We’re on the fourth day of the nationwide 'lockdown', tussling between the infinite appeal of flexible days and no 6am Saturday starts, and the absence of significant movement or regular structure. While the headlines sent the world into a tizzy – Italy under lockdown, Italy losing its sense of community, Italy’s death rates – we bought some new plants, ate breakfast in the sun on the terrace, and after I accepted the loss of gym and silversmithing classes, the disorientation and chaos of teaching on Zoom, and most of all my parents’ visit, the prospect didn’t seem so apocalyptic. Soon after moving to Castiglione d’Orcia, a small hilltop village in the Val d’Orcia, with the aim of having space to walk outside in the woods, it was announced that everything apart from pharmacies, supermarkets, news agents and cigarette shops would be closed. Until the evening before, I still had hope that my parents would be able to visit us in Siena, and that day we heard that even pedestrians were being stopped to declare where they were going, and their declarations checked. And so begin two weeks, at least, of shutdown. I have been waking up slightly disoriented, by what I am not sure, but I do not think I am alone.
I am at once rather restless, at my best when I am busy, and equally perfectionist, easily stressed by those very same things that keep me sane. In reading in a foreign language I think I may have found the key to the over-active and over-worried mind. The key, though, comes with a catch – reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Altre Parole in October provided the go-ahead for reading in Italian, but without looking up words it was little more than an insight into a new language and how [not] to let it literally become one’s reason for living.
Baricco’s Novecento gave me passages that I will return to time and again, but I looked up the words only at the end, more an afterthought than a journey. If a novella lends one overconfidence, a novel knocks one back in line. I closed L’Amica Geniale seven pages in, and so it has sat on my bedside ever since. Articles are manageable but short-lived and soon forgotten; bookshops as open-ended and inviting as they are isolating and frustrating, rows and rows of books, textured, coloured, and bound with the Italian aesthetic fixation, poetry and classics, novels and treatises that you can trace and flip through, with intrigue as much as acceptance that you won’t be settling into the sofa with one that evening.
I Vagabondi (Flights) by Olga Tokarczuk followed the same path, admiringly thumbed-through in a narrow, quiet bookshop in Orbetello last Sunday afternoon. Perfect warm ochre cover, the glossy title on the osteria yellow paper, an autumn-chested bird tumbling down and white daubs for just the right measure of millennial, large well-spaced pages of cream paper, and a heft in the print that carries as the pages flap like a sheet in the wind, until they fall closed with a thump in your left hand. Reshelved because it was sitting in my Amazon India cart – less beautiful but less expensive and, crucially, in English – arguably the only language in which I ought to read an International Man Booker.
Had this book been written by an old, well-off, white man, with the same first three titles – "Io sono qui" (“I am here”), "Il mondo nella testa" (“The world in one’s head”), and "La testa nel mondo" (“One’s head in the world”) – it may never have made it to my list, or from my list into my hands. Another book about how he knew his place in the world. The perspective of a middle-aged woman from Poland, by contrast, has me listening.
I did buy a book that afternoon, Antonio Tabucchi’s Viaggi e Altri Viaggi (Travels and Other Travels), a rare find when you feel you’ve spotted just what you needed to read in that moment. The next day I was gifted I Vagabondi – protagonists of some of the best ‘viaggi’. In the bookshop I had been taken by Tabucchi’s claim that travelling is a grand privilege, for to stay put is to risk falling prey to the belief that the land belongs to us, rather than being, as is everything else in life, on loan. One of three quotes on the back of I Vagabondi reads "Muoviti, vai. Beato colui che parte" (“Move, go, blessed is the one who leaves”), and on the inside flap, "Il cambiamento è sempre più nobile della stabilità" (“Change is always more noble than stability”). After reading, thinking, obsessing over what it would mean to know a place intimately, to be and live in, care for and be cared for by one place alone, these lines a day apart threw me off and drew me in.
But it is not Tokarczuk’s validation of myself that has kept me reading. She all but introduces herself as rootless but, unlike Tabucchi, does not lead with a defence of rootlessness. That same physicality that drew me to the book in Orbetello has since Monday drawn me back like the tide. One does not necessarily judge a book by its cover, but one does pick it up by it. It’s the personality that trails the book as it’s in your bag, on your coffee table, under your arm, the expression on someone’s face that determines whether you continue a difficult conversation with them.
So you choose the conversation, and you reopen the book. A novel that takes you through a single long story over 300 pages is an uphill climb. Each word you stop to look up is like bending over to pick up a pebble. You drop it in your bag, momentarily satisfied, only to look up to see the miles of pebbles ahead and you’re not entirely sure why you’re there. You are unlikely to get the brisk refreshment of crossing the hill, and, if you make it over, the bag of pebbles hanging round your neck will bring you little pride or joy.
The sections of I Vagabondi are neither standalone essays nor short stories, but stretches of reflection, history, and narrative. Each section, half a page or five, is a walk through knowledge, belonging, desire, and truth, essences and oddities. She walks as a vagabond, and in doing so allows you to walk alongside, leisurely, if you like, or if, like me, you need. This time I am looking words up as I go, precisely as they say one shouldn’t. I spend an afternoon on two pages and walk away with a hundred words. When days feel anchorless and homes scattered, it is a measured, dare I say rooted, act to unlock each section. And unlocking it is – each word a step, until you reread the pages and find yourself skipping.
