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An art and food lovers guide to Barcelona

Barcelona has been up at the top of my wish list of places to visit as long as I can remember. As an art lover with a particular attraction to Art Nouveau, Modernism, Picasso, Dali and Gaudi and a leaning towards all things Mediterranean (food and weather wise) it’s a wonder I’ve never made it there before now. Somehow the trip had eluded me as other destinations took priority, often those involving visits to stay with family, or friends, or for work. Taking a trip just for ME was pretty much unheard of.

This trip was an extra special one; straight from the top of my bucket list to celebrate a very big birthday. It was totally indulgent and all about what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to do was explore the art and architecture of the Modernisme movement (or Catalonian modernism) and Catalonian cuisine.

I planned and researched meticulously putting together a detailed travel plan and a ‘must see’ list. I like to immerse myself in the detail, I’m a bit OCD like that,  but I also like a bit of flexibility and am not averse to chopping and changing as I go along, which was just as well as I hadn’t anticipated the enormity of Barcelona. We easily navigated the metro system and our apartment was very central (many things such as La Boqueria,the Cathedral, MACBA, Palau Guell were no more than ten minutes walk away) but still we ended up with an unfinished list, while still managing to clock up a whopping 30k in three days (seriously! we should have got into training before we left, my calves hurt for ages). It dawned on me the very first day that Barcelona was going to be impossible to explore in the time we had.

WHAT I SAW

I managed to pack in most of the arty things I wanted to see and only a few fell by the wayside, but that just means I have to go back and finish what I started!

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Park Guell

Park Guell – (Metro Green Line L3. Book tickets online to avoid the queues. Prices are 7 euros per person) Antoni Gaudi’s extravagant creation for the industrial tycoon Eusebi Guell was originally conceived as a modern housing development which began development in 1900. Sixty houses were planned, but only two were ever completed, one of which Gaudi, his father and niece eventually came to live in. The Park became city property in 1923 and was opened to the public in 1926. In 1984 it was made a World Heritage Site. We caught the Metro train to Vallcarca and then walked up the most hellish hill to the park. My advice; wear sensible shoes and take plenty of water to drink. I was thankful for my life in Wales which prepared me for the hills otherwise the trek there might have finished me off. The sculpture park itself is quite small, but there are about 3 kilometres of hilly paths that criss-cross and wind through the surrounding palm trees and gardens. The colour and architecture of the park reminded us a little of Portmeirion, except with sun and palm trees and a lot more mosaic. When you book you are alloted a time for entry and they are quite strict about adhering to it. We had to wait for about 15 minutes until the correct slot as we were a bit early but once inside we were able to stay as long as we wanted. Even in March the park was busy with tourists so I suspect in high season they may stick more rigidly to the 40 minute time limit we were supposed to have.  We could have spent longer in there but headed out because we were hungry (no picnics allowed inside the sculpture area) and had booked to go into the Gaudi House museum.

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Casa Gaudi

Gaudi House museum (Book tickets separately for the house, again online. 5.50 euros per person) was built as one of the showcase houses in the park and eventually lived in by Gaudi, his father and his niece. Despite Gaudi’s often outlandish and wildly imaginative architecture (Nigel, my partner, says he’s like a child with a doodle who doesn’t know when to stop, he just needs to keep adding one more thing, then another and another) he lived a very simple, pious life. Basic in his needs; he was religious, greatly influenced by the natural world, a vegetarian and remained single all his life. He lived in the house in Park Guell until in 1910 when he moved into his workshop on site at the Sagrada Familia to oversee work. In 1926 he died after being hit by a tram on his way to vespers.

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Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia (Metro to Sagrada Familia on L5, blue line or get L2 purple line. Book tickets online, 15 euros per person)- A visit to Gaudi’s unfinished work, which won’t see completion until 2026, has to be on everyones list. As we climbed the steps from the metro station and turned around I literally stepped back open-mouthed. The Sagrada is quite breathtaking in its architectural complexity. It is a mish-mash of religious iconography, elements from nature and impossibly fragile looking towers. They don’t look as though they should stay upright. The building is covered with intricate mosaic, sculpted leaves, figures, birds, shells, lizards and other animals carved into stone and wood. When you step inside it’s as though you’ve entered another world altogether. Outside is dark, gothic and imposing, which leads you to summise that the inside would be similarly intense but it is quite the opposite. As you step through the door the light hits you. A kaleidoscope of colour shines through the various stained glass windows reflecting different colours onto each wall; while one side is warm with reds, yellows and orange, the other streams with blues and greens. The colour seems to be fluid, washing over the interior. I was a little awestruck.IMG_0760 (2)

 

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MACBA – (Nearest metro stop is Universitat on L2 Purple line, but it was 10 minutes walk from our apartment. Book tickets online during high season. Costs 10 euro per person) If you love contemporary art you must pay this gallery a visit. We saved our trip for the one rainy day and the tail end of all that walking, when I literally couldn’t have walked more than ten minutes if I’d tried. The museum has an extensive permanent collection which we spent hours browsing and a temporary exhibition by Antoni Miralda, a Spanish artist who has made food his creative focus. The irony wasn’t lost on us especially when we saw Bread Line and our joint response was “all that wasted bread”!!

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Bread Line by Antoni Miralda

 

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Picasso Museum – While Gaudi was all about the large breathtaking structure, the flight of fancy and the ground breaking architectural design Picasso was quite unexpected. The museum certainly gave us our moneys worth, but since Picasso was one of the twentieth centuries most prolific artists that’s probably no surprise . The exhibited work spanned all of his notable periods; rose, blue, cubist, modernist, and stretched back to his early work as a fourteen year old which was a real eye opener.  Like with Gaudi’s architecture, my partner felt that Picasso was another artist who was somewhat self-indulgent and got a bit carried away, what he didn’t expect was his skill as a classical painter. Even at fourteen he was prodigiously talented, showing great skill as a copyist, slowly honing his talent until he matured and went his own way. If you think you know Picasso, this will show you that there is so much more to him. Book online during high season but we bought tickets there. Fourteen euros per adult pays entry to the normal exhibition and the temporary exhibition (which this time was his portraits).

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Barceloneta

Barceloneta – Friends had suggested that it was better to get out of the centre of Barcelona as the beach nearer to the city was dirty but I found the Barceloneta a lovely area. Fair enough the sand is quite harsh underfoot, great if you want to exfoliate the feet, but not as dirty as I’d expected. We took a stroll on our second morning while it was warm and sunny, past Columbus on his column and down to the sea where we sat, drank a morning coffee at a beach side cafe while watching the sand sculpture makers and then lazed on the beach eating our lunch before heading back towards the Picasso museum. The worst bits of the Barceloneta (and Barcelona as a whole) were the hawkers, although to give them their dues they’ve totally got every market covered. At the beach they tried to flog scarves and shawls, in Park Guell it was selfie sticks and water, outside MACBA which is a haunt for skateboarding students it was cheap beer, in town it was selfie sticks and those light up things that you throw in the air for kids (apart from when it rained, then they quickly swapped to umbrellas..like I said, they knew their market!)

