A Visit to the Peak District

Normally for us a holiday starts early in the morning, after not nearly enough sleep. I will repack my clothes last minute and then we're off, to start a long long day.
But not this time, we were travelling with P&O's overnight ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull. We left the house at 4, which left me enough time to change my mind about my chosen wardrobe for our holiday and leave without the usual rush. 
Our plan was to travel to the Peak District, a beautiful national park in the North of England. The ferryboat brought us conveniently to an hour away from where we needed to be and gave us ideas for other trips in the future. Last year we stood still fro 6 hours on our way to the West country, then again a six hour delay when we were heading to the Cotswolds and again when we drove back to Dover.
Needless to say, we were so looking for a way to avoid the dreadful M25, M4 and other M's that get major delays. The Ferry to Hull brings you not only to the gateway of the North and Scotland, it's great when you need to travel to Wales and even the Midland towns like Birmingham. Anything to avoid the traffic around London sounds like music to my ears.


My partner in crime

Our holiday well and truly started when we boarded the ferry and got us a nice spot on deck to watch the sunset while we were sipping a glass of wine and gazing over the wide and peaceful seascape.
When we retired to our hut we turned into our bunk beds and closed our eyes with the knowledge that we were being brought to England without having to drive, or take trains, in the morning after breakfast, we would just suddenly arrive where we needed to be. It was fantastic for B, who is stuck in traffic every day to get to the office, when you're on holiday, you really don't want to spend it driving for yours again.

After a hearty brekkie we left the Ferry and drove into the rainy North of England. We made a two hour stop in Sheffield as it was on the road and we needed a cup of tea and our English magazines. Then we drove on to our final destination, Castleton a quaint little village in the Hope Valley. 


Castleton is an old mining village, first for lead an then when a young boy decided to go and search for lead in Treak Cliff hill, a new site in Castleton that he leased, he excavated an entrance for years but discovered not lead, but a vein of blue stone with yellow streaks. The stone was baptised Blue John, probably an interpretation in the local dialect from the French 'bleu et jaune'. The stone started to be mined and was even used in the first world war as a fuel for furnaces which unfortunately resulted in a lot of precious stone being lost forever. 

What to do with a glut of summer fruit


Hello you lovely lot, I am sorry for not posting as frequently as I did before. Life just has been terribly busy and choices have to be made. It is wonderful, it is glorious but I do need to find a balance so I can find the time again to share stories with you.
I had a lovely few weeks, I spoke at Europe's largest Food Blogger Conference, Food Blogger Connect in London and a week later I was the main speaker at a blogger event in Brussels, for those who I have met there, welcome to the blog!
I am getting ready to leave for London again, where I will be living out of my suitcase while shooting an exciting upcoming cookery book. (not mine, haven't had time for mine!) The week after that I am traveling to Dorset to be a judge in the Great Taste Awards again. Lots of beautiful food and drink to judge and after that some more lovely food at the glorious Great Taste dinner at Brett Sutton's new place.
After that, it is back to London for a week to shoot a book.
So it is fair to say, the next time you hear from me on here will be august... I hope!

To answer some questions I have had from you guys on social media and via email when I posted my cherry brandy picture on facebook, this is what you can do with your summer fruit! I like to preserve mine, to keep for the cold winter and autumn days, to bring a little sunshine on your table. It is sun in a jar, it is happiness. So when you have a glut of fruit, get your jars out and drain them in alcohol or sugar to keep them for when you most need it, when it is chilly and rainy. Here below are some of my recipes for preserves, and at the end I've added some links to other recipes on other websites. Enjoy the summer fruits!

My favourite: Drunken Cherries, or Cherry Brandy. 
We call it Kriekenborrel in Belgium and I have been making it since I was a little girl. In fact my oldest jar is from 1998, which is when I started making them myself. I now have a jar most years, sometimes more than one to give as gifts for christmas (oh yes, I used the 'C' word in summer)
It's just a wonderful way to preserve a cherry, you can use them served with vanilla ice, baked in cakes or puddings and just as they are in tiny little delicate glasses.

Cherry Brandy Find the recipe here
Next up is Raspberry vinegar.
The colour of this vinegar stays lovely and red even a year later, it looks the part on your larder and even more pretty drizzled over a green salad.
The vinegar is also okay to drink, but only by the thimble full as it is quite strong and pungent. As you can guess, this is also a great gift to give someone who will appreciate it.


Raspberry Vinegar Find the recipe here

Sweet Cheese Curd Tarts and the Road to a Book

Those who follow my instagram already know that I have been working on my very own book the last few months. (There is even a # hash tag on it to follow some of the process, I know, how very modern of me.) It is a scary yet exciting journey, one with occasional bumps in the road and one with smooth pathways. I thought it would be easy, I couldn't be more wrong. 

