Author Archives: lexiearl

Reading List (15/8)

Summer Notts

I just loved this description of French markets in the summertime.

Cormoran Strike is coming to the BBC! Whoop!

This pie. On huckleberries. The pictures of all these different pies. Drool.

The atmosphere is listening. Read this!

I finally got around to listening to Samin Nosrat on Radio Cherry Bombe this weekend. I totally have a chef crush on Samin. She just sounds like the kind of person I want to be friends with. She is now also a new columnist for the NYT magazine and has a list of the cookbooks that shaped her as a cook and a writer.

Chefs on the foods, mentors, and meals that influenced their cooking.

I love these photographs, contrasting college first-years with their final year selves. I wonder how I would’ve said I had changed at that point?

Rare cooking books.

The truth about glamourising chef work.

Two vice chancellors talk about the challenges facing early career academics.

Trying to decide what to eat in an incredibly noisy media environment. A doctor is criticising the medical advice on Goop.

A review of a new book on food conquests of the British empire. Some interesting criticism is drawn on the use of language, and how this perpetuates ideas of the empire.

New website find. This is both hilarious and true, all at once.

I listened to an episode of the Guilty Feminist (I just love them, and they make me laugh out loud, often when I’m walking in the street so other people look at me awkwardly and I just think yeah!) called Intrepid Women and now I want to read the book they were talking about – women resisting the Nazis in occupied France.

Have a good week! x

52 Weeks of Sourdough: Week One

For a while now I have been playing with the idea of making bread on a weekly basis. Then I stopped to compose the 2017/18 Life List and realised that one of the sub-projects of my life list could be to actually make bread every week for one year. So this is the beginning of that project. Here is my first loaf!

52 weeks of sourdough - wk1

This is not actually my first ever sourdough loaf. But it is the first loaf for this project. My interest in sourdough has been long-lasting, and at various points in my life (pretty much since cooking school in 2005!) I have kept a sourdough starter in the fridge, nursing and caring for it. I have taken a few courses on sourdough baking, at Small Food Bakery and also at The Sourdough School. Both were wonderful but when I got home, I found I couldn’t recreate the loaves like my teachers had and so even though I baked sourdough occasionally, I didn’t do so enough to develop my technique or skill. I also only really know how to bake bread with sourdough, but I am aware that there are many cake/pastry things that you can make and I want to explore these too. However, the main  purpose of this project is a quest for the perfect loaf.

Another purpose is to provide us with fresh bread every weekend (or whenever in the week it is possible to make it, if the weekend is unlikely). My life with the Spaniard includes adjusting to an expectation of bread at every meal, something my carb-fearing-young-self would balk at. Whilst A- does have a penchant for what I would call ‘trashy’ bread (food snob, yes I am very aware), I am slowly, slowly converting him to sourdough.

The third purpose of this project is to learn and understand the cultures of bread. One of the reasons this project came about is through discovering The Grain Gathering – a once yearly conference held by the Washing State University Bread Lab. I only know about this because Kim, from Small Food Bakery, has now been twice and I stalk her Instagram during this period. The researcher in me is totally fascinated and compelled by the people who gather for this conference -academics, activists, bakers – and the cultures they bring with them (both real sourdough cultures and imagined ideas about bread culture).

The final, fourth purpose of this project is to provide a type of structure to my week. Like crafting a space for writing each day, I want to craft a space for bread baking each week.

So! That is it. Let me see how I get on. The first week is always the easiest no?

Life Lists and Recovery

So a few weeks back my sister asked me where the life list for 2017 was. I realised that I hadn’t written one. I did write an ‘I did that’ list for 2016 but somehow I’d never written any goals for 2017. I suspect it is because I wasn’t feeling very goal-setting-y at new year. But now, as we begin the slide into the new academic year coupled with my now being 4 weeks post-surgery, I thought I might do some goal setting. (God, that sounds so pretentious and ambitious and just weird!) Of course, this awkwardly puts my 12-month list in line with the Northern hemisphere academic year, rather than the calendar one (something I’ve always found troublesome, having grown up in the south where the calendar year matches the academic one), but never mind. Change hey? Sometimes you just have to embrace it.

