After the second bite…

This is the second time in my life that I have received unexpected cheese in the post.

I sit at my kitchen table, slightly flummoxed by the parcel, nibbling on the edge of hard cheese like a disbelieving mouse. The cheese breaks like old butter between my teeth; a harder grain, like salt or a slightly more fermented cheese, emerges to carry tartness to the edge of my tongue. The rind tastes like confident parmesan; the body of the cheese like rambunctious cheddar.

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this slice of boisterous, enigmatic cheese. But I like it.

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Terrine

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said it would be a cinch to make this game terrine; it was twenty past midnight by the time we took our crafted brick of layered meat out of the oven, and pressed it with the weight of three bricks and a cookery book.

I don’t think I’ve ever handled so many different types of animal meat in one evening, as chicken liver, pheasant, duck, pigeon breast and sausage meat each passed through my hands, layered one atop the other with a sprinkling of salt and pepper in between. This morning the kitchen is heavy with the smell of thyme, parsley and rich, mellow meats; this hearty, solid terrine seems like the only thing we should be eating at the turn of winter.

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The Egotistical Birthday Cake

As I carry a decadent three-tiered birthday cake towards my sister, complete with 10 flaming candles on every layer, a niggling doubt enters my mind: is spectacular food more about the ego of the creator than the reaction of recipient?

To be precise, I was contemplating this doubt  just before and after the cake ceremony. At the very moment I walked into a room full of my sister’s friends, carrying a tower of cake and candles – I felt nothing else but pure joy. I saw my sister’s face of sheer delight, heard her breathless squeals of excitement, and I knew that was why I had done it. I have never been moved to tears by a cake before, let alone cry over the same cake with someone else, yet those three tiers of sweetness said more than ‘happy birthday’, they said ‘I love you’, and ‘you mean the world to me’, and ‘I’ll spend days preparing a surprise for you, just to show it’. Continue reading

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Marmalady

Tea. Toast. Marmalade… my holy trinity.

I didn’t realise the importance of toast and marmalade until I left home for the first time to go to University. My family has always stayed in touch and found adventure at the same time: my father works in Scotland, Monday to Friday; my Mum has taught in Bolivia, Peru and Argentina in her retirement; and my sister makes a living out of organizing other people’s travels around the world. Marmalade has been the one constant in all my years of travel; absence makes the marmalade grow sweeter, and I never feel far from home without it.

There is a ritual associated with making our family marmalade. Mum gets in the oranges, Dad opens a good bottle of wine, and they pass the evening peeling away time and pith, cutting up the fruit and relaxing into the citrus smells as it boils away with more sugar than you’d like to think. We only have a limited supply of the golden, citrus-sweet preserve each year. We normally make about fifty jars, and there is always a slight panic in November when we only have ten jars left and wonder if there is still enough for Christmas.

I can justify tea, toast and marmalade any time of day: a quick snack; a luxurious breakfast; a late night treat. The tea is comforting, slipping down my throat to wash away the final crumbs, and I relish in the crunch of the toast, as my teeth sink into marmalade and butter. Oh the butter! I cut butter so wantonly that friends have often mistaken some Anchor butter for a piece of cheddar cheese on my toast. It sits there proud, like a gold bar your hips are going to pay for. For me it’s always been butter and bread, not bread and butter. Like jacket potatoes and freshly toasted crumpets, toast is essentially a vehicle for copious amounts of butter, and marmalade its willing accomplice.

My breakfast communion involves brewing the tea first, only making the toast once the milk has been added to the tea (teabag still in), so the tea is just the right temperature when the toast is ready. The butter must be slightly soft, but still hard enough to cut into thick pieces. I tip the marmalade jar slightly to one side, using my knife to fish out the pieces of rind along with the pulpy marmalade. As I take my first bite I feel the solid base of toast on my tongue, with the fresh citrus sweetness on the roof of my mouth and a buttery layer in between the two. The satisfying discovery of a piece of rind cuts through the sweetness, and sends a tang of bitterness round the edge of my tongue as I work the remaining seeds from the bread out of my teeth and wash the whole experience down with warm, dark tea.

I have to take a brief pause from writing— excuse me! I run down to the kitchen, I can almost feel the butter on my teeth and I justify the indulgence in more marmalade as purely for research purposes.

Marmalade is a typical English preserve which originates from the Portuguese marmelada, although the Scots are credited with coming up with the recipe in the 1700s when faced with an inconveniently large stock of Spanish oranges that had come into port. Although I think of it as English, marmalade has crossed more borders than I realise. Marmalade is not tied to one particular place or home for me, as I’ve eaten it in a flat in Leeds with no central heating, a rickety apartment in Northern Spain, and huddled next to a radiator looking over the Rocky Mountains in Canada. It tastes of all the places I’ve lived, and like an umbilical breakfast chord, it always takes me back to my mum. In each city I have had a jar of her marmalade with me, providing me with the one taste of stability I needed. The crunch of the toast and sweet release of the marmalade sounds better than Dorothy clicking her heels, and suddenly there was no place like which ever home I happened to be breakfasting in.

