Thursday, 14 September 2017


I hit the road with a sickening thud.

"Are you okay?"

"I’m often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.
On cold days I guess I think about how cold it is. And about the heat on hot days. When I’m sad I think a little about sadness. When I’m happy I think a little about happiness. As I mentioned before, random memories come to me too. And occasionally, hardly ever, really, I get an idea to use in a novel. But really as I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning.
I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People’s minds can’t be a complete blank. Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum. What I mean is, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void. Lacking content, they are just random thoughts that gather around that central void. 
The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky as always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky. The sky both exists and doesn’t exist. It has substance and at the same time doesn’t. And we merely accept that vast expanse and drink it in."
What I talk about when I talk about running – Haruki Murakami
I like to run when I am in Berwick. Just running around the main town takes you along by the sea, past the lighthouse, along coastal paths, through the centre and across two bridges over the river Tweed finishing along the walled battlements. Or one can to an out and back to Spittal and run along the Victorian promenade.

Last week, on my third run of the holiday, I was approaching the historic bridge back into Berwick when I scuffed my foot on the ground, and fell to the floor hard. I just managed to get my arms up to protect my face but I still hit the floor and was left bloodied with a cut chin and split lip. I was lucky, I could have lost teeth or worse. Dented pride was preferable. "Are you alright?"the concerned lady had said. I raised my chin. "Does it look bad?"she said I was cut but not too badly. I walked home.

 Murakami writes in his memoir about running, ageing and the art of writing novels -

"I’m in my late fifties now. When I was young, I never imagined the twenty-first century would actually come and that, all joking aside, I’d turn fifty. In theory, of course, it was self-evident that someday, if nothing else happened, the twenty-first century would roll around and I’d turn fifty. When i was young, being asked to imagine myself at fifty was as difficult as being asked to imagine, concretely, the world after death. Mick Jagger once boasted that “I’d rather be dead than still singing ‘satisfaction’ when I’m forty-five.” Some people might find this funny, but not me. When he was young, Mick Jagger couldn’t imagine himself at forty-five. When I was young, I was the same. Can I laugh at Mick Jagger? No way. I just happen not to be a young rock singer. Nobody remembers what stupid things I might have said back then, so they’re not about to quote them back at me. That’s the only difference."

I recently turned 54. About six years ago I  joined a jogging club. Approaching fifties I had put on a little weight and thought I needed to take better care of myself. I was starting to be aware of my own mortality. I suppose I could have bought a red sports car and started chasing young blondes, except I am happily married and without wealth or a driving licence... so I started baking my own sourdough bread and go out running three nights a week. As a mid-life crisis its very restrained.

I used to run regularly… especially in my mid-twenties. I was living on the south coast and joined the Southampton Road Runners who at the time, met on a mid-week evening in a city centre pub (The Anchor?). I even entered a few road races, a 10km event, a few 10 mile races and two half marathons finishing with a pb, well down the field, in 1hr 39mins. And then I stopped. And I can no longer remember why. No injuries spring to mind…, no falling out with the club… my memory fails me. Maybe I just fell out of love with running.

Sporadically, over the years since, I’ve flirted with starting to run again… it lasts a couple of wheezing weeks and then falls by the wayside. My waistline has expanded. The thoughts of ever running a sub 1hr 30 half marathon have evaporated.

Joining the running club and then getting involved with parkrun has helped. I have done 120 parkruns to date and volunteered on 25 occasions. I'm slow, but that no longer matters. Running gives me some time out, a time for some reflection, some days just a chance to be mindful of the lovely countryside around me or the urban bustle of the streets. Its also a time to reflect on growing older.

The fall left me conscious of my own frailty, the busted lip a constant reminder. It has not stopped us enjoying the holiday.

"now here I am living in this unimaginable world. It feels really strange, and I can’t tell whether I am fortunate or not. May be it doesn’t matter. For me – and for everyone else, probably – this is my first experience of growing old, and the emotions I am having, too, are all first-time feelings. If it were something that I had experienced before, then I’d be able to understand it more clearly, but this is the first time, so I can’t. For now all I can do is put off making any detailed judgements and accept things as they are. Just like I accept the sky, the clouds and the river. And there’s also something kind of comical about it all, something you don’t want to discard completely."
What I talk about when I talk about running – Haruki Murakami

Monday, 11 September 2017

Holiday bread

I take my starter on holiday with me. The loaf I produce is a little more rustic with a floured tea towel and bowl used to prove the loaf and no Dutch oven to bake the bread, the result is still a tasty loaf. I used 400g White bread flour and 100g malted flour from the local mill. Pleased with the result. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Yo momos is so ugly.....

I have never made any form of potsticker dumpling before. How difficult could it be? When Meera Sodha provided a simple recipe we thought we would give them a go. We looked on YouTube for some help in folding them. Wow! Do take a look, there are some beautiful examples. The sweet potato filling was easy to make as was the dipping sauce, but oh those folds... Sue was a little better with her nimble fingers but what had looked so easy on video was beyond my stubby fingers. And I tended to overfill them. In the end we got an assortment of shapes and when fried and steamed they stayed together. You can now see how food stylists earn there money! But they tasted great and were fun to do and I will definitely try them again. Practice makes perfect... Or at least photogenic. I was not sold on the dipping sauce, the sesame a little to over-powering for my taste but they were fine with chilli sauce, a great organic tomato ketchup we had in, and a fresh coriander and ginger chutney. They sure is ugly though...

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Bread, dal and a walk along the beach

It was a sunny morning so we got the bus to Bamburgh and walked the beach to Seahouses. I had started some malted flour sourdough this morning made from flour ground at the local Heatherslaw Corn Mill at Etal which we have visited in previous years. The Miller was at the food festival promoting his flours. A keen baker, he had never made his own sourdough. I take my sourdough starter on holiday with me 🙂. The resultant loaf is usually imperfect and "rustic" but tastes better than anything from a supermarket. Besides, September is -

 Sourdough Sptember

I made a dal last night 200mg each of chana and mung dal simmered with turmeric, green chillis, chilli powder, slices of ginger, then finally a tarka of onions, garlic, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry leaves fried in coconut oil until the onions are browned. The texture of the dal  was quite thick but then I added salt, 200ml coconut milk and a lot of coriander leaves. It tasted good so I held off with the lemon juice and garam masala, I will add those the next night. I have entered this for the My Legume Love Affair #111 🙂 Created by Susan  and continued by Lisa

Bread, dal, some roasted cauliflower, onion pickle - heaven.

