Saint & Sinner: Mango, almond milk quinoa porridge and Comté & rosemary gnocchi with pine nut garlic butter

There have been far too many weekends that have sailed by without me being able to get down to some proper cooking in my little Clapham kitchen.

I woke up famished on Friday and, after sticking my nose in the fridge and spotting a mango that was heading inexorably towards overripedom and a lump of 18-month aged Comté  from a recent (and unutterably delicious press evening), I decided to roll my sleeves up and knock up a terribly healthy breakfast and a decadent, butter-rich, carb-loaded lunch.

Mango, almond milk quinoa porridge

Mango, almond milk quinoa porridge - the edible woman

I first encountered quinoa porridge when I subjected myself to a week of eating like Gwyneth Paltrow for a feature with Huffington Post. After a week of sugar/dairy/wheat/caffeine/alcohol/soy/fun-free eating I was ready to savage the next person who dared to wander past me holding a bar of chocolate or a cocktail, but I did get a taste for a couple of her breakfast ideas. NOT the squishy, kale-fuelled smoothies mind you, but her ingenious use for leftover quinoa.

Mango, almond milk quinoa porridge - the edible woman

There’s always left over quinoa.

Quinoa is one of the few plant foods that’s a natural protein, is naturally gluten-free and is packed with iron, B-vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, vitamin E and fibre. When cooked, it lasts at least four days sealed in tupperware in the fridge or for a disturbingly long time when frozen.

This fruity, fibre-rich and crunchy alternative to oat porridge is doused in creamy almond milk and finished with a scattering of sliced strawberries, juicy mango and a splodge of runny honey.

All you need to do is cook the funny little grains beforehand until they explode into nutty spirals. I use about half a cup of uncooked grains per person fora single portion of porridge, but of course you can cook up lots and store it for the week ahead in the fridge.

Mango, almond milk quinoa porridge - the edible woman

for the quinoa

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water

for the porridge

1 ripe mango sliced into thin slivers
5 ripe strawberries washed, hulled and sliced
3/4 – 1 cup of cooked quinoa (the 1/2 cup raw grain will expand into about this)
1/2 almond milk
a handful of almonds
1 tsp honey (you can leave this out if you like your food to be ultra healthy)

Mango, almond milk quinoa porridge - the edible woman

Method
  • Always start by rinsing your quinoa in a sieve as the husks have a strange, milky coating on them. Pop the quinoa into a saucepan with the water on a medium heat and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and let it simmer until the water is absorbed and the grains have opened up. This should take about 15 minutes.
  • Fluff the grains up with a fork as you would cous cous and then add in the almond milk.
  • Gently heat this through until it’s piping hot and transfer to your breakfast bowl before decorating with the fruit and nuts and dribbling on the honey.

Blueberries also work really well with this, as does banana and a spoonful of almond butter. You can also add a spoonful of chia seeds into the mix for an extra protein boost.

Mango, almond milk quinoa porridge - the edible woman

Comté and rosemary gnocchi with pine nut garlic butter

I’ve always loved gnocchi and can’t resist these fluffy potato pillows if I see them on a menu; although I must confess I’ve never attempted to make them before and was shocked at how simple they were.

Comte and rosemary gnocchi - the edible woman

The key to perfectly light gnocchi is using dry, fluffy potatoes. Always dry roast your potatoes in the oven and avoid boiling them to reduce their moisture content.

Plain gnocchi are simply delicious served with a dash of homemade tomato sauce or baked with a cheese topping, but they also absorb flavour very well, which is why I decided to include some grated, full-flavoured Comté and chopped rosemary in mine.

Comte - the edible woman

for the gnocchi

100g grated Comté (any hard, strong cheese would do just as well, like parmesan or gruyere, if that’s what you have in your fridge)
2 large baking potatoes (there’s a simple rule for measuring gnocchi portions that goes one potato per person per portion to about 75g flour)
150g plain flour
1 egg
a few large sprigs of rosemary, chopped very finely

for the coating

1 bag of fresh rocket
30g pine nuts
50g butter
1 large garlic clove, crushed

Method
  • Put the potatoes into a preheated oven at 200 degrees centigrade to bake until they’re completely soft. The best gnocchi are made with hot potatoes so you’ll have to test your pain threshold a bit with these!
  • When the potatoes are cooked, peel off their skins and push them through a potato ricer; the smoother and fluffier they are, the lighter your gnocchi will be. The best gnocchi melt in the mouth.
  • Gently mix in the cheese and chopped rosemary with a good pinch of salt and tip the flour out onto a flat surface. Pour the potato mix on to the flour and make a shallow well in the middle of your potato and flour mound.
  • Pour in the egg and bring the mixture together with your hands, kneading it into a soft dough (you don’t have to use all the egg – just if it feels too dry and refuses to come together without flaking)

Comte and rosemary gnocchi - the edible woman

  • Shape your mix – trying not to work it too hard as this makes the gnocchi tough – into a fat sausage and half it with a knife or pastry card.
  • Roll each dough sausage out into a thin snake. Cut 1-inch pieces off the snake and pop onto a lightly floured tray. You can try to give them the distinctive gnocchi ridges by rolling them over the back of a fork…as you can see from my little monstrosities, I wasn’t very adept at this!
  • Set a pan of water on to boil and put the crushed garlic, butter and pine nuts into a pan over a medium heat. Let the butter melt and caramelise the pine nuts but try not to burn it.
  • Drop the gnocchi into the boiling pan of water. They cook in under a minute and you’ll know they’re done when they pop up to the surface and bob around.
  • Remove them with a slatted spoon and drop them into the hot pan of garlic and pine nut butter, coating them in the sauce. Add in the rocket and let it wilt before serving straight away with a twist of black pepper and a few shavings of leftover cheese.

