A (belated) 2016 review and some news

I have been absent here for a long time now. In fact, I can’t quite believe the last post was in November – although perhaps it makes sense that this was the last Sunday before the election. There are a few reasons for this, and I wanted to take some time to explain them here. Also, I felt the lack of a 2016 round-up, and Rachel’s late post felt like it helped justify my lateness here too.

The biggest reason is that I am now 16 weeks pregnant, and while my first trimester this time round was a considerable improvement on the last round, it was still exhausting and nauseating enough for me to want to let go of anything that wasn’t necessary to get through it.

On top of that, I will be starting a new job in February, and we are also starting to build our new house this year – 2017 is looking like it will be a big one.

In considering all of these (somewhat daunting) plans, I have been giving some real thought to whether I should continue writing here. I think the conclusion I have come to is that I’m not sure I can stick to my commitment of a weekly post, but that I would miss the opportunity to write sometimes, so I’m going to keep the door propped open here and post when I can.

Looking back on 2016 has been with mixed feelings. There have been so many moments where the world has seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. But also so many moments to appreciate how fortunate we are to be healthy, happy and secure in our lives. I am trying not to dwell on the ‘what ifs’ of the year ahead, and to be hopeful about the possibilities.

Anyway, here are some of my favourite pieces of writing from the last year. I have deliberately excluded any of the obituaries or political pieces, although many of them were excellent too. This is a list filled with hope and ideas:

Food

Rachel Roddy’s food from Rome column in the Guardian’s Cook supplement has been one of my favourites of the year. Bookmarked recipes included: a door-stopping vegetable bake (ie one that makes people stop at your door); an evocative post about pizza bianca; soft almond biscuits; and one of my favourites from her book Five Quarters, twice-cooked broccoli and pasta.

Serious Eats has been a source of inspiration this year, especially J. Kenjo Lopez-Alt’s columns that investigate how recipes work. This one on making Yorkshire Pudding is a classic example of his style and the practical tips he comes out with.

Cookbooks I have referenced the most this year include:

  • Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Cook – its organisation by time available is really helpful.
  • The Five O’Clock Apron – lots of practical family cooking, with a foodie edge
  • Food52 A New Way to Dinner – this one I only got at Christmas, but has already been pored over, and I have made lots of things from it already. I can see this forming the backbone of my cooking this year.

Parenting

Angry Mummy: Try again. Fail again. Fail better – on the importance of being a crap parent, and owning up to it, by Rachel Jeffcoat, aka Make a Long Story Short. Other brilliant posts this year: Anyone who says their two-year-old wasn’t a tiny insane tyrant is lyingLet’s kick our inner smug mums to the kerb this summer.

I Quit – the seminal post from Mother Pukka, that describes her decision to quit her job in favour of striking out on her own and making time for her daughter. Anna’s writing has been some of the most honest and real I have read this year: from posts about miscarriage, pregancy after loss, her Flex Appeal campaign for flexible working support, and just general all-round real parenting.

Getting stuff done

I am a sucker for anything that promises I can get more stuff done with less faffing and more organisation. Some of the things that I tried out this year:
Bullet Journals: An introduction to bullet journals
Bullet Journal + GTD from Boho Berry
Bullet Journal: what I’ve learned in 4 months from Sarah at Taming Twins:

The magic of 30 minute meetings
What happened when I stopped using screens after 11pm
Let’s not meet: 5 alternatives to meetings
Why making my tasks emotional increased my productivity

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Sunday food links – 6 November 2016

My view #cyprus

We have been in Cyprus for the last week – so no cooking or recipes in the log this week. I also didn’t do that much food-related reading, opting for novels instead. I wasn’t really expecting to get much time for that, but the combination of a toddler that can now be absorbed for longer periods, plus some long afternoon naps meant I made some reasonable progress. It was lovely to have a break that felt like summer – it means I feel better about throwing myself into pre-Christmas preparations now.

Reading

The books:

  • Finally finished Death comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James – pleasantly diverting, but not much more, and occasionally felt like it was showing off the period research a bit.
  • Intended to start on A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson, but instead got sucked into reading the previous book, Life after Life again (not sorry – still so good).
  • And The Muse by Jessie Burton (which you must have come across, as it was advertised absolutely everywhere), which I really enjoyed. A nice blend of historical romance and mystery.

Elsewhere:

 

Sunday food links – 30 October 2016

Pumpkins on a table

I had a wonderful day at the Makelight studio in South London on Friday, with photographers Emily Quinton and Catherine Frawley. I have books on photography and did one of Emily’s online courses earlier in the year, but nothing can really compare to first person teaching, when you’re able to ask questions and get feedback on the images you’re taking.

I have the best of intentions about food photography, but I never put much planning into it – it’s always an afterthought from the food I want to make. And that’s what came across in the workshop: planning your shots, especially when and where you will take them, is what makes the difference. Catherine and Emily have no patience for anything other than natural light for food photography, so that means taking photos when the light is available, not when the food is ready.

