Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Harvest festival

Pain d'epi: a bread in the shape of eaves of corn for harvest

I went to a church school and my favourite time of year was Harvest festival. The school would tell us to ask our mums for some cans of food which would then be donated to local old people. The display of foods by the altar in church was always a source of fascination: so much food and so many different types, an insight into the kitchen cupboards of our mothers. The star of the show would be plaited breads or enormous loaves in the shape of a wheat sheaf.
One year our school had a project in which pupils would pair up with elderly people in the area and visit once a week. My old lady was a holocaust survivor who often did the tarot cards. I'm not sure she even liked being visited!
At Harvest festival our old people were invited for lunch in the school hall. This time the food was piled up on the assembly stage.
The head teacher said we could go up and select some food for our old people. My lady gazed over the selection from her chair, then, spotting the jewel in the crown, whispered to me  "I want that huge loaf, get it for me". 
Dutifully I took it, handed it to my old lady who snaffled it into her handbag. We carried on drinking tea. A little while later, the headmistress, looking stern, said:
"There has been a problem." She paused dramatically.
"Someone has taken the harvest loaf" Gasps all round. Surreptitiously I looked sideways at my old lady. She poked the loaf further down into her bag with a determined expression on her face.
The headmistress continued: "Who has taken it?" She swept the room with a steely gaze.
"Nobody? This loaf has been made specially for this festive occasion, it's for decoration only."
I did think the loaf was rather hollow sounding and dry.
When the headmistress had stopped, I said to my old lady "Look we've got to give it back. You can't even eat it" and wrestled it out of her bag, much to her annoyance.
I was always in trouble at school. I was known as the naughty one. This time however, it wasn't even my fault. Why did they have to pair me with an equally naughty old lady? This wasn't going to help my reputation.
I removed the loaf from the bag as discreetly as I could, not easy, it was about two foot long and, I noticed, had a metal spike jutting out the bottom. I sidled up to the headmistress trying to explain that it wasn't me, it was my naughty old lady.

Elderberry cordial cocktail

Corn and cobnut salad

Pain d'epi: a bread in the shape of eaves of corn

Chile en nogada using a mix of fresh poblanos, Joe-E Parkers, Corno di toro peppers, with new season Grenoble walnut sauce. 

French and Italian cheeses
Home made Ryvita

An Indian harvest festival: rice pudding

Coffee by Douwe Egberts

There are still tickets available at

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Paris supper clubs: Hidden Kitchen

A discreet plaque at the door in the Hidden Kitchen's elegant Parisian apartment in the 1er arrondissement, all high ceilings, chandeliers, pale paintwork, marble fireplaces.
The napkin was delicate lace, too good to wipe your mouth on.
Braden the chef in his red kitchen.
Pretty pretty amuse bouches...
Braden came to the tab between each course to explain it. I tend to talk through the meal at the beginning, which I think works better as, by the 4th or 5th course, people are too drunk, engrossed in conversation, to listen anymore. See that beautiful Natalie Imbruglia lookylikey on the left? Danielle runs Whisk and Ladle in New York, another supper club. 
I started eating this, not realising the soup was about to be poured at the table (a good idea, prevents soup spills from kitchen to dining table)
So yeah, it's a bit messed up.
Squash soup with shaved fennel, pear and pumpernickel.
Fig and anchovy tart with arugula and pickled cauliflower
Minute but exquisite: saffron tagliatelli (with a hint of vinegar), mussels, clams and brussel sprouts
Palate cleanser, not pictured. Thought I'd give a shot of a bust instead.
Soft Poached egg, sweet onions caramelised, walnut turnip purée.
The meat eaters had crispy pork belly w walnut turnip puree and baked grapes.
The Hidden Kitchen's bookcase, full of cookery books
Aubergine on red wine risotto, braised chard, a rich earthy taste and the grapes contrasted with a sweet sharpness.
The meat version of my aubergine course. Duck sausage.
It felt like Babette's Feast: everybody tucking in and drinking with great concentration, trying to savour each taste.
The cheese course was interesting: a goat's cheese, butternut squash, Napa cabbage and pomegranate salad. The French often used to eat salad with the cheese course towards the end of the meal.
Chestnut cake with Chai ice cream (delicious), cheddar crumble, salted caramel and poached plums.
Coffee and biscuits. For me this was the only false note. Perhaps it's an American thing to have biscuits at the end of your meal, but I think chocolates would have been better.
Little visitor booklets were handed around with a flap to put your donation. Another nice touch which I may copy. I have a visitor's book but people mostly forget to write anything while they are on their way out to catch the last metro.

