Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Gingerbread wrecks: New Year's Eve champagne matching

My New Year's Eve menu was developed during a pleasurably drunken afternoon with Matt Day, who runs an Italian cookery school and represents Mumm champagne. I'm glad he told me all the technical stuff at the beginning. By the third bottle it was like devising a menu with Noel Fielding while embarking on a three day LSD bender; fantastical matches which turned out to be not so practical for real life.
For example;
Matt: "I know, why don't you give an ostrich egg to each guest and make them eat fondue out of it"
Me: "Genius!" Peers at glass, wonders how much 30 Ostrich eggs would cost "What am I drinking now? Hic!"
Matt: "Yeah and give each table a big sparkly hammer so that they can smash the gingerbread house to pieces at the end of the meal"

This last suggestion has been taken on board however and I spent three days making a village, or perhaps a favela, of gingerbread houses. It wasn't easy. My advice: straight walls, light roofs, proper right angles, make construction less jerry-built. Also you will need far more icing sugar to stick it all together than you can possibly imagine. Buy at least five boxes. You will spend a good deal of time holding things together with your fingers waiting for the icing to dry and propping up the walls with different height tin cans and glasses.
The windows were easy: place a clear coloured boiled sweet in the window opening as you bake: it will melt into and attach itself to the gingerbread. I spent £30 (pause for childhood nostalgic sigh of happiness) on sweets and biscuits and also made little gingerbread allotments with fairy mushrooms, sour cherries as plants and crumbled up ginger cake as the earth. Lollipops can be trees.

Matt suggested matches from an uber scientific 'gaschromatograph' machine as to what foods go best with Mumm champagne. This is the resulting menu:

Non-vintage Mumm de Cramant. Yes it's the cremant from Cramant. (I think I'm making a wine joke there).
This matches well with cauliflower.
-Creme de choufleur soup with seared scallops and Riofrio caviar (blue cheese roundels for veggies)

Mumm Cordon Rouge. The red sash around the bottle represents the houses links with the legionnaires. this is non-vintage too (now remember, I said in this post, that non-vintage is not a bad thing, in fact, in Champagne it is the 'expression of the house style')

Tests show that this matches well with sweet corn. 
-Roasted sweet corn with flavoured butters (lime and piquillo pepper, maple, olive, truffle)

Mumm Rosé. This is a blend between a red and white wine. Der! You might say, but rosé in champagne is not a lightweight girly choice, it's heavier and more powerful than a still wine rosé. With still wine, it's illegal to blend red and white wine, so the white juice is macerated in the skins of the red grapes. 

This marries well with exotic fruits, game, fish, coconut milk, chilli.
-Tuna steak with a watermelon, papaya and strawberry and basil salsa ( Seared Portobella mushrooms for veggies)

2002 G.H. Mumm. This year had a warm spring, a hot summer punctuated with rain and a long dry autumn which produced very healthy grapes. It goes great with food.

Matches with cheeses, oily fish, butter.
Langres fondue with Marmite soldiers

Mumm Demi-sec. This has a heavier 'dosage' at 44g of sugar per litre.

This 'dessert' champagne allies with ginger, fruits poached in cognac,heavy sugar icing, dried fruits.
-Poached pears with creme fraiche and gingerbread wrecks.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas Eve

 We made this decorative cutlery wrap by glueing together red heart shaped doilies from Lakeland.

Crochet Christmas star by Candyflosscreated

Champagne with hibiscus flower and edible gold stars
Marmite palmiers
Grilled artichokes, boquerones, sun blushed tomatoes
Goldstein's smoked salmon with dill and lemon
Baba Ganoush with cinnamon crackers
Warm poireaux and endives with Mrs Monk's vinaigrette

Hot and sour soup from David Thompson's Thai Street Food

Chanterelles in cream with gone wrong blue cheese brioches  (ie: failed to rise properly. Afternoon drinking didn't help.)

Gratin dauphinois

Roast potatoes in rosemary and olive oil; sweet potatoes, jerusalem artichokes, parsnips roasted in lavender honey and olive oil.
Roast celeriac in salt crust (bit salty, don't try at home)

Cheese board with home made quince cheese with pink peppercorns. A guest bought Ice Wine.

Buche de noel from Delia's recipe

Secret Santa and roaring fire

Friday, 24 December 2010

A letter from Father Christmas

Christmas Eve: Remember to put out carrots for the reindeer and a glass of sherry for Father Christmas. If you are good you might get a letter from him, as my daughter did a few years ago....