I am fortunate that my publisher was super excited about me to design the book myself and photograph it, which isn't a given thing. They gave me the freedom to come up with a concept no matter how crazy it sounded. They wanted the book to be 'totally me'. This was always something that was made up in my mind. If the book would be designed by someone else and photographed by someone else, it would not be my book. I would not want that book. This isn't a narcissistic urge to just get 'a' book out there, this is an artistic project for me. I have been a graphic designer my whole professional life, I have done numerous layouts for books, booklets and magazines. Not being allowed to design and layout my own book would just feel completely and utterly wrong. But of course, this means doing the work of 3 maybe 4 people all on my very own...
I will have to turn down future jobs to get be able to do this big book project but the book will by no means pay enough so I can pay my bills. All the money from the advance, the layout work and the photography will go to the actual creating of this book. But although I would have liked to at least have some tiny profit, I am also very happy that the subject of my book wasn't chosen for me, and that I can really do what I want. I have had other offers from publishers, who had the subject of my book already decided for me, of course I had to turn them down. As I said, this is not just 'a' book. 

Because of the significance of this project, I often freeze and can't write or cook or photograph. Being a creative creature means you constantly doubt your work, and push yourself and push and push. I ask myself constantly, is this perfect enough. In every word and image I put an enormous effort, the story I tell needs to be right, it needs to transport you. I am not shooting a book, I am creating images that will hopefully whisk you away to my imaginary English cottage with limestone walls and a cream colored coal fired Aga stove. I want you to smell the slightly burnt toast that has the flavour unmatched by any toaster because it has been toasted on that oh so coveted AGA coal fire. 

When I freeze, it is the moment when I am in doubt. Doubt is your enemy.
You must not forget, I started my own business as a freelance photographer/graphic designer/writer in januari, which means I am not surrounded by colleagues anymore, I work alone, and often I will be abroad, alone in my B&B. There's no 'can we have a chat about the concept or designs' like in the advertising agency I worked at. I have to ask myself if it is right, I have to be objective and not let my heart get too much involved in it.
Which is hard, because I am a very passionate person. There is hardly any grey in me, it is either good or bad. There is no 'this will do' in my book - literally and figuratively speaking.

I am writing about this because I know a few people in our little online food lovers community who are also working on a book or book proposal. Sometimes to read someone else saying it is not a walk in the park, helps you to be okay with it, if one a day you wake up and are overtaken by the fear this great project brings with it.
It happens to us all. 

But also because I need your help, I need people who would like to be involved and test a recipe for me, or more if you're up to it. Eternal gratitude to my recipe testers so please get in touch if you want to get cooking for me - my email is on my contact page.


But on to that tart you see here, this is a sweet cheese curd tart with lemon. It is one of the recipes you just develop by accident, while trying to make something else you come up with an equally scrumptious dish.
Sweetened cheese curds have been used as a sweet treat on its own and in tarts for centuries, early recipes like this are the very first ancestors of the cheesecake we know today. Because I have used lard in the pastry, the tart has a sweet yet also savoury hint which is perfect for the likes of me who do not enjoy a very sweet treat.

Food Revolution Day 2014 - keeping cooking skills alive

A Day of cheese making, dough kneading, and pizza baking!
Yesterday was Food Revolution Day and like last year (you can see it here) I got my thinking cap on to see how I could make a difference on this day. Why? Because doing nothing won't change a thing.
Like I said last year and will say again, every day should be a Food Revolution Day, this day is just the moment when we celebrate it, and get other people involved, to spread the word. Knowing so many 'foodies' in my line of work, I is my opinion you can't be a foodie without being a food activist. You can't love food and not want to be a part of a world wide battle for change in food choices. As a foodie you want the best produce, and the best meat is raised stress free and with respect, the best veggies are local and the best grains are those that are GMO and chemical free. You don't want additives, colorings and other types of crap that shouldn't be in food. But is saddens me to see that there are in fact 'foodies' who don't care about where the food came from and how the meat was reared. Or they do care, but don't care to take a stand and try to educate others about the dangers that linger on our supermarket shelves. Anyway, we can't all be pro-active.


Food Revolution Day is the brainchild of Jamie Oliver, who finds it important to use the fact that he is famous for a good cause by getting people involved in this day dedicated to food education. He has been campaigning for better food education in schools in the UK and USA and a change in school dinners. He has also set up Ministry of Food centers where people can come and have cooking lessons for free, just so that they would be able to cook from scratch for themselves and their children. He also has his Food Foundation charity to raise funds for projects in food education.
Why having a day to raise awareness and having a jolly good cook off is important is stated on the Food Revolution Day website here > 

"It's time to take action!
We need every child to understand where food comes from, how to cook it, and how it affects their body. This is about setting kids up with the knowledge they need to make better food choices for life."
Jamie Oliver

This year the focus is on children, they are our future after all and for the future's sake, something has to change in our eating habits. So the plan was, get some kids together!

