Monthly Archives: July 2011

Three Weeks Post Knee Surgery

Stitches are out

It’s been three weeks since I had surgery on my right knee to remove a cyst lurking in the meniscus behind my patella. Things are still stiff and my range of motion is not what it was, but already I’ve been able to mow the lawn, spend two days wandering around Berlin and return to my daily half-hour walks around the farm. I’m far from 100% – it will still be several weeks before I can even think about running, cycling or swimming again – but it feels good to be moving at least a little bit again.

I say it feels good, but at the same time, I’ve been feeling a little lousy. As much as I’ve enjoyed a bit of forced relaxation, I find myself letting my eating habits slip – desserts, snacks and alcohol have creeped into my life at a higher than moderate rate. As a result, I’ve gained weight, I feel lethargic and overall not very pretty.

In the past, keeping a journal has been hugely valuable (I was reminded about this when I was asked to edit my About Me page for BlogHer, and re-read the 2005 bit about how “journaling changed everything”). In 2005, I used a notebook, but this time, I’m using posterous, and a few days ago I quietly started SmarterFitter Daily to rekindle my diary habits (and do SOMETHING with the myriad of food photos I take of my daily meals).

I’m doing it a bit different than I did back then: more photos, and I’m not counting calories. I’m just writing down what I eat and do and some simple goals to keep myself accountable and in control.

Thanks to Vanessa Kimbell for inspiring me.

Here’s a pic of my knee a day after the operation. X marks the spot (er, spots?).

X marks the spot

Why won’t the garden grow?

Eaten!

I will tell you one reason: something keeps eating it. My poor little cilantro seedlings have been chomped to bits before they even had a chance. Same goes for my lettuce, rocket and Mizuna. So much for salad.

Worth saving?

Elsewhere, in the raised bed, I can’t explain my pathetically stunted French beans and jalapeno plant.

Pathetic French bean crop

The jalapeno has not grown a centimetre in the last two months, and the French beans have yielded a measly THREE beans. Where have I gone wrong?

Static jalapeno

My pickle dreams are being torn asunder – I don’t know who would want to eat this pathetic, yellowed, withered gherkin:

Pathetic cucumber

Even in the non-veg department, the leaves of my black-eyed susan are turning all purply-red, and the flowers are quick to turn white and shrivel to bits.

Leaves turning color - why?

The garden is giving me the blues. I was so distraught this weekend I had to pull some potatoes (albeit a tad early) just to reassure myself that I’m not a total failure. The pink fir spud warmed my downtrodden spirits.

Potatoes to cheer me up

I’m totally mystified by all my loser plants. The bug thing I get – and thanks to MiskMask for the natural insecticide recipe (1 part vinegar, 2 parts water, 1 tsp dish soap). I have sprayed what’s left and it has helped so far… I’ve also started some new lettuce seeds and will be sure to spray as soon as the seedlings break through.

Part of me wonders if the UK weather is to blame. It’s been VERY dry, a touch windy, and not terribly warm. Things seemed happier last year when I used my makeshift polytunnel during the early part of the season. But my (thwarted!!) desire for French beans this year (and hence, a tall structure to grow them on) meant no polytunnel for my raised bed.

Indoors, things seem to do better. I already have tomatoes coming in on my Latah tomato plant. Looking on the bright side…

Latah Tomato

My story syndicated on BlogHer

In poached egg bliss.A warm welcome to any newcomers stopping by from BlogHer. BlogHer approached me a few weeks ago asking if they could syndicate my About Me page on their website (“with a few edits”). It was a great excuse to reflect a bit on the last year and update my story with the latest developments.

My only real reservation is the title. Since “About Me” isn’t an apt title for a blog post, BlogHer changed it to, well, this:

How I Lost and Kept 40 lbs Off — By Eating Green

My suggested title was “A life in food…so far” but I guess that wasn’t catchy enough. It’s just that the weight loss isn’t the point of all this. I almost feel like I should take it out of the story altogether.

But nevermind. It’s a thrill to be featured on BlogHer and I hope you’ll visit and leave comments and good vibes all around. Thanks BlogHer!

Click hear read to my story on BlogHer.

Syndicated on BlogHer.com

Birthday in Berlin

Takin' a drag at the Berlin Wall

Link to my Berlin photoset on Flickr.

I just got back from a short but very sweet trip to Germany, a little birthday present to myself. It just so happened that some of my great friends and favourite people from Austin would be travelling to Berlin, a city (and a country) I’ve always wanted to visit. So, knee surgery be damned, I booked my EasyJet flights and away I went.