Places still available for waifs and strays for tonight's dinner:

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Champagne for dummies

Mumm champagne being kept cold on a snowy balcony.
Most food bloggers don't know much about wine and I'm no exception. My parents gave us all wine as kids on special occasions and my dad had a stage, seemingly a male rite of passage for those entering into middle age, when he carried about the Robert Parker guide whenever we visited restaurants. But that's about it. I don't like drinking alcohol without food and I'm a cheap date. Three drinks and I'm fluent in several languages and start fancying everybody in the room.
Champagne tends to form the bookends of a meal: in Britain we have it as an aperitif, while in France they often drink champagne with dessert using the breast-shaped 'coupe' glass (think Babycham) rather than the traditional 'flutes'.  Champagne should only be drunk from a very clean glass, it's bubbles will evaporate more quickly otherwise. Another thing: you know that deep trough, known as a 'punt' in the bottom of a champagne bottle? You are supposed to put your thumb in there, using it to steady your hand as you pour whilst holding the bottom of the champagne bottle. The myth that, the deeper the punt, the better the champagne, is untrue.
Probably my favourite weight-loss diet was the two weeks I spent at the Cannes film festival working as an analogue photographer while I lived on a binary regime: champagne and the odd canapé. The lard simply rolled off as I clattered bare-legged (never missed a chance to tan my legs even when papping*) up and down the croisette, bunking into starry parties, lugging about my Nikon and Metz flash.
We don't think of champagne as a food matching wine. The champagne region is poor; the land, chalky and arid, supporting few crops, in fact the area is unique in France for having almost no typical foods. Two foods that are famous, fortunate, for champagne matches particularly well with cheese, are the local cheeses Chaource and Langres. But this infertile soil is perfect for vines. The land in champagne is now some of the highest valued real estate on the planet. A kilo of grapes from champagne is worth £5 whereas in the south of France, they are worth as little as 50p.
Another misconception I had was that champagne was ancient. A little thought would have revealed that of course the technology to produce a drink with bubbles, although invented by an Englishman (yes!) Christopher Merret  in the 17th century, only came about in the 18th century. Prior to that, the acidic flat wines in the champagne region were not highly considered. Another surprise, historically, sweet white wines, such as the much derided Liebfraumilch and hock were very popular from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
Champagne comes with different levels of  'dosage', or sweetness. These are Brut and Demi-sec. Within the 'brut' dosage there is ultra and zero brut with even less sugar for hard-core types.
The British have always loved champagne: we are their number one market after the French. Next is the USA and the Germans. But coming up fast on the inside track are China and India not only for champagne but for all wines. My mate, who works at a top British wine importers, tells me that the Chinese were so desperate to buy the vintage 2008 (8 is a lucky number) that special labels were printed in Chinese. This wine importer then bought back the 2008 vintage en primeur wines from their customers, mostly bankers who, if they bought a case for 2k they sold it back to the importers for 12k. Quite a profit for two years and further proof that if you have money, you can make more very easily. Chinese wines themselves are improving rapidly, cloned vines are being planted in the Asian continent. I tasted one last year. At first you think 'mm not bad' but the after-taste is like sewage. But in a 100 years time, my mate tells me, Chinese and Indian wines will rival European ones.
So in a rapidly expanding market, with only a limited amount of land at present designated as champagne(although surrounding areas with the same soil and climate are trying to expand the denomination), it's a winning proposition.
Like me, you probably thought the word 'vintage' meant 'old'. In fact it's the year that a wine was produced. Many champagnes are non-vintage (NV) which doesn't mean they are crap, it means they are made from a blend of several years. One of the reasons that champagne is expensive is because they hold back so much of their production each year to ensure consistency of taste whatever the weather.
Roja Dove's perfume samples