Comte and rosemary gnocchi - the edible woman

My Favourite Things: February

The book I couldn’t put down; the drink I could drink forever; someone’s wise words that stuck with me; the place I didn’t want to leave…sometimes all you want to do is fall in love all over again with the things you lusted after, adored and coveted last month.

The Album

Jungle by Jungle has been the backing track to everything this month, from drinking and dinner parties to frantically typing up work at my kitchen table.
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The Book

I rediscovered my love of Angela Carter in this little masterpiece. Beautifully written, heartbreakingly raw and fully explored in my review for February’s books coming this weekend.

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The Drink

There was no contest last month, it had to be this ridiculously healthy yet naughty tasting Sloe Beet cocktail from my favourite new south London haunt, London Grind.

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The Food

Last month it was more of an ingredient that I simply couldn’t stop eating, pomegranates!

The Images

In February I rediscovered Pinterest, which has lead, naturally, to hours being spent creating and curating colour-coordinated boards and little collections of dreams and loves. The board that grew the most was my pink one, Pretty in Pink. For some reason I couldn’t stop finding endless images of beautiful rosy things, so here are a few of my favourites.

The Movie

Last month I finally caught up on the final few Oscar nominated films I was yet to see. The last one I watched was Whiplash. I had put it off until the end, honestly thinking that I wouldn’t like it much.

I was wrong.

Whiplash may just be the best film I have seen in years, let alone a month. A powerful, brutal, bloody war epic of a music film with a throbbing, insistent and unflinching soundtrack that left me breathless and my jaw on the floor in awe. Full Metal Jacket with drums…although much better than that sounds.

See it. Now.

The Place

It was a close call between the wonderful The Word on the Water and Keats House in Hampstead, but in the end my happy place last month was in the salon at Keats House listening to historical flautist Yu-Wei Hu and guitarist Johan Lofving perform a programme inspired by Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale.

The Video

How could it be anything else other than this heart soaring video of Sergei Polunin dancing his flesh coloured tights off in an abandoned church?

Sergei Polunin, “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, Directed by David LaChapelle from David LaChapelle Studio on Vimeo.

The Want

I want these Alice High Heels from Boden. I want to wear them with ripped skinny jeans and a chunky cream knit and with black cigarette trousers and a crisp white shirt or worn-out denim dresses.

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The Words

From the mouth of the wonderful Angela Carter. Amen.

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Header Image: Julien Haler/Flickr

Baking Gluten Savvy Bread with Maria

For a long time now, gluten has beeen seen as the foodie devil incarnate, so I went along to a healthy bread class with Bake with Maria on behalf of Foodepedia to see if I could learn to be gluten savvy instead of gluten scared.

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“So, before we start, does everyone know exactly what gluten is?”

This seemingly innocuous question was asked by Maria Mayerhofer, the baking genius behind Bake with Maria, who is out to get Londoners baking and making, one beautifully executed cookery class at a time.

I stumbled up the residential steps to Maria’s Baking Lab on the edge of South Hampstead in the dark one rainy evening last week, utterly convinced I was in the wrong place until I spotted a doorway filled with light and, on closer inspection, emitting the encouraging smell of freshly baked cake.

As I walked into the teeny tiny kitchen and work space, I was immediately offered a raspberry financier and some still warm, buttered banana bread and, eyeing it suspiciously, asked if it was gluten free. A mistake, because Maria and her team don’t do gluten free, they do gluten smart, which is why I was there, to take part in a Gluten Savvy Bread Class.

Gluten, a protein composite found in wheat and grains, has had it hard these past few years. Accused of upsetting stomachs from New York to London, it’s been relegated to the unpopular food ranks alongside fat and, more recently, sugar – fat might be getting an invite back to polite dining society; the foodie jury is still out on that one. Today, gluten has almost become a dirty word, uttered by filthy bread cravers whose only socially acceptable outlet is spending £4 on an artisan sourdough loaf, which is the only sort of ‘healthy’ bread, obviously.

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I’ve heard countless people, from housemates to co workers proudly announce that they’re giving up gluten or claiming that they couldn’t possibly eat it as it makes them feel bloated as they cradle their tummies protectively. Now, real gluten allergies are no laughing matter. Coeliac disease is a terrible affliction and means sufferers can’t stand even a trace of gluten, from its presence in soy sauce to ale. Tom from Shipton Mill thinks he knows why people associate that bloated feeling with bread: it’s the quality of bread you’re eating.

At the time he said this he was encouraging me and a bunch of food writers to squeeze a bog standard sliced white loaf back into dough pellets like we all did as kids, while pointing out that these loaves, which he called ‘water standing up’, are mass produced, barely proved and full of additives and preservatives that are far more likely to cause irritation than actual gluten ever is.

Gluten free loaves didn’t get off easy either, as Tom pointed out that bread should have four ingredients (flour, water, yeast, salt) while gluten free loaves often have closer to 13, with everything from sugar to starch, stabilisers and flavourings added to the original mix to keep it tasting and feeling like, well, bread.

