food

A Love Letter to…Food

When asked what my favourite food is, it’s practically impossible for me to choose just one thing. I can’t even pick one meal, let alone one ingredient. I love the flavours of my go-to recipe, a delicious pork and bacon lasagne while the scents of a Sri Lankan chicken curry can drive me to distraction as it simmers away on the cooker. When I was in treatment for breast cancer, sometimes plain pasta and peas with a knob of butter and a grind of black pepper was the only thing worth crawling out of bed for. A light, fresh and vibrant stirfry is my favourite thing to tuck into when I’ve been a bit overindulgent and there’s really nothing better than a Sunday roast and all the trimmings, whatever day of the week it is. Put a block of cheese in front of me and I’ll happily nibble away at it, whether it’s cheddar, Wensleydale, Applewood smoked or, even, if the mood strikes me, a Babybel. Food, to me, is life. And I find solace in pretty much everything I eat – not just the classic comforts of Shepherd’s Pies and chocolate bars. In a perfect world, I think comfort can, and should, be found, whenever you transfer something from fork to tongue.

Cooking too, is somewhat of a salvation for me. Our little kitchen doesn’t have room for fancy gadgets, nor does it have room for more than one person to be in there at any one time, but the process of taking ingredients in their constituent parts and creating something that makes my mouth water has always appealed to me. When making meals, I so often seek new recipes for inspiration and then find myself thinking that I know better than the chef who wrote the recipe and end up freestyling. I’m an absolute tornado in the kitchen – often throwing not only food but pots, pans and bottles on the floor in my haste to whip up a taste sensation. Surfaces represent food war zones and the cooker top is splattered like a Jackson Pollock work of art but where his colours are varied and vibrant hues of paint, my works of art are made up of slices of leek, splatterings of tomato puree and sprinklings of herbs and spices decorating the cooker top as they miss the pan. If I’m baking, you can expect to find floury footprints on the carpet as I’ve spilled on the kitchen lino and proceeded to absent-mindedly trample it through the house. I once managed to get soy sauce on the ceiling, something I consider to be an accolade. I am never clumsier, nor more sweary than I am when I am in the kitchen, but the experience still has some kind of meditative quality about it. My camera roll is filled with poorly captured photos of dishes that I created that tasted incredible but which I could not translate to film.

At the start of my Boobettes talk, in an effort to introduce myself to the audiences and position myself as a real person, I share a few facts about myself. The line that always gets a laugh, or a slight smile of agreement is one of the most honest statements I can possibly say about myself. I tell them “I love food. If I’m not hungry, I’m thinking about being hungry. And if I’m not eating, I’m thinking about what I’m going to be eating soon.” And I really do love food. I love everything about it. From deciding what to eat (though admittedly, sometimes this flummoxes me more than it should), to carefully selecting the ingredients from the supermarket, to chopping and slicing and cutting and grinding and adding and stirring and tasting, to the slop of a saucy dinner as it is transferred from spoon to plate and the sitting down, knife and fork in hand, taking a moment or two to admire whatever I’ve created. Then I adore the way I can dismantle each mouthful to pick it apart with my tastebuds and identify the tastes and flavours of the ingredients I took in their raw, individual form and made into a meal. The way food brings people together is one of my favourite things about the human race. Family meals on mundane Mondays, everyone crammed around a too small table on Christmas Day, trying a new restaurant with old friends, meeting new friends at an old favourite. These are the details that make up the tapestry of my love of food. There’s nothing I like more than inviting a friend around for dinner and feeding them a home-cooked meal. It is, in fact, probably my only maternal inclination (I have come to realise that I may well be lacking in every other department, genetic or societal, for what it takes to want and to be a Mum – but that’s a story for another time).

But so often women are castigated for an open love of food. A passion for pastries can lead to a squishy stomach. An often fulfilled craving for a casserole can result in rounded edges. A big appetite can lead to a loss of abs. And we are told that these things are not good things. We are told that women should be slender and perfect and not gluttons who eat too much food and need to learn some damn restraint. Far too many times I hear or see women withholding food they want, the food they deserve, from themselves because they don’t want to put on an extra few pounds here and there. They restrict their access to, what I believe is one of the purest pleasures in life – the taste of an indulgent pudding on the tongue; the warm fulfilment and comfort offered by a bowl of pasta, that no other food can offer in quite the same way; the satisfaction of giving into a craving every now and again, because it’s your body’s way of telling you what it needs right now. And it is that want that is important. They are choosing not to eat what they want because society is telling them that they shouldn’t.

