Around this time of year, my thoughts turn to chocolate. I’m usually pretty good at avoiding eating too much of it, but when the weather is damp and it gets dark in the early afternoon, all I seem to want to do is consume copious amounts of dark chocolate (along with copious amounts of red wine). Eating with the seasons, you might say.I’d bought some ludicrously expensive chocolate, some sugar and butter to use for a work related photo shoot, so the obvious next step seemed to be baking. I had a distracting craving for chocolate cookies, so voila.
This was my attempt to follow a recipe, which I’ve had to accept is something I’m not very good at. I’m not a naturally defiant person, but there’s something about a precise list of ingredients and a specific method that makes me want to veer rebelliously off course. So, this recipe was originally for chocolate chip cookies, which I decided wasn’t going to be chocolatey enough to satiate my craving, so added cocoa powder. I also threw in some fig jam, a random addition mostly due to the fact that it had been lurking in my cupboard for weeks.
Lo and behold, the cookies came out fine, reaffirming my belief that recipes are, in my eyes, for guideline purposes only. The first batch of cookies bled together when they baked, forming one large gooey sheet. Leave about 4cm of space around each one and you’ll be fine (unless making one large cookie the size of a baking tray is the aim). They cookies will look endearingly misshapen (mine certainly did), but thanks to the trend of ‘rustic’ baking, let’s not worry.
Last weekend, I went to a Christmas baking workshop taught my friend Marianne, a pastry chef who I met on the Makelight Retreat. The workshop was held at Bakesmiths, a lovely bakery and cafe on Whiteladies Road in Bristol.
Being not exactly the biggest fan of Christmas pudding, mostly because it’s inevitably forced on you after being crammed to the rafters with goose and roast potatoes, I’ve never made one before. So, I was looking forward to giving it a bash. I opted to make the ‘boozy chocolate’ version (because anything can be improved with booze and chocolate, right?!) complete with added cocoa powder, rum and chopped chocolate.
Marianne took us expertly through the recipe, pointing out helpful tips along the way. Given that I have a stunningly short attention span, when it came to us making the Christmas pudding recipe, I conveniently ‘forgot’ the right time to add the alcohol, meaning that I had to add more in at a later stage. Oh well. So with my (very) boozy Christmas pudding made, we then moved on to mince pies. We made the mincemeat with a combination of dried fruit, homemade candied peel, suet, nuts, and (yes) even more alcohol. Marianne took us through making a very delicate sweet pastry with icing sugar and ground almonds, which we then filled with the homemade mincemeat and baked. Then there was mulled wine. A wonderful day.
For full details about Marianne’s upcoming classes, head to mariannebakes.co.uk
Last weekend I went on an Autumn styling workshop, taught by food photographer and stylist Carole Poirot at The Forge in Bristol. One of my favourite things about the workshop was the space it was held in – The Forge is one of those spaces that is designed with such thought. Every detail has been aesthetically considered, from the shelving in the kitchen, to the artfully distressed brick wall, to the plant arrangement in the bathrooms. It was so inspiring to spend time there.
Another amazing thing about the workshop was all the incredible props Carole bought with her – items ranging from an old skittle from a skittle alley, to vintage medicine jars, to feathers, to intricate gold spoons were spread out on a table, ready for us to play with. My prop collection at home consists of a few chipped plates, some torn pieces of linen and a couple of spoons given to me by my Grandma, so this was another level of prop euphoria.
Carole has such an eye for arranging all manner of different things together, and encouraged us to think carefully about balance when we were making our arrangements. We all picked out different objects from the array, and set about creating vignettes and flat lays with them. It felt so wonderfully self-indulgent to spend the day faffing around – arranging worn gold cutlery, scratched from years of use, alongside purple-hued hydrangeas and wooden boards. It really made me think more about the deliberate aesthetic decisions we have the opportunity to make everyday – and the simple pleasure that can come from a well balanced arrangement of carefully chosen objects. I went home after the workshop and spent a good couple of hours rearranging the objects in my room…
I have been feeling guilty for a while about not having posted on this blog since, ahem, July. I was feeling in need of a bit of shaking up and inspiration, so last weekend, I went to a photography retreat in the Cotswolds. The retreat (yes, there was meditation in a teepee) was run by Emily Quinton, who has set up Makelight, a community of digital creatives and photographers.