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And so began our gluten education, or should I say re-education at the hands of Maria and master baker Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, the author of How to Make Bread, who walked us all through the astonishingly simple process of baking fresh, delicious breads at home.

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As well as explaining how spelt (which, incidentally hasn’t really altered for the past 6,000 years) is more easily digested by the body yet still contains gluten and showing us how to roll the perfect seeded baguette, Hadjiandreou showed us how to do a gluten wash – submerging raw dough in water and squeezing it until you’re left with a stringy residue – on different types of bread dough to see just how much gluten they actually contain.

And that’s exactly what the classes at Bake with Maria aim to do: to practically show you the joy of baking and serve it alongside a side order of specialist knowledge. As an added bonus you get to eat everything you make at the end of the class, which for us meant loaves hot from the oven and dripping with butter and Maria’s homemade hummus and beetroot dip and a warm baguette to carry home on the tube, much to the olfactory envy of fellow passengers.

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As we were sent home, each clutching our baguettes and beaming with a shared sense of gluten epiphany, there wasn’t one of us that didn’t believe what Maria had been saying to us all along: that healthy, very much gluten FULL loaves are quick and easy and incredibly cheap to make at home and everyone should be doing it.

 Visit www.bakewithmaria.com to see all upcoming pastry, bread and cake classes and for more information on prices.

Original piece written for the wonderful Foodepedia.co.uk and can be read here.

Malaga memories: On finally appreciating Picasso

“I was born of a white feather and a small glass of Andalusian eau de vie. I was born to a mother the daughter of a fifteen-year-old girl born in the percheles of Málaga the handsome bull who sired me with his forehead crowned with jasmine.” – Picasso: Écrits. Paris. Réunion des Musées Nationaux Gallimard, 1989.

Mercedes swivelled suddenly, her brown leather bag stuffed with tickets stubs and empty water bottles crunching against my hip as she held my arms and looked me square in the face with dark eyes livid and shining, bubbling over with barely concealed passion.

You would have thought that I was used to the fire and the fervour that seemed to simmer just below the surface of most of the Malagans I had met so far, but it still jolted my prim little English self like a rabbit caught in the glare.

“Do you know Picasso? Do you love him? Well, today you will.” She intoned in looping, Spanish splashed English, punctuating her sentences with empathic head nods, like a bright little bird observing a worm it’s just trapped in its claws.

“Ah…good.” I replied meekly, trying to muster some convincingly reverent energy against the mega watt rays of her enthusiasm.

“Come, come, we will explore eaaaavarythink. I will show you it all.”

She refocused the intensity of her gaze into the first room of the Palacio de Buenavista – a great, sweeping Andalusian mansion that has been turned into the home of some of Picasso’s most intimate paintings – and ushered me on, honing in on a painting that, from a distance, looked like a mess of square and splotches.

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I’ve never really got Picasso. Well, to be truthful, that’s an understatement. I never really liked him. That also may be an understatement. I have, without doubt, never understood him.

There was always something that rankled, perhaps the harsh, geometric lines, those misshapen, melting faces broken apart and reformed like your own reflection is mangled in water when you stick your finger in and swirl.

They’re indistinct and fragmented and, underneath it all, there’s that venomous little slithering whisper that thinks given enough paint and canvas any artistically gifted child could do just as well.

But then, one sunny Spanish morning in Malaga, where Picasso was born, my guide Mercedes whisked me around and began to slowly instil her deep seated and deeply rooted adoration for this renegade painter and serial womaniser in me.

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It grew slowly, burning softly at first, born from a grudging respect that sprouted in my belly and grew in increments, finally bursting forth in front of one painting that managed to wrench tears from me as Mercedes stepped back, finally satisfied that her job had been done.

But it took a few paintings before I got there, each picked out from the multitude by Mercedes who pulled me from room to room, positioned me at different viewing points; forced my eyes to watch from doorways and corners and impossible angles to reveal strange aspects in seemingly ordinary pieces and opened a deep well of pure, unfettered emotional attachment to paintings I would have, save for her, observed politely before shrugging off.

As a rather unproductive writer, I can’t help but admire such a prolific artist as Picasso was. He produced thousands of works of art and was still painting in his 90s before he died. He had mastered and dismissed stuffy still life and angular, Renaissance perspectives by the time he was 17, although that’s not to say he didn’t admire the masters: El Greco, Matisse, Degas…he just liked them deconstructed and reformed through his own eyes.

Which is probably why I find it hard to appreciate his work, because he paints everything at once and it’s too much. Picasso saw that real people moved, and objects showed you their whole selves from every angle at once; not just a blank, prettily one dimensional facet. So his works became a multitude of positions and expressions all contained in one canvas. It’s confusing, it’s arresting, it’s bold and it’s what made him unique.

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But it wasn’t Picasso’s reinterpretations of still life or inanimate objects that made me love him, that made me feel him. It was his women, which he talked about through the portraits he painted of them. And one woman in particular, Olga Stepanovna Khokhlova, a Russian ballerina and his first wife.

They weren’t his most famous pieces and they certainly weren’t his most celebrated, but they were, to me, his most accessible and they were all tucked away in this little collection kept in his home town.

“I think about Death all time, it is as a woman who will never leave me.” – Pablo Picasso

It started with a painting that wasn’t actually of Olga, it was of one of Picasso’s later lovers, a photographer called Dora Maar. It’s her face that later became The Weeping Woman and it’s her screaming face I see in Picasso’s most famous piece: Guernica.

