Back to chilly old London! Barbados more than surpassed my expectations: we had such a brilliant time exploring, relaxing, and generally seeing what the sunny island had to offer. For an absolute non-beach-holiday-goer I might just be converted. Here are a few initial highlights, and I have a ton more posts coming up with some of the other things we got up to (caves! food! turtles! monkeys!).
Consuming plenty of rum punches
Horsing around on the beach before dinner
Getting caught out by unexpected waves!
Enjoying the beautiful island flowers
Chilling in our lovely villa
Being overly amused by LOLcoconuts
Eating delicious local food
Watching some truly epic sunsets – you can literally watch it dip below the sea horizon in real time.
Last update for a couple of weeks, as I’m off to Barbados tomorrow! Definitely not the usual kind of holiday for us, but the villa came free as it’s in the family and a bit of sun after this very long cold snap will be most welcome. We’re going with my parents, aunt and uncle and sister so it’ll be a family vibe like in Chamonix last summer.
To be honest I have no idea what to expect and I haven’t done my usual kind of research (ie finding the best coffee, food and bars around). I think it’ll be a lot of lounging on the beach, playing games and drinking daiquiris by the barrel-load. If anyone has any last minute must-see, do or eat tips for me I’d love to hear them! See you in a week or two x
I’m sure that if you’re into blogs and into food, you’ve already seen Smitten Kitchen: a lovely food blog from self-taught cook and photographer Deb Perelman. Her food seems to tread a very clever line: not too saintly-healthy but not dripping in fat either, very rarely a fancy or expensive ingredient, and a love and appreciation of technique that I very much admire. It’s home cooking levelled up by someone who really loves and understands food, and it’s all captured beautifully thanks to her photography expertise.
I’m pleased to see that Deb’s newly-released Smitten Kitchen cookbook follows the same, um, recipe. From just a glance at the contents page – with chapter headings including Breakfast, Vegetarian Main Dishes, and Sandwiches, Tarts and Pizzas – I could tell it was going to be right up my street. I’ve already tested a few recipes from my advance copy, so here are my highlights so far.
I’m often guilty of having breakfast-as-dinner, and the Breakfasts chapter offers plenty of recipes that would suit an evening meal, from a twist on Huevos Rancheros with crisped tortilla shreds and lime cream to individual baked eggs with greens and hollandaise.
We had the huevos as a Sunday supper: it was super fast and easy to make, with an all-in-one blended tomato sauce and cooked in one pan with storecupboard ingredients – perfect lazy-day cooking.
I have to admit I often skip the Salads chapter of cookbooks, but this one contains several hearty-looking dishes that I’d be happy to have for a light meal. Courgette ribbons with almond pesto and Borlotti beans with walnuts and feta particularly caught my eye. I served the ribbons with a side of bulgur wheat and some toasted pine nuts. It took all of five minutes – literally! – to prepare but made for a great zingy dinner.
As an ex-vegetarian herself, Deb’s recipes are often still veggie or light on the meat, and she points out something I believe too: that vegetarian food can be just as flavourful and filling as meat, given the right choice of flavours and cooking techniques. The book is probably 75% vegetarian overall so it’s definitely a good buy for the veggie cook or those looking for some non-meat based meal ideas. I was delighted to find a recipe for Mushroom Bourgignon – a dish that tends to induce meat-envy in me – amongst smoky black bean ragout, butternut galette, and a simple but bold dish of roast tomato and baby onion, served with white beans and a crouton to soak up the umami-rich juices.
I made that one on Tuesday night, throwing in some romano pepper and courgette for good measure (and substituting shallots for baby onions since i had them in the fridge). Even with crappy out-of-season cherry tomatoes, the pronounced flavour you gain from roasting them in a bit of salt and olive oil is incredible, and for such low effort.