Over the years my mum and I have honed our technique for posting marmalade ever increasing distance as I have studied abroad in Spain and Canada. We had to contend with the marmalade’s viscosity, its propensity for leakage, and find a container that was lighter and less breakable than a jam jar. The first time mum sent marmalade to Leeds, she used a small butter container, wrapped with brown package tape, a sandwich bag, and then more tape. When I went to the post office to pick the package up, I was required to answer a few questions from the Post Master about this sticky package they had been holding on to. We’ve since tried yoghurt pots, plastic bags and containers, but have finally settled on a screw top Tupperware about the size of a tea mug, which fits all the criteria and still looks good on the kitchen table.

I secretly worry about what will happen after my mum dies. I imagine crying onto my dry toast, unable to compromise myself with a shop-bought brand. I have long chastised myself for not learning from her, so she agreed to teach me her secrets— and my first batch was delicious. Yet the idea of making my own marmalade was more frightening than not having any at all. My own jar of marmalade had the taste of my mother’s mortality; like finding out where her Last Will was—I just didn’t want to know until I needed to. I will only have to make my own batch of marmalade when my mum finally hangs up her wooden spoon and preserving pan for good; so until then I will happily breakfast on the tangy fruits of her labour and put the kettle on to boil once again.

oranges and lemons

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Blue Tomatoes

Blue Tomato food magazine has been a consuming project of late. I was appointed Editor in August last year, and I’ve only just about come up for air after the whirlwind of starting such an exciting job. So I hope you’ll forgive me if I’ve been a little on the quiet side.

I have been kept busy with editing the Blue Tomato website, redesigning and producing the magazine, and organising a glamorous re-launch party on The Yacht, attended by over 300 people and celebrity chefs such as Jun Tanaka and Tonia Buxton. Now things have settled down again as we work on the next issue, I’m happily tucked into a corner of my favourite café, breakfast ciabatta at my side, ready to reflect on food once more. In many ways, writing a blog about food whilst working in the food industry is a bit like planning a meal whilst your still digesting the last one; it can be tricky to get excited about food when you’re suffering from over eating.

If you’d like to find out what I’ve been stuffing myself with, you can read an online copy of Blue Tomato magazine or peruse the website. Highlights of my work so far include interviewing chef Thomasina Miers and the unstoppable restaurant duo Anthony Demetre and Will Smith, meeting Michelin starred chef Claude Bois, or sipping tea with the President of Le Cordon Bleu, André J. CointreauI’ve also been reviewing more restaurants and bars than my waistline would care to remember, so I’ll be putting up links to my favourites in the coming weeks. Continue reading

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Coffee on wheels

There has been a flurry of cycling cafés opening in East London of late. Inspired by the famous Tours around the world, I set three café head to head, latte to latte, to see who comes out victorious with the yellow jersey. Continue reading

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Bizarre Bazaar

Crocodiles tied to pieces of pink silk, men in floral dresses, and 1950’s swimsuits… Read more about my fancy dress experience of the Bizarre Bazaar here.

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The Stag: Review

Let’s face it: makeshift BBQ’s don’t work. 

The debacle goes something like this: you can’t be bothered to heave a full-size BBQ up onto Hampstead Heath, so you raid the corner shop for one of those disposable numbers instead. All disposable BBQs should really be disposed of immediately, however, you still waste 45 minutes trying to get the thing to light – whilst you and your friends cower around a tin foil container that’s half the size of your burger, trying to convince each other that it’s not that cold, really.

or

You could go to The Stag pub just off the heath, to enjoy locally sourced meat, ostentatiously classic desserts, and a BBQ beer garden that’s almost as beautiful as the heath itself…  Read more of my Stag review here.

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Cafe du Marche: Review

Venue Image

Behind an unmarked door, down a cobbled alleyway, just off a 14th-century square – you could be forgiven for missing Le Cafe du Marche, yet it’s only minutes from Farringdon Station and Clerkenwell Road. A double bassist and jazz pianist set the relaxed tone to the evening, whilst the restaurant’s classic French cuisine and expert service combine fine dining with friendliness. An unforgettable, five-star dining experience. Read more of my View London review here.

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Can you pair wine with a takeaway?

It’s all very well to pick a wine when you’re in a restaurant and the waiter tells you what to do – but what about when you’re enjoying a quick home-cooked meal or perhaps sitting on the sofa with a take away? As you read the back of a wine bottle, you’ll be bamboozled with adjectives and details of the wine’s aroma, acidity, undertones and tannins – but will it taste good with what you’ve got in the oven?! Continue reading

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