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“Look at her hands, fighting and clawed; look at her eyes, she is full of fear and pain.” Mercedes whispered to me.

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Her hands were up, tearing through the canvas. Her body was militated and deformed into a human wheel, her mouth open in an endless, unquenched scream. Her picture, while it seemed harmless enough at first, terrified me.

And then Mercedes showed me Olga.

Olga

Picasso married Olga in 1918 and they had a son, Paulo, together.

Later, Picasso started having an affair with a 17-year-old French girl called Marie-Thérèse Walter and she became pregnant. When Olga found out in 1935, she took Paulo and moved to France and asked for a divorce. Picasso refused to divide his property with her, despite the law, so they stayed legally married until she died from cancer in 1955.

Picasso didn’t attend her funeral.

6_fgOlga Khokhlova with a Mantilla, 1917

Wearing a classic Spanish Matiquilla Picasso makes a young Olga look cold, yet dewy and rosy.  She looks like she’s made from fresh cotton and the underside of a lily; untouched and clean. When Picasso looks at Olga in 1917, a year before they were married, she appeared pristine and perfect to him. This was Picasso’s Olga at the peak of their love, at the very beginning.

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This painting might not even be specifically of Olga, but she was still his muse in 1921, which was the year she gave birth to their first son, Paulo.

Suddenly Olga has taken on a beatific, religious and almost regal air, She’s lost her almost waxy, floral glow and been replaced by a white holy fervour. Gazing fixedly at her child she looks like devotion incarnate.

She could be a renaissance oil masterpiece, a old madonna and from afar this painting makes her elegant, white and swanlike. But, as you step closer, creeping like grandmother’s footsteps,  her image mutates and she appears dumpy and squat up close, her body obscenely fat. There’s something almost cannibalistic in it, as if she’s drawing her bulk from Picasso to feed to the infant. His brush and paint devouring her image in return.

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In the final painting I saw of Olga, she was transformed again. There was none of the florid prettiness of before or of the overt womanliness. There was just a pale woman with her head in her hands. The blue of her housecoat sapping her colours.

She and her painter no longer seem to like each other, their love has dimmed and all that’s left is this painful distance between canvas and eyes. She looks withered, all her original rosy softness has been carved away to this ivory boney lines, her plumpness deflated.

As Mercedes recounted the decline of Olga and Picasso’s love and marriage it all felt so unutterably sad and as she talked, my eyes begin to mist over and the blue of Olga’s coat swam in my eyes, burning through the water.

But it wasn’t just Olga’s portraits that made me finally fall for Picasso, it was all the paintings of his lovers, his muses, his wives.

It was his French ladies, painted feline and blue, all elongated and calm.

It was the pink and round paintings of Marie, flushed with youth and gleaming.

It was the depictions of ‘The Flower’, Françoise Gilot, her face wreathed in petals.

And it was his raw, sexual and strangely regal portraits of Jacqueline Roque.

It took all of Picasso’s women for me to finally love his work, to finally connect to it, although I couldn’t help but wonder as I left the cool shade of the Palacio de Buenavista, was it really Picasso that I loved or was it the women he loved through paint and portrait.

Malaga

I was shown around Malaga as a guest of the Malagan tourism board and Monarch Airlines. You can read all about my sunny Spanish adventuring here.

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In pictures: Ten stories from Postman’s Park

I’ve been meaning to visit Postman’s Park ever since I moved to London but, somehow, something has always got in the way. Sometimes the weather, sometimes work, sometimes my own laziness. But last week, I finally made the trip to this little slice of solemn London to read about stories of sacrifice from ordinary, extraordinary people.

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Just a short walk from St Paul’s, this tiny park sits wedged against the walls of The Aldersgate Talks church and got its name because the workers from the old General Post Office used to eat lunch there everyday.

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In 1900, Victorian painter and philanthropist GF Watts installed a memorial to recognise and commemorate the heroic acts of Londoners and set their stories into glazed Doulton tiles for all visitors to see.

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On the day I visited there was a cold, weak sun like an undercooked egg leaking frigid light through the bare, skinny trees. Council gardeners were spreading fertiliser, striding through the damp and undernourished flowerbeds in eye-searing high vis jackets; wheeling barrow loads of foul-smelling muck to throw over the churned, red and raw scented earth.

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Workers were hunched against the benches in front of the plaques, scattering crumbs and sweet wrappers to the breeze and shifting either with irritation or discomfort as tourists, like myself, leaned over and looked past, studiously ignoring them to focus instead on the people pinned behind them.

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As I read about people I didn’t know and has previously never heard of, I became drawn in by simple, shared emotions: grief, fear, admiration. I read about children who died saving siblings and friends. Mothers who gave up their lives saving their babies. Men who sacrificed themselves in a single, split second decision to save someone else’s life.

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As I stood there and stared, slowly absorbing these lives, I started to forget the other people around me. I forgot to be annoyed when someone’s son started screaming about chocolate to a mother who was half-heatedly trying to interest him in the stories of kids not much older than her own who were suddenly, all in a moment, not here anymore.

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Instead I looked left and caught the eye of the elderly woman next to me and we smiled. Short and sad. A shared, paper thin sort of smile that acknowledged both how wondrous and wretched these stories were.

