Resolution Roundup: April and May 2017

Halva in Machne Yehuda market
Many flavours of halva at the Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem

Easter came late this year and a late Easter (and consequently a late break from work) corresponds easily with a sense of general weariness, frayed tempers and impatience. I don’t tend to notice it much at the time but in retrospect concede I was probably at my snappish worst throughout late March and early April…

Once April hit, however, I felt like I was barely in the office or in this country. Firstly I was off to Girona, as written up here; then, thanks to a craftily-timed stretch of annual leave, I was off work and visiting Israel for around ten days (more on which soon, I hope!). It was an interesting holiday: Israel offers a lot in terms of history, beauty and, in Tel Aviv at least, sheer, indulgent relaxation (I also appreciate, as a destination, Israel is not without its controversies. But I’ll leave it at that). As ever when I go on holiday, I certainly felt the intense weight of my great fortune.

The consequence of course is all the catching up and sorting out that returning from holiday entails, but luckily April is a quiet time at work (in some ways less hectic than the summer, which always promises to be quiet but rarely is). The quiet of April is paid for with a quickening pace in the months thereafter, and before I knew it, May was over in a flash. They’ve not been months for reflection and adherence to resolutions – I know I’ve failed on some counts over the past two months – but overall I think it’s been okay.

Mediterranean sea from the Old City, Jaffa
Yes, Tel Aviv is nice (view of the sea from the Old City of Jaffa).

1) Eat fish at least once a week, preferably twice a week

This target was certainly not met in April – I don’t think I ate any fish while in Israel – and I barely scraped it in May, with only a single serving per week.

2) Bring a packed lunch to work at least three times a week

I was hardly at work in April, as above but, apart from that, I have been doing pretty well on this resolution so far this year, and April and May were no exceptions. Although I sometimes feel less than enthusiastic about whipping something up on a Sunday evening, it usually pays dividends – especially when the weather has been as windy and changeable as it has been recently, enabling me to avoid being caught in a lunchtime downpour in search of a sandwich.

3) Eat at least three vegetarian meals a week

I definitely achieved this goal while I was in London, but I’m a little less certain about the time spent in Israel, unless I count breakfast in the mix (which, when tallying this up, I usually don’t as breakfast is typically vegetarian for me by default). While I did eat a few meals of hummus and falafel in Israel (obvs) I also know I ate much more meat than I usually do, from spiced lamb kofta kebabs to barely-cooked chicken liver (not great).

4) Clear my archive of bookmarked recipes

I haven’t been relying on bookmarked recipes lately mostly because, on return from Israel, I felt the need to, er, recalibrate my food intake a little and eat healthier meals after several enjoyable, guilt-free weeks of indulgence. I’ve therefore turned to some of my reliable ‘diet’ cookbooks to feed myself since I came back. I will be returning to the never-ending bookmarks in due course…

5) Celebrate my heritage more

Not a chance, really…although…

When we were at Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Centre), a guide kindly told me to look out for some of the Belgian names in the memorial garden of the Righteous Among the Nations when we were there, which was really nice of her to mention (the Righteous Among the Nations are people who protected and saved Jewish people during the Holocaust; the most famous among them is probably Oskar Schindler, who saved over a thousand people, but the memorials also remember many of those who saved smaller numbers of people, sometimes one or two, usually by hiding them in their homes). It wasn’t a ‘celebration’ of my heritage, but provided an opportunity to reflect on European history and Belgium’s place within that, and to consider the inherent complexities associated with both the ideas of heritage and the celebration thereof – the things that are left out as well as left in.

6) Develop a good bedtime/sleeping routine

I slept pretty well while on holiday – free from stress and being forced awake for work regardless of when ready to be or not, but admittedly things haven’t been going so well since I’ve been back. More effort needed – started with going to bed at a fixed time in the evenings rather than knocking around the flat until past midnight for no fathomable reason.

7) Visit at least two (new) places in the UK outside of London

Obviously this wasn’t achieved, BUT I have actually planned a trip to Bath with some friends at the very end of June/start of July. I am absolutely thrilled.

8) Read at least one book a month

I’ve been doing really well on this front actually. I’ve started re-reading Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries, starting with The Mysterious Affair at Styles and going forward in order. They’re quick and breezy, which is a plus: perfect for the commute. I read this work by Helen McPhail about the German occupation of the north of France during the First World War (much less widely known about than the more widespread occupation of the Second World War). I also read Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last for my book group: it’s a dystopian work of speculative fiction (so far so Atwood) with an intriguing promise that ultimately tipped into the absurd and proved greatly disappointing. The significant contrast between the beginning, which chilled me deeply, and the end, which irritated me significantly, was marked. The characters were poorly drawn and their choices stretched credibility. The patchiness of this particular work is explained by the fact that it started off life as an e-book serial; it showcases Atwood at her best (the beginning) and quite possibly worst, quite unlike her seminal work The Handmaid’s Tale, which is uniformly excellent throughout.

