Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

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I count myself lucky that I grew up in a family interested in museums, in a country where the major ones are free. I’ve seen a fair number around the south of England, but my favourite by a long way is Oxford’s Pitt Rivers collection. The first, large, open room is the natural history museum. A vast, pointed sperm whale jaw greets you at the entrance, pointing you onward.

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Here we see Newton contemplating how the hell this this arrived at this feet…

Science old and new sit side-by-side. The room is sort of a jumble of different things, somehow encapsulating so much in relatively little space. The museum sent me back to the excitement I felt as a child again. Some exhibits made me want to head straight back to university to learn. Others made me lust to wander the world. But, lovely as this room is, follow it through to the back and you will find yourself in the original Pitt Rivers’ collection.

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My sister compared it to the room of requirements. And speaking of Harry Potter, recognise this..?

The real head, alongside two…ummm…friends, can be found in cases among the farrago. The whole place makes my skin crawl with horror and delight simultaneously. Each case, cabinet and container is sorted by theme rather than time or place, illuminating cross-cultural links as well as differences. It is easy to think that horrors such as shrunken heads come from some primitive world but in a draw somewhere on the first floor I discovered a little box containing simply the tip of a human tongue. It was beautifully labelled with where it had been collected, that place just so happened to be my hometown in rural southern England…

The room is beauty and horror intermingled, with intricate ivory carvings, capes made of bird feathers or beads and a hundred other, unimaginable wonders alike. I cannot begin to guess at the lifetimes of work which produced all we saw.

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Of course, all of this is set in the wonderful city of Oxford. The broad stone streets, spiraling with ivy, are pretty much an idealised English city. With the general buzz of students and tourists, the town seems to give off a contented hum of life, with something beautiful around every corner.

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And my family being as we are, we had include food in our trip. We stopped by Greens, a wonderfully friendly little cafe, catering to vegan and gluten-free needs as well as the omnivores among us. We took a seat upstairs by an open window to watch the wind play with the leaves of the trees outside and marvel at the good English weather, while we tucked into roast beef and stilton, gluten free tofu-scramble sandwiches, and tomato and lentil soup, and the delectable array of home-baked goodies.

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CSC_0073 A beautiful day in a beautiful city – well worth a visit. The Pitt Rivers is truly a unique experience but the city holds something for everyone.

Chocolate and coconut polenta cake (gluten and dairy free)

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For all those in the UK, the Great British Bake off is back! It’s off with as much drama and scandal as a show about middle-class British people baking can have (I’m not knocking it, I love this show!) So, in celebration, I baked a cake that I could actually eat eat: enter the polenta cake…

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Ingredients
300ml coconut milk (the sort you’ll find in a can – rich, creamy and solid at room temperature)
100g polenta (in granule form – not pre-cooked)
50g brown sugar
200g dark (milk free) chocolate
1 pinch of salt
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing:
100g coconut milk (same as above)
50g soft brown sugar
50g desiccated coconut

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Method
Preheat the oven to 180°C
Heat the coconut milk, sugar, and chocolate in a pan until they have melted and combined.
Add the polenta and cook gently, stirring, for 3-4 minutes until thick.
In a bowl, separate the eggs and add the yolks to the pan along with the vanilla and salt.
Beat the egg white until frothy. Add in the bicarb and continue to beat until it forms stiff peaks.
Once the polenta is cooked, set aside to cool slightly. Spoon a little of the egg white into the polenta mix and stir through to loosen it, then add everything from the pan into the egg white and fold through with a metal spoon.
Pour the batter into two 9 inch cake tins. Bake for 30 minutes until the outside is slightly crisp.

Once the cake is completely cool, beat together all of the icing ingredients and use this to fill and top the cake. Enjoy!

It’s a bit gooey and pudding-y, part cake, part chocolate brownie. But seriously, it is good!

The Grilled Cheese

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DSC_0351Part grilled cheese, part croque madame, part rarebit, this is basically a humble love letter to all I cannot eat right now. If you’re looking for the ultimate brunch, or just a way to say I love you with food, this goes down pretty well. The ingredients are pretty traditional but the mix is novel but believe me, it’s right.

