All posts in Food

  • When Feet Become Wings; Magical Marrakech

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    Yet again, it’s been an age since my last post. I’ve been immersed in various life things, and lots of work things, and so the time has passed me by, and all of a sudden it’s nearly Christmas. I’ve always enjoyed this time of year: mince pies, bitter chills, and drinks that are both hot and alcoholic. The past few months have been so manic, however, that I’ve hardly had any time to enjoy any of that. Still, you can rest assured that I will be taking a break over Christmas.

    In fact, though, my break already began at the end of last week when the teaching semester finished at KCL and my students went home for the holidays. I headed home to celebrate (with bubbles!) and to prepare for a long weekend away with some girlfriends. It was, after all, my hen weekend; a little early, I know, but I had anticipated some much needed respite at this time. I couldn’t have been more right. In the weeks leading up to this holiday, I had mountains of essays to mark, a lecture to write, and editorial and PhD work to contend with. I was getting to bed at around 1am every night (*morning), and was beginning to resemble the zombies that I’m currently researching and writing about. So, in short, the holiday was most welcome.

    Not only was it welcome, but it was entirely stress-free (for me, at least). That’s because my best friend Emily took on the task of organising it, coordinating attendees, arranging flights and accommodation, booking activities, and making sure that we would have enough BOOZE to keep us happy throughout our stay. She did a magnificent job – as did those who worked to keep our destination a secret from me for the best part of a year. I was blissfully unaware of the stresses that they had all taken on in an effort to allay mine, and I’m truly grateful for all of their hard work. I realise that I am blessed to have such wonderful friends.

    So, unbeknownst to me, they planned a trip to Marrakech – the beautiful bazaar of sensory stimulation. I was overwhelmed with excitement when they eventually let me in on the plan (although a little concerned that I had not been able to pack my own suitcase)! Luckily, my girls had thought of everything, and even threw in a bikini that they thought might be more appropriate for the hammam that we planned to visit on our second day. Every last detail was, in fact, planned out minutely, and encompassed my various loves of food, dance, music, dressing up, pampering and…perhaps best of all…haggling! They flew me away – in the most literal sense, of course – but they also flew me away from my worries, cares, and obligations, and I was able to relax knowing that they had it all in hand. I will never forget the lengths that they went to to make my weekend special, and it’s highly unlikely that I would be able to if I tried, thanks to the beautiful mementos that they gave me to remember it by.

    There are few words I could offer that could measure up against the loving gestures made by all of the people that contributed to this trip but, I’d like to attempt to cobble some together in any case. To Emily, I’d just like to say THANK YOU. For everything. You are brilliant. To Emma, who put together my beautiful Berber wedding blanket, I’m deeply touched – and not just by the effort, but by the idea. To all of my remaining hens – to Rachael, Jo, Kate, Jess, and Sonia – I’m so glad that you could be there, and be a part of it all, and I couldn’t have asked for a better bunch of women to spend 4 days with. To the hen that was unable to make it due to the extra baggage she was carrying(!), a.k.a. Moussette, I was sad that you couldn’t be with us, but I was moved that you made your presence felt in spite of your absence, and I absolutely love the beautiful kaftan that you bought me. And finally, to all those who weren’t there, but were still very much a part of it all – to my mum, dad, and brother, to Jadey, Katie, Cat, Jane, Maureen, Alex, Sue, Amy, Julie, Faye, Toni, and Jen. And, last but not least, to Julian. Thanks for completely ruining me with your impossible quizzes (Arsène Wenger indeed!) I loved it all, and I love you all. Merci/shukran.

  • Making Healthy Adjustments: À Bientôt, Facebook

    The last time that I posted, you may recall, I was wrestling with my inner writing demons. While I’m not entirely sure that I won, I have since had a much-needed break, and I am now feeling much more refreshed and ready for new scholarly challenges. Holidays are important, and it’s all too easy to forget just how important they are when our lives are so consumed by work—and not just our own work. I’m not going to say too much about that, because I’d just be resurrecting old material. Instead I’d like to address the matter of how it might be possible to remain healthy and focused while working, and the changes I feel I need to make in my life to make sure that happens. What I’m saying, essentially, is that, for a little while at least, I am going to be saying goodbye to Facebook.

    I know what some of you may be thinking, but I can assure you that I am not going through some kind of breakdown. Over time I have seen many friends and family members de-activate their Facebook accounts for various and—I should add—completely valid reasons. I toyed with the idea of doing this, but in the end decided against it. So my account will remain open. You can tag me in photos, check me in at exciting venues, and share things on my wall, but I won’t necessarily see any of these things for some time. I can’t say for how long, as I don’t really know myself yet, so I can only tell you that I’ll be gone for as long as I need to be.