EAT

La Boqueria

La Boqueria is undoubtedly one of the best food markets I have ever visited. A riot of colour, smells, texture and traders selling everything from chillies to cheese, fruit to fish, sea urchins, mushrooms, eggs, manchego, jamon, and everything in-between.

This is the place to come for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Before we headed off for the day we popped in to collect provisions. For my love (who is a philistine Yorkshireman and rather less of a food connoseur) it was a differing selection of empanadas (or as I suggested pasties) and for me it was salad with some sliced Iberico ham and manchego plus a selection of fruit and a smoothie for the road.

There is definitely something for everyone despite my partners singularity in his choices. I think if we’d been staying longer and had an apartment all to ourselves I’d have bought more of the unusual things on sale and experimented more at ‘home’. We also ran out of time and didn’t bring as much back as I’d have liked (it pretty much ended up being tons of chocolate!)

Ocana

Before we left for our trip I checked out ideas for places to eat. Luckily I am part of a food loving family and I’m lucky enough to have two food blogger / photographer cousins  (one of whom is on trend instagrammer Jack Baker) and another aunt/cousin supper club running combo. Jack’s sister Emily’s food and travel blog had a bit about Barcelona so I took some restaurant tips from her. On our first night in the city we wanted somewhere close by that we could walk to easily. Ocana was about ten minutes from our apartment on a lovely palm tree rimmed square just off La Rambas.  We sat outside to make the most of the warm Spanish evening, a bit of a novelty after the cold and damp of North Wales.

Naturally I went for sangria; in this case a blueberry sangria with Jerez brandy and lots of crushed berries. It knocked my socks off!  As it was late we didn’t want to get into a massive tapas fest so chose a dish of arroz caldoso to share. A bit like paella but rich and mushroomy, it was stuffed with lovely langoustine and squid.

Pudding was essential and Nigel finished with chocolate pie with dulce de leche while I went for crema catalana (of course! The traditional Catalan creme brulee just had to be done). The meal was delicious and the restaurant beautiful.

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Ocana on Placa Reial

La Rita

Our second meal and another suggestion from Emily. Sadly this time not quite living up to its review, especially after Ocana which was absolutely divine. I found it strange that they went to so much trouble bringing me fresh warm gluten-free bread, only to be told that there was at most three things I could eat on the menu. Even the desserts (including the ice cream) were apparently full of gluten. My Spanish was nowhere near good enough to try to discover if the gluten was something like a wafer that they could easily leave out and I ended up somewhat frustrated. Even the choices we eventually made were underwhelming.

Horiginal

We discovered Horiginal by accident. Wandering back from a night at the opera (yep, I also got to tick that off my bucket list; Carmina Burana at the Tivoli Theatre) it was too early to go back to the apartment so we went in search of an after show drink. The bar is pretty much next door to MACBA and convenient as a lunch or evening spot. On this night we just wanted a drink and a snack having eaten dinner earlier (a rather expensive and forgettable paella hastily grabbed on the street where our apartment was) so a hearty portion of patatas bravas and a Sangria sorted us out. On our last day we returned for lunch after our MACBA visit. A section of tapas including some seriously huge prawns, patatas bravas (again) although I skipped the Sangria this time. The portions were great, the only downside was the rather frosty lunch time service

Taller de Tapas

We’d deliberately avoided eating on La Ramblas expecting it to be expensive and touristy, but on our last night as a storm raged overhead and the rain became biblical we couldn’t face a long trek anywhere. I did a quick search on the internet for the best, reasonably priced restaurants close to La Ramblas and discovered Taller de Tapas. We’d walked past it several times but hadn’t paid it any attention but this time decided to give it a go. On arrival the place was packed with cold wet tourists, but we only had to wait dripping by the door for about ten minutes before a table became available.

As it was our last night we decided to go for it. We started with a selection of tapas; Mussels with herbs, sautéed wild mushrooms, Spanish tortilla and chicken kebab with herbs and spices. All were delicious and the portions were good; they would have been too much for me, but I reckon my partner could have eaten the paella on his own. Since we were sharing everything and grazing at a leisurely pace (we weren’t in a big hurry to go back out in the rain) we ordered plenty;  the tapas and the paella was filling, but left plenty of room for dessert. True to predictable form I chose Catalan creme brulee (I can’t help it, its my favourite and everything else had gluten in it) while my partner went for almond tart. All of this plus a couple of beers and Sangria and it didn’t break the bank. This was the best spontaneous find of the week!

STAY

We looked at B&B’s and hotels but then decided to go for Airbnb in order to save money on accommodation so we could do and see more while we were there. We found ourselves a reasonable budget apartment.  At 40 euros the one I found seemed too cheap to be true and perhaps a bit of a risk but I wasn’t going to spend a fortune on somewhere that we were just going to be sleeping.

There are pluses and minuses to going budget. The room was clean, basic, with a private bathroom and completely adequate. It was just off La Rambla so close to everything, close to Liceu Metro station with an array of shops, bars and cafes next door. In reality we spent very little time there.

The down side? The apartment was on the fourth floor with no lift. The street was noisy at night and we seemed to be sharing with quite a few others so the ‘shared’ space (kitchen and lounge) didn’t seem so inviting. We used the kitchen for breakfast but I got the impression that a couple of the guys there were long-term room renters. I think maybe we would have cooked for ourselves or used the apartment more if we’d had it to ourselves but it was fine because we were only there for a few days.

We flew from Liverpool to Barcelona and then caught the train into the city and then the Metro to Liceu stop. On the way back we caught the airport bus (Aerobus) from Placa Catalunya which was much more convenient

Other stuff we didn’t quite get around to….. On our first night we took a walk up to Passeig de Gracia so I could get my first glimpse of Gaudi. I was impatient and couldn’t wait but as it turned out we didn’t ever make it back to go inside. La Pedrera and Casa Batllo were both lit up and I took a few pictures but that’s as far as it went. There was so much to see and its a place that draws you in so obviously I’ll just have to go back again and catch the places I missed first time around!

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Filed under Food travel, Spain, travel, Uncategorized

I’m back! …with two recipes from the Menai Seafood Festival: Scallops tartare and French Eel stew

Its been a long and busy summer. I know this because I haven’t written a thing on here since 9th June. Such a long time for me! So what have you been doing with yourself?I hear you ask. I’m sure some of you have followed my exploits through Twitter or Facebook so already know I’ve barely kept still, or stayed in one place for long.