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Ingredients

Two thick slices of soft white bread
Butter
50g mozzarella
20g spicy cheddar
1 tsp Worcester sauce
1 egg
salt and pepper
20g mozzarella for top

Pre-heat the grill/broiler to maximum
Butter 1 side of each bread slice. Heat a large frying pan and place each slice of bread in, butter-side down. Cover 1 slice with the first lot of mozzarella and the other with the cheddar. Allow the cheese to melt.
Pour the Worcester sauce over one slice and remove the pan from the heat.
Just a tip: when I first cracked the egg on top, I turned away and turned back moments later to discover the yolk had slipped straight off at sat sunnily beside the sandwich so before anything, grab a piece of tinfoil and make a little cradle for the sandwich.
Next put the sandwich together and crack the egg on top. Season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella on top and place under the grill for 2-3 minutes until the egg white has cooked and the topping has melted and begun to bubble and brown.

Foodie adventures in York (low FODMAP style)

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As I talked about in my last post, I’m now on a low FODMAP diet. This can make things difficult at the best of times, particularly when out and about. York is a very foodie city, which can be lovely but it’s more of a torment for me right now. Last week, I found myself alone at home with nothing to do but await my train the following day, so I took myself out into York’s cobbled streets to see where I would find myself. The city truely feels like home now and I was happy to wander aimlessly all day, but inevitably, my stomach rules and I knew I would need nourishment.

The Shambles – perhaps the oldest and loveliest part of the city – has a wonderful daily market with fresh fruit and vegetables, a butcher’s and a fishmonger’s, as well as stands selling burgers, sandwiches and all the lunchtime staples. The main issue for me on this diet is that gluten intolerance leaves me unable to grab a sandwich while out. There is a little deli I’ve passed so many times, tucked away in the market but what I had not noticed before was the menu outside; they sell salads and sandwiches to take away. I ordered a salad pot, which included basic salad topped with a choice of 2 side salads and a choice of main from anything in their stunning and extensive stunning counter, I chose – after much deliberation –IMG_20150724_131206 courgette and tomato salad, picorino peppers and their ‘famous’ crab pate (it deserves fame, I can tell you).

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IMG_20150724_131644I wandered a little more and found myself inevitably craving something sweet. The problem with low FODMAP is that so many fruit and vegetables that are not normally problematic for people become inedible. For those looking for dairy free or vegan food, there are lots of options. A vegan friend of mine took me to a gorgeous little cafe called goji which serves an amazing menu of vegetarian and vegan food (including vegan milkshakes!!). Instead, I decided to explore La Cremeria, a cute little ice cream parlour which promised dairy-free sorbet options. They had 3 sorbets on offer and I ordered 2 scoops of lemon-earl grey. I went for 2 scoops since it was only 50p more and I thought I wouldn’t get much for my £2 just getting one scoop. As usual, I underestimated the generosity of northern portions and was handed a pot overflowing with creamy delicious-ness.

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I found a bench in a relatively quiet spot behind the minster to sit and enjoy my sorbet and got into a conversation with a street sweeper on his break. I’ve been here 2 years and it still surprises me how friendly and open people in the north of England tend to be compared to those in the south. All in all, despite the clouds in the sky, I ended up having a wonderful day of good food and lovely people no further from home than my beautiful little city.

FODMAP-ing fun

Gluten free and dairy free dark chocolate macaroons!
Gluten free and dairy free dark chocolate macaroons!
Gluten free and dairy free dark chocolate macaroons!

Something I haven’t brought up here before is something I’ve been dealing with for a couple of years now, and from the sounds of it, I’m not alone. Anyone can suffer IBS, though it’s twice as common in women as in men. The causes and symptoms vary a lot, and as such, it can be very difficult to treat. So far, nothing has proven effective for helping me but most recently, I’ve been placed on a low FODMAP diet.

FODMAP: Fermentable Oligo-, Di-,Mono-saccharides And Polyols. These are short chain carbohydrates (oligosaccharides), disaccharides,monosaccharides and related alcohols that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. I’ll spare you the details but it essentially leaves