, the quirky streets, the old buildings.

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But my absolute favourite in Cadiz was the market. The market is in an open square, the traders are (undercover) around the edge and in the centre, and in-between, there are tables and stools so that you can buy things to eat and enjoy them in the sunshine whilst people around you shop and talk about food. It strikes me as incredibly special to be able to visit such a place to do your weekly or daily shop – where you can strike up conversations with your favourite butcher or fishmonger, dally awhile amongst the noise and bustle, and delight in the colours.

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We wandered through the city, watching people sunning themselves on the beach, boats anchored just off-shore. We visited the castle where we found a random (but fantastic) collection of old ophthalmology equipment (I took photographs for my dad) and ate a spectacular lunch at a restaurant where a friend works as the pasty chef.

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I also insisted we poke around Cadiz Cathedral, mainly because I love churches for their aesthetic beauty but also because I am fascinated by their power and wealth. Andres was super chuffed because he charmed the guys at the entrance into giving me a student ticket (despite my lack of student card). The cathedral is beautiful and intimidating – the way one should be, I imagine.

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Finally we took refuge from the heat in a museum where Andrés showed me a painting of the signing of the 1812 Spanish constitution.

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More on Spain next week but in the meantime, here is this week’s reading!

Sunday Reading List

This article was in last month’s Observer Food Monthly magazine. It details how one school has successfully changed their lunchtimes and food to suit their children’s needs, with the help of a wonderful chef. Feel good reading about the world, if you need it.

I was reminded of the article above because I was reading today’s Observer Food Monthly. It has a great article on chefs and their gardens. I love stories about people growing and then cooking food and the pictures of the gardens are inspiring. I particularly love how so many stories begin with gardening in childhood – with grandparents or parents.

I also read Rachel Roddy’s article in the FT. I love the way Rachel writes about food. If you haven’t read her blog about her kitchen in Rome, do. I want to learn to write about food and life the way she does. It reminds me strongly of writing field notes, paying attention to the small details of everyday life but somehow I haven’t yet learnt to do that in my ordinary day-to-day living. Her book – Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome – is on my list of things to buy soon.

I’ve been listening to The Moth on the Power of Storytelling via The New York Public Library podcast.  Inspiring storytelling and fascinating ideas of how to tell stories – Carly Johnstone’s piece was particularly gripping.

I’m still busy with H is for Hawk (almost but not quite done) but I’m also reading Ghosts of Spain which I actually started before our trip but then put down. It’s an expat investigation of the art of forgetting (about Franco) in Spain. I’ve found it historically fascinating but I’m also enjoying it for the insights of an English person living there.

Finally, I’m working on a book chapter on gardening and have been perusing My Cool Allotment for research purposes. The photographs are fantastic but the stories of the allotments and community gardens are just wonderful. If you’re in need of inspiration for a green space, pick this up!

Til next time!

Raspberry and White Chocolate Blondies

I’m sure this must happen to other people but I am always amazed at how quickly the year disappears. It seems I have blinked and missed the summer almost entirely. It felt so autumnal one morning this week that I started to panic. I changed the main page picture on the blog to reflect mid-summer raspberry making in an attempt to capture the last moments of sunshine (and because I was rather over those madeleines) but it made me wonder, where has the year gone? I realise quite a lot of it was spent at my desk, thinking and writing but even the last month, sans-PhD, has flown.

My mom was here visiting and that went past like a whirlwind and now it is nearly September and I am starting to prepare for a conference and wondering where? where did the time go?

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I realise this is a random introduction to a post on white chocolate blondies but it has been on my mind for a while now. If anyone has any ideas of how I can recover from the speed of this year, let me know. But in the meantime, I’m going to tell you about these blondies. I’m so officially obsessed with them that I got up early (early!) on my day off so I could tell you all about them. (Maybe that is the key to more time? Become an early riser? I am by nature a night owl but am always striving to get up early in the mornings, it is a quiet time of day that I like so much but rarely manage to see. I don’t know? Maybe?)

The key genius of this recipe is that you brown the butter. Yes, I know, we’ve talked about brown butter before but brown butter and slightly caramelised white chocolate is a thing of magic in a way I did not fully understand before. So you cook the butter until the milk solids have split out and started to sputter and fizz and then you just keep the pot on the stove, cooking away until the butter turns a lovely nut-brown colour and smells nutty. Then you add in half the white chocolate and allow it to sit in the butter whilst the butter cools and you assemble the rest of the batter. The resulting blondie is squidgy, fudgy, gloriously caramel in flavour with the odd white chocolate chip for additional sweet creaminess and raspberry for tartness. Make it now!

Raspberry White Chocolate Blondie
Adapted from Olive Magazine
200g butter, unsalted
150g white chocolate, chopped roughly
200g light brown sugar
100g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
100g buckwheat flour
100g rice flour
a pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g frozen raspberries

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a brownie tray with parchment – I use a tray that is 27cm x 20cm.

Place the butter in a saucepan and cook over a medium heat until the butter is brown and smells nutty. Remove from the heat. Add in half the white chocolate and leave to cool.
Whisk the sugars and eggs together until slightly pale and thick.
In a separate bowl, place the flours and salt together. Add the vanilla into the egg mixture then fold in the flour.

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Pour the butter mixture into the batter and fold in. The batter is quite thick. Break the raspberries up a little with your hands and stir half into the batter.

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Pour the batter into your lined baking tin and scatter the rest of the raspberries and white chocolate on top.

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Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until the blondie no longer wobbles at the centre and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Allow to cool before slicing and eating.

Stonebridge City Farm (and a Sunday reading list)

It has been a fair while since I posted anything that did not contain a recipe. In the last few years, consciously I think, I have focussed on the desserts and cakes side of things of this blog. But I also wanted this blog to be a place for sharing inspirational food trips – festivals, gardens, and city farms – and so for the next few Sundays I thought I would share some of my recent favourites. Some of these are places I have been to before (and blogged about) and I am now sharing them with others (with my mom – who I have been hanging out with this past week – and with Andrés, who gets my obsession with all things food-related). Some of these, like today, are new places that I haven’t been before.

I also thought I’d start to share some of the things I’ve been reading recently because I have been reading much in my post-hand-in month. (There has been a lot of trashy, quite disappointing fiction, but we won’t talk about that – if anyone has any really good trashy fiction, please let me know!)

But to begin, Stonebridge City Farm.

Stonebridge is located in the heart of St. Ann’s in Nottingham. It is a stone’s throw from the city centre but you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled into the countryside. It is a quiet (apart from many, very enthusiastic, children) and peaceful. The gardens are a wondrous, excessive maze – around every turn there is a leap of delight at the discovery of a tomato plant, say, growing amongst the blackberries; or a bed of courgettes, awash with yellow flowers. The sunflowers are of remarkable size, shades of yellow, orange and deep red. There is a pond (beware! deep water! the signs warn) full of frogs (we had to take their word for this – we saw none). And there is a motley crew of animals to wonder at – ducks, chickens, quail, rabbits and guinea pigs, goats, sheep, several very large pigs, some ponies and two Dexters.

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We visited on a sunny Friday afternoon at the beginning of the school holidays and relished basking in the sunshine. We were as enthusiastic, I think, as the children and just as wonder-filled. The size of the sunflowers filled me with awe and Andrés tried to make friends with one of the cows.

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I do love a city farm and have resolved to visit more often. There is nothing I like more than being outside in the sunshine, especially after so many months cooped up at my desk. They have fantastic plant specials too (if you need an incentive other than tiny animals and flowers to visit)!

Sunday Reading List:
I found a copy of How to Feed Your Friends with Relish yesterday in my local Oxfam bookshop (I love second-hand bookshops) and I started reading it last night. It reminded me of two things: I don’t cook enough anymore generally (and when I do I am terribly boring and repetitive) and I absolutely need to cook for friends more often.

Speaking of cooking for others, when I was with my mom this last week, we spent a morning foraging (my mothers term for wandering aimlessly whilst also quietly shopping) in Bakewell. She was not enamoured with Bakewell puddings or tarts (but did love the town itself). We found a lovely second-hand bookshop where the cookbooks were on a 2-for-1 offer. Obviously I found two – A Taste of Relais and Chateaux: 97 Recipes from Some of the Finest Chefs in the UK and Ireland and Desserts: A Lifelong Passion by Michel Roux. They’re both wonderful but I love love love the dessert book, not only because the food styling is so fantastically dated but because it has a recipe for a pistachio creme brûlée. So now I have to invite some people for dinner so I can make it.