Baking Advent: crispy truffle cookies

Baking Advent: celebrating the festive season with a different daily baked good.

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Crisp-edged, with a dense, intensely chocolatey centre and, the icing sugar they’re rolled in before baking adding a dose of sweetness as well as a crackling top in a contrasting colour, there is much to recommend about these biscuits.

I first found this recipe on a blog many, many years ago. Although I couldn’t find the recipe there, it may have been from Jennifer Hamilton’s Domestic Goddess blog, and she stopped posting in 2012 (it appears to have originated in a Williams Sonoma baking book, but Williams Sonoma is not a Thing in the UK so I’ve never seen the books). I thought the recipe was lost forever, but found a version I’d printed off in a ring binder, to my great relief.

Unbaked crispy truffle cookies

I was going through a phase then of printing off a lot of the recipes I used and saving them. It was a somewhat sad time for me: I had just returned to university after a year off between my first and second years and was feeling very rootless during that period of readjustment. Leaving home for university is often dislocating anyway, and I had travelled very far to go to my dream subject at my dream university in London. Of course things were exciting, and I’m still so close to the friends I made there, but once the initial excitement wore off and life caught up (as it does for so many students between the first year – all structured halls of residence and navigating essay deadlines in the knowledge that the first year rarely counts towards your final degree, and second year, where the marks start to count and you become responsible for your own housing and bills and sometimes even food, if you were living in catered halls before), I felt a little unfettered, and not necessarily in a good way. The recipes in a ring binder were, for me, an attempt to create a kind of anchoring domesticity, trying to capture and codify the things that will mean home – different ways of roasting chicken, a frequently-used recipe of jhal faraizi which used leftover beef, and crispy truffle cookies, captured and bound. Now, I cook quite differently to those days and reading through the binder is a reminder of what we ate, and when and where we ate it. The jhal faraizi, cumin seeds sizzling in our kitchen in Lewisham, trying to avoid breathing in the green chilli fumes, pressing the potatoes flat; salmon fishcakes in our flat in Bloomsbury, peas escaping through the gaps in the electric coils on the stove; the truffle cookies which my boyfriend couldn’t stop eating as they came off the baking sheet.

Dark chocolate crispy truffle cookies

But even if you don’t share this nostalgia, the cookies speak for themselves. There are a lot of recipes out there for ‘crackle cookies’, and many of them seem to use vegetable oil. I have no real beef with vegetable oil – I use it in my cooking and baking from time to time – but I think the rich butteriness is part of these cookies’ charm and simple perfection. They are quite intensely sweet and rich – perfect for sharing, although I will admit I hardly shared this batch at all. I’m sure you could easily dial back the sugar if wished.

Continue reading “Baking Advent: crispy truffle cookies”

What’s in the fridge? – Juliet, London

You can read Part One (my fridge) of this series here and Part Two – my friend Emma in Tbilisi’s fridge – here.

13442503_10153550800491759_787005479245608244_oMy friend Juliet and I met – as you might predict – at university, where she rapidly gained a reputation as a pretty extraordinary baker. Back then the mighty cupcake loomed large in her repertoire, but she had conquered the macaron well before we donned the graduation cap. She is still an admirable baker – she kindly shared her recipe for matcha choux puffs – but her skills go well beyond the kitchen. Juliet has upholstered chairs, knitted cup warmers, handmade a skirt, built a picnic bench and passed the GDL. She’s a solicitor in London and while her days might be spent in the office her nights are definitely spent in pursuit of fabulous food and travel – as can be seen on her Instagram. Despite leading a very busy life, she has an admirably impeccable kitchen.

Who do you cook for?

Mostly myself, but I love having friends over and cooking for them too.

Do you have a cooking philosophy or approach of any kind?

If I’m cooking for someone else, even if it’s just one other person, I like to really think about what I’m making. I want it to be special and something they’ll enjoy eating. If I’m on my own, I’ll happily cobble things together from what I have.

Where do you buy your groceries?

I’m a Sainsbury’s girl through and through! I grew up shopping at Sainsbury’s and even now that it’s not my nearest supermarket, I go out of my way just to shop there.

Tell us a little bit about your kitchen. Is it minimal or cluttered?

My entire life is minimalist. I find clutter too stressful, so I try and keep things organised. That’s not to say that my cupboards aren’t packed with crockery, utensils, Tupperware and dry goods, but everything has its place. Generally, I try to keep the worktops clear, save for a few appliances.

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“My entire life is minimalist.” She’s not joking…

What’s in your fridge?

I had a dinner party at the weekend, so I’m working my way through all the leftovers. In addition to my staples, I’ve still got some tomato sauce left. I managed to get through the chorizo, escabeche and chocolate cake the other day though…

What are the three most useful ingredients in your kitchen (and why)?