Later while walking in the hills I find words drifting by – davanzale, scorgere, altrove – and somehow I’m thinking of going home to continue, an addiction hitherto reserved for art pieces, and that too not all. Self-contained and yet seemingly infinite, inconsequential yet steadily difficult, it is precisely the marathon that will see me through a lockdown.
As I lean on the kitchen counter to start writing this, we are talking of the Italian cities erupting in song and dance across their balconies, and my boyfriend’s grandfather is sat in Argentina at his 1980s synth keyboard, a WhatsApp call concert, running a playlist of tango and Spanish, Italian, and Jewish folk; a map of migration to Argentina, each chord locked in some curious part of his mind, 'belonging' for a man whose father was born on a boat, his steady occupation in the final stretch of his marathon. Wherever in the world, noi siamo qui.
There isn't a lot to say about this galette, except that it took the better part of a Sunday, by choice, and that the crust alone, with my addition of Indian seeds and Italian herbs, is worth making as biscuits, which I have been saying I'll do since I made it, but haven't. We had this galette for dinner, which is what the end of summer is for.
It's also now closer to September 2020 than it is to September 2019, when I first made the galette, so it's definitely time to remake it, with whatever fruits are in season.
For the crust:
Lottie and Doof's pie crust
For the filling:
Ottolenghi's peach, rosemary, and lime galette
SERVES FOUR GENEROUSLY
This makes good use of firm, not-so-ripe peaches. By macerating them in sugar and lime juice, you not only soften the fruit, but you also make a beautiful syrup to pour over the dish at the end. Rosemary, which I’ve used both in this dish and in the shrub, is a fantastic match for peach. It’s a combination I discovered only recently, and now I can’t get enough of it.
Moroccan Poached Pears & Prunes
This year's Cambridge charity blind date was The Great British Bake (Date)-Off themed, and my answer to my dream co-host was either Yotam Ottolenghi (surprise), or whoever will let me lick the spoon.
Licking the spoon is an underrated part of baking, and a right that I guard very deeply. If, between dolloping the batter onto the tray and sliding it into the oven, someone fills the batter-smeared bowl with dish soap and puts it in the sink, a significant chunk of the baking joy goes down the drain with it.
People say, "If it's not on Instagram, did you even bake?" Those around me know I take care of the photo part, often much to their annoyance, but I think we ought to say, "If you didn't lick the spoon, did you even bake?"
My mum baked banana chocolate chip muffins in the morning and I had the all-important role of chopping up dark chocolate-covered almonds, eating the little flakes of chocolate that broke off (you need nice whole pieces for the batter so someone needs to take care of the rejects, right?), and of course licking the spoon.
That would have been a satisfying enough Saturday, but then my mum discovered a Moroccan dessert recipe from Le Tobsil in Marrakech that seemed too perfect to pass up, particularly when paired with a noodle dish called "chaariya medfouna", noodles with a hidden surprise. For the record, all three of these recipes came from a Food & Wine issue from May 2010, a goldmine throwback.
The syrup put any cookie or muffin batter to shame.
I probably reduced it down more than I needed to, but I have absolutely no regrets.
It turned thick and shiny and caramelly, the kind that forms a ball on your tongue and lines the roof of your mouth, that sticks to your teeth momentarily and gives you the joy of sweeping your tongue into the nooks and crannies to get every last bit. The orange flesh, soaked with the spicy sweet liquid, turned into a gooey toffee, I pulled every fibre away from the skin, allowing it to disintegrate bite by bite. The orange skin itself, soft, tangy, and sweet, would put haribo out of business. The syrup stuck to the spoon, crystallized around the bowl, and was so photogenic that I had no choice but to pause my dissertation reading and take photos of it. All procrastination is for the greater good.
The completed dessert was more than the sum of its parts, and every bite was a surprise that made me close my eyes and try to capture flavours swimming around so as not to forget them. The syrup was dreamy, but the kind of treat that would get overwhelming after a while. The light, soft, citrus-soaked pears formed a fresh base that held everything together; the prunes – usually concentratedly sweet like gummy candy – were toned down and broken down by the poaching, rendering them deep and mellow to complement the pears; the buttery pastry was the wholesome part that cut through the sweetness and kept the dish grounded; and while all these elements carried the sweetness and spices hidden delicately inside them, the viscous syrup was there to coat them and tease out all the flavours in one concentrated hit.
I can't say I was super productive apart from this, but this is the last summer before the Real World (a moment's silence, please). Sooooo go have a pointless day, flip through an old magazine or recipe book, whip up something yum– whether it's good old chocolate chip cookies or an exciting new dessert – and be sure to lick the spoon.
"Cumin and turmeric scented the air. Children on the streets hollered to one another in Portuguese."
This is neither India nor Portugal, but rather Russell Shorto's description of the neighbourhood where the Sephardim settled in Amsterdam in the 1600s, bringing with them their religious and culinary heritage, and the language of the land that, a hundred years prior, declared them an "enemy" and drove them out. From the Parsi cafes serving Persian rice below photos of Gandhi and the Queen of England, to the rich, warm halwa (now far from the Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Arabic halvah, but a descendant that travelled and evolved with the Mughals) served in heaps at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, to the Armenian dishes still bubbling in the streets of Kolkata, and the Afghani tandoori flatbreads that now fill every Indian restaurant from Mumbai to L.A., India's culture is undeniably intertwined with different parts of the world, no matter what governments and education ministers might try to do.