Much of this information I garnered from attending a champagne assembly in November at Bethnal Green town hall. Normally wine tastings are people sitting around being told that a particular wine has 'caramel' notes or smells like recently skidded tyres. This conference was something different: hosted by Perrier-Jouet and GH Mumm, two of the most important champagne houses, it held workshops on the psychology of luxury, tea matching, smell and chemical food matching using a machine known as a 'gaschromatograph'
The best workshop was led by a tall man with a hypnotic blue stare dressed entirely in black: a jet and sequin encrusted shirt, and a velvet jacket with a large bat shaped broach on the lapel and elaborate diamond cuff links. A Liberace of perfume.
Scanning the room, he introduced himself as Roger Dove, who runs the Haute Parfumerie at Harrods. After announcing dramatically:
"There are 3000 raw materials and I have committed the odour of each one to memory" 
he asked us all to close our eyes and do a 'synchronised sniffing' of sticks of paper dipped in essential oils.
Jasmine, found in over 80% of women's perfumes, is the most expensive at £32,000 a kilo. The average time in the perfume industry to create a new perfume, he stated, was three weeks. His perfumes take six months to two years to develop. Roger had us all in the palm of his hand: we were inhaling rose and musk and drawn in by his mesmeric verbal journey, transported back to childhood, to mossy forests, kicking over logs...
"This smell rises high, is lively, moves up the nose: scents have texture, we use movement words to describe odour" he continued.
At the end his assistant came over and handed me Roger's card: of course he was not called Roger but 'Roja'.

On New Year's Eve I will be creating a meal matched with five different champagnes from GH Mumm. I will explore this menu in another blog post.

*papping: being a papparazzi photographer.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Snowflakes, pickled limes and preserved lemons

The heating is turned higher than ever before, you are wearing socks and slippers, you've located and donned your limited store of thermal underwear; outside the sky is thick and cotton woolly, the blue cast of the snowfall muffles and chills save for the odd thud of a snowball fight. I have a basket of limes and lemons under my table. The limes have gone yellow, time to use them up before they darken and grow soft.

Lime Pickle

15 limes
200g of rock salt
350ml of vinegar, either white wine or apple cider
350g of sugar
50g of coconut, dried (optional)
1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes
1 tablespoon or so of black peppercorns

Stand up your limes and cut them into quarters then eigths but don't cut them all the way through to the bottom.
Stuff a tablespoon of rock salt inside each lime.
Put the rest of the salt, vinegar, sugar, coconut, chilli and peppercorns into a pan and warm through until the salt and sugar are melted.
Then add the limes and boil then simmer until the limes are yellow. This will take about 15 minutes. Let the pan cool.
Then layer the limes into clean (rinsed in boiling water, or put in the oven to sterilise) preserving jars (I used two one litre jars I bought in France).
Pour the cooking liquid over the limes.
Store for a couple of weeks before using.

Preserved lemons

15 lemons
300g of rock salt
2 tablespoons of black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon of star anise (or 2 or 3 'stars' for prettiness)

Cut off the tips of the lemons and cut them into quarters then eigths but don't cut them all the way through to the bottom. Put a tablespoon of salt into the middle of each lemon.
Take your preserving jars and put a layer of salt with a few peppercorns into the bottom. Stack and squeeze in your lemons, layering with salt, peppercorn, bay and star anise.
Then close the jars and wait a month, pressing them down every so often as the liquid rises.

Israeli couscous with lentils, parsley, pomegranate syrup and preserved lemons

Israeli couscous/ptitim/maftoul isn't really couscous, it's pasta, shaped into pearls. It can be used as a basis for many dishes, but I had a tin of idle lentils in the store cupboard which I chivvied into use.

Olive oil
1 tin of brown lentils
2 shallots, peeled and diced
1 tomato, skinned and diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander

100g of Israeli couscous
20g of butter
Curly parsley
Pomegranate syrup
1 preserved lemon, diced

Fry the shallots, tomatoes and garlic together in olive oil, When the shallots are soft, add the carrots and the spices. Add the lentils and simmer until warm and soft.
Bring your couscous to the boil in slightly salted water and simmer until al dente. Drain. Toss in some butter.
Plate up your dish:
Put in the couscous and add the lentils in the middle. Garnish with the parsley, drizzle with the syrup and add the diced preserved lemon.
This dish is both warming and a reminder of summer.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Potatoes: aligot


Aligot: in this Auvergne regional French potato dish the potatoes are not sautéed as in Truffade but mashed. It lines your stomach like a four-tog duvet against the winter cold.
Mashed potato doesn't really cover it as a description: although the potatoes are mashed, combined with a local cheese... a fresh 'Tomme'. You work the potato and other ingredients together until it's stretchy. It's known rather romantically in France as the 'ribbon of friendship'.
In Aubrac and Aurillac (where they have an annual street theatre festival) you will find it sold in the market place in huge cast iron frying pans or deep pots, lifting it again and again, displaying it's gaping trails of cheese...

