Monday, 2 September 2013

Blackberry Scones and Tennis

I'm sorry to state the obvious, but Autumn is in the air.

Yes, the middle of day is still averaging 23 degrees here in the old capital, but the mornings and evenings have that freshness. That crisp twang of September. The edges of the horse chestnut leaves are beginning to turn golden and I slept with only one window open instead of two last night.

And it's dark by 8.30pm.

What better way to embrace the misty and mellow season than blackberry picking? The Boy and I set out, intrepid country folk in the urban wilderness that is Wandsworth Common, woefully inadequate in our footwear and prickled our way through the undergrowth to uncover a veritable abundance, nay, a gleaming abundance of blackberries.

This blog somehow suggests, I notice, that I live in a strange bubble of folksy country pursuits in the middle of the biggest city in England. Not so. I intended and failed to blog about

Our brilliant, bustling night at Pizza Pilgrims in Soho.

Mojitos at my new neighbourhood joint, Northcote Records - best playlist this side of the Thames.

The tickets we're booking to the Pompeii exhibition at the awesome British Museum.

How much I want to see The Almeida's production of Chimerica before it closes....

And yet. Here I am blogging about blackpicking. Anyway. I might as well finish what I started.

My beautiful sister is having a bit of low patch at the moment and came over for a game of tennis, afternoon tea, a glass of Prosecco and Deb Pearlman's absolutely delicious one pot Farro. So the three of us slung our rackets over our shoulders and set out across the common.

We're pretty rubbish. And The Boy broke his racket. But who cares? I love tennis! I come over all 1920s - Love-30! Oh, good shot! - all Joan Hunter Dunn. And it was all rounded off by these blackberry scones. With a freezer full of London blackberries, I'd toyed with the idea of blackberry sauce and venison, but it's not yet so cold in the evenings that red meat and dark sauce seems like a good idea.

These were great. Easy and sweet and jammy. No need for jam! In-built jam! Just break in half and add butter. Consume with gallons of tea and a lovely sibling.

Blackberry Scones
Makes about 8.

Generally, the secret with scones is have everything cold when you start, handle it as little as possible, keep the dough quite sticky and bake in a hot oven. In this case, the blackberries are quite wet anyway, so don't go overboard with the milk... If you want, you can leave out the blackberries, add sultanas and eat with butter and strawberry jam.

8oz Self-raising flour*
A good pinch of salt
1oz Caster sugar
1/2 tsp Baking powder
2oz Butter
8oz Frozen blackberries (otherwise they will break up)
Milk for binding
Optional - 1 egg for glazing.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and then rub in the butter until it's the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.

Stir in the sugar. Stir in the frozen blackberries.

Add enough milk to bind it all together into a slightly sticky dough.

Turn it out onto a floured work surface and gently squodge (rather than full-on kneading) it into a smooth, flat disc about 1 inch high.

Cut out the scones by pushing down on the metal cutter and then lifting straight out, rather than twisting (this will help them to rise). Or just cut into sections with a sharp knife.

Whisk up the egg in a bowl and brush over the top.

Bake for 15-20 minutes in the hot oven, until they are deep golden and the blackberries are bleeding.

Leave to cool for 15 mins. Scones are nicer when they're not straight out. Believe me.

Slather with salted butter and eat.

* Do Americans have self-raising flour? If not, you can use all-purpose/plain flour and add baking powder (NOT soda...).

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

A very delicious potato cake.

The Boy doesn't really read the weekend papers. In fact, he doesn't really read the paper at all. This is a source of amazement to me: how does he know what is going on in the world?

For me, the weekend papers are a ritual and a treat. Two hours on the sofa with the Sunday Times, a cup of English Breakfast and a slab of cake, is time well spent.

This weekend, though, when I returned from the queue at Fabrique Bakery, laden with cinnamon buns, he pointed at an article by Carole Bamford, of the (very lovely) Daylesford Farm Shops, in the Saturday Telegraph and said 'I want to make this [beef brisket and lentils]. And this [Pan Haggerty]'.

Well, I made the beef brisket on Friday night and, you know, it was fine. But the Pan Haggerty has two major things going for it:

1. The name. Pan Haggerty. What's not to love? It sounds, as The Boy said, like a character from an 80s kids' movie. Ol' Pan Haggerty, whose garden is so overgrown you'd be scared to rescue your ball but who turns out to be none other than Professor Patrick Haggerty, world expert in the obscure hieroglyphics on the map those pesky kids have found.

2. The taste. It's not a looker, Ol' Pan, but what it lacks in refinement, it makes up for in yumminess. Potato. Cheese. Bacon. Onion. You can't lose, really, can you?

The original recipe gave instructions for making the mayonnaise from scratch but, to be honest, I couldn't be bothered, so below is my own loose approximation which was excellent - sharp and tangy, cutting right through the creaminess of the potato and cheese.

Perfect Sunday night (or Bank Holiday Monday night) fare.

Pan Haggerty
Printed in the Telegraph but taken, I think, from A Love for Food by Carole Bamford.

Serves 4 (or 2 with 1 chunky cake left over in the fridge to fry the following night)

For the Pan Haggerty:
700g Potatoes
50g Butter
1 Onion
75g Smoked Bacon
150g Cheddar Cheese
2 cloves Garlic
2 tbsp fresh parsley
Olive oil

For the mayonnaise:
3 tbsp Mayonnaise
2 tsp Wholegrain Mustard
2 tsp Capers
1 tbsp Parsley

Heat the oven to 170 degrees.

Peel and chop the potatoes and simmer them for about 15 mins, until they are softer but still a bit hard. Drain and leave until cool enough to handle.

Melt the butter, add the chopped onion, bacon and garlic and let it all soften, but not brown.