As Amitav Ghosh delves into the trade between Canton, Bombay, and Europe in the 1800s, he slips in details like a concoction of noodles made by local boat-cooks for the foreign sailors that became the predecessor of today's schezwan noodles. Today that same Indian-European-Chinese dish has been re-appropriated, lining India's streets and filling brightly coloured menus with 'Chinese bhel', 'schezwan dosa', 'schezwan khakhara', and noodles that no Chinese person would ever recognise but that have rendered 'Indian Chinese' a cuisine in its own right.
A conversation the other day with someone who likes cooking turned to his passion for 'fusion', a favourite of his being pizza pau bhaji. A dish of stewed vegetables and Portuguese bread that began as a cheap, quick meal for local mill workers is now topped with bell peppers, tomatoes, and cheese and shoved in an oven. Today we ordered lunch in at work: spinach chaat, a very cool innovation, and... pizza paratha. Apologies to all Punjabis and Italians.
Or not? Apologising for a so-called 'impurity', be it of a dish, a history, a community, a neighbourhood, music, an art, or a language, drives us apart and sidelines thousands of years of trade and evolution, suggesting that some immigration policy or textbook reform can somehow render us immune to the human desire to share and learn.
Don't get me wrong, you won't catch me putting ketchup on an idli or green chillies on my pizza. I love each dish for what it is, with the knowledge that there is a deep history and set of traditions that underlie it that cannot be undermined. And not all forms of globalisation are equal. A recent article in the Financial Times titled 'Imperial Appetites' reviewed a book about how colonialism transformed British food and, according to the author, the world. It's true, colonialism did transform the world, but not necessarily in the glorified way the article made it out to be. Apart from a brief mention of slavery, the article focused on how merchants profited from exotic food like sugar and cocoa, how sailors survived on preserved fish, and how tea became a mainstay in English homes. And what the author possibly thought was a grand finale quote turned out to be the most disappointing part of all:
'In Raiatea in the Society Islands, during the 1820s, a missionary reported that the adoption of teatime rituals would have a beneficial effect on the natives: "When they have Tea... they will want Sugar, Tea Cups... they will want a Table... then they will want seats to set on. Thus, we hope that European customs in a very short time will be wholly introduced in the leeward stations.'"
Globalisation is old. And, clearly, not all globalisation is good. But I can't judge others' creativity or the mingling of cultures – whether across whole populations or a sole individual's mixed heritage. This week, watching the Mumbai monsoons outside my window, having tahini biscuits from an Israeli-Italian's recipe that I tasted in London with my Belgian-American friend, with cappuccino made on an Italian machine with Vietnamese coffee, I was happy.
So cheers to sharing.
"Happiness is no crumbs on the plate"
Every few months, since the summer of 2012, I think about stopping posting on Chocolate Tulip. It's not as if what I make is anything extraordinary; there are plenty of students who are cooking things that are much better than what I do. Sometimes someone writes to me and asks when I'll be posting next, and little things like that encourage me again. But this time I tried to think about why I started it in the first place, regardless of whether anyone reads it at all.
Chocolate Tulip began as I started rediscovering and re-allowing all the things I used to love to make and eat. Although on a different scale, this term I resolved once again to actively change my relationship with food, which has been problematic to say the least. When I say I love food I don't mean "I eat a cheeseburger and a tub of ice cream every day." I mean I love reading about it, writing about it, buying ingredients, chopping, cooking for hours or whipping up a snack, learning about the history and culture behind an ingredient or a dish, cooking alone or with people I love, going out to try someplace new, savouring something myself or making people happy with what I make, and sometimes I love the failures, too.
At the same time, paradoxically, it sometimes seems like I hate food. I can spend days fighting the urge to have a snack; ages walking the supermarket aisles again and again, comparing each nutritional fact between one packet and another, before moving on to comparing the next item; hours counting and recounting and recounting the calories in everything I ate and berating myself for my choices or my needs.
And somewhere over the past two months I realised that I couldn't do it anymore. It was probably a cumulative decision, but at some point in one of my mindfulness classes, when I felt the stress and pain of these thoughts hurting me more than I knew they reasonably should, I decided to take it into my own hands. Because by hating food or pushing it away, I was pushing away so much of what makes me who I am. I was taking away the thrill of picking up something new to try at the shops, the calm of a quiet meal alone or the laughter of dinner with my friends in the corridor, the little moment of something sweet with a cup of coffee, the ease of baking and cooking with my family at home, the joy of the street food I miss so much, the carefree moments at the end of the day when we collapse with biscuits and tea, the satisfaction of making something I want to make and feeling proud of myself no matter how much time I'm taking to write an essay or how everything else seems to be going.
One night after a long, long day of meetings and rushed meals, an empty fridge and failed plans, and the added bonus of Sainsbury's on a Saturday night, I plugged in my headphones and had the kitchen to myself for a few hours. I listened to Yotam Ottolenghi's Desert Island Discs, where he talked about the joy of accomplishing something when you finish whipping egg whites, compared to the endlessness he felt throughout his time in academia (sounds familiar?). He loves learning and experimenting and the instant gratification of sharing the activity and the food with someone else. In that moment, alone with Radio 4, fun ingredients, and dedicated creative time, the best way to describe how I felt was 'whole' – far from what I would have expected two hours earlier.