I’ve also just started reading H is for Hawk. I love nature writing and reading it reminded me of two other books that I love – in fact, my mom and I had one of those conversations where I said “this reminds me of that book. You know that one? With the blue green cover? The woman writes about the wilds of Scotland.” And my mom went, “oh yes. We’ve all read that. I’ve passed it around the family. What is it called?” Neither of us could remember at the time but they are Sightlines and Findings by Kathleen Jamie. Her writing invokes the wild drama and feelings of space and openness that I love about the Scottish islands. Just remembering those books generated in me a longing to visit. Read them if you can. For wildness.

I’ve also been listening to many many podcasts. I am now subscribed to Freakanomics, This American Life, the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme, Monocle’s The Menu, and The New York Public Library Podcast (Diane von Furstenberg’s interview made me want to buy one of her wrap dresses). But my favourite by far is Krista Tippett’s On Being. I love the way she draws out stories, and the people being interviewed are just fascinating. I love hearing about what people do in this world – I mean this week, she talks to Katy Payne, who spent years listening to whales and was among the first scientists to realise whales compose songs.

Lastly, Brain Pickings. I’ve linked to Maria’s site before but she continues to provide thought-provoking writing (I subscribe to the newsletter and spend lazy Sunday mornings reading it before getting up). I was particularly interested in this week’s writing on leisure – the idea that our culture has become workaholic (what Maria terms “productivity-fetishism”) and the need to think about leisure as an opportunity for “unburdened contemplation”. I love that idea and as I move towards assembling my life post-PhD, I want to hold it in my mind’s eye and remind myself of the need for silence and reflection.

Until next time.

On (almost) finishing. And some thyme and peach loaf cake.

Greetings dear readers. It has been a long time! Three (nearly four) whole months (ssshhh!). If you are wondering what on earth happened to me (I do hope you are), well, I finally submitted my thesis for examination. Cue dancing bears and confetti and loud bangs and cake.

Well, some of those things anyway. I am now in that weird interim period as I await my viva (defense) and start to contemplate life-after-a-PhD. This is a surprisingly scary thing. I’ve spent a very long time on one project and now I find myself at the end and the big, scary question now is, what next? And the even scarier realisation is that well anything could be next. The possibilities are somewhat endless. The good thing is that there seem to be various things happening in a range of places but I am as yet without an actual permanent job. I keep reminding myself that this is okay! I’m busy working in a cafe (making a lot of cake) and writing several things. And next week I am bonding with the mothership and princess up in the peaks for some much needed rest.

But in the meantime, I am back here. (Yay!) I will do a catch up post soon but today I’m keeping it simple. Today is all about this cake (bout this cake).

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I found this cake via Instagram, which I realise sounds odd but there you go. I follow Honey&Co and on Sunday a while back they had a ‘cook along’ which, quite frankly, is just a genius idea. Basically they posted photographs of the step-by-step process of this cake and you could cook alongside with them. I was at work (#chefslife) but I scrolled back through the feed with interest. I love a loaf cake and at this time of year I’ll take anything with peaches. Their cake is made with fennel seeds (which sounds exciting and intriguing) but in my head I had this mantra going “peaches and thyme, peaches and thyme” so I decided to do a little adapting and made this instead. This is wonderful cake – good for tea – but even better a day old, toasted under the grill and slathered with salted butter. (You can ask the girls at work. They will concur.)

Peach and Thyme Loaf Cake
Adapted from Honey & Co

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225g golden caster sugar
zest of one orange
zest of one lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
3 eggs
120g white spelt flour
40g buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
80g all-fat natural yoghurt
40g creme fraiche
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 peaches
demerara sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 170C and grease a large loaf tin with butter. Line the base of the tin with parchment.

Cream together the butter, sugar, zests, vanilla and salt until the mixture is white and fluffy.

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Pull the thyme leaves from their stems. If your thyme is flowering you can also add in some of the flowers. Pull enough leaves to fill a tablespoon loosely. Add the thyme into your mixture.

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Add in the eggs and beat again. The mixture will probably look split, do not stress. It’ll come back together.

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Cut two cheeks off each peach (Honey & Co came up with this delightful phrase). Slice the cheeks finely. Dice the rest of the peaches.

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In a separate bowl, mix together the flours and baking powder.
Fold half the flour into the egg/butter mixture followed by all the yoghurt and creme fraiche.

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Fold the diced peaches into the cake batter

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Pour the batter into your loaf tin.
Arrange the peach slices on the top and sprinkle with a little demerara sugar.

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Bake until the cake is risen and cooked through – a skewer inserted comes out clean and the cake springs back at your touch. Depending on your oven this will take around 45 minutes or so.
Allow to cool in the tin for ten minutes before turning out and cooling completely on a wire rack.

