Tomato Sauce

The start of the semester has been rather hectic and I’m behind on my updates. It has been rainy day after rainy day here — decidedly fall — and tomatoes are definitely a late summer thing (although we’re still getting ripe ones!). So, here’s my last summer-ish update for 2019; from now on posts will be taking on a fallish theme!

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Making tomato sauce from tomatoes we grew ourselves gave me a huge sense of satisfaction and pleasure. This may be normal to many of my readers but as I am sure you have noticed, the novelty of having my own (tiny) garden has not yet worn off. Given our glut of tomatoes I turned to my brother-in-law, who is from Spain and grew up with his mother making passata and sauce from scratch.

I cut up 8 large beef tomatoes, placed them in a deep frying pan with a glug of olive oil, 2 chopped cloves of garlic, a large shake of salt, and a tablespoon of honey. I then let them gently simmer. The thicker you want the sauce, the longer you leave it. I left the initial batch about 30-40 minutes, and then blended it. When I used the finished sauce a second time, I further reduced it for about 10-15 minutes.

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This lasted for 2 1/2 meals. The first time I used it for gnocchi (on my own) and the second time for pasta (for the two of us). Success!

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Garden update 2019

As I have mentioned before, this is the first summer that H. and I have had any outside space/a garden of our own. For the past 9 years we have lived in apartments, so it was a big change to move last October into a small house with a back yard and some space to finally plant some vegetables of our own. The novelty hasn’t worn off.

Most of the yard is flat patio stones rather than soil, so space is very limited; we only really had part of the perimeter to use. We decided that 2019 was an experimental year — if something grew, great, if not, meh. Neither of us know much about gardening so we decided to give it a go and see what happened.

We planted carrots, tomatoes, and herbs. The carrots and herbs went into planters, and the tomatoes went directly into the ground.

Carrots 4/10
The carrots were mostly a fail. We were able to eat a couple of them, so I can’t rate it a zero. However, they didn’t do well. They didn’t fully grow, and most of them died (I think due to a frost) before they were fully grown.

Herbs – Mint 6/10, everything else 0/10
We knew mint was an invasive herb but man oh man I underestimated how invasive. It took over. The others (basil and parsley I think?) didn’t even have a chance. I used the mint a couple of times but it eventually died as well.

Tomatoes 9/10
This was by far our most successful plant! They weren’t without their stresses though. We made a couple of errors — we planted too many plants and the wrong variety of tomatoes. The result was that they grew very high and densely, requiring a lot of tying up and support (done mostly by H., I confess), and were heavy (see pic below of what happened during a bad wind storm…). We chose big beef tomatoes when we should have gone for smaller, more delicate ones. The tomatoes started ripening JUST as we left the country for 3 weeks in mid-August. We had two ripe ones before we left. We told our neighbours to help themselves; they had “tomatoes coming out of their ears” they said. However, there are still lots, and they’re DELICIOUS. I’ve already made one batch of tomato sauce, which I will share in a future post.

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August/September 2019 Favourites

Happy September, everyone. One of my favourite months.

I wrote the bulk of this post at the beginning of last week, when I was still in (somewhat) calm, vacation mode. It’s now post-wedding party, post-Dorian, post-most insane weekend in a while … Instead of trying to collect my thoughts so that they make sense, I’ll just leave you with the list!

◌ I was a judge for a book prize in the UK, so haven’t been reading as much of my own choosing. Bob Woodward’s Fear is really worth reading, and is definitely the best book I’ve read about the Trump White House (side note: I think I’ve had enough of those for now). In fiction, The Great Alone blew me away. 5 stars.

◌ Enjoyed this interview with one of my favourite actors.

Where do oceans meet? I have had the privilege of being at Cape Agulhas and it is truly spectacular!

◌ Netflix recommendations: Enjoyed the series Dead to Me and doc RBG.

◌ What’s coming up in books.

◌ The tyranny of optimization: parts of this really spoke to me. I’m kind of a rebel in many of those trends, but I constantly fight the productivity/efficiency/optimization battle.

◌  Happy that Caroline Hirons is coming out with a book on skincare.

◌ Will be making this when I am back in the UK — and hopefully with my own tomatoes! I’ll be trying these too.

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Walking on the ocean floor

 

Fattoush

I have known about fattoush, a salad originating in Syria, for a long time, but never actually tried it or made it until very recently. This is a great option for when the planet goes up in flames a heatwave, which we experienced recently in the UK. The recipe I used was from Yotam Ottolenghi recipe (surprise surprise) — a copy of it is available via 101 Cookbooks here.

It’s always nice when one of the main ingredients of a salad is bread. Ha! I used a combination of a homemade sourdough bread roll and two flatbreads — the contrast worked well. The recipe calls for it plain (though there are many variations on this), but I lightly fried it — I love the texture and it absorbed the dressing beautifully.

I followed the recipe pretty carefully, but used buttermilk rather than the yogurt/milk combination, as I had some that needed to be used up. Other than the bread, the main ingredients were mixed leaves, tomatoes, cucumber, and radishes. This was the first time I cooked with mint from our garden, which was awesome.

The fattoush was bold and lemony — excellent. H’s verdict: “you can definitely make this again.” And I will. It is perfect for a summer lunch, evening, or addition to a BBQ.