Dave & Monica Berlin Wall The Circus Hostel Me & Rachel

As much as I’m a total foodie, my trip to Berlin was less about food than it was about friends. Sometimes in life it’s best not to constantly obsess about food 24-7, but rather enjoy the people you’re with and take everything else as it comes. And really, I had little choice in the matter as its been ages since I’ve seen Rachel and Dave, two of my favourite people in the world, not to mention it’s been only two weeks since I’ve had knee surgery and I’m still hobbling around like a crotchety old lady. But Berlin was totally worth the effort.

The other side of the wall...

The thing I’ve noticed is that the less I worry about food, the more I enjoy food and everything else around it. In fact, we stumbled upon some great meals in Berlin, and there was no shortage of delicious vegetarian options. Even a random lunch pick near the highly touristy Brandenburg Gate resulted in a delicious feta cheese salad full of lovely olives, seeds and pine nuts.

Lunch

On the night of my birthday, we met up with another Austinite, my former boss from Enspire who now lives in Berlin, and his wife, who showed us to fantastic restaurant called Oxymoron located “in the first Art Nouveau courtyard of the “Hackesche Höfe” in the heart of Berlin.” We all shared some amazing starters, including organic mozzarella with chili leek cream, grilled aubergine and young spinach, and goat`s cheese from the oven with mountain honey on Beluga lentils and lamb`s lettuce.

Goats cheese with Beluga lentils and lamb's lettuce Mozzarella with aubergine and baby spinach Birthday Dinner @ Oxymoron in Berlin Birthday Dinner @ Oxymoron in Berlin

I should also add that we dined al fresco, a rare delight – how strange that I had to go to Germany of all places to experience a real summer? England just doesn’t get it.

Oxymoron

Since it was my birthday, and knowing that my knee demanded comfort, I treated myself to a stay in The Circus Hotel, which was as good as I’d hoped. The rooms were impeccably clean, stylish and warm, the wifi was seamless, and their hotel cafe, “Fabische”, was as good as any Austin coffee shop for hanging out, resting tired limbs, computing and travel writing. But perhaps the best part was the muesli buffet, which even included bircher muesli amongst its myriad of grain flakes, seeds, nuts, fruits and yogurts.

Love this: Muesli Bar

Other highlights from Berlin:

The weather amazing – sunny, warm, t-shirt weather – summer at last!

I loved just wandering around the city and taking in all of the incredibly changing, vast, varied views. Graffiti, construction, tattoos, piercings, walls, rivers, trees modern architecture, currywurst stands, biergartens, short shorts, old people, young people, kids, dogs, bars, cafes, restaurants. It’s a constant stream of changing inputs, and an energising scene to be a part of.

Tea break River Spree Rocket Hotel View World Time TV Tower

On the tourist front, the Holocaust Memorial was perhaps most striking to me, a 19,000 square metre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field.

Holocaust Memorial

Of course, by far, the best part of Berlin was meeting up with Rachel and Dave and doing some of the best things in life: hanging out with good friends and catching up over lots of good drinks and eats. Even when some of those eats are as confusing as the combination of bread and aioli (surprisingly good) or currywurst and french fries* (only three euros at the tapas place we were eating in – that’s right, currywurst at a tapas restaurant – only in Germany). In the end, it’s all about the people you share things with. Cheers to a great birthday – thanks, guys!

Cheers

Link to my Berlin photoset on Flickr.

* Just to clarify, I did not take part in the currywurst, but I did try a french fry. To the tapas restaurant’s credit, the fries were actually very good. The currywurst, however, we not well-reviewed by my peers.

Supper Club at The Vegetarian Cookery School

Salad of fresh peas, broad beans and purple potatoes with ewes cheese

Rachel Demuth hosted her first ever supper club last Wednesday – the only supper club in Bath – at the Vegetarian Cookery School, with cookery school chefs (and former head chefs of Demuths) Helen Lawrence and Jo Ingleby. The evening was a delight, and I was thrilled to not only be a part of the meal, but also a part of the planning, Tweeting and buzz-building that made the event not only possible, but a total success.

Supperclubbers

A large part of that success came down to a great turnout of lovely people, including Tweeters SandySom, scrapiana, EmmmaB, RealGandy, jazzcleo and KingMonkeymedia.