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It’s hard to read these stories yet you consume them tirelessly standing there in that small little patch of ground. It’s also hard to not to cry in Postman’s Park, not only from the sheer selflessness of it all, but also because of that awful, sneaking question that bubbles up and that you can’t quite quiet: could you do what these people have done?

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I couldn’t take pictures of all of the stories in Postman’s Park and these aren’t by any means favourites or ones that I have somehow deemed ‘most worthy’, they’re just ones that caught my eye.

Weekend bake: Valentine’s Day pomegranate, yoghurt and rose cake

Instead of the usual bah humbug post for Valentine’s Day, this year I thought I would do something a little more productive and bake a pink-tinged, vaguely Valentine’s themed cake.

This fragrant, almost-Middle Eastern little cake is a dense, fruity bake that combines crushed cardamom and yoghurt instead of butter with ground almonds and my favourite fruit of the moment: pomegranate.
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In fact, given the option, I think I would eat pomegranate with every meal at the moment, which is why it’s lucky that this super fruit goes with everything from salad to red meat as well as sugary puds.

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It also means that I get to use one of my new favourite baking ingredients – Nielson Massey Rose Water. I adore the smell of roses and, when used with extreme caution in cooking, their delicate, floral flavour is utterly intoxicating. Just opening this bottle flooded my kitchen with the smell of fresh laundry and English gardens in the  summertime.

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I decorated this cake with crystallised rose petals, which are one of the easiest and prettiest cake decorations I know. These delicate little sugared flowers look like something from a fairytale, but are deceptively easy to make and will keep for weeks if you store them in an airtight tub. The first time I made a batch to top some cupcakes, my friends spent the whole time ignoring the cakes and picking off the petals, devouring them like sweets.

Valentine’s Day also means that there are plenty of single roses to be nabbed at the shops, which is handy as you don’t need a whole bunch to make crystallised petals. A single rose will make lots of edible decorations, so if you’ve been lucky enough to get some this Valentine’s, why not knock some up for afternoon tea today.

DSC_5331Ingredients

for the cake
4 cardamom pods
125g ground almonds
125g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
150g caster sugar
150g greek yogurt
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
the seeds from half a pomegranate

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for the icing
few drops of rose water
few drops of pink food colouring
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp water

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for the crystallised rose petals
petals from one rose (pink or red looks prettiest)
1 egg white
50g caster sugar

Method

  • Crush the cardamom pods (throw away the tough husks) and bash the fragrant seeds in a pestle and mortar until they break up. Drop them into a large mixing bowl.
  • Add the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and caster sugar and mix with a wooden spoon.
  • Beat the yogurt, eggs and vanilla essence together with a fork and drop into the dry ingredients, mixing well until you’ve got a thick, paste-like texture.

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  • Halve a pomegranate and pick out all the fruit from one half, making sure you remove all the little bits of membrane and pith. Gently stir the juicy seeds through your cake mix before plopping it into a greased cake tin. I used a ring tin as it makes such a pretty shape, but you can use any tin you have handy – this cake doesn’t rise much so don’t worry if the mixture is near the top!
  • Pop into a preheated oven at 180 degrees for around 30 minutes until the cake is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when pushed through the middle.
  • While the cake cools – you should wait ten or so minute before you try to prise it out of the tin – make the crystallised rose petals by gently washing and drying them before brushing with egg white and dipping them into the caster sugar until they are completely coated.
  • Lay the sugared petals out on a lined baking tray. These will dry on their own if you leave them in a warm, dry place, but if you’re in a hurry, which I always am, you can put them into the cooling oven after the cake – they should dry out and go hard and shiny in about 10 minutes.
  • To make the icing, simply sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and drop in the water, mixing until you have a rich, glossy mixture that coats the back of a spoon. If it isn’t thick enough you can add more icing sugar. Add in a few drops each of the pink food colouring (beetroot-based, natural mixtures are best) and the rose water – be very careful with the rose water as a little goes a long way and too many drops will leave your icing tasting a bit like potpourri!
  • When the cake is completely cool, put the cooling rack on a tray (this icing will drip everywhere) and drizzle the icing all over before finishing with the crystallised rose petals and serving with tea or a big cup of turkish coffee.

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Dipping in: Review of Marley Spoon

“Is this all for your lunch?” The delivery man looked at me quizzically.

“Yes”, I replied, immediately on the defensive and trying to look as haughty as I could in my dressing gown at 11am on a Tuesday before grabbing the box and retreating back to my kitchen lair.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing quite as exciting as getting a big box of food in the post and Marley Spoon knows this and has capitalised on it with a bespoke recipe kit home delivery service that’s dedicated to inspiring people to cook more adventurously.

Marley Spoon is, really, only a baby on the food scene, having been launched just last December by Fabien Siegel – the co-founder of Hungry House – and Tim Neatby, the man behind German restaurant chain MexAttax; but it’s already making a name for itself with its international menu choices and emphasis on healthy, balanced and easy to cook meals.

The diverse and ever-changing weekly menus are packed the kinds of dishes you’ve looked longingly at in Olive or Delicious magazine but never actually bother to cook for yourself. Each seven day offering reads like a whistle-stop foodie tour around the world, from Indonesian Nasi Goreng using Devonshire pork to Japanese-flavoured glazed salmon with wasabi peanut potatoes and bok choi and Jamaican-inspired jerk plantain with green salsa and coconut rice.