I have fed crews at three festivals, cooked for five brides and grooms, been a private chef for a couple of dinners, and helped co-ordinate one food festival. I’ve also been busy fitting a new business premises ( I now have my very own kitchen and hopefully soon cookery school) and visited schools running seafood demo’s across Anglesey as part of the Menai Seafood Festival.

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In between all of that I’ve tried to have a life and spend time with my kids! It all sounds like hard work, but I can’t complain. Its fun work. Work I adore and I consider myself fortunate (if not rich) to be working at something I love and have a passion for.

Now that Autumn approaches and the whirlwind of activity is calming a little its back to those other things I love. Writing, food festivals and teaching. My mission for the winter is to find, beg, borrow, the finances I need to refit the cookery school and get it up and running. I will return to this in another post as it deserves a full explanation.

I also made a promise at the Menai Seafood Festival that I would post my two French themed seafood festival demo recipes. I stood in at the last-minute due to another chef dropping out. I said I wouldn’t because I was coordinating the two tents, but actually on the day it wasn’t that stressful and I’m so glad I did because it was such good fun!

 

So here to get you going and mark my return to writing are the two recipes of the day, sadly I have no pictures but all the testers gave the thumbs up! As you can see there were plenty in attendence.

Scallop tartare and French conger eel stew

I wanted to introduce visitors to a different way to prepare scallops and a new fish. In the case of the latter, conger eel is a little used fish which people often overlook. Daunted by the way it looks, full of preconceived ideas about how it will taste they don’t even consider it as an option. Many immediately think of jellied eels when you say eel and I could see plenty of the crowd watching my demo cringe when I said I was cooking eel. Several said they tried it and hated it. I’m always up for a challenge so my aim was to change their mind. Eel is not overfished, it is sustainable and it is cheap. Yes it has a large central bone, but its easy to remove the meat in neat chunks for a simple stew.

Scallops tartare with blue poppy seeds

Ingredients:
Dozen scallops
1 teaspoon blue poppy seeds
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
Drop of soy sauce
Sea salt

2 white plates to serve
Remove the coral from the scallops, we only want to use the white part. Slice and arrange in a rosette pattern on a plate. Zest the lime and make a dressing mixing the olive oil, soy sauce, lime zest, a teaspoon of lime juice and salt.
Baste scallops with the dressing and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Leave to stand for 5 minutes and then serve.

French eel stew (for two people)

Ingredients:

Eel (2k) killed, skinned cleaned and cut into chunks.
3 large shallots
12 baby onions
200g chestnut mushrooms
Bouquet garni
30g plain flour
30g butter
300ml fish stock
300ml red wine
12 small new potatoes
Seasoning

Flat leaf parsley to serve

Get your fish monger to skin and clean the eel. At home you can run a sharp knife along the central bone which is thick and gently cut the flesh away making sure you remove any of the remaining bones as you go. They are easy to find as eel bones are pretty big.

Melt the butter and brown sliced shallots. Add flour, then fish stock followed by the red wine. Add bouquet garni, onions, mushrooms and halved potatoes. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes begin to cook through. Add the chunks of eel and simmer for a further 10 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the eel cooked through. Season well and serve sprinkled with plenty of chopped flat leaf parsley.

A big thank you to Wayne at Mermaid Seafoods for supplying produce for the demo tents and indulging my demand for conger eel

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Filed under festival food, Food festival, French food, home cooking, local produce, Recipes, Seafood recipes, sustainable fish, Uncategorized, Welsh produce

Guest post: going plastic free for Lent

This is an unusual foray for me, into the realms of ‘guest posts’….its not something I tend to do. My blog is for me, its my journal and a chance to share my food experiences but with this post I have made a special exception for my friend who I asked to write about her attempts to give up plastic for lent.

I bumped into her in the supermarket on day one of her attempt and we chatted about the issue of over packaging. I have taken drastic steps on occassion, tearing off unneccesary packaging and leaving it at the checkout…but this doesn’t deal with the issue that it will be thrown away. If not in my house, then at the supermarket. Vashti’s experiences mirror those of many working parents battling their personal ethical dilemmas with the demands of young children, work, time constraints and wishing to avoid the supermarket but feeling inevitably drawn there through the lure of convenience.

Vashti’s story highlights a need to tackle supermarket over packaging, it is a challenge they should be finding solutions to. There are plenty of alternatives…compostable cellulose and paper bags are just two alternatives. I use them and I run a very small business…surely they can afford to make the chnage?

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Vashti Zarach is a mother, storywriter and librarian. She spends her days dashing around after two lively small children, supporting Bangor University’s College of Natural Sciences with library and information hunting skills, and attempting to do a bit of story writing during the fleeting moments when the baby is actually asleep.

The plastic free challenge
Earlier this year, I read a book called Seasick by Alanna Mitchell, about the terrible impact human activities are having on the world’s oceans, so when we decided to do a display on Junk at my workplace (a university science library), I was keen to do a section about marine litter. In addition to preparing information posters featuring photographs of litter on local beaches, and making a display of toy sea animals on a miniature beach strewn with rubbish, I contacted the Marine Conservation Society to ask for some leaflets about their work. They kindly sent the requested items, and asked whether I would like to join in with a challenge originally devised by Sea Champion Emily Smith to live plastic free for Lent. During my research into marine litter, I had been shocked to discover how much plastic ends up in the sea, harming marine creatures and taking hundreds of years to break down, so I was instantly keen to participate.

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The day before Lent began, I took my children to play on a local beach, where we once again marvelled at the sight of plastic crisp bags and other human debris thoughtlessly scattered on the sand. On the way home, we passed Waitrose, so I decided to begin the challenge there.
This first shopping trip was a huge eye opener. I am a vegetarian, and frequently opt for organic, UK grown, or fair trade food, but have never considered packaging issues when shopping. I was amazed how much our choices were restricted, and surprised to find only plastic bags available for gathering loose fruit and veg (my son and I collected loose items and put them straight into the trolley).

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We were unable to find many plastic-free options in the dairy section, until we discovered cheese in wax, and decided to allow butter to be an exception to the challenge (wax paper is not recyclable, nor is it biodegradable due to petroleum). We chose unwrapped bread, boxes of eggs, and various glass jars of chutneys and jams, and made the initial mistake of selecting cakes in cardboard boxes (forgetting that they were wrapped in plastic inside the boxes).
Waitrose staff were very amenable, and weighed loose shopping at the counter without complaints. We bought reusable canvas shopping bags, and my shopping was cheaper than normal, as so many of the things I would usually buy were wrapped in plastic.
We were unable to find nappies which passed muster at the supermarket, or any loose potatoes, so stopped at Dimensions, a health food shop in Upper Bangor, on the way home, where we found biodegradable nappies, loose potatoes, and even bamboo toothbrushes. However, in order to best dispose of the biodegradable nappies, I realised I would need to begin composting. Plastic free shopping is a gateway leading into a whole new world of waste reduction practices.
Over the next few weeks, we continued with the mission. I accidentally broke my challenge in the first week a few times, for example buying birthday cards (why are they all individually wrapped in plastic?) and accidentally buying a bottle from the drinks machine at work (it’s amazing how differently you feel about a bottled drink when you are aware that it takes 450 years to decompose). My husband complained that our son, who had been accompanying me on shopping trips and learning alongside me, was refusing to let him buy anything wrapped in plastic packaging.