This book comes Lila-approved
This book really is a gorgeous package. Every single recipe is photographed beautifully and prefaced by a personal story about its history, invention or method, which makes it a great sofa read as well as informative cook book. Yet it’s practical and straightforward too: it’s littered with helpful extra cooking notes and I’m pleased to see that no recipe appears to be particularly long or complex. Deb has several techniques that save time but don’t sacrifice flavour, like cutting ratatouille vegetables into thin slices with a mandolin so they cook quicker. A giant bonus is that the publishers have made the effort to convert the entire book – ingredients, measurements and technique names – from U.S to British English, so everything is immediately familiar without having to Google what the heck ‘broiling’ is or how much a cup is.
I haven’t even mentioned the rather sizeable puddings section yet as I’m on a semi-diet, but yes: the puddings look immense too.
I always think it’s a good sign when I flick through a new cook book and immediately earmark about 90% of the recipes as ‘must make soon’, and even better to find I already have the ingredients for several of them in the house already! It’s the kind of book that I will find myself reaching for midweek inspiration as well as for ‘occasion’ cooking. Needless to say, I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s out now: order it here for just £11.
An advance copy was sent to me by the publishers for review.
I’m not usually a big fan of fakey meat products – I mean, I’m vegetarian for good reason – but there’s something about the cold weather that makes it appealing to fall back on simple protein-based stews and casseroles for dinner. I made up this recipe when my decidedly-omnivorous sister came round as a substitute for a similar dish that my mum makes, and it turned out really nice. It’s not very photogenic I’m afraid, but it does taste much better than it looks!
A classic combo of mushrooms, thyme, and white wine is given texture by the Quorn, which is torn into irregular pieces to give a – dare I say – meatier texture. Low fat creme fraiche gives acidity and a nice saucy base – you could swap it for half or full fat sour cream for a creamier, more decadent result. Mustard gives the whole thing a final warming kick, and serve with buttery mash for ultimate comfort factor. Give it a go!
Lucky me – the Tate Modern invited me to a press preview of their new Lichtenstein retrospective on Monday. He’s one of my favourite artists so it was quite a treat to get a quiet(er) viewing of the show before the crowds. Oh, and I was allowed to snap photos!
Besides the comic-strip ‘war and romance’ pieces he’s best known for, this show does a great job of displaying the other sides to Lichtenstein’s work, and across 13 rooms charts out the many phases he evolved through during his life’s work.
I’m just loving the Selected line of clothing: nearly every piece is a classic with a twist – wearable, elegant and comfortable. Perfect for building that elusive capsule wardrobe. I’m even plotting if I can make recreations of some of these pieces myself… funny how when you start sewing you want to make everything yourself from now on.
I adore these elegant monochromedresses. The first one looks like it’d be pretty easy to recreate – just a wrap with wide kimono sleeves, so no fastenings to worry about.
Little black dress made more interesting with texture and a low tied back. Again an easy elastic-waist shape to copy.
Sweatpants that are almost acceptable to wear outside – right? I definitely want to tackle sewing trousers soon, but crotches scare me.
I was VERY excited to get an email from darling Islington sew shop Ray Stitch, asking if I’d like to try out one of their new sewing classes. Ray Stitch is the loveliest little shop: a cave of beautiful fabrics, notions and supplies alongside a little cafe with excellent coffee and cakes. They now offer evening classes which cover the whole gamut of sewing, from beginners’ machine skills to pattern cutting, quilting and soft furnishings.
I took the Tea Dress class as I already know my way around a machine but wanted to learn how to cut and follow a pattern having never done it before. The dress also has some little details like bias binding, an elastic-channel waist and peter pan collar which I thought would be great techniques to learn and apply to other projects.
The course was spread over two Friday evenings, in a small class of 5-6. Last Friday we did a lot of prep to get started: measuring each other to ensure we picked the right size, learning about ease, and figuring the best way to cut our pieces to avoid too much fabric wastage. I love the Liberty Lawn fabric I picked (on sale at sewbox.co.uk), and I even have a bit left over for another small project.