 Berwick is not blessed with many vegan friendly establishments (unlike Edinburgh) reflecting its coastal seafood and agricultural heritage. However there were some signs of change. There was a Greek food stall at the festival with TWO vegan options, both stews. And some of the vendors seemed savvy about veganism. I tried Pete's Peas, a guy from Newcastle trying to get people eating Pease Pudding again -" Geordie Hummus" - by using different flavourings. I was apprehensive about approaching him as Pease Pudding traditional is split peas cooked with ham, but when I asked he said the chipotle flavoured one was vegan and that he was in the process of eliminating butter from several others (including a marmite version) so they would be vegan too. Nice guy, his product was lovely warmed up a little on toast.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Berwick upon Tweed

Our love affair with Berwick began ten years ago after we had moved to Sheffield. Previously we used to holiday in Cornwall each year but it is such a long train journey we decided to look elsewhere. To be honest, I knew nothing about Berwick but Sue suggested it and it was only three hours on the train so we gave it a go. The day we arrived we wandered around and bumped into a food and drink festival. It was the first year they had organised it. A lovely welcome!

We arrived this weekend and the festival was in full swing. It was the 10th anniversary and we have been coming each year to the disbelief of friends and colleagues. Sunday morning we headed for the food stalls and picked up this fine array. The afternoon was spent in the beer tent sampling some wonderful local beer my favourite being a local nano brewery, Bear Claw, and listening to some great live blues guitar.

The weather is not looking too great this week but that's fine. Walks by the sea, good simple food, plenty of reading, the occasional pint and perhaps a cultural visit to Edinburgh (there is a good-looking Carravagio exhibition on). Nice. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Let's talk tofu

I think tofu makes an interesting substitute for paneer. It is not the same texture, but it absorbs flavour well. I like to use a tofu press to get the excess water out.

This is a variation of a recipe in Madhu Gadia's The Indian Vegan Kitchen. The more I cook from this book the more I like it. No photographs, but Madhu describes the recipes in detail and they are tasty.

I made a few substitutes to the sauce recipe and was very pleased with the result. How to get that creamy texture? No vegan cream or yoghurt used here. My choice is tahini, the runny sesame seed paste you find in middle eastern shops not the worthy thick stuff from wholefood shops. I don't know why tahini is not a more common ingredient in Indian cooking.  I love tahini dressings as alternatives to dairy yoghurt.

One large white onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
A knob of ginger, or to taste
2 green chillis, or to taste
Half a 400g can chopped tomatoes, a decent brand
3 tsp roasted dhana jeera
2-3 tbs tahini
1 tbs white poppy seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric

Whiz it all up in a liquidiser ( may need a little added water) then add to pan and cook to drive off the water. Add 2 tbs rapeseed oil and continue to cook until looks darker and shiny and starts to pull away from the edge of the pan. Then add water to the required consistency.
Season to taste.

I tend to fry my tofu to brown it a little but this is not necessary. Simple dish, very tasty. I started making my own dhana jeera as a result of my ground cumin and coriander starting to taste indistinct and bland.

This is my entry to My Legume Love affair #110

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Vegan masala omelette

VeganEgg Part 2. I went for an omelette recipe following the Follow Your Heart guidance to the letter. Taking a Meera Sodha recipe as inspiration. I flavoured the egg with a finely sliced spring onions, coriander leaf and green chilli, with a pinch of chilli powder, turmeric and salt.

The omelette takes longer to cook but in the pan it does look like an omelette. Meera suggests serving between buttered toast with tomato ketchup. I used a sourdough roll which I toasted.

It looked good. I bit into it and it tasted better than the scrambled egg I previously made, but, oh you knew there would be a but, the texture is not quite right. With the toast it's okay, by itself though I am not sure. Worth trying, may be its just me, but I used to enjoy eggs so I am afraid it's another disappointing vegan cheese moment.

Maybe if the omelette was thinner? Part 3 to come.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Tomato curry

Finally got around to doing one of Meera Sodha's recipes from her new Guardian column. It was a tomato curry. Followed the recipe but just used vine tomatoes I had bought from Chesterfield market. If I were to try it again I would make half the quantities and use other varieties of tomato. I think it took longer than the suggested time to reduce down the coconut milk to a sticky messy. The resultant dish was very rich but I paired it with plain basmati and a seasonal stir fry of UK corn and sugar snap beans spiced with panch phoran. Sue loved this combo which we ate two nights in a row.

When I started this blog my main aim was encouraging myself to try different recipes and enjoy cooking in the evening. In that regard it has been a success. Tried lots of new recipes this month and hopefully will post a few more in the coming weeks.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Everyday meals

Thursday nights I often fend for myself as Sue works late and can get a meal at work. This was my meal this week and illustrates how i tend to cook. Wednesday I made and standard chana dal dish from 2 tins of chickpeas. You need to find a brand you trust as some brands can be hard and chalky. I like the jars you can get from Middle Eastern shops which taste great and are economical. The bread is shop brought. I found a brand, Clay Oven Bakery in my local supermarket that make lovely naan, soft and pillowy, unlike the usual shop-bought which are so stiff you could play table tennis with. Often I will substitute my own sourdough loaf. I am still learning to make roti and ave been experimenting with millet and spelt flours.

The accompaniments above are my masala kraut - very pleased with this - want to try it with chinese leaf next time. Thee is also a raita. I keep it simple. A few spoons of coconut yoghurt, pinch of salt, some leftover pomegranate seeds, and then roasted ground cumin and kashmiri chilli powder sprinkled over the top.

So the main dish here that needed cooking afresh was the green bean and potato sabzi. Maddhur Jaffrey was the inspiration though I already had some cooked potatoes in the fridge (from our organic veg box we get fortnighty - these made a lovely potato salad the night before.)

