It is only on approaching the chicken houses that a musty, organic smell seeps through shiny wire and threatens to stop you in your tracks.
Life begins in a hatchery where eggs are cautiously warmed and turned until the chicks are ready to fracture their fragile houses. They burst, tiny and bare-bodied with only an embarrassingly poor excuse for feathers stuck to the skin but each baby, nobly fighting for survival. With every day the birds grow stronger on our African soil, breathing in the sun, inhaling their feed and scrabbling in red dust. My neighbours seem happy, if a little odorous.
Our house rations proffer three chickens a week. There is a certain satisfaction knowing the chicken has travelled just two hundred yards to its waiting roasting tin.
Yesterday I quartered thirty ripe tomatoes and peeled eighteen cloves of garlic. They sat making friends for more than six hours. I ground more pepper than was needed, picked some basil from the patch and added it to the tin.
A sharp knife sliced the chicken into eight and a hot frying pan branded the skin golden. The oven was set to high and the tomatoes sat, covered for just under sixty minutes. I fried three onions, which incidentally made me cry far more than their English counterparts, and stirred them through the broken tomatoes. The golden chicken was rested on top and the whole lot returned to the oven for its final few minutes. More salt, more pepper, more basil.
My farm recipe tasted fresh and simple and we ate commenting, more than once, on the smugly small carbon footprint.
I’m not sure I’ve encountered a mulberry tree before and I expected it least in sunny Zimbabwe. But a burgeoning tree, its branches sagging with the weight occupies the bottom of our new garden.
Daily visits reveal new dripping gems and facing my snake fears – we are advised they like the shady undergrowth of trees - a fight begun between the humans and the hostile birds who defend their sweeties. Naturally, we both win. The birds swooping to gather any fallen orphans and we stuff vessels with ours handpicked, skipping to the kitchen.
So what does one do with mulberry hoard after mulberry hoard?
We ate them sugared, simmered, sitting atop of sponge, squashed into an berry smoothie, riding pancakes and the piece de resistance, frozen into mulberry and vanilla ice cream. No mean feat when all you have is an African freezer and one Tupperware box.
Apologies for the slight pause in posting. We've been upping sticks, moving to Zimbabwe and finding our feet on a chicken farm. Still, we're here and we've settled in but the journey was quite a story.
“If you could do this for me I will give you both a kiss on the mouth”
“What kind of puppies are they, Ezra?”
“I’ll leave that as a surprise”
I (a junior doctor) and Georgina (a food stylist) were less than twenty-four hours into our year in Zimbabwe and had already been coaxed into transporting two, 6 week old puppies of unknown breed or size, the 450km from Harare to Bulawayo.
We arrived at the house in Harare and I piped into the intercom at the gate “Hi it’s Nick and Georgina here to pick up some puppies for...” I was cut short as a white Zimbabwean voice interjected “Yup, that’s fine. Come on through but stay in the car, just stay in the car!”
Few things are certain in Zimbabwe but one undeniable truth was that Ezra had a penchant for big dogs and was already the proud owner of two, enormous Boerbull-Rottweiler cross. This fact combined with the shot across our boughs (and, frankly, my bowels) via the speaker lead us to the conclusion that potential death lead ahead, not just for us but also our little Kia Picanto which was sure to be dwarfed by the monsters within.
The gates opened and the barking began. It grew louder and louder and louder still and yet we still couldn’t see the beast. The reason for this was that all the noise was coming from a rather average-sized (but nonetheless spirited) miniature dachshund that was swiftly joined another (presumably it’s mate and the mother of the puppies).
Surprised by Ezra’s change of heart and feeling slightly sheepish for our own fear we stepped out of the car with calming words of “Hello doggy. How are you? Yes yes yes. You’re a good doggy aren’t you!”
Then the ground began to shake. Mummy and Daddy were charging across the lawn and didn’t look like they were a) particularly pleased to see us and b) likely to be amenable to the kind of canine niceties we had been purring at the dachshunds.
I (showing distinctly less resolve than Georgina) started pawing feverishly and the car door which suddenly seemed quite complicated to operate but nevertheless managed to dive into the air-conditioned safety of the hire car. Soon after I was face to face with the growling jaws of two, enormous Boerbulls.
Few things are certain in Zimbabwe but one undeniable truth was that Ezra had a penchant for big dogs.
After a slightly emotional/terrifying goodbye from Mummy dog in particular we left Harare and headed south with two, utterly adorable Boerbull puppies. Seven hours later after three water stops, two in-car defaecations and one change of clothes for Georgina post-puppy travel sickness, we arrived in Bulawayo.
Our African adventure had begun and had successfully avoided becoming a dog’s dinner.
Our children will be 1/8th Faroese. My husband has the island's blood running through him so in a concerted effort to learn of our heritage, we embarked on a somewhat haphazard journey to the Isle. Sheep, grass, turf roofs, death educing cliffs and grey seas greeted the tarmac touch down but it was only once we discovered the local food that I felt I was learning.
Look above. From left to right we had Opsi fishcakes, skerpikjøt (dried sheep meat), Whale blubba, boiled potatoes, dried Whale meat and sea dried fish. Each was an unknown taste to me and although each is thought of as a delicacy, each independently made my stomach feel a little delicate.