Given that, for better or for worse, so much of my life revolves around food, Chocolate Tulip is often a way to look back at the end of term on everything that's happened. The days I felt adventurous and went to get special ingredients, the days when I felt low and – much to the concern/shock of my friends – just boiled plain pasta, the days I restricted what I ate, the days I let go of that and enjoyed a floor ice cream party or freshly fried chips at night after dancing for hours, the days when meeting my friend for breakfast was a pick-me-up in my week and the days when porridge while talking to my family was just the comfort I needed.
My mum read me a quote from a book called The Sellout the other day, in which a character is asked where all his ideas come from, to which he replies:
It's not about where ideas come from, but where they go.
There are far too many ideas and projects and plans that get dreamt up and then disappear, left by the wayside, whether because one loses faith in oneself, or one loses steam, or the hard truth of real life gets in the way. I've had and will have my fair share of abandoned ideas, but right now this little pocket of internet space and the dream of my cafe bubbling away are two things I'm not willing to let go of just yet.
Roti from home, roasted red pepper hummus, baby spinach, 'sun soaked' tomatoes, sharp cheddar, and spice marinated quorn: a messy but lovely lunch.
Homemade kale chips, feat. an essay doodled on by my super cool history supervisor.
Maybe one of my favourites this term: butternut squash and turnips roasted in the oven with garlic, onion, olive oil, za'atar and fresh salt and pepper. Warmed and crisped up on the pan with some feta <3
My packed lunch began with the best of intentions: fruit, almonds, walnuts, a boiled egg and some beans and vegetable stew...
... but then I reached the Education Faculty and spotted a newbie amongst the pastries: a fridge cake with literally everything in it – blueberry muffin, banana, twix, chocolate cake, marshmallows, and probably more – all in one scrumptious slab.
My lovely pen-pal came to visit from Belgium, so we had to have fish and chips. Not for the faint of heart.
Of course, we continued the crash course in Englishness and had scones at Bill's the next morning before lectures – the best I've tasted, and 100% going on the cafe menu.
Indian egg curry, delicious with French red rice.
Frozen peas are a new favourite snack, either cold or warmed with ras-el-hanout, za'atar, or parmesan. I buy a bag and defrost them in the fridge – an accidental discovery, because we don't have a freezer...
Dinner date with moi. Ditalini, chickpea and pea soup, adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe for pasta e ceci. Featuring a rose I was given by some beauty people outside King's College – romantic amiright? – and my little cafe ideas notebook in the back.
Veggie meatballs, red rice, and kale
Baked oatmeal – part of my Ottolenghi evening wind-down. Not super happy with the layering the recipe called for; the bananas remained in a bit of a separated/gooey layer on the bottom, so I'll retry it with mashing them in to the oat mixture instead. But it saved me on some rushed essay mornings, and it's looks pretty.
In the library with my friend Chloe:
6:30 onwards: I'm hungry.
7:30 "Hey Chloe, I'm going to go get some chocolate, do you want anything?"
Chloe: "We're planning floor tea and biscuits at 10, we can hold out till then!"
Me: "Aaaaah! Okay, good plan!"
9:15 Chloe and I decide to go back to our rooms to work.
9:30 Chloe: "I need to go buy biscuits for tea and biscuits."
Me: "Hmmm I don't have any either!"
The trip turns into a semi-grocery run to top up stuff for the week. I tell Chloe about the veggie burger section.
9:45 Chloe: "Ooh these would make great burgers"
Me: "We can get nice buns from the bakery section! Wow I could really do with a burger right now..."
10:00 Chloe: "Sooo are you going to join me for a burger?"
10:20 Chloe and I are whipping up hot burgers with melty cheese as our post-studying, pre-biscuits snack :)
My standing desk contraption also gives me a whopping amount of floor space to sprawl and work. Win-win.
Oatmeal-banana pancakes with jam, leftover cream and honey. Yaas.
Perhaps one of the most serendipitous food photos I've taken.
Shakshukha, made with the same chickpea and black-eyed pea stew pictured above – hearty, warm, super flavourful, and delicious topped with feta and fresh parsley.
You know you've found an amazing friend when she joins you in this dreamy brunch <3
In the last week of term as you wind down supplies start to run low, and most people are somewhat fed up of all the quick/budget/healthy things they've been making. I switched up breakfast for toasted Irish soda bread with ricotta and strawberries/butter/butter and honey.
A salad made with my end-of-term leftover ingredients, and which turned out to be one of my favourites: strawberries, arugula, ricotta, walnuts, a ryvita, and a honey-olive oil-balsamic dressing.
Review: Thela, Cambridge
During term time I can make dal or get a curry, but something I cannot get my hands on is chaat – what is an easy thing to buy or put together at home requires too many ingredients for me to seek out here, and so far no restaurant has served it either. But for the past few weeks bright photos of chaat and other dishes have flitted across my newsfeed, with a tantalising 'coming to Cambridge soon...' caption.
After much hype, a friend from Bombay and I went to try out Thela, a new place in Cambridge that claims to serve authentic Indian street food. Of course, I had my favourite dahi batata puri (for reference, see this post!):
The place smelled faintly like a typical local Indian restaurant, for those who know what I mean, which was nice insofar as it was familiar. And water in tall Coca Cola glasses. Of course.