Recipe involves adding hing, cumin and nigella seeds to the heated oil followed by ginger and chopped green chillis. Stir fry for a minute and then add tomato puree and cook until it thickens a darkens. Add beans, water and salt and cook for 20 mins. I added the potatoes 5 mins from the end. Finish with garam masala.

My entry for #EatYourGreens

Some nights its even simpler. Dal and rice or bread. Add a vegetable dish the next day. Chutneys, raitas, salads as and when I have more time. Simple.

Scrambled VeganEgg

We are not averse to an occasional vegan fry up on a lazy Sunday morning. The vegan beer festival was sponsored by Follow Your Heart, makers of The VeganEgg, a product that seems to get rave reviews and is cannily marketed in an eggbox-shaped packaging. They were giving boxes away at the festival so Sue and I got a box each and then picked up another when encouraged by the organiser. These retail at £6.99 a pop so this was a pleasant surprise from the day. Follow Your Heart make the best mayo substitute I have tried so I was hopeful about this product but had my reservations as I have yet to find a vegan cheese I like and was dubious as to how scrambled eggs could be replicated. And at that price I wasn't likely to experiment because there are plenty of alternatives for eggs as binding agents or in baking.

One box is equivalent to 10-12 eggs. On opening the box you find a tiny package of yellow powder. The instructions are clear. Two main points. Its much easier to mix up in a blender than se a whisk. Secondly, They take longer to cook so it is imperative to follow the suggested cooking time.

I have a number of Indian recipes for scrambles and omelettes and Sue likes Mexican wraps so we were intrigued as to how they would turn out.

I made a portion for our fry up. Cooked simply would be the acid test. Upon opening the packet you get the eggy sulpherous aroma from the black salt but it gets cooked off and not really detectable in the final dish.

The eggs scramble. They taste very bland and need a lot of seasoning, The texture is not quite right, its in the ball park but a forkful alone is not especially pleasant.

I will give it another go - probably an Indian omelette served in a crusty roll or between toast. The extra spicing and added texture may work. We will see. Fun to play with though the cost would still be prohibitive and the excessive packaging, though cute, is wasteful.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Sheffield Vegan Beer Festival 2017

Sue and I like a real ale or craft beer or two on a weekend. Maybe lunch on Saturday and then nip in to one of the fine hostelries in Sheffield or sometimes further afield.  We go to perhaps a couple of beer festivals a year. We started doing this when we first went to stay in Berwick nine years ago and fell in love with the place. Coincidentally they were having a food and drink festival on the weekend we arrived with lots of local produce and a small beer tent. We go back most years, the atmosphere is welcoming.

Yesterday we went to the first Vegan Beer Festival in Sheffield which was organised by Sean a.k.a. Fat Gay Vegan who is a regular contributor to the Vegan Life magazine. It was held in the trendy Yellow Arch Studios near Kelham Island and we had the bonus of locating the Thali Cafe on our way there and plan to visit that place soon too.

The weather was brightening and the sun came out. There were four food vendors in the courtyard and plenty of seating. An indoor area was reserved for the beer with three breweries and a local pub providing the beers. and what a great selection there was too!

We grabbed a table which became our home over the coming hours whilst occasionally venturing out into the sun, or watching the charity kareoke taking place. I got up and did a fair cover of the Rolling Stone's classic, Paint it Black. No, wait,  that was someone else. I have never done kareoke and this was not the time to start.

The four food vendors did good business. We tried something from each. I am probably the wrong demographic for these businesses as the food was more American diner/ fast food alternative takeaways, however V-Rev from Manchester were really particularly friendly and Sue liked their brisket in a bun and had a good laugh with the main guy there who had great people skills.

I tried "crispy eg and bacon on a pretzel bun" produced by Butcherless. It was interesting and disconcertingly like the real thing, certainly closer to the real thing than many imitators i have tried. It was all sweet and salty, smoky and umami with the bacon made from mheat. The eg was incredibly realistic with an oozing yolk that utilised indian black salt to recreate the sulferous odour.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I have it again? Yes, as an occasional take away. Would I cook with it? Probably not. It did blow away some of my preconceptions and as they say on their website, their product is not a fake meat, just simply vegan, grown not born. There is something artisanal about this approach which intrigues me. It's not quorn.

Somebody later tweeted Sean to say this had been one of the most welcoming and inclusive festivals they had been too and I heartily agree. It was relaxed, pleasant, no anti-social behaviour. Very friendly.

The beers were sensational. I had one bad beer all day, an experimental Weird Beard creation "Roots, bloody roots" which was a take on root beer and should have been all licorice and sarsaparilla but was very medicinal. Sue tasted it and screwed her face up "horrible, tastes like "germolene". And it did, every mouthful from then on was like drinking an anti-septic. Luckily there was only a half pint to drink and it was a weaker beer. I did think about feeding it to the nearby bay leaf plant, but my conscience would not have been clear. But that's part of the fun of trying something new, I once saw a pint of parma violet stout in a pub and asked the bartender what it was like. "Disgusting" she said. But I tried and enjoyed a half! Weird Beard makes some great beer but this was a miss for me.

The wonder of beer festivals is that you can get to sample an array of beers and chat to the people who are so passionate about brewing them. The commerative glass, well, it was more a frosted plastic design but lovely - is marked with half and third pint measures so you can sample a lot of beers over an afternoon without falling over. I started with a Bad Seed wheat beer, all raspberry, rose petal and hibiscus. Later I tried their strong Glass Case of Emotion  - an Imperial stout all almonds and cherries. Chorlton Brewing Company had an array of sour beers all great but I liked the orange/ cherry sour brown ale whilst Sue liked the hemp pale ale (ah, the benefits of being a couple, you sample twice the beer!)

The Welsh Heavy Industry Brewing had a gold medal winning IPA called 77, which did not disappoint and it was a tie between this and the Farmaggedon Gorse IPA which adds a heady aroma they describe as almost a pina colada of pineapple and coconut but was like nothing I had tried before, as to my favourite of the day. The Farmaggedon just edged it. 