Braden and Laura moved to Paris in 2007. Their day job is hunting down new and exotic food stuffs for Wholefoods and Williams Sonoma in the USA. Their website says that they originally thought they'd do a supper a month to make new friends. Rave reviews in top French food blog Chocolat and Zuccini and the New York Times meant, however, that they now do around 6 or 7 suppers a month. It's not cheap, certainly, at 90 euros, wine included, but their waiting list is incredibly long. The day after the Chocolat and Zuccini review, they received 1500 booking requests. I booked for this dinner about 7 months ago.
The guests tended to be wealthy Americans, with a sprinkling of French guests at the other end of the table. Braden told me that one night they had a Saudi prince as a guest, who insisted on paying the bill for the entire table.
 "But some people have paid in advance" protested Braden.
 "Then tear up their checks!" declared the prince.
He also left a 300 euro tip. (NB: He's welcome at my place anytime).
They've had at least two marriage proposals there. I can understand that. It's really a beautiful evening, a true occasion. The chic apartment is in one of the best areas of Paris, near the Louvre, a far cry from my six years slumming it in the 20th.

As readers of this blog might know, my feelings for Paris are mixed. On Friday, when I alighted from the Gare du Nord, I burst into tears. My memories of this town are of leaving in the middle of the night, baby in tow, as I discovered my French partners', who I thought, godammit, was my friend, numerous infidelities. Humiliated, I drove to London and begged my parents if I could stay with them although we hadn't spoken for two years. A month later, chastened further by the fact that the French man, l'histoire de ma vie, had not even bothered to find out where we were, I drove a van to Paris and let myself in the early hours of the morning, after I saw him leave for work, while my dad waited downstairs. The French man had demanded that I move my stuff but, my little protest, I hadn't told him which day it would be.  I was shocked to discover women's jewellery, used condoms in the bed and a letter from the Mairie telling him that now he had broken up his family, he was now being awarded a rent-controlled HLM (council flat). I broke down, shocked to the core. Nine years. My dad came up, to find out what was taking me so long. My American friend Troy from the fac (university) and my dad hauled out all my furniture and belongings. The apartment was almost stripped bare. Why? Because I had bought everything. I was useless in the move, hysterical, a hunched drawn creature, speechless with grief. Still, I lost a ton of weight that month. Divorce and India, the best diets.
But you can see, I don't go to Paris as a tourist. I know Paris. I've had love affairs, relationships, abortions (oh those Catholic doctors really really don't like you if you do this, your internal examination will be brutal), childbirth, illnesses, paid electricity bills, used a Minitel (remember those?), tried to join evening classes, shopped, shouted, cooked, avoided the jewelled mosaic of multi-coloured dog poo on the pavements, made some friends (and believe me, the French ones have not a drop of sympathy when you split with your partner: "he was infidel? et alors?"), made films, watched films, had exhibitions of my photography, visited every museum and gallery, including The Museum of Bread (complete with pieces of Egyptian bits of charcoal). Three months after we split, I returned again to Paris, on my own, to collect my 'license', my degree in cinema from the Sorbonne. I spent six years living there, and my overwhelming feeling was that I hadn't existed there. Paris had touched me but my relationship with that city and with that man was not mutual. It never was.