SFBakeryRoses August17I’ve thought a lot over the past four weeks about what I want to do over the next year. (Being incredibly slow and being forced to time spend resting allows for such contemplation). Full recovery from ACL reconstruction, including a return to twisty sports like netball, takes between 9 and 12 months. So my surgery recovery neatly maps onto my goals to find success outside of work. This is part of my post-PhD life goal, to define myself as something other than my work. I came dangerously close to losing myself in my PhD, and it has taken a lot of hard mental work to learn that I am not my PhD, I am not my work. My work does not define my worth. (That sounds like a mantra. Sometimes I have to treat it as such).

Nottm streetWall detail

So I have devised a number of things that I would like to accomplish in the next 12 months. Okay, I have 13, not 12 but 13 is one of my lucky numbers. (And really, let’s not be pedantic about the parameters of a wellbeing effort). These vary in both ambition and scale, and are connected to my work, health, wellbeing, and creativity. I am sharing them with you here as a way to keep myself reminded of my goals (so that they don’t squander, lost in a journal somewhere) and also because I have one that I am going to try and write about weekly, on this site!

So here is the 2017/18 list:

Take a yoga class. Survive it. Then go back to doing yoga regularly.

Run 5km

Swim in open water. If possible, swim outside all year round. If not, just lane swim a few times a week. Book to swim the Swoosh.

Learn to make a loaf of sourdough. Do this every week. Write about it, even when unsuccessful. Call this 52 weeks of sourdough. Create a hashtag on Instagram for this part of the project. #52weeksofsourdough

Knit a cardigan. (Possibly this one).

Finish the current book and submit the manuscript. Contemplate writing another book proposal. Think about writing a cookbook.

Submit another journal article. Possibly two. Push out the boat and write a third.

Establish the allotment! Put in raised beds. Grow things.

Keep an allotment diary. Take photos of the progress and print them. Or use the instant camera.

Investigate beekeeping!

Have people over for dinner. Try and do this once a month.

Get really good at ice-cream making. Try unusual flavour combinations. Use the herbs you’re growing on the allotment to experiment.

Finally, take some courses for fun. Spend time doing things you enjoy.

So that is my list. Watch out for my first post for 52 weeks of sourdough project, coming this weekend!

Reading List (8/8)

I am deep into book writing at the moment so I am not doing a lot of reading except that required for my own work. That said, I did do some reading over the weekend. And yes, I realise it is Thursday but I was finishing a draft on Tuesday that took until well into the early hours of Wednesday morning so that is why!

On a side note, I finally made it to Tough Mary’s Bakehouse and bought all of the croissant-based pastries. Their almond croissant! My god. I will be back for more on Saturday I think.

Judith Jones passed away last week, at the age of 93. I love her book on cooking for one. I refer to it whenever I need to make something small, or need to be reminded of why I should cook for myself. Her memoir, The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, is also fantastic.

Growing food in NYC.

Loving someone and learning about their food culture and traditions. This is something I experience daily, learning things from the Spaniard that I never knew, or thought to try, or consider important. He regularly challenges my palate with strange foodstuffs and our grocery cupboard has a tuna supply to outlast an apocalypse, because tuna forms such an important part of his food/culture identity.

Related to that, I started reading (again, having begun the book ages ago) When in French: Love in a Second Language. This is the story of Lauren (the author) falling in love with a Frenchman, and then moving to Geneva and having to cope with French as the language of daily life. I relate so much to this, even though we currently live in England (and I therefore do not have to navigate my daily life in a language not my own), much of my life is spent trying to understand Spanish. Not only the actual language (which I have been totally useless at learning this year) but the culture and traditions that come with the language.

I love this blog. There hasn’t been a post for ages but I am so happy when one appears in my inbox!

A glorious looking place to swim.

This just looks like the most magical book ever.

And some sobering news: the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest it has ever been.

