Hudson, New York

Sometimes you need a break from work. An afternoon exploring a tiny hipsterville town on the edge of a river. Sometimes you need a bookshop with a bar. And really good coffee. And possibly a wine store. And antique stores with ballet skirts and rad 70′s furniture. And a sustainable diner. On such afternoons, when you’re staying in what sometimes feels like the town at the end of the world, Hudson is only a 45 minute drive away. And who doesn’t love a place that has a bookshop with a bar?!

hudson streets a secret garden hudson streets 2 food trucks

ballet skirts

1970s vibe

bookshop bar

beer in a bookshop a random parade cool signs sustainable diners

bacon cheeseburger

shop fronts

sunset

cookNscribble

So, the whole reason that I am in upstate New York with minimal phone signal and hardly any wifi is because I am interning with cookNscribble. cookNscribble is an online food writing community that also runs a food scholars programme in Rensselaerville in the summer, which is where I am currently living. The town looks thus:

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The scholars arrive in August and until then, I am busy helping with prep work to get the kitchen(s) in working order so things are not all chaos and confusion when there are many people to feed. We’ve been working across three different sites, the kitchens of which all have their own quirks. At one site, for example, the ovens heat only from below. At another, there are no working ovens at the moment. At the third, there are hardly any storage shelves so we have to be ridiculously clever with boxes and stacking. And feng shui-ing the fridge. (Oh for a walk-in one!)

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I’ve been baking a lot of cake. And cookies. And pie.

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I’ve made a fair few staff meals.

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And I have made a lot of granola. (More on that experience another time.)

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It’s basically five weeks of anti-thesis work. Almost all practical, with some blog posts thrown in for diversity. Unfortunately I have to leave before the scholars programme ends – that pesky thesis needs rewriting and I have to move house at the end of August – but I will be cooking for them for the first week that they’re here. So far it has been hard work – I’d forgotten how exhausting it is being on your feet, running about a kitchen all day long – but it’s not all work. When things get too much, there is this swimming hole:

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More stories (and recipes) will follow soon!

Newport, Rhode Island

Greetings dearest ones! It turns out that being in upstate New York means being in a signal dead zone. Who knew? But I’ve got some working wifi today so I thought I’d post this photo series from Newport. Newport, as you can see, is rather beautiful. We happened to be there on an idyllic summers day so drove around the ocean road, hung out drinking cocktails on adirondack chairs, wandered the streets sipping lemonade and later, listened to a band whilst sipping wine. Days out from thesis writing don’t get much better than that.

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July 4th, Rhode Island

Greeting dearest ones, from the USA. And happy 4th of July!
At present I’m in a place called Barrington, Rhode Island, visiting friends. From Sunday I’ll be in New York State but more on that later.

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So far, RI has been awesome. Yesterday was beautiful, hot and sunny, a glorious 29C. It felt like proper summer. Today hurricane Arthur has hit, bringing rather a lot of rain. That didn’t stop us from cycling 15kms to Bristol to see the longest continually running 4th of July parade. The USA is 238 years old, the parade is 229. There’s nothing quite like cycling, soaked to the bone, through pretty towns, to watch a parade. We came home dripping water. Also, the view from the bike track ain’t bad. Jesus made an appearance at the parade (he wasn’t officially in it though) as did a load of war vets, some original baseball players and marching bands who set the mood.

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Yesterday my friends had what is called a ‘porch party’. Basically everyone gathered on their porch, ate, drank and made merry. There were fireworks everywhere – we wandered down to the bay (all 2.5 seconds away) and watched the bonfires and fireworks on the other side of the water. Everyone kept apologising that there weren’t that many fireworks this year but I thought it was pretty impressive nonetheless.

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I’ve been eating, obviously. On Wednesday night we visited a place called Julian’s, in Providence. I had the most amazing zucchini flowers stuffed with lobster, corn and mascarpone. There’s something to be said about a place that puts lobster in zucchini flowers. Their cocktails were pretty good too.

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I was thoroughly entertained yesterday too as we visited a wholesale store to buy wine. Oh the things you can buy! In bulk!

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That’s all for now. Hold thumbs the hurricane moves off and the rain stops so I can spend tomorrow morning on the beach! In the meantime, I leave you with these. They’re totally making it into my suitcase.

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Blueberry, Lime and Poppyseed Pound Cake

Greetings, dear readers, from the depths of (thesis draft) chapter seven. This chapter is taking me what feels like ages and ages. But we’re about halfway through and I’m busy re-familiarising myself with arguments about family meals and tables so I can rewrite the first few sections of the chapter so they make more sense (and are not simply collections of field notes and interviews and form an actual argument). Then I’ll be moving on to talk about “proper meals” (and then the last findings chapter on packed lunches…). It’s going to be a busy writing weekend so I can get everything finished by Sunday and then draft a paper for publication and start the packed lunch chapter. Like I said, crazy busy at present. (I know it’ll all be worth it in the end but wow, it’s sort-of-rather-very stressful at the moment – which is also why I am obviously also socialising like a queen bee, the more work I have and the more stressed I am, the more I want to go out!)

