Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Kitchen Garden at Chatsworth (and a Sunday reading list)

The kitchen garden at Chatsworth is incredibly inspirational – especially in the high summer. I have written about it before but I wanted to take mom here when she was visiting recently. The princess is doing her dissertation on Chatsworth and so we went to visit the house and then wandered through some of the (extensive) gardens. I love kitchen gardens and aspire to have one as fantastic as this. I particularly love the greenhouses and raised brick cold-frames.

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The garden has spectacular views over the estate and grounds.

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And the tomatoes in the greenhouses were just! oh! I have only managed to grow green tomatoes so far. To grow some like that. Wow.
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Parts of the garden felt slightly wild and yet other parts are planted in neat straight stripes. I did enjoy the mad growth of nasturtium, which made me feel better about our garden – where the nasturtiums have practically taken over an entire bed, and not because we planted them either but because they self-seeded. I’d like to go to Chatsworth every year, to remind myself of what is possible if you keep gardening.

Sunday Reading List

Rather short today I’m afraid. I’ve been faffing this week, not getting enough done.

I started to read Slaughterhouse 5. I’ve never read it and have had it next to my bed since December when mom, the princess and I went to see Conflict, Time, Photography at the Tate Modern. It was an interesting exhibition – the photographs were all displayed according to the time they were taken in relation to an event of war – 1 minute, 30 minutes, several days, weeks, years. It was totally fascinating – I find both war and photography intriguing subjects and I have never been to an exhibition organised in such a way. It is particularly interesting to contrast the last pictures – those taken years after a conflict has ended – to those right at the beginning, in the midst of things.

I’ve been listening to the NYPL podcast today – Zadie Smith (whose On Beauty is one of my favourite novels) talking to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about race and writing. It’s the kind of conversation one listens to and has to think about – not least because Adichie makes reference to South Africa several times, explaining how her life’s experiences (and her experiences of race) would be so different if she had grown up there instead of in Nigeria. They talk at one point about how people couldn’t bring themselves to watch 12 Years a Slave during the Oscar season – how it is too difficult. And Zadie says ‘try living it man’. I’d not really considered stories of race from a perspective like that before – you should understand something because people have lived it; because it was somebody’s personal experience. And yes, it makes you uncomfortable, and it should make you uncomfortable. But somehow, in reading or watching these stories, we gain knowledge of the other, broaching (and potentially working towards mending) what Adichie calls the ‘wilful denial of the other’. Smith and Adichie imply in their conversation that by accepting our chequered past, fraught with violence and aggression towards those who are not like us, acknowledging and listening to other people’s stories, we can move towards a conversation about a better future. I’ve not read Adichie’s books yet but now have Americanah on my list.

This week I’ve been cooking from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. I love Ottolenghi and have cooked often from his other books but, until January, hadn’t made anything from here. I’m having people over for dinner on Monday and so will report back on forays later this week.

I’m also reading Those Faraday Girls. Only about 60 pages in and not quite sure what I make of it yet.

Finally, I’ve become totally addicted to Great British Bake Off. No, I’m not entirely sure how this happened either but it did. And yes, I find it stressful and distressing when things go wrong. But I cannot wait for the next week’s episode. (Although I rarely actually manage to watch it on the same night it is broadcast – I normally catch up several days later. So far I’ve managed to remain ignorant of the interwebs and spoilers before I watch it but I doubt I’ll manage the whole series like that.)

Until next time. xxx

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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