I haven’t made any galettes yet this summer (hah! what summer?) because I haven’t been mobile enough. But now, as I return to a normal-ish day, I am starting to return to the kitchen. Last night I managed to make pizza. So galettes seem not far off! This savoury one with sweetcorn and tomatoes looks mouthwatering. And I do love a summer fruit galette.

A peanut butter and jam sandwich as a way to fit in.

Have a good week! x

Reading List (1/8)

Well hello August, and welcome the month of (European) holidays. Pretty much everyone is on holiday at some point this month as the weather is at it’s potential best and schools are out. There is a slow atmosphere in the air, and the weather can be soporific. I am battling through this feeling though, trying to finish the book and taking advantage of not traveling (well, currently being unable to go very far anyway) by catching up on writing and transcribing. Towards the end of the month I am heading to Copenhagen for a week, to attend a conference. Suggestions of what to do while I am there are welcome!

A recipe for banana bread that uses dried figs. I am going to have to try this out.

Why you should visit Tiree, a Hebridean island. Scotchtastic crew take note!

I listened to Valeria Luiselli talk about her book on child refugees navigating arriving in the US without documents. It is a compelling listen, and a concerning topic.

This poem, by Maya Angelou.

Jay Rayner on food and the environment.

I seem to be in a memoir-reading phase. This weekend I’ve been reading Bleaker House. The story is about Nell Stevens (the author) attempting to write a novel so that she can proclaim to be a writer before she turns 30. She says in the book part of it is so she can have something to say at parties, when other people ask you what you do. (I know all about this feeling). But more importantly, she feels compelled to become a writer, to write a novel. She decides that loneliness and lack of distraction are key to the novel writing process and so goes to live on a Falkland Island for three months during the winter, when there is pretty much no one else there. The book is laugh-out-loud funny in parts, poignant in others, and deeply entertaining all the way through. It is easy to read over a weekend, or a few days, when you feel like disappearing into someone else’s world. You can find Nell talking about her book on the Shakespeare and Company podcast here.

Cultural appropriation?

Ideas on how gratitude may help boost your wellbeing. And a gratitude journal I really love.

Bread, butter, and honey is a great trinity.

Have a good week! x

Reading List (25/7)

A wonderful, if controversial, idea. How do you feel about this? I would love to do this now but I’m not so sure how I would have felt about eco-conscription at age 17…

Sourdough starters can help us understand microbiomes! And the researchers are sequencing the sourdough starter DNA. This is so unbelievably cool! Geek out!

‘Plants are raveningly addictive. If you haven’t read Charlotte Mendelson’s Rhapsody in Green, go and get it now. It is a wonderful memoir about learning to garden in the city.

The challenge of being a senior woman in academia.

One of the challenges of writing anything is receiving feedback on it. This is some incredibly useful advice that might help you cope. I am going to refer back to this when I next get feedback. Particularly the stuff about learning to divorce yourself from your writing. (Part of my project for the coming year!)

More about why women swim. (Thanks Loul!)

Should you have cheese with your apple pie?

For Northanger Abbey, read Girl in a Gothic House’. If you are not a Janeite, don’t read this. A lot of it made me laugh out loud.

This is from 2012 but I only read it this week, and I love the idea. I’ve started my own list of what I would have printed as my ideal bookshelf.

Knitting could be good for your health.

Chocolate ice cream cones. I quite liked this post about decorating cake with a little sister.

We are losing touch with nature. Forest bathing might be one solution.

Why we need creative, non-conformist thinkers.

Begin with hopelessness.

Renaissance tarts.

I made this for lunch today. I added sweetcorn to my salad (just grilled on the open flame of the hob), and served my dad a version with leaves and no tomatoes. The dressing was a combination of sunflower oil, toasted sesame oil, pomegranate molasses, and lemon. All delicious. All to be made again before the summer is out.

This weekend I finished The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot on the weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Mead has read Middlemarch at various points in her life and in the book she talks about how these readings have changed over time. There is a lot about Eliot’s own life, and the mirrors and reflections Mead feels it has with hers.