Of course, the menu also had something to do with it:

  • Salmorejo with handmade picos (recipe here)
  • Salad of fresh peas, broad beans and purple potatoes with Homewood Park Ewes Cheese
  • Chili and almond mojo rojo
  • Lebanese flatbreads with sumac, courgettes and Homewood Park pickled ewes cheese
  • Slow roasted baby aubergines with tomatoes and peppers
  • Saffron pilaf with caramelised onions
  • Wild herb and edible flower salad with blackcurrant vinegar dressing
  • Strawberry and rosewater granita
  • Summer berry tartlets with our own cassis coulis

Click here to view all of my photos from the evening on Flickr.

Cookery school kitchen Salmorejo Helen gets artistic Salad of fresh peas, broad beans and purple potatoes with ewes cheese Flatbread with chili and almond mojo rojo Saffron pilaf with caramelized onions Strawberry & Rosewater Granita Helen & Jo Summer berry tartlets with cassis coulis

I was tickled not unpleasantly when I saw the salad of fresh peas, broad beans and purple potatoes with Homewood Park ewes cheese – this was THE salad that inspired my recent recipe post: Broad Bean Salad with Ricotta and Tarragon Vinaigrette. Helen’s presentation was, well, humbling, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of it. Served with borage flowers, it was a stunning and delicious dish.

Salad of fresh peas, broad beans and purple potatoes with ewes cheese

Another highlight for me was the mojo rojo, an almond and chili puree, served with lebanese flatbread topped with courgette, olives and ewes cheese. The mojo rojo was used as a condiment for the bread, and it totally rocked my world.

Flatbread with chili and almond mojo rojo

There was one dish that left me absolutely flummoxed – in a good way. It was the wild herb and edible flower salad that was served along side the pilaf and slow-roasted aubergines. I’ve never tasted such strong flavours – lovage, fennel tops, more borage flowers and other various things I couldn’t identify. It was crazy but I loved it – a great match to the aubergine.

Wild herb and edible flower salad

So, another great night of food and good company in the southwest of England. I’m really growing very attached to this little part of the world. Thanks to the crew at the cookery school for hosting; I’m already looking forward to the next supper club.

Jo, Helen & Rachel

Related links:

Broad Bean Salad with Ricotta and Tarragon Vinaigrette

Fresh ricotta and broad bean salad

Whenever I get broad beans in the organic box, my thoughts immediately turn to a broad bean and fresh goats curd salad I had on a French Cookery Holiday with Rachel Demuth. Alas, fresh goats curd is a bit hard to come by in these parts, but I’m lucky to have Cirencester’s Organic Farm Shop nearby where I can buy fresh unhomogenized whole milk for fresh ricotta, a very worthy substitute.

I’ve already written about making fresh ricotta. You could, of course, buy ricotta, or any other soft crumbly cheese, to save yourself a bit of time. No one would fault you for it – the time spent shelling, cooking and de-skinning broad beans is a labor of love in itself.

Beans galore Broad beans Broad beans, shelled Shelling Broad beans

A few other related but disjoint notes:

This recipe was originally submitted to We Grow Our Own’s Cultivate, Cook & Click Competition. It lots to a very worth Gooseberry and Elderflower Cake. Nevertheless, We Grow Our Own is a blog worth visiting for anyone interesting in growing and cooking seasonal veg (especially chilies – the blog’s author is Wahaca’s chili guru).

I’ve been told by fellow foodie Diana Morgan that the tarragon vinaigrette is also good with mint instead of tarragon, and an excellent dressing for new potatoes.

If anyone knows of a good source of fresh organic goats milk in Wiltshire or Gloucester (so I can make my own fresh goats curd), please let me know!

Broad Bean Salad with Ricotta and Tarragon Vinaigrette

This salad was inspired by a dish I had on a French Cookery Holiday with Rachel Demuth. The original salad was made with fresh goats curd, but I’ve found ricotta to be a worthy substitute. If you make your own ricotta cheese or goats curd, this salad is the perfect use of those delicate homemade cheeses. If you don’t have tarragon, dill and basil work very well, too.

Ingredients

  • 720g broad beans (~250g shelled)
  • 100g sugar snap beans
  • 100g ricotta
  • salad leaves

Tarragon Vinaigrette

  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp honey
  • pinch salt & pepper

Method

Pod the broad beans and boil them until tender (about 2 or 3 minutes). During the last minute of cooking, add the snap beans. You want the vegetables to still be crisp so don’t cook for very long. Drain in a colander.

Make the dressing by whisking all of the vinaigrette ingredients together in a bowl.