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caught out! Snapped at the drinks machine breaking my rule

We enjoyed our plastic-free shopping trips very much – the canvas bags full of loose veg, artisan cheese, and unwrapped loaves looked wholesome, tasted delicious and made us feel that in a small way we were helping to look after our environment.
The most difficult aspect of the challenge was feeding myself and my family when on the move. I found myself bemoaning the UK’s lack of a street food culture, leaving busy people dependant on plastic-wrapped takeaway sandwiches and drink bottles. Oddly enough, the only other place I have seen street food mentioned recently was here on Denise’s blog. I mostly managed by carrying breadboards and knives with me, and slicing up fresh bread and cheese to make sandwiches on the go (I know some parents make packed lunches, I have just never been that well organized!).
I fully intended to buy local fruit and vegetables from markets, rather than depending on supermarkets. Due to my busy schedule, I never managed to do this in the initial weeks of the challenge, so this is something I ought to explore further in the future.
After a few weeks, I cracked, and bought some Bad Plastic Wrapped Food. I have two very young children and a hungry husband, I work part time, and was tired and fancied a week with some easy-cook staples such as pasta and frozen food. I was also missing my usual organic vegetables, which were only available in plastic wrapping (as is often the case when trying to shop ethically, there are often all kinds of different considerations to balance out). And we’d run out of toilet rolls.
So, is that it? Do I intend to return to my normal shopping habits, selecting food without giving any thought to the eventual destination of any non-biodegradable packaging? Or am I happy to live on a restricted, plastic-free diet, feeling an inner glow at the thought of all the small sea creatures spared from environments full of trash by my virtuous behaviour? Well, I hope to aim for a balance, avoiding plastic packaging as much as possible, but having occasional plastic splurges to top up on staples and treats.
I recommend reading up on the impacts of your consumer packaging choices, and giving plastic free shopping a try. You’ll discover new foods, your shopping may cost less (I saved money), and the starfish and sea urchins and sandy beaches of our beautiful planet can only benefit. Many individuals add up to giant waves, we can make an impact together.

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Filed under environmental issues, Uncategorized, waste reduction

Literary dinners @ Hardy’s W1

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Some of you will know that I don’t just write about food. As an academic writer (in my earlier profession) I was widely published. After my redundancy I began working on prose, poetry and short stories. Now I’m writing a novel (which may never be finished let alone published). I also love literature and reading and have attended many book readings, signings and the like, mostly in small, dusty cramped book shops, impersonal university lecture rooms or a muddy literature tent at a festival. This was my first grown-up literary dinner which was held at Hardy’s Brasserie and Wine Bar.

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The prospect of a more glamorous experience with a three course dinner cooked by Hardy’s new head chef, Raymond Blanc protegé Sam Hughes, filled me with excitement and anticipation. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The meal entitled ‘food for love’ was advertised as a ‘traditional’ Welsh dinner inspired by writer Deborah Moggachs new book Heartbreak Hotel. Set in the rolling hills of Powys the food was matched perfectly and the ingredients and menu were right up my street, but the literary experience? Intrigued, I was keen to find out.

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Deborah’s book focuses on a bed and breakfast in Powys taken on by ex-Londoner Russel ‘Buffy’ Buffery. To make a bit of money he runs ‘Courses for Divorces’ where spurned ex’s learn the skills their partner brought to the relationship. This is not my usual reading matter. I am a fan of the ‘gritty’ novel and when I tell you that my favourite writer is Solzhenitsyn, you will realise how far out of my usual reading sphere I had travelled. My choice of reading is the polar opposite of stories about the divorced middle classes bonking in a Welsh B&B, if get my drift. Needless to say I felt a little out-of-place among the Marylebone women and at one point imagined I’d stepped into an upper class WI meeting, where everyone is getting tight on wine and having a jolly wheeze!

Sadie and Kate, my dinner companions, were by far the youngest people in attendance. Kate is an art writer, photographer and avid reader, while Sadie is London poet and barkeeper whose idea of a romantic night out is trying out a series of outrageous chat up lines on unsuspecting men (hi, i’m fertile, whats your name?….reserved for men of a certain age or, hi, I really need a seat…can I use your face….should really be saved for the council estates of Dartford and not used in a classy Marylebone bar). Needless to say the pair of them got their entertainment by spending most of the evening eyeing up the barman and the waiter in turn, as we realised Deborah’s books attract a totally different demographic to us!

Hardy’s is a stylish, cosy bistro on Dorset Street, close to Marylebone station and Baker Street tube. It’s not my usual haunt (even when I lived in London or even when I visit) but it is for Sadie who works just around the corner. The evening we attended was busy. Very busy. Clearly the literary dinner is proving popular and we were almost literally shoe-horned into narrow seats near the bar.

Hardy’s staff were friendly and welcoming if a little flustered at times. I didn’t get much of an opportunity to chat to the hosts as they were understandably busy and this seems to be something of a new venture for them. They are clearly still getting used to dealing with the massive influx of dinner guests arriving at once.  As I sat at my table the waiter swiftly offered an aperitif; wine or Brecon gin and tonic. I opted for gin as I know and love Brecon. There wasn’t a huge amount of space to move chairs in and out; not a problem for me as the other dinner guests were quite understanding, but others might find this less relaxing. Bread arrived as did the offer of tasty canapes with laverbread and pancetta which we nibbled as we while we studied the menu and made our decision about what to eat. Tempted, Kate devoured several claiming she’d never tried laverbread, and choosing to ignore the rest of the topping “Do not tell anyone I ate pancetta”….(now lapsed vegetarian).

We all settled on something different so we could have a taste of each others. Kate chose baked oysters with laverbread and crispy pancetta (yep, well and truly lapsed veggie by this point). The sauce was flavoursome, although even confirmed salt-fiend Kate said it was a little too salty with the pancetta. Sadie opted for Welsh black beef carpaccio, anchovy, garlic and rosemary dressing which was lovely. Small tender beetroot chunks worked well and we all enthused over the dressing which was the best bit. I chose steamed mussels with leeks and wild garlic. The mussels were delicious; plump, salty and perfectly cooked while the leek base was well seasoned and tasty, but only a mild hint of the wild garlic came through.