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White Chocolate and Raspberry Blondies

Despite the plethora of brownie recipes on this site, there is no recipe for blondies. This is obviously an oversight on my part. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want a little sugar, white chocolate and syrup in a sticky square? Add in a tart raspberry and it’s like Christmas come months early. Or summer perhaps? (Given how I lost the fine-motor coordination in my fingers after my run this evening, I think that is a pipe dream. The run was necessitated by the consumption of three (yes, three) of these sweet, sticky more-ish squares this afternoon. And the need to do something that didn’t entail me sitting down at a desk. Getting out and about stretches muscles my body mostly choses to forget it has these days and reminds me I am not quite a vampire, yet. There is a blog post coming soon about the madness and embodiment of final-stage PhD writing up – and the endless consumption of Haribo starmix – but this is not it. It is Friday, after all.)

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These are super duper easy to put together. A melt-and-mix method that means you can have blondies in an hour. (Mostly because they take ages to bake.) I’ve made these wheat-free, for not other reason than I felt like it. Feel free to substitute all the flour and ground almonds for regular cake flour. But try this version too! I imagine these would work perfectly with an ice-cream, possibly raspberry ripple perhaps? As it starts to get warmer I begin to long for an ice-cream machine… Anyways.

White Chocolate and Raspberry Blondies

150g unsalted butter
100g creamed honey
50g golden caster sugar
150g golden syrup
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g white spelt flour
50g rice flour
50g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
100g white chocolate
1 cup raspberries (either fresh or frozen)

Line a square baking tin with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 170C.
Melt together the butter, honey, sugar, golden syrup and vanilla.

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Set it aside to cool for 10 minutes. While you’re waiting, mix together the spelt flour, rice flour, almonds and baking powder. Roughly chop the chocolate.

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Whisk the eggs into the syrup then fold in half the flour mixture. Put the white chocolate and raspberries into the remaining flour and mix lightly with your hands to coat.

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Fold this into the syrup mixture.

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Pour the batter into the baking tin and bake for approximately 45 minutes – until the cake is set and a skewer comes out clean. It may start to get quite dark on top halfway through so cover with foil if necessary (and you’re worried about it burning). Allow to cool in the tin for half an hour before turning onto a cutting board and slicing. Makes 16 pieces.

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Blood Orange Black Pepper Meringue Pie

I started listening to podcasts recently. I’ll be honest, up until now, I’ve never really understood talk radio. When I listen to the radio, it’s because I want to hear music, not people chatting about some topic. I’ve always been a listening-to-music-commuter. But then my friend Jess introduced me to the Harry Potter audio books and I became hooked – both to hearing Stephen Fry read Harry and to audio books in general. I find it works best to listen to favourite books – like His Dark Materials or The Lord of the Rings – mostly because I’m easily distracted and sometimes switch off concentrating and then discover I’ve missed several minutes. This is not a problem when you know the story but it is easy to get lost in a new one when this happens. I even managed The Luminaries on audio although I had to restart it several times because I wasn’t concentrating enough at certain points to actually follow the story. But audio books are reasonably expensive and so now I am limited to one new book a month (which makes for about a week’s worth of commuting). So I’ve had to root around and think of other things I could possibly listen to and that’s how I discovered podcasts.

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I started off with the BBC Food Programme and Monocle’s The Menu. But I exhausted those pretty quickly (listening to loads of older programmes at first and now waiting each week for new episodes) and I started to hear about this podcast called Serial. Finally, last week, I downloaded it and, in the space of 48 hours, listened to the entire season. I couldn’t stop listening. It was so good. Clever storytelling, gripping story, terrifying in places. And I couldn’t get it out of my head. I keep asking everyone I know if they’ve listened to it yet so I can have a conversation about it with someone.

Anyway, post-Serial, I started to expand my podcast repertoire.  I remembered one of the girls I met last year at the LongHouse Food Scholars programme, Fiona, had started one – it’s called Shut Yr Pie Hole. And it is fabulous – random eating/interviews/facts about food, based in Detroit. And then, in one of those kismet-y universe type-things, Lottie and Doof’s latest blog post was for this Grapefruit Black Pepper Meringue Pie from Sister Pie in Detroit. Sister Pie (aka Lisa) is the other half of the Shut Yr Pie Hole podcast. It was like the universe telling me to make pie. PIE PIE PIE.

