Archives for the month of: December, 2015

Happy New Year, dear readers.  Happy New World that we are all working so hard in our unique ways to imagine, to create, to inhabit.

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Fortunate am I to receive occasional parcels of unsold bread from a friend who runs a really top quality bakery here in mid-Wales, Andy’s Bread. A few months back he gave me several loaves of pumpernickel, a dark, dense and sweet rye bread.  His version includes whole rye grain, rye chops, rye, sourdough, molasses,  and old pumpernickel. The loaf is coated in rye chops (and baked in a hot oven which is then turned off overnight); a “lid” is placed on top of the tins to “steam” the loaves and prevent their drying out.  Andy’s pumpernickel is something special– and not so dissimilar from his Borodinski breads which contain coriander seeds and powder, malt extract and molasses.  These are true artisan breads in that they come from long and varied traditions and are expertly crafted in particular, local conditions.

Andy’s pumpernickel makes great croutons for leek and potato, and split pea soup; I will be using some from another batch tomorrow for chocolate Christmas bark as per Claire Ptak’s wonderful recipe here.

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Being gifted with food that is “surplus” or “waste” anyway is really freeing, and allowed me to feel I could experiment.  I’d long been curious to try Bread Kvass, so in the absence of any planned trips to Russia or Russian communities elsewhere, I knew I’d have to try to make it. I also wanted to reproduce an effort from a while earlier in which I made a sourdough cake from recycled bread.  And I sadly found out that the friend who taught me her resourceful and roughshod approach to bread had died– so I was of a rare mind to bake bread. Read the rest of this entry »

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OK, it’s true, I’m among those cookbook lovers who pour through end-of-year lists proclaiming which ones are best and most warrant giving as gifts to loved ones. They all repeat each other, those lists! And while I sometimes agree (yes, Mamushka is wonderful), there are books that somehow got off the radar and really deserve attention at this point in the marketing cycle (which, let’s be real, is what these lists are about).  So with 9-days-to-go, and despite my bah-humbug, anti-materialist spirit, I’m hopping on the bandwagon.

The Groundnut Cookbook is a book to judge by its cover, based on its lush, colourful front and back, illustrated by one of its authors, Duval Timothy.  (I’ve fantasized actually about curtains, wallpaper and poster prints in this vibrant, sumptuous pattern, that’s how beautiful I find it.)

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Pouring through the marvellous Groundnut Cookbook, I found a scratch to my long-time Horchata itch.   Here they’d offered a Nigerian recipe for a Tiger Nut Milk called Kunnu which is similarly delicious, filling and refreshing..

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For those of us with a habit that pre-dates internet bookmarking: tearing an article from a magazine and stashing it either somewhere random or somewhere sensible — in this case, for me, the latter — my copy of Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food.

So I was easily able to find “The Ones that Got Away: A Field Guide to Rare and Extinct Varieties of Jewish Fish” when, a few weeks ago, I read a poem that recalled the writer’s immigrant Jewish grandfather and  “the fish that we called “yum yum fish”/ (What WAS it?) /A mystery lost to time.”

There’s a sad nostalgia for me, thinking of the times in my life, mostly as a child around the deaths of my mother’s thousand relatives, when the food centrepiece would be a platter piled with fish, colours of salmon-orange-pink, skin-silver-bronze, white and bone-grey with bagels, slabs of cream cheese, wedges of wet tomatoes and thinly sliced onions.  These were fatty, smokey, pickle-y delicious flavours, salty, strong, and specific to a time that to me feels past.  I can’t imagine my own children enjoying this food, and I can’t imagine a social occasion at which I’d find myself now in which it would be offered– that lot of folk has died.

Remembering the generations of people who ate this way, and the knowledge and experience they held, across cultures, is one of the ways that the Slow Food Ark of Taste enters the discourse about lost and struggling traditions, in an effort to celebrate legacies of culinary diversity, and renew them.  I’m also really pleased to see Slow Food entering the important discourse about food and climate change.

