I’m sure I always begin my posts with the word phew! Closely followed by the phrase ‘what a hectic weekend’, but this was almost a record-breaking attempt as I asked myself exactly how many activities could fit into one weekend? I thought living in the countryside was meant to be peaceful? but I guess since I grew up in London I’ve just transported city life with me! I have lived here 20 years and I guess I’ve slowed down a bit, but blatently not that much!
As I mentioned in my last update, this weekend was all about the Bangor Aid music festival where I was selling produce, as well as performing in my other guise as a can can dancer and cooking for one of the bands for good measure!
I spent most of the latter part of the week preparing goods to sell on the Saturday; a family and kid friendly acoustic music day, with lots of activities for the small ones. The brief had been not to clash with the kitchen who were preparing hot food and cakes, so I opted to make a variety of sweet goodies that would appeal to children as well as adults. Treats included fluffy light mini meringues, chocolate macaroons (finally I’ve got it sussed!! This was my first ever succesful attempt), fudge, ginger bread people and about 60 child sized cupcakes!
On Friday evening, while I was finishing off the preparation and packaging, I also prepared several pots of food to take to my good friends Adam and Iya’s. Adam had ‘booked’ me at the last-minute to do a small impromptu ‘secret supper’ for Thabani, the group headlining later, at their home just across the valley. I took the opportunity to experiment a little with some different tastes and flavours that still incorporated local seasonal produce. I opted for a traditional Libyan / Middle Eastern stew called Fasoulia, a dish of beans (haricot, cannellini or fava) cooked with tomato and garlic. There are variations such as Fasoulia Baidha made with lamb, and it was this that I finally settled on. One of the band had asked earlier what I was going to cook and when I told it would be lamb they all laughed. Visiting Wales? well it had to be lamb!
As accompaniments I made a cooling dish of minted yogurt, a salad of feta, oak smoked tomato, cucumber, red onion and parsley, and couscous with lemon, olive oil and lots of fresh herbs. The sauce of tomato, beans and lamb was thick and wholesome, perfect for a cool and drizzly evening and its rich, spicy sauce a real taste bud delight. The band certainly thought so (I’m pretty sure one member had four helpings!!).
225g dried haricot or cannellini beans (not soaked over night), 1 large onion, 1k of Welsh neck of lamb (get your butcher to slice it into chops as I did), 150g tin of tomato puree, 3 large garlic cloves chopped, 1 teaspoon of chilli powder or a fresh chilli, or a good pinch of chilli flakes which is what I used, 1 teaspoon of cumin, turmeric, coriander and cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt.
Wash the beans, drain and put into a large saucepan with 2.15 litres of water and half the roughly chopped onion. Put the pan on a low heat and bring to the boil slowly without covering. Keep on a low heat and cook the beans slowly for 2 hours until partly cooked. I think mine took about an hour and half so test them every now and again. Add the lamb to the pan with the salt and add some more water to cover. Keep simmering slowly for a further hour. In another pan heat the oil and cook the onion gently until tender but don’t brown. Add tomato puree, garlic and spices and cook stirring all the time for about 5 minutes.
At this point check the liquid in the beans, if it seems too watery ladle a little out or if there isn’t enough add a bit more water. Then add one or two ladles full of liquid to the tomato puree before tipping the whole lot back into the pan with the beans and lamb. Cook for another 10 minutes or so until the sauce has thickened. Taste the seasoning adding more salt if necessary and serve.
As soon as the boys were fed sorted I began my own transformation…my second persona of the evening that of a member of the Cheap Frills Can Can troupe. I headed off to join my co-dancers at the venue. It was a great night! Music, dancing and real party vibe. A couple of the band members looked more than bemused to see me again, one minute serving them dinner the next wearing corset and feathers looking like I’d stepped out of a cabaret set!!
Having rolled into bed at about 2.30am gaining little sleep in the process, I was rudely awakened by the teen at 6am getting up for school (yes I know, school on a Saturday is very harsh…but she can’t complain, she’s now off on a climbing holiday with said school in the Rhone Valley!). Forced from my bed more prematurely than anticipated I made use of my time and packed up the car ready for the days next job that of produce stall holder. The weather was changeable, promising first sun, then showers and grey clouds hung ominously over the area. With a variety of indoor and outdoor stages at the Victorian farmyard Hendre Hall (the site for the event) everyone prayed that the day wasn’t a total washout. Of course I was hoping to cover my costs, as well as making enough to give a healthy donation from my sales.
The day started slowly and feared I would be eating cupcakes and gingerbread men for the rest of the week, but as the acoustic music kicked off, the sun poked its head occasionally from behind the clouds and rainbow-hued bubbles bobbed and floated on the breeze so sales picked up and by the time I was ready to collapse in a heap at 4pm I had sold everything but a couple of bags of meringues and a bag of macaroons (hidden by the teen so she could take them off to Geneva with her). It was a good day in all, the kids ran riot chasing giant bubbles around the old farmyard, teens hung out swapping artist wrist bands with each other so they could pinch a free beer from the green room and a whole host of local up and coming talent entertained us including, the fantastic folky Eve Goodman and fifteen year old songstress Charlotte Starmer, one of my teens best friends. She has just started performing and she’s great.
The whole weekend was a successful whirlwind of frills, feathers and food….hugely busy but great fun and most importantly we raised money for a very worthy cause. Well done and thankyou to Bangor Aid for putting together a packed weekend and of course to all the performers, artists and volunteers who made it happen, I’m glad to have been part of it.
Chocolate macaroons (Nigella Lawson recipe…the only one that works for me!):
250g icing sugar, 25g ground almonds, 25g green and blacks cocoa powder, 4 large egg whites (mine stood out over night…a tip I was given by another ace macaroon maker), 25g castor sugar
Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180 degrees C. Line baking trays with parchment. Sift together the icing sugar, almonds and cocoa. Whisk the egg whites until almost stiff then sprinkle over the caster sugar and whisk again until very stiff, but not dry. Very gently fold in the dry ingredients. Fit a piping bag with a 1cm plain icing nozzle and fill with the macaroon mixture. Pipe small rounds on to the baking trays. Leave for about 15 minutes so that the rounds form a skin then bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until they are dry on the outside but still chewy inside. remove from the trays and leave on a rack to cool.
For the ganache melt 150g plain chocolate (I use green and blacks generally or Valrhona if I’m feeling rich and posh!) with 90ml or 6 tablespoons of double cream (Rachel’s dairy) and 3 small tablespoons of unsalted butter (Rachel’s organics) in a bain marie (or a bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water). When the chocolate is just melted whisk everything together off the heat and leave to cool.
When macaroons and ganache are cool spread one macaroon with chocolate and sandwich together with the second. Perfect with a cup of good coffee!