Aligot recipe

1 kilo of floury potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
100g of butter
400g of fresh Tomme cheese, cut into small slices (leave it out of the fridge for at least two hours before using); up the proportion of cheese if you like it really stretchy!
200g of thick creme fraiche

Salt and Pepper to season

Boil the potatoes in salted water with the garlic cloves for 15 -20 minutes.  When cooked, take out the garlic cloves.
Put the potatoes through a ricer (better than a masher as it stops the potatoes becoming too glutinous).
Keep back a little of the cooking water to obtain the correct consistency. Aligot is all about texture, it really depends on the type of potatoes you use too. It must not be too liquid or too stiff.
Then progressively add the butter, creme fraiche, cheese over a simmering flame. You must whip the ingredients together with a wooden spoon energetically, working it back and forth to aerate the mixture.
You season and can add some more crushed garlic at the end.
My pictures don't really do justice to this dish, I should have shown the elastic quality of the cheese but only had one set of hands!
aligot recipe

Hand carved wooden spoons by Terence McSweeney.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hot drinks for christmas: mulled wine, cider and gin

As another big freeze envelopes Britain, promising a white Christmas, hooray! one's thoughts turn to hot toddies, just the thing when you come in from work to a heated bright house, or to nurse on the sofa, warming your hands, or lend an instant holiday vibe to dinner.
mulled wine

Mulled wine.

I sold this at The Underground Christmas Market, some guests said it was the best they've ever had. I give my recipe below but I must admit, I've had the present batch on the go on the black enamel of the Aga for several weeks. Every time I walk past I sling in the remnants of a bottle of booze, a few cloves, a handful of sugar or another stick of cinnamon. Last weekend I added the leftovers of my carmelised kumquats. It's a flexible alcoholic stew!

2 bottles of red wine
2 oranges sliced 
250g kumquats
2 sticks cinnamon
3 cloves
1 star anise
300g sugar (any kind)

Put all the ingredients in a large saucepan and heat through. Once you've finished the wine you can add more wine, just check the balance of sugar to wine and keep going!
mulled cider

Harvest cider

I did this for my Little House on the Prairie dinner, again, as it was snowing outside, this glowing drink as guests entered made for a hospitable atmosphere. There is a similar British version traditionally drunk at this time of year called Wassail which uses ale rather than cider.

4 litres of apple juice
4 litres of cider
450g of dark brown sugar
8 sticks of cinnamon
1 bottle of Jack Daniels or Southern Comfort or grain alcohol.

Boil up the apple juice, cider, sugar and cinnamon. Let it cool then stir in the grain alcohol. Warm again and serve.
mulled gin

Hot Gin

This is a simple version of Charles Dickins' Gin Punch.

1 bottle gin
750ml hot water
One lemon cut into thin slices 
Stud the lemon slices with cloves
2 or 3 all spice berries
300g of sugar

Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and warm. 

Mix ingredients together, drink.

Monday, 13 December 2010

My kitchen in Food & Wine magazine

My kitchen has mostly been built from junk. I've mixed pieces from Ikea with ceramics and jars from French markets, a very expensive Aga and shelves built by various carpenters using wood reclaimed from skips, old beds, palets. I don't do slick, modern, stainless steel, plastic or minimalism. I like the properties of wood: sterilising, naturally antiseptic, warm and flexible. I don't mind if it warps (as my counters have); that adds character. I've tried to maintain a restricted palette of blue and cream, reminiscent of the seaside, with the odd bit of red and white gingham. Even my modern appliances tend to be retro in style, Kitchen Aid's food processor and Artisan mixer, with their curved lines and 1950's feel. Laundry is dried on a Victorian style hanger on a pulley. I love pulley's, I want to use every inch of the space including the high ceilings. A large clock is essential as I'm always checking the timings of my dishes (essential when running a supper club). An Aga is silent therefore I have several timers on the shelves around the stove plus an old fashioned wind up alarm clock.
Notes are written on a chalk board (bought in France) hanging next to the Aga.
I'm still looking for the perfect fridge freezer which will work well and match my kitchen. My light fixtures have been found in bins and on the street, my teatowels are vintage from French markets. Most of my ladles and spoons are vintage: pewter, rubbed off silver and enamel. I adore copper, again a healthy material, symbolised in astrology by the planet Venus.
I really enjoyed building, designing and collecting for my kitchen and am available for commissions to design others.

Here is the link to see the rest of the article with other blogger's kitchens...

Coming up: Christmas eve at The Underground Restaurant. A European style christmas, secret santa, bring a present for another guest, roaring fire and good food. Book here.

