I woke up to what a fantastic range of neglected cookbooks I have during my 69-er cooking challenge. For those not in the know, my boyfriend Jamie and I cooked out of each and every one of the 69 cookbooks on my shelves in just 69 days. The challenge left me craving to return to my cookbooks and to get to know them better. And so a new project emerged: I would spend a week or two cooking recipes from a chosen cookbook then write up a review which I would call ‘Cooking The Books’.
For my birthday in May I received a beautiful looking book called a Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones. The couple of recipes I had tried had been really delicious and healthy so it was time for a full immersion.
Anna Jones trained as a chef with Jamie Oliver at Fifteen. She’s a vegetarian and passionately believes that meatless cusine can be exciting. And her book really delivers. I found her recipes simple to make but somehow exotic and surprising.
Here are my favourites:
Salted Almond Butter Choc Bars. These were basically like really fresh tasting bounty bars but better for you! Made of ground almonds and dessicated coconut and coated in dark chocolate (see the header picture of the blog). And I loved the salty after taste. These got scoffed down very quickly.
Nordic Breakfast Bowl. A lovely slow cooked porridge with grated apple, almond butter, raisins, coconut yoghurt and all manner of nuts and seeds. Don’t make this if you’re in a hurry to get to work. There are a lot of ingredients – having said that it probably in reality only took ten minutes to make – I just left a trail of destruction after me because of the various bags of nuts and seeds I used. A lovely gentle flavour party for the morning and a welcome change to my dull standard brekkie of weetabix.
Curry Leaf and Smoky Celeriac Pilaf – this was like a vegetarian kedgeree – spicy, fragent and unusual, the celeriac adding an extra layer of interest to the dish.
Lentils with roast tomatoes and horseradish – this was a plate of multi-flavoured, multi-textured delciousness! Wholesome earthy lentils provided the base to sweet squelchy roast tomatoes with creamy horseradish for a kick and garlic and thyme breadcrumbs for crunch.
Not my favourites but still pretty damn tasty
Courgetti with Pistachios, Green herbs and Ricotta – a plate of light lemony loveliness. A great diet dish without any sacrifice on flavour.
Saffron Polenta Bake – another wholesome, exciting flavour combo – saffrony polenta, chunks of feta, toasted pinenuts and cherry tomatoes.
The dish that bombed!
Frying Pan Squash and Cavolo Nero Pie. I suspect we might have been the culprits as to why this dish went wrong and not Anna Jones. It was a filo pie that you started in a frying pan and finished in the oven. We were told we could use kale instead of cavolo nero. Well our resulting pie was just a disintegrated pastry mess with big chunky hard to eat lumps of kale. It was not a success. To be fair it tasted ok though.
I’d highly recommend Anna’s book – her healthy, colourful veggie recipes show real imagination and flair. Ingredients are thrown together in a way I’ve not experienced before. The food is stylish, subtle, fragrant and beautiful to look at. And bonus, it’s all really good for you. It was the perfect pre-holiday food for us to get us ready for baring flesh by the pool!
I am normally opposed to all inclusive holidays. Ferreting out quirky local establishments to eat regional food is probably the most important part of a holiday for me. However, when my boyfriend Jamie’s parents suggested we went on a family cruise (they would be paying the lion’s share) I was quick to overcome my stance on this!
I was very excited about cruising around Italy, which as a foodie is one of my very favourite places. However I was nervous about how the whole experience might backfire. Stuck on a boat with a bunch of people who I anticipated might be quite conservative, with ship entertainment and formal getting dressed up nights (tuxedos for the men!) all sounded potentially stifling to me.
Well it confounded all my expectations and here’s why:
Being out at sea, without another ship in sight is a deeply relaxing experience. Staring out at the horizon is mesmerizing.
Waking up in a different place every day is incredible! Being on the move for the entire week kept us all on our toes and kept our curiosity peaked throughout. Below going clockwise – Florence, Naples, Dubrovnik and Venice.
The opportunity to eat formal three course meals for lunch and dinner with waiter service every day is just EXCELLENT. Who cares if it’s not local food? Getting to choose from a broad and different menu every day and be pampered by attentive waiting staff is a treat. It wasn’t always the best food I’ve ever eaten, with the odd dud dish (a bruised banana wrapped in a toasted tortilla was a particular low point), but largely it was posh tasty restaurant food with loads of variety every night. We were eating as a family of eight every evening with an eight year and ten year old boys – and the ease of routine every night allowed for us to enjoy real quality time together.
