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I am documenting the year with monthly photographs of my kitchen table. Capturing the jumble that accumulates here, at the heart of the kitchen, is also a way to record some of the domestic stories of our family life.

August, amidst the school holidays, and the summer seems to be slipping away from me too quickly. I’ve been attempting to grasp its transient moments with the help of the new (to me) Polaroid 1000. How I love this camera! Easily thrown in a bag, or slung over my shoulder, it’s almost always a talking point. Loaded up with Impossible Project film, the prints that it produces are positively dreamy, oozing with golden summer light. A timeless evocation of my sons’ boyhood, each instantly nostalgic little rectangle brings with it a second of heart-stopping joy, 30 minutes after shooting, when I pull it fully developed from my bag and into the daylight, to be held and exclaimed over. I prop these polaroids on the shelf above my desk, slip them between the pages of my books, study and dream over them whilst I sip my coffee. Each of them more beloved than the last, every one infused with magic.

This month’s flowers, a jubilant bunch, were bought from my favourite honesty box shop. Outside a farmhouse, on the road to the house of a particularly good friend of mine, a row of buckets overflow daily with fresh posies. When we go visiting, I am careful to keep some change in my purse in preparation, for fresh flowers are a weakness of mine, and nothing cheers me more than one of these vibrant bouquets.

The sweet little yellow pot reads ‘Fine Welsh Honey, guaranteed pure. GJ Nugent, Chemist and Optician, High Street, Cardigan’. I dug it out from a jumbled box outside a particularly grimy junk shop whilst we were holidaying in beautiful West Wales. It currently holds some sea glass and a white quarz pebble from Penbryn beach. We visited Cardigan a couple of times in order to spend time at the frankly rather wonderful Pizza Tipi, part of Fforest. Should you find yourself in that part of the world, it’s well worth a visit!

The little cup and the airmail letters have both made a reappearance after many years lost. The hand-thrown cup was a gift from a friend when I was at school. At the time I didn’t drink coffee, but having re-discovered this lingering at the bottom of a box, I rescued it with delight, and immediately put the coffee pot on the stove to brew. In another box, found by my parents in their loft, were sheaves of blue aerogrammes, each sent by family and friends to my eighteen year old self during the year that I spend teaching in Thailand. There were also a handful from a summer spent in the States a few years previously. Many memories are contained within their filmy pages, some happy, some heart-rending. My favourite letter was that which was sent to me aged 15, by my brother, who was then 11. Such sweetness. The relationship between us at that time has been captured between its pages, delicately preserved as in a flower press. A gift to the future in which I now find myself.

Yellow, white, red and blue: the August table.

The kitchen story so far:

{the January table}

{the February table}

{the March table}

{the April table}

{the May table}

{the June table}

{the July table}

 August 21, 2014  on the table, shooting film Tagged with:  3 Responses »
Aug 132014
 

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In my last post, I introduced a brand new collaborative blog series: grow, forage cook, which I’m starting with my friend Sabrina.  I’m going to begin my #growforagecook adventures with the large basket of plums which was has been gracing my kitchen table…

At our local PYO farm, there is a row of slightly neglected Victoria plum trees, straggling down the edge of the field between the rhubarb and the strawberries. We picked (and jammed) more than our fair share of strawberries at the start of the summer. Now that late summer is upon us with its warm, languorous abundance, plums are our fruit of choice, and a far cheaper option than the last of the berries. The trees are laden down with them, a sticky purple covering of windfalls on the ground below. Branches are low-hanging so that the boys are perfectly placed for picking, and the fruit is so ripe that it comes away easily in their hands. We ended up with almost 3kg of fruit, enough for a trio of my favourite plum recipes.

Jam is always my first thought, when blessed with a large basket of fruit. My last attempt at plum jam had been a disaster – it had to be re-boiled and eventually was usable only as a compote. That was a couple of years ago, and my jamming skills have improved, so I felt brave enough to have a second try. I used the recipe from my bible of jam – the River Cottage Preserves book. Plums are rich in pectin, so it’s a simple recipe with only plums, sugar and a little water (this Country Life recipe is similar). This time, using a combination of the jam thermometer and the saucer test, I caught it at exactly the right time, and the resultant jam was richly flavoured with an amazingly deep purple colour to it. My only regret was that I made half the recipe quantity, so ended up with only three jars of the stuff.