Potatoes, cheese and revolution: truffade

gratin dauphinoise recipe
My gratin dauphinois

The French celebrate this humble tuber with a range of regional potato dishes exotically named; aligot, tartiflette, truffade, roigabrageldi (Alsacian), mousseline (mash), boulangeres, fricasée, duchesse, dauphine, etouffés (Vosgien), soufflés, frites (naturellement) and then we have the potato gratins; Dauphinois, Savoyard, Anna.
Aligot and truffade come from the Auvergne region in the middle of France; a place where few tourists visit but many French go for their spas, 'to take' the volcanic water (paid for by the French state on prescription). In the street markets you will find stall holders with vast cast iron frying pans, repeatedly scooping the aligot, laden with butter and garlic into a finely textured dense purée.
I served truffade on Saturday night, each table had a scorching hot frying pan with cheesy potatoes. Of course the burnt bits were the best and I had several visitors into the kitchen, stray fingers dipping, trying to grab a few more shards from the bottoms of the pans forming an orderly queue for washing up. Food hygiene be damned, my guests wanted the crispy bits!
Traditionally truffade is served with Tomme, a firm regional cheese, but, as Elizabeth David says, a crumbly cheshire cheese could make a good replacement. I used slithers of truffle cheese, brie and plenty of cheddar and some fried onions. It's also usually made with lardons but I replaced these with a side plate of home smoked salmon from the Eastend smokehouse, a stallholder at The Underground farmer's market.

My recipe:
For four:

5 large potatoes, peeled and sliced horizontally to the thickness of a pound coin.
250g of butter
2 brown onions, sliced into rings.
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
A handful of mixed fresh herbs ( I used rosemary, oregano, parsley from the garden)
400g of Tomme, cheshire cheese, cheddar or truffle cheese (now sold in Waitrose or obtain The Deli Station's divine ricetto al tartufo). Sliced.

Parboil the potato slices in salted water for six minutes. Then drain, taking care not to break them up too much.
Melt the butter in a wide cast iron saucepan (ideally) and cook the onion slices until soft. Add the garlic and bay leaf.
Add the potatoes to the pan, cooking slowly until the edges begin to brown. Then the handful of fresh herbs. Lastly add the slices of cheese, mix gently until all is melted.
Serve with smoked salmon, a salad (endives) and a crisp white wine.

If you really like potatoes read this account of a man, Chris Voigt, who works for the potato industry in the United States, who lived on nothing but potatoes for sixty days. Part One and Part Two.

It's great when cooked on a fire too, sorry I seemed to have forgotten to take pictures of my truffade, will rectify soon.
Saturday night's quiz by Marcus Berkmann was hotly contested with Guardian writer Catherine Phipps leading her winning team, dropping only 3 points out of 30 along the way. She brought gorgeous baby Adam with her and he slept peacefully in a cot in the bedroom.
This is another advantage of home restaurants, you can bring your baby!
As the main course was so cheesy I reversed my usual French style course order of cheese then dessert and served the cheeses at the end. I got several of the goat's cheeses from an event called 'Ready Steady chevre' held at Divertimenti, a cookery shop in Marylebone, London.
I'm a fan of goat's cheese, always wanted to marry a goat farmer but heard the suicide rate is quite high (lonely, not much money, never allowed to go on holiday as turning cheeses over and looking after goats every day) so probably not a good bet.
All profits from this meal are going to wikileaks, as I support free speech. Especially after the ordeal that my daughter went through last Thursday at the demonstration against the rise of Student fees. She was held in a 'kettle' for eight hours, the last three hours on Westminster Bridge, an incredibly dangerous tactic by the police. Schoolchildren were squeezed so tightly on this bridge that they could not breathe. My daughter's account is here. Parents who went down to free their kids, pleading with police to let them go, were then 'kettled' themselves. I called the police to complain about the police. The reporting on these demonstrations has concentrated on the tiny minority that become physically violent and police injuries, ignoring the injuries sustained by protesters. The coalition has succeeded in politicising a new generation, previously thought only interested in facebook and video games. This generation are the sons and daughters of the punk generation, of course they are not going to sit down and take this assault on their future without a fuss!
The coalition, like Labour before them, are only interested in helping children born under their administration.