The promenade deck. On the 7th deck of the ship there’s a lovely wooden boarded and wide promenade that goes in a circuit all the way round the ship. It’s about a third of a mile so if you are very keen you can run 10 laps to tick off three miles! However Jamie and I preferred to have a tipsy stroll on the promenade after dinner and before bed. It would always be very peaceful and romantic walking along and looking out at the night sea.
The view from our cabin. Waking up to a different panorama every day was thrilling. And watching the light change and sea scenes change from our window was a delight.
Sleeping at sea. In normal life I’m a bad sleeper – my brain struggles to switch off. However on the cruise I slept so deeply every night. I’m going to take a punt and say that the gentle motion of the sea had a very calming effect, combined with a day’s worth of sea air and feeling dreamily removed from day to day reality was a winning sleep inducing cocktail!
The incredible staff. Initially the attentiveness of the 900 strong staff (there were only 2000 cruisers) was a little overwhelming – it’s not something I’m used to. But oh, it didn’t take long before I was lapping it up! Our cabin was cleaned twice a day, drinks were brought to you on your lounger and anything you needed – hairdryer fixing, a new bottle of conditioner was quickly sorted by the ever present cabin hand. Returning to post cruise life without a fabulous army of staff pandering to your every whim, has been tough.
There are a million different ways to cruise. If you like a Butlins type experience – you can have it – enjoy the entertainment, join in the quizzes, go to the nightclub. If you’re anti-social and hate the sunshine – sit in the library, the games room and enjoy the sea views from the peaceful and shaded promenade deck. I burn really easily and I like my peace and quiet, so I enjoyed sneaking off to the shady and calm promenade deck for games of scrabble and when we did sun bath there were lots of quiet corners dotted about the boat. I was also delighted to find a gym on board which after all that fine dining was useful for damage limitation!
Watching the sun set on deck. This would make me positively giddy. You would often set sail around 7pm, watching the port disappear and moving along the Italian coast. This accompanied with a G&T as the sun was setting was sublime! The only downside is that pre dinner drinks on deck combined with sunset excitement tended to leave me hammered before dinner!
I came away from my week Mediterranean cruise very chilled and content. It reconfirmed my love of Italy and I’m already hankering to get back and stuff my face with Italian food. And whilst I’m not about to go on any cruises in the next few years, it has left me curious about doing another more exotic cruise at some point in my lifetime as it’s very unique way of experiencing a country – perhaps Baltic and Scandinavia or South America . It also taught me a lesson that going all inclusive does come with benefits – being spoiled rotten and not having to lift a finger for a week makes you really relax. Are there any other cruisers out there? Do you love or loathe it? Please do comment.
I took voluntary redundancy at the end of April, and apart from a brief stint of working in June, I’ve not been doing paid work since and I intend to keep it that way for a few months more so I can properly chill out and lay the ground work for the foodie career I want to build. I’ve experienced highs and lows since April. I would say mainly highs, but I want to tell you about some of the stuff I’ve been doing, how I’ve spent my time, what’s gone well and what’s been shit!
Random stuff I’ve been up to
I’ve kind of abandoned housework! You’d think with more time on my hands I might do more? But I’ve figured I just wanted to get out and about and meet people and get some momentum going. So housework has been an even lower priority than during my working life! I do look at our front garden which is knee-high in weeds a little regretfully but not enough to spur me into action.
Insanity. One of my resolutions on leaving my job was that I’d like to try some new types of exercise. For the last ten years pretty much all I’ve done exercise-wise is run, walk and cycle. Which is fine. But I was bored of it. So in July I embarked on a sweaty form of hell called Insanity for a month. It’s a 40-60 minute high intensity work out (downloaded) that you do nearly every day. I’m proud that I stuck it out for a month, but when I realised that I was dreading the 5pm work out every day and I couldn’t actually see any difference in the shape of my body, I thought stuff this and packed it in. I find running boring but I never dread it! So I’m back to running for now – but I might give yoga a whirl! But that is the beauty of having some time out – the space to try new things and then discard them if they don’t work.
