Monthly Archives: September 2015

Peace Walls in Belfast

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You will forgive me for beginning a post on the peace walls in Belfast with an image of Madiba. But the truth is that being in Belfast provoked much thought about home – the conflicts in both places reached their heights near the same time and within several years of each other had moved towards peace agreements and transition (our first democratic elections and the IRA ceasefire both happening in 1994). One of the sessions I went to at BERA was on how you teach children about their history in societies in (post-conflict) transition, particularly when divisions and discontent are still balanced on the edge of a sword. The researchers spoke about how important it is for educators to begin these hugely difficult (and often painful) discussions of what we did to each other, the importance of conflict resolution, and the role teachers play in beginning these conversations with young people. Such conversations are particularly difficult in a city like Belfast where education is still divided along religious lines, despite the introduction of integrated schools, and so children may not have the opportunity to make friends with ‘the other’. The session made me wonder about how we teach the story of our history in South Africa? What do we teach young people? How do we have these conversations? How do we explain what happened? (For one example of how you can have these conversations by learning from political ex-prisoners, see here; and you can read an evaluation of the programme here.)

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In order to contemplate all these questions I took a morning off from the conference to wander the areas of west Belfast that feature some of the many peace walls that litter the city. I walked down from the Shankill Road (unionist) to the Falls Road (republican), along Cupar Way – the biggest peace wall in Belfast. It is imposing. The wall itself is heightened by a fence on top, making it double or triple the size of a ‘normal’ wall; keeping the neighbourhoods on either sides separate and divided. The wall is covered in murals and graffiti. The neighbourhoods surrounding the wall felt poor and economically depressed. Vast abandoned lots had been let over to wild grasses (sometimes these were the result of forced removals and demolition). Random graffiti was sprayed over the murals. There was none of the new construction and building that was on display in the city centre and docklands. There was hardly anyone about and on several occasions I suddenly wondered if walking along this wall was the best idea (other tourists hopped in and out of taxis). The main Shankill and Falls roads were full of people, walking purposively towards their Thursday morning destination, but the routes between them were eerily silent except for the tourists and occasional magpie.

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The murals on the peace walls themselves are fascinating. There are many signatures of visitors on the artworks (and notices imploring people to only write on the white, blank spaces – all obviously ignored). Some murals were clearly political but others I struggled to understand the meanings of. Along the sides of buildings on the Falls and Shankill roads are paramilitary murals – dedications to those who fought in the conflict or lost their lives in protest.

Shankill Road Murals (and flags outside a shop):

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Falls Road Murals:

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It is fascinating to contemplate living with this visual reminder of history. Does one not notice them after a while? Or does the continued presence of these murals fuel bitter memories? Does it begin conversations? I finished my walk along the International Wall, which features various activists from around the world.

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Garden inspiration (and sunshine) for Tuesday (and a reading list)

I’m at the BERA conference this week, in Belfast. I’ve never been to either a BERA conference or Belfast before so both are new experiences. (BERA is the British Educational Research Association by the way.) I’m presenting a paper tomorrow morning and yesterday afternoon I attended a session on education and social justice. I got to meet some postgrads and had some very interesting discussions around how we do socially just research, particularly as early career researchers. After I survive Wednesday, I get to hang out on the Titanic experience in the evening which will be fascinating. I’ll try and update you all over the course of the week but in the meantime I thought we could use some summer garden inspiration. Plus a reading list!

This is a kitchen garden at a private house in Derbyshire. When my mom was here last month we stayed in their converted stables. They do wonderful preserves and chutneys with the produce they grow. My dream is to have a place like this when I grow up –  a large kitchen garden and a house where you can teach cooking classes and have pop-up dinners! And have chickens roaming free, obviously.

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I particularly love the still run-down greenhouse with its low brick wall and out-of-control grapevines.

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Tuesday Reading List

Lunch in Paris – I am thoroughly enjoying this story of love and food. I can relate to this American girl’s experience of falling in love with a Frenchman – communicating with family members who do not speak the same language as you being something to which I can particularly relate. But the way she tells their relationship through food is wonderful.