Coming up: Christmas eve at The Underground Restaurant. A European style christmas, secret santa, bring a present for another guest, roaring fire, champagne and good food. Book here.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Underground pub quiz

Marcus Berkmann, in his book Brain Men, nails the invention of Trivial Pursuit by two moustached Canadians in the 1980s as the starting point of the pub quiz, which is a surprisingly recent and particularly British phenomenon.
Marcus runs Highgate's The Prince of Wales' pub quiz, every Tuesday night. It's highly competitive with a waiting list to set the quiz. There is a talent to setting a quiz: too difficult and people's concentration drifts away. It has to strike a balance, and every question, even if you don't know the answer, should ideally be able to be worked out, should be on the tip of your tongue.
I've been a pub quiz geek for years and I particularly enjoy when there are questions on food related subjects. I once wrote a quiz round for The Prince of Wales' quiz on 'sweets': great fun, the concentrated silence during the questions and the roars of triumph or groans of disappointment when reading out the answers!

This Saturday, Marcus will be the quizmaster for The Underground Pub Quiz with rounds between courses...winner gets a bottle of wine, no mobiles or googling allowed!

Here's the menu:

Marmite palmiers

Savoury chestnuts, rosemary and pecans

Jerusalem artichoke soup with chives (completely love artichokes but the wind...)

Truffade with Brie, truffle cheese and smoked salmon home smoked by the East End Smokehouse.

Chicory endive Salad
Pudding: caramelised kumquats, orange sorbet stuffed mandarin, shot glass of chocolate with Triple Sec, and candied orange.

Cheeses and home made quince membrillo

Coffee by Douwe Egberts

Book tickets here:

All profits will go to Wikileaks.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Quince membrillo

Recipe for quince membrillo with pink peppercorns

1 quince
Approximately 350g sugar depending on the size of your quince (preferably non caster as a bigger grain is less likely to burn)
1 stick vanilla
1 lemon, zest and juice

Put entire quince and the lemon zest into a pan filled with boiling water and simmer for an hour and a half or until a dark pink colour. Remove the quince from the water, process or blend. Keep the quince water, add the same volume of sugar and turn it into quince syrup for champagne cocktails.
Then push it through a sieve with a wooden spoon. This takes ages but keep going! You could, on the other hand, peel, quarter and core the quinces beforehand. Make sure however that you get out all the really hard grainy bits around the core. In this case tie all the leavings into a gauze as the pips ect increase the pectin content.
Weigh the sieved pulp and weigh out exactly the same amount of sugar. Put the pulp, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla into a pan and simmer for an hour, stirring regularly. Take care not to let the volcanic bubbling splatter your hand as you stir. Wear a thick long oven glove.
I decanted this into little enamel tins (oiled with almond oil) that I bought from Lakeland.
However you need to 'dry' the membrillo. So once the quince membrillo has set, dig it out of it's tin, turn it over and lay out to dry either in a very low oven (100ºC) for several hours (keep checking) or lay on a sushi mat.
If properly dried it should keep for a year in the fridge.
I added pink peppercorns which I felt would contrast nicely with cheese. Serve slices of the quince membrillo on a cheese board.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The age of Aquarius and wikileaks

The age of Aquarius has had a good press, especially in the 1960s. The musical Hair where the song originated, seemed to herald a millennium of free love, no rules, communes and equality.
Aquarius, an air sign, in medical astrology, centres upon 'circulation' and people with strongly Aquarian charts may suffer from poor circulation; but this term also applies to communication. The internet combines almost every Aquarian attribute; citizen journalism, global conversations, technology, equality and transparency. Twitter grew exponentially in 2009 when there was an eclipse in Aquarius and several planets were transiting the sign.
But Aquarius has always had a dark side; equality can mean sameness, suppression of individuality; global means ignoring the local and allowing certain corporations rather too much power; while transparency is anathema to government and our own private data can easily be lost, stolen and distributed.
The wikileaks crisis was always going to happen. And now we are seeing the reaction of big business; Paypal, Amazon, Visa, Mastercard have frozen the wikileaks accounts. I want to express my disapproval of their actions by withdrawing my business, but in the case of credit cards, who do I go to that isn't a multi-national corporation beholden to the US government?
Options, of which the internet seems to provide plenty, are now revealed as an illusion.
A new kind of war seems to be developing: a detached, techno battle with hacktivists against the big guys, duelling each other with Denial of Service attacks. Interesting times.
I've taken a quick look at Julian Assange's chart: Sun in Cancer, moon in Scorpio. It wouldn't surprise me if he has some issues around women, most Cancerian men do, relating more to their mothers and the feminine than is usually regarded as butch. Transiting Pluto is opposing his Sun: he's up against it. Pluto is power, crushing ruthless power. Moon in Scorpio is intense, sexual, secretive and controlling. He has Mars conjunct the North node in Aquarius. Mars in Aquarius and Venus in Gemini can be a cool customer, his energies tend towards technology and revolt rather than romance. He's married to his laptop. The North node suggests a fated aspect, this is his destiny.