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I was sent the Devonshire chicken supreme with Middle Eastern rice and carrot salad and the roasted cauliflower steaks with fried tofu, wild rice and a spicy almond sauce. Each order comes weighed, half prepped (there’s still some chopping, shredding and blending required to make you feel as though you’re doing some actual cooking) and with an idiot proof, step-by-step picture recipe card. There’s even a calorie breakdown and a helpline number, just in case you have a kitchen meltdown.

The first thing that struck me was the efficiency of the packaging. Everything comes pre-measured and separated into brown paper bags, including little touches like everything that needs to be refrigerated kept together, ready to be shoved into the fridge on arrival.

The volume of plastic pots and pouches (I counted seven alone for the cauliflower dish), however did seem a little excessive; I’m not sure you need to separate spices that are intended to go into the same pot of food into individual, teaspoon-sized servings. Luckily though, all of the pots are recyclable and Marley Spoon have an in house recycling system where they invite you to return bulkier packaging like the sheep’s wool insulator packs and cooling bags.

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The cooking instructions were easy peasy and the results, shocking similar to the pictures provided and tasted impressively and moreishly delicious. Truthfully, as an advocate of cheap home cooking, I thought I might have had my knives out for Marley Spoon and was ready to denounce it as overpriced and wasteful for a single plates of food. But, after a few mouthfuls of the chargrilled cauliflower, crispy tofu and sweet, nutty, spicy sriracha sauce and after I’d eaten the ridiculously juicy chicken dish, I was practically a devotee.

The second thing that impressed me was the sheer quality of the ingredients. The vegetables looked freshly picked, dewey and dirt sprinkled and the meat was firm and perfectly butchered.

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Thirdly, it’s worth mentioning that the portions were enormous. Gargantuan even. I consider myself to be quite a little pig when it comes to food with an obligingly flexible stomach that’s willing to accommodate often disgustingly huge amounts of food. But even I was defeated by the portions here. Don’t be fooled by the delicate mounds in the promo photography – I was making leftover cold salads from the chicken accompaniment of turmeric and raisin rice and shredded carrot and halved the remaining portion of the roasted cauliflower for lunch the next day. This is, obviously, not a bad thing and proves that you’re more than able to feed a hungry family on these portions.

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Now comes the sticky issue, the price. Two portions of the Devonshire chicken and two portions of the cauliflower comes in at £11 each and there’s a minimum order quantity if four portions. While it’s less than what you’d probably pay in a restaurant for these dishes, it’s worth remembering that you wouldn’t be expected to cook it or clean up after it in a restaurant. Out of curiosity, I added all the ingredients for the chicken dish into a virtual trolley at Sainsburys and it totalled £16.04, and that was with a whole chicken and whole tubs of the spices.

IMG_4574My leftover rice, carrot and avocado salad

I do understand that the premium ingredients and free delivery hike up the price at Marley Spoon, but I can’t help but wonder who could afford to order these meals more than a few times a month. That being said, if you join Marley Spoon as a Food Club member, the prices of the dishes drops to £9.

Despite all that, if I had a dinner party with zero hours to prep, shop or even think of interesting and delicious dishes to impress with, Marley Spoon just might be my first port of call.

Originally written for the brilliant food blog, Foodepedia and can be found here.

In Pictures: Word on the Water

I’ve just opened a book that I levered off the heaving shelf in the next room, unconsciously perching on the threadbare pew that’s nudging the backs of my knees as I turn the bruised and pleasingly used pages.

“The first light of morning barely illuminated the sky as Gustad Noble faced eastward to offer his orisons to Ahura Mazda. The hour was approaching six, and up in the compound’s solitary tree the sparrows began to call. Gustad listened to their chirping every morning while reciting his kusti prayers. There was something reassuring about it. Always, the sparrows were first; the cawing of crows came later.

From a few flats away, the metallic clatter of pots and pans began nibbling at the edges of stillness…”

Certain pages are bent and folded; stained where fingers have traced over the ink of complicated passages or favourite phrases that have been memorised and pocketed away for later. Music from Porgy and Bess is spilling around, warming the whisps of the dank, winter’s day that are seeping in through the open door, dragging themselves along the dark floorboards to sit grey and heavy on my chest.

When the wind changes the air is flooded with an acrid tang of burning fuel that briefly masks the comforting smell of old dust and second-hand paper. Someone’s feet startle me out of the corner of my eye, stamping through the passage I was reading as they pause, somewhere between my head and the low ceiling.

As they continue past, I realise that the floor underneath me is moving. It lurches gently as the books on the shelf that were once perfectly level are suddenly and disconcertingly skewed and my stomach takes a slow tumble. Although I should have anticipated that really, because I’m on a Dutch book barge, where words float on water.

Keats’ chosen epitaph was “here lies one whose name was writ in water”, but luckily this watery writing hub has a little  more permanence. Founded by affable owner Paddy Screech as a solution to the threat of rising overheads involved in owning an independent shop in the capital,  this 100-year-old barge has been converted into a book-lovers’ paradise with shelves groaning under the weight of reasonably-priced (two paperbacks for £5, if you were wondering) books penned by everyone from philosophers and criminologists to Booker Prize winners.

Word on the Water changes location every so often, but for the time being it can be found moored on the murky canal just below Granary Square in King’s Cross. Marooned on the greyish waters, this is a little shop quite unlike any other and is full of little eccentricities that make it disarmingly charming – like the resident little buddha with its tattered prayer flags or the forlorn Noah’s Ark bookends propped against the encyclopaedias above the old, coal-blackened stove.