As we left I spotted the saunf on the counter and dashed back to get some, but it wasn't as good as my packet from Crawford Market, complete with plain fennel, tiny little mystery seeds, shiny silver bits, and rose petals, which I finished weeks ago:p
Overall: I remember two Bombay friends at Cambridge who were a couple of years above me saying that the lowest ranking Indian food at home is about what you'll get in Cambridge. Our Indian food last year at an Indian restaurant was not bad (though a bit heavy and oily), and the India Society has gotten delicious Indian food for a lot of their events, but I think with this chaat I see what my friends meant. The thing is, they got the difficult bits right (the puris, the chutneys), it was just the energy that was missing. You don't hold back when you're making chaat: fistfuls of coriander and toppings; all the sweet/spicy/crunchy/sour/salty combinations you can manage; lots of fresh spices (not necessarily spicy); you throw the tomatoes and freshness into the chaat, instead of leaving a sad and vague salad on the side that nobody wants because it's not chaat and it serves no purpose; and you do. not. serve it with a fork, you serve it with an appropriate shovel so that each bite has an adequate amount of all the little flavours and bits and bobs in one go.
But the place was busy, the waiter seemed relatively on it, and a person sat near us told the waiter he really enjoyed the food. The menu has a few thalis and some other interesting dishes so maybe I'll give them another try next time Week 5/6 homesickness gets to me.
At least someone is making chaat outside of India, and if I could handle the weather/place for longer it'd be my mission to make sure (good, real, Mohan/Gupta-street style) chaat overtakes Sainsbury's 'poppadoms' and naan and 'balti' as the UK's go-to Indian food 👩🏾🍳🇮🇳
Another term gone by, another term of college cooking, but this time I was rather bored of my egg/protein-and-vegetable theme and decided to try cooking a couple of big dishes each weekend for the week, so that I could take the time to make something more interesting and flavourful instead of rushing to cook lunch every day. And breakfast, as always, is a highlight of my day, this term featuring figs, apple compote, something called 'omega power seeds' that I optimistically bought in Week 5, and some pretty cool bread. I hosted my first dinner party, and succeeding at making home-style dal, which took care of a lot of homesickness. And instead of a productive Sunday in the library, I discovered the Cambridge Botanical Gardens and dozens of spectacular local apples with one of my best friends. All in all, a very happy autumn :)
Happy New Year x
A chickpea salad with baby spinach, veggie meatballs, yoghurt, roasted cumin powder, coriander powder, smoked paprika powder, chaat masala, and fresh coriander chutney – ridiculously filling.
My vow to eat more raw vegetables/salads last just about few days... on the last day I threw it all into the pan with some olive oil for a warm, crispy lunch instead ;)
My first market bread in Cambridge: a beautiful, soft French country loaf that I enjoyed with stews, with natural peanut butter, Dutch hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles), and for breakfast.
I walk past the bakery stalls every single day but don't shop there enough – new task for next term.
My morning routine is an absolutely essential part of my day; I like to start very early, put Radio 4 on as soon as I'm up, get ready, make a nice breakfast, facetime home, and get onto work. I always start the day feeling super optimistic and this has usually all but disappeared by the time I go to bed, but at least then I can sleep through the stress/fatigue/disappointment and go to bed looking forward to breakfast again ;)
One of my all-time favourites was a thick slice of the French loaf made into French toast, with blueberry-cranberry jam, caramelised and fresh banana slices, and fresh blueberries ^_^
Fresh coriander chutney/salsa, great with Indian dishes, eggs, Mexican, and salads – anything that needs a dash of freshness and spice.
If only you knew what a disaster the kitchen looked like around this photo.
I miss so much food when I'm away, but it's really the simplest stuff I miss the most. I tried my hand at making a nice masoor dal with spinach, and some pulao with lots of different grains and fresh peas, and it turned out to be one of the easiest and most satisfying meals of the term – just the right warmth and comfort to get you through the day :)
Brunch at Espresso Library with my friend and some of her friends from Cambridge and Durham. Espresso Library is one of the most stereotypically hipster places I know, but clichéd doesn't mean unlovable ;) Love the vibe, love the food, sunlight galore, and they have a weekly casual bike-ride which I'm very tempted to try.
Alas, we had the best of intentions, but a big café on a Sunday afternoon with a bunch of friends is probably not the best idea for staying focused...
Not sure how much work actually got done, but the mocha cappuccino, hazelnut granola,and coconut-date were well worth it ^_^ I need to go back (weekday maybe?) to try their famed avocado and chickpea dishes.
Porridge with dark chocolate hagelslag, homemade apple compote, grilled figs, pumpkin seeds, linseed, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds (so-called omega-3 power seeds... I can feel my brain power growing with the first bite, you know.)
German rye bread topped with apple compote and grilled figs <3
Aaaaah isn't this cute? Autumn this year was genuinely stunning – the rain held off for much longer than last year, meaning the leaves remained crisp, the trees remained colourful, the sky blue and the sun bright for almost the entire term. The perfect excuse for ginger lattes.
I've lost track of how many dozens of people I've told about my 'someday' café (potential name right there?), but I think I've got myself so deep into it that I have no choice but to make it happen... someday.
I invited 9 friends over for my very first dinner party and this was probably one of my proudest moments of term. I think I might have scared my friend with how thrilled I was setting up; it gave me the first real sense of just how much I enjoy making people happy with a cosy little place and nice food <3
Paneer and peas bhurji, masoor dal, brown rice, raita, fresh coriander, papad, and (store-bought) samosas and onion bhajias.
