Category Archives: Lists

‘I did that!’ list 2016

Greetings on the last day of 2016 everyone! I hope you are planning many festivities to rid ourselves of this awful year and ring in a new one. We are having dinner with family and friends at our house. There is talk of going out afterwards but I’ve been in bed all week with flu and so I may not risk it. I would like to be rid of the coughing fits before going back to work on Tuesday.

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You may (or may not) remember that last year I posted an ‘I did that!’ list, inspired by Karen Milford’s article. I liked the way it made me reflect on the year in a positive way. It was different to think about the coming year by looking back on the one just past, and rather than beating myself up about all that was left unaccomplished and continuing, I celebrated the sometimes-small, sometimes-big things that had made up the year, and had made me proud. So I decided to do it again this year. (I also have a list of resolutions, but I’m saving those until at least tomorrow, possibly Monday).

Here is my ‘I did that’! list for 2016.

1. I started a Cookbook Club, tentatively titled The Sunday Cookbook Club. I have many cookbooks. Some might say too many (my mother, for example, who, when she unpacked all the books we’d put into storage whilst she was moving house exclaimed, ‘you have 16 cookbooks on chocolate! How? Why?’) but I love them all. I don’t think I use them enough though and so I wanted to start a club that would encourage their more frequent use and would also provide an opportunity for entertaining without too much hassle. We have 5 members and have had several successful meetings. It has also meant I’ve increased my dinner-party hosting this year, which is something I wanted to do, and I’ve made frequent use of my local library. I intend to keep it going into 2017.

2. I submitted an article to a journal. Big academic step. Deep breaths. I also signed a book contract. More deep breaths. So in 2017 I will be writing a book.

3. I read more for pleasure. I cannot explain fully how happy this makes me. I have always loved reading, falling into magical worlds, being taken on journeys. Over my years as an academic, I read less and less for pleasure, concentrating instead on reading for work. This year, working outside of academia (and no longer being under PhD-related reading pressure) I rediscovered my love of reading. Related to this, I started a regular Tuesday Reading List on the blog, and posted every single Tuesday for the whole year. I’m very proud of the discipline that took to accomplish. (Reading Lists will continue in 2017!)

4. I re-learnt to knit. When I was small, my grandmother Ngonu taught me how to knit using two small red knitting needles. All through high school I knitted squares for blankets and then somewhere in the last 16-odd years, I stopped. When I got home from South Africa in September, I decided I needed some more creative pastimes and so I signed up for a knitting class at KnitNottingham. The muscle memory came back easily and I learnt how to purl and knit on the round. I’ve made several hats and am busy with a scarf. I even bought my first pattern. Now I just need to find a stitch and bitch so I can knit socially.

5. Andrés and I celebrated two years together and one year of living together. I took him to South Africa to meet all my family and friends. He survived and he is still around (so we obviously didn’t scare him too much). He also decided he loves it there and would be willing to move to Cape Town, if the opportunity ever occured. It has been a really rough year for us, but we made it through in one piece.

6. My sister and I went holidaying together in Barcelona. I was nervous of going to Spain without Andrés (my personal translator and guide) but we managed and had the best time. It was the first time in a long while we had traveled together, and I am pleased to say that it was just the same, only more grown-up and with slightly more spending money. My sister made the lists and I made the food decisions (including a totally extravagant and awesome food tour). She also provided all the commentary on the art that we saw. It was brilliant and I hope we do it again in 2017.

So that is my list for the year. What is yours?

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Reading List (26/7)

‘Please stop putting things in my brownie that aren’t chocolate, because it makes me sad’. (This is from February, but still a fascinating account of what ‘wellness bloggers’ are doing to our eating habits, body image and potentially, our health.)

I love the sound of this twice weekly pop-up. And the photos of the space look amazing. And this food studio in Edinburgh, only open a few nights a week.

This model for a small restaurant business is fascinating.

A list of dinners to make when the prospect of turning on the oven fills you with dread.

The food at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

The Strand bookstore in NYC has a quiz for potential employees.

A glamorous (Southern belle) version of spice cake which I intend to make for the princess the next time she visits. (Come visit Princess!)

I listened to the Bon Appetit Foodcast from July 7th last week. They talk to Jessica Koslow of Sqirl in LA. It’s a superb conversation full of jam, ideas and living by your own rules.And for some visuals of what Sqirl serves, look here. Links to the Eater Upsell interview here. Preorder Koslow’s book ‘Everything I Want to Eat’ (due October) here.

Wanderlust.

This is such a fantastic essay from Zadie Smith – on Brexit, on inequality, on London, on the future. She writes, ‘extreme inequality fractures communities, and after a while the cracks gape so wide the whole edifice comes tumbling down’. This is a well thought out piece about how, in the last thirty-odd years, the UK has fractured into spaces for those with money and spaces for those without, and how the people in these spaces live independently of each other, without seeing ‘the other’. Her discussion of how impossible it has now become to bridge these spaces, and purposively encounter people ‘other’ than oneself (she uses the example of a child her daughter was friends with at school but whose mother she couldn’t seem to start a conversation with) has stayed with me ever since.

Really thought-provoking podcast on the Food Programme last week, all about the funding for infant free school meals and the problems faced by small schools. The additional funding for small schools is being cut (it was only ever supposed to be temporary) and they will be expected to continue to provide a service for £2.30/child. This is problematic for small schools, who cannot operate on the economies of scale larger schools use, and who will struggle to keep their services afloat without additional help. In the programme they indicate that this may undo all the years of work that have transformed the school meals service in England.

Blueberry bbq chicken anyone?

Living in big cities is stressful. Community is important when you live there.

Do you need to build a restaurant empire to be a successful chef?

I listened to the Sporkful podcast on my way to work Monday. Last week’s episode was all about eating on presidential campaign trails and was totally absorbing and funny.

Pictures of Georgian London. (Also, this is a blog find! Notes for my next fieldtrip to Paris.)

Should you be able to buy olive oil alongside your CSA delivery? Debate about how ‘local’ locally supported agricultural programmes need to be and whether customers wanting to buy a great variety of products for delivery are really supporting local agriculture.

Things I will be cooking this week: peach and cherry cobbler (inspired by Claire Ptak’s version in The Guardian this weekend), tomato tarts inspired by this tomato pie and (if the universe sends me an ice cream maker) peanut butter and strawberry ice cream (also from The Guardian).

A list of workshops to stretch your creative skills.

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Eating with the Princess: Ottolenghi

I was in London for research on a Saturday a few weeks back. Afterwards, I met up with the Princess at the Estorik Collection in Islington. From there we wandered to Ottolenghi, for cake. We found seats at the bar and ordered a chocolate tart with praline (her), and a lemon tart (me). The lemon tart was a truly fabulous dessert: sour lemon curd – the kind that makes your mouth pucker – with just enough sugar to take the edge off, encased in a crisp pastry shell. It was a precisely perfect 4pm-cake-uplift.

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Ottolenghi Islington

287 Upper Street, London

N1 2TZ

 

 

Reading List (22/3)

I am sure you have all been watching the events of today in Brussels. I never know what to say or do on such days. The only resolution I have is to continue on, in spite of all the fear and horror and worry. So, with that in mind, here is a reading list to get you through Easter.

I was originally going to show you this S’mores Custard Cake from the Hint of Vanilla blog but then I got totally side-tracked on the pretty layer-cake that is last week’s post so two things to make/recreate now. Sorry. Save the strawberry cake for high summer perhaps?

Some philosophy this week: on success and recognition. Does your work have value if it is not recognised? How much recognition is too much? Whom should you be working for? Also, how much do I want to stay in that hotel? Possibly next ski trip? (And related to ski trips, these 80’s ski outfits, stolen from Jo.)

Sometime soon I’m going to make these vanilla custards and accompanying shortbread.

Challah and more challah. Maybe over this long weekend (I have six days off! Six!) I will make a version of challah for us to eat.

I started listening to All the light we cannot see. Has anyone read this yet?

Great British Pie Awards

I subscribed to The Misandry Hour this past week and have listened to a load of episodes in the days since. It is a super interesting feminist podcast that discusses a wide range of issues – from sexual harassment in the workplace to abortion rights.

Growing a garden in Illinois.

Eating ‘traditional’, classic Roman cuisine.

I want to make an earl grey tea version of this hot cross bun loaf this weekend.

The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook.

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Gingerbread Cake and a ‘I Did That!’ List

Happy New Years Eve everyone! I hope you are all planning festivities of some kind. I will confess, I am a New Years Eve grinch. This is mostly due to my hatred of enforced fun and this evening is the worst kind of enforced fun. But, I am willing to go out and have a drink and see what happens. I have found over the years, the key to a good evening is to not have any expectations. So I am embracing that.

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But I did not want to spend the last post of 2015 lamenting the terror of the evening. Rather, I have become, like almost all bloggers and writers I have read this week, reflective of this year in the past few days. I know that normally people post goals and resolutions for the coming year. I have certainly done so in the past. But then my friend Jen shared a link on Facebook, an article written by her friend, Karen Milford titled ‘You Were Awesome in 2015’. Intrigued, I read it and found an excellent idea – one that I have since chatted to Jen about and agreed is something we should do more often, but acknowledge this reflective period at the years end is probably the best time for it. The idea is to come up with a list of five things you are proud you accomplished in the year just gone. It is a stroke of genius. Instead of looking forward and feeling like a failure for all the goals you haven’t yet reached, the list allows the opportunity to look back and reflect on things you have actually done, however small. I’m calling it the ‘I Did That!’ List.

_DSC2811After much deliberation, here is my ‘I Did That!’ List.

1.) I finished my PhD and graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy. This seemed almost impossible at this precise point last year, when I’d just received comments back on my first draft. But sheer bloody mindedness and determination to get it done won out in the end.

2.) I moved in with Andrés, taking that big leap of faith in a shared life.

3.) I took the plunge and finally attended an education conference. I spent most of my PhD feeling like a really didn’t fit into an Education department, and attended more sociology and food studies conferences as a result. I finally got up the courage to go to BERA’s (British Educational Research Association) annual conference and presented my work. I discovered, with sheer joy, a number of other young researchers working in my field and we are now looking at collaborating on different things. And I discovered I do actually fit into Education, however obscurely, and that I am fascinated by other research in education, particularly that around teaching children the history of contested places.

4.) I travelled to Spain with Andrés, to meet his family. I was nervous and plagued by the usual ‘but what if they don’t like me?’ anxiety. We spent a week there, communicating in two, and sometimes three, languages, and I had a wonderful time. I did find I hated being unable to express myself adequately and so now I am learning Spanish.

5.) I learned to ski. I am often scared (and sometimes secretly thrilled) but I can get myself down a mountain or two on a pair of sticks strapped to boots. Proof that you really can learn to do anything if you set your mind to it.

So that is my list. What is yours?

And to round out the year, here is a final recipe. I made this for Boxing Day – baking it on Christmas Eve so it could mature. It is a supremely fantastic cake and the cookie butter icing will make you swoon. (Don’t be put off by the long ingredient list – it is essentially a melt and whisk cake.) I adapted the recipe for ingredients I had to hand and to make a small, one pan cake that could be sliced in half and iced.

Gingerbread Cake

Adapted from BBCgoodfood magazine (November 2015)

75ml milk

1.5 tbsp treacle

200g plain flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

60g light brown sugar

130g light muscavado sugar

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp ground ginger

a pinch of ground cloves

115ml sunflower oil

75g plain yoghurt

75g creme fraiche

1.5 eggs

1 tbsp rum

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170C and line one 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin with butter and parchment paper (line the base and the sides).

Heat the milk with the treacle until just warm and the treacle emulsifies into the milk. Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb, spices, and sugars and whisk together, making sure you break up any sugar lumps.

Whisk the oil, yoghurt, creme fraiche, eggs, rum and vanilla together until combined. Then whisk in the milk/treacle mixture.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and whisk in the wet ingredients until smooth. Pour the mixture (it is quite liquid) into the cake tin and bake for approximately 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack for half an hour before unmoulding and cooling completely before icing.

For the cookie butter frosting:

125g unsalted butter, softened

300g icing sugar

150g philadelphia cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g cookie butter (Lotus biscuit spread smooth is good)

Combine the butter and half of the icing sugar. Beat until smooth. Add in the cream cheese and beat again until smooth. Add in the rest of the icing sugar, cookie butter and vanilla. Beat until soft and fluffy.

I found this makes enough for a crumb coat and a generous layer of frosting. I only wanted a crumb coat/naked cake look so I used half and have frozen the other half for use later. To ice the cake, slice it in half and sandwich it together with the frosting. Place the other half on top and cover the top and sides with frosting. If you want a clean finish, ice this layer quite thinly, and don’t worry about crumbs. Place the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes and then completely cover the cake with frosting again, taking care to smooth the sides and top. Decorate as desired.

I hope your 2016 is bright and light and full of wonder.

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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.

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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

Filling:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.