Before leaving I took a few quick candid shots with my Nikon D40 and a 35mm prime lens. Sue and I noted that Black is still the new Black; Vegan Doc Martens are plentiful and as is bright colourful hair... and people are getting younger.

I spoke with Sean before we left and he was looking more relaxed. He'd been really worrying about the weather but the sun prevailed and this event was a success and will surely be back in the new year.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The New Vegan

Meera Sodha's Made in India - Cooked in Britain is one of my favourite Indian cookbooks with great stories about growing up in Lincolnshire. Although not vegetarian, there are plenty of vegetable and dal dishes and the fresh chutneys are great. The jeera rice recipe is sublime. Every Indian cookbook seems to have its own method of cooking rice but Meera's is my favourite absorption method I have tried so far and I often adapt other recipes I read to follow this method. Her writing is really quirky and reading the publicity when it came out you could tell how much she had invested in it.

So when I heard her second book, Fresh India, was going to be vegetarian I was thrilled. It did not disappoint, and although by then I had switched to a vegan diet, there was still so many interesting plant- based recipes and others could easily be adapted.

So how pleased was I when I discovered that Meera had been signed up by the Guardian newspaper to write a weekly column The New Vegan! There have been two recipes so far, a Potato, chard and coconut curry and a Tamarind and spinach dal  I am going to cook all these dishes and though results may not have the panache of the food stylist's gorgeous photos I am expecting some tasty dishes!

In the first column Meera states that, although not vegan herself -
"I didn’t grow up in Gujarat, but in Lincolnshire, the vegetable heartland of this country. Behind our house was a potato factory, and down the road fields brimming with cabbages like boulders and blushing beetroots; a lot of that produce ended up on our table, quickly cooked and lightly spiced. Somewhere in the middle of this cross-cultural Venn diagram, I developed a love for a simple, fresh diet without much meat."
 Who knows, maybe her third book will be vegan too.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Sunday lunch

Sunday lunch

I love cookbooks that tell stories. Chetna Makan, ex Bake-off contestant, has written Chai, chaat and chutney about the street foods she tasted in Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi that inspired the recipes for her new book. 

There are a number of dals in the book. The mung dal and cashew nuts above is from Kolkata. There is no onion or garlic in it. You cook the dal separately with salt and turmeric. You soak a handful of cashews for half an hour, then fry cumin seeds in ghee (I use rapeseed oil, I was never a great fan of ghee, though I miss butter in some of my dals) . Then you add the ginger followed by the cashews and fry until golden. Then add tomato and green chillis. Add to the dal with a handful of coriander leaf. It's nice. The earthiness of the dal comes through. 

Sunday, 23 July 2017

If King Alfred had been left in charge of the grilled masala aubergine.....

Mira Manek's Saffron Soul  is a beautifully photographed cookbook of modern Indian food with a healthy twist. With time on my hands I thought I would try the grilled masala aubergine dish which looks very appealing in the book, drizzled with a herb yoghurt dressing and scattered pomegranate seeds. The recipe involves slicing an aubergine lengthways into 4 slices. Frying them in a little oil on both sides for a few minutes before baking in the oven. The masala mix I used was an adaptation due to the ingredients I had in.

1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
Pinch of salt
Pinch chilli powder
2 tbs tahini
1 tbs jaggery
20 g ground cashew nuts
Small handful of coriander leaf
1/2 lime
1 tbs sunflower seeds
50 ml water

You mix this up and it should ressemble a goldilocks texture ( not too thick, not too thin... Just right) which you then smother the aubergine slices and bake a little longer before carefully grilling and then serving with the yoghurt and pomegranate seeds. I made up a soya yoghurt with fresh mint from the garden, a pinch of salt and a dusting of chilli powder. Being a lazy Sunday afternoon I thought I may even make an effort to photograph the resulting dish.

Then a few moments of inattention and I cremate the aubergine slices. They resemble a crime scene in a Scandinavian noir. "We can't be sure of the gender or age, officer, but we think the body may be an aubergine but we won't know for sure until the results are back from the lab."

Half a slice survived... and when I say survived, I mean was edible. And nice. It tasted nice.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Peanut butter

I love Vegan Richa's book and blog and tonight's recipe was inspired by one of her posts, a lovely peanut butter curry sauce. I used sweet potato, courgettes, chanterelle carrots and sweet corn. If I was cooking it again I would ditch the sweet potato in favour of new potatoes, preferring the waxy texture. I think I overcooked the sweet potato - roasting it instead would work but who has the time midweek? The courgettes were fine. Peas, carrots and cauliflower would work a treat. I added fresh curry leaves because I had them and they are gorgeous. I did not follow the recipe but more , read it, then was inspired by it. I am trying to be a bit more spontaneous in the kitchen, trying to trust my own tasting. It's hit and miss but has been quite liberating and fun. The dish tonight was an honourable miss, the over-cooked sweet potato let it down but the flavours were great and I will give it another go another week. A version of this sauce would be in my fantasy cookbook because it would go so well with tofu and tempeh and a range of veg.

The masala kraut is tasting good. The fermentation has started and the spices are pleasant, the fennel really coming through. Will keep tasting but I reckon it needs another week or so. Then will be looking at a kimchi recipe, just need to order the Korean chilli powder.

I need to do bread this weekend too. Maybe a rye sourdough...

Monday, 17 July 2017

Masala Kraut

I chose just to use half a cabbage this time though perhaps I was a little too conservative. Sliced and in a bowl with a liberal amount of salt I scrunched the cabbage letting it release its juices. I added turmeric, chilli powder, cumin, coriander and fennel seeds, some diced red onion, a pinch of asofoetida, black mustard seeds, fresh curry leaves finely chopped, grated ginger. It's in its jar now and will take 1-2 weeks before its transferred to the fridge. Fermented food - Step by Step by Adam Elabd is my guide - this is a lovely introduction to the art of fermentation.

So warm this evening. Sue had made a smoky red bean chilli yesterday which will feed us three days.  I added a simple guacamole, a pineapple,coriander and lime salsa and a new corn chaat dish, sweetcorn flavoured with coriander leaf, lime, chilli powder, chaat masala, and salt. With sourdough bread and new potatoes. Sat in the garden, shaded from the sun, watching the house martins, way up in the sky, riding the thermals. Since starting this blog I have been more adventurous in the kitchen mid-week and started to really enjoy cooking after work rather than seeing it as a chore.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

... or the same

Lazy Sunday morning, It is a warm day but I am determined to bake sourdough bread this weekend having missed out in the last few weeks due to other commitments. Case study handed in, report for my trainee completed, this weekend felt "free". Friday I made some baked onion bhajis and sue and I had them with salad in wraps. Sue loved them, I thought they were okay. Deep fried still taste best and so much better than most restaurant or take away ones. I think I prefer them that way as an occasional treat. But will continue to experiment. Made my usual tarka dal this week, minus the garam masala, finishing the last few drops on Saturday. Need a new recipe to try next week.

#EatYourGreens is calling hosted by Veg Hog. I have decided to bake another handvo which went down well with my work colleagues and none went to waste. I stick with the same basic recipe - brown basmati and chana dal.  Reading on the net there are a myriad of rice and lentil batters made from grinding soaked rice and dal or using flour and a wide choice of veg used. Veg-wise I used a courgette, spinach, coriander leaf and some fenugreek along with red onion. I use the nutribullet this time which left a smooth batter and I left it to ferment overnight. Still unsure about this stage as I cannot see much evidence of fermentation. I may try the coconut yoghurt next time. And there will be a next time as I love this stuff and just want to try out my own combinations.

Meets the brief regarding green seasonal veg! The methi was a sorry bunch but it was all I could find. Yesterday, I went to the market place and my favourite Middle Eastern shop and stocked up on spices and lentils. Curry leaves were replenished. Tried to find kokum ( dried mangosteen) without success. One vendor got excited saying she had it in powdered form and went to find it bringing me back mango powder (amchoor) instead. I bought it anyway. 

I served it with a basic coriander chutney, still experimenting with recipes, and a fine plum chutney that I improvised last weekend. 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

... and now for something completely different

Savoury lentil and rice cake. It does not sound especially appealing. I have seen it in a number of my cookbooks. Sometimes it consists of a special mix of flour. Other times it contains rice  and chickpea flour. I really fancied giving it a go but have nothing to compare it with. For someone without an Indian heritage this recipe is really out there. And more intriguing for it. 

I plumped for Mira Manek's recipe from Saffron Soul. It involves soaking chana dal and brown rice in water overnight ( I used brown basmati). Then grinding it up into a paste adding a little water to bring it together. Then you add it to yoghurt and let it ferment. It's says this can be 1-2 hours but better overnight, I left it about 6 hours. I used a thick soya yoghurt I have been experimenting with.  I guess coconut yoghurt or dairy would be fine too, 

Then you add veg to the batter. Finely diced red onions, spring onions, spinach, grated courgette, coriander leaf - some recipes have cabbage, carrots, peas, red pepper - I mean wow. Then salt, pepper, ginger, chillis, and garlic. Jaggery and lime. All mixed up in the batter.

Then you temper it with rapeseed oil - popping mustard seeds, hing, sizzling curry leaves, sesame seeds - then stir in a raising agent - bicarbonate of soda. Place in a oiled baking dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds and cook at 200 C for 45 mins or so. 

Buy the book for the recipe or search for "handvo" - a Gujarati speciality. 

I really was not sure about this and enlisted the help of Sue about when it may be considered baked. It smelled great coming out of the oven. 30 mins later it tasted great. Much lighter than I thought it would be. Trouble is I have loads of it. Will take it in to work but not sure what people will make of it. Breakfast is covered for the next few days. 

I think it is delicious and the possible variations are endless. Need to scale done the proportions though. 

Linking this post to MLLA #109, conceptualized by Susanand hosted by Lisa.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

July the four(th)

Well I have been eating a lot of Indian food this past fortnight. I fear the last of the Jersey potatoes may have gone, but they made several good potato dishes, a simple aloo matar (potato with peas) and a simple aloo gobi methi dish (potato, cauliflour and fenugreek leaves) that I improvised from my aloo gobi recipe. No more fresh methi in the house. I did a black dal with red beans too. I noted Vicky Ghobal had a recipe near identical to the last one I posted but instead I chose to pressure cook a cup of urid dal and add tinned kidney beans later. It was nice but I felt something was missing, I think it was the alchemy that the chana dal brings. I also did a gorgeous Gujarati dal from Mira Manek's Saffon Soul, toor dal sour-sweet with lime and jaggery. Dried mangosteens were optional and so will look to try and find some of them (after I look up what they are!)

So last night I thought I would use Anna Jones'  black dal recipe which you can find here as a basis to flavour 90g urid dal and 90g chana dal that had been soaked for a couple of hours and then pressure cooked in 1500ml of water for 30mins. It's the fennel seeds that make it for me but you can leave them out if you prefer. Delicious and soupy.

6 posts in June, which is close to prolific for me.

I have decided to give the next few months more of a structure and set myself 4 challenges a month.

1.  A new pulse dish ( no surprise there) for the #MLLA challenge
2.  A veg dish for the  #EatYourGreens challenge
3.  A chutney, pickle or relish, a condiment of some kind
4.  Something different

The something different option should be fun. One recipe a month trying one of the more unusual recipes in my cookbooks or one that I may not have tried because of time constrainta or unfamiliar ingredients.

So for July I want to try a rasam or a sambhar recipe, a date and tamarind chutney and handvo, a savoury rice and lentil bake.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Under the influence

So these are my main influences. I do like to buy cook books and in my defence, I do tend to read them cover to cover over time unlike some genres I buy. I am that bloke sitting on a tram reading a vegan cookbook.  I am fond of  Arthur Schopenhauer's quote 

"Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents."

I have tried to be more careful since reading this quote but I do have a weakness for cookbooks. Periodically I do cull them and give plenty away but there is at least another shelf of books in the house on the "I'm not sure about this" or the "past it's hey day but I stil have some affection for it" lists.

But the photo above is the zeitgeist. I recognise five main influences who I am grateful to. Maddhur Jaffrey leads the way. I have always loved her books and stories and these two books are essentials. Prashad gave me the confidence to cook Indian regularly, but Monisha Bharadwaj is my second influence, her India's vegetarian cooking was one of my first Indian cookbooks and where I first began to understand regional variations in Indian cooking. I picked up her The Indian Kitchen from a charity shop and it is really educational about Indian ingredients and spices. More recently her Indian Cookery Course is a great authorative step-by-step guide to Indian cooking techniques.

I loved Meera Sodha's debut and was thrilled her second book was vegetarian. Quirky, with lovely reminiscences of growing up in Lincolnshire, her recipes are fresh and vibrant. 

Fifteen more wonderful  Indian cookbooks follow, three of which are vegan, but it is Richa Hingle who is my fourth influence as well as is her Vegan Richa blog, so informative with really helpful suggestions to veganise traditional recipes as well as her take on world food. A generous soul. 

I have a small selection of Middle Eastern books, my second love, especially Lebanese, I love the simplicity and vibrancy of these dishes.

My fifth influence is Anna Jones. The Guardian food writer not only has an eclectic taste in food and a fondness for  Indian too (her Black dal dish is sublime) but I like how she tries to get you to think for yourself, create your own combinations. I hope she writes a vegan book for her brother some day! 

On the second shelf are what I feel are the best Vegan cookbooks available. Special mention for Isa Does It, Vegan Eats World, Vegan Bowl Attack and The First Mess. Completing the shelf are my pared down set of bread books and Kylee Newton's sensational the modern preserver.I will write about these at a later date... and may be a few not on view, I am thinking of a few battered but much loved paperbacks I still use regularly. 

No doubt there will be additions but when I think less is more, and these books give me a sense of focus. 

So what books do you think are missing from my collection? What is your Desert Island cookbook? 

Monday, 19 June 2017

pressure drop, oh pressure...

"I bet you were not expecting that for your birthday present, were you?" Sue had said two years ago and she was right. A pressure cooker. For years Sue had been reluctant about having a pressure cooker in the house, being quite phobic about them in case they exploded. And there before me was one of those culinary bombs. She thought my love of pulses deserved the right equipment. To be fair, I had never quibbled, I don't mind taking 2- 2 1/2 hours cooking an urid dal, giving it the care and attention it requires. But with a pressure cooker it can be cooked in 30 mins, a bit of a game changer mid-week and environmentally friendly.

I have been reading Vicky Bhogal's "Cooking with Mummyji - Real British Asian cooking" which won awards when it first came out and is soon to be re-released in an updated version with more photographs [edit: actually it has already been published, I was mistaken ] I managed to find a second-hand ex-library copy. It was in near perfect condition having been lent out only twice from a Hampshire library. It cost me £0.01 plus P&P. The book is a little too meaty for my taste it is still a good read with some great recipes, some traditional, some less so. The anecdotes are funny though I probably should not have shared the one that accompanied the urid dal and chana dal recipe I cooked this weekend, the last dregs I will have for lunch tomorrow. She tells of her mother's friend Davinder who rushing to get a meal ready for friends tried to open a pressure cooker of dal too soon leading to an explosion of dal, on the ceiling, the walls, floor and of course, Davinder. Thankfully no-one was hurt but that did not pacify Sue as I got the pressure cooker out to cook the following dal. The result was wonderful. I love whole urid dal, an earthy dal rarely seen in Indian restaurants in the UK. I did see it advertised in a lunch time special in a restaurant in Edinburgh but the bland creamy soup that was presented was a disappointment. This recipe, a very traditional and simple recipe is just lovely.

1/2 cup whole urid dal
1/2 cup chana dal

Or a 100g of each, when I weighed the cups it came to 190g. Whatever. 
Soak over night, or in hot water for several hours then drain.

Put into a pressure cooker and half fill with water... What?? Surely it depends on the size of your pressure cooker? I used to crave exact measurements and get annoyed when a recipe asked for a "bunch" of coriander, or a "thumb size" piece of ginger... What? Sue's thumb size or mine? Now I smile and realise you just have to taste, when I do a recipe for the first time I will show restraint in the spicing. Less is more. You can adjust the spicing in subsequent meals. So this recipe means the result will be a soupy dal. That's great... I add the water and 2 tsp of turmeric and 1 tsp of chilli powder. 30  mins of pressure cooking and this dal is done. Then fry up a small onion until it is going golden and add ginger, chopped green chilli, and garlic. You don't need to be told the quantities, use your instinct. Season with salt (about 2 tsp but it's about adding a little and tasting...  is that right? Does it need a little more? Garam Masala and a "handful" of coriander leaf. Done. Mahaar Chole Dal. It's delicious. It's a keeper. 

Vicky's book is a delight and I hope the new edition brings a wave of new admirers.

Cookbooks.  I love them, they are my teachers. So what is on your book shelf? Which book is your "go to"?

Sunday, 18 June 2017


fantasy (n) the faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things.

So my debut cookbook will be published in Autumn 2023. Provisionally titled bread, dal, grains and greens it has yet to be written. The bidding war between rival publishing companies has literally been non-existent. I am excited. 

What kind of cookbook would you write? Beautifully photographed or plain text? Healthy everyday food or indulgent? Encyclopaedic or your favourite 60 recipes?

I don't think I have a voice as a cook just yet though I am starting to have an idea of what sort of food I like and what kind of book I would like to write. My love of simple sourdough bread would be prominent, and looking how this could influence more traditional flat bread recipes. I love dal, when I get a new cook book it's the first thing I look up in the index. What's a person's signature dal dish. My cook book would have 20+ dal dishes from the simple to the complex  with plenty of opportunities to experiment. I love dal. 