This is a really tough one! Flour, butter and eggs. I always have these on hand. They’re so versatile! If I have a craving to do some baking I can usually cobble something together with other ingredients I keep stashed away. Eggs are probably the hero ingredient though. Even if I’m not baking I can always do something with eggs, whether it’s frying, scrambling or poaching them, just to add a little extra protein to a meal.

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What three foods are always in your fridge?

Soy milk, jam and apples. It sounds like an eclectic mix.

Soy milk – I honestly prefer the taste of soy milk to regular milk. I buy the pasteurised stuff so that I can just keep two or three cartons in the fridge at a time.

Jam – I have lots of half empty jars of jam. I’m not sure why, but I just can’t seem to get through them.

Apples – I probably eat an apple a day, because y’know, it keeps the doctor away.

Is anything currently missing from your fridge?

Not really. Apart from a few staples, I try to buy food as I need it. My biggest fear is having to throw food away because it’s spoiled.

What treats do you keep in your fridge (or cupboards)?

I really try not to have treats in the fridge/cupboard at home. I like to eat healthily, so I try to remove the temptation to eat sugar laden treats.

What foods were always in the house when you were growing up?

My house growing up was the complete opposite. We had (and still do) an entire drawer full of cakes, biscuits and pastries. My mum is continuously panicking that supplies are running low.

What three gadgets or tools are most important/helpful for you when cooking?

I love my K-mix equipment! I have a kit that has a stick blender, soup blender, electric whisk and a blender. That’s really handy and will pretty much sort me out for anything I want to make. I also recently acquired a K-mix stand mixer, which has been brilliant. It’s the only way to safely make Italian meringue. The last tool I couldn’t live without is a sharp knife. Everyone should have at least one.

If you had to make yourself a meal with the food in your fridge (and pantry) right now, without going to the shops, what would you make?

If you had to make yourself a meal with the food in your fridge (and pantry) right now, without going to the shops, what would you make? So many options! I’ve got some gorgeous slow roasted tomato sauce leftover from the weekend. I could toss that together with some pasta. Alternatively, I have some salmon fillets and sweet potato fries in the freezer. I’m sure I could turn that into a delicious dinner.

When there really is nothing in your fridge, where do you go out to eat?

Living in London, I’m spoilt for choice. Near me I have a choice of chain restaurants in Canary Wharf (Wahaca is a favourite of mine). If I’m craving something that feels home cooked though, I would go to The Eagle in Clerkenwell. It’s not really near me any more, but I still spend a lot of time in that neighbourhood. It’s a great place to grab a casual, inexpensive, freshly prepared dinner.

Friday Food Things, Part II: Skyr, BBC Radio 4, Olia Hercules, and Bee Wilson

Listening to…BBC Radio 4 Food Programme

IMG_1891I’ve been eating so much skyr recently that my Instagram feed could be sponsored by the Icelandic Skyr Promotion Board, should such a thing exist. I just really love the taste of it: the sharp lactic tang makes it resemble neither yoghurt nor cheese but brings to mind sour cream. However, I discovered that the brand I’ve been buying, Arla, is not actually Icelandic, as I assumed, but Danish. So much for supporting the Icelandic cottage industry (I’m now trying an Icelandic brand, simply called Icelandic Skyr).

I found this out when listening to the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme, more specifically when catching up to its episode ‘Ferment’ (which features, as a guest speaker, the fabulous Olia Hercules, my current cookery crush, if I can say something so gauche). It was mentioned in the programme that authentic Icelandic skyr is hard to find, and I was compelled to look up what I had been eating.

Since then I’ve been greedily catching uIMG_1896p on the Food Programme and found myself utterly fascinated by such things as the history of pizza and gulping down an interview with the lovely Bee Wilson about her equally fabulous book First Bite. If you love food and for some reason haven’t yet listened to the Food Programme, I highly recommend you do – the full archive is available which is fantastic.

Octopus Books / Foyle’s / delicious. magazine Cookbook Confidential

I treated myself to an issue of delicious. magazine at the

The beautiful 'Mamushka', by Olia Hercules
The beautiful ‘Mamushka’, by Olia Hercules

beginning of April and found out about a series of collaborative talks between Foyle’s, publisher Octopus Books and delicious. magazine which will feature a range of food writers, cooks and chefs, who will discuss their recent books or speak to a specific theme. Although I’ve signed up to all but one (only because I’m already busy that night), I’m particularly looking forward to How to Break into the Food Business, featuring aforementioned culinary crush Olia Hercules as a speaker, and An Evening with Diana Henry. The talks are £12 and include a glass of wine and, according to my magazine, a copy of delicious.

 

Currently reading…

IMG_1898Following on from First Bite, I’m now reading Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork, a history of cooking and eating implements and tools. Her writing has an extraordinary power to spark of my imagination; it’s vivid and blends beautifully the academic, analytical and anecdotal/personal.

I’ve also recently discovered Amelia Morris’ blog Bon Appetempt and am ploughing through the archives. The combination of recipes and frank, often funny, but equally often poignant reflections on life, ambition, motherhood, family and writing are irresistible to me.