Arrange the lettuce leaves on two plates. Add the snap beans and broad beans over the leaves. Top with crumbled ricotta and drizzle with the dressing (you may not need all of the vinaigrette – you can store the extra for use on new potatoes, or another broad bean salad). Top with a grind of fresh black pepper if you like and serve straight away.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4 servings (as a starter)

Per serving: 351 Calories | 12.9 grams Fat | 44.1 grams Carbohydrates | 15.5 grams Protein | 9.9 grams Fiber

Egg a Day Supperclub: Over 50 Eggs Required

Not camera shy

If you’re a UK foodie on Twitter, then you’ve probably been to, heard of or at least seen the word “supperclub”. It’s a growing trend, mainly concentrated in London, but is quickly spreading to cities across the UK. Bristol in particular has attracted a wealth of well-reviewed supperclubs, the lastest of which being Genevieve Taylor’s Egg a Day Supperclub, held at her home in Bristol’s St. Anne’s neighborhood.

Genevieve Taylor is a food photographer, food stylist and cookbook author of the recently published Stew!: 100 Fabulously Frugal Recipes. She also writes the excellent Egg a Day blog, a chronicle of recipes and stories that details her experience raising chickens, “the girls” Gen calls them, and the creatures who inspired this memorable supperclub.

I was a supperclub virgin before Egg a Day. As much as I’ve been curious about the phenomenon, I was plagued by fear of the unknown. Could I go on my own? Would I sit by myself? Would people talk to me? How do I pay? How much booze should I bring?

Gen Table setting Tortilla action

Fortunately, Jo Ingleby, one of my cohorts from The Vegetarian Cookery School and co-chef of Egg a Day, urged me to come along and even suggested I come early and photograph the event. The knowledge of usefulness is always encouraging, so shyness be damned, I signed up, and showed up, with my camera as promised and a bottle each of red and white (simply because I couldn’t decide).

The plan was to dine al fresco, but as much as we willed the sun to shine, a strong breeze made outdoor dining a chilly prospect. So at the last minute, Gen moved the dining room indoors and saved the outdoors for pre-dinner nibbles and drinks. While Jo and Gen busied themselves with final prep – setting tables, slicing flatbread, cooking spanish tortilla, garnishing labna – I busied myself in Gen’s glorious garden, visiting “the girls” and admiring Gen’s peach tree and veg patch, sprawling with squash, parsley, peas and the promise of tomatoes and french beans.

One of the girls Impressive peaches In the garden

The vast garden, with its seamless transition into the open plan kitchen, makes Gen’s home the perfect place for a supperclub. It has that nice lived-in feeling that seems to breath family stories, long Sunday mornings with the paper and many many meals. But as much as it’s homey, it’s also spacious and modern, with an open-plan kitchen bringing a wonderful element of “show and tell” to the supperclub.

Of course, aesthetics are one thing, but what about the evening itself? Would my fears of sitting along in a corner come true? Looking back, it feels so silly that I even worried.

Calm before the storm Jo & Gen

The Egg a Day supperclub was less like a restaurant and more like an intimate dinner party, with 16 diners in total and a “Mostly” Moorish menu. As guests arrived, we gathered outside around a table of enticing nibbles: labna with garlic and sumac, beetroot and walnut pate with coriander, parsley and mint; flatbread with caraway, nigella and black sesame seeds.

Corkscrews were plentiful and I shared a glass of bubbly with a young couple of generous Bristolians, one a caterer, the other a software programmer. Later I met another programmer, and two English (I think?) professors, and a few other people new to the supperclub scene. So you see, not all supperclub goers are chefs, caterers, food writers or other members of the foodie elite. They’re just people. People who like good food and a little adventure. My kind of people.

Beetroot & walnut pate with coriander, parsley & mint Jo & Gen Flatbread with caraway, nigella & black sesame seeds The feast begins Labneh with garlic & sumac In the garden

That said, there were a good handful of veterans, and at least one person who hosts a supperclub herself. I’m glad they were there to help make us newbies feel comfortable with a bit of good chat and solidarity. Let’s face it – when you’re standing around a table of delicious food, surrounded by people who love food as much as you do, an appropriate amount of rhapsodising is inevitable. “Have you ever had anything quite like this beetroot pate? It’s gorgeous.”

After a healthy amount of nibbling, drinking and mingling, we decamped indoors for the main event. I shared my table with a lovely couple and their guest from Greece, and we all tucked in to course after course of edible bliss.