There is so much darkness in the world and it feels to me like food is a light that we shouldn’t hold back from ourselves, for fear of us growing spindly and yellow like a plant growing in a dark box. We need to seek out light and joy wherever we can find it, and I genuinely think one of the first places we can find a bit of that light and joy is in the kitchen, at the bottom of a tin of soup, or even under the chicken breast on an empty plate at Nando’s. And we should, if we can, allow ourselves that joy, despite what society tells us we should be doing.

This piece came about as a result of a conversation on Twitter about the incredible food writing of former Bakeoff star and all round food hero Ruby Tandoh and other female food writers. Check out Ruby’s latest piece in the Guardian here and the conversation it led to here.

If crispy potatoes are wrong, I don’t wanna be right

I mean. I’m not sure there’s much more to say on this topic other than the headline, but I’m going to expand anyway.

You might have heard the news last week that crispy potatoes, over browned bread and other overcooked starchy foods pose a cancer risk. Add these to the ever growing list of other foods that cause cancer – sugar, red meat, processed meat (THAT MEANS BACON), refined white flour, Nutella and so on and so forth – it looks like we’ll soon be eating spinach leaves and tofu, until it’s decreed that they too, come with a risk of developing malignant tumours. If we’re not feeling guilty for eating a slice of cake because of the impact it will have on our waistlines, we’re stressing about carcinogens, hydrogenated oils and now acrylamide (word of the week) and whether they’ll have a detrimental impact on our lives or make us come out in a tumour.

The thing is – everything has the possibility to be detrimental to one’s health if consumed in excess, but it seems we’re living in a perpetual state of fear when it comes to whether our diet will cause cancer. As a person who is currently living with the very real prospect of getting cancer again at some point in the future, having already had it the once, I do not have the time, energy or inclination to start eradicating things from my diet because there’s a chance (and usually a very flimsy chance) they might cause cancer.

Whatever happened to enjoying good food without being terrified of the possible, minute risk that it might take a year or so off our lives? What ever happened to embracing a balanced diet with a little indulgence here and there? Eating food should be joyful – something to be savoured and appreciated – not something to be feared or berated for. It is a privilege to live in a country where we can savour and appreciate the food we are eating.

There’s so much fear mongering around diet – particularly diet and cancer – that it’s becoming suffocating. I think it’s time we stop listening to absolutely everything we’re being told about eating food and relearn that a little of a good thing probably isn’t all that bad.

As Cancer Research pointed out in a recent blog, it’s too soon to decry slightly browned bread and the crispy roasties you like to have alongside your Sunday roast (I bloody love a roast potato). The scientific findings are patchy at best, but you’d think from the coverage in the media that a single browned spud will immediately take three years off your life. The research into acrylamide (carried out on animals) shows that it has the potential to damage the DNA inside cells, which in turn, links it to cancer. But when researchers looked into the links between acrylamide and cancer in people, actual human people who are made up of the same bits and pieces as you and me, there isn’t a clear and consistent link between this chemical and an increased risk of cancer. The evidence for these latest claims is, what Cancer Research described as “weak and inconsistent”.

Now, I love food. I’ve come a long way from the days when I would only eat yellow rice (true story – the parents ended up adding food colouring to white rice, clever things). I like nothing better than cooking up a delicious feast for my loved ones or hanging out with my friends in a gorgeous restaurant and indulging in a five course tasting menu. I’d MUCH rather eat an amazing meal with CDB than go out and drink away £60 on a boozy night out. But I appreciate the importance of having a balanced diet and I know that there are ample, proven studies that show that having a balanced diet is a sure fire way to reduce your cancer risk.

So I’m not saying that we should all just live on potatoes and white bread because to hell with it. I’m saying we need to realign ourselves with a love of food. We need to look after ourselves, but not to the extent that we’re chopping things out of our diet on the basis of a media outcry that is based in loose facts.

We should be asking questions every time the media reports something like this. I simply cannot accept a ban on roast potatoes without hard evidence. We know that the main things that affect cancer rates are smoking, drinking excessively and being overweight, so how’s about we concentrate on those things, enjoy a little of what we fancy and make an effort to go for a long walk every now and again.

And I know one thing for certain. If eating crispy roast potatoes is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. If they cause cancer, I’ll take the risk. After all, life is for living, not for fearing the future. And I say that as a breast cancer survivor.

Cha Cha Moon – Carnaby Street

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As many of you know, I’m a massive fan of food. If I’m not eating, I’m usually thinking about cooking tea, what to have for tea or scouring the internet for new recipes to put in my face. When Cha Cha Moon got in touch to ask if I wanted to join them for a blogger dinner, it took me less time than it takes to chew a perfectly cooked steak to say yes.

Despite feeling like they’d got the wrong person and really they were expecting some kind of professional foodie blogger with massive traffic and a super strong social media presence and influence, I popped along to Carnaby Street one Tuesday evening and settled in for an evening of authentic Chinese cuisine with a modern twist.