DSC_5312 DSC_5308 DSC_5299 DSC_5284 DSC_5313 DSC_5316 DSC_5322 DSC_5293Kai the whippet seemed like a regular customer and was very at home on the leather chair, even if he wouldn’t keep still long enough for an in-focus picture.

Word on the Water might not have such a happy ending, however. The Canal & River Trust, which awards permanent moorings to worthy applicants, has just decided to give preciously rare trade moorings in Paddington away to a multi-billion pound property company British Land instead of this floating world of literature.

There’s a petition on Change.org you can sign if you think the council should reverse its decision. I’ve already signed it and urge others to do so – they only need 313 more signatures and it would be a real shame if this unique shop had to close.

Last Words…

The book barge is cash only – I stupidly forgot to bring any so couldn’t leave with the book I started.

If you get peckish, there are lots of brilliant places to eat a stone’s throw from Word on the Water. Try Caravan for exceptional coffee and brunch grub; The Grain Store for interesting all-day nibbles like spiced lentil cake with cucumber salad and banana ketchup or my favourite, Dishoom.

Sitting in one of their summer house cane and leather chairs sipping chai and smelling incense feels like visiting the days of the Old Raj. Don’t leave without trying one of their impossibly creamy mango and fennel lassis or their chargrilled paneer and green chilli Roomali roti rolls.

Beautiful Books: January

At the start of the year I set myself a challenge to read more in 2015. So I picked five books on everything from celestial signs and teenage abandonment to adulterous wives and mystical circuses for January and got stuck in.

Here’s what I thought of January’s beautiful books.

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

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“We spend our entire lives thinking about death. Without that project to divert us, I expect we would all be dreadfully bored. We would have nothing to evade, and nothing to forestall, and nothing to wonder about. Time would have no consequence.”

The Luminaries has been on my intimidating must read list ever since it won the 2013 Man Booker Prize…and also because I knew it was written about a place in New Zealand that I visited all too briefly but fell quickly in love with: Hokitika. Set in the 1866 gold rush, the story navigates around emigré Walter Moody and the twelve, strange men (like the twelve signs of the zodiac, get it?) he meets on his arrival. The twelve are trying to uncover the reasons behind a series of local crimes and, along the way, a rich tapestry of drunks, whores, opium dens, missing men and discovered fortunes weave in and out of the complex story line.

Structured like the waning and waxing cycle of the moon, this book both transported and frustrated me. The sheer volume of plots and characters took time to get to grips with and Catton has an irritating knack of ripping the rug out from under your feet just as you’ve got settled in. At times bewildering, at times brilliant and, at times, frankly boring; this isn’t a book to take on lightly. I wasn’t sure what to make of Catton’s tome when I finally turned the last page on the final, diminutive chapter, but, perversely, I am thinking about reading it again…because something about this extraordinary book has stuck with me.

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

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“The denigration of those we love always detaches us from them in some degree. Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers.”

After I started this canary yellow copy of the classic French novel I began to wonder why I had never read it before. It was Flaubert’s debut novel and followed a mild mannered, vaguely boring doctor called Charles Bovary, who met, fell in love with and married Emma Rouault – an adulterous, tempestuous woman obsessed with the romance and luxury she has absorbed from years spent devouring fantastical works of fiction.

As she embarks on ever bigger affairs and begins to loose herself to her self-concoted idea of love and luxury, everything begins to crumble around her; while her husband remains staid and loyal to the bitter (very bitter) end. This is neither a story with a happy ending nor a cautionary tale on the dangers of being immoral and lustful; it’s  a beautifully written, tragic story of the pursuit of romance at all cost that perfectly shows off Flaubert’s never-ending quest to find le mot juste – the perfect word.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

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“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

This gorgeous book introduced me to a lovely new word – phantasmagorical – and had me gripped from page one, which doesn’t start with a block of prose but with a poetic stream of consciousness that begins: “The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

In the beginning, two magicians make a bet as to who can raise the best assistant. Prospero the Enchanter chooses his daughter, Celia Bowen and the enigmatic Mr A.H. picks an orphan, Marco Alisdair; sequestering him away in a world of books and rote learning until he is ready to challenge Celia in an epic battle of will, might and magic to the death.  This was utterly immersive, with each story, line and word interwoven with the ever present spectre of the night circus; a place of mysticism and wonder populated by tattooed contortionists, eerie white fires, floating cloud mazes and impossible magic tricks that seems to appear and vanish at will, swallowed into or simply becoming part of the night itself.

The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton

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“Every woman is the architect of her own fortune.”

This was the book I couldn’t wait to start reading and one that everyone and their dog had recommended to me. Plus, when you’re given a particularly beautiful hardback copy like the one I was, there’s an extra incentive to want to grab it at the earliest opportunity. Set in 17th century Amsterdam, Jessie Burton has created a historical masterpiece where every detail and nuance has been impeccably researched. The story revolves around Nella Oortman as she settles into the house of her new husband, a rich merchant called Johannes Brandt.

He gives her an exact replica of their house as a present and she begins to fill it with tiny furniture and miniature things, however, as the story moves and the tiny house fills, a sense of some unusual power at work pushes itself to the forefront. I don’t want to reveal or ruin any of this novel’s creeping unease, but all I will say is this is a powerful story – full of exquisitely crafted passages and plot twists – that grabs you and refuses to let go. I demolished this book in two days.

