Good Things: March 2014

It is inky-dark outside and the hail is lashing the windows. It’s not late, but it feels like the middle of the night. Suddenly, a quarter of 2014 has disappeared already. I feel like it won’t be long before I’m panicking about the approach of Christmas. Is this happening to you too?

Organic Camomile Flowers Photo Credit: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

If you feel stressed by the pace of life, then you need to sit down with a calming cup of camomile tea. In fact, you need to sit in the sun for an hour and harvest some camomile for best results. This is a very relaxing task, even if you spend it in the company of a child who thinks it gives her carte blanche to decapitate every flower in the garden.

Then (if you’re me) you need to come inside and admire your lovely new Owen Bartlett bowl. Isn’t it lovely?

I found it at the Martinborough Fair, along with a vintage duvet and various other gems. It was a biting cold day and I had an appalling head cold, which was improved greatly by a hot cup of this cider vinegar and honey concoction (nicer than it sounds) and a steaming plate of masala dosa, eaten sitting in the gutter outside a pub (also nicer than it sounds).

When I wasn’t in the garden, snipping at camomile or treasure hunting, I spent a lot of time with my nose in a series of books. One was The Luminaries, the other was Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain Of Rice, which is a no-less brilliant exploration of Chinese home cooking. It’s not particularly new, but it’s brilliant. The day I carried it home from the library I made this very elegant spinach in a soy-ginger sauce and made a mental note of about 20 other recipes (including chao fan, a sort of fried rice that was my number one favourite when I was a child). I’m dreading having to return it to the library.

Spinach With Soy And Ginger Sauce Photo Credit: Lucy Corry

I’ve also spent a lot of time eagerly awaiting Emma Galloway’s first book – My Darling Lemon Thyme: Recipes From My Real Food Kitchen – which is officially released on April 1 (no joke!). I’ve been a fan of Emma’s for ages and her book is completely gorgeous. All but a tiny handful of the recipes are brand-new (so I still have to keep that bookmark to her excellent sushi instructions) and they look amazing. A lot of so-called ‘wholesome’ cookbooks (and food, for that matter) are so preachy and disconnected from real life – this one is totally on the money. Even if you don’t have food intolerance issues, you should get this book, it’s a game-changer.

I must have achieved other things this month, but I can’t recall them for the life of me. But a little gardening, a little cooking and a lot of reading isn’t a bad way to pass the time, is it?
What have you been up to?

Good things – January 2014

I’m not sure how it happened, but someone has stolen my January. I can’t believe the first month of 2014 has disappeared so fast. This afternoon, as I rushed to the hardware store to buy window hinges (don’t ask), I tried to recall what we have done and drew a complete blank.

From looking at my diary I can work out there was one bout of tonsilitis, 10 flights up and down the country and one funeral. I have met approximately a dozen tradesmen, one of whom I have seen more of in the last two weeks than my husband. In fact, one of the other tradies thought he WAS my husband. I have spent more time in hardware stores than I have in food shops. I’ve only read two books (this one and this one) and become hooked on this show. I have worried about paint and carpet and too many other things to mention.

It is mid-summer and I have still not eaten an ice cream.

Miso Caramel Sauce

But I have become absolutely addicted to this insanely good and easy to make miso caramel sauce, which goes with absolutely everything.

I loved listening to this podcast with Colonel Chris Hadfield about eating in space. Surely he must be a contender for Person Of The Year?

I have made quite a few things from this book, aided by vegetables I’ve been growing in my own garden (please note high levels of SPF – Smug Person Factor – in that statement).

Yellow Zucchini With Blossoms Picture Credit: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

And I was utterly transfixed by this video – though I can see the point in this argument against it (it’s still mesmerising though, don’t you think?

So maybe January wasn’t all bad after all. What have you been up to?

Random recipe: Russian Salad

It’s not often that I reach for the vodka bottle on a Sunday lunchtime, but when you’re making an iconic Soviet salad in a half-functioning kitchen, needs must. When that salad is a melange of cooked vegetables and hard-boiled egg bound with a sour cream-enriched mayonnaise – and you’re making it while your daughter clamours for her lunch and your husband is attacking the counter-top with a hack-saw – you’re more than justified to pour yourself a large glass. At least, that was my excuse.

Actually, I blame Dom of Belleau Kitchen for driving me to drink. This month’s Random Recipe challenge asked us to cook something from a Christmas present cookbook – and since I didn’t get any cookbooks for Christmas (sob!) I chose the Salat Olivier described in Anya von Bremzen’s memoir, Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking.

Salat Olivier Russian Salad

If you have even a slight interest in food, family, social history and the absolute craziness involved in growing up in Soviet Moscow, this is a must-read. Von Bremzen’s own story of growing up in a communal apartment in Moscow (she and her mother fled to the US in 1974, when she was 10) is swept up in the epic history of 20th century Russia. It’s the sort of book that you want to read out loud to other people – like Heston Blumenthal’s quote on the front of my copy says, it’s ‘heartbreakingly poignant and laugh-out-loud funny’.

He forgot to add that it also has recipes – and the Soviet party classic, Salat Olivier, is one of them. First invented by a French chef ‘who wowed 1860s Moscow’ with an over-the-top platter of grouse, tongue and crayfish tails with potatoes, cornichons and a secret Provencal sauce, it morphed over the years into a rather more proletarian combination of vegetables and chicken bound together with mass-produced mayonnaise. Now can you see why I was reaching for the vodka?

Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking By Anya von Bremzen

Salat Olivier
I took some liberties with Anya’s recipe, leaving out the suggested white crabmeat or crabsticks that her mother usually used in place of the traditional poached chicken or beef. I also used homemade mayonnaise rather than Hellmann’s and lightly cooked frozen peas rather than the tinned variety. Anya’s mother Larisa, who plays a key role in the book, insists that the key to success is chopping everything into very fine dice.
Truth be told, I don’t think I’ll make it again – that diced potato, carrot and pea mixture reminded me too much of boarding school mixed frozen vegetables – but the tangy, creamy dressing was eat-out-of-the-bowl gorgeous.

3 large waxy potatoes, cooked, peeled and diced
2 medium carrots, peeled, cooked and diced
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
3 large gherkins, diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
4 spring onions, finely sliced (white parts and some green)
1 1/2 cups peas, blanched and drained
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
4 Tbsp dill, finely chopped
salt and pepper

250 ml mayonnaise
80 ml sour cream
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp white vinegar
salt and pepper

Put all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and stir together gently. Season well with salt and pepper.
To make the dressing, put all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together until well blended. Taste and adjust the seasoning – you want it to be quite tangy and zesty.
Fold about two-thirds of the dressing through the salad – add more if necessary – and transfer to a cut-crystal bowl to serve. Serves six as a side dish. Vodka optional, but advised.

How to turn your blog into a book

Scratch a blogger, any blogger, and most of them will admit a yearning to write a book.
I’m not sure why the thought of writing captures so many people’s imaginations, especially when many published writers complain about how tortuous the process is. Unless you’re Jamie or Nigella, it’s no way to get rich, either.

I started my blog even though I wrote for a living because I wanted to be the boss of something, to have complete editorial control. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that to be a heavier responsibility than I thought it would be. It’s a bit like expressing a desire to build your own house and then realising you don’t know how to wield a hammer. I recently read about this blog and felt very amateur-ish, not least because it is put together by a chef, a photographer, a stylist and an art director. (Yes, an art director. Don’t you have one for your blog?)

In the meantime, I’ve already ticked something crucial off the list. I’ve turned my blog into a book. No, I haven’t enticed a publisher to throw lots of money in my direction (though, you know, if there are any out there, don’t be shy…). Instead, I’ve done it myself, in a matter of minutes.
I used this service – which turns your blog into a downloadable PDF in about five minutes. It’s really simple and it’s free, though for the sake of good karma and helping the internet keep working, it’s only kind to make a donation for their trouble.

Quite apart from having a ‘book’ under your belt, the best thing about doing this is that you have a handy copy of all your work – text, images and even comments from readers. Because I might not lie awake at night worrying about whether or not I’ll ever get a book deal, but I do occasionally panic that my blog will vanish, never to be seen again.

Now that’s sorted, I’m going to direct my thoughts to a bit of homepage improvement for The Kitchenmaid. No, I’m not about to ask my HR department to start advertising for an art director, but it’s time for a refresh. Any advice on that front (or indeed, any art directors looking for work experience), do let me know…

Five food goals for 2014

While we farewelled 2013 in the style to which we have become accustomed, (lots of champagne, whitebait fritters, lamb stuffed with cherries, goats cheese and cherries, Nigella’s chocolate truffle cake, a huge slab of panforte and an incredibly tangy cheese called ‘Sea Breeze’), I spent the first week of 2014 with a nasty bout of tonsillitis and a vast supply of drugs.

Before that happened, I thought I was going to spring into the new year with all manner of new plans and schemes, not to mention a gleaming clean kitchen and freshly weeded vegetable garden. Instead, I have developed an addiction to Breaking Bad and a fondness for lying down after meals, neither of which are conducive to returning to work this week or achieving much at all at home. In a bid to shake off this inertia, I’ve turned my mind instead to my food-related goals for this year (I just have to get off the sofa to start achieving them). As nice as it is, we can’t live on wine, cheese and olives all year….

1. Eat more: By which I mean, eat a more diverse range of foods. I hate those depressing statistics that claim most people only have five or 10 dishes in their repertoire, but they do reflect a sorry truth. It takes work to stop from falling into the same old routine every night, but it’s so worth it. Why else do I have so many bookmarked recipes and folders of torn-out magazine supplements?

2. Grow more: No, not in a Gwyneth Paltrow sense, but grow more of what we eat. In in my dream life this would include chickens, but for the sake of my marriage, my sanity and continued good relations with our neighbours, I’m going to stick to flora rather than fauna. I figure that since we have this massive garden, we may as well use it to its full potential. New crops underway for 2014 include cucumbers, kale, pears, feijoas, cranberries and currants, not to mention an as-yet unidentified curcubit currently colonising the wildflower meadow we planted in a nondescript bit of lawn in late spring. I’m particularly inspired by Julie and her amazing garden – and Sue’s little city garden – and hope to harness a bit of family muscle in the coming months (Jenny, Goff, are you reading this?)

3. Learn more. In 2013 I conquered doughnuts, cronuts and puff pastry (at least this version). I’m yet to decide on my tasks for this year, but I’d like dumpling making to be among them. What else shall I tackle?

4. Read more: It’s just occurred to me that I didn’t get any new cookbooks for Christmas – unless you count the excellent Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen. Obviously I need to take steps to remedy this (even if via my excellent local library), though I should probably undertake a strict audit of my existing collection first.

5. Be more organised: The arrival of our much-awaited new pantry later this month will play a key part in this, or at least I hope it will. I have a secret fear that even with the new pantry, I will discover that I am really a slatternly housekeeper and that’s the real reason for the disarray in my cupboards (not to mention the rest of my life) Oh well. Worse things happen at sea. Being more organised is a key part in another little project I have planned for this year, but I’ll share more on that when it’s underway.

What are your foodie goals for 2014?