The next day, we had friends to visit for a roast, which proved the perfect opportunity to make another of my favourite plum recipes: a clafoutis. I use the recipe from the My Daddy Cooks book (you can see it made on video here), and every time I make it, I am once again surprised by just how quick and easy it is, given that it makes for such a delicious (if inelegant) pud. A traditional French clafoutis is made with cherries (and I fully intend to make one, if I can track down some cherries), but it works equally well with the humble plum.

Finally, and inevitably, I had to bake a plum cake of some description. This plum tray bake with a cream cheese ripple is one that I’ve adapted slightly from a long-lost supermarket recipe card. Making two batters sounds more complicated than it is, and the resultant cake combines fruity caramel flavours with light and creamy layers. It’s really rather scrumptious eaten sitting at the kitchen table in the late afternoon sunlight with a hot cup of tea.

Plum Tray Bake with cream cheese ripple

200g cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp caster sugar

4 medium eggs

175g butter, softened

175g light brown soft sugar

200g self-raising flour

400g ripe plums, stoned and quartered (if small) or roughly chopped (if large

 

Preheat the oven to 180c, gas mark 4. Line a 23cm x 18cm shallow baking tin with baking parchment.

In a bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, vanilla extract, one egg and the caster sugar, until smooth.

In a separate bowl, or a freestanding mixer, combine the remaining eggs, butter, flour and sugar. Beat until pale and creamy.

Spread half the cake mixture over the base of the tray. Dollop over half the cream cheese mixture, mixing with an uneven swirl. Scatter with half of the plums. Spoon over the remaining cake mixture, dot with the rest of the cream cheese mixture. Scatter over the remaining plums.

Bake for about 45 minutes until risen, and just firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack.

 

So there you have it, three ways with plums for #growforagecook. I think it’s time for me to go and refill that basket. In the meantime, don’t forget that you can share your own pictures or blog posts (about plums or any other seasonal loveliness) using the #growforagecook hashtag on Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest, or in the comments  of this post. We’d love to see what’s been happening in your kitchen…

Aug 112014
 

plums

My friend Sabrina (of Wolves in London) and I have been mulling over the idea of a collaborative blogging project for a little while now. Recently, the pieces all fell into place. Sabrina is a keen city gardener and a green fingered gal, growing fruit and vegetables alongside her blooms. I spend my days in the countryside and love to forage in the hedgerows for seasonal ingredients. In both of our kitchens, there’s almost always a home-baked cake in the tin, we have cupboards stuffed full of sloe gin and fruit liquors, and we both have love affairs with our preserving pans. At every opportunity, we try to bring the outside in to our kitchens, and so #growforagecook was born. If you search the hashtag on Instagram, you can see what we’ve been up to so far.

Our intention is a shared blog series celebrating the home-grown, the home-made, the freshly picked and the carefully gathered. We will be taking it in turns to write about our latest kitchen adventures, with recipes, tips and more. You can read Sabrina’s first post, with a particularly delicious sounding Morello Cherry Vodka recipe, over on her blog. I’ll be posting my own contribution shortly, so keep an eye out, particularly if you have an abundance of plums! We’re aiming to use produce that we’ve grown ourselves, picked or foraged for, but we’re not adverse to making use of PYOs, farmers markets and other sources of seasonal produce. Our guiding principles are the desire to: eat with the seasons; to preserve and make use of gluts; and most of all, to bring the outside in to our kitchens.

We’d also like invite you to join us- will you let us have a peek at the seasonal goodness inside your kitchen? You can share pictures using the hashtag #growforagecook on Instagram (or Twitter), or if you have a blog post or recipe to share, do pin it to Pinterest and tag it #growforagecook – we’d love to add it to our shared Pinterest board. If you prefer, you can leave us a link in the comments. We’ll aim to share some of our favourites in subsequent posts.

In the meantime, I’m off for a cup of tea and a slice of fresh plum cake…

 August 11, 2014  Grow Forage Cook Tagged with:  11 Responses »
Aug 102014
 

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Just popping by quickly to share some photographs of our recent camping trip to Dorset at the rather wonderful Eweleaze Farm:

Three days of the most glorious weather.

Two tents.

Two nights under canvas.

Five small boys.

One dog.

Two golden sunsets and two rosy dawns.

Three swims in clear, turquoise waters.

One family of our very best and loveliest of friends.

Two heart-shaped stones, given with love.

One memorable evening making hot chocolates on the beach.

The infinite sparkles of the sun on the surface of the sea.

 

Thanks guys… here’s to next year! x

 

 August 10, 2014  family life, out & about Tagged with: ,  11 Responses »