Nine in the morning and it feels like the silence before the storm. Twenty five 11 year old children are coming to my friends Loes and Krikke's restaurant to learn how to make cheese and bake their own pizza's in an old Flemish wood fired bread oven. To make it all more exciting for the children Bruno has designed another smashing set of goodies, a box containing a diploma, a recipe booklet and a wooden spoon for them to take home as a prize of the day.
They arrive, with a storm, as anticipated. They are eager to learn and we start off with a little talk on what Food Revolution Day is all about. I explain to them that although cooking is so much fun, so many people never cook because they don't know how to. They totally agree that packed meals and processed foods are bad for you and see no sense in why you would buy it - fantastic, these kids understand! All but a few know who Jamie is and think he's cool for getting us all cooking and breaking a world record by hosting the worlds largest cooking lesson. Cheering and jumping up and down follows when I tell them that the record has been broken. I love these kids.




We start with cheese making, we are working with raw milk that came straight from the farm that morning and I explain that this is raw milk because it hasn't been pasteurised. Once the milk has been heated to blood temperature, one of the kids adds the buttermilk, salt and vegetarian rennet and we wait and see what happens. 'Oohs' and 'aahs' when the milk starts to thicken and true amazement when I show them the pot of milk I made an hour before. The fresh pot goes to rest and we transfer the curdled milk to a bowl with cheesecloth to drain. They take turns wiggling the cheesecloth and then comes the coolest part of squeezing the curds. Twenty five little hands squeeze and squeeze and I stop them before there is no cheese left to squeeze, the kids just love to get hands-on and feel every process.

George, the Dragon and the Cottage pie


Wishing you all a happy Saint George's Day with these humble cottage pies. I've been mostly working on my book, stuck with my nose in research and absolutely loving it but in the evening I long for great simple food with pure flavours. This pie is just that, with the best spuds you can find for your mash, decent flavoursome beef and a layer of moist spinach, this is a treat for me. I just wrap it in a towel and relax with a beer and a movie.
Today will be marked by celebrations with a lot of beer in most parts of Britain, often started by a good old pub meal that very likely will consist of a hearty pie.
Saint George's day is the National Day for England although it is not an national holiday in Britain. As you will know, he is the patron saint of England and he is nearly always depicted slaying a dragon.
The origins of George and the dragon are quite obscure, like so many legends are. The earliest written source of Saint George in Britain can be found in the works of Bede, a monk from Northumbria who lived around the end of the 7th century.
It is not a saints day unique to Britain however, the feast of Saint George is celebrated throughout Christian and Protestant countries and all around the 23th of april, the date on which he would have been martyred.
Of George nothing is certainly known, it is most widely accepted that he was a Roman soldier from Palestine who lived in the late 3rd century AD.  
Born as Georgios, Greek for 'worker of the land' he became an imperial guard to the emperor Diocletian, but when Diocletian issued a decree that every Christian soldier should be arrested, George renounced his emperors ruling. He declared himself openly to be Christian and refused to convert to the old Roman gods. Diocletian tortured and later decapitated George for his refusal.
No doubt you will all have been waiting for the dragon slaying moment in this story but unfortunately I will have to disappoint you as there are no dragons in this tale.
The tale of Saint George and the dragon dates from a much later legend during Medieval times. Here the story of George would have been Eastern in origin and brought back from the Crusades. Before the Middle ages George was depicted as a soldier but around the 11th century that changed to the now more popular dragon scene. The first written source is believed to be a 11th century Georgian text that can be found quoted in the book The Warrior Saints in Byzantine Art and Tradition. 

A weekend away in Britain: Dartmoor and Exeter by train


Ditch the car for a long weekend
This online space of mine has always been about my love for Britain, not only British food. Traveling around the country, exploring regional dishes, wandering around small villages and heritage sites is what I love to do most.
So what would I do on this long weekend ahead of us? I would venture out to Dartmoor, the weather is going to be splendid for walking and having a lovely pub lunch outside. And what if you're stuck in traffic with your car every day, or don't have a car, don't know how to drive or just want to get away without your car, just because you want to.
This is a weekend away to Dartmoor and Exeter, without a car, but with plenty of fun.


Day 1: A dinner on a train to Devon
The weekend starts on a friday evening at Padding station in London, we've already spent the day in London browsing book shops and munching our way through Borough Market but the real trip is starting when the train to Devon leaves the platform this evening.
We have a booking on the First Great Western Pullman service, which will wine and dine us until we arrive in Exeter. They journey should have brought us to Cornwall but nature took over in the West Country a couple of weeks ago and the train track at Dawlish got consumed by the sea. Our plans had to change so we decided on a weekend of walking and pub meals in Dartmoor.

I've always had a thing for dining trains, it just oozes Victorian charm and I can just imagine how it used to be on the older and more charming train carriages. We board the train around six and as dinner service is shorter temporary, we are taking our place at our table while we leave the station. It's a full house, or should I say full train to Exeter and dinner service commences with a quick pace. The team on board serving us is professional and witty, it is clear that we have some regulars dining with us today. I heard the Somerset steak has a good reputation so I had to try it and for my starter I chose the Dartmouth salmon with Blackmore Vale Dairy cream cheese. That's the thing with this Pullman dining service, they have sourced the produce from the land and the waters we are travelling past on the train. The menu has been created by Mitch Tonks of the Seahorse in Dartmouth, as is the wine list which is sadly lacking a British wine. I sipped my pint of Tribute when we were approaching Reading, the salmon was delicate in flavour and the cheese a definitely good match, the steak really was devine and cooked medium rare as I asked. The sun was setting and a short while before Taunton we received our dessert, a cheese platter for us as we don't have a sweet tooth. All British cheeses which were at the right temperature, a soft Helford white, a smoky Devon Blue and a Keens Cheddar served with a quince jelly that was so good I finished Bruno's as well.
By the time we left Taunton, we were full and happy and ready to turn in for the night at our hotel in Exeter.