I finally finally read a trashy book that I enjoyed. In fact I read it in a week (fairly unusual for me) because I simply could not put it down. Thanks Jen for the recommendation! The book is The Royal We and is a ridiculous romp about an American girl falling in love with an English prince whilst studying abroad for a year at Oxford and the story of what happens to them afterwards. Wonderfully light and easy.

I cooked pancakes from The Breakfast Bible last week. This is a great book if you’re as obsessed with breakfast as I am. (I mean really, why can’t all meals be like breakfast?) And I use (and have adapted) their pancake recipe numerous times. I will admit that I failed spectacularly to get the pan to the right heat (at one point it was smoking) and then I got distracted when the first few pancakes were cooking and burnt them. Andrés insisted they were perfectly edible but I managed to salvage enough portions from the remaining mixture so that we didn’t have to eat them. Further proof that I should live closer to the princess so she can flip pancakes for me. (It is a truly workable sistership when one can make the batter and the other can do the pancake flipping.) Also, my skills at pancake making seem to be perfectly fine at work. I spent all of the Saturday (the day before I burnt the pancakes) making beautiful, fluffy American-style pancakes to feed to the patrons at the cafe.

This story about how to write a bestselling cookbook made me laugh and laugh. Because it does seem to be so true.

Until next time.


Chocolate and Pistachio Babka (and list making)

I would like to be the type of person who makes life lists. You know, like the big life lists – I will accomplish x by the time I turn 30/35/40. There is something aspirationally optimistic in such a list. I have never written one but part of me would like to.


When my mom was here we were talking about life and living, as we like to do often but particularly since I was in that post-PhD-hand-in crisis that entails questioning what the hell I was a) thinking when I embarked on said PhD and b) what the hell I am supposed to do now, after four years working on the same project. I realised, through the various conversations we had, that I am not the type of person who has a life plan. The best I’ve had is the post-school ‘I’ll go to university and study something for a while and see what happens’ and the nearest serious decision-making I have done was deciding I whole-heartedly needed to go to cooking school and learn how to make dessert. (My mom confessed she is much the same, didn’t really make plans and followed things as they happened.) And so I guess, being that I have been the type of person to leap at opportunities as they appear, it makes sense that I don’t make life lists. (I also wonder at the pressure of such a list. What happens if you don’t finish it by the time you’re supposed to? How do you cope with the disappointment?) But I was reading Sara over at Sprouted Kitchen (an old post titled ‘birthday cake’) and she wrote that making a layer cake made her list of ‘things to do before I turn 30’. And it struck me as odd because a) it never occurred to me to make a list before I turned 30 and b) I cannot imagine not having made a layer cake before that but then I realised that I probably don’t count in the real life version of making cake because I’ve been making layer cakes since I was about six. (And I mean that simply in a statement of fact kind of way and not a oh my goodness, I am amazing because I have been baking since I was six kind of way.)

Anyway, the point of all this rambling was that I realised I wanted to make a list (feel free to laugh here Jen, I know we laughed at other people and their lists together). Not a ‘things to do before a turn 35’ (dear god, how is that kind of a list even conceivable?!) because that is far far far too scary but a kind of list of things I want to do soon (I am good at writing and then promptly forgetting various new years lists, but they hardly count). I figured I could write it here so that there is proof the list exists. (And also because if I write it anywhere else, I will never look at it or remember it again.) And the best thing about this list is this post crosses off one thing that has been on the list of things I want to do (the one that exists in my mind)! So yay! Maybe list making is not so scary?

The 2015 List

Survive my viva

Learn Spanish

Make chocolate krantz cake from Jerusalem (done! see below)

Finish The Third Plate

Write an article for publication

Make a birthday funfetti cake

Use my recipe books more for everyday eating

Read newspapers that are not The Guardian (so I can widen my news sources)

Have people over for dinner

Make this (possibly for said friends above)

Okay. That is more than enough to be getting on with. Nothing totally unrealistic or unachievable. No real timeline. All possibly accomplishable in some way before the end of the year.