I was fairly pleased with some of the images I got on the day, but there is so much more to practice and learn at home. First on the list is to get hold of some nice textured backgrounds to use (see above for the lovely old wood table in Emily’s studio).

We’re off on holiday today, so the shortage of food reading this week will probably be made up for with the reading list next week (at least I hope so!)

Recipes:

  • Fish with rye and bacon crumbs – from How to Hygge with baked sweet potatoes and broccoli
  • Pizza dough – using the country bread recipe from Tartine Bread (at time of writing, a ridiculous £2.99 on Kindle!)

Without a recipe:

  • Lasagne
  • Fish fingers and chips
  • Spelt risotto, with roasted squash and sausages
  • Slow cooker beans from the freezer, with a leftover sausage and some Norwegian meatballs from the freezer

Reading:

 

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Sunday food links – 23 October 2016

Not very many recipes on the list this week, mainly because I was lucky enough to have my Mum catering for us for most of the week, while the other half was travelling.

This week, I have been inspired by my new copy of Signe Johansen’sHow to Hygge‘ to make a few Scandi-inspired things, including the meatballs for Saturday night, and I have plans for fish with rye and bacon crumbs in the week. I’m also going to be playing that game of trying to use up everything in the fridge before our holiday, which could well result in some strange combinations towards the end of the week.

Finally, I’m very excited that I get to meet Emily Quinton from Makelight in person this friday when I attend her Food Styling and Photography workshop. If you fancy getting to know your camera a bit better, or just taking better Instagram photos with your phone, do check out her online courses and in person workshops.

Recipes:

Without a recipe:

  • Apple crumble
  • plus lasagne, baked chicken and fish pie from my Mother in Law and mum.

Reading:

Sunday food links – 16 October 2016

https://flic.kr/p/N5YoSv

The slow cooker has returned to regular service this week, with braised beef, a piece of gammon cooked in ginger and apple juice, and an Anna Jones vegetarian chili in right now. The air has been getting cool enough for thicker coats, and even gloves in the early morning. So we had a warming week of pasta bake, beef stew, apple pudding and custard.

E and I made scones together on Friday afternoon. Scones are a fairly ideal toddler baking project: they come together quickly with simple actions *and* you get to use cutters. She stirred the raising agents into the flour, helped to rub in the butter and dump in the (pre-measured) milk, and chose cutters to us, giving a rather eclectic range of shapes. She also painted the tops with egg wash, and then happily consumed one without either butter or jam (which was a shock: she has been known to put jam on toast and then lick it off, leaving the toast behind).

Recipes:

Without a recipe:

  • Pie and chips
  • Leftovers
  • Bought pizza

Reading:

Sunday food links – 9 October 2016

I have a suspicion that these will not be the last things I buy because my daughter suggested it #notsorry #yellow

This week has confirmed that October is the month where proper autumn turns up. My kitchen thoughts start to turn to slowly cooked tomato sauce, pasta bakes and risottos, apple cake and crumble. I should start thinking about making Christmas cake as well, although I’m not quite ready for that. I’m still clinging on, if not to summer, then to the warmth of early autumn, partly by buying yellow shoes…

Recipes:

Without a recipe:

  • Beef stir fry with broccoli and runner beans
  • Butternut squash risotto
  • As promised last week, a vegetable tart using leftover olive oil pastry
  • And a bakewell tart traybake with Nigella’s butter biscuit dough as the base.
  • Meatballs from the freezer, with tomato sauce and pasta
  • Apple crumble, using the most damaged apples from our tree

Reading:

Finally finished The Essex Serpent – oof, it’s good. In fact, I’m quite tempted to go straight back to the start and read it again. So many brilliant turns of phrase. It has nuanced, human characters – men and women, and a way of writing sections that feel like they hover over the characters, telling you what everyone is doing at that moment in time, that felt very Under Milk Wood. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Victorian novel, go and seek it out now.

On a more practical note:

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Sunday food links – 2 October 2016

https://flic.kr/p/MKgeGY

Each week I start figuring out what to write here by asking myself “what kind of week has it been?” It’s often hard to find a pattern or theme that emerges from the haze of drop-offs, dinners, work, nursery, bedtimes and bathtimes. This week, I think the biggest one has been a slight sense of disorganisation in the kitchen, that has led to some fairly weird leftovers.

The week started fairly well, with a leftovers quiche made with olive oil pastry on Sunday. Then there was a slow cooker adaptation of Ruth Reichl’s pork and tomatillo stew on Tuesday, which only got better through the week.

However, I also made a samosa filling with runner beans and potatoes on Sunday, which never made it out of the fridge and into the (by now, dried out) leftover filo pastry. The second piece of olive oil pastry has been sat in the fridge all week too. And there’s some biscuit dough that I defrosted to bake with E that is also stubbornly lurking in there.

And it’s all nicely symbolised by the sourdough starter that I refreshed on Saturday morning – and then neglected until we got in late on Saturday afternoon. A good intention to use up leftovers, or make something frugal, where ultimately my optimism got the better of me, and I ran out of time and energy to see it through.

