Category Archives: Farms and Gardens

Eating with the Princess: Hackney

I have been eating my way around London in the last few months. I’ve been down for research and to attend the Princess’s graduation and when my sister and I are together, we eat. It is our thing. When our parents join us, we continue to eat but with slightly better budgets. This is the first of a photo collection series of our eating adventures together. I’m starting in Hackney, where we spent a Saturday wandering purposely from food place to food place back in March (before we took the train back to Soho in pursuit of gelato).

We started our Hackney adventure at London Borough of Jam where we bought jam (for reals), and doughnuts. The doughnuts were filled with peach and saffron jam that was to die for. I recently made a vanilla cake filled with the blackberry and bayleaf jam I bought from here and it was superb (recipe coming soon).

Then we walked to Violet Bakery where we ate first lunch (avocado toast, and a divine ham and Comté quiche) and then cake. Violet is just as awesome as I imagined, and the kitchen space is much tinier than I ever thought possible. I’ve baked a ridiculous amount from Claire’s book in recent months too.

We wandered through Broadway Market, perusing all the goods, and popping into several bookshops along the way, and then wandered on to Hackney City Farm, because you know me, I love a city farm. I have never spent time in Hackney or the surrounding areas, but I enjoyed how it felt like a village.

We ended the day getting ice cream (not in Hackney) at Gelupo in Soho. Pistachio gelato that doesn’t taste of almond essence for the win.

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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.

xxx

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.

Blueberry Pie

One of the great things about my internship at cookNscribble was meeting all sorts of interesting and fascinating people. People who want to talk about food. About growing food. Raising animals. Cooking food. And mostly, people who want to talk about the cool things that they do. To make blueberry pie, I got to work with two such people: Tim Lippert and Molly O’Neill.

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The reason I got to meet Tim, who is a free-range hog and cattle farmer, was because we were after blueberries. He has several rows of young blueberry bushes on part of his farm. Like the raspberries (and cherries – this has been a fruit picking summer), we were allowed to pick our own.

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The blueberries were turning all shades of blue and purple on the bushes and so, one afternoon, we went over to talk to Tim and forage amongst the blueberry bushes for ripe fruit. Not all the berries were ripe, some bushes were a few days behind the others, but we picked enough for a few pies and snacks.

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The main function of Crosby Farm is actually raising pigs and so, after we were done blueberry picking, I got to meet some of them. We passed a shed full of piglets and a boar-in-training before we reached the main group. Tim rears them in the woodland, where it is cool and shaded and the pigs happily make loads of mud.

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Then, because I’d been saying how my mom has just bought a smallholding and wants to raise some Dexters, I got to meet Tim’s herd of Dexter cattle. Dexters are dwarf cattle, good for smaller spaces and quite friendly. Who knew a blueberry picking adventure could turn into a full farm sight-seeing tour?

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Once we were back in the kitchen, Molly O’Neill shared her secrets of pie-making. For those of you who don’t know, Molly is a doyenne of American food writing. She used to write for the New York Times and has written several books. Now she also teaches food writing, including running the scholars programme I was partly involved in, and organises the LongHouse Food Revival. (You should go if you’re in the area.) Molly has a wealth of food knowledge, just some of which I got to tap into during my internship. One of the things she taught me was about making good pie.

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This particular blueberry pie has an almond crumble top and no recipe. But I will tell you what Molly told me verbally. (This presupposes you already have some pie dough in the fridge. If you don’t, follow the instructions for the cherry pie recipe.)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Sort out the blueberries first. Put them in a bowl (several cups for a deep-dish pie, around 6) with a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a cup and a half of flour. Toss everything together with your hands so that you don’t damage the berries too much. Add in a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Let this sit whilst you make the crumble topping.

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To make the crumble, combine some flaked almonds, marzipan and butter together in a bowl. Work the butter and marzipan into the almonds, like you would rub butter into flour. The mixture will get quite sticky but then you can start to add in plain flour and sugar (which you would have organisedly tossed together already). Lastly, add in some slivered almonds. The mixture should be crumbly (who’d have thought?) and fairly sweet.

Line a pie dish with pie crust, carefully overhanging the edges by 1cm. Fold these up to create a wave pattern along the edge.

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Place the blueberries into the pie dish.

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Scatter the crumble topping generously on top. Don’t be afraid to use a lot. It tastes amazing.

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Bake the pie in the oven for around an hour. It needs to be golden brown and bubbling before you even think of removing it. Eat warm. (And then whatever is leftover makes an excellent breakfast.)

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Community Garden UoN

It’s been ages since I’ve given you an update on what’s happening in the garden. Many plans are afoot, we’ve been rebranded as the University of Nottingham Community Garden, I’ve been writing funding grants with other garden leaders, we’re doing epic battle with slugs (I don’t understand slugs), our courgette plants have grown their last courgettes (ridiculous production capabilities those), and we’ve got onions and garlic in the ground for the winter. This week we made an insect house and we’re planning some Christmas themed festivities too. Here’s what it looks like at the moment.

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As you can see we’ve entered ski jacket and wellington boot gardening weather. But on clear days, it’s not too bad. And our leeks are coming along slowly.

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Our kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts on the other hand, seem to be a festive celebration of fantasticalness for the slugs. I don’t think there’s any coming back from the destruction.

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The autumn colours are amazing.

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Things look a bit muddy and forlorn but they are actually growing.

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And our insect house is up! Hopefully we’ll have some fascinating bugs move in.