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Black beef carpaccio with beetroot, anchovy, garlic & rosemary dressing

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Baked oysters with laverbread & crispy pancetta

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mussels with leeks & wild garlic

For main Kate chose Cod ‘Cymru’ with cheese sauce, spinach, slow roast cherry tomatoes. The cod was cooked perfectly, the sauce and mash, which was rich and creamy, were delicious but the dish itself was a little uninspiring overall. This again was a theme with Sadie’s Glamorgan sausages, mash potato and spiced tomato relish. The relish was well-flavoured, but the mash was more like crushed potato and not half as rich or creamy as Kate’s and the Glamorgan sausages were just lacking in flavour a little. A good strong Welsh cheddar would have perked these up and not a light Caerphilly, which just doesn’t have the strength. I know it’s traditional, but hey! Finally, I chose the 12 hour slow roast lamb in lavender with braised onions and potatoes, chanteney carrots. The lamb was delicate, tender and melted in the mouth. It had just the slightest hint of sweetness (which I presume was from the lavender) but the lavender itself was barely detectable among the deep flavours of the jus. The carrots and potatoes were nice but perhaps a leeky mash might have been better to soak up the sauce.

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Glamorgan sausages, mash potato, spiced tomato relish

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Cod cymru with cheese sauce, spinach, slow roast cherry tomatoes

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12 hour slow roast lamb in lavender with braised onions, potatoes and chanteney carrots

We all felt full at the end, but not too full for dessert. Again we chose three separate dishes which turned into musical bowls! Kate chose a ‘Snowdon’ steamed marmalade pudding, I opted for the cheese board with Perl Wen and Golden Cenarth from the Caws Cenarth cheese makers of whom I am a regular customer and Sadie went for a Welsh borders lemon meringue tart.

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Welsh borders lemon meringue tart

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‘Snowdon’ steamed marmalade pudding…already minus a spoonful!!…I missed the cheese completely

The cheese plate was sadly disappointing. There were plenty of crackers and a beautiful home-made fig and pear relish, but there were only two small pieces, which barely gave a taste of what Wales has to offer. Either a greater choice or at least slightly larger portions might have been nice. Kate looked at my plate declaring that she would have preferred cheese, not having a sweet tooth, so I offered to swap. Her steamed marmalade pudding was more to my taste as I definitely do have a sweet tooth. It was delicious, but I’m greedy and would have liked a bit more custard. I only had one spoonful when Sadie declared that she wasn’t that keen on lemon and the tart was very lemony. She looked at me beseechingly, so once again this time with a small sigh of regret, I handed over my plate. I loved the sharp lemony tart but was slightly disappointed to find that the top of the meringue was finished with a blow torch and not oven baked so it lacked the crispy topping and marshmallow centre that I love.

Along with our meal we devoured two bottles of Cuvee Jean Paul Rouge, Vins de Pays de Vaucluse. The Grenache-Syrah mix made for a medium-bodied, soft, fruity and very drinkable house red, which went exceptionally well with the lamb, but clearly affected my ability to remember to take photo’s as the evening wore on (the girls chided me for this later!)

My thoughts overall? I love the concept of the literary dinner. It’s a more refined, grown up way to enjoy literature and all the flavours of a books setting….its an all glamour and no mud affair and a very sociable one too. The cosy environment, a shared interest in the writer, book and food created a more relaxed environment to dine in, but I was rather disappointed that Deborah didn’t read an excerpt. Even if her books are not strictly to my taste its nice to listen to a writer read from their work in their own ‘voice’ as it gives the reader an insight into the creator of the story. Instead we just got an introduction to the background and a general chat about the book.

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Deborah Moggach talking about her latest book ‘Heartbreak Hotel’

Would I come again? Well, I think that perhaps a different writer would attract a group with whom I might feel more akin. This was a little like being the cuckoo in the nest, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the evening or that I wouldn’t recommend it, because I would. There are two up and coming events I have my eye on…

Beyond the Cherry Orchard….A Russian Feast on Friday 22nd March and Viva Tequila! with Cleo Rocos (which sounds right up my street) on Thursday 18th April…Cevice, squid and chorizo, pulled pork…plus tequila, what’s not to like!!

The food was undoubtedly delicious and well worth the £40 a head price tag. We agreed that Sam has a particular talent for sauces and dressings, all of which hit the spot pleasingly. The ‘Welsh’ menu could have been more inventive and there were elements that didn’t work as well, but having said this its nice to see a chef experimenting with different food/menu’s etc. That is the pleasure of running a supper club, the opportunity to experiment and these dinners provide exactly that for Sam. He was also very happy to talk to us after the meal, but I think the girls may have scared him with their drunken insistence that he come to the pub round the corner for cocktails. He looked a little scared……so sorry for kidnapping you Sam, we are quite normal really.

Hardy’s Brasserie and Wine Bar is at

53 Dorset Street, London, W1U 7NU.

For more information you can speak to Rosie or Dominique; call 020 7935 5929 or email hardysbookdinners@gmail.com

Sadie Jane Medhurst, Kate Withstandley and I were guests of Hardy’s Brasserie and I extend my thanks to Rosie Apponyi and Dominique de Bastarecchea for their hospitality.

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An Indian supper and recipe for Cardamom, orange and cinnamon custard tart

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Its been a while since we’ve held a supper club. For one reason or another I had to cancel those scheduled for October through to January (some due to low numbers but also due to weddings, festivals and pop-up events going on). I suppose in a way a change is as good as a rest. We needed a little break. It’s hard running a supper club in a family home and when at Christmas we transformed our living room back to normal the kids breathed a sigh of relief at having their ‘home back’.

It also gave us the opportunity to have a look at feedback from earlier guests. We’ve changed and experimented quite a bit since 2009, starting out with single tables, increasing our capacity to accommodate a dozen, moving to a more communal and interactive approach with one large table, increasing prices and taking on extra staff.

Comments such as …“the food is divine” are thankfully unanimous and overall we’ve had few criticisms. One thing people do say is that

“there is just too much food….I would prefer to pay less and have a smaller amount to eat”

or “I would come, but dates don’t coincide and the cost makes it prohibitive”

Clearly prices became an issue as well as unpredictable dates and the amount of food being served. So after our little break we relaunched; with a pared down menu of 3 courses plus coffee, a lower price of £25 a head, a smaller group of people and a regular last Saturday of the month slot. Clearly this has paid off. Our first supper of the year drew a full house, and we came back relaxed, calm and raring to go.

What better way to ward off the February blues than a sumptuous Indian supper. It was a particularly cold day beginning with a fine white covering of snow on the ground. I stoked up the wood burning stove and worried as flakes continued to flutter through the air throughout the day, mostly fine, but turning to swirling flurries as the day wore on and the time grew closer for our guests to arrive.