We started with chargrilled English asparagus with saffron alioli, appropriately eggy and deliciously aromatic. Then came the empanadillas, exquisite sweet pepper, tuna & egg pastries, and classic Spanish tortilla, with a lovely smoked paprika ketchup.

Chargrilled English asparagus with saffron alioli Jo makes empanadillas Jo and her big knife Mograbiah couscous with broad beans, peas, mint & lemon Mograbiah couscous with broad beans, peas, mint & lemon Supperclubbers

The warm zucchini and carrot salad with cumin and garlic dressing was a favourite of mine, not only because I’m a vegetable fiend, but because the veggies were prepared so tenderly, still crisp, with a delicate seasoning. Similarly, the mograbiah couscous with broad beans, peas, mint & lemon was fresh and flavoursome. The highlight, though, was the chakchouka, a gently spiced dish of tomatoes, peppers, onions with baked eggs. Outstanding.

Pre-baked baked eggs

Pudding was an impressive pistachio merengue with a heap of fresh strawberries and homemade vanilla ice cream. We finished the night outside around an open fire with fresh mint tea and pastels de nata. It was close to midnight before we called it a night, and what a night it was. I went to bed full and happy, and dreamed dreams of Gen’s peaches, one of the few garden delights I didn’t get to try.

Pasteis de nata Pistachio pavlova with strawberries and ice cream Dessert wine

I don’t think I could have picked a better supperclub than Gen’s Egg a Day supperclub to break me into this dining phenomenon. Then again, I won’t know for sure unless I visit a few more, and you can bet I will. In a couple weeks, I’m off to The Vegetarian Cookery School for Rachel Demuth’s first ever supperclub. I already know it’s going to be awesome, not only because I’ve helped organise it, but also because Jo Ingleby will be there in her chef apron, bringing her skills to yet another Southwest area supperclub. If Egg a Day was any indication, then food promises to be delicious and the company just as delightful.

Asparagus

I asked Gen how many eggs it took to serve all 16 of us. “At least 50,” she said, “I’ve been stockpiling eggs for weeks and can finally go back to making eggs and pancakes for myself again.”

Not only did Gen supply the eggs, but many of the vegetables and herbs also came from her garden. Add to that the weeks spent planning and days spent cooking and you realise what a labour of love this supperclub was. No wonder Gen felt so nervous about getting it right:

“I have catered for many events and for large numbers of people, but I can honestly say that cooking supper for less than 20 people in my own home was just as stressful…By inviting people into your home you are opening up your most personal space, where you kick back after a hard days work, the place normally littered with the detritus and junk of family life. And I guess that leaves you feeling a little vulnerable and exposed.”

I believe I speak for all of the guests when I say that Gen certainly DID get it right, and her generosity did not go unnoticed. Heartfelt thanks to Gen for welcoming us into her home and garden, and to Jo for inviting me along and helping Gen bring her menu to life. Thanks especially to “the girls”, Gen’s chickadees, who made everything possible. Hope to see you again soon on the chicken run.

Related Links:

Well Catered For

Pesto in progress Hummus Spicy Tomato Chutney

I’m writing this at the end of a very long week, whose end has been less than inspiring due to some very bad news and awkward conversations in London this Friday. Fortunately, the week began far better than it ended, so let’s focus on the positive things, shall we?

I’m thrilled and relieved to report that Monday’s EatDrinkSocial event, hosted by me as Webstaurants and Shaun Fagan of Black Dog New Media, was a huge success, largely driven by all of the enthusiastic, foodies people who came along. I wrote a glowing write-up of the evening on the Webstaurants blog. But here I wanted to call out a special thanks to Rachel Demuth, who hosted our evening at her wonderful Vegetarian Cookery School.

Hummus EDS brings the good eats Rachel's Famous Pesto

Last week, Rachel emailed to ask what I wanted to eat at EatDrinkSocial. I was completely swamped with work and failed to give her any feedback whatsoever. In a way I’m almost glad.

Rachel chose a selection of Spanish tapas for the evening: spanish tortilla, spicy tomato chutney, pesto, hummus and a gorgeous gazpacho that I must get the recipe for. This, to me, is the mark of a great event host – someone who can take matters into her own hands and make the expert decisions for which we hired her for.

In addition to food, Rachel also provided refreshing elderflower cordial, organic wine and, of course, a great space that worked extremely well for our social media pow wow. Thanks, Rachel, for looking out for us. I think everyone had a great night.

Eat. Drink. Social. Eating, Drinking & Socializing