My friend Kristel recently came to visit. She’s from the Netherlands, and we met in our first year at university in Sheffield, when we lived a few rooms down from each other. Despite there being countries (and sometimes continents) separating us, we have stayed in touch, and I went to visit Kristel in Boston last year (read more about that here). So then it was her turn to visit me, and we spent an enjoyable week ambling around Bristol. Baking was also inevitably going to be on the agenda, and when trying to decide what to bake on a rainy Sunday, there was only one option.
This apple tart is always going to provoke incessant bouts of nostalgia for us, since it was one of the things Kristel made during our first year at uni. We were living in a flat with nine people, most of whom had some sort of dietary requirement, from vegan to lactose intolerant. Therefore, as you can imagine, group meals were somewhat difficult. Being committed to the cause of group bonding, however, we managed to rustle something up that would suit everyone.
Our group meals usually consisted of pasta with some sort of vegetable based sauce, and this apple tart for pudding (because yes, there had to be pudding). The version that Kristel made originally was vegan, involving the genius use of tahini instead of egg to bind the pastry together. This recipe is not vegan, as it uses butter in the pastry and egg yolk to glaze the top, but we retained the tahini for old time’s sake.
I recently heard of the concept of a ‘house-cooling’ (from the infinite wisdom that is Kinfolk magazine). This is pretty self-explanatory, being the opposite of housewarming: it involves saying a fond farewell to a dwelling that has provided so many memories, and welcoming in the transition and all its exciting new developments. My friends Alex and Heather have lived on a houseboat for the past 3 years. The time has come to say goodbye to the converted Dutch barge, and they are moving out of the boat onto dry land.
I made this dark and sticky ginger and date cake to take to the ‘boat–cooling’ gathering. I felt that feeling something stodgy and spicy might be in order, not least to fuel the impending sorting and moving of an entire boat-worth of stuff. We ate the cake huddled in the warmth of the boat, feeling the calm sway of the water and remembering all the many previous days and evenings spent there. This time felt poignant given the shift in seasons too – saying farewell to the boat and farewell to summer. There was a definite fizz of excitement around the anticipation of the next exciting phase, of things to come.
I’ve recently had two of my housemates from university come to visit. Food is one of the things that cements our friendship, having run a student food blog together (www.chocolatebudget.wordpress.com, if you’re interested). We had something of a dip extravaganza, making several different ones including baba ganoush, guacamole and this butternut squash one. All accompanied by pitta bread, olives and a great deal of reminiscing.
This spread is something of a revelation. It’s from one of my favourite cookbooks – ‘Jerusalem’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. If you haven’t heard of Ottolenghi then please get to know him. Amy first introduced his recipes to me while we were at uni, and I promptly bought a copy of ‘Ottolenghi: The Cookbook’ for myself and several others. His first cookbook details the salads, pastries and other amazing things sold at his London based delis, incorporating his influences from all over the world. Whereas Jerusalem does what you’d expect: focuses on Middle Eastern food. I’d recommend getting both.
One of the things that pops up a lot in Ottolenghi’s recipes is date syrup. Although it’s usually quite expensive, I’ve found a cheap source of it in my local Middle Eastern food shop. Other delights that they stock include massive tubs of tahini, pomegranate molasses, fig jam and dried sour cherries. The date syrup is not essential for this dish, but makes it a sublime experience, rather than merely an intensely pleasurable one.
There is a lengthy description about how this dip should be served, something about spreading it onto a plate, making swirls in it with your knife and drizzling over the date syrup. The suggested amount is 2 teaspoons, bearing in mind that the dip is already very sweet just from the squash, but I found it difficult to be so restrained and drenched the whole lot in something approaching 2 tablespoons.
I have had a lovely day off today. An upshot of working lots is that I really appreciate my time off. This morning, I wrote a letter to a friend in Boston – an actual letter, with a pen and paper, rather than a Facebook message- that I have been meaning to write for ages. Then I wandered up the lane to feed my horse, spending an idle few minutes brushing the twigs out of her mane.
Another activity I usually reserve for a day off is baking. It’s such a pleasure to bake slowly and carefully, with no pressures on time. Today I chose to bake some cinnamon biscuits. I have a friend coming over shortly to help me eat them. We’ll sit in front of a fire that I have made, luxuriously and slightly pointlessly, at three o’clock in the afternoon.
The recipe is from a book that I have featured on this blog before, called ‘Tea with Bea’. Bea calls these biscuits ‘Snickerdoodles’ – apparently a traditional Amish cookie. But this name is misleading, as my friend pointed out, as you might assume they have something to do with Snickers bars. Or at the very least be slightly baffled as to what they actually are. I decided to rename them ‘Cinnamon Sugar Biscuits’, due to the fact that they are dipped in cinnamon sugar before they are baked. I ate rather too many – another perk of a day off being pretty much constant eating.
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.