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I’m not sure about you, dear reader, but I did not grow up eating pie. In fact, I can think of only two pie-esque desserts in the South African repertoire that are related to the thing that is pie – melktert and lemon meringue pie. Now, whilst I am a big fan of melktert (I really should make some for this blog), I am not a fan of lemon meringue pie. At least, not the one I grew up being offered. (See here for a revelatory lemon meringue courtesy of Bouchon Bakery in New York). The problem, at least for me, is that, in my head, lemon meringue should be a very tart curd and a sweet meringue, the combination of which then works and is not overwhelmingly sugary. But South African lemon meringue is made with condensed milk which means that it is unnaturally sweet and sickly. Not my vibe at all. So I’ve never really understood citrus-meringue pies. (A plain, tart lemon tart, on the other hand (see what I did there?), is totally my vibe.)

Last year, at LongHouse, I learnt to make American pies – blueberry ones and cherry ones. I learnt about making pie dough (and lard), lining pie dishes (and how to crimp the edges just so), how to make the fillings (the importance of tasting them before you bake), and the various crust options for the top (lattice, crumble, whole). I haven’t made pie since then and so today felt like a good day to practice these skills. (And make dessert for later.) Plus there was the whole universe going ‘you should make pie’ and really, who I am to mess with the universe?

I made my own pie crust for this pie and, instead of grapefruit, used blood oranges, which, yes, I have been hoarding carefully, not wanting the season to end. I also halved the original recipe, not wanting to make an excessive amount of pie and, decreased the sugar and increased the lemon juice, slightly, to compensate for the sweeter oranges. I made an Italian meringue, so that you don’t have to worry about uncooked eggs, and browned it under the grill in my oven.

Blood Orange Black Pepper Meringue Pie
From Sister Pie, via Lottie and Doof

For the crust:
250g plain flour
60g lard
65g butter, unsalted
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
cold water

To make the pie crust, place the flour, salt and sugar into a mixing bowl. Cut the butter and lard into smallish cubes and rub into the dry ingredients until the mixture starts to resemble breadcrumbs. Add in the cold water, a little at a time – just enough to get the dough to come together.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough until smooth – around five minutes. Shape into a ball, flatten and wrap in clingfilm. Refrigerate for an hour. While you wait, make the filling.

For the filling:

1tbsp caster sugar
zest of one blood orange
2tbsp cornflour
2tbsp honey
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 yolk
2/3 cup double cream
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp black pepper

In a bowl, grate the orange zest into the sugar. Rub the zest into the sugar until, as Sister Pie says, it resembles wet beach sand. Whisk in the cornflour, honey and salt. Then whisk in the egg and yolk, followed by the rest of the ingredients. Taste the mixture – if it is too sweet, add in more lemon juice. If it is too sour, add in an extra tablespoon of caster sugar. Set the mixture aside.

Cut the pastry in half and roll out half into a thin disc. (Wrap the rest of the pastry in clingfilm and freeze for another day.) Make sure the surface you’re doing the rolling on is lightly floured. Turn the pastry between each roll so you maintain the semblance of a circle. Place the pastry over an 18cm tart tin or pie dish (the pie dish is preferable but I don’t have a small one). (I use a loose-bottomed one.) Gently press the pastry into the tart tin, pressing it into the inner edge of the tin. Trim the overhang so there is about 1/2cm above the edge of the tin. Crimp this using the thumb of your one hand and the thumb and forefinger of the other. Refrigerate the tart case for half an hour. Preheat the oven to 180C.

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Place the tart tin onto a flat baking tray. Line the pastry with baking paper and fill with rice or beans. Bake the pastry case for 20 minutes, until the edges start to brown. Remove the rice/beans and baking paper and return to the oven for a further five minutes. Remove the tart tin from the oven and reduce the oven heat to 160C.

Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake for 30 minutes until the filling is set at the edges but still wobbles slightly in the centre (“wobble set”). Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Make the meringue.

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For the meringue:
2 egg whites
60g sugar
60g water
pinch of salt
1 tsp black pepper

Place the sugar into a saucepan and add in the water. Cook over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook until the sugar reaches soft ball stage – 116C. (You can use a sugar thermometer or you can check by filling a glass with cold water and taking a teaspoon of the sugar syrup and placing it in the cold water. When it forms a soft ball, it is ready. This takes about 10-15 minutes.) Whilst the sugar is cooking, whisk the egg whites and salt to stiff, using a hand beater or in a standing mixer. Once the sugar is at temperature, carefully pour the sugar into the egg whites, whisking whilst you do so. The sugar will cook the egg whites and create a soft meringue. Fold in the black pepper. Spoon this onto the tart. Heat your grill. Place the tart under the grill until the meringue starts to brown – this takes only around 3-5 minutes so watch it carefully.