The lady chef of the Pullman dinner service

We were so tired after walking around London all day and enjoying such lovely food on the train, that we had an early night, ready to take the twelve O clock bus to Dartmoor. 


Day two: To the Moors
Busses to Dartmoor leave from the coach station in Exeter, after a walk around town with our backpacks we made a quick stop at the Real Food Store for a piece of cake - which was moist and full of dark chocolate and left us pining for more. The bus trip to Moretonhampstead is about an hour and with plenty of pretty views along the way and locals having a chat with you, it is over and done with in no time. We arrive in Moretonhampstead and start the search for our 13th century farmhouse B&B.
The farmhouse is situated a 20 minute walk out of the village, it's a nice scenic walk and as the weather was so warm for the time of the year, we enjoyed it.

Iconic British Brands - Twinings Tea

Mr Stephen Twining
On a Tuesday morning which felt like midday after a visit to London's fish market, Stephen Twining made me my first cup of tea of the day.
The name of the tea maker really gives away the reason why I made a note of that first cup of tea in my diary. Stephen Twining is the tenth generation of the Twining tea family, a legacy that was started 308 years ago and helped shape this nation of tea drinkers.
Stepping back those 308 years in time, there were over 2000 coffee houses in London. To stand out in this saturated market, one had to do things slightly different. Thomas Twining opened up shop in a London that was going through vast changes after the Great Fire of 1660 destroyed most of the city. Looking at the shop which is still holding strong at The Strand, it looks like the building is squeezed in but it was actually one of the first to be there. The shop used to stand at a corner which made it easy for high class ladies - who weren't allowed into the coffee shops as they were considered masculine territory - to drive their carriages to the side and send their footmen in to buy the tea that had the reputation of being the finest of them all. Because of this increasing amount of interest in buying his teas, Thomas realised that he was actually more a blender of tea and started to market his business as such. Sadly there were no copyrights in the 17th century and so his blends, and those he created especially for lords and ladies, were being copied by others. Today there is only one personal blend left, which is the closely guarded secret of the Queens tea.

The Twining Family played an important part in Britain becoming a tea drinking - devouring - nation when Richard Twining, grandson of Thomas, and head of the tea trade, persuaded Prime Minister William Pitt to lower the then high levels of duty. He argued that, revenues would be greater if taxation would be lower. Tea at that moment in history was a privilege only available to the most well-to-do of society and so important that it was high on the political agenda. The Communication Act of 1784 lowered tea taxes and made it affordable to all those who wanted it in their cup. This made tea finally a part of everyday life.
 


Of Simon, Nell and Simnel cakes

 I haven't been a pious Christian since I was 6, Lent only means one thing to me, I will have a birthday soon. Easter wasn't something I particularly looked forward to and I was surprisingly unimpressed with the overly sweet milk chocolate eggs the easter bunny brought me nor did I enjoy the big family gatherings in our family as they always resulted into political debates, and dispute. It is most certainly the reason for my aversion to politics and politicians.

This year I'm celebrating the day of my birth, the day before mothering sunday, a day not connected to any other mothers day traditions in Europe or Amerika. Mothering sunday was the day that the girls working as domestic servants or apprentices were given the day off to visit their mother, bringing her gifts like perhaps a Simnel cake. Why it was a custom at mid-lent is not clear, maybe because at easter the servants couldn't be missed in the large manor houses who would most probably have large Downton Abbey style parties gathering to lunch. Another theory is that of coming home to visit the mother church, which appeared to be believed an important custom in pre-Reformation England. 
On Mothering Sunday, the fasting rules were put on hold for the day resulting in the day also being known as a Refreshment Sunday, the other one being celebrated during Advent.

The earliest of references to a Simnel cake I was able to find and verify was in a poem of Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

To Dianeme.  
A Ceremonie in Glocester.
I’le to thee a Simnell bring,
Gainst thou go’st a mothering,
So that, when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou’lt give me. 

Here states the tradition that the cake was given when people went Mothering, what is now assumed as going to visit their mother for mothering sunday but what well could have been a reference to the pre-Reformation tradition of visiting the mother church.
At some time along the way of time the legend of Simon and Nell appeared. A story most people have heard from their grandparents.
This legend tells the tale of an old Shropshire couple Simon and Nell. Nell had some leftover unleavened dough for bread making during Lent. Simon reminded her of the last of the christmas plum pudding as the Lenten dough would make a tasteless treat. Nell as a frugal woman didn't want to waste a thing in the kitchen so it was decided to create a cake for when their children would return home for mothering.
Then a dispute arose about the method of baking the cake which Simon wanted to mould and bake while Nell was convinced it should be boiled. Though some versions tell the tale the other way around and claim that Simon wanted it to be boiled since it was a pudding, and puddings should be boiled.
To solve the disagreement which resulted in throwing a baking stool at Simon, it was decided that the cake should first be boiled, and then baked. And from then on the cake was named SimNell.
A beautiful piece of English Folk lore but it is not sure when the legend was first told.

