The Reintroduction

Welcome. It’s been about 18 months since I last did this properly. I’ve resolved now to reform the habit, and stick at this. During the time I’ve been gone, I forfeited my domain, and now find it taken away from me. That’s kind of cool though, because I’d been wanting to drop the ‘bakery’ part of the name for a while (we’re now theplumtree.co, in case you didn’t notice). Not that this isn’t going to be about cake any more, because that would be pure madness. But, maybe sometimes it’ll be about other things too. I also considered starting afresh in a new place, but then I thought, hey, I’ll have to go somewhere else to find the link when I want to reminisce about the time I made a crepe cake. That’s no fun.

So, here I am. I’ll be doing some baking, and then writing about it. I’ll be doing this at least once a week for the foreseeable future. I feel like it’s good to make a commitment right at the start, no shitting about. People have asked me a lot about doing this again recently, and now after all the moving about and having my mind consumed and zapped by postgraduate study, I am ready again.

The evidence of things I’ve cooked over the last 18 months can be found on my Instagram, if you’re interested (lately it’s more pictures of pizza really), and I’ll probably keep putting other stuff up there too. A few days ago I made some not-photogenic banana and toffee cupcakes. This weekend’s task is to make some more photogenic ones. See, you already have something to look forward to, and so does my stomach. Good.

Laters.

On Trying

Last January I made a sort of vague commitment to reducing my meat consumption. I didn’t even dare use the word ‘vegetarian’, because, in my own words “I like bacon too much”. The last eighteen months or so have been a process of trying, and admittedly, occasionally failing, to cut meat out of my diet. It’s still a process. In the last month I have eaten chicken and burgers and sausages and bacon and even perhaps some beef. After a few weeks of eating meat a couple of times a week, I kind of start to forget why I wanted to do this in the first place. Then various reminders start popping up, like this excellent video, or writing my dissertation on why conserving the planet is impossible whilst we continue with vast and rapid economic development. Oh, and this highly comedic campaign to help California deal with its drought.

It’s not easy. Some people probably find it a relatively simple transition, perhaps they have stronger ethics than I do, or more of an abhorrence towards meat and the horrible industry it represents. I think there will always be days when I hate having to choose boring cheese ploughman’s sandwiches over chicken caesar salad, when I wake up and want a massive fried breakfast with bacon. But I suppose that is why I keep trying. At the end of the day, I feel relatively powerless to make any change that will positively impact the future of the planet. Giving up an environmentally damaging practice like consuming meat is one of the few choices I can make which will make a difference. It has other benefits too, like learning how to make delicious vegetarian food, and not gaining weight (even when spending significant amounts of time sitting at a desk doing research).

So here’s to a renewed commitment to trying. Maybe one day I’ll be able to call myself a real vegetarian. For now, I’m going to go eat my courgette fritters for dinner.

(full service will resume in about 5 weeks when I’ve finished my dissertation)

Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers

Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers

Gratitude for this meal idea goes to Laura, who I am sharing my quest for better cooking for one with.

After a previous bad experience making vegetarian burgers that contained kidney beans, I wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of these burgers. The gross burgers I made a year or so ago were dry and unpleasant, and so I was like “will this be more of the same?” NO. No it won’t. These burgers are excellent, cheap and straightforward to make. From Laura’s suggestions I made some additions to the original recipe, such as increasing spice and eating with halloumi. I also added some garlic, because if there’s one thing that Nigel Slater has taught me, it is that anything is greatly improved by the addition of garlic.

I think if you leave the mixture in the fridge for a bit you could probably put these on the barbecue. This I am keen to try because one of the few things I am not sold on for being fully vegetarian is not being able to have proper barbecues. I mean, there’s nothing like a beef burger or a sausage that tastes of delicious charcoally grill, right? So I’m hoping that these burgers might make a good substitute (or I will just continue with my occasional lapses back into eating meat).

frying burgers

I also probably need to invest in a new grater. And a garlic crusher. I spent far too long trying to grate the carrot because we don’t have a box grater, which makes grating more than a small amount of something really inconvenient. Then when I was grating the garlic I managed to also grate my thumb. Genius.  It is useful to have effective kitchen tools.

Oh, and if you were wondering what my soundtrack to making these burgers was, it was this little guy chewing his cardboard tunnel: tiny rabbit

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Eating Alone

I remember watching the film Amelie for the first time, probably about 10 years ago now. One of my favourite parts is where it goes through things the characters do and don’t like. All of Amelie’s likes were somehow beautifully simple, like skimming stones. Every time I’ve watched it since then it’s something that’s always struck me, how it shows that we don’t need huge excitement or important life-changing events to bring happiness into our lives – it can be found in the smallest, simplest things, like skimming stones in a canal. I think this is something I always endeavour to recognise or take note of in some way, but it’s easy to forget.

So one thing I’m going to start doing from now is eating alone. I don’t mean in restaurants or in public. I mean at home, and not without people, but without technology. It has become my default setting to find something to watch whilst I eat. It might not be something I’m particularly interested in watching, but it passes the time. But I don’t really need to pass the time. This is the thing. Eating food that I’ve taken time to prepare, that I enjoy making should surely be given more time and recognition than a backdrop to an episode of the Inbetweeners I’ve seen about 20 times before.

This afternoon I got back to Norwich, and I bought asparagus and potatoes and red onions and I cooked them all and made a soft boiled egg to dip the asparagus in and it was delicious. And I appreciated it more because my eyes were fixed on the plate instead of a screen. This is something I want to do more of – carve out time when I don’t have to be looking at a screen, and relish it. If I’m starting this project to eat more wonderful and delicious food, then I should at least give it the attention it deserves when I eat it.