I heard my ten-year old shout from the lounge upstairs “are you looking for supper club cos it’s here” and six out of breath people (two worryingly clutching asthma inhalers and two in skyscraper heals) stumbled into the house.  Usually on my emails I tell people to beware of the uphill walk to my house…this time I’d forgotten, I presumed everyone knew where I was by now, clearly not!

It turned out that one of the women whose ankles I almost wrecked was Welsh up and coming pop-singer Sarah Wynn who has supported the likes of Emma Bunton, Liberty X, Blazin Squad and Bill Wyman.  The crowd also included street food vendors Providero who brought me a lovely present of some of their coffee (we had it for breakfast the next morning and it was truly delicious!).

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My menu

Spring onion and coriander bhajis

Vegetarian samosas

Yogurt, mint and cucumber raitha, tamarind and mint chutney, sweet and sour tomato relish and onion, coriander and lime salad

Parsi lamb curry

White bean and curry leaf with coconut

Maharashtran rice

Orange and cinnamon tart with a crisp cardamom base

Almond/pistachio ice cream

blackberry and rose coulis

Coffee / chai and cardamom chilli chocolate truffles

With seasonal local produce on the low side I did the best I could. U used parsley and mint from a friends polytunnel, onions from a local farm. Welsh butter (Calon Wen), yogurt (Rachel’s Dairy) and cream in my dessert and of course Welsh lamb for the curry.

I tinkered with a Anjum Anand recipe for Maharashtran rice as it went so well with the Parsi curry. I’m afraid I I’m sworn to secrecy over the Parsi curry recipe. The recipe came from Shazneen a band manager and festival organiser in India, she spent six months in the UK working with the Green Man festival team (which is how we became friends) and before heading back home came to stay in Wales for a week. The curry is a traditional dish made according to her mothers special recipe. She graciously cooked curry for us all then shared the recipe telling me there was NO WAY I was allowed to blog it. Don’t worry Shaz, your secret is safe with me!

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crispy vegetable samosa

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spring onion and herb bhajis with the mint and cucumber raitha

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sweet and sour tomato relish, onion, coriander and lime, yogurt with mint and cucumber and tamarind and mint

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Vegetarian option: Maharashtran rice, white bean and curry leaf with coconut and a red onion, coriander and lime salad

As for dessert, I’d intended to make a rhubarb and rose tart, with a cardamom pastry but clearly February is too early for even forced rhubarb in Wales so I made a last-minute change, which became a fab accidental recipe hit.

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Pastry flecked with cardamom

Orange and cinnamon tart with a crisp cardamom base:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 / 180 degrees C

To make a 12-inch tart case you will need:-

250g organic plain flour, Shipton Mill is the best

50g icing sugar, sifted

125 g Calon Wen butter

zest of a small lemon

8 cardamom pods crushed and the seeds ground well in a pestle and mortar

1 large free-range egg, beaten

small drop of milk

Sieve the flour into a bowl and cut the cubes of butter into it. Sieve the icing sugar over the top then rub the butter into the flour and sugar until you end up with a fine, crumbly mixture. Add the lemon zest and cardamom seeds.Add the egg and a small splash of milk and gently work it all together until you have a ball of dough. Don’t over handle it, simply flour it lightly and wrap it in clingfilm. Put into the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.Roll out to fit into a loose bottomed tart tin. Cover with a piece of baking paper and fill the tart case with baking beans. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the case from the oven and take out the baking paper and beans before returning to the oven for another 10 minutes so the base can firm up; it needs to set properly, just beginning to turn light brown so that the filling does not soak in.
For the custard filling:
6 egg yolks
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 pint single cream
4oz caster sugar
rind and juice of 1 orange
quarter of a teaspoon cinnamonPut the single cream in a heavy bottomed saucepan to heat over a lowish gas. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, cornflour and caster sugar. Add the orange rind and juice and cinnamon. as the cream comes up to the boil remove from the heat and pour over the egg mixture whisking continuously. Return the mixture to a clean pan and heat gently stirring all the time until it begins to thicken slightly.

Rest the tart tin on a baking tray (just in case it leaks) and pour the mixture into the case. Return to the oven where it needs to bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until it is puffy and slightly risen in the centre and beginning to turn a lovely golden brown.

Serve with fresh fruit, a coulis and some ice cream

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Roaring fire in the inglenook, table set for dinner…that’s our supper club 🙂

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Recipe: Easy, home-made lasagne (no added horse)

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If you can bear with my quick tirade about supermarkets and processed food, you will come to my really straightforward lasagne recipe. Stick with it, its worth it!

And I must have a rant because all I’ve heard this week are exclamations of horror about the discovery of horse DNA in pre-packaged and ready-made beef products (lasagne being one with the highest profile) and pig DNA where it really shouldn’t be. Who knows what’s next…actually I don’t even want to consider, but nothing would surprise me.

Don’t you think it’s about time we took a long hard look at ourselves and the crap we buy?….and I ask when exactly did we stop cooking real food at home?

As I child there wasn’t the vast array of  ‘convenience’ foods on the market. We didn’t have huge supermarket monopolies undercutting shops on the high street, telling us to trust them with their ready-made dishes and we didn’t have it forced in our face that we were too busy to cook. I look at the shelves of any supermarket and I’m ashamed at the gluttony and waste of this country.

In my butchers view there is plenty of good meat on the market…but not enough cheap meat to satisfy the demands of the meat industry. Supermarket own brands and other cheaper brands don’t use good meat. They go for the cheapest possible option. Why would anyone want to settle for that? People eat this rubbish because they live in ignorance about what goes into their food…they arev told its OK and believe unquestioningly. I think its time to open our eyes and ask questions….do we really need supersized Tesco’s with its racks of prepacked food and are we really happier now that we have supermarket ‘convenience’ and no longer have to nip into town to the butcher and greengrocer to shop?

Actually no. I’d rather travel to four different shops, where the sales staff are friendly, knowledgeable and interested, know the provenance of the food they sell, know you by name and what you like and have a chat about the family,  than have to face a half asleep teenager that can’t look you in the eye and that doesn’t know an Avocado from an artichoke.

So why don’t people cook? I could offer many reasons but then my rant would go on forever. I learned to cook in domestic science (and then Home Economics) lessons at school, but even then was already familiar with fresh food made at home. My mother cooked lasagne back in the early 80’s. Revolutionary almost for the time, but it was probably one of the first dishes I learned to make without a recipe. So simple that at eighteen I was making it at home and I reckon my ten-year old would have a fair stab at it today!

So, lets leave the packet food alone. Cooking is not hard…no really, it isn’t. Even if you don’t think you can cook I’m sure everyone can master six or seven dishes that can feed the family…..and here is a really easy lasagne to get you started.