Rye Bay Scallop Week - A day out in Britain

Every year the second weekend of february marks the Rye Bay Scallop Festival. A joyous occasion where the whole town's pubs and restaurants offer Scallop themed menus, demonstrations and evenings of fun and music.
Rye is one of the five medieval Cinq Ports and its catch of herring, mackerel, wiring, cod, plaice and sole used to be reserved for the king's table. King Charles I mentioned Rye in 1628:
“The cheapest sea-towne for provision of fish for our house.”

Today Rye is situated two miles from the sea with the river Rother, Brede and the Tillingham connecting the port to the sea, in medieval times however Rye was almost entirely surrounded by sea before terrible storms destroyed neighbouring town Old Winchelsea and changed the course from the river Rotherin the 13th century. After these events the ships were only able to reach what is now the Strand in Rye.
Rye's economy as one of the most important of Cinq Port towns declined with the coming of larger ships that needed deepwater ports. Rye turned to fishing and smuggling where the Mermaid pub, which is still a buzzing pub in the town, played a key part. By the end of the 17th century the wool trade became important throughout Kent and Sussex and the Romney Marsh sheep are still favoured today for their juicy lamb and wool.



The last decades the scallops have become a main source of income in the winter for the 'Scallopers' of Rye harbour. I met up with retired fisherman John who now does the 'chucking' and sorting of the scallops his sons 'catch' on their overnight boats.

The Foodie Bugle Shop - the online store for British artisan food, homeware, art, vintage finds and other little lovely things.


Silvana de Soissons is the founder and the heart of The Foodie Bugle, an online journal dedicated to good food and creative people. She also accepts articles from other writers with the only condition that they are thoughtfully written, balanced and well researched. Due to the quality of her work for The Foodie Bugle she was honoured with an award by The Guild of Food Writers in the category 'New Media' for the year 2012. She had only been running The Foodie Bugle for a year at that time but it had grown rapidly into a solid brand that is based upon celebrating good British artisan products and creative people - writers, artists, photographers, producers - anyone with an inspiring vision and work ethic.

On the website you'll find a mix of recipes, book and food and drink reviews, stories about British producers, artisan businesses, writers, artists and photographers. And there is also information about food events, including her own The Foodie Bugle Lectures:
"The Foodie Bugle Lectures are an opportunity to bring together food and drink artisans,  growers,  entrepreneurs, writers, bloggers and food lovers, to share experience, knowledge and wisdom over speeches, conversation and a seasonal supper of regional and local produce with wine and ale." 
Hodmedod’s Dried Pulses
The online food journal on thefoodiebugle.com wasn't enough for Silvana, she listened to her readers who asked for a print edition of The Foodie Bugle and The Foodie Bugle Print Magazine was born. 
A magazine that is more a coffee table book to enjoy sitting in your favourite nook than something you take along with you on a train. It is beautifully published with quality paper and genuinely interesting content. Silvana has always been an inspiration to me, she is stylish, clever, witty and a tough nut to crack. A woman I would love to have as a mother to look up to, with her cocktail of Italian passion with British solidity and perseverance. I have learned a lot from her, especially when I sent her an article and she gave me her honest remarks on my writing, and again recently on how my writing has evolved. Needless to say I was honoured to be featured by her in the second issue of The Foodie Bugle Print Magazine. 


The beautiful magazine

Proud to have my pictures in the magazine

Passion fruit, Persimmon and Pepper Pavlova - I had a love/hate relationship with merengue

For a history geek like me it is interesting to see how the Valentine's traditions came to be. There are a lot of theories surrounding its origins but it seems that the first time Valentine's day was linked to love can be traced back to the 14th century.It was the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, mostly known for The Canterbury tales who mentioned Valentine's day in his The parlement of foules C 1381.
For this was on seynt Volantynys day Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make. 
In modern English: For this was Saint Valentine's day, when every bird of every kind comes to this place to choose his mate.


Cardamom and yoghurt spelt cake and the number 13

 My grandmother always wore a number 13 on a golden chain around her neck. She had a tough life, raising 4 children on her own after grandfather didn't come home from sea. She worked from dawn till dusk. Nanna died from old age many years ago because her body was just completely worn down. I remember her stern nature and I'm sure my father didn't have an easy childhood. I know he wanted to go to school to become a carpenter, dreaming to work with wood and create his own furniture, but he had to work instead.

My father is a man with ambition, a fighter, a daredevil and a great teacher in life. He worked hard to become a paramedic when I was born, and got the degrees needed to save lives. His precious weekends off he spent them as a volunteer with the Red Cross and the Flemish Cross, aiding people in need of care on events, disasters and accompanying disabled children and adults on trips.

