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….
The wooden board in these photos was made by my friend Rosie Brewer, whose beautiful designs are made out of wood sourced from Devon forests. So, I wanted to make a simple salad to style on the board that wouldn’t take away from its natural beauty.
Due to an excess of figs, a somewhat middle class crisis, I chose to make them the focal point. I also have a certain affection for the combination of figs and cheese, so chose to add some Comté, one of my favourite cheeses. French, and made from unpasturised cow’s milk, Comté has a pleasant nutty taste, that went well with figs.
I tend to randomly throw things together when making salads, and have a fondness for combining fruit, cheese, nuts and a punchy dressing. But my primary consideration when making this salad was that the colours would work well on the board – I added thin slices of pink radishes purely for artistic reasons, as I don’t actually like them that much.
Have a browse of Rosie’s Etsy shop here.
Well hello, 2016. As far as ‘resolutions’ go, I try not to make them. The threat of failure, coupled with the incessant nagging at the back of my mind that I must do whatever it is EVERY day, otherwise there’s no point making them, leaves me feeling downtrodden by the 5th January. Instead, I noted down aims to keep in mind as I set off into the new year, and made a resolution to not beat myself up if I forget about them for a day or two.
This year, I decided to focus on eating mindfully (i.e. not standing in the kitchen shoving whatever came to hand in my mouth without a second thought), doing one deliberate thing every day to reduce stress (yoga, meditation, turning off all screens by 10pm) and to move more (which, given my desk-bound job, won’t take much). The mindful eating has so far (10 days in) been the most influential, as I have noticed how much of the eating I do is a result of stress or tiredness. Just noticing this pattern and being aware of it has helped massively, and reminding myself that food isn’t always the answer. Usually, a cup of tea and a lie down is.
I noticed that I was getting blood sugar drops around 3pm each day at work, when it would feel like the world was going to end and the only thing that would get me out of this state was something insanely sugary. I spoke to a nutritionist friend, Ellen, about this, who said that the solution was not to let it reach this stage, by keeping my blood sugar level. To do this, she recommended eating every 2 hours or so (hallelujah!). But it was crucial that the snacks I was having didn’t contain sugar, so wouldn’t cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash. So, I made these flapjacks sugar free, using stewed prunes as a base (Ellen’s idea) and a bit of honey to help stick everything together.
For more information about Ellen and naturopathic nutrition, click here.
I think I have to finally admit that Christmas is actually happening. Soon. Like, in a few days. Pretty soon I’ll be putting the out of office email reply on and heading down to Devon. It’s taken me a while to get in the festive spirit this year. Especially since the weather has been so warm (apparently there were colder days in May than in December – my current favourite weather anecdote). But after consuming more mulled wine than was probably good for me and listening to Annie Lennox’s rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen on repeat, I’ve finally got on board with the whole thing.
I usually make something edible as Christmas gifts. Last year it was honeycomb, and the year before that, florentines. Both of which featured relatively stressful processes involving sugar thermometers. Last year, I almost reached breaking point when making the honeycomb, covered in bits of glue-like caramel frantically trying to unstick the stubborn buggers from each other. So this year, I opted for something simple. I melted chocolate, spread it out on a tray and and covered it in stuff. Easy.