Based in the heart of Soho, Cha Cha Moon was originally developed with renowned restauranteur Alan Yau and offers lively and urban setting for a delicious dinner. Recently, the restaurant has added 14 new dishes to their menu and I got to try nine when I went along for my visit. Armed with a suitably juicy and exotic cocktail, I tucked right in.

Up first, we were brought the Thai Crunch Salad (photo 1 above), made up of crisp rice sticks, peanuts, cabbage, crunchy vegetables and edamame beans drizzled with a sensationally tasty peanut sauce. Not normally one to go for a salad in a restaurant, I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this.

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Up next, we were treated to a classic Malaysian chicken satay. A satay is a satay is a satay in my book, and this certainly didn’t disappoint. Malaysian Laksa  – a spicy noodle soup with chicken, prawns, fish balls and a whole host of vegetables – followed next, and despite the GEC (graphic egg content) this was an aromatic and tasty dish that I whole heartedly enjoyed.

My favourite dish of the night followed: stir fried Kung Pao Chicken. Made with a complex sauce of salty, sweet, sour and spicy flavours, I couldn’t stop eating this, despite the dishes ahead of me and the ones I’d already indulged in. I’m a sucker for soy sauce and this dish was a bit of a taste sensation.

As an avid seafood fan, I really wanted to LOVE the Singapore Chill Crab. As it was, I just really liked it. That’s not to say it wasn’t satisfying and perfectly pleasant because it was, I guess I’d just got my expectations too high because I always want crab to make me feel like I have died and gone to heaven.

We finished up with a mango pudding, a classic sweet treat from Thailand and Dadar Gulung which originates from Indonesia. I’m often wary of Asian desserts but these were really excellent without being too heavy or overpowering after 7 other dishes.

I’d been to Cha Cha Moon before and already had strongly positive opinions of it, but this really reignited my love for this haunt in Carnaby. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to eat around that area, and I’ll definitely be going back soon.

*I was invited along to Cha Cha Moon for their Blogger Event but this hasn’t affected my views in any way. I’d have recommended this place before the event, and now the new menu has been introduced, I’d only recommend it more emphatically.

Ropewalk @ Maltby Street Market

photo (16).jpgLast week, Chris’ family came to visit us for a few days. Being a host in London is often something I find a bit tricky. I always feel quite nervous about making sure guests see the very best that this amazing city has to offer. I really like showing off some of the special and different hidden gems in our city, but Chris’ Mum and Dad are seasoned London visitors, so we had to really think outside the box for somewhere wonderful to go. I asked around at work, and my colleague (and friend) Jane recommended Maltby Street Market.

Based just a few minutes walk from the oft overcrowded Borough Market, Ropewalk at Maltby Street Market is a quintessential slice of London life that seems to remain almost untouched by tourism. Though it’s busy, it’s not overwhelming – it’s easy to manoeuvre through the crowds, see whats on offer at each stall and the smells of the gorgeous food aren’t lost in amongst the bodies.

more foodWith everything from cookies the size of your face to more cured meats than you could shake a stick at and a whole range of delicious lunches for you to enjoy with enough cakes for even those with the sweetest tooth to enjoy, Ropewalk has something for everyone. Though we didn’t stop for lunch, I couldn’t resist picking up a slice of smoked salmon on artisan bread from Stoke Newington’s Hansen and Lydersen. Though it was £3 a slice, it was worth every penny.

maltbystreetfoodWe also picked up some completely divine chocolate truffles (pictured left) to enjoy during Les Mis later that night. At £7 per 100g, again these weren’t cheap but they were truly luxurious. I wanted to eat everything and plan to return again and again to eat as much of the produce on offer here as I can. The Little Bird Gin bar was incredibly inviting too – with gin based cocktails served in glass tankards with pastel striped straws – so I’ll no doubt be returning for that too.

maltbystbitsandbobsTucked away at the entrance to Ropewalk, Lassco is a really interesting shop to stroll around too. A bit of a curiosity shop come vintage store, it’s full of little treasures and it’s easy to spend a good 20 minutes strolling round. I particularly loved this vintage typewriter, no smoking signs and this (not so vintage but still ultra cool) London themed cushion cover.

Maltby Street Market runs on a weekend from 9am to 4pm on Saturday and 11am to 4pm on a Sunday. Go. You won’t regret it. And pick up a Mama’s the Word pork sandwich for me please, the smell was driving me crazy on Saturday.

*Excuse the picture of the Shard which I’ve shoehorned into this post, I took it while we were out and about on the river a bit later that day, and loved it so just popped it in the post too.

Five Things from this Week

London, Drink Shop and Do, Bobs and Co, Throwback ThursdayI get to do some pretty cool things in London, and I take a LOT of pictures. If you follow me on Instagram you’ll likely have seen these, but I’m awful at captions so I often just leave these blank. I thought, for once – now that I’m trying to be a better blogger, I’d pick five of my favourite moments from this week – so here they are!

1. As a belated celebration for Chris’ birthday, we popped to London facourite Drink, Shop and Do for afternoon tea yesterday. A lovely selection of sandwiches, a cheesy scone with lovely herby butter, a fruit scone with jam and clotted cream, a selection of gorgeous little cakes, a Belini and unlimited cherry tea. Dee-licious.

2. This, my friends, is a LOBSTER ROLL from the incredible pop up Bob’s & Co in St Pauls. I discovered Bobs&Co when I visited StreetFeast at Hawker House in Hoxton (which is back for a couple of months and is completely worth checkin out) in December, where I had their glorious Lobster Mac n Cheese. The cheese sauce is made with a lobster bisque and has fried onions sprinkled on top. The lobster roll is chocked full of crustacean goodness sprinkled with paprika and is in rammed brioche. So very, very tasty.

3. This picture makes me laugh a LOT. This was shortly after Chris and I got lost somewhere in Finsbury Park but found ourselves on a night bus, a little tiddly and this happened. These faces were not so happy by the time we got home around 2 hours later…

4. I couldn’t decide whether to post this or another quintessentially London photo that I took this week of Tower Bridge, but for me this view wins out pretty much every time. The roof terrace of the office looks out over a really glorious London skyline, and recently there have been a couple of Friday mornings when I’ve got into the office at around 8am and the light has just been incredible. This was the view this Friday, and for me, it never gets old. At that time in the morning there’s a real peace and serenity up there you don’t get in many places in London, and that’s a treat.

5. I posted my very first Throwback Thursday on Instagram this week, and chose this excellent picture of me and Big Sis on my first day of school. Highlights of this for me include my awesome cardi (knitted by Grandma and with awesome buttons to boot), my squishy face and big sis’s knobbly knees.

What was your favourite moment of this week?

Hello Fresh Review

I’ve been really interested in the concept of Hello Fresh, ever since I first came across them about 10 months ago – I’m sure you’ll have heard “Hello I’m Patrick, Head Chef from Hello Fresh” on YouTube at least once over the last couple of months – so when I finally got the chance to try a box, I was super excited.

Hello Fresh is billed a s a delivery service offering recipes and the ingredients for restaurant quality meals straight to your door. They provide pretty much everything from the staples such as the meat and veg right down to the herbs and spices which take your meal from ordinary into something I’m confident Nigella would be pleased to be presented with.

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Our “classic” box arrived on a Tuesday, and was packed with enough ingredients to feed three delicious meals to a small army, complete with the recipe cards to guide you through your cooking experience. Chris is allergic to seafood (SUCH a shame) so sadly we had to opt out of the calamari that was on offer that week, but instead we were sent the goods to make a seared peppermonger steak salad with chimichurri dressing, swinging meatballs with smoked tomato linguine and a grilled chicken and Mediterranean vegetable stack. Sounds incredible right? Right!

I’m a big fan of cooking and aim to try new recipes frequently, so it was nice to be presented with three new dishes to try – and even nicer not to even have to think about battling the supermarket in the post commute scrum to pick up the ingredients. We shared the responsibility of cooking these three dishes, but that’s certainly not necessary as the recipes are easy to follow and quick to create. I found that the dishes took a little more time to prepare than the recipe stated, but the lack of adrenaline from avoiding Sainsbury’s at 7pm meant I wasn’t exactly rushing around the kitchen like a loon.

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Each meal was not only delicious (I need a new adjective for food – I know I’m guilty of using this one too much, but it is SUCH a great word) and a real pleasure to eat. The recipes that get delivered change each week, and if like us, there’s an allergy sufferer in your household or even just a fussy eater, there’s always the option to swap one meal out in favour of a “spare”.

At £39 for a classic box with three meals for two people, I’m definitely not earning the right sort of money to fall into Hello Fresh’s target market, but it’s important not to underestimate how much of a premium product this is. Every ingredient we were sent was locally sourced, everything that went into each dish was completely natural and fresh and everything was such great quality too. A friend asked me how the portion sizes were, and I said they were impressive. There’s no way Hello Fresh could be accused of skimping on supplies

So I guess what this comes down to is would I recommend Hello Fresh to a friend and the answer is yes, especially if that friend fancied trying something new and had some spare pennies floating around. Though I don’t know if I’d ever subscribe to a service like this, it’s perfect drop in and out of once in a while. Give it a go!