    Okay, some explanation is warranted. What’s brought this all on? There’s no simple answer to that question, but suffice it to say that I’ve learnt some really positive life lessons from several people in my life over the past four months and I believe that I can continue learning better, transferring those positive energies to my working life, if I leave Facebook. One of those people is my friend and colleague, Eilidh Hall, one of the co-jefas of the Salsa Collective. Earlier in the year, Eilidh came to stay with me and she asked if I could lend her a lamp so that she could read in bed. We talked about bedtime rituals and it dawned on me that, although I always had a book on the go, and although I had a stash of unread books by my bed, I rarely took the necessary time to read. Of course, I read every day—it’s at the core of everything that I do, but the privilege of being able to pick up any book and just read is one that I don’t think I fully valued until Eilidh and I had this conversation. I would often slip into bed with the intention of reading a little, but would succumb to the siren-call of Facebook, there at my fingertips, telling myself that I needed to say goodnight to the world before I could escape into another literary one. And then, of course, I would just go to sleep. Since then, I have read every night, displacing the technology that too frequently interfered with my good intentions. A couple of times I have lapsed, admittedly, but I am getting there, and I’m hoping that this decision to quit Facebook completely will encourage me to seize the opportunities that lay before me.

    Another person who completely opened my eyes to a world of healthfulness and balance was my friend Toni, who runs the superb food blog, Etta’s Corner. Toni recently undertook the ‘Paleo Challenge’. For 30 days, she gave up a lot of what I would consider to be ‘the good stuff’—bread, caffeine, dairy products, and processed foods of any kind. I have never had much time for diets, and, frankly, I do not believe in them. I don’t believe that limiting oneself, or giving things up, promotes a healthy attitude about either food or body image. However, Toni’s challenge was very different in its ethos to any other diet that I have ever encountered. She didn’t even call it a ‘diet’, in fact. That’s because it wasn’t a diet, in the sense that we might understand it; it was, rather, a journey, during which Toni hoped to see how certain adjustments to her daily routine might impact on her life more broadly. She committed to this challenge for only 30 days: it wasn’t about reaching a particular ‘milestone,’ in other words. When I spoke to her about how it all went after she had begun reintroducing some of ‘the good stuff’, she told me that she had learnt some valuable lessons about her body and the food that she was putting into it. What she was saying made a lot of sense, and it has made me realise that I might be able to adopt a more ‘healthy’ attitude to Facebook if I give it up for a little while. We’ll have to see, I guess.

    In any case, this is not a diatribe against social media. I LOVE social media, and you’ll note that I haven’t vowed to quit twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram, or my beloved blog. I’ll still be out there, but I need to remove myself from a world that I have become so deeply immersed in. So for now I’m signing out. Come find me if you want me. À bientôt, Facebook.

  • Life, Liebster, and Love in 11 Questions

    A little under a week ago, my friend Toni messaged me to tell me that she had been nominated for the Liebster Award, which recognises the achievements of small blogs. I can’t think of anyone who might deserve the prize more, personally. Toni has a fantastic blog all about food. I know what you’re thinking: for the record, it’s not ‘just another food blog’, but is abundant with tasty inspiration, and I urge you all to check it out at http://www.ettas-corner.blogspot.co.uk.

    Part of the award’s criteria is that the award winner has to name 11 other blogs that they would consider nominating for the award, thereby effectively ‘paying it forward’, and offer those 11 bloggers 11 questions to answer. Toni was kind (and perhaps deluded?!) enough to count me amongst her 11; so, without further ado, here are her questions for me, coupled with my responses:

    Vanilla or Chocolate ice cream?
    Chocolate. Bitter is better.
    Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash?
    Oh no, now that’s not fair. Why do I have to choose? I love them both. I love country and blues, but also rock and rockabilly. Right now, at this moment in time, I’d say Elvis. But that’s probably only because I recently discovered this guy, who is simply amazing: http://www.blackelvis.co.uk/ Can’t wait to see him at the Goodwood Revival this year.
    Photography or Illustrations?
    Photography, but nothing that I produce myself. I love to create, to make things new with my hands, but have never been a keen illustrator or photographer.
    Cookies or Cake?
    CAKE!
    Vintage or futuristic?
    Vintage, but nothing that smells musty and nothing that’s discoloured. I like to discover things in charity shops rather than pay £50 for something at a vintage fair that I could have had made new for less.
    Beach or skiing holiday?
    Beach. I don’t care where, just take me there. Now.
    City or country?
    I like to live and work in the city, but retreat to the country every once in a while.
    Comedy or horror?
    Dark comedy…ergo, both?
    Lark or Owl? (Early Bird or Owl?)
    I’m definitely a lark. The early bird catches the worm.
    Your five perfect dinner party guests?
    This is also tricky. How do I do this without upsetting anyone I know? The truth is, there are so many people that I love to have dinner with (Toni and her partner included), so I am going to give you my fantasy list, which includes: Dolores Ibarrurri (a.k.a. La Pasionaria – to whom this blog is partially dedicated), Mary Seacole (a Jamaican woman who nursed British troops – and also kept them well fed – during the Crimean War), Karl Marx (because it all started with him), Jane Austen (so I could ask her why) and Edwidge Danticat (because I don’t need to ask her why). Ok, so four out of the five are dead. I guess it would just be Edwidge, then.
    The one thing that makes you happiest?
    Love.