I used to joke that the reason he always went to be on the Flemish Cross care unit on big Raves was that he knew I was safe at home but that other parents didn't have that luxury fearing their children were somewhere possibly doing drugs or drinking way to much. He had many teenagers on his gurney and I know he was secretly happy about me being a New Waver and a romantic rather than a raver wearing neon trainers.

My dad taught me - not by telling me this but by example that when I wanted something, I should just go out there and do it.

2013 has been anything but unlucky and it reminds me of my grandmothers golden number 13 which I inherited after her death and is one of the only things I have to remind her by. For her, and as for many other cultures, number 13 was a lucky number. 

I got to do fantastic stuff last year but most importantly, I found a way to live with an autoimmune condition. When I got diagnosed in the summer of 2012 I found myself on a roller coaster of emotions. I got worse before I got better in 2013. I know found that living a balanced life, especially with your food is the best way to stay stable and healthy. I am fortunate to be at a stage with my condition that it can stay stable if I rest enough and stay healthy. For someone who is used to running through life rather than walking, it hasn't been easy to slow down. But I did it.

Enjoy my round-up of favourite happenings of last year.

I went on a pig keeping course and it was one of the most splendid days of my life, I have a -not so- secret dream of having a little pig farm one day. You can read the full story here.

You see, I ain't afraid of getting down in the mud with a pig!

The intriguing Twelfth cake

 The Twelfth cake is to me one of the most intriguing of cakes in the British cuisine. The cake is traditionally baked for the feast of epiphany or as the name already reveals - the twelfth night of christmas. But baking a cake for epiphany isn't a custom in Britain alone, in other European countries and in my home country Belgium we have the '3 kings cake' (driekoningen taart) or the 'Galette du Rois' which is a frangipane tart with puff pastry concealing a much coveted bean which will make you king for the day. The 3 kings cake is sold with a paper crown so all is in order for the coronation of the lucky finder of the bean. At some time however it was the fashion of concealing tiny porcelain babies and nativity figures in the cake, a custom my mother in law tells me is still practiced by the bakery in my neighbourhood. I remember as a child, I've never had the pleasure of finding the bean which would make me king, this annoyed me very much as a little girl.
In Britain the tradition was to hide a bean and a pea in a plum cake, the bean would crown the king and the pea would crown the queen. The Twelfth cake would contain spices like cloves, mace, nutmeg and cinnamon along with dried fruits like raisins and candied orange or lemon peel. 


Antique 3 king cake figurines, imagine biting into one of those!
 The earliest printed recipe for a Twelfth cake dates from 1803 and can be found in John Mollard's the Art of Cookery. However, references to the custom of the Twelfth cake and the celebrations surrounding it can be found as far back in history as the 16th century and it is very possible that the tradition has been around for much longer. In a early Tudor manuscript which is kept at the Bodleian Library we find a passage about wassail cakes, which are believed to be heathen Twelfth cakes. Wassail comes from the Old English 'Waes hale' which most likely means 'be whole' or be healthy, like a kind of frase you say while making a toast. We can also find recipes for Wassail which is a type of mulled cider traditionally drunk while Wassailing, meaning a tradition of awakening the cider apple trees while singing and drinking.

From me to you

Thank you all for your lovely support the past year!
I wish you good food and love for the new year 
x
Regula

To make Ypocras

 And then it is suddenly christmas again… it seems only yesterday that it was september and now we are only moments away from januari. It will be march in the blink of an eye and when it's august you will be wondering where those months have gone to.
When you are a child, the days seem to drag on like weeks and the weeks like months but when you are all grown up… you wonder where that hour of free time went to and when you are finally able to start reading that book you've got to read in the summer.

To warm your spirits after the last busy weeks of the year 2013, a year that has brought me excitement, friendship and a new venture of which I will tell you all about very soon - I had mulled wine on my mind.
The sweet scent of the warm wine and spices always transport me back to the christmas markets in Aachen. My parents and I would drive to Germany especially for it each year. Even from a young age I would be allowed half a cup of mulled wine to warm my hands and to bring a rosy blush to my ice cold cheeks. It was one of the highlights of my year, to take in the different scents in the air, the aniseed of the artisan candy being made, the greasy smell of Reibekuchen, the aroma of spices blended with chocolate from the Aachener Printen biscuits and the mulled wine and rum.

Sometimes the very unlikely of foods and drink can be the ones that have been around for centuries and some recipes never changed very much.
Mulled wine or ypocras as its name was for centuries, has been around since the Middle Ages but mulled spirits pre-date Medieval times. I found a recipe for a fine spiced wine in a Roman cookery book that looks a lot like the recipe for ypocras. It is commonly thought that the drink is named after the Greek physician Hippocrates, however this is not so. It is more likely that ypocras has this name because the herbs and spices were strained through a conical filter bag known as a Manicum Hippocraticum - sleeve of Hippocrates. The Old French name for Hippocrates was ypocrate which explains the etymology of the Middle English name ypocras, hipocras, ipocras, ippocras, hvpocras, hvppocra, and many more variations.

