Sunday, 9 November 2014
A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I took advantage of the unseasonably warm September to visit the Brecon Beacons. When I was a teenager my Mum got really into mountain climbing for some strange reason, so more than a few weekends me and my equally uncooperative brother found ourselves dragged up some big slope or another. I'd always moan about going; I hated the boring drive there and all I really wanted to do was stay home and faff about on the internet (some things don't change), but once we were actually climbing the views and the air and the great big vastness of it all would have the inevitable effect. I'd be happy. And then when I left for university I found myself longing for the hills, for the sky, for the undeniable happiness that only a mountain can really provide. So when I'd come home for a week or whatever the tables would turn, and it was all of a sudden me dragging the family. So mountain climbing has been a great love of mine for many years, and the Brecon Beacon mountains in South Wales' heart hold a very dear place in mine.
Some time ago on tumblr I came across this quote: "What do you come to the mountain with? What do you leave behind the top?", and I remember it each time I begin an ascent. I don't know where it's from; a quick tumblr search reveals the attribution as "Rakishi to Georgia, in these last notes, 1968", but I don't really know what that means and it seems that google doesn't either - so if any of you can enlighten me, please do. But wherever it's from it's stayed with me, because I do think (however cliche it is) you take things with you when you go to wild places, because they are now so few and far between. So you can take things there that you can't always take everywhere else, and the exertion and sweat and pain of the climb provides a catharsis which finds release in that staggering view from the top. I love being at the top - I love the space, I love the emptiness, I love the great big sky and the great big clouds and all of the great big green. You're so far from everything, you're so high up above it all, and you can leave things there so you travel back down somehow unburdened, somehow lighter, somehow a little less heavy than you were before.
Olly and I climbed up Pen y Fan, which is the biggest of the Brecon Beacons, around 3pm in the afternoon - so the light was starting to die, and there were hardly any other souls around (except sheep). On the way back down he said "stop", so I did, and asked why. "It's so quiet," he said, and it was. It was so, so quiet.
Tuesday, 4 November 2014
I work in marketing now, which is not a thing that I've ever told you guys before, and so tonight I went to a talk on social media marketing. Lots of people swearing to show how chill they are, people in jeans and suit jackets, etc - all very trendy, very cool, very soshul medya. The whole point of it (I think) was that the best thing about social media is how timely it is, and how if you really wanna excel at social media marketing you've got to really engage with things as they happen. There's no point joining in with an ice bucket challenge once it's over, after all.
This post, sadly, is a demonstration of the exact opposite. Blackberry season is, as I'm sure you're aware, pretty much over by now - September seems to be the month for them these days, and September is the month that I picked these blackberries and cooked them into this crumble. I've had the photos sitting on my flickr account for many weeks now, so I can only apologise for not sharing this sooner, but better late than never right? And this is way too good to waste. Plus - some of you may have been very intelligent souls and actually frozen your blackberries (something my Nan always tells me to do and which I always forget), or you might be even more intelligent and have worked out that you can totally just buy them in shops. Which I heartily encourage you to do, because a good blackberry and apple crumble is a thing of classic beauty - in blackberry season and beyond.
Sunday, 2 November 2014
On the increasingly rare, infrequent, once-in-a-blue-moon situations that I sit down to write a blog post, I always just want to talk about the weather. This is a post about scones - about classic, timeless, sweet soft fruit scones, but how do I want to begin? Well, I want to tell you that it's raining. I'm sitting in my white IKEA chair in the landing whilst the kittens at my feet wage a vicious war against my toes and my boyfriend swears at the football, and the rain is pouring enthusiastically against the window beside me. I think I want to tell you this, reader, because the weather outside and the food I want to eat have always inevitably related. I can't picture a hot summers day without a picnic of bread and cheese and grapes, just like I can't picture an autumnal night in October without baked potatoes and chilli. The idea of toffee apples in May is abhorrent to me; almost as weird as the thought of a quinoa salad at Christmas.
But scones are a kind of weather-resistant food; which makes sense since they're so traditionally English, and you certainly can't count on the weather in England to be traditional. So a scone (like a true Englishman) is an adaptable thing, just as suited to a warm summers day in Devonshire as it is to this rainy Sunday afternoon in Cheltenham. And the recipe is adaptable too - add cinnamon and cloves for a festive twist, chunks of pear and ginger if you wanna make my best friend Rosa happy, or dark chocolate & cherries if you're feeling like one sophisticated grown-ass woman. But, that said, you can get never go wrong with the classic combination of glazed egg and mixed fruit. Whatever your combination, a good scone demands three non-negotiable extras: clotted cream; raspberry jam; and tea.