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It’s fun going through all my data again and being reminded of all the amazing practices and ideas I witnessed (plus some of the stranger things). Unfortunately, deciding what to include and what to exclude takes time and bravery. I am always worried about leaving something important out, or missing a relevant example, or using a piece of the existing literature (what if I’ve interpreted it incorrectly?!). Writing a thesis is all about decisions and they’re hard ones to make. Plus deciding that THIS IS THE ARGUMENT takes quite a lot of faith in oneself. I know what I saw/witnessed but what if the examiner disagrees with me? Such questions plague my 1am frazzled brain.

Fortunately, at such times, there is this cake. (In truth, there is always cake, but this one is particularly lovely in the early summer.) My friend H, who is also a PhD on my course, requested the recipe after I gave her some to sample on Wednesday and then reminded me that I still hadn’t shared it so here it is.

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This is pretty simple cake to make. It only takes one bowl (always winning) and can be made with a wooden spoon. I’ve made it three times in the last month or so (twice this week in fact) and I thoroughly recommend it. It’s dense, slightly crunchy with poppyseeds, and the blueberries are like nuggets of sweetness that surprise and delight.

The original version of this cake came from Smitten Kitchen and you can find it here. Whilst I love pound cake, I love poppyseed cake more and so this is a perfect combination of the two. It holds up well in travel and improves on the second day. Things to note: I halved the recipe Deb made, mostly because I never have occasions for loads of cake and her recipe made loads. This still makes more than enough (the one I made earlier in the week fed tutors, the netball team, and some PhD’s) and cut into around 10-14 reasonable slices. I worked out the gram measurements from cups – the flour and sugar are both 1 1/2 cups worth (if you prefer to make it with those). You can obviously play around with flavours here – oranges and lemons, frozen raspberries (also a cupful), white chocolate (about 1/2 cup) also all work in various combinations in this cake.

Blueberry, Lime and Poppyseed Pound Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

170g butter, unsalted, soft
115g cream cheese (philadelphia)
325g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
3/4 tsp vanilla paste
215g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
zest of one large lime (two limes if yours are teensy)
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tbsp poppyseeds

Preheat the oven to 175C and grease a bundt tin with butter. (My bundt tin is 21cm across so of the slightly smaller variety).

Place the butter and cream cheese in a bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. (You can use electric beaters for this too but if the butter is very soft, a spoon works just as well.)

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Add in the sugar and beat until the mixture is smooth. The sugar will mostly disappear and the mixture will become whiter and smoother.

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Add in the eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each addition.

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Add in the flour, lime zest and vanilla paste. Give everything a good beat, until all the flour in incorporated.

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Lastly, fold in the poppyseeds and then the blueberries.

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Scoop the batter (it’s fairly thick) into your greased tin. Smooth it with a spatula.

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Bake in the preheated oven for about an hour. The cake will be risen and golden. A skewer inserted will come out clean and the cake will have pulled away from the sides of the tin when it’s done. Place it, still in the tin, on a wire rack to cool for at least 10 minutes. Then turn it out onto the wire rack to cool completely.

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Now, I glazed the particular cake that is featured here but it’s not really necessary – only if you’re so inclined. It works perfectly just plain. But if you do want to glaze it, I used 75g icing sugar (golden kind which is why the icing isn’t white) and the zest of half a large lime. I then added in about a tablespoon of hot water just to get the consistency I was after. Feel free to do what suits you.

Pastry Basics: Blind Baking

What a glorious week right? I’ll save you the sob story of how I have been confined to my desk for most of it. I know for a fact that future Lexi will be exceedingly grateful for this small sacrifice (indoors in the face of British sunshine!) in the greater quest to finish a thesis draft by the end of June. The next chapter in my thesis is about food and nutrition education so I’ve spent the week re-reading field notes on classes on healthy eating, getting excited all over again about children learning how to make bread in class, and discovering the really, truly, fantastic food art that was made by some children I worked with (I honestly want to have some of it on my walls).

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But I did find time to make something for you lot too. A lime and buttermilk tart, to be precise. I’m not sure about you but the chances of having both limes and buttermilk at the ready in my kitchen is slim, so when I was perusing through Margot Henderson’s book, You’re All Invited, I decided it was obviously the universe telling me to make this particular tart. The book isn’t that new – it came out in 2012 – but it’s new to me. And this tart is a winning combination of sharp buttermilk with smooth vanilla and tangy lime all entangled in custard-meets-sponge form (almost like a lemon pudding that is part sponge, part custard/sauce). It feels a little like proper summer eating when consumed ever-so-slightly cold.