Kedgeree and... my first video!

I have something very exciting to share with you... my first ever video!!!
During the summer I was contacted by the guys from Grokker, a new online video network. They wanted me on board for a challenge with Loyd Grossman and because I had never really considered doing video, I thought this would be the perfect moment to get some experience in that area.
Although I was very tired after only 3 hours sleep and nervous of answering questions while trying to explain a recipe in a language other than my own without any form of rehearsal I must say I'm quite happy with how it turned out. The film crew really was a fabulous bunch of people. -Thanks guys- The video here is a trailer, the whole thing is on Grokker here > for which you have to create an account to see it - and if you do... don't forget to click on the heart below the video to let me know you liked what I did there! :) It's a bit of a challenge with a few other fabulous blogger involved, check them out while you are there too.


A small -delicate- detail though... my name isn't pronounced like you can hear in the video, so please don't all start calling me 'Regoela' it's more like 'regular' without the 'R' at the end and a more delicate 'G' like in Italian. It is Latin after all. :-)
Anyway back to the dish, we had to choose a typical main dish of our niche that was able to be cooked in 30 min, prep to finish. So I choose Kedgeree, a recent favourite in our house.



Kedgeree is believed to find its origin in the Indian dish called Khichri and we can say it is the the first Anglo-Indian fusion food. During the British Raj, the Brits in India were craving a dish that would remind them of home. 

Khichri is considered a sick person’s food in India, being less spicy and easier on the digestive system than other curries. It was perfect for the Britons who were still spice-shy back then and couldn’t take the heat of a curry like they do today.


Plum Pudding - Myth and Legend

According to tradition, plum pudding should be made on ‘Stir-up Sunday’.It is a custom that is believed to date back to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer where a reading states 'stir up, we beseech thee'. The words would be read in church on the last Sunday before Advent and so the good people knew it was time to start on their favourite Christmas treat.

It was family affair where everyone would gather to stir the pudding mixture from East to West, in honour of the Three Kings who came from the East. Sometimes coins would be hidden in the dough; finding them on Christmas day would bring luck and good fortune. I think we all know this tale. But is this story in fact a 16th century custom or a Victorian interpretation? 

There are a lot of legends and claims made about the origins of the plum pudding. Some say it was King George I in 1714 who requested plum pudding as a part of the first Christmas feast of his reign. And that it was because of him that Oliver Cromwell's ban on Christmas and its rich festive foods was lifted. George I was baptized 'the Pudding King' because of these myths but there are no written records prior to the 20th century to tell us that indeed this king deserves his regal pudding title. Nor is there truth in the claim that George I was responsible for lifting the ban on the festivities surrounding Christmas. However, this ban, along with other prohibitions, was abolished at the start of the Restoration of 1660, long before George I came along.

The first written record of a recipe for plum pudding as we know it today can be found in John Nott's 'The Cook's and Confectioner's Dictionary' from 1723; there is however no reference suggesting that it is associated with George I or to the practice of Stir-up Sunday. 


An earlier reference in the diary of a British naval chaplain during the reign of Charles II, speaks of a Christmas Day dinner on board a ship in the year 1675, consisting of a rib of beef, plum puddings, mince pies and plenty of good wines. This is the first time a plum pudding is associated with Christmas in a written record.

Hopping down in Kent - Hop brandy


While driving through the rolling Kentish countryside I can't help but shout out 'Oast house' when I spot the somewhat fairytale like conical rooftops of the hop kilns. I nurture my inner child with my endless enthusiasm for things other people might not even notice anymore.

These monuments of agricultural industrialisation were used for drying the freshly picked green hop flowers. They usually had two or three storeys, some with perforated floors on which the hops were spread out. On the ground flour was a charcoal-fired oven spreading warm air through the kiln which is permitted to pass through the perforated floors to dry the hops. The white wooden cowl on the roof rotates with the wind to allow air to circulate and moisture to escape to prevent mould. Although we are more used to seeing round Oast houses, the kilns started out square shaped. The earliest example dates back to the mid 1700's and can be found in Cranbrook.

Hops have been grown in Britain since the the late 15th century and probably even earlier. They were introduced to Britain from Flanders where hopped beer had become the fashion. Hops don't only add bitterness to beer but also act as a natural preservative. In the early Victorian era hop growing became the most important industry in Kent as tastes changed from un-hopped ale to more bitter beer.
The need for hops was especially great due to the late Georgian law forbidding the use of any other ingredients than hops and malt in beer. A year after the law was approved, the drum roaster -used to roast malt- was invented by Daniel Wheeler. By roasting the malt the brewers could legally give extra flavouring and colouring to the beer by creating very dark, roasted malt for the use in Porters and Stouts. 



Of course those large amounts of hops needed to be picked and so each september the destitute families from London and sometimes even further away, came 'hopping down to Kent'. If they were not completely pennyless, they could afford the ticket for the 'Hop pickers Special' train which left from London Bridge. If they were too poor, they had to walk to Kent. For six weeks they would live on site in hop huts to help with the hop harvest. Although the work was rough, it was a time especially the children looked forward to all year. Hop picking in Kent was a welcome change from the slums is which most of these families lived. And although the hop huts were far from luxury, it was still a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the miserable fog in London.