So about these babka. Ottolenghi calls them krantz cakes in the book and it appears that the name is interchangeable for babbka (he spells it with two ‘b’s – I’ve always spelt it with one, as does Deb over at Smitten Kitchen). They are soft and sweet, like a sweetened brioche dough and you fill and roll them like a cinnamon bun. But then you split the log down the centre and plait the two halves together, with the inside on the outside. (Even as I write that I realise how complicated it sounds and that is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to make these. But don’t be intimidated. They’re really quite simple and, once you’ve got the rolling and plaiting down, you will probably want to make these every week.) The result is a wonderfully soft, sticky (due to the syrup) sweet bread that you want to pull apart as soon as it is cool enough to touch with your bare hands. I am saving some to make French toast on Saturday morning because I suspect this will make French toast of the gods. I shall report back.

Some notes on the recipe: 1) the dough is pretty soft and if you leave it out of the fridge for a while (like I did) before working with it, it will be difficult and sticky. Keep the dough as cold as possible. 2) The filling needs to be spreadable but it will need to cool to become so – it is quite liquid when you first make it. So make this slightly ahead (by like 15-20 minutes) of when you want to roll the dough into a rectangle so the filling cools and becomes spreadable. 3) This recipe makes enough for two breads. I’m not sure what happens if you halve it but I have frozen the second half of the dough and shall report back when I defrost and use it. 4) Plan ahead. You have to leave the dough in the fridge overnight before you can use it.

Chocolate and Pistachio Babka

Adapted (ever so slightly) from Jerusalem

Bread Dough:

530g plain flour

40g golden caster sugar

60g soft brown sugar

a pinch of salt

10g instant yeast

3 eggs

120ml water (plus about 2 more potential tablespoons – 30ml)

150g unsalted butter, at room temperature (reasonably soft), cut into cubes


50g icing sugar

30g cocoa powder

130g dark chocolate

120g unsalted butter

100g pistachios, roughly chopped

2 tbsp golden caster sugar

Syrup: (enough for one bread)

130g golden caster sugar

80ml water

First, make the dough. Place the flour, sugars, salt, and yeast in a bowl. Stir everything together. Using either a standing mixer with a dough hook or a hand-held mixer with dough-beater-feet, add in the eggs and water and mix until the dough starts to come together. If it seems dry and is struggling, add in the extra water. Once the dough has come together nicely, begin to add in the butter. I cut it into cubes and add them one at a time into the mixture. Mix until the dough is smooth, shiny and elastic. Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl during this process so everything is incorporated. Place the dough in a large bowl (I just use the one I’ve mixed it in), cover with clingfilm so it is safely sealed and refrigerate overnight.


In the morning, grease a loaf tin with some oil and place a layer of parchment paper along the bottom. Make the filling. Melt the butter on the stove. Switch off the heat and add in the chocolate. Allow it to sit for a minute and then stir until smooth. Combine the icing sugar and cocoa powder in a small bowl and then whisk in the butter mixture. Leave this to the side to cool.

Retrieve your dough and divide it into two. (I froze the second half). Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, into a rectangle shape of 38cm x 28cm. Keep a 2cm border at the edge and spread the chocolate filling onto the dough. Scatter the pistachios over and press them into the chocolate filling very lightly with your hands. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp of caster sugar. Brush the long side of the rectangle furthest away from you with some water.




Roll up the rectangle as you would cinnamon buns, folding the long side closest to you over onto itself and continuing to roll away from you. Press the log closed along the seam. Even the log out with your hands and leave it to sit on the seam. Trim the ends (approximately 2cm).

Now slice the log in half, down the length of the log. Open the two halves so they are sitting cut side up, the filling looking up at you. Press the ends together lightly and then lift the left half over the right half. Repeat with the right lifting over the left, then left over right, until you have plaited the loaf. Press the ends together.

Very carefully lift the plaited loaf into your loaf tin and place in a warm place (covered lightly with a tea towel) for an hour to prove. If you are making the second loaf, repeat this process.

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Heat the oven to 190C and place the risen loaf into the oven. Bake for approximately 25 – 30 minutes, until the cake sounds hollow and a skewer inserted comes out clean.


While the cake is baking, combine the caster sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat to dissolve the sugar and then bring the syrup to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. When the loaf comes out of the oven, pour the syrup over the loaf. Do this slowly so that the loaf absorbs all the syrup. Restrain yourself whilst it cools. Then eat with abandon.