Roger Mummert wrote something truly fascinating with “The Ones that Got Away,” way back in 1993; he tied together much that is fun and foodie yet also so much about loss (of people, of foodways, of fish), beneath a humorous interview with the proprietor of a famous New York City fish delicatessen. Together they paint a beguiling and informative picture of old world food traditions within contemporary global markets and ecological overfishing. Read the rest of this entry »

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We had a small cake stall today to raise money to help the school replace some items that there’s no budget for.  It might be basic stuff, like headphones in the music room, or benches in the yard.  Our group hasn’t formally constituted, and we’re not sure exactly what to give our takings to. But it’s Austerity and education gets cut just like everything else.

Well, nearly everything else.

Of course this famous poster came to mind, copyrighted 1979, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

As I was exhaustedly mixing batters and cutting shapes from dough late into last evening, I contemplated is this worth it? Do we recoup the cost of ingredients and time/ labour/ oven electricity in the prices we are able to charge at the fayre? I don’t know. Nevertheless it’s a really wonderful community effort and tradition, people baking and sharing, and a table of treats– J’s cupcakes, M’s brownies, A’s mince pies, my lemon squares (gluten-free!)– that represents our coming together to help out.  In a small way.

We raised absolute peanuts on the military-industrial scale of war technology, but the cake stall was our assertion of what matters most to us, in our lives as we are living them.  And we are working for a peaceful and effective approach to all the forces of hate and violence in the world as we sell our homemade goodies.

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Themes of the times are simplicity, economy, moving away from meat and dairy, and of course, ever importantly, deliciousness and health.

These past days I’ve made minor changes to my usual methods of soup-making, using vegetables and green split peas and yellow split peas respectively, in more or less equal measure – rather than giving the throne to one or the other. The result has been very smooth and creamy vegan vegetable soups with basic and local ingredients.  I’ve used no dairy,  and no potato or rice, so these soups are therefore lower and slower carb. They move beyond their familiar cousins –a Split Pea Soup with carrots and onion, thyme, maybe bay, perhaps ham or bacon — a Cream of Carrot as a thinned root vegetable potage with the variation you choose– to announce not a superiority but a difference, and an assuredly vegetarian one that doesn’t lack heartiness.  Try this approach for ease.

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This is a very informative and sobering video discussing the pitfalls of the potential trade agreement TTIP– the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  TTIP would represent huge benefit for gigantic agribusiness players, and severely undermine local, ecological and democratic approaches to food and growing.

PLEASE educate yourself and others and keep making a stink in the realms you have any influence– with your representatives, your politicians, your social media, your streets.  Use your voice.

By the way, I found this SHOCKING: Read the rest of this entry »

Bonjour and Bore Da, Johnny Onion, selling your wares from a bicycle, your blue eyes twinkling as you offer me a head of garlic.   You’ve come all the way from Brest in Brittany to spend these months in Wales, basing yourself in Cardiff, trekking around selling strings of onions, shallots and garlic.  You are part of a long tradition of French onion sellers spending autumn months in Britain.  It’s an absolute pleasure to buy these onions from you.

In the old days, if you were from Roscoff and a speaker of Breton, perhaps you and Welsh speakers would have been able to figure some things out together.  Today, as it was, we spoke in English as I didn’t dare venture with my bad French.

Thank you for these lovely strong onions.  They are beautifully coloured with pink, have a potent smell and peppery taste.  You can see in the photograph below they are very fresh, glistening with moisture.  I get a good, proper welling up of stinging tears when I chop them.

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Last week I was contemplating various ironies that Thanksgiving sacraments of yore were more about fasting than feasting, as discussed in Ken Albala’s article “The Other Side of Thanksgiving.”  Meanwhile US activists had travelled to Cuba to enact a fasting ritual as a powerful, haunting protest against ongoing detentions at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Witness Against Torture also organises regular Friday fasts, as a means to keep the focus on this issue of justice and human rights. They are also organising a fast for the 14 year anniversary of indefinite detention in early January.

photo by Justin Norman

photo by Justin Norman

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