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.
This salad is an unashamed plagiarism from a recently acquired cookbook, ‘Persiana’ by Sabrina Ghayour. Packed full of mouth-watering photos of exotic dishes, it’s a firm favourite. Many recipes feature ingredients that I already (somewhat smugly) own, such as sumac. The book is littered with recipes that I have already made more than once, which is rare – I consider a cookbook a success if I make one recipe from it.
I am normally somewhat underwhelmed by rice salads, and almost flicked straight past this one when browsing through the book. However, given that I have a nearly empty box of red rice lurking at the back of my cupboard, I decided to give it a go. It’s safe to say that I needed to seriously reevaluate my view on the matter after making this salad. The balance of sweet and salty is just right, and the colours and textures compliment each other beautifully. There is also a pleasing balance of warm and cold ingredients – chargrilled vegetables and toasted nuts with cold rice and onions – which works well.
Owning more than one type of rice may sound extravagant (at last count I have 3), but red rice is definitely worth tracking down for this recipe. It has a pleasant nutty taste, and retains its attractive maroon colour, even when cooked. It does take a rather long time to cook though, which I always forget, and am left tapping my fork impatiently against the side of the pan, willing it to cook faster. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it, as Sainsbury’s stocks it, proving once and for all that they’re paying attention to the latest hipster food trends. Red rice is staying firmly on my (somewhat hipster) shopping list from now on.
My friends Heather and Alex live on a boat. They have recently moved said boat from a 1,000 berth marina in Brighton to a tiny little enclave just outside Bristol. The setting is pretty idyllic: lines of squat houseboats with names like Katie-Jayne, with terracotta pots full of plants balanced on top. Last weekend was the boat launching party. It’s been out of the water for the last few months, being given an odd sort of TLC that involves its underside being shot-blasted. It has also been given a coat of paint, and now sticks out from its more demure neighbours with its bright shades of green and yellow.
It was one of those perfect summer days that you call up the memory of in the depths of the English winters: sunny, clear and with a gentle breeze. It was also, conveniently, the summer solstice – the longest day. We were sat on the deck of the boat until at least midnight, and there was still a glimmer of light in the sky. We had a barbeque, the sure-fire sign that summer has started. There is a large, Australia-style communal barbeque at the marina. There’s something intensely primal about cooking and eating outside, and watching meat hiss and spit as it cooks over a flame.
I made these mini pavlovas to follow the vast quantites of barbequed meat. I wanted to make something that was creamy and summery, but could be eaten without the need for plates or cutlery. The meringue acts as a little bowl for the marscapone filling and summer berries. I used raspberries, blueberries and some strawberries that I managed to salvage before they went into the Pimm’s. I also added pomegranate seeds, more for artistic frippery than taste, but they were actually surprisingly pleasant.
As the weather has been so amazingly hot recently (30 degrees..in England!) I find all I really want to eat is salad. What I love about salads is that you can put virtually any random ingredients together, and it usually works. Salads are usually considered to be a healthy option, regardless of what they contain. The rationale seems to be that if you put something in the vague vicinity of a lettuce leaf, it automatically becomes healthy. Eating things as a ‘salad’ seems to purge them of any sin.
In this very hearty, and therefore not exactly healthy, salad I went for vaguely Moroccan flavours: cumin spiced chicken, garlicky aubergines and a dressing of yoghurt mixed with harissa, which is a Moroccan chilli paste.
Incidentally, as the subtitle for this blog is ‘food and photography’, I feel like it’s high time I mentioned photography in a post. So here goes. This was my first attempt at shooting a recipe outside, in order to convey the sunny, salad-appropriate weather. Initially I thought it would be a doddle, as there is so much light around. However, the light is harder to control, as its not just coming from one direction. This results in everything seeming to cast a shadow. Some careful bouncing of the light with a reflector seemed to do the trick.
I made these to take on a beach picnic to south Devon with my friend Nicola. I was all ready to write a post about how we optimistically set out for the beach, then it ended up raining and we spent the whole time shivering and scarfing down the picnic before rushing back to the warmth of the car.
But actually, contrary to how British weather usually works, it was sunny and warm. I may have even got slightly sunburnt – given that the need to bring suncream didn’t even cross my mind. I experienced some much more disappointing beach weather than this when I was in Australia, which is surely the wrong way round. We spent the whole time gleefully whispering ‘It’s so warm’ – as if talking too loudly about the good weather might scare it away.
So these Greek-inspired filo parcels were not as drastically ironic as I had feared. We ended up consuming about three each, plus five different types of cheese (the hazard of having a friend who works in a cheese shop). So it was fair to say that the post-picnic discussion about whether to go for a bracing cliff-top walk or to lie on the beach groaning didn’t last long.