The temperature around these parts has suddenly taken a nose-dive. From a pleasant, if a little chilly, seven degrees it has now plummeted to an icy minus three. The dreaded ‘s’ word has been mentioned. When it’s this cold, the only thing that will coax me out of my lovely warm bed at seven in the morning is a bowl of porridge.
I am suffering the onset of my usual autumn/winter cold. It was with a severely blocked nose that I made my first batch of spiced pear compote to go with my morning porridge. Having neglected to read the faint label on the spice jar, I liberally sprinkled in what I assumed, relying purely on my non-existent sense of smell, to be cinnamon. It was in fact chilli powder.
I didn’t discover this, however, until the next morning, when I sat down to tuck into my porridge and compote, only to be proverbially whacked in the face by so much chilli it made my eyes water. Well at least it woke me up. There was something quite pleasing about a slight bit of chilli in amongst the sugary pears and creamy porridge, although maybe not in this quantity.
So this was attempt two at pear compote – relying on my much more reliable sense of sight to decipher the contents of the spice cupboard. I’ve included a tiny pinch of chilli powder as an optional ingredient, but feel free to leave it out if you consider it mildly insane.
I am an obsessive reader of food blogs. I have about 20 of my favourites bookmarked on my computer, and consider it a good use of a few hours to go through them all on a regular basis. Some people put up new entries with astonishing regularity – I consider anything over the one post a week that I manage as pretty superhuman.
Every blog contains in it the promise of inspiration- whether it be a new recipe, an interesting way of styling a shot or simply a well written post. The best blogs, in my opinion, have to have good photographs- that’s why most of the blogs I follow are by food photographers. The attention to detail and the quality of the photographs always inspires me to push myself in my own photography.
I’m always excited when I discover a new blog. Usually, this comes about via Instagram, which is my new Facebook, although that rather seems like replacing heroin with cocaine. Lately I discovered not one but two new blogs – Call Me Cupcake (don’t be put off by the twee name) by the Swedish photographer Linda Lomelino, and Nordljus, by the Japanese photographer Keiko Oikawa. Both of these blogs contain photographs that make me want to weep with how beautiful they are.
One of the things that inspired me about the photography in both of these blogs in their attention to how each shot is set up – creating a balanced composition and filling the frame. Each item is placed with such precision, yet looks very natural. So I tried to emulate this in my photos for this post. I used a vase of flowers and a chequered cloth as props, to add visual interest. I also thought carefully about how I positioned each item, and how the colours would work together. And after all that, I fancied a bit of gin.
I was sent a link recently to a series of images where the photographer had recreated meals from all their favourite books. This got me thinking about books that I had read and remembered particular things that the characters ate, or meals that were vividly described. From childhood, I can recall exactly the pie that was eaten by Danny in Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World, wrapped in greaseproof paper, and containing whole eggs in amongst the filling.
I have just finished reading The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. In this book, two worlds run side by side. In one of them, the two characters seem to incessantly eat popcorn. There are many passages devoted to their choice of topping, how they cook it, and so on for a surprisingly long time. When I finished the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about popcorn. So I decided to make some.
I experimented with both a savoury and a sweet topping, these being smoked paprika, and cinnamon and sugar. There are many others you could use – some options I remember from the book are parmesan, thai five spice powder, and mixed herbs. There is a certain amazement in these dry yellow things suddenly magically transforming into the stuff you get at the cinema. It took me a few tries to get the temperature just right, as the oil can’t be too hot as it will burn the kernels, but it needs to be hot enough to make them pop.
My friend Clare and I were talking today about becoming grown ups. When do you become a grown up? When you ‘wear a suit and kitten heels to the office’ as Clare put it? When you have a folder marked ‘tax’? Lots of people insist that they have never grown up – I met many a thirty-something in Thailand having a ‘gap life’.
When I was at university, my housemates and I had a student food blog. It was all about how to eat nice things on a budget. One of the most memorable recipes for me was Rocky Road, made as a result of an essay-related sugar craving. In this recipe, I opted for the definitely childish combination of marshmallows, biscuits, glace cherries and the like.
However, now I have left university and am supposed to be a full-blown adult. Therefore, I chose, maturely, to include more healthy ingredients this time. Such as pistachios, walnuts and slow-release energy oat biscuits. And I renamed the recipe ‘Chocolate Biscuit Bars’, to sound more adult. This was also a more expensive alternative, one of many economic realities to hit during adulthood, I imagine. But the result was just as yummy, and we didn’t feel so guilty when scoffing it down.