It’s too late for the samosas, but the pastry and the biscuit dough can both be rescued today. A tart with the leftover vegetable bake, I think. And a biscuit base for some apples or jam. And so today is a bit better.

Recipes:

Without a recipe:

  • Waitrose pizza
  • Leftover pork stew with avocado and rice
  • Leftover vegetable bake with feta

Reading:

Sunday food links – 25 September 2016

Amazing Lemon Cannellini Cake

Smitten Kitchen turned 10 this week – 10!
I can track a large chunk of my cooking-and-blogging life to recipes from Deb. Reading back through her archives, I think I picked up on her blog in late 2008 or early 2009. I certainly remember being excited when she visited the Pioneer Woman ranch. She has persuaded me to peel chickpeas; to make my own ricotta; and held my virtual hand when I made swiss meringue buttercream for the first time.

In 2012 I ordered the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, and eagerly ordered tickets for the Abergavenny Food Festival to hear her talk. Sadly, nausea from my pregnancy with E kept me at home the whole of that weekend (oh, and weeks and weeks either side). Her recipes have formed the foundation of countless family dinners, celebration cakes, brunches, breakfasts and everything in between. When E turned one, Smitten Kitchen was the first place I turned to plan the cake. Her first birthday cake was the same as Jacob’s in the end – a big and little monkey cake.

Amongst thousands of American food blogs, what makes Deb stand out is a clear voice, at once friendly and authoritative. She takes you by the hand through the recipe, describing all the little twists and turns, the cul-de-sacs visited along the way, the substitutions that worked, and those that didn’t. Along with her photos, always taken against the same bit of kitchen counter, and documenting every step of the process, you feel you can really trust a Smitten Kitchen recipe. And as a US blog that also lists ingredients in grams, they are also really approachable for a British baker.

So, thank-you Deb for ten years of blogging. May you continue for many more.

Some favourite Smitten Kitchen recipes:

Recipes:

For our MacMillan Coffee Morning at work:

  • Anna Jones’s Amazing Lemon Cannelini Cake – A Modern Way to Cook – pictured above. Gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, and properly light and delicious (not vegan though).
  • Nigella Lawson’s Malteser Cake – Feast
  • David Lebovitz Coconut macaroons, dipped in dark chocolate – Room for Dessert

Without a recipe:

  • Courtesy of my Mother-in-Law, who took on catering and nursery duties for a couple of nights while DH was out of town: meatballs and spaghetti; and roast chicken and veg.
  • Baked fish, mashed potatoes, peas and broccoli

Reading:

Sunday food links – 18 September 2016

Hard to get tired of this view. Love the way the sunshine is picking out the dome of St Paul's this afternoon

It seems as though we’ve walked through the looking glass this week, taking a single step that goes directly from summer to autumn. Going from 30C temperatures to grey and raining, with a dose of the flu, has been a bit of a shock to the system. And this week has had both seasons: still-ripe tomatoes on grilled bread, and then apple sauce with the first of the apples from the tree. Ice lollies from the freezer; and then bookmarking butternut squash soup recipes.

I am doing my best to embrace autumn, but the flu is making that a struggle. Still, I’ve been bookmarking some autumnal recipes, finally going back to finish the glorious Essex Serpent, and assembling some colder weather clothes for my autumn wardrobe. But I’d rather have the golden mists-and-mellow-fruitfellness version than the leaden sky one, all the same.

Recipes:

Without a recipe:

  • Fish and oven chips and peas
  • Firezza delivery pizza
  • Pasta with ragu from the freezer
  • Scrambled eggs on toast

Reading:

 

Sunday food links – 11 September 2016

So pretty... #eclairs #maitrechoux

This week I returned to three days a week at work after a temporary period at four days. This would have returned a bit of sanity and order to the house, were it not for the fact that I used my first free Tuesday in months to get E a vaccine booster, and then spent the next two days at home with her with a temperature…

Still, I did manage to finally put up my post about baking and substituting yoghurt and other dairy products – I hope you enjoy it and find it useful. And I (rather embarrasingly) found a hidden corner of my WordPress dashboard with a stack of messages in, including my first offer of a cookbook for review! So I’m working some book posts to include this – watch this space.

It was a fairly frugal week in meals. The roast chicken with new potatoes and broccoli from Saturday night reappeared several times, with the leftover chicken made into Monday night curry, and the vegetables recycled in pasta and a tortilla. The sausages cooked with beans in the slow cooker on Wednesday covered most of the rest of the week. Pizza on Friday is always a good way to use up little odds and ends of things: in this case, half a courgette and a wrinkled box of mushrooms were part of the toppings. The counterbalance to this frugality was fillets of beautiful lemon sole I bought at a the South Kensington fishmongers, Moxon’s, on Tuesday when we were visiting the Natural History Museum. Oh, and those eclairs…

Recipes:

  • Tartine sourdough pizza from Tartine Bread – with courgette, mushrooms, mozzarella and Serrano ham
  • Slow Cooker cassoulet (really just sausage and beans) – from Slow Cooked
  • Chicken and sweet potato curry – from Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand

Without A Recipe:

Reading: