A taste of Waitrose cookery school

I remember when I first learned to cook. The summer before university, in the kitchen of Mum’s ‘friend of a friend’ – a lovely, (slightly crazy) chef who taught me a fail-proof basic roux recipe and told me about her divorce.

I soon found you don’t learn to cook over night, but I got my appetite for it in a week. Over the years this has waned with the chore of midweek dinners.

But I was excited to get back into a cooking school – this time run by Waitrose in North London; conveners of Heston, Delia and basic food porn.

Picture of prosecco on arrival

A very civilised welcome, naturally

Our chef was Martin and on the menu was thai red curry. I was relieved  – something I genuinely like.

The surroundings were immaculate and we were well looked after. I was sold with the arrival drinks – bubbles or ‘lime and ginger cordial infused with lemon grass and chili’! I honestly can’t stop thinking about this juice….

There was an impressive teaching gallery, equipped with TV screens and surround sound, where Martin walked us through each step of making the curry, along with cucumber relish and jasmine rice.

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The school makes an effort to teach you some ‘skillz’ as well as the recipe, which were very appreciated. Who knew that the best waste-free way to peel a ginger without is by using a spoon and a bit of vigour? And apparently the safest way to use a knife is to bend your non-chopping hand like a ‘claw’, to protect your fingers. I absorbed these insights like a massive nerd.

The best thing I learned was how to make sticky coconut rice which doesn’t stick to the pan. All to do with the timings apparently. You bring it to the  boil, stirring only once, then you cover with a lid on a low heat for 10 minutes and DON’T touch it! Genuinely works.

Pic of people tasting food like birds on a loaf of bread

Closest I’ve been to Saturday Morning Kitchen

2014-08-15 22.35.08The food was incredible. Legendary. Of course recreating it wasn’t so simple. I’ve tried twice since – once during the course where you recreate it step by step with the help if the chefs (who have headsets!!) and again at home. It’s still a work in progress.

Below are the curry and rice recipes, along with my insights. Enjoy x

 

 

 

Thai Red Curry

  • 2 skinless, boneless diced chicken thighs (I prefer breast but actually trying breast as an alternative I realised the thigh is more flavoursome. You can use duck too apparently)
  • 6 Parboiled new potatoes, halved
  • 400 ml can coconut milk (Thai taste recommended)
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp palm sugar (crystalised)
  • 2 lime wedges
  • 1tbsp vegetable oil

For the paste:

  • 4 Kashmiri red chillis – (I’ve tried with and without and these really do make a difference,  the recipe with a lovely smokey flavour. Hard to source in London, but available online)
  • 1 Banana shallots, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 4cm piece of ginger, peeled
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 15 white peppercorns
  • 1 tsp ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 pieces of mace
  • 3 tbsp coconut cream

1. To make the paste, blend all the ingredients except the coconut cream together in a food processor or blender until smooth – this will take about 4-5 minutes. If necessary, add a little water. Add the coconut cream and blend again to combine fully.

2. Heat the sunflower oil in a large saucepan, add the curry paste and fry for at least 5-6 minutes until fragrant

3. Season with the palm sugar and fish sauce and add the coconut milk. Bring to a simmer and add the chicken and potatoes. Turn down the heat and simmer on a low heat for about 7 minutes, until the chicken is tender (be careful not to overcook this at a high heat, it can go rubbery).

Thai coconut rice

  • 150g Waitrose Jasmine Hom Mali rice
  • 150ml coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white sugar
  • Finely grated zest 1 lime

1. Place the coconut milk, lime zest, salt and sugar in a large saucepan together with 225ml cold water. Bring to the boil and add the rice. Stir once to combine the ingredients

2. Bring the mixture to simmering point, stir once more then turn down the heat to its lowest setting. Simmer for 10 minutes until tender then remove from the heat. Cover and allow to stand for a further 10 minutes

 

London’s secret outdoor cinemas

Strange coincidence – I went to two outdoor cinemas last week – back-to-back, in a busy mid-week double header.

Picture of Outdoor cinema at half light in Dulwich Park

Wolf of Wall Street against the moonlight of Dulwich Park

Not deliberate and wouldn’t repeat  it –  *tiring* – but it gave me a unique chance to compare London’s offering for this strange outdoor pastime.

The Luna Cinema was first and my favourite for its simplicity – watching the Wolf of Wall Street under cover of moonlight in a deserted Dulwich Park felt vaguely illicit. We had wrapped up warm so being cozy outside in the fading summer was fun, rather than freezing.

Second was Secret Cinema’s much anticipated Back to the Future. Set in the depths of East London (a rare journey for me on its own), it was  more about the stage-craft and theater, than the film.

Picture of film goers arriving in fancy dress

Peabody’s farm, just shy of Stratford

Other film-goers stood out on the tube – dressed up in sophisticated vintage outfits that immediately made me question my own vague attempt. On arrival our phones were taken. Feeling naked, we filtered through into a Disney land for the children of 1985. There was a whole town to explore, if you are up for make-believe, but we stuck to the fairground and queuing for chips.

View from the top of the Ferris wheel

A secret photo from a forgotten camera in my bag…

There was a brilliant parade. And when the film finally aired it was full of impressive special effects – although watching it again in  high definition, at the edge of the city, it didn’t need them.

It was enjoyable to re-trace a forgotten film to a forgotten childhood, and connect the dots of an unexplained love of pretty boys to an early crush on Marty McFly.

We got cold and fearing our long journeys and early starts, left.

But I’m planning a Back to the Future marathon one weekend, when its warm inside and cold outside, sometime really soon.

 

The awkward truth about being an introvert

Last summer I read an article in The Huffington Post that literally changed the way I viewed myself.

The article, ’23 signs you’re secretly an introvert’ – was a simple enough piece and perhaps not all that scientific – but revolutionary in what it conveyed.

Reading the article and steadily checking off the attributes, from being ‘easily distracted’, ‘noting detail’ and always picking a ‘seat on the end of the tube’;’ to ‘alternating between work and solitude and social activity’ , ‘screening calls’ and being ‘better at communicating in writing’, my ‘secret introversion’ all clicked in to place.

My kind of quiet

My kind of quiet

I always felt awkwardly ‘quiet’ deep down; but thought I had outgrown the days of reading books on my own at breaks in junior school. Now I work in communications and my core hobby is meeting up with my friends to chat shit over wine. When I mentioned my newly discovered introversion to some friends they were surprised, even sought to reassure me it wasn’t true, although my family have always known.

Admitting to being an introvert can feel like just another thing for shy people to feel shy about. Introverts can be seen as anti-social, lacking personality and confidence. There are certainly some ‘signs’ on the HuffPo list that it feels a little embarrassing to admit to – for example while I enjoy live entertainment, I hate crowds and don’t get ‘high off my surroundings’. I’d have more fun one on one with close friends.

In the workplace – especially my area, communications and marketing – introversion can be viewed negatively –  almost as a sign of weakness, an awkward characteristic that needs to overcome. Only on Friday I had a discussion with an extrovert about how minority introverts should be ‘integrated’ into teams of extroverts so they can adopt the same level of confidence presenting. I found myself standing up for those individuals, telling my colleague there is often a difference between being shy and introverted, but that introverts might often spot the details others miss by listening and analysing more. One friend – and fellow introvert – summarized the quandary perfectly:  “E’s’ never have to justify their behaviour to ‘I’s”, he said “whereas we have to explain ourselves all the time”.

Susan Cain author of  ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’, said in 2012: “A widely held, but rarely articulated, belief in our society is that the ideal self is bold, alpha, gregarious…Introversion is viewed somewhere between disappointment and pathology.”

So without turning my introversion into full introspection, I plan to read up on Cairn’s the secret power of introverts – some say it can be a real asset, but more than anything I’m aware that if I’m not careful it could hold me back.

Which festival is better – Latitude or Wilderness?

You haven’t been to a festival until you’ve been to a festival with a severe weather warning. And this summer I went to two.

Latitude had blistering heat followed by nightly electric storms; while Hurricane Bertha woke me up at Wilderness at 5am and we evacuated four hours later.

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I’d imagined these festivals to be too luxe to be ‘real’. I don’t know what I expected – some super on-it event organiser with a headset sprinkling the ground with mud-resistant fairy dust, or that everyone would be too posh to shit in the loos.

Despite the crashing reality that a festival once attended by Sam Cam didn’t magic me into a self-cleaning Glasto-esque Cressida Bona,  both were great fun and its hard to call which was better. But if I had to rank them…

Music – Latitude – Lily Allen beat my expectations and I danced to Damon Albarn in a rain storm so intense a passing stranger thought I was on speed. I also discovered George Ezra and got a little crush on him.

Food – Wilderness, obvs – we had a banquet table at Angella Hartnett’s lunch –  five courses of her favourite Italian family food in a room that looked just magical, with the added excitement of Angela bobbing around saying hi. And other restaurants included a Hix tent and a J Sheekey fish and chip van- so it was basically Soho in a field in a really good way.

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Angela’s Boozy peaches and amaretto cream. If I could recreate this I think I could handle anything in life.

Arts – Latitude – (but only because I mainly boozed at Wilderness). I discovered Josie Long who I am now obsessed with – what a FUNNY woman -and surprised myself by enjoying the poetry tent – it might have been to do with the hot poet Raymond Antrobus whose nostalgic poems about his Nan – set to MUSIC – made me well up. I loved Peter Hayhoe too.

Booze – Wilderness – had actual bars where you could dance and a disco in the forest. But Latitude also had a piano bar in the woods which attracted kids that looked like fairies.

Camping – Latitude –  let’s be honest campsites for 10,000 always have the sense of the worst ever long haul flight – all sleepy haired, strangers sweating and spitting out toothpaste. Latitude’s campsite was best, as it had lots of space to camp (and even cartwheel). But Wilderness was surprisingly overcrowded – some friends were forced to pitch up at the side of the tracks next to the loos. But there WAS a breakfast club brunch van right opposite. Its the only time I’ve managed to get my hands on one of their sausage baps. Score.