Another, more detailed astrological analysis of wikileaks/Julian Assange:

Foodstock: the conference:How to be a successful food blogger!

Frequently I get emails asking advice on food blogging; Eat Like a Girl's Niamh, possibly the best known food blogger in the UK, wrote a recent post giving a few pointers. Following on from the success of the Dragon's Den at The Underground Christmas Market, in 2011 The Underground Restaurant will be hosting some conferences, the first one is this coming Saturday, on February 19th 'How to be a successful food blogger'. 
We've all been to conferences, normally held in some dreary business location with a few curled up ham sandwiches: this intimate conference will be held in my house, with delicious home cooked food on my Aga...foodies wouldn't expect anything less!


10 am: Arrival
Douwe Egberts coffee and home made pastries

Food blogging: Daniel Young of Young and Foodish, (change of speaker, Niamh unfortunately can't make it).  Daniel Young is an experienced food writer and blogger, events specialist and a published author of books Coffee LoveThe Bistros, Brasseries, and Wines Bars of ParisThe Paris Café Cookbook and Made in Marseille. Daniel will be talking, using his vast experience both online and offline of the food worlds in the USA, France and the UK.

How to write a recipe: Laura James is a columnist and cookbook writer and the online presence for Aga. She will explain how to write a recipe, cookbook writing techniques and ways to approach publishers.

1pm: 3 course lunch by MsMarmiteLover

Photography workshop: bring your cameras and laptops. A professional food photographer Paul Winch Furness, who has been a photographer in residence for the Jerwood Visual Arts Programme, shoots both on location and in the studio, recently completing commissions for restaurants like Nobu and Bob Bob Ricard, will host a workshop photographing food, using props from The Underground Restaurant and give tips on how to improve, both technically and creatively, your food photos.

Writing: Tim Hayward, editor in chief of Fire and Knives food quarterly, Radio 4 Food programme contributor and Guardian food writer will talk about food writing, relations with PRs, the future of food writing (online and print).

Ends at 6pm.

This conference will benefit aspiring food bloggers, writers and photographers as well as food businesses, PRs and event organisers.

Places are limited and the all inclusive tickets (including goodie bag, all food, drink and workshops) are £100 plus booking fee.  Book here (

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Underground Christmas Market: the autopsy

How to organise 100 stallholders, helpers and demonstrators and 350 or more guests? Don't ask me, I don't bloody know. It seemed to have worked though, despite ever-lengthening round-robin emails from me to all the stallholders, with points 1 to 60 of what to do, what not to do, some of it written in red, bold and an increasing amount written in CAPITALS TO REALLY MAKE SURE THEY HAVE UNDERSTOOD. Yes I have become a market Nazi.

The goodie bags were a mammoth team task; once stuffed and stamped with a marvellous design by Maria Grist, they crowded my bedroom to the point that it looked like Santa's Grotto. My hair went unbrushed for a week as I couldn't find anything...
The day itself:
Let me take you on a photographic journey through the Underground Christmas market, a maze of surprises, disasters, pleasure, creativity, Dionysian tipsiness, epicurean chomping, business know-how, festival bonfire hippydom and music.
The Entrance:
Meantime's London Lager taxi dispensing beer from the caravan
The front door with beautiful wreath by Achillea flowers.
The Bedroom: a craft area
Papermash, check out their shop. 

Me old china, I bought a vintage bus blind for Kilburn High Rd.

Achillea flowers, a new local flower shop on Mill Lane, beautiful wreaths and decorations.

Alvarae's unique bird jewellery, I got one for me and one for my mum.
Juiceology's cocktail bar
Marcia Vidal's silver jewellery and cosy mohair socks
Hallway: no space went to waste...
Candyflosscreated's crocheted Christmas decorations
Madame de l' Cartomancer did plenty of readings in her cubby hole and also psychically protected the toilet area from bad happenings.
The Toilet: just as the market opened I was made aware that there was no water. Visions of a Glasto style shit pit occurring in my shabby chic bog led me to run around shouting "No poos in the loo!"