And of course if you manage to enjoy them with a kitten in the vicinity too, then that's a pretty good Sunday indeed.
Thursday, 16 October 2014
D'you guys remember when Kate Middleton's sister came out with a book a little while ago? It was called Celebrate and, although I didn't read it, this Daily Mail article makes me feel like I have. And that's the last time I'll ever post a Daily Mail link, I promise. Basically the book received quite scathing feedback for it's wildly ambitious & innovative instructions for partying - for example, why not light a bonfire on Bonfire Night? Or storing your cakes in an airtight container to stop them getting stale? Or, indeed, freezing water for the creation of ice?! Basically it was a "well, duh!" sort of a book. And the reason I'm telling you all this, dear reader, is because this is quite a "well, duh" recipe.
This is pretty basic, you guys, I won't lie to you. I've been eating this for lunch pretty regularly for about a year now - basically every day when I was at uni - but I've never wanted to post it because, like I said, it's so "well, duh". It's salad leaves, chopped cucumber, chopped tomatoes, tuna, chickpeas & a super simple dressing, and you don't need me to tell you about it because you could totally do it yourself. However, this isn't a blog about fancy innovative recipes that will knock the socks off your dinner party guests, and nor have I ever claimed that it would be. Instead, this is a blog about what I eat every day, and this is a thing that I eat every day. So I'm going to tell you about it. Because - well, duh.
Saturday, 11 October 2014
It's taken until the second week of October to finally get cold here in the UK, which is a sentence so unprecedented you may never see it again. But you can smell it now, that fresh crisp smell of the autumn, the smell of the cold, and as every single tumblr/pinterest post in the world is saying right now - I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. I've heard it said before that autumn is a sad time, a time when everything dies, and you know that it won't be long until dreaded January arrives but I don't mind it at all. We're being blessed with a particularly pretty autumn right now, all clear blue skies and crisp orange leaves underfoot, and I can handle the drawing in of the nights. Everything just gets a little cosier around this time of the year, and after a ridiculously busy day at work it's quite nice to have cold weather & dark evenings as an excuse to do absolutely nothing at all. Except eat, obviously.
Because man, is there a better season for food? Even without the big festivals of eating that occur this time of year, it's all just mashed everything, baked everything, spiced everything; all designed to warm and comfort and care. It's a time for going back to basics, back to the Earth, and I guess it's that whole earthiness thing about the autumn that makes me love it so much. Cause you know me, I'm a creature of simple tastes, and if you can take an old classic and make it new again without ridding it of all the things that made it so good in the first place, then that's what I'm all about. And it doesn't get more classic than roast chicken.
Sunday, 5 October 2014
It's been a very long time since I wrote here, and there are a lot of reasons for that. I got my degree, I left university, I said goodbye to my friends and to the town that had been home for 4 years, I went to Norway, I moved in with my boyfriend into a whole new town, I started a new job, I adopted two baby kittens, I went to Spain. Essentially, life happened, and happened at a quite alarmingly fast rate. I also got some new hobbies; I rediscovered reading for pleasure instead of academic marks, and writing for my eyes only, and yoga. This blog has always been in the back of my mind, but when I finally had time to write again I found that it had begun to feel a little restrictive. The word "kitchen" kind of prompts food writing exclusively, and I wasn't sure that that was what I wanted to write about any more. After all, I've never claimed to be following my passion - only my curiosities, and those are always subject to change. So I set up a new blog, registered a domain name and everything, only to find that, when it came to it, I still just wanted to write about food. And about the benefits of a quiet life. And, really, a celebration of the simple life. So in that respect, it appears nothing has changed at all.
That said, things may be a little different around this hobbit kitchen from now on. I don't really know how, but it might not always be food (though it probably will be), and I don't think I'll be including step by step photos of every aspect of the cooking process. Primarily because I actually found this hampered my cooking a bit - without a glamorous food photographer boyfriend on hand, more than a few of my meals have suffered because I've been too busy trying to get a good shot of melting butter or sizzling bacon rather than concentrating on what I'm cooking. And you know, I love to cook. I really do; I still do. I also love mountains, and I love yoga, and I love writing, and I love takeaways in front of the telly. So I might want to write about that sometimes, I don't know. Essentially, I don't know what this blog will be from now on. All I know is that it is good to be back, and, like most good things, it will begin with pancakes.