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Fry onion, carrot and best quality beef to make a ragut

Lasagne:

1 pack of fresh or precooked lasagne sheets

500g beef mince (I used Welsh black beef from Beef Direct who sell at my local farmers market….it cost me £3.50 and tasted superb)

1 large onion chopped

2 small carrots grated or chopped small

2 cloves garlic crushed or chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tin chopped tomatoes

half a pint beef stock

a sprinkle of dried oregano

salt and pepper

50g butter

2 tablespoons plain flour

generous half a pint of milk

salt, pepper and grated nutmeg

Grated parmesan to cover the top

Preheat the oven to gas mark 5, 190 degrees C

Finely chop the onion and either grate or finely chop the carrot. Put about a tablespoon olive oil in a pan and heat gently. Add onions and carrot and fry gently (without browning) for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium and add the mince. Continue to fry, breaking up the mince with a wooden spoon, until nicely browned. Add garlic, a teaspoon of dried oregano (everyone seems to have a small selection of dried herbs in their house) and one bay leaf. Give everything a good stir then the tin of tomatoes, fresh beef stock (or made with a couple of good quality stock cubes…Kallo is a good make) and a sprinkle of seas salt (Halen Mon for me!!) and pepper.

Simmer until the sauce has reduced to a lovely rich thick consistency. At this stage you can use the sauce just as a bolognaise sauce with spaghetti.

To make the white sauce (bechamel) melt the butter in a small saucepan then stir in the flour. Cook for a minute then remove from the heat and slowly stir or whisk in the milk. Once you have a smooth sauce return to a low heat and stir continuously until it thickens. Season with salt and pepper and a grate in some nutmeg.

To assemble: Spoon a third of the meat sauce over the bottom of a large shallow oven dish (about 30cm square), cover with a layer of the lasagne sheets and a couple of spoons of the bechamel sauce.  Repeat the layers with a third of the sauce, a layer of lasagne and two more spoonfuls of bechamel. Finish with the rest of the meat sauce, a layer of lasagne and top with the bechamel. Cover the top with grated parmesan and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling and a knife penetrates easily.

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TEDx Holyhead

I’d been expecting a quiet January but suddenly it became a very exciting few weeks. If cooking for artists at my local recording studio (and getting a sneak preview of their new albums) wasn’t exciting enough, I then found myself preparing to speak at my first ever TEDx event.

When I first announced at home that I’d been asked to speak at a TED event my teen was very impressed; “You’ve been invited to do a TED talk?…whoa, you need to be amazing, awesome and funny…. and entertaining and inspiring” she said incredulously as if there was no possible way on earth I could do that. No pressure then.

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To be honest when asked I had little idea what a TED event was. I’m very used to speaking at schools and colleges in my role as a Dynamo Role Model but this I discovered was something very different. Slightly daunted I dutifully went off to do a bit of research to find out what it was all about. For all of you as unfamiliar with TED conferences as I was, they are in short ‘Ideas Gatherings’…which bring together a group of (hopefully) inspiring people to share stories, visions, ideas and plans.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. The idea to bring together people from these three arenas took shape in the US, but since its start in 1984 the scope of TED has grown considerably. They hold two annual conferences in the US and a TED Global event in Edinburgh. In addition local independently run TEDx events are held. All of the talks and videos are then uploaded to their website for a wider group of people to get access to and so they are consequently often used for training.

The TEDx Holyhead event was put together by a team of local ‘thinkers’ from a range of disciplines, with talks based loosely around a central theme ‘Brave New World’. They asked me to talk about my path from redundancy and despair at being unable to find a job to becoming a supper club host, freelance food writer, blogger, chef and general promoter of local producers and Welsh/British produce. They wanted me to describe how I created my ‘Brave New World’ through entrepreneurship and sheer desperation to earn a living!

This said it was not an easy job to describe that journey in 10 minutes!! I was a nervous wreck before the talk and even though I prepared cue cards and a plan I ended up throwing them to the side and just went for it! I’m dreading watching the video as I cannot remember a single word of what I said, but I was only a minute over so I did pretty well!

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photo courtesy of The Performance Consultant

The event itself was wonderful and I met lots of inspiring people, listened to some amazing stories and journeys by the other speakers and loved the illustrations by graphic illustrator Eleanor Beer (see my one below…she catches perfectly the otherworldly look of a woman off her head on pain killers…which I was at the time of the conference!!)

If you get the chance I would highly recommend attending one. Just as a networking event it proved really useful and I gained so much from meeting like-minded people. I hope it becomes a regular fixture in the calendar of the hosts, the Ucheldre Centre in Holyhead.

If you can’t make it to one then check out the website both of the Holyhead event (where you can laugh at my video!) and the central TED site where a variety of talks and events can be viewed. Then after that? Who knows, you might even be inspired to set up your own TEDx event!

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A night of moules and music…Moelyci benefit night

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On Friday 1st February I will be donating my time to support Moelyci Environmental Centre. They are one of my primary local suppliers and hold the unique title of being the first community owned farm in the UK, a model which has helped and inspired other similar and perhaps more well-known projects such as Fordhall in Shropshire (which was England’s first community owned farm). Moelyci is a very special place. As a pioneering community enterprise where every member is an equal (whoever they are and whatever their background) it is a shame it has never been able to reach its full potential. There are many reasons for this, but a significant one is their lack of working capital. The future vision is there but with high mortgage payments, little spare income to increase staffing levels, geographical isolation and perhaps a certain lack of effective marketing its true potential has not yet been realised.

As a working farm it has always been at ease with its small, sustainable, peaceful cooperative ethos but sadly now that is not enough. The present economic climate is making life difficult for businesses small and large to survive. Moelyci like many non-profit making social enterprises are struggling for survival and as someone who works closely with and respects their work, the last thing I, or the rest of the community want to see is another community enterprise go under.The likelihood is that the land would be lost to developers and the mountain no longer accessible for the community.

We are all working hard to save the centre and I am helping in any way I can. Their situation is precarious but not yet dire; they survived Christmas due to a local groundswell of support and a huge amount of voluntary action, but we need more of this.

The building of a much-needed education centre (and one which has taken up a lot of the financial reserves) is one step to bringing in new and increased revenue, the mortgage is paid up til March, a green burial site is in preparation, but the bills are still mounting and the regular members of staff have all been on reduced hours since the end of November to meet financial commitments around the farm.

So now I have said all this all I can add is that….If you are local come and join us for a night of food (local Menai moules mariniere with bread) and quality music in the form of Bandabacana and the Racubah DJ’s; two prodigious local talents and purveyors of dance, funk and afro-latin grooves.

If you are not local maybe you could spare a few pounds to help us buy the mountain and farm. Money raised will enable us to finish building the barn and allow us to forge ahead with future developments that will ensure sustainability, so the local (and wider) community can continue to enjoy this beautiful Welsh mountain farm.

TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT MOELYCI OR MAKE A DONATION PLEASE CLICK HERE

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Easy apple brioche

Yep, here it is, that diet destroying recipe from Alex Gooch that I promised in my last post. What can I say? It is simply addictive. There’s not much else I can add. Just try it for yourself.

500g Shipton Mill strong white flour

6 large eggs

250g butter at room temperature

130g sugar

10g salt

8g dried yeast (Doves Farm is good)

4 large apples chopped into chunks (no need to peel)

20g cinnamon

20g cardamom

icing sugar

For the glaze:

200g runny honey

50ml hot water

juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large bowl mix the flour, salt and yeast and 50g sugar. Add the eggs and mix thoroughly. It will be quite sticky.

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Turn onto a table or board. Chop the butter and dot over the dough….yep you use the whole pack!

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Massage the butter into the dough until combined. On another part of the table, or another board sprinkle plenty of flour. Scrape up the sticky brioche dough and place on top of the flour. It doesn’t require kneading just bring it together into a neat ball with a dusting of flour.

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Put into an oiled bowl and cover the bowl with clingfilm. Leave it somewhere warm for about two and a half hours.

When ready turn the dough on to a well floured board and shape into an oblong (as in the picture below)

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sprinkle over the cinnamon, cardamom and remaining sugar then top with chopped apple. Starting from the top roll the dough into a swiss roll shape. With a sharp knife cut into about eight to ten slices putting them top up on baking tray covered with baking paper. You want to fit them close together so that they batch while proving.

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Cover with oiled cling film and leave for another 2 hours.

Bake in a medium oven 180 degrees, gas mark 4 for 20 to 25 minutes.

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Allow to cool on the tray and do not separate the buns. Combine all the ingredients for the glaze and use to coat the buns about 20 minutes after they come out of the oven. After glazing sprinkle well with icing sugar.

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WARNING!! DO NOT MAKE IF ON A DIET!!! Ours lasted 3 days!!

If you live close to Hay on Wye, I’m sure you can pick some up from the man himself or from one of the many local stockists, check here to find out where to buy.

 

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Sourdough and brioche at Bodnant Welsh Food Centre

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There is one thing I have to say……that Alex Gooch has singlehandedly ruined my post-Christmas diet.

Attending part two of his bread making course (this time the advanced class) was always going to be a struggle. It appears now that my resolution to cut out bread and cakes for the month of January was premature, especially as I seem to have given up smoking and drinking too. Smoking because I have long had a rule that I will only smoke if here is tobacco in the house and now everyone else has given up smoking too, so by default so have I and alcohol because it doesn’t mix with hefty doses of Cocodamol I’m taking for my back pain.

Now here we get to my other struggle, my slipped disc is not healing well and I knew I wouldn’t be able to lift, knead or stand for a long period but rather than cancel my place on the course, I took a helper along with me. That helper was none other than my teen.

You may laugh and raise an eyebrow as I know most teens would rather die than go make bread with their mother, but she did not scowl, moan or swear at me. She came totally of her own volition and even appeared to enjoy herself! It was also interesting for me to see how the course might appeal to someone who isn’t necessarily the ‘target audience’. Would she be bored or not keep up with instructions?

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looking slightly miserable as still not fully awake

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It is testament to Alex’s easy-going style and excellent teaching that she remained totally engaged (if a little monosyllabic early on, claiming that it was far too early for all this). Nothing was too complicated, it was well explained (even if she didn’t always listen or follow his instructions….but that is just being seventeen….clearly she knew better than anybody, even the expert!)

As a team we barely even bickered although she had the rest of the class tittering as she claimed I was sooo over controlling. She actually did most of the work while I sat watching and a bloody good job she did too.

But I have gone off on a tangent and you are probably still wondering why Alex ruined my diet….its totoally down to that apple brioche (this is where I sigh and drool in ecstasy) which was totally addictive. The teen and I ate our first chunk, still warm from the oven, glistening with the lemon, vanilla syrup in which it was doused and powdered with icing sugar in the car on the way home….and we haven’t stopped since. I promise I will share the recipe in my next post.

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I’m not sure yet whether Bodnant has sorted itself out organisation wise. Again we had to help ourselves to tea and coffee and there were no drinks provided during the day, in the end Alex had to find jugs and fetch drinks for lunch.  Lunch itself was enjoyable, although there was nothing there that Rosie liked except potato salad and coleslaw (but as a vegetarian that hates mushrooms that was just unfortunate). Alex however has been consistently good and if anything this was even better than the last, more relaxed and comfortable, although that might be because most of us had been at on the earlier course together.

We once again whizzed through the making of three different types of bread; rye sourdough, light rye sourdough, olive and rosemary sourdough and that fatal apple brioche.

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sticky brioche dough

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sticky hands!

Teen handled all of them exceptionally well, regressing to a child like state as she worked the sticky dough on the table (a memory of play dough perhaps!). If anything she played around poking and prodding the dough a little too much so that our light sourdough did not rise as much as it should. A lesson learned.

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sourdough in proving baskets

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the olive and rosemary sourdough in the proving baskets…this one didn’t rise so well due to too much teen prodding and not enough resting!

I told her to listen carefully as she might learn something when we discussed sourdough starters. Alex told us he’d had his sourdough starter for seven and a half years!! Deb, the only other woman on the course, told a story of how sourdough starters are often passed down through the generations from grandmother to granddaughter, a beautiful historic link to the past and a way of life that has slowly been eroded by the modern world. Sometimes they are given as a wedding present to daughters to carry on a family tradition….Rosie looked totally horrified at the thought of being passed on a sourdough starter. I said she could have it as a wedding present….to which she replied “What for? It’s not like I’m EVER going to make bread again in my life! ” I’m now looking forward to the day when she comes to me and says “Remember when we went to that bread course…what did that bloke say about…”

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Alex’s seven and a half year old sour dough starter

Her concentration only waned as the marathon bread baking began and we all stood chatting. She couldn’t be bothered talking to us boring lot so went to read her book, nipping back now and then as the next loaf came out of the oven.

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dark rye sourdough

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beautiful light sourdough

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almost a full set

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Rosie’s piece de resistance…..apple brioche, with run soaked prunes

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coating the brioche with syrup

She finally returned to wrap all the baked bread carefully in tissue and greased proof paper. Back at home she carried the box into the house with great pride “I made that” she said. I hope one day she will return to this memory and come back for her sourdough starter.

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A box of carefully wrapped bread to take home

A course with Alex is a joy. Although there does tend to be a ‘typical’ audience (very male) don’t let this put you off, the course is fun for everyone…even a stroppy teen!!

To check courses and dates go to the cookery school page on the Bodnant website, or email reception@bodnant-welshfood.co.uk for further information.

Moel Faban Suppers and Rosie McClearn were guests of Bodnant Welsh Food.

 

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