Stews with various combinations of beans, spinach, kale, veggie meat, quinoa or rice became one of the easiest and most satisfying things to make and store for the week.
I had this one with some of the country bread grilled with cheese, olive, salt and pepper.
The second time I went to buy bread at the market, the previous stall I went to wasn't there that day, which actually turned out to be quite a good thing. At another stall, this bread caught my eye (I'm one of the "what's the weirdest/newest/most different thing here so that I can try it?" kinds of people). It turned out it's charcoal bread (real charcoal powder in there) and apparently it's generally for middle-aged or elderly people who drink too much and have digestive issues...
I almost went for a simple sourdough, but the owner gave me a piece and my 19-year-old, not-an-alcoholic, fine-digestion-thankyouverymuch self decided this was the bread to buy.
That's melted dark chocolate on toasted bread. It's yum.
Thai sweet chili rice with lots of Asian vegetables (pre-chopped, thank you Sainsbury's) and marinated tofu; definitely making this again.
Apple Day has got to be one of the best things I discovered about Cambridge this year. A really close friend and I decided that it trumped work, and spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon in the sunshine making apple badges with 4-year-olds, sipping warm apple juice, and trying dozens of apples feeling very cultured and professional. I never knew so many delicious varieties exist, and supermarket apples haven't looked or tasted the same since.
These two varieties were not too sweet, wholesome, nutty, and beautiful colours.
It would also be a crime to leave an apple event without apple pie, right?
This apple and raspberry crumble lasted about 12 hours.
I hadn't paid a visit to the good ol' crêpe van in far too long, so after 24+ hours of packing my room into boxes and into the attic, I ended the term with a hot crepe with banana, dark Belgian chocolate, strawberries and biscuit pieces <3 i.e. very happily.
Going to university means being separated from a lot of things you love, and for me one of those things is undoubtedly food and everything that accompanies it: a kitchen full of everything you could possibly need; ingredients like fresh coriander, Bombay's mangoes, pomegranate, aromatic spices, tiny bananas; the ability to spontaneously bake; and perhaps most of all, cooking and eating with my family. But going to university also means the chance to explore new ideas, experiment with new things, and learn to manage on a much smaller and very different scale. While I love going to hall to meet my friends and relax, I still prefer making my own breakfast, cooking a nourishing lunch, and sometimes making dinner. In between there are a myriad lovely little places dotted around Cambridge, from crepe vans to authentic dumplings, which means you can't truly get bored. Cooking (and food in general) lets me 'productively' procrastinate, get out of my room, and enjoy a bit of comfort amidst what often feels like uncontrollable chaos.
Indian designs from Chumbak, a Chicago mug mailed all the way from the Windy City, and a stroopwafel tin – my self on a shelf.
Featuring the trusty french press and coffee thermos in the back; I don't know what I'd do without them.
The majority of my lunches consist of some sort of stir-fried vegetables, egg, and/or vegetarian meat, most of which I haven't included in the post because they are chronically unphotogenic. But evidently I decided to channel my essay planning into a bit of (remotely) artsy plating on this day:p
Oh, the crepe van...
Conveniently placed right outside the college, this van is heaven on wheels. The staff is fabulous, and this cheese-spinach-black pepper crepe comes out hot, with a perfect border of crispy cheese and delightfully melty on the inside.
The sauce on the left is a rich tomato sauce, cooked and reduced for a long time with home-ground roast cumin powder, coriander powder, curry powder mint, fresh coriander, smoked paprika, and tikka paste. On the bottom is a fresh raita, and some good old Sainsbury's falafel on the side. I made a spiced pea soup to go along, which was delicious but didn't make the prettiness cut compared with this plate.
This ice cream sandwich is both to die for and utterly deadly. We sat and ate these on King's Parade where we should have been people-watching, instead of other people watching us make massive chocolatey fools of ourselves...
I also learned that my sweet tooth is rather worryingly bigger than I realised.
Dark German (or Dutch or Danish, whatever you prefer) rye bread is probably not very high on most students' shopping lists, but I unashamedly love it. It regularly features in my breakfast or lunch, usually with multiple toppings. Above: St. Dalfour natural jam, natural peanut butter, banana, cinnamon, blueberries, and various combinations of them.
The end of exams meant the start of free time to read and enjoy a cup of coffee and Dutch speculaas before an afternoon row. A.k.a. luxury.
Work, stress and being away brings out food cravings I normally shove away, hence my rekindled love for Dutch chocolate sprinkles on toast <3 They do breakfast right.
Who can say no to pancakes? My go-to batter is made of oats, egg, bananas and milk, which allows me to totally justify having them as a healthy breakfast or lunch. Hidden underneath is a blueberry pancake, which I actually liked more than the chocolate one. :O
Cambridge has countless cute little cafes, several of which are about a minute from college. My dad and I had a nice leisurely breakfast and coffee on a drizzly morning when he came to visit, and everything was perfect – given that it takes less than 10 seconds from our gate to Stickybeaks, I think I ought to be there more often.
Crispy, melty, cheesy omelette. Can't go wrong.
This was a pleasant and refreshing change from the usual egg-vegetable combination, with a base of black lentils, topped with fresh tomatoes and mint, and a lightly spiced raita. Definitely going to make this again, maybe with chickpeas, too.
Caramelised banana, melted chocolate, natural apricot jam, all in one pancake.