I love the concept of thali dishes, dal, several vegetable dishes, bread or rice, raita, chutney or pickle. I have some thali trays, I love using them, but they do tend to make food look like prison food... elevated prison food perhaps, but prison food none the less. I love the concept of bowl food, and have been playing with the idea of three bowl food (with a nod to the zen kitchen)... Simple presentation using basic crockery found in most supermarkets... three bowls, commonly labelled a pasta bowl, a cereal bowl and a nibble bowl. That might work. I have six years before publication, time to try and explore my favourite recipes, then time to make them my own. Humour me, it's 10 pm and I have another busy week ahead...

Urid dal plus tempeh burger with pineapple chutney for tea tonight. So hot. Eating out in a small back garden with the sound of bees humming. Nice. 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

mindfulness and the art of making chutney

I work in mental health Monday to Friday working with people experiencing  stress, anxiety and depression, based in busy GP clinics. It can be challenging work with dwindling resources but is often rewarding. Come the weekend I crave some peace and quiet 'down time'.  Sunday often follows the course of baking bread, a short run, reading, Netflix, exploring cookbooks and trying new recipes. A Rock 'n' Roll lifestyle it is not. Sometimes I have to use the stress management tools on myself to avoid fretting about my Monday morning clinic and that particularly aggressive GP. God bless the NHS and all who sink in her!

I think though it is baking bread and cooking new recipes which keeps me sane. We share the cooking duties in our household, some times taking turns to cook for each other, sometimes cooking in parallel.  Sue favours strong spicy cuisines, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian and Mexican. Myself, Indian and Middle Eastern. Middle Eastern and Mexican is where we have common ground. I think we both love the street food ethos -  we love the felafel place in town, felafel in pitta with salad and tahini dressing, £3.80,  we are cheap dates!

Fending for myself today I find myself cooking a dal, some jeera rice, steamed broccoli, coconut yoghurt and a chutney. The chutney is homemade yesterday from a fresh pineapple. When your meals consist of dal/beans, veg, rice/bread then it is the little accompaniments that make the difference. In recent times I have been exploring chutneys, pickles and ferments to add a little zing to my meals. 

I love Meera Sodha's cookbooks. Indian home cooking with seasonal Lincolnshire veg. Yum. But this relies on an exotic fresh pineapple. When I grew up pineapple came in tins. Here, I used a fresh pineapple, diced. I heated some rapeseed oil in a pan and added 1tsp of mustard seeds and 1 tsp nigella seads. It should have been more mustard seeds but, embarrassingly, I had run out. I like the taste of nigella seeds so thought they might work. I added chilli powder, grated ginger, black pepper and seasoned with salt. Then added the pineapples and cooked on a low heat  with the lid on for 20 mins. I then added 125g of jaggery -the recipe called for sugar but I thought this would be nicer and I had a piece left over which weighed 127g so it was kind of fate. I continued to cook until it became jam-like, 20-30 mins, but keep an eye on it. Then store in a clean glass jar in the fridge. Allegedly it will last 2 weeks but I don't think it will be around that long. A simple tea this evening elevated by this chutney. Nice.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Half a bunch of fenugreek leaves...


... a sorry looking aubergine and some organic Jersey Royals potatoes. A quick Google and I am watching a you tube video in Hindi. Time to cook.

I boil the potatoes. In a cast iron wok I temper some spices, cumin and mustard seeds and then add a red onion thinly sliced and fry until translucent. I add the chopped aubergine, some garlic, stir, then add a chopped tomato, chilli powder and turmeric. Cook until the aubergine is soft, then add the chopped methi. Drain the potatoes when cooked and chop into pieces. Add to the aubergine mixture and season. Cook a little more until the methi has wilted. 

The Jersey Royals really make this simple dish special. 

Saturday, 3 June 2017

I am so sorry Sue...

Every couple of weeks I get to the Sheffield indoor market. My main goal is to find curry leaves, I love the aroma and dried curry leaves just don't cut it. If I am lucky I may find fresh fenugreek leaves, methi, too. These have to be smuggled into the house as the pungent smell they add to your cooking lingers.  "You've been cooking methi again, haven't  you? " says Sue and then gives me that despairing look the next morning over breakfast. The house does indeed smell of curry. This is not a bad thing.

I learned how to cook this recipe, methi dal fry, four years ago from Dassana Amit's excellent blog "Veg Recipes of India". I use a mix of dals which I usually wash and then soak for a few hours before cooking.

80g toor dal
80g channa dal
80g mung dal
900ml water
3tbs oil (I use a local rapeseed oil)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 cm piece of ginger, I know, I ought to weigh it, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 green finger chillis, slit
1 dried red chilli, broken up and de-seeded if you prefer (I don't)
1/2 bunch methi, oh okay, about 1 cup of the leaves, maybe a little more.
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
Pinch of asafoetida
1 tsp chilli powder, mine is not too hot but adds colour
1/2 tsp garam masala
Season with salt

Cook the lentils in about 900ml water. Usually about 45 mins dependant on how old your channa dal is. Keep an eye on the pan and add more water if necessary. This depends on how you like your dal. It will also impact on how much salt you add to season.

In a non-stick heavy frying pan or skillet add the oil and heat. Add the cumin seeds, they should darken slightly and release their aroma. Add the onions, garlic, chillis and ginger and cook for several minutes until translucent or, if you prefer, a little further until golden. Add the tomatoes, chilli powder and asafoetida and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the methi leaves and cook until they have wilted. The tomatoes should be nice and soft now. Add to the the cooked dal, adjust the consistency with added water, if you want a thinner dal and season accordingly with salt. Simmer a further 5 mins.

Apologise to any non-curry loving residents in your household. No, seriously, you are in the dog house.


My Legume Love Affair #108

Monday, 29 May 2017


My first attempt at making sauerkraut was five years ago. One red cabbage, finely shredded. Add three tablespoons of salt. Scrunch it up in a large bowl, which helps to breakdown the cell walls releasing water. Cram into a large jar. Ensure that all the cabbage is under the brine (add mineral water if necessary). And wait...

This is my latest from a recipe by Laura Wright in her debut cookbook, The First Mess.

1 green cabbage
1 fennel bulb
6 medium carrots
4 small golden beets
2 apples
5cm piece of ginger
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp cumin seeds
Sea salt to taste.

