Although I love my current job as the marketing manager for a chain of cafes in Bristol (just a disclaimer, in case my boss is reading this) I do sometimes get nostalgic for the good old days when I worked in a café. The day to day banter with customers, many of whom were so regular I almost considered them friends, the hiss of the milk steamer and the easy access to coffee (and cake) at all times, made the job very enjoyable. Yes, you get the occasional off day when customers get shirty, or nothing quite goes according to plan, but by and large my most pressing concern was whether I’d ordered enough milk -and if I hadn’t I’d just nip up the road to the local dairy.
During my year working in this café in a sleepy little Devon town, there were two days that particularly stood out, both of which happen to be days I got to serve coffee to famous people. The first was Katherine Parkinson, a.k.a. Jen from the I.T. Crowd, who I was so shocked to see I almost spilt the tray of drinks I was carrying all over her. The second person is slightly less impressive (although equally exciting if you’re a food nerd like me) – Pam Corbin, the jam lady from River Cottage.
Pam’s book, Preserves, is one of my all time favourite cookbooks. I always dig it out whenever summer rolls around, so I can set about preserving all manner of fruits and vegetables. There’s no feeling like smugly lining up jars of homemade chutney and jam, knowing that you’ve got enough to last through winter. The recipes in Pam’s book are accompanied by charming little WI anecdotes, such as the time her strawberry jam won first prize at the Uplyme and Lyme Regis Horticultural Show. Well, we can all dream. When I met Pam, I babbled something about how I’ve made her quince jelly recipe several times and how much I love her use of elderflower in gooseberry jam, and just about restrained myself from asking for her autograph. Good times.
Gooseberries are tart little devils. I remember summers spent at the pick-your-own farm, enduring the torturous wait until they had been carted home and stewed with copious amounts of sugar to eat them. The ones used for this cake came from my friend Nicola’s garden –actually more accurately from her freezer, where they have been stored for the winter months ahead. As did the blackberries, and given the choice several freezer-dwelling fruits, we chose these two as a match.
Fruit and cake is a winner in my book. And you can kid yourself that it is somehow healthy, and can therefore be justifiably eaten for breakfast. The sourness of the gooseberries is offset by more forgivingly mellow blackberries, and the sweet, almondy sponge. Upside down cakes like this one, where the fruit is placed at the bottom of the cake tin, and the batter on top, always provide a satisfying moment when turned over to reveal the fruit underneath. For some reason, I’m always slightly surprised to find it still there, thinking that it might have been consumed by the cake batter.
Having a cake around is dangerous: I get to the stage that I struggle to have a cup of tea without a slice of cake, or more accurately I have a cup of tea as an excuse to eat cake. This cake disappeared in about two hours – and not only (although almost only) due to me. And I had a large slice for breakfast the next day, covered in natural yoghurt – because if something has yoghurt on it, then it’s breakfast, right?!
I love breakfast. And I love eating granola for breakfast more than almost anything else. My most devoted and eagle-eyed readers (hi, Mum) will notice that I have already posted a granola recipe, albeit 6 months ago. Given my pretty all-consuming love of granola, I can’t get enough of experimenting with different combinations of ingredients until I get it right. I decided to give the Pecan and Maple Syrup granola that I made before another try. I guess this could be called ‘recipe development’, and is something that I should probably do more of, rather than just chucking random amounts of things together and hoping it works out.
One of the main motivations for making this particular batch of granola was my recent discovery of the many uses for coconut oil. This miracle ingredient can be used both as a remarkably effective facial cleanser, and to cook with, leaving me with the rather pressing dilemma of whether to keep it in the bathroom or the kitchen. I’ve opted for the kitchen, and resorted to occasionally delving into the jar with a cotton pad to smear some on my face. As well as being a delicious start to stir-frys and curries, coconut oil can also be used to make granola. Deliciously crunchy granola at that. My previous recipe used sunflower oil and apple juice, leaving the granola slightly too soggy. The coconut oil helps everything to dry out and crisp up, and perfumes everything with a pleasant coconutty aroma.
I accidentally over-bought on fruit this week. I always get a bit overexcited at the fruit and veg shop in late summer, as it seems as though the days I’ve got left to gorge myself on all the lovely summer fruits are dwindling rapidly. I don’t usually manage to consume 6 nectarines in the brief five minute window that they’re ripe, but I always forget this and buy them anyway. So I decided to make use of their slightly under-ripe state by poaching them until soft in a vanilla and honey syrup. The combination of crunchy granola, tart yoghurt and the silky, sweet nectarines is, as they say in Bristol, ‘gert lush’.