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Slice and eat.

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Blueberry Almond Brownies

I wrote (or re-wrote I guess) the introductory chapter to my thesis this week. Given that I haven’t written the conclusion yet, this is probably pre-emptory and it is likely to change once the whole thesis is written and re-read but it felt like the right time to write it, in the scheme of things. I only have two chapters left to revise – the methods chapter and the conclusion – and somehow, this week, I had to write the introduction.

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Part of what happens in an introductory chapter of a PhD thesis is an autobiographical account of the researcher – how you came to the research, your history, how you ended up writing this particular thesis. I’ve had to think long and hard about how I ended up here – three and a half years in, writing a thesis on food experiences. As it happened, I re-read Food and the Self (de Solier, 2013) last week because part of the introductory chapter also includes a discussion on foodies. I realised that quite a lot of my identity and self-formation is tied to this blog and the production of food (both on this blog and in real life). Perhaps this is unsurprising to y’ll – as A- said to me recently, ‘you really do like to feed people, don’t you?’

De Solier found, amongst the foodies she interviewed, that production – that is, cooking and blogging – was just as important to their self-formation as consuming – that is, shopping and eating (both at home and in restaurants/cafes). I find that is the case with myself too. This space is important to me, to my sense of who I am and also of who I might be. I hadn’t realised quite how much importance the blog played in my identity until I started to read de Solier and think about my own personal narrative. It is also why writing my PhD has been so hard, because I have had to be critical about many of the things I believed to be good about food (things like food education, cooking, food gardening, eating well) – things I still believe to be valuable but which I now approach with a wider, more skeptical stance. This stance acknowledges differences in class, culture, race and gender much more than my previous (pre-PhD) self and is now incredibly wary of anyone who makes sweeping statements regarding the benefits of something (whether it be food-related or not).

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Quite how much I enjoy producing food (and cake in particular) became evident this week when I rejoined a professional kitchen. A- told me on Thursday that I looked very happy and I realised I was. I had just spent several hours making cake and cheesecake and brownies that people were going to buy and I felt an immense sense of personal satisfaction about the whole experience. It was odd because some small part of me has often tried to deny this about myself (possibly because it means I will never really have any money) – I really like feeding people – and this realisation is also reassuring in a way. After so many years of wondering who I am, I finally know – I am someone who makes cake. (Or, in the case of this post, brownies.)

These brownies have been all over the interwebs in the last few weeks. They’re from Claire Ptak’s new book, The Violet Bakery Cookbook, which is amazing. I read many cookbooks (and I own a possibly ridiculous number of them) but this is definitley one I am going to add to my collection. These brownies are fudgy and dense, fragrant with roasted almonds and every now and then (like a treasure) a sweet hit of blueberry. Claire describes them as being reminiscent of Cadbury’s fruit and nut and they are, but they are better.

Blueberry Almond Brownies
From The Violet Bakery Cookbook (although I originally saw this in The Guardian)

200g whole almonds
225g unsalted butter
375g dark chocolate (70%)
3 eggs
375g golden caster sugar
75g rice flour
1/4 tsp salt
75g dried blueberries

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a rectangular baking tray that is about 2cm deep.

Place the almonds on a baking tray and roast until fragrant – around 15 minutes.

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Melt the butter in a saucepan, remove from the heat, and add in the chocolate. Over a very low heat, and watching like a hawk, allow the chocolate to melt. When it is almost all melted, turn off the heat and leave for 5 minutes – there should be enough heat to melt the remaining chocolate. (Claire recommends melting the butter/chocolate over a double boiler but I don’t have any bowls/saucepans that fit together well and so this is my method. You can also melt it in the microwave in 30 second bursts.)

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Whisk the eggs, sugar, flour and salt together. Pour in the butter/chocolate mixture and fold together.

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Roughly chop the almonds and then add those and the blueberries into the chocolate mixture.

Pour into the baking tray and spread the mixture right to the edges.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes. The original recipe said 25 – until the brownie is set around the edges and wobbles at the centre. My oven is hotter than most and so this only took 22 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for an hour. Then place in the freezer to firm up for another hour. Slice into pieces and serve. These make really good Friday breakfasts.

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References:
De Solier, I., 2013. Food and the Self, London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic.