Category Archives: Non-Food but Food Related

Food for Thought Lectures, The School of Artisan Food

This past weekend I journeyed to the rural areas of Nottinghamshire, to the rather lovely Welbeck Estate, to attend the School of Artisan Food ‘Food for Thought’ lectures. It was a truly fantastic weekend of scholarship, writing and thinking about food.

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The whole two days seemed to hang together very loosely – there was no wider theme that really connected the speakers and so we journeyed from the horrors of the food industry to the tiny Cookhouse, to the Grand Tour. It was all fantastic, capturing my enthusiasm for food talk and writing once again. We were also superbly well fed!

Joanna Blythman started us off, talking about what the food industry doesn’t tell us. Her new book, Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets explores this in more detail. She spoke in (rather horrifying) detail about how ‘natural flavourings’ like ‘rosemary extract’ aren’t really related to the rosemary plant at all. If you’re even slightly skeptical about how the food industry works, read her book. On Sunday, in an unexpectedly related talk, James Whetlor talked about his business Cabrito Goat Meat. James and his partner started Cabrito in Devon, as a solution to using the billy kids that otherwise form a waste product from the goat milk industry. The idea was to supply goat meat for people to eat. As their business has grown, they have looked to expand into supermarkets and James spoke with frank honesty about the difficulty of doing this as a small producer. He talked about how the food industry and the supermarkets work to shape choice, by limiting what they will and will not buy from suppliers. It was totally gripping and engaging.

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Bee Wilson spoke about how we learn to eat, the possibilities for teaching our palate’s to like various foods, including vegetables, and how (ideally) the best way to teach children to eat is to allow them to choose from a range of foods (without getting anxious about their nutritional intake). Her new book, First Bite, discusses this in more detail. I spoke to her afterwards because it struck me as an interesting tension that manifests in schools where, because of the unknown (by parents of what children at at school and by teachers/dining hall supervisors of what children eat at home), children lose this ability to choose. In schools, children are encouraged to eat all the food they are given, to ensure they are not hungry. There is little opportunity for the kind of agency Wilson talked about around the school dining table.

One of the reasons I signed up to the talks was to hear Jeanette Orrey speak. Jeanette is the ‘original’ dinner lady, the one who is largely credited for telling Jamie Oliver about the state of school food, and who has worked tirelessly to change school food in the last 16-odd years. She provided some interesting statistics, particularly on the growing problem of hunger in schools, and she urged the audience not to think that school food had been ‘fixed’. Orrey argued that there are still head teachers who do not think school food should be their problem, that there is still tension between the DfE and the DoH about who is responsible for food in schools, and there is an ever growing issue around summer hunger too. She also talked about the tension that exists between what policymakers envision, and what schools can do at the grassroots level (which is what my thesis was all about).

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I loved hearing from the chefs too. Over the weekend, we heard from Olia Hercules on fermentation (her rather exquisite book is only £5.99 on Amazon at the moment); Jeremy Lee on the evolution of British food and this new culture developing around feasting and sharing; and Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich from Honey & Co. I was interested in the way Sarit and Itamar talked about writing their cookbooks, about how channeling the personal is so important, how their cookbooks are about food they want to eat and cook, and how you can read their cookbooks like any other book.

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The food garden at the School of Artisan Food

I particularly loved listening to Anna Hedworth talk about starting Cook House, up in Newcastle (how much do you love her logo?!) and her work putting on events for the National Trust in the Farne Islands (working in foreign kitchens, some without running water). Her pictures were exquisite and made me desperately want to run some supper clubs like we used to do in Johannesburg.

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Food at lunch on Sunday

The weekend ended with two history talks – one on The Grand Tour by Andrew Graham-Dixon and the other by historian Ivan Day. Ivan’s talk was particularly interesting. He talked about food as art as largesse. My understanding of his talk was that in the event of wealthier people having large events, with large displays of food (often created as works of art), the food was later given to those less well-off to have and eat. So architectural displays of food were later dissembled by the poor. This is food as art but also food as art as largesse… Ivan had a fascinating collection of photographs of tables laid with plenty. These tables were then picked at by the wealthy before being given to poor people. In other places, who scenes were constructed from food (as part of a wider celebration of a birth or a marriage of the landed gentry), and then people could destroy them and claim the food. At food festivals in Europe, people were given roasted meats for free as part of the wider celebration. An interesting idea of redistribution of wealth I think.

All in all, I had a fantastic weekend, talking and thinking about food. I’m hoping, now that I have been there, to return to The School of Artisan Food for another course. And I will definitely be back next year for this lecture series!

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Hudson, New York

Sometimes you need a break from work. An afternoon exploring a tiny hipsterville town on the edge of a river. Sometimes you need a bookshop with a bar. And really good coffee. And possibly a wine store. And antique stores with ballet skirts and rad 70’s furniture. And a sustainable diner. On such afternoons, when you’re staying in what sometimes feels like the town at the end of the world, Hudson is only a 45 minute drive away. And who doesn’t love a place that has a bookshop with a bar?!

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ballet skirts

1970s vibe

bookshop bar

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bacon cheeseburger

shop fronts

sunset

July 4th, Rhode Island

Greeting dearest ones, from the USA. And happy 4th of July!
At present I’m in a place called Barrington, Rhode Island, visiting friends. From Sunday I’ll be in New York State but more on that later.

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So far, RI has been awesome. Yesterday was beautiful, hot and sunny, a glorious 29C. It felt like proper summer. Today hurricane Arthur has hit, bringing rather a lot of rain. That didn’t stop us from cycling 15kms to Bristol to see the longest continually running 4th of July parade. The USA is 238 years old, the parade is 229. There’s nothing quite like cycling, soaked to the bone, through pretty towns, to watch a parade. We came home dripping water. Also, the view from the bike track ain’t bad. Jesus made an appearance at the parade (he wasn’t officially in it though) as did a load of war vets, some original baseball players and marching bands who set the mood.

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Yesterday my friends had what is called a ‘porch party’. Basically everyone gathered on their porch, ate, drank and made merry. There were fireworks everywhere – we wandered down to the bay (all 2.5 seconds away) and watched the bonfires and fireworks on the other side of the water. Everyone kept apologising that there weren’t that many fireworks this year but I thought it was pretty impressive nonetheless.

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I’ve been eating, obviously. On Wednesday night we visited a place called Julian’s, in Providence. I had the most amazing zucchini flowers stuffed with lobster, corn and mascarpone. There’s something to be said about a place that puts lobster in zucchini flowers. Their cocktails were pretty good too.

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I was thoroughly entertained yesterday too as we visited a wholesale store to buy wine. Oh the things you can buy! In bulk!

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That’s all for now. Hold thumbs the hurricane moves off and the rain stops so I can spend tomorrow morning on the beach! In the meantime, I leave you with these. They’re totally making it into my suitcase.

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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.

Mushroom Foraging

A few weeks ago I went mushroom foraging for the first time. A group of us met on University Park campus and together with a mushroom guide, we learnt about various mushrooms – ones good for eating, others that aren’t. Then we went wandering around campus, our eyes focused on the ground, to find some. It turns out there’s loads of mushrooms on campus, you just have to keep you eyes peeled. We found a variety of different ones, all largely identified by our guide. Lots of fairy-story names like ‘elf caps’ and ‘fairy batons’ which I just love.

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Clumber Park Kitchen Garden

Okay so I realise that this is the third garden post in a row but this is just such a stunning kitchen garden that I had to share it with you. Clumber Park is a National Trust property in North Nottinghamshire. It’s a fantastical place to go spend a sunny day, there are ample opportunities for picnicking, walking, cycling (you can hire bikes there), general lounging or dog watching. There’s also this 19th century kitchen garden with it’s massive greenhouse that has been restored. It’s truly inspirational.

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WJ Beal Botanical Garden, MSU

Another feature of the MSU campus is their botanical garden. This was begun in 1872 when Professor Beal established a nursery on campus. It is situated just along the river, slightly hidden, beneath some rather epic trees. The plants are arranged in themed beds and the idea, the one guide told me, is to create an encyclopedia of plants – an idea which I just love. I got excited at all the different wheat varieties they were growing, as well as the unusual looking herbs. And I took some time out from the heat to sit awhile by the pond…

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WJ Beal Garden

Just rows of different plants!

Ginger in WJ Beal Garden

I love the leaves on this ginger

WJ Beal Garden

Looking back towards the garden

Pond at WJ  Beal Garden

The pond, where it’s nice to sit awhile.