Melting a stroopwafel on top of steaming coffee ^_^ Little things.
Beanissimo is a tiny little tricycle coffee shop up on the way to Homerton. My mum and I first went there last October, and although I look out for him every time I pass on my way to the Education faculty, I still haven't been back. His cycle is adorable, as if it's out of a toy set, and his coffee and bars were perfect for an outdoor autumn break.
Pan-fried tortellini, courgette, vegetarian meatballs and kale. I always have a leafy vegetable (kale or baby spinach) to throw into stir-fries and sandwiches because they're so perfect.
As if I could visit a crepe stall and not try something sweet. I chose the dark chocolate and banana, with added crushed biscuits... once again, to die for. I got chocolate all over my face, but I'd do it again any day.
Popcorn is such a fabulous and underrated snack. It's one of the first things my mum and I made after moving in to my room last year (Friday is popcorn day ^_^) but it quickly became a staple late-night study snack: it's filling, light, full of fibre, and easy to make it taste amazing. My 'signature' popcorn has smoked paprika powder, chaat masala, coriander powder, cumin powder, curry powder, and salt (Sainsbury's used to have smoked sea salt, which was the best). I have yet to figure out how to make chocolatey/sweet popcorn without it being too messy, but the few attempts I made were still a delight to eat through the night.
Apart from how much I love breakfast foods, I'm also a firm believer in it being the most important meal of the day. With early mornings, long days, lots of cycling, and often a rowing outing or an erg, I think I'd destroy something out of 'hanger' if I didn't have a solid breakfast. My mum sent me this article on power breakfasts from TIME magazine; I prepped all the ingredients for the dark chocolate oats with espresso yoghurt, kept boxes of them in the fridge, and they lasted me through a rotten week of the Lent Bumps rowing races and a handful of late-night essay crises.
Having the market right outside college is an absolute blessing – falafel wraps, quick thai noodles, dumplings, fresh bread, stunning pastries and pasties, Portuguese food, burgers, coffee, you name it. One of my favourites is Tom's Cakes, which only has a stall on Sundays but has the most delightful spread of cakes, cookies, tarts and breads. After spending all day debating whether to go try it out, I stepped out of the library to grab some tea and an apple from my room and instead decided there and then to head over to the stall – 15 minutes before it closed – and finally succumb to the idea of cake that I had been trying to resist. It turned into a nice little walk with my friend, topped off with a deliciously moist and rich apple crumb cake, and a much happier me in the library that evening.
Occasionally I make whole wheat pasta, with some vegetables, fresh basil, pesto and/or wholegrain mustard, cheese, and sometimes an egg.
When my mum told me to go treat myself for her birthday, I knew exactly where I was headed. The Belgian waffle stall at the market has a long list of exciting toppings and flavours, but a friend and I decided to go the whole hog and have 4 toppings on one: fudge, chocolate sauce, strawberries and crumbled speculaas. They're warm, gooey (perhaps fewer toppings would make them more crisp, so I've got to try that too) and for a moment sitting at that little stall you forget that you're really at university.
I had planned to try studying at the Waterstone's Cafe 2nd View (also conveniently just next to Christ's) all year, but only actually ended up doing so after all my exams were over. I spent a rainy afternoon there with a cappuccino, some music, and my little handmade Cambridge travel 'moleskine' that my mum sent me.
True, this isn't the most photogenic, but it's from a New York Times recipe for courgette eggs that I had wanted to make for ages, and it was one of the few recipes that worked perfectly for my limited college ingredients. It's a tad messy, but I used my food chopper/blender instead of grating the courgette and served it with some spinach and tomatoes on the side.
I finally bought a blender – a hand blender along with a vegetable chopper – and it's been brilliant. I use it for pancake batter, soups, and big filling banana smoothies ^_^
For the first term these sandwiches were pretty much a regular feature for my lunch: fresh multigrain bread, wholegrain mustard, pesto genovese, cheddar cheese (or old Dutch cheese when my dad brought my favourites from Holland), baby spinach/kale, an egg fried with smoked paprika, freshly ground black pepper, oregano and sea salt, and then the whole thing grilled to make it crispy and melty.
Benet's on King's Parade is cute, surprisingly large, and perfect for a cosy tea when it's rotten and windy outside. My fabulous friend from Bombay is studying in France and when she came to visit we had a lovely afternoon with hot chocolate (delicious, but not as amazing as the one from the chestnut/hot chocolate/brownie stall on Christ's Lane) and cake – the almond cake was our favourite.
Pre-exam: protein from the vegetarian steak, sautéed spinach, fibre from the rye bread, and a generous dose of yum peanut butter, chocolate, cheese and jam.
Although they spoil a bit too quickly, these multigrain pitas are even better than the regular bread. They have a wholesome nuttiness to them, the insides turn warm and pillowy when cooked, and they work great for grilled sandwiches or filled with spiced grilled peas and raita.
On the last day of Lent term, when I really ought to have been packing, a big group of us went out for a massive dinner at Zizzi's, and my friend and I worked our way through two amazing pizzas between the two of us. This one is a classic zucca: a creamy pesto base with mozzarella, roasted butternut squash, caramelised balsamic onions & spinach; topped with crumbled goat's cheese, pine nuts & rosemary after baking.
