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Saturday, 29 January 2011

on my plate: chilli jam and salted oat crackers

NOT strictly on my plate, but seeing as I happen to live with some of the recipients of these homemade Christmas gifts, by default the fruits of my labour still managed to sneak onto it...

The salted oat crackers were brilliantly easy to make, and satisfyingly delicious considering the amount (or lack of) work that went into their creation. Tip: where the recipe calls for rolling out the dough very very thinly then really do; it makes for a better cracker. 

And it was lucky that I ended up making a mountain of them, as it was a true test of willpower resisting the urge to greedily pop every other one of these salty crunchy morsels into my mouth as I lay them out to cool.

The chilli jam was another story. If you do not have a food processor do not, I repeat: DO NOT, attempt to make this product a) when you are short on time, or b) when you have a hangover. I had the time, but I also had the hangover. And it took a lot of perseverance to get through the chopping stage (an hour at least); followed by the lengthy cooking time.

I have never made a jam before, perhaps this just how it is done. But it definitely tested my patience.

On the bright side, the result was a real success. A rich, sticky jam, the sweetness counterbalanced by warmth coming through from the ginger and heat releasing gradually from the chilli. I personally would have liked it spicier (I used three instead of the recommended nine chillies) but I had to remember that I was producing gifts, and therefore not everyone shares the same love of fiery spice. 

All in all it was a success. The copious amounts produced of each item meant that it was more than worth the effort when it came to sharing them out amongst friends and family. And - as long as I can psyche myself up for the chopping stage of the jam - I will definitely be making them again.

Monday, 17 January 2011

katy grannan's granny (not literally)

THIS image immediately threw up a question in my mind. One that is probably quite common amongst women in today's image obsessed society. 'At what age should you stop wearing short skirts?'

Now, before seeing this photo I would have possibly made a stab in the dark guess at around 40. (Maybe later if you're a celebrity with the ability to apparently stop the aging process at 30.) But upon seeing this image I think I may have changed my mind. 

I am usually the first to balk at any form of varicose veins, orange peel thighs or knobbly knees. It just isn't necessary to subject others to those sights. Yet this woman (dare I say it) looks cool. She's got attitude. And was clearly used to having all eyes on her in her youth - just look at the pose she's striking for the camera. 

In an outfit that wouldn't look out of place on an Alexa Chung wannabe this San Francisco granny has also done what many young girls often fail to do - by balancing the above-the-knee skirt with a long-sleeved shirt she has preserved her modesty. The result being an alluring outfit without needing to bare all.

However, there is one major reason why this woman's choice of short skirt has not made me express views of a completely different nature. And that is that this lady clearly lives in a hot climate. I mean real heat - not the measly 25C that sees Britons banding about the word 'heatwave'. 

And so in the name of comfort, (and also because if you can't think 'fuck it' at the age of 65 then when can you) I applaud and support her style. 

That's not to say that I want to see grannies stripping down by the dozen all around me. Simply that there is a time and a place where - if done well - the dare-to-bare attitude can be pulled off at any age.

Thursday, 13 January 2011


I have made a discovery. A true gem. And I am now torn as to whether I should disclose this prized piece of information when every inch of my body is screaming at me not to. 

I am not the first to have uncovered it (as the line of those obediently queuing outside proved) and I most certainly will not be the last; but for the moment I feel like I have entered into a torrid love affair with - yes, you may have guessed it - a restaurant. And it goes by the name of Koya.

But I've already said too much. This tiny place was heaving, bursting at the seams. Though what I will divulge is this: if you want a unique udon noodle experience then Koya should be your destination of choice. Casual dining; fantastic food. 

One of those who joined me in this Japanese culinary joy summed it up perfectly: 'I would queue again for this place, even if I knew I'd have to also queue to get out...'

Saturday, 8 January 2011

most wanted: living and eating by john pawson / annie bell

THE idea of an architect renowned for his minimalist approach collaborating  with someone to create a cookbook may, in some, invoke fear. Fear that it will produce a tome of never-in-your-wildest-dreams-will-you-ever-be-able-to-recreate-them recipes accompanied by stunning images of dishes akin to mini installations, more likely to  induce tummy-rumbling than salivating.

The good news is that in this instance it was not the case. The bad news is that you may have to part with up to £150 to have the pleasure of owning the result.

Living and Eating is not a new publication; it was released a decade ago. I discovered it on Pawson's website, perusing it upon learning that a major exhibition of his work was in its final weeks at the Design Museum

What has excited me is the book's concept. Pawson's affinity with simplicity has here been applied with the intention of distilling the cooking/eating process into one of pure pleasure. From the design of the kitchen and utensils used, through to the making and serving of recipes listed, attention to detail has been identified as the key to enjoyable living and eating. Not in a fastidious manner, but purely working on the notion that consideration should be given to what really matters, dispensing with the unnecessary and the distracting.

I knew that this was my kind of book when the introduction commented on four key elements to consider when preparing a dish: texture, taste, fragrance, temperature. Highlighting texture as often being the most neglected. 

Yet Pawson and Bell are not suggesting that you be mindful of these aspects only when attempting complex meals. Instead, Living and Eating is filled with recipes that are not labour intensive, and many of which are sure to have featured on your dinner table at some point. If you're looking for guidance on top quality and stress-free cooking, eating and entertaining then this is the book for you. 

And if you have ever mused upon the varying properties of stainless steel, aluminum, copper and cast-iron saucepans, then this is also the book for you.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

one man's project...

I'VE always liked art projects that take the form of a daily process. How much is one capable of achieving in a day? How does this evolve over a number of days? And what is the cumulative effect of this?

'mexico drug war : made in the US'
'passive smoking "kills 600,000" worldwide'

Johnny Selman's project 'BBCx365' intends to 'bridge the knowledge gap between current events and the American public.' It involves taking one news story every day for a year (from the BBC) and designing a poster in reaction to its headline. Through visual stimulation Selman hopes to ignite an interest in world news amongst his American audience, accompanying his images with a link to further information on the article in question.

The stories span a range of themes and continents, Selman being unafraid of selecting features that shed light on aspects that some in the US may not be so eager to acknowledge. And the posters - though always clear and simple - vary in their use of text and graphic imagery; at times shocking, at times mildly humorous.

'how south african doctors make life-and-death choices'

Ultimately I believe that this is an extremely positive approach to addressing an issue that, although acute within American culture, is probably not unique to it. I would like to think that I keep abreast of most major news stories. And I am always ready to debate the media's representation of the world in which we live. But I must admit that there are many issues raised on the BBCx365 site that I was not aware of, and I am grateful for this means through which to learn more about them. 
'snow disrupts travel across northern europe'

The method through which Selman has chosen to tackle this project is certainly an effective one. By reducing the story to bite-size pieces - headline/striking image - he is not only allowing the audience to digest a wide (albeit basic) selection of information, but also provoking a desire to expand on one's understanding of it. 
However, I do fear that those who are getting most excited/involved in following the project are not the ones that it is at it's core addressing. Therefore I will be interested to observe how it evolves, who it reaches, and the level to which it actually succeeds in effecting any change within the American psyche.   

'shark attacks in egypt's red sea probed by experts'