Cooking for One

Day of food joy #lunch #pasta

A post shared by Lizzie Erwood (@l.erwood) on

Cooking for one. It sounds like something sad and lonely, someone without a partner, family or friends to cook for, but often it’s just a fact of life.  For the last 2.5 years I’ve lived with housemates, but we haven’t cooked together or for each other, so I have cooked for myself every evening. I love to cook, I love making the effort to cook a delicious meal even if it is just for myself. Over that time I’ve also stopped cooking meat for myself, which has presented a challenge in finding new things to make. My friend has recently moved, and she, like me, lives with someone else, but is cooking for herself. We’re in our mid-20s, don’t earn much (or anything at all, in my case), but we want to eat well and we don’t have the luxury of spending a lot on food, nor can we afford to waste it.

So few recipes cater for cooking for one. I know the obvious thing is to just reduce the quantities, but so often that means using bits and pieces of vegetables and trying to work out something inventive to do with the leftovers, or having to eat the same thing several nights in a row, which is tedious. Recently I ate tomato and lentil soup for lunch four days in a row because I had vegetables to use up and I was trying to save money. By the third day I was truly sick of it. This is how things often are when you’re just cooking for yourself. But it shouldn’t be. Food should always be awesome, even when cooked in smaller portions. This is what I’m looking for, for my food to be exciting every day, even when I’m trying to use stuff up.

I’m going to start writing my dissertation in a few weeks, which means a stretch of about 3 months where I have plenty of work but no pressing deadlines. I’m going to start thinking a lot more about how I cook for myself, and because it will be almost summer there will be loads of amazing vegetables coming up soon. This will be my new challenge – to find more variety and excitement in cooking for one, and writing about it here. Watch this space.

Spring Cleaning

I’ve been doing a lot of spring cleaning over the last week or so. When I was growing up, or maybe even until the last couple of years, I felt that having a lot of things was valuable. Lots of CDs and books and DVDs to cover walls with and bring colour and happiness into my life, and then lots of clothes, with more having to be bought with every season. I think my financial situation changed my outlook on clothing quite quickly, whereby as soon as I had to rent to pay, I realised I couldn’t afford to spend as much on clothes as I previously had. Plus when I moved sorting through everything was a real eye opener. Living in the same place for even a year or two, you can be amazed at how much you acquire, and how much of the stuff you moved with isn’t really worth keeping anymore.

When I moved to Norwich last year, I was moving into a smaller room (and house) with less space for all my stuff. I’m pretty sure I halved my book collection before moving. It’s always felt good to have an extensive book collection, but when you go through and realise the chances of you ever reading half of these books again is pretty small, you also realise it’s probably time to pass some of them on. I didn’t think I’d be reducing the number of books I own again whilst I was here, but spring has come around, and it’s preying on my mind more and more that I only have five months left living in this house, and then I will have to go through the upheaval of moving yet again. And so with this comes the knowledge that I should probably endeavour to have fewer things, and that in fact having fewer things makes life so much less stressful. Trying to desperately squeeze the last of my stuff into my dad’s car on moving day was stressful. Having so much stuff in my new room that I couldn’t move was stressful (some of it still resides in the shed because I couldn’t fit it all in the house).

So I’m beginning the process of reorganising and reducing now. This time around even CDs are being culled, which is something I avoided the last time around. All of my unwanted books, CDs and DVDs will go to charity, and I’m taking all my old clothes (most of which are unwearable) to H&M where they are recycling textiles. Hopefully once August rolls around I’ll be better prepared and less overwhelmed with the amount of stuff I have to pack. There’s something really satisfying about getting rid of stuff, and knowing it will go to someone who will hopefully get as much enjoyment out of it as I have.

In line with all of this spring cleaning, I am getting most of my hair cut off tomorrow, which is also a relief. I’ve begun to really hate having long hair, and so with the change of season comes a change of hair. The next few months will bring much change – moving house (and city probably), finding a job, writing a dissertation, leaving education again (much to my disappointment). So I feel like spring cleaning is a good start, to prepare for all these things.

These past few months have been a blur of studying and writing and studying some more. Hopefully in the coming weeks, when everything winds down pre-dissertation, I will find more time to go back to other things, like baking. There has certainly been a lack of baking.

Resolutions

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So it’s 2015 now, and as usual I’ve made a handful of resolutions, which will no doubt be varying in their successes. One thing I’ve resolved to do that I’m fairly confident I will be successful in though is my resolution for this month, which is to be vegetarian. Last year I started thinking a lot more about the impact we humans have on the world, and what I could potentially do to reduce my carbon footprint. Eating less meat, for me personally, is the best way I can do that. The amount of resources needed to produce a kilo of beef could produce 7kg of grain. In a world that suffers from declining availability of resources, such as water, and where millions of people are still starving, the quantity of meat we are producing is insane. It’s not viable.

I’ve pretty much stopped buying meat to consume at home, however, when I eat out I find it far too easy to choose the meat option, just because vegetarian options look comparatively dull. So I’m pushing myself to make the more difficult but better choice. I’m also trying to be more adventurous with my vegetarian cooking. Having grown up being fed meals that were pretty much always meat-centric, trying to get out of the habit of thinking of vegetables as a side dish has been a challenge, and that mixed with a student budget has resulted in some of the stuff I’ve been cooking of late being a bit lacklustre. If anyone has any recipes for amazing but cheap vegetarian food, I am all ears!

This year I’m going to be trying to do some savoury recipes as well as all the cake, so this vegetarian thing might help with that. I don’t have any recipes to report this week, it’s been New Year and I’ve been spending time with friends and just relaxing and reading a lot, because I have nothing to do until next week when lectures start, which I predict will be driving me crazy by the end of tomorrow. But anyway, I wish you all a happy 2015!

Until next week, x