The climate dictates a diet rich in meat and fish but vegetables aren’t able to survive the hash climate and lack of sun. The result is tables laden with mutton, herrings, eggs, whale and on a good day, puffin. Mr Atkins, you have found your refuge.
I knew it was cheap but 1.2 kilo of pork belly for a mere wafer of five pounds? The little blighter was cooked for three hours until the the blistered skin was broke like an icy puddle and the fat had rendered to glorious slush. Fennel, celery, rosemary & onion were added for the final run in the oven, cooked until just soft.
FENNEL & ROSEMARY MELTING PORK BELLY
Serves 4 - 6
Prep Time – 10 minutes
Cook Time – 3 ½ hours
1.5kg boneless pork belly
1 tbsp sea salt
Cracked black pepper
1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
1 tbsp oil
1 red onion, peeled and cut into quarters
6 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
2 fennel bulbs, cut into 1cm slices (2?)
3 sticks celery, cut into big chunks
400ml chicken stock
1/ Preheat your oven to 220C, fan 200C, gas . Using a sharp knife score skin of your pork belly in diagonal lines approximately 1 inch apart, taking care to only score the fat and not cut into the meat. Rub the sea salt and rosemary deep into the fat and season with black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.
2/ Place the belly in a roasting dish, big enough for the meat to lie flat and roast for about 30 minutes at high heat. You will see the skin start to crackle and become crispy crackling. After 30 minutes turn the heat down to 180C, fan 160C, gas 4 and roast for a further hour.
3/ Remove from the oven and carefully place the belly on a board. Tip all the vegetables into the roasting tin and smother with the fat. Place the belly back on top of the vegetables and roast for a further 1 – 1 ½ hours. The pork is ready to serve when its deliciously tender and almost falls away to the touch.
3/ Roast for 30 minutes before reducing the temperature to 190C, fan 170C, gas 5. Pour the wine and stock into the roasting dish, being careful not to pour he liquid on top of the crackling. Cook for 3 hours?.
4/ Once wonderfully tender remove the pork from the tin and cut into chunks with a sharp knife. Serve with the braised vegetables and a dollop of crème friache.
These remind me of a nervous Summer sun where the light can't quite decide if its time to shine. It feels like that here; a tentative June, not warm enough to leave the house without a cardigan but too warm for black tights. But what a beautiful shoot. I love the dirty pink of the raspberry lemonade and the seaside ribbons of cucumber.
My last food shoot for Seven Publishing and I'm being silly.
In three weeks time I leave my home of 3 years and venture into a life without monthly pay checks, repro deadlines and glass sided meeting rooms. "Every so often choose a path which scares you", was advice from my brother which I taken. Here I come.
Like so many hot London tables at the moment The Riding House Cafe doesn't humour a booking for less than six. So like cats being drawn to milk, we upped our table to the required number and secured a slot at the West End's latest addition.
The vibe was light and strangely familiar (I discovered later these were the same brains that developed Village East) and we settled into Sauvignon & salty buttered bread with ease. The menu was flexible with a generous range of prices. But our table chose to do something which was a first for me; order the entire savoury menu of small plates, some twenty five dishes!
'Done', we all thought. Surely that amount of food will submerge pangs until the following lunchtime? How wrong six girls - admittedly who eat allot of grub - can be. The portions were suitable for a baby pigeons and even the waiter seemed a little awkward as the plates were processed out. Still, the minute bites were delicious and a sexy ingredient combinations that deserved applause. Look out for goat's cheese with honey & figs. And salt cod fritters, all three of them. And moorish lamb cutlets won the old star in the meat department.
Pudding was the star moment for me. The lesson was learnt and six wopping great desserts arrived to the waiting flock. This time rhubarb and raspberry fool took gold.
In summary. I'll be back but I'll order full size, regular, full fat. Bring it on.
This was the destination for dinner on Friday night. A empty railway arch transformed into a unique eating destination. The food was good. We ate seafood paella, crusty pork belly, cheese (being unable to remember the name suggests that I had a glass of wine too many) and home made shortbread & plump strawberries. And lashings of wine. Many lashings. And bio dynamic bubbles. 'Heaven' as my friend Oenone would say.
Here, honored by glossed paper, are my beautiful friends Tori & Oli. Last summer they created the country wedding of the year complete with hay bale pews, hand made felt hearts and one enormous chocolate truffle cake. Brides magazine shows you how to steal the ideas and covet the dress.
Yes, I admit, I was responsible for the cake. "Chocolate?" I squealed, "Are you sure?". My very first wedding cake and the brief was mid summer, moist chocolate and truffles. Its a long story but lets just say that the photo above was taken during an opportune moment roughly forty five minutes before the top tier flopped onto the floor.
My lovely alice and I spent an evening at the helm of the Secret Larder, a very sophisticated supper club in Holloway. James Ramsden, who we owe for many a helped hand, was on call tending to split sauces and pouring glasses of white in support of his guest chefs.
The menu was penned in chalk and spring flowers suggested our English garden theme.
Twenty mouths fed and no trout bones stuck on the way down. I that alone is cause for celebration.
My weekend was spend filling iodine test tubes and baking pies for the latest Bompas & Parr extravaganza. The grounds of Elsing Hall in Norfolk were transformed into a enchanting performance of Alice in Wonderland complete with a Victorian feast, real life Alice's & of course, the Queen of Hearts.