Slice everything thinly. Micro plane the ginger. Season liberally with sea salt. Scrunch everything in a large bowl. Wear gloves or you will stain your hands yellow. Water will be released. Pack the veg in a large jar. You want the veg to be submerged in the water. Some people use a cabbage leaf; I sometimes use some baking beads tied up in a plastic bag to weigh down the veg.

Store in a cool dark place for three weeks. Then taste - should be sour and tangy - and transfer to the fridge. This has been my favourite combination so far. Would love to try fresh turmeric. Easy to see how a number of vegetable combinations would work. I have two jars on the go. I have this with everything!

Laura Wright's book and blog The First Mess is becoming one of my favourite vegan cookbooks. Simple, seasonal plant-based recipes, beautifully photographed.

Sunday, 14 May 2017



Sunday is the day I usually bake sourdough bread. I have been baking bread for about six years. In recent times I have had a limited repertoire - white, wholemeal and granary predominating but all tasty. When I first began baking I worked my way through Dan Lepard's  The handmade loaf with some online friends and then found Emmanuel Hadjiandreou's How to make bread which I highly recommend and is beautifully photographed. I love the taste of sourdough bread and it compliments my dals so well. 

I would make a terrible food blogger 🙂. I planned to make a sourdough loaf today but did not refresh my starter on Friday evening and today it was looking a little sluggish. I think I have been disrespecting her. I turned to Andrew Whitely and his excellent primer Do sourdough: Slow bread for busy lives - I think I will give my starter a bit of TLC with some rye flour refreshment. 

So no bread today.... except.... well, I had put a beer in the freezer last night to chill and... er... forgotten about it - a slush puppy IPA  was born. Not drinkable, but I did not want to waste it. I recalled a recipe in James Morton's Brilliant Breads that used IPA beer and cardamom - I did not have any wholemeal flour in so I used what I had, white with a little spelt and rye. Okay, I thought, I can do this. Thinking about 500g flour with 300-350ml beer and 10g salt, plus a spoonful of the starter and some dried yeast. Oh a 6 pods of cardamom, seeds ground up. I go to weigh the flour and the battery for the scales has died....

So this loaf will be created by feel. White flour, a little bit of rye and spelt, a spoonful of start a tsp of dried yeast and some salt. Mixed with beer until the consistency felt right. Kneeded for 10 mins. Felt to rise for an hour or so, knocked back, another hour or so, knocked back, put into a round cane banneton, left to "double in size" - whatever that means - and then baked in a Dutch oven in a domestic oven cranked up for 20 mins then the lid taken off for another 25 mins.

The result? A lovely bread flavoured with hops and cardamom. And I am thinking that toasted with marmalade, my week will start well tomorrow. 

Proper recipes will follow. Promise. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Masterchef audition

So I am standing in the corridor at the Masterchef audition in London, nervously shifting from foot to foot.  *    The other contestants really are as nice to each other as when they appear on the TV and when I meet their eyes there are smiles of encouragement and support. And then I am ushered in. John and Gregg stand before me. I never thought they would be involved at this early stage but, yes, here they are, dressed-down perhaps and a little more sweary but here in front of me.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

In the beginning...

Dal can be a very simple dish. The following recipe, or a variant of it, was probably my first dal back in the eighties. This is based on a River Cottage recipe which in itself was based on a recipe by Indian Chef Udit Sarkel, but you will find similar recipes elsewhere. 

250g red lentils
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt, or to taste
2 tbs oil, I use a local rapeseed oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

Wash the lentils then bring to the boil in 800ml water, or more if you want a thinner dal. Scoop off the scum, add the turmeric and salt. Cook for 20 mins. You can add more boiling water if you want a thinner consistency. Meanwhile heat the oil to a frying pan, add the cumin seeds and cook for a minute or so, they will darken and become fragrant. Add the onions and cook for 10 mins or so, stirring occasionally. You want them golden, with a few crispy bits!  Add the onions to the dal. Stir and leave for 5 mins. Serve with coriander leaf. I tend to add a lot of leaves rather than a mere garnish. You could use other fresh herbs. I like lime wedges on the side. Good with rice, parathas or my preference, homemade sourdough bread. 

Variations: Add chopped fresh chillis in with the cooking dal, or 1/2 tsp of a good quality red Kashmiri chilli powder.

So simple, so quick. 

Monday, 17 April 2017

The humble lentil

"So what do you eat then?"

Lentils. I know it's a bit of a cliche. When I was younger, lentils came in three varieties, red, green and brown. In the Eighties I made some terribly worthy vegetarian dishes that were all uniformly brown in colour and heavy as a house brick. In an endeavour to lose its brown rice and sandals image, many authors began exploring recipes from cultures where vegetarian food was more the norm. I remember reading a lovely paperback by David Scott, I still have a copy, full of flavours from across the globe, and no artificial meat substitutes. I loved the simple flavours of Middle-Eastern grain salads and still remember my first proper falafel and hummus pita bread stuffed full of salad and topped with tahini dressing. But it was  Indian home-cooking which won my heart. And the dals... Oh the dals. "Not just a load of old lentils" Rose Elliot had written. Now my food cupboard was stuffed with many varieties of lentils and pulses. Dal became my go to comfort food. Dal and rice. Dal and a hunk of sourdough bread, accompanied with greens, a pickle and a simple raita.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

No otters were harmed....

"I think I've been cooking it wrong for years. You're telling me that tarka dal doesn't have any otters in it? At all?" A reply to How to cook perfect dal

I was brought up in a provincial town in the north of England during the seventies. Food was of the meat and two veg kind, where the veg was usually out of tins. Food was bland; take away food consisted of fish and chips, or more likely, meat and potato pie. Curries were exotic. We would have a Vesta beef curry occasionally, the meat in the middle surrounded by a ring of over cooked rice. My dad used to like Heinz mulligatawny soup, a sweet, peppery,hot beef soup. We went out for a family meal to an Indian restaurant just once. I do not remember the food other than the rice being multi- coloured. The only things I knew about India were that it was a cricket-playing nation and was the birthplace of Ghandi.