Nectarine and Blueberry Buckle

I woke up on yesterday’s bank holiday Monday to the sound of steady rain drip dripping outside my window. I had work to do – reading mostly, and some decision-making around presentations – but I also wanted to spend time in the kitchen. It is warm and cosy in there, particularly on a grey day. (It is best in the early evenings when the sunlight flickers in and, in truth, it is my favourite room in the house. I wrote the Foucault chapter of my thesis sitting at the kitchen table.)

I have been experimenting with buckles this past weekend. I cannot rightly remember how I stumbled across them now – possibly looking to use up summer fruit in a way that is warm and comforting. I think I was reading The New York Times and I stumbled across this video for making a buckle and it felt like the perfect thing to celebrate the late summer (yes I know, what late summer? Although, this morning – the first day of autumn – it is gloriously sunny). And then, if the NYT wasn’t enough, David Lebovitz’s post came through on my email last week and what do you know? He’d made a buckle too. So I decided a buckle was fate. Destiny. Meant to be and all that.

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The New York Times buckle.

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The David Lebovitz buckle

I also decided that, for possibly the first time ever, to do a bit of a review post and bake both the NYT version and David’s version and then tell you all about them. I have struggled to understand exactly what a buckle is – well, to find a more elaborate definition than ‘late summer fruit topped with pastry of some kind and baked’ (which could also describe a cobbler, perhaps a crumble or a crisp, and then it turns out the Americans have names like pandowdy, grunt, betty, boy bait, fools and the like to describe a plethora of fruit/batter desserts that makes the mind just boggle). And the two different versions are slight variations on each other too – David’s has a topping. So what is a buckle?

Apparently, according to Serious Eats, a buckle is named such because it buckles as it cooks. It is a coffee cake* with a streusel topping and as the cake cooks the fruit sinks, causing the streusel to buckle over the cake batter. Rustic Fruit Desserts describes a buckle as a berry-filled cake batter poured into a tin in a single layer, the top of which buckles as it cooks. Martha Stewart describes a buckle as a “cake-like cobbler with a crumble topping”. So sometimes a buckle has a streusel topping and other times not. Perhaps it is simply up to you and your own traditions which recipe you follow? They seem to be most often made with blueberries although I have seen a few recipes for strawberries and others with blackberries too. Martha has a recipe for a plum and nectarine one.

*Coffee cake is not, as I assumed, a cake that contains coffee – like the classic coffee and walnut cake of my childhood. Rather, for Americans, coffee cake refers to a cake that is good eaten with coffee, preferably also easy to hold in the hand. It is what you have on your coffee break…They do also often seem to have streusel toppings.

So with all this confusion and debate, I decided the easiest way to solve the problem was to follow two different sets of instructions (both American) and see what happened. I’ll be honest, I don’t think either of my recipes really ‘buckled’. But the tops did break apart slightly and the second one fell in on itself but I think that was because I took it out too early and had to return it to the oven. I loaded the batters with blueberries and nectarines, two summer fruits which I love but the truth is both buckles taste, and have the texture of, dense cake. David’s one is more crispy at the edges and soft and crumbly in the middle. The NYT one is cake-like with lots of fruit at the base. I can imagine how the NYT version fits into a coffee cake idea, it is easy to slice and hold with your hands. David’s version is more like a dessert, and with cinnamon rather than nutmeg to flavour the batter, I think I prefer it, although if I made it again I would probably reduce the cinnamon slightly.

You can find the recipes from the respective sites linked in above. I made half of David’s recipe and baked it in a small 16cm cake tin. I didn’t make the lemon syrup because I wanted the buckle to mirror the NYT one as much as possible. I made the full recipe for the NYT version, baking it in a 20cm so it was slightly deeper than the other. The NYT recipe calls for 4.5 cups of berries. I used 2 cups of blueberries and 2 large nectarines. David’s recipe only uses 3 cups of blueberries and it did seem to have less of a fruit to cake ratio in the final individual slices.

The ultimate truth is I am not convinced by buckles. I prefer a higher fruit to pastry ratio if I am honest and so I suspect my love for crumbles will not be outdone by these buckles, although they’re kind of fun to talk about. And they’re good to eat – alone with some coffee in the mid-afternoon or with creme fraiche in the evening – if you’re in the mood for a light, fruity cake. Below is a photo series of the making of the buckles.

The New York Times Buckle

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David Lebovitz’s buckle

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