Watching loads of documentaries on the refugee crisis. When I worked 9-5 I wanted to watch cheery things in my free time to rejuvenate myself from the toil of my job. But with time on my hands I’ve found myself curious and drawn to watch the many brilliant documentaries on iPlayer about the staggering number of people leaving their countries to flee wars and seek safety in Europe. I usually end up crying as I watch them, but apart from helping me understand what is happening, I’m absolutely inspired by the spirit and bravery of the refugees. Is it me or are Syrians a particularly lovely, kind and heroic nationality? Sorry Brits but I can’t imagine us being quite as resilient, smiley and noble in the face of civil war.
I’ve gone very feminist in my reading and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the following:
Letters to my Fanny – Cherry Healy
What would Beyonce Do – Luisa Omelian
Moranifesto – Caitlin Moran
Moranifesto, Caitlin Moran
Letters to my Fanny, Cherry Healy
What Would Beyonce Do?, Luisa Omielan
5. Cooking! I’ve done a shedload of it and it’s been therapeutic and joyful and fun.
The bad stuff
Taking on a job that was a long term contract that really wasn’t right for me and getting stressed. I now realise that I was probably a bit panicky having left the corporate world and the security and structure of a job seemed appealing. I didn’t really scope it out properly and leapt straight in. When my whole ‘thing’ about taking redundancy was that I wanted to feel out my new career path independently. Jumping straight into a full-time job was not the best way of letting the new ‘career me’ evolve. I stuck it out for a month, but I’m so relieved to have my freedom back.
Britain voting to leave the EU freaked me out. Political instability and the prospect of a recession felt like a weird place to be when you are starting your brand new freelancing career. However the country doesn’t seemed to have imploded and things seem to be ploughing forward in a business as usual kind of way for now, so I’m being as confident and positive as I can be.
Putting way too much pressure on myself generally to be ‘productive’. I’m a girl that likes to feel she’s ticked a few tangible things off her to do list at the end of the day. So I’d get up in the morning and write myself a list and try and tick things off. If I’m honest it was a bit joyless! I was getting increasingly wired and tired. Despite it appearing to be a luxury to not be at work I was weirdly more exhausted than when I had a 9-5 job. Yes stressed about exciting foodie projects but I literally wore myself out by being on my computer and phone 24/7. I have since had to give myself a talking to and I’m deliberately forcing myself to regularly chill out and not think about/do research for my career! It seems to be working.
The good stuff
Eating out a lot. This counts as foodie research. It’s been a lot of fun testing out cafes, restaurants and supper clubs – I feel like I’ve got a really good feel of some of the best restaurants in the city and it’s given me a lot of creative inspiration. This could also explain why I lost NO weight doing Insanity.
The best 40th birthday party ever. I don’t normally enjoy the limelight. But I wanted to go big for my 40th! I’m extremely happy with where my life is right now and I wanted to celebrate big style. I loved filling my house with friends new and old and putting on a big Spanish feast of food. It was a glorious way of celebrating my next decade and starting this new chapter of my life.
Freelance friday. First of all I discovered Ziferblat. A magical and very chilled out freelancing space in the Northern Quarter where you pay 6p a minute to use the space (and eat their unlimited cake). Then I found out that freelancers sit together every friday afternoon and pretend to work on their laptops but in fact just chat. I can’t tell you what a delightful find this has been. I’ve met a group of like-minded, bright and inspiring freelancers who have given me advice and direction throughout my at times wobbly first few months of going it alone. Every friday I go home buzzing with ideas and excited to have got to know my new interesting friends better.
I’ve booked a holiday to Goa. Jamie and I have been talking about this for months. And finally last week we committed to booking flights in November. It felt decadent, but it felt good. Jamie and I haven’t been on a big adventure together and it felt like something we’d really enjoy.
I’ve signed up to a four day food writing course in France in December. Again this felt highly extravagant, especially in the same week as booking my holiday to Goa. I saw the course and it just felt like it had my name written on it! An immersive writing course run by two successful food writers and four days of stuffing my face with amazing french food, going to french markets and truffle hunting then figuring out how to write about it. Definitely ‘write’ up my street!
What now then? Well I’m about to go on holiday for two and a half weeks (Italy, Brecon Beacons and London). So during my holiday I’m officially going to give myself a break from career thoughts and just bloody chill out and enjoy myself. I’m hoping to return to Manchester in September with gusto. I’ve got some foodie projects bubbling away which I can pursue on my return when I refreshed and brimming with post holiday creativity. The past few months have been quite an adventure so I’m curious to see what other exciting things happen in my life in autumn!