     

  • My first love

    La vita è bella

    Those of you that know me know that I love food. There are a lot of people that love food, and I think that the majority of people grow to love food as they get older and their ‘palettes’ develop (or at least that’s what those of us with fussy partners, children and close friends tell ourselves in the hope that one day we might be able to enjoy olives and red wine with them). My parents will nonetheless testify to the fact that I have loved food since the moment that I first breathed air. As a baby, I used to devour French-set yogurts, cubes of cheese, and pretty much anything that was set in front of me. One of my particular quirks, as I grew a little older, was eating baked beans cold, straight from the tin. Well I still do that occasionally.

    I’m also very lucky that I’ve grown up with parents who can cook, and cook really well (I know that we all rave about our Christmas dinners, but I haven’t come across anything that can touch my Mum’s). Yet their individual experiences of cooking have been totally different from one another; my Mum was a straight-A Home Economics student and my Dad was never really allowed into the kitchen until he left home and moved in with my Mum. On the one hand, then, I’ve learnt to be methodical and practical as a cook, learning and memorizing recipes (I know how to make madeira cake, meringue and béchamel sauce and would never dream of tampering with something that I know to work so well), and on the other I’ve learnt to do things a little fast and loose, using what I have and making things up as I go along. As a child, my parents and my Nan would cook with me, getting me to add, mix, and, most importantly, lick the spoon. I never really envisaged myself becoming a chef, but cooking became a hobby that I really loved, and aspired to be great at.

    Of course, credit where credit is due, I have also had the privilege of knowing and loving a man for the past ten and a half years whose Italian roots meant that he brought a lot to the culinary table. Italian food has always been amongst my favourite cuisines: pizza napoletana (which no pizzeria that I’ve ever been to in England seems to get right), spaghetti carbonara (the simple and ONLY way with raw egg and no cream), linguine gamberi, insalata di frutti di mare, torta di ricotta…the list is truly endless. At the beginning of this year, we went to see Julian’s Italian family for a few days, and it was my first experience of visiting the beautiful Alpine piedmont region in the winter, and my first experience of the liquid heaven that the Italians call ‘cioccalata calda’ (hot chocolate). No ordinary hot chocolate, this stuff is so thick that you can literally stand your spoon up in it, and I’ve been obsessed with trying to replicate it since we’ve been home.

    Okay, so now I feel like I’m going off on a bit of a tangent. But food seems to do that to me. I get one thing in my head, and then I start to think about something else, generally starting by planning what I want for lunch, and then dinner and then moving on to the weekend brunch, and before I know it I’ve planned the next dinner party. There’s rarely an hour that goes by when I’m not thinking of food in some capacity and no doubt my friends get a little sick about me talking about it. Certainly, when I worked with my Probation colleagues, it became a bit of a running joke, and if ever I was absent from my main office for a day or two, they would always be sure to reserve me a bit of someone’s birthday cake or the last mince pie. You’d better not even get me started on gypsy tart.

    All that said, I feel that I’ve been rather neglectful of my first love in recent months. Since starting my PhD, a lot has gone by the wayside, and I haven’t had time to do the necessary and important things like wash clothes and bed sheets (thanks to those that have picked up the slack), let alone cook and enjoy the food that I love. This is not an entirely bad thing. I’ve enjoyed lots of pennoni con salsiccia (courtesy of Julian), some great roast dinners and some wonderful dinners out (my favourite haunt at the moment is a little Persian restaurant just off of Leicester Square – ideal for a post-seminar or post-library nosh-up). It’s not quite the same as cooking your own, though, and getting that sense of pride from a job well done. So last night I decided to go all out, dust off one of my (many) recipe books and make a beef wellington with a French twist (thanks, Rachel Khoo). The end result was rather satisfying, and I hope that Julian would agree.

    No doubt this won’t be my last post on food, and I invite other food lovers to share their favourite recipes (I’m talking about those ginger biscuits, Paul!), innovations, variations and general anecdotes about food. Food does so much for us, and we owe it to food to show it a little love from time to time, wouldn’t you agree?