One of the best things about my friend who visited is her flexibility and love of trying new things. We took a walk out to Mill Road (also very under-known and underrated) and somewhere near Anglia Ruskin turned off onto a side road to find this tiny authentic Chinese restaurant. The dumpling plates were large, fresh, cheap, and it was really nice to get away from the usual beat of the main city.
Aromi is almost always busy, but it's 100% worth the wait. Their Sicilian sandwiches are always grilled fresh, and this one with cheese and mushrooms is one of my favourites, either to eat in the cafe or to take out and sit by the river. They have lovely little desserts, and they're known for their coffee and gelato, both of which I have yet to try.
My friend is a total foodie, but she vouched for the Chinese restaurant's hot pork dumplings.
The second pizza my friend and I devoured was the rustica primavera: goat's cheese, aubergine, artichoke, peppers, olives, mozzarella, balsamic tomatoes, super green pesto & rocket on wholemeal, white and spelt base.
A simple curry of tomatoes, spices, vegetarian meat, cauliflower and broccoli – not pretty, but super flavourful.
After a long day of walking and organising everything for moving in, there's nothing quite like a warm English pub and a hearty burger with your mum. I want to go back to try out their riverside balcony with blankets and a nice drink.
When my homemade peanut butter finished I bought this big jar and it became one of my favourite things ever. Between rowing snacks, breakfasts, smoothies, topped on banana, oat crackers, ryvita or apple, I polished off the whole jar myself:p
Rice and dal will never be the same as at home, but it's a start. Paired with a bit of a Modern Family dinner break, it's good enough for me.
Jamie's Pizzeria can't not feature: I first went there with my mum when we came for my interview, and it's been a favourite ever since. The ambience is perfect, the service is great, and everything I've tried has been a delight – they even managed to convert me to loving tiramisu and garlic bread.
Tucked away off a market side street and largely known for being a favourite stop for drunk food when people stumble out of the clubs, Gardenia's is so much more than that. Their portions are hearty, authentic Greek food, and just what you need when you want a pick-me-up. This veggie special burger was absolutely loaded with feta, but felt amazing given the blistering cold that night. It's one of the few easy places that stays open past 7 and my friend from France and I enjoyed a big meal of dolmas and kebabs the night she arrived. They're also super friendly and welcoming, and after a stressful work day a bunch of us had a nice long dinner there to unwind.
Grilled courgette and kale, quinoa, and a light chickpea curry.
After all our exams were done, my Education and French friends and I treated ourselves to 4 big slices of cake at Benet's, and freedom couldn't have felt better.
Work can stressful, the weather can be awful, and missing home can get you down when it's the last thing you need. But the comfort of cooking, going out to eat with friends – whether it's a stroll to the market, a long dinner out, or a food party in college – and even just grocery shopping together lets you relax for a while and enjoy the little things in life, and I can't wait for more.
New Year, New dessert obsession...
There is the old favourite banana bread, the comforting corn muffins, the foolproof chocolate chip cookies, and then there is this tart. Or cake. Or cheesecake. Or whatever. It's heavenly.
Every now and then we try a new decadent, different dessert, and this is without doubt one of my new favourites. (Of course, trust Tim from Lottie and Doof to find and post the loveliest, most unique recipe.) The crust and biscuit topping are delicious enough to just make a batch of them to eat alone, which I'm highly tempted to do. The tart itself is light but rich, creamy but textured, enough to satisfy you but so good that you crave more anyway.
And of course, it's beautifully photogenic.
Do not wait for New Year's Eve again – get your favourite people round (people with whom you don't mind sharing, because your instinct will tell you to hog this), get into the kitchen, and make this as soon as possible.
"Now bring us some figgy compote and a cup of good cheer"
Home, home, home, home, home, I couldn't be happier to be home. University is exciting and interesting and the people are absolutely wonderful, but loving one thing and missing another aren't mutually exclusive. I've been loving the simplest of things: sitting in my living room and talking with my family, simply being with my boyfriend and catching up on everything we love, baking elaborate desserts and just chopping ingredients for my mum, sports with my dad, my sister's stories, walking our to my favourite neighbourhoods, eating brilliant food, and the absolutely perfect December weather (26º, breeze and sunshine, anyone?).
The house has been rolling along on a cheerful stream of cookies, cakes, muffins, fruit, and favourite dishes. Last weekend my family made corn muffins, gingerbread cookies and fig compote, and the food gods conspired to make them all go beautifully together. I have had corn muffins with dollops of different jams and my mum's compote (not too sweet, gorgeously coloured and silky smooth), and I've loved spreading it on gingerbread cookies all week. The smell of the gingerbread spice was divine, and there's something wonderfully childlike about the excitement you feel picking shapes, rolling and re-rolling the dough, cutting the cookies, having some warm with your coffee and others smeared with icing.
These are the kinds of things I miss so much when I'm away, and why I was counting down every day until the holidays. My friend and I were sitting one night complaining about all the work we had to do, when he stopped and said,"a few months ago we would have given absolutely anything to be here, and here we are." It's so true – I have difficult essays to write, but I am lucky to have an education; I miss my parents' cooking and Bombay food, but I never have to go hungry; I complain about the miserable weather but I have clean clothes and a warm room to go back to every night.
It feels as though I have not seen as much devastation and destruction as I have over the past year, from migration to floods, landslides to crashes, terrorist attacks to earthquakes, and this Christmas/Sinterklaas/New Year/One-Month-from-Diwali I feel more aware and grateful than ever for where I am right now.