Wednesday, 12 March 2014
I've alluded to this on the blog before, but I've a fairly weird relationship with meat. When I read Jonathan Safran-Foer's Eating Animals around 2 years ago now I had the instinctive and 100% logical reaction that I think most decent human beings would have - I immediately gave up eating meat. As the book (which I strongly recommend) explains in far better detail than I ever could, there's basically no legitimate justification for a diet which includes the consumption of meat, and I'm not going to attempt to give you one here. I believed then & still believe now that a meat-free diet is both healthier, more sensible & infinitely kinder than its carnivorous counterpart. But, obviously, I eat meat. I've no excuse, no legitimate reason, except that after nearly 2 years of a vegetarian diet I still found myself craving meat intensely and, as I got more and more into cooking, I just found it harder & harder to ignore the temptations and possibilities of cooking with meat. You pick your battles, right? And right now, I'm just on the sidelines.
That aside, I feel like this incredibly meaty dish is exactly the way I want to cook, and to eat, and basically just embodies the relationship I'd like to have with the food on my table. I come from the Forest of Dean in South England, and it's - as the name suggests - basically just an enormous forest, overrun with a healthy population of deer. As most people who work or live in & around the countryside will tell you, in order to keep a deer population healthy they need to be regularly culled - since of course they lack any natural predators in England anymore. My grandfather has a license to hunt the forest deer, so when I went home for a few days a couple of weeks ago, my Mum slapped an enormous hunk of venison down on the table & demanded I take it back to St Andrews. It was a fairly bizarre journey having that fleshy lump wrapped up in my bag - thank God I wasn't flying back - but it was totally worth it, cause this is one of my very favourite recipes I've ever posted on this site.
I've got absolutely no idea how you would even go about buying venison since I never have, but if you can I'd recommend getting it pre chopped - since tearing it this bad boy was an absolute mission - but I've provided tearing instructions below for those of you who can only get your hands on hunks of meat like this. Plus, cleaning & preparing the meat myself was actually a really enlightening experience & only exacerbates that idea I was talking about of really having a relationship with what's on your plate. I know exactly where this deer came from, I know exactly who shot & skinned it, and I know exactly what went into the preparation process - and it's an incredibly comforting & unfortunately rare experience, to be able to say that. Plus, you know, I ended up with a ridiculously delicious meal (which I think we all know is all I really care about, anyway).
Venison is an absolutely beautiful meat; rich and gamey and overflowing with flavour, and this recipe should ensure that the meat is so tender it just falls apart in your mouth like lamb. It has the added benefit of being a very sustainable & environmentally friendly meat (as well as a healthy one!), so can feel just as virtuous as you feel well fed.
Saturday, 22 February 2014
This Christmas, a very good friend of mine bought me Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. It was in many ways the ideal present, relevant to all my interests: books; things that will look impressive on my shelves; lovely words; food. I spent a lot of time with it in that lovely lazy time between Christmas and New Year, those few days that are really just one long Sunday, and it so perfectly encapsulates the way I want to cook, to eat, and to live. My housemate received another of his books, Eat, for Christmas as well, and the other day we were talking about how great it must be to always have cake in the house - a lifestyle which Slater seriously advocates. Wouldn't it just be so wonderful to always be able to offer people a slice of cake as well as a cup of tea when they come over? Or just to nibble by yourself if you fancy something sweet at the end of a meal. Now, unfortunately nobody in this house makes their livelihood from food so unfortunately the idea of always having a freshly baked cake in the vicinity is a little unrealistic, but I've decided that one of my New Years Resolutions is to make our kitchen look like it does in the above picture as often as possible. Because it's my ideal kitchen, the one I have here: a mish mash of cluttered cutlery & cups; teabags readily available; a well stocked fridge; freshly baked cake cooling on the counter, and the best people in the world in the very next room. I am such a lucky girl.