Lake – Wilderness – both unquestionably beautiful lakes, but Wilderness had a Lakeside spa and I go to go and sit in a toasty barrel of heated water whilst it rained, sipping champagne. OH MEMORIES.

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Spot Angella


People – DRAW – Everyone was nice, didn’t get any trouble. Latitude had the highest concentration of Guardian readers – it was like a freaking Birkenstock convention – while Wilderness had a funny mix of pissed posh folk and pagans. Both festivals had way too many kids in my opinion. Far be it for me to judge parents, but waking up to the sound of children wailing as the storm hit made me want to join in and steal their calpol.

So would I do either festival again? Probably not. What tolerance I had left for camping died this summer. Plus all of the red bull I drank to survive gave me a week long skin disorder and an eye twitch. But that said, never say never. I’ve never been to Glastonbury and I am due a mid-life crisis.

The best Chinese take-away in Wandsworth

Lately I’ve been exemplifying the kind of emotionally dependent relationship with my local Chinese restaurant that Sandra Bullock embodies at the start of ‘Two Weeks Notice‘.

Can I have a bite of your number 6 please Sandie?

I know things need to change. They know things need to change. But neither of us wants to stop.

So it goes on that I, exhausted at the end of the week, make the call and get them to hit me up with a Singapore chicken noodles,  beef in black bean sauce and an egg fried rice.

Yes I know that is two types of carbs and a really bad idea. Yes I know that Sandra is way thinner than me. Yes I also know that the amazing health benefits of Asian food are only really seen on a diet of sushi, tofu and miso soup, not white rice flash fried in oil. But can the world please stop judging me and take a mouthful of the black bean beef?!

I love The Good Earth, not just because the food is excellent, but because it provides the kind of singular comfort that nothing other than a bear hug with an elderly relative can deliver.

It is also well posh (its roots are in Kensington). You can have a takeaway at home and feel really swank over skank.

They have a really fancy restaurant that has gold padded walls, very efficient waiting staff and silent, automatic doors everywhere that lead to secret rooms. Plus they look after you with hot hand towels and after dinner mints.

Image of a clay pot being revealed

The big reveal

Here I am getting the fillet steak clay pot. That is the super attention-seeking meal they cook at your table and everyone in the restaurant gets jealous (see man in white shirt with the hilarious hungry eyes).

Image of fillet steak clay pot at the good earth

Divine

Chocolate mints in orange foil

Chocolate mints. Imported from the eighties. The very best way to end a good meal.

The Good Earth has selected restaurants across London, including a restaurant in Wandsworth Common and takeaway stations in Battersea and Wimbledon.

Being good enough at feminism

Feminism feels like something someone else should write about. Someone who has read all the books, who has all the answers, who has it ‘down’.

To be honest I don’t even know if I want to write about this. Its a complex debate. So loaded. It can be intimidating.

Someone who is ‘much better at feminism’ than me could read this and decide that I was writing about it all wrong  – too hesitant, too uncertain – and decide I was letting women down. Because there are a few like that out there; women who talk other women down, for ‘talking  women down’. Mary Berry got slammed. Kirsty Allsopp  got bashed. Then the women who bashed Kirstie got bashed.

I get it though, its disappointing, I bashed a few of them too, less eloquently, over wine with friends. I was pretty pissed off when I found out that there are over 17,000 women on facebook who’ve joined a movement called ‘women against feminism’ (I’m not linking to them – they don’t deserve the traffic). Its ironic  –  all falling over themselves to tell the world they don’t need feminism – whilst forming a group to make strong assertions about the good treatment they have in their lives –  respect; equal relationships; careers where they are treated fairly.

Er…I hate to break it to you girls but that sounds like feminism. And you’re making some sad statements.

Oh shit…but do I now accidentally sound like I’m the ‘opposite of a feminist’? Judging other women – who are opposed to being feminists – telling them that they don’t know what they mean, what they are?

I can sort of see how we got to a place where some women feel alienated.

When I was younger, I didn’t like the question ‘are you a feminist?’ It felt like a trick question. ‘Er yeah obvs’. But answering it could feel extreme, like putting my religious or political beliefs out there. Or it felt like a quiet hypocrisy – because I was also facebook stalking men and wearing foundation to the gym. Feminism felt like – and it can still feel like – something I’m not good enough at, for some people.

Feminism should be a straightforward concept, a no brainer – equality for women, choice, a voice. But its blurred with so many complex sub-debates about career and family. Whether women can be ‘the same’ as men; whether women ‘need’ men; if our life experiences can realistically be equivalent. I don’t quite know the answer to all of these questions, I just know my own opinion.

But I do know that I am a feminist. As I get older – become a ‘woman of a certain age’ and see the unfairness in our world, from the violence and inequality we read about, to the subtle sexist shit my friends and I have seen and faced at work, in relationships, in London – I need it more than ever.

Talking about feminism needs to get easier. Being a feminist needs to feel easier for more women, more straightforward. It needs to be a no-brainer. Equality. Just basic human rights. We need it. We really do. There should be no question.