We tackled some of the trickier parts of the construction first, like sewing the bias binding to the keyhole neckline, under the watch of instructor Gen. I loved how the class was informal without any demos, yet Gen was on hand to answer any questions and keep an eye on everything. There was a bit of homework between the two sessions on the easier sewing tasks like the sash and shoulder seams. In the second session we finished the details: sewing the puffed sleeves on and creating the elasticated waist, then finally sewed the whole dress together.
To be honest, one of the most exciting parts was being let loose in Ray Stitch after hours, breathing in all the heavenly sewing goodness..
I spent this morning doing a bit of handsewing final touches – and here’s my finished dress!
OK, it’s not 100 per cent finished as I still need a button for the keyhole neckline, but I am impatient. My very first from-pattern dress is a billion miles from perfect, but still so pretty, totally wearable and fits well – and it’s really comfy. Plus I’ve leant so many new skills that I can put to use on my next sewing project. I’ve already eyeing up what I want to make next… a Peony dress perhaps.
Thanks so much to Ray Stitch for the fantastic class! You can find out about all their upcoming events here.
Feeling hungry? Time for a little round up of things I’ve been eating on my way round London lately…
First up, Sweet Thursday, a new neighbourhood pizzeria not too far from me in De Beauvoir town. There’s a wine shop out front and a big clay oven out back: my kind of place. The pizza menu’s small but the pizzas themselves certainly aren’t: you could definitely share one with a few of the antipasti-type sides for dinner. They are the properly charred and chewy-crusted types too, with lovely flavourful toppings. Will be back soon.
I had to run an errand in South London a few weekends ago, so we popped to Brixton Village to make the most of this rare foray. I loved how vibrant and energetic it was, with all the hip new popup places like Wishbone, Bukowski and Honest Burger elbow-to-elbow with the Caribbean grocery stores and kitschy gift shops. Unfortunately I don’t think we picked the best place for lunch – the Mexican was the only place without a queue but it wasn’t anything special. Coffee and a brownie in Federation afterwards made up for it, though, and we’ll just have to go again to try Mama Lan’s noodles, Okan’s okonomiyaki or the best-ever pizza at the original Franco Manca.
Finally, Josh’s parents kindly treated us to lunch at La Porte Des Indes at the weekend. To be perfectly honest, it’s not the kind of place I would usually choose – the bonkers French-colonial decor, high prices and Marble Arch location put it off my radar. But I was extremely pleasantly surprised by our lunch: they do a buffet on Sundays with street food starters, curry mains and fresh little fruity desserts. I went back to the starters table twice: each little dish, from lentil dumplings in fiery soup to mini beetroot dosas to crispy spinach fritters, was a tiny taste ‘pow’! Of course I then sampled three curries for main and couldn’t resist the vibrant dessert table either, so left feeling very full indeed.
That’s it for indulgence for the rest of the month now – we’re off to Barbados at the beginning of March (!) so it’s health kick to get beach-ready before then. Um, anyone have any foody tips for Barbados?!
Since doing an Indian cooking course and having a gander at the beautiful Prashad cook book, my home curry-making has definitely gone up a notch. In particular, Prashad’s mattar paneer is sure to become a weekday dinner staple: it’s so quick and easy yet authentic-tasting, uses storecupboard/freezer ingredients (did you know paneer freezes?!) and feels pretty healthy despite the main ingredient being um, fried cheese. Must be better than a takeaway at least. I like making more interesting rice dishes as an accompaniment too: the lemon, mustard seed and curry leaf rice we made on the course is perfect with a mild, creamy curry, and Prashad’s tumeric dal rice does great with the mattar paneer.
My absolute favourite thing to make however is chapattis, the little wholewheat puffed flatbreads that are so perfect at scooping up handfuls of curry to convey it to the mouth. I use the Fabulous Baker Brothers’ recipe and method, which involves the pretty fun task of toasting the chapattis over an open gas flame to get that wonderful airy texture and charred outside. I even videoed myself doing it, at immense personal risk – you’re welcome. Ignore my filthy hob please.
Finished with a dash of butter, they’re the perfect finishing touch to a homemade curry.