Roughly grate the cooled potato and the cheese. Mix with the onion and bacon mixture. Add salt, lots of pepper, the (2tbsp) parsley and mix it all together.

Form it into small cakes using your hands. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan (non-stick best we found out...) and brown the cakes on both sides. Then transfer to the oven for 10 minutes to crisp up a little more.

Chop the capers and (1 tbsp) parsley roughly and mix in a bowl with the mayo and mustard.

Serve it all with the salad leaves, dressed with a little oil and lemon juice.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Cinnamon Bunnage

London is a very tribal place. For those of you who don't live here, the area in which you choose to live says a lot about you. Here, your postcode says as much as the clothes you wear, your age, your job, your social life...

The Boy lives in Hackney. That's a big fat tribal reference. Hackney: land of the hipster. Land of male skinny jeans, peculiar moustaches, trendy bars, great coffee, gigs, people on colourful bicycles that have no gears and are thus only any good in a very very urban setting. Hackney is all about tower blocks and graffiti and cool places to eat.

I live on the edge of Wandsworth Common. It is not cool here. There's nothing trendy about Clapham Junction. People come here to have babies and then clutter up the cafes with their pushchairs. But Wandsworth Common is very pleasant. It's green. You can collect blackberries and make Elderflower Cordial and play tennis. It's affluent and pretty and safe. It still has good shops and cafes and bars, but it's not alive like East London is.

So. The Boy and I are a veritable Romeo and Juliet; crossing the capital's tribal divide. And this weekend, he waved goodbye to life on the hip side of town and carted his belongings (mostly consisting of T Shirts, DVDs and a Playstation) all the way across to SW18. Well, I say 'he', I mean, 'we'. On Saturday, we schlepped across the city to clean his little flat. And this convoluted beginning, leads to me neatly to the point of this blog entry....

Fabrique Bakery.

Home of the best Cinnamon Buns this side of the North Sea and our destination for pre-flat-cleaning sustenance on a very rainy August morning.

That Fabrique continues to exist is something of a happy mystery for me. It's tucked away in the railway arches alongside Hoxton Station and appears to offer very little by way of signage or advertising. How, I wonder, would people know that it was there? Everyone comes out of the station and turns left, and the bakery is right.

Anyway. Whatever. It is there and it is marvellous. In all ways. Great coffee (so The Boy tells me), delicious bread, fun decor with an actual industrial looking bakery at the back...

But it's these bad boys that we come for.

My friends, put aside any conceptions you may have about the Cinnamon Bun, for these are a different beast altogether. It's basically a  long string of sweet dough which has been rolled in cinnamon (and a little cardamom, I think), knotted up and doused in sugar syrup, which pools at the bottom and bakes in crunchy, golden wafers which are attached to the bun. Swoon.

They are sticky and sweet and warming. Which was what was needed before donning the marigolds and getting on my hands and knees with the Flash for four hours. Oh, the glamour.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Two go mad in Cornwall.

Well, I'm back in the big smoke after a week of unbelievably wholesome pursuits in the heavenly county of Cornwall. There is something inherently Enid Blyton about Cornwall; I inevitably come over all 1955 and start proposing picnics on the beach and cycling to find blackberries. What jolly larks.

We have a little flat on the north coast of Cornwall and it's my little hideaway. It all feels like playtime when we're there. The flat is in the eaves of a big old Victorian building and is all sloping ceilings and stupendous views.

It's pretty mesmerising in real life.

We had a heated Scrabble match on the first evening (well, as heated as Scrabble can be), and made our way through my parents' old vinyl collection over a bottle of red wine.

G, Z, P and V, anyone?

Don't even think about knocking this album choice....

We had tried to hire bikes to cycle to the pretty harbour town of Padstow for a Rick Stein pasty, but it was totally booked out and the trail was heaving with stressed out families. So we came back in the evening, zipped over there for a pint and a packet of crisps on the harbour edge and zipped back. We had the whole route to ourselves while the frazzled families were busy packing their sun burned littlies off to bed. 

It was beautiful.

We stocked up on freshly caught mackerel and Cornish mussels and cooked up a feast.

I wanted to share the mussel-cooking method with you, but, as you can see from the mackerel picture, the photos have come out all blurry. Sigh.  Mussels will have to wait.

I've been coming to Port Isaac for nearly a decade now and the lack of really good cake has always been hard. Stein's Patisserie in Padstow makes up for it a little bit (the treacle tart, oh the treacle tart...) but that's a half hour drive. But this time, ta da!

I say, that's an awfully wizard piece of pistachio and lemon cake, chums! The whole thing was top hole! (still channelling Enid.)

So. Now I'm back in London. Obviously it fabulous here, too. And I love the autumnal snap that's creeping into the morning air. But you can't beat a bit of this....

Toodle pip, chaps.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Blackberries, minnows and late summer sun.

I am back in the shire.

One of the things I love about where I live in London is how very very easy it is to hop on a train and pootle back home. I've spent the last few days lunching at leisure with my Mum, showing my cousin's children how to catch minnows, determinedly eating unripe blackberries and smelling late summer on the air. Even though it's mid-August, when I leave London I can see that we're hurtling towards September.

My mother's village is quintessentially English. It's like stepping into a Thomas Hardy novel. There's a church and a village green, complete with roaming chickens, thatched cottages, a small post box and.. that's it.

In the late summer evening sun, it's a little piece of perfect.

In the August evenings, everything is bathed in that soft, golden glow. Everything goes gently here.

An apple tree from Disneyland, surely?

That's my mummy in the very far distance.

And this is Albert. Always extremely enthusiastic at the prospect of any walk - however brief.

It's market day today, so I'm off to see if I can get my hands on some apricots to roast. The Boy is arriving tonight and we're off to Cornwall tomorrow to gulp in some salty sea air and pasties before we hit the city again.