This isn't a Nigel Slater recipe, but it's very reminiscent of the way he - and I - likes to cook (though I imagine he wields far more impressive results). It's simple, it's inexpensive, and it's seasonally appropriate - because nothing says why won't this winter please go away like a cup of tea & a thick wedge of loaf cake. You'll probably only need to go and pick up some dates & walnuts, since the likelihood is that you'll already have everything else you need in your cupboards, and it serves as a great vessel for anything else you might want to throw in there too. Sultanas, diced apple & a teaspoon of mixed spice wouldn't go amiss in this cake at all & I think I'll be adding some of those in next time, but for now this deliciously simple recipe will suffice. And for those who haven't tried it - it is, after all, a little old fashioned - I urge you to do so. I'm not a huge fan of nuts in cake & I don't think I'd ever eaten a date before, but the moment I chowed down on a piece of date and walnut cake for the first time I've not looked back since. The dates are mixed together in a bowl with boiling water & butter first so that the rich, date-y flavour infuses into the butter and thus the entire cake, giving it a rich & vaguely spicy taste. Plus, the use of water and melted butter makes this a relatively low fat & healthy option (by my standards, at least), but still keeps the whole thing from getting too dry and dense. Brown sugar exacerbates the richness & the walnuts add a nice textural crunch. If you've not tried it before, give it a go & let me know what you think? After all, it's cake. What's not to like?!
Sunday, 16 February 2014
I really don't like January. I realise this is one of those statements which as obvious as "grass is green" or "the sky is blue" or "pizza is the greatest thing ever", but like, I really don't like January. I don't like the weather, I don't like the judgemental diet talk and inevitable post-Christmas guilt adverts force us to feel, and I don't like how far away summer feels in that miserable, miserable month. I spent most of my January watching Gilmore Girls and ploughing my way through never ending Christmas leftovers, which is really the only way to deal with New Year blues, and it was only when I got back to uni at the end of the month that I started feeling like I wanted to cook again. See, I'm not the biggest fan of February either, but the incremental thawing of the midwinter cold and the gradual lightening of the evenings makes for one slightly happier hobbit.
Still, that doesn't change the fact that, by this time of the year, I am so done with heavy winter food. Get pastry & pies away from me, hide the casseroles, and make sure I never see another roast dinner again as long as I live. All I want to eat right now is bowls full of colour, and this roasted veg & chickpea stew is perfect for brightening up these dark and dreary days. This is super easy and endlessly adaptable - essentially, just chuck a bunch of vegetables into a tin, roast them up with salt, pepper, and olive oil, then add in some chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, spinach & chopped coriander. I went with the usual suspects of courgettes, aubergines, peppers & sweet potatoes, but you can roll however you wanna roll. Best enjoyed on a rainy dismal evening in the middle of February, warm in the knowledge that seasons are made to change, and that summer is as inevitable as winter.
Monday, 10 February 2014
My housemate Morgan doesn't like seafood, which is a statement so utterly inconceivable to me that I think we probably just shouldn't talk about it. Like, he can't even stand the smell? Weird. Anyway; he was away for a few days at the start of this semester so me & my other housemate, Rosa, basically just lived under the sea for a little while. I can't really think of any better way to start a semester than with a hearty plateful of garlic prawns - simultaneously rich and frugal, with only a handful ingredients and absolutely swimming in butter. This will be my last semester at St Andrews, which isn't a sentence I'm particularly sad about saying because, you know, I've been here nearly 4 years now, and it's very much time to leave. It's a small town, little more than 3 streets, and after about 2 hours here you feel like you've seen all there is to see & met everyone there is to meet. It's so small that you're guaranteed to meet someone you know in the library or walking to lectures; I seriously felt like I was living dangerously when I went to Tesco the other day with wet hair and no make up, and miraculously didn't bump into a single awkward ex. It's usually cold, generally windy, and sometimes I find myself starting to forget what the sun looks like. But it has, in spite of my protests, in spite of my resistance, become a sort of home. So this homely, warm and indulgent dish felt like the perfect way to begin saying goodbye.
This meal is also a nice reminder that you don't need much more than the tried & tested favourites to make something taste great. I've said before (and I'll say it again) that there's no meal that cannot be improved by the addition of garlic, so with ten cloves of the stuff here I think you know you're in for something great. Plus, butter, which - as is best expressed by Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia - is just the Food Of The Gods, and then salt, pepper, lemon juice, a tiny little dash of cayenne pepper... And that's it. And honestly you could probably omit the cayenne pepper if you're not a fan of spice & you'd still have something quite wonderful on your hands. Plus, once you've got your garlic chopped, it barely takes 5 minutes.