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki, Haruki Murakami

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“The truth sometimes reminds me of a city buried in sand. As time passes, the sand piles up even thicker, and occasionally it’s blown away and what’s below is revealed.”

I have been in love with Murakami since I read Kafka on the Shore while travelling years ago and was over the moon when a good friend gave me Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki for my last birthday. I’ve been saving it for just the right moment, and waking on new year’s day seemed just the right time to start. There’s something about Murakami’s writing; his measured, restrained prose; his pared back explanations of everyday Japanese life; his inscrutable characters and his stark, unexpected injections of frenetic sexual activity, which often pop up in wild dreamscapes.

This book felt very much like a classic Murakami. It follows Tsukuru Tazaki, a high schooler in Nagoya with a close-knit group of four friends, each who have names that mean a colour: Aka/Red, Ao/Blue, Shiro/White and Kuro/Black. Suddenly, without warning or reason, these four friends cut all ties with Tazaki and he is set adrift, grey, depressed and very much alone. The book follows his gradual return to some semblance of normal life and the journey he embarks on to discover just what happened all those years ago.

As Murakami books go, this was a slow burner, seeped in sadness and full of long, drawn out, contemplative discussions. Although it still had all the familiar accents – the frequent simple suppers, the cameo from Cutty Sark whiskey and the background of jazz and classical music – that keep me wanting to read Murakami’s novels.

Getting through these books in one month has been a challenge, especially since I stupidly picked The Luminaries, which is a whopping 832 pages long. To save my eyes, and my face considering how many times I fell asleep and dropped The Luminaries on it this month – February’s five books are all a little slimmer and I can’t wait to get started.

February books - theediblewoman

I’d love to hear if anyone has read anything so far this year that they recommend, I’m always on the hunt for new books to get my teeth into!

One big beetroot burger at Brockwell’s Lido Cafe

Sitting by the window as the cold Winter sunlight burnt through, shimmering off the cobalt and chlorine-hued water of the pool; the air full of roasting coffee beans and the shrieks of nearby children, I could have almost convinced myself I was on holiday and not by Brockwell Lido, which is, incidentally, exactly where I was.

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I’m a south Londoner and have braved the unheated waters of Brockwell Lido’s outdoor pool before, but I can’t think why I’d never been to the cafe, especially considering its growing reputation for fresh, accessibly priced British cuisine in unpretentious surroundings. Apparently all it took to lure me inside this small, sunlit restaurant was their latest offer: a Wednesday burger deal that combines the cafe’s bestseller with a choice of beer or soft drink for the very reasonable price of £10.

The afternoon I visited, the cream-coloured cafe was dressed down for a relaxed lunchtime service with brightly-coloured paper balls floating like suspended sea cabbages or jellyfish above the banks of laptop toting freelancers who sat sipping coffee, facing outwards to the sweeping views over the terrace and across the sharp, cold blue of the pool.

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The first thing I noticed was the drinks menu, which caught me off guard with its comprehensiveness. It’s not often you come across a poolside cafe that offers three types of 10-year-old single malt, ice cream milkshakes, craft ales and hot cocktails. Although the hot cocktails make sense when you think about the tenacious winter swimmers who probably head to the cafe post bracing dip to revive their numb muscles with something like the Dirty Chai Toddy – Rebel Yell bourbon, espresso and chai syrup, £7.00.

The lunch menu is filled with bistro staples like smoked haddock fishcakes and charcuterie platters, but I’m here to sample the burgers. Spurred on by a general feeling of sunny well being and my proximity to the pool (which by proxy feels as though I’ve shared in some sort of communal exercise) I opt for the healthy option, eschewing the tempting dry aged rare beef burger for the lighter option: a beetroot burger with a side of buttermilk slaw and twice cooked chips and a huge, violently green smoothie.

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When the burger arrives, sandwiched between a toasted brioche and spilling over with proper gherkins, fat beefsteak tomato slices and fan-sized leaves of lettuce, there’s no lingering disappointment over not choosing the meat option.

The fat beetroot patty is a dense as any beef burger I’ve had and is studded with interesting morsels of sunflower seeds, oats and the sharp tang of feta cheese. The slightly sour, creamy buttermilk covered slaw cuts through what should be a fatty dish and the twice cooked chips are pleasing, if a little more like eating crispy coating than actual potato. It’s so filling, in fact, that I can’t finish it and have to apologise to the smiling waitress as she edges forward gingerly to clear my leftovers away.

As the sun through the window gets stronger and the place begins to fills up with lunchtime parties and grandparents coaxing ketchup smeared toddlers to eat their greens, it’s all to easy to slip into a food stupor. Warmed by a frankly delicious cup of coffee (they use Allpress Direct Trade beans here) I’m already planning my next visit…although next time it might be a wise idea to make it into the pool and work off the burger before hand.

Burgers

Lido Cafe’s burger offer of a burger (beef or beet) plus a beer or soft drink of your choice is available every Wednesday in January, see www.thelidocafe.com for more details.

Dulwich Road, Brockwell Lido, London SE24 0PA http://www.thelidocafe.co.uk

Originally written for Foodepedia.co.uk

Bites of travel, food, culture and creative writing peppered with reviews and the occasional rant. Generally soused in gin

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