Gunpowder, treason and bonfire parkin


The fifth of november, remember?

One of the most intriguing of English traditions to me is Bonfire night. Otherwise known as Guy Fawkes night it is a feast that commemorates the failing of a plot by Roman Catholic conspirators to blow up the House of Parliament in London killing the Protestant King James in the process.

Although Guy Fawkes is mostly remembered on this occasion, it was Robert Catesby who was chief instigator of the Gunpowder Plot. Catesby turned against the government of Elizabeth I when his father along with so many others Catholics, was prosecuted for refusing to conform to the Church of England. When Elizabeth I died, James - son of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots - came to the throne which gave the Roman Catholics new hope for greater religious freedom. When this hope turned pear shaped the English Catholics plotted to put Arbella Stuart on the throne, she was Catholic, James' cousin and a major claimant to the throne of England having both Tudor and Stuart bloodlines. Arbella always stayed close to the throne but never became queen, by blood she had a larger claim to succession and she became known as the 'Queen that never was'.

The seed to the Gunpowder plot however was planted nearly a century earlier by another Tudor, Henry VIII. When he issued the Act of Supremacy which declared him head of the Church of England to be able to divorce the first of his six wives, he started a century of violent religious turmoil. Henry's Church of England wasn't initially Protestant but his son Edward VI instituted more Protestant reforms. Mary I, being Henry's daughter with his Catholic wife whom he divorced to marry Elizabeth's mother Anne, was a Catholic and tried to restore the Catholic faith. She started her five year bloody reign by reviving the laws against heresy and was hated for it. The result was the persecution of Protestant rebels and the execution of some 300 heretics. Elizabeth's accession to the throne on Mary's death was greeted with enormous jubilation from the people. Yet again the Roman Catholics were facing persecution and the plotting to replace Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots began.



This brings us back to Mary's son James and the infamous Gunpowder treason and plot.
On the 5th of november 1605 Guy Fawkes was apprehended while guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder in the cellar under the house of Parliament. How they found out about the gunpowder in the cellar leads to speculation but it is presumed that someone from within the circle of conspirators of the plot warned someone to stay away from parliament on the 5ft. After his apprehension Fawkes was tortured to give up the names of his accomplices.

Damson cheese and sweetmeats - a memory in a jar


I keep the jars in the stairwell leading down to the cellar, it's quite dark there and I can look at them, neatly arranged on their shelves, every time I need a tin of tomatoes or a bunch of spuds.
They all have labels, some decorated with water-colour images I painted, some just with the date and words of what's in the jar. I will pick up a jar from time to time, asking myself if I should open it or leave it a little longer. Some of my cherry brandy dates back to 1999 and has become precious, if you get to try any or even receive a tiny jar with 2 or 3 cherries, you should know you're on the top shelve of my cupboard.

I love to buy fruit on my trips around England, most of the time I will end up preserving that fruit, to keep it for the colder months it is but also a memory of a lovely trip in a jar.
A year ago I stumbled upon tiny little plums, so small they could be mistaken with a large black olive. It was on an sunlit morning early in autumn, I walked passed the quaint greengrocers in the village I would dream to call home when I spotted the display of Damsons, Victoria plums and cobnuts. I wonder if the plums the greengrocer claimed to be native wild damsons are in fact sloes ...

I took home my brown paper bag of Sussex native wild damsons - at least I believe them to be damsons - and got busy at home making damson cheese on a rainy sunday morning. Damson cheese is an old country recipe, I can just picture the ladies using the leftover embers of the fire to stew fruit or dry flour for pastry.
In my vintage cookery books, the writers suggest to leave the cheese for a few months, or even up to two years. One shouldn't be surprised if it would dry out a bit, it is supposed to add to the flavour.
In her book Dorothy Hartley describes the original native damson as small with black bloomy skin and green flesh. The description sounds similar to how a sloe looks but if anyone out there can shed some light on what the native damson looks like, I would love to hear it.

Workshop food photography and styling in Antwerp for Flanders and Brussels food week 'Week van de Smaak'


I was asked to come and teach a food styling and photography workshop for Flanders' food week, 'Week Van de Smaak'. I'm very excited to share this with you, especially my Belgian and Dutch readers who would be able to attend. 
There are two dates: 17 and 23 november and there are only 3 places left!
Gosh that went fast! So if you would like to attend, send and email to margot@beeldexpressie.be and do it quickly so you don't miss out!

We will also be cooking some tasty food to shoot. On november 17 cookery teacher Daphne from Food for Foodies will be cooking up Asian cuisine and on the 23th we will be exploring the rich Middle Eastern dishes, all in the spirit of the festival's theme 'water and fire'. 

Location of the workshop is Antwerp, Belgium.
All you need is something to take a basic picture with, so even your camera phone.
Note that the workshop will be in Dutch.

*Update* The two workshops are now sold out!