The weekend was exactly what I needed on many levels, both personally and professionally, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the fact that it came right when I needed it. I was feeling a bit emotional when I arrived for several reasons, and the healing effect of being sequestered away in the countryside with a lovely bunch of women was incredible. There was mindfulness walking, arranging apples and linen on wooden boards in photography workshops (with the incredible Catherine Frawley), and beautiful flowers that almost moved me to tears (and I’m not usually one to get emotional over floristry) by Jody Page. There was laughing, and wine. I slept like a log for 10 hours a night.
One of the talks that had the most impact on me was given by Kate from A Playful Day, who spoke about the blogging process – giving stories the time they need to evolve, and allowing yourself time to develop them. When they’re ready, they happen. Some burst from you, something you need to write straightaway, others take more time. I felt so much relief to hear this, as I always have this kind of imaginary template in my head of when things need to happen. But no-one’s going to notice if a blog post takes a bit longer, are they? The story will come when it’s supposed to. And come it has.
I have recently moved into a new house. A desire to do a bit of nesting, coupled with just having bought yet another cookbook, the baking book Honey and Jam, led me to make a cake.
Whilst trying to orientate myself in the surrounding streets of very similar grand Georgian terraces, I popped into the local corner shop. I went in with pretty low expectations, banking on just getting milk and eggs. However, I was confronted with quails eggs, cashew nuts and several different types of brie. So I bought some duck eggs, my favourite brand of local butter and some cashew nuts for good measure.
The flavours in this cake were inspired by some ice cream I had recently at Swoon Gelato: caramelised fig and mascarpone. The duck eggs gave it a richness, and the butter tinged it yellow, and I added some ground almonds to the sponge. I topped the cake with sliced figs, fig jam and mascarpone cream.
Last month, I went to Malta to visit my friend Paris, who’s recently moved there. I didn’t really know what to expect from the tiny Mediterranean island, as I booked my flights last minute, so there was little time for any pre-holiday research. So I just had to turn up and let it unfold. From cliff-top parties to swimming in azure blue sea, to g&ts on the balcony, there were many memorable moments.
There was one particular café we frequented for lunch, so much so that the owner would inquire ‘you want some more hummus?!’ every time we entered. But perhaps the most memorable meal was at a Lebanese restaurant. We ordered hummus (of course) and the Syrian roasted red pepper dip and walnut dip, Muhammara. This was unlike anything I’ve had before, so I immediately looked up the recipe and had a bash at recreating it. Of course, this is nothing like the original (especially as I burnt my peppers slightly) but given food is so much about context, it never is.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of yoghurt. Lidl sells thick Greek yoghurt by the 1kg bucket (literally – the pot has a handle), and I’ve been known to devour one in an embarrassingly short amount of time.
Part of yoghurt’s appeal for me is in its versatility – it is equally at home in both sweet and savoury dishes. If I’m going for sweet, my yoghurt toppings often extend to honey (or if I’m feeling extravagant, date syrup) and some sort of nut, usually flaked almonds. Recently, I’ve started experimenting with using yoghurt in more savoury dishes as a topping or sauce, often combined with herbs.
This recipe is a shameless knock-off of a meal my friend Heather cooked for me. The earthy root veg, roasted with honey, cumin and fiery harissa, is topped with a thick sauce of natural yoghurt, tahini and parsley. I use flat leaf parsley here, as I have no patience with the curly stuff. The herby yoghurt elevates this dish beyond humble roast veg, giving it a freshness that compliments the spice really well. It’s so good that you’ll be buying yoghurt by the bucketful in no time….