I thought when I was making it that it might be useful to talk about blind baking. I haven’t done much on pastry advice on this blog, mostly because I don’t consider myself an expert but I had a conversation with one of my uncle’s a few weeks back about soggy tart shells and that prompted this thought process. I almost always blind bake tart shells before using them. It helps prevent soggy bottoms and ensures you have a crisp finish on your pastry case all the way through. Any recipe that has an egg-based filling and is therefore cooked at a lower temperature, should first have the shell baked blind as the oven won’t be able to cook the pastry and set the filling at the lower temperature and the end result is partially cooked pastry. Yuck.

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Blind baking is simple. You line the tart shell with pastry, rolled out as thin as you dare. You should need to take a deep breath as you roll it up and then re-roll it into the base of the tart tin.

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I then almost always refrigerate this, even if only for 20 minutes, to give everything a chance to relax again. The oven is pre-heated to 180C. Place the tart case on a flat baking tray – this makes it easier to move it to the oven, especially once the filling has gone in. Line this with baking paper and then fill it right to the brim with rice or baking beans. (I always use rice and have a tin specifically set aside for rice for baking.) You need to fill it to the top otherwise the tart may be tempted to shrink around the sides, something that will make you want to cry.

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Bake the tart shell for 20 minutes.

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Take it out of the oven and carefully remove the rice/beans and baking paper. Return it to the oven for another five minutes to dry out again.

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The result should be a slightly golden tart shell that is dry all the way through. Any cracks can be brushed with egg white to seal them and then your filling can be poured carefully in and returned to a cooler oven (usually 160C).

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And there you have it. Blind baking. It may take a few tries to get it perfect but after that, you should be able to do it in your sleep. For this particular filling, you will have to consult Margot’s book. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have more thesis writing to get back too…

Chocolate Granola

It’s Food Revolution Day today! So I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and post a recipe. Unfortunately I’m not doing anything educational with children today (apart from more thesis work, which is related to children and food education!) but I figured an easy recipe that can be made quickly and is superbly delicious sort of fits the bill. If you want to find out more about the day, head over to the Food Revolution Day website – there’s loads of information and ideas.

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But now we need to talk chocolate granola.

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I’m a fairly boring breakfast eater on a day to day basis. I go through stages of eating the same thing, day in, day out. Sometimes it’s cooked oats. Sometimes it’s an apple with yoghurt. Sometimes it’s a quick version of bircher muesli (basically oats soaked in milk with additions depending on my mood). If I’ve made sourdough then it’s toast. On fast days it’s normally vegetables with an egg or more cooked oats. So I decided over the recent holiday that it was time to mix things up. Summer is coming! Cooked oats is too much faff when it’s warm. And often I need to dash into the office early and need something quick to eat before I go. This granola is the answer.

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The only thing is that you need to come to terms with eating chocolate for breakfast. Hard right? Molly from Orangette is a great granola eater, she posted recently that she has five granola recipes on the blog. That post led me to an older post where she writes about chocolate granola. It struck me as being brilliant and so I experimented with her original recipe – I had to take out the coconut flakes (coconut, yuck!) so I made mine with seeds instead, as that is my preferred granola combination. The result is a brilliant toasted oat/seed/almond combination with dark chocolate (and raw cacao nib) richness. It is sort of dangerous to have in your kitchen as it’s a very tempting snack and the original batch didn’t last much longer than a week. It also makes the perfect lazy day dinner, with some yoghurt. (I am also a breakfast-for-dinner eater.)

Feel free to adapt the recipe below as it pleases you. Play around with the sugar/honey/maple syrup combinations. Add or subtract seeds and nuts. It took me less than an hour from setting out the ingredients to eating breakfast, so there’s no excuse not to make your own! Happy Food Revolution Day!

Chocolate Granola
Adapted from Orangette
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup whole almonds, roughly chopped
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 tbsp poppyseeds
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp sunflower oil
3 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp set honey
1/2 cup dark chocolate (70%), roughly chopped
handful of raw cacao nibs

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a baking tray with either baking paper or some foil that you’ve lightly oiled. (I rhyme!)
In a bowl combine the oats, almonds, seeds and sugar – give everything a good stir.

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In a pan, heat the sunflower oil, maple syrup and honey until the honey is loose and the whole mixture is very fluid.

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Pour the liquid onto the oat mixture and stir until everything is well coated.
Distribute onto the baking tray and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, giving everything a good stir after 10. Keep an eye on the granola, you want it nicely toasted but not too dark.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

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Once cool, stir in the chocolate and cacao nibs. Eat! (With milk…) And store in an airtight container.

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