Someone used the loo for a nice sit down and a chat with their mum.
Living Room:
The amazing gingerbread house by Foodforthink
Bake me happy's Christmas cupcakes
Ubuntu chocolates
Rambling Restaurant eating bacon sandwiches
Tan Rosie: chilli and ginger fudge, delicious, and chutneys.
Bristol vintage: cake stands and vintage crockery
Hubbub's lucky dip: some people got Ottolenghi cakes, I got a satsuma.
Cherry Pippin made mulled cider and mince pies. She makes home made butter puff pastry for the restaurant industry.

French made: skull chocolates and fancies
The Balcony:
Mrs Monk's delicious salad dressing. 
Alissia and the teen selling my mulled wine, quince membrillo and home made vinegars.
The Pantry:
Jo of The Deli Station selling their wonderful cheeses (a chestnut cheese, a truffle cheese)
The Kitchen:
Jane of Virtuous Bread gives a talk on sourdough and makes drop scones
Porridge Lady makes a warming Christmas porridge
Becca of the charity Foodcycle talks about recycling food
Other demonstrations by Rachel McCormack of Catalan Cooking making chestnuts with chocolate; Hiromi Stone with Japanese cooking and Kitchen Jezebel with home made cosmetics.
The Dragon's Den: (Left to Right) Jose of Harvey Nichols; Tim Hayward of The Guardian and Fire and Knives Magazine; Rosemary of Frost's and Jo of The Deli station, consider a product.
Sam of The Other Side Magazine asks for feedback on his almond pesto. The panel talks of labelling, marketing, size of jar, whether it can be stored chilled or ambient, how long it lasts, where to get it tested.
Hiromi Stone presents her Japanese nuts, having taken some advice from Jo since September's Underground Market, she has now reduced the size of her bags of nuts. Jo said "the products we saw were so good, I loved the way Hiromi totally took on board all of our advice. Very inspiring".
For the applicants and gathered audience, it was a master class in how to succeed in food. Tim Hayward talked of new media's role in promoting your product "tweet alot"
The top patio:
Providence Organic coffee
Simon of Ten Green Bottles wine
The Garden:

Abi Ward sold lots of knitted christmas trees...
Treflach farm took orders for Christmas turkeys, sold bacon sarnies and fresh eggs.
Terence McSweeney's hand carved spoons and bowls went down a storm...
Spice Caravan's Eritrean food: she also went before the Dragon's Den, very nervous, but gave a good presentation.
The Real Bread campaign
2chicks egg whites in a box. Madonna lives on these apparently.
Adam Pinder and Brett sold rillettes and home smoked salmon and bacon: I will use some for my Christmas eve and New Year's eve dinners.
Flo and Rebecca's spiced plum crumble: just the thing for a chilly day. Crumble day was always my favourite school dinner!

HandtomouthB sold home made Baileys and buttered rum. Yum!
La Cremerie sold out of her British and Irish cheeses.

Down by the bonfire, John the poacher sold oysters and music by Charles Yang and Carrie Fletcher was played which created a lovely atmosphere. In the background is Squisito! frying up some of their home made sausages.
The Summerhouse:
Scarlett sold Tshirts and vintage seed packets; perfect gift for a gardener.
Urtema Dolphin selling her Goddessences (uplifting sprays using natural oils and coloidal silver) and Creation chocolates. I've known Urtema since I met her in Egypt in 2002. Travelling alone with my daughter I was overjoyed to meet another single mother on the road with her son, only a year younger. We spent the next six weeks together, it made travelling so much easier and more enjoyable. Urtema is a brilliant cook and singer, in fact she's good at whatever she puts her mind to... Her council flat in Brixton is decorated like a magical forest. She impressed the Dragon's Den panel with her beautifully crafted raw chocolates which have aura transforming properties!

Kitchen Jezebel sold hot toddies...
The shed at night: the garden looked very pretty as night fell, twinkling candles and a flickering bonfire.
Here's me with a guest!

11pm Monday night: I have finally got the water back on. The floor is clean, my computer is set up. 2am: Written this blog post. Next: clear up the garden and gazebos.
Other posts on The Underground Christmas Market:
Kitchen Jezebel's 'How to make your own cosmetics on a stovetop' demonstration at the #ucm featured in this article.

Coming up this Saturday 11th of December: 
Quiz night with Marcus Berkmann: not too hard, not too easy ...still seats now here.