The Hidden Kitchen

Marmite chocolate: psychedelicious

Let's be frank, the Marmite cereal bars were pretty awful. The only person that I've met who liked them was a Marmite hater. But, Marmite lovers, fear not! Their latest product 'Marmite chocolate' is a hit. I ate an entire bar in bed last night. It's smooth with slightly granular salty yeasty bits. It's counter-intuitive, a flavour mash-up, it's a zodiac mind warp, your brain and tongue gets jarred in a yes/no conflict, it messes up your world view, nothing is as it was, everything has changed, it's psychedelicious!
Loving the packaging....very peculiar! Am dreaming of Marmite chocolate mousse....

Available from October 4th at department stores including BHS, Debenhams and Robert Dyas for £3 a bar!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Pictures from The 2nd Underground Farmer's & Craft Market

Phew. Still recovering. It was better than last time even. We had a fantastic selection of stalls with good high quality produce: one person said "you could do a proper shop". People tweeted their purchases: search #ufcm
For me the highlight was the Spanner Jazz Punks two sets, they reminded me of Ian Drury, Kilburn and the High Roads. No small feat singing while engulfed in bonfire smoke as John the poacher threw live crayfish onto the fire! We had interlopers: the kids from the estate next door hung over the fence and later attempted a steaming. Fortunately my mum was willing to play bad cop and turf them out. (Always a tough one though, on the one hand you want to encourage kids to know more about real food, on the other, when they come in a mob of 15 it is a little unnerving).
All of these people (the stallholders) are looking up at me. "I feel messianic" I said. I gave a little motivational group hug stylee speech just before opening time.

Spanner Jazz Punks
Bristol Vintage, her hubbie makes these cake stands!
Bristol Vintage, teaspoons...

Make and Bake and Souped Up
View from the shed
E5 Bakehouse explains how to make sourdough
He has a remarkably casual technique for making delicious bread
Me wearing a tea cosy from Tiny Inc

Alice Turner 'Afternoon Outings' cards in the shed
AnnaMae's Smokehouse pulled bbq pork
Christopher Avery, Saturday Morning Bakery, a home bakery in Kilburn.
The Deli Station had rare Italian cheeses. 
Handmade aprons from TinyInc
Handyface's sarf London halloumi, another triumph for urban cheese.
Da Caribbean Undagroun' "best jerk ever" said Alissia from Brixton.
Supper club hostess Kitchen Jezebel demonstrates how to make home made moisturiser with beeswax and oil.
James of Dose-Espresso gave a talk on coffee. To be honest I thought it'd be boring, but it was one of the most interesting demonstrations of the day. Coffee is one of the biggest commodities in the world after oil. The history of coffee is political. James explained that the English drink tea because of a deliberate political decision; it became unpatriotic to drink coffee which was imported by our enemies, the Dutch and the French while we were at war with them.

Lorraine of inSpiral Lounge. The vegan Key Lime pie was a revelation. Lorraine showed how to make raw chocolates. She explained her journey towards becoming a vegan. Apart from loving animals, it appears to have been heavily influenced by Damon of Blur and other crushes.
MamaLan is becoming a dab hand with the Aga! Another brilliant live cooking demonstration from this nimble fingered Chinese supper club hostess.
Marcia Vidal's exquisite silver jewellery
The Next Big Event, a wandering supper club from up north, had the softest tastiest Staffordshire oat cakes.
Squ!sito supper club, her sausages went down a treat.
The Underground Tea Party girls unusual cakes
Top Hat Catering's dill sauce and sweet chilli sauce were addictive
The teen selling our salsa and guacamole.
The Other Side Magazine sold out of their almond pesto.
Simon of Ten Green Bottles gave an impromptu tasting class to a London wine tasters group. Like the way he's used the fire bath.
Handtomouth kitchen's cucumber G & T's, and elderberry prosecco cocktails were a hit!

Lessons learnt:
Starting earlier is good.
Maybe take a deposit from stallholders to avoid the "a dog ate my chutney" excuse-mongers.
Buy a loud hailer.
More music.

Thinking of doing a pre-Christmas market so people can give foodie gifts. What say you?

Other blog posts on the day:
Page 15 of this digital edition of the Ham & High:

Extra thanks to Audrey Khoo of Happy Kitchen, Laura, Ali of Top Hat and Alissia for helping out before and during the day.