My pictures didn’t turn out, so here’s a picture of the mint instead…

mint

 

7 weeks in Canada

I recently returned to the UK after 7 weeks in Canada. It was a work trip, with 5 days of vacation tacked on at the end. I attended 2 conferences and spent most of my time in Ottawa, where I was carrying out fieldwork for my current research project. The 7 weeks were all sorts of things: hectic, nostalgic (especially being in Montreal), therapeutic, stressful, a lot of work, but also so much fun. I reconnected with some of my best friends, saw friends I hadn’t seen in years, and met a number of professional contacts as well. Here are a few pics…

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Montreal!
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Any ideas what food I miss in the UK?

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Great meal at the Fraser Cafe in Ottawa

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The beautiful Annapolis Valley

 

July 2019 Favourites

It was absolutely not my intention to go so long without posting. It’s been an incredible 6 weeks in Canada. I’ve been in four provinces so far and am heading to Nova Scotia for a few days tomorrow. Food updates should resume in the next week or two!

◌ Powerful: If I had to live my life over again.

Uncover podcast — seasons 3 & 4. WOW.

◌ Kindness.

◌ 50 best memoirs?

2 types of people at the airport. (I think I am smack in the middle of these though!)

Best green salad in the world?

◌ Netflix docs of note: enjoyed Knock Down the House and Homecoming.

◌ Books to recommend: Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum, the first man to sail around the world on his own (favourite quote: “one could not be lonely in a sea like this”) and I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale. Currently reading Americanah, which is excellent.

◌ When Sweden switched traffic.

◌ To finish, an except from “The Moose”, by Elizabeth Bishop:

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats’
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;
This seasick sailor is rowing home!

BBQ Zaatar Chicken

Greetings, readers. It’s been almost a month since my last post. In this time I have finished an insane amount of marking, been to Edmonton and Vancouver, visited with friends and attended/presented at a conference, and am now in Ottawa for a month as a visiting researcher. It’s been a huge.whirlwind. filled with a massive range of emotions.

My updates for the next little while will likely be on the sparse side. In many ways this reminds me of my time doing fieldwork in Brussels, back in 2014 (side note: will I ever undertake fieldwork where I actually live? Not anytime soon I don’t think). I’m living with my sister and her partner and we are keeping it pretty simple, food-wise, so far anyway. In an effort to get caught up, here’s an older update from last month, now complete…

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Yes, you read that right. We have a BBQ. For the first time (as an adult), I have a backyard and space for a BBQ. We are so excited. We tried it out the same night we bought it, with grilled chicken and a recipe I’d had bookmarked for a while, zaatar chicken with garlicky yogurt, from Bon Appetit. This was a real winner.

We used a combination of drumsticks and thighs. The only major thing I changed is that since I didn’t have any fat from the pan in the oven, I modified the spice rub and just mixed the spices in with a bit of olive oil. It worked fine. The combination of the zaatar paste and yogurt works really well — my mouth is watering thinking about it. This is a great dish for a relaxed summer evening. I’d highly recommend it.

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Sundried Tomato, Kale, & Mozzarella Fusili

A dish like this really works for me, because it satisfies my need to try to incorporate vegetables into every meal, yet sacrifices nothing in taste. It’s a great spring(/moving into summer) meal as it light but still filling.

I brought back the pasta from our recent trip to Sicily (so many more interesting shapes available!). We normally eat whole wheat but I could not resist this one. Cooked 8 mins to al dente it was perfect.

When I started making this I did not anticipate that the kale (cavolo nero) would be my favourite part of it. I sauteed it with a bit of salt and pepper beforehand. This can be a tough leaf but it breaks down really nicely with the lemon juice and other ingredients. I used standard store-bought mozzarella which isn’t the best quality; it would have worked better with buffalo mozzarella…but, meh.

Overall, this can easily be made in under 30 minutes and so is definitely a winner for me!

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Muffins for Spring

These are two separate recipes, but both contain lemon and buttermilk, and both are fairly light, not too sweet, and tasty — therefore perfect for spring.

The first ones are these buttermilk, lemon, and poppy seeds (I made them without the glaze). To me these are the perfect breakfast muffin. I love the crunch of the poppy seeds mixed with the acidity of the lemon and buttermilk. I will definitely make these again.

I ended up making the second batch because I had a lot of fresh ginger I needed to use up. I modified these a bit: instead of all plain flour, I mixed in a little rye (about 1/3 of a cup). I’m not sure this was the best idea; they were a little on the heavy side, even though I used a small amount of rye. I also would have added powdered ginger in hindsight; the small chunks of fresh ginger were nice, but otherwise the muffins were a little on the plain side. The powder would have added some more spice and flavour.

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Ginger muffins

Noodles for one

As regular readers know, I have quite a bit of experience cooking for one. This is still happening regularly as H now commutes for work. I don’t mind putting in a bit of effort, but usually when I’m cooking for myself my rules are that it has to be fairly healthy, and not too much work because I normally work a bit later on nights I’m on my own.

This idea, a ramen noodle dish with sesame, ginger, and scallions, comes from Bon Appetit magazine, which my mum recently brought over from Canada for me. It takes almost no time to pull together, and is really satisfying. I just had one gripe: too much oil. Part of this was my fault. The original recipe is for 6 people, and I dumped in too much before I remembered I had to scale the proportions back. Several reviews of the recipe on the BA website, however, also commented on the oil.

It’s a very flexible dish, so next time I will probably add broccoli and some other vegetables. It also needed more spice for me. All in all this is about 15 minutes to make, from start to finish, so it definitely pays off in terms of level of satisfaction for such quick preparation.

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