Have a good week! x

Reading List (18/7)

Hello! We are in the middle of July already. Goodness. I am reporting from my house, where I am currently recovering from knee surgery. I had to have my ACL reconstructed after I ruptured it playing netball last year. (The dangers of playing a twisty sport like netball). I’m not allowed to walk too much at the moment although the physios did agree I could take short walks when I get cabin fever and/or the weather is lovely. So far, I’ve made it to the park at the end of my street for some dog therapy, once, and almost to the end of the street to meet A- on his way home from work, also once. Mostly my day is spent resting, elevating, ice-ing, doing physio prescribed knee exercises, and book/journal writing.

I have managed to grow one tiny tomato on my tomato plant so I am on tomato-watch! I wait for it to ripen with a withheld glee. I also started some radishes in a pot on the weekend and they have already sprouted so we are on radish-watch too! I am growing lettuces for cut-and-come-again salad leaves. My living room window turns out to be the perfect place for pot-grown vegetables. Which is good because I am not going to make it to the allotment for a while. But I did get to take my mom last week, pre-surgery, and she helped clear some more of the ground!

I spent the weekend reading Turning: a swimming memoir. I rarely read books this quickly but I love this one. The voice reminded me of Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun, that same questioning of life and living in your late twenties, recovering from love and loss. Turning is about the author (Jessica J. Lee) swimming in the lakes that surround Berlin. She writes, “if I returned to Berlin, I could write myself on to the landscape, on to my own memories of the place. I could layer new meaning on to the lakes“. There is such a poetic resonance for me in this idea, that you can become part of the landscape, but not be lost into it. Of late I have wanted to get out into ‘the wild’ more. Many authors talk about a ‘rewilding’ – learning to be outdoors, amongst nature again. It is why I love the Cornish landscape/seascape so much, because it feels wild and unencumbered there. I suppose this longing is now made worse by my convalescence, the requirement that I stay in, recover in the city. To cope, I seem to be reading nature-based memoirs, many of them about swimming.

Cheryl Strayed on the power of words and writing. An essay for our times.

Swimming spots and nearby distilleries (both whisky and gin). My kind of swimming holes! Next time I venture near these places, I am going to write them into the itinerary.

I love this summer menu combination. If anyone wants to feed me this summer, I’ll happily sit down to this. And these peach pastries. They sound like my ideal summer dessert – peaches, pastry, custard. They’d be good to serve at a dinner party/supper club I think.

A kitchen story.

More musings on the origins of avocado toast and the geopolitics that contribute to it’s worldwide ease of access. I may or may not have made a bacon/avo/tomato sandwich for lunch after reading this.

Art, gardening and public health solutions come together on one happy floating barge-garden. This is such an innovative idea.

Yet another confetti cake to try out. I still haven’t made one.

Two essays on Anna Atkins, here and here. She was a Victorian naturalist and her cyanotypes I find mesmerising.

Some advice on avoiding a summer hangover. Or any hangover, for that matter.

Growing strawberries in Cuba.

It is 200 years ago today that Jane Austen passed away. This website has all the myriad events going on in celebration of her life. I may even crack open a copy of Pride and Prejudice in her honour later.

It’s summer which means Americans (in particular) are talking about all things s’mores. Apart from disagreeing with the choice of biscuit (they should be Marie biscuits. Graham crackers don’t exist in South Africa), I’m all up for a s’more. Particularly after a braai and a few glasses of rosé. So first up, David Lebovitz’s s’mores ice-cream pie. Can I just say oh my! Any takers to come over and mix this up for me? Or you can do Molly Yeh’s mini s’mores cakes   or Deb Perelman has s’mores cupcakes

An account of sailing to the Bahamas.

I finally finished listening to this conversation. It was so wonderful. Near the end of the conversation, Celaya talks about photographs, and one that he has on his desk. He says, “that photograph knew everything that was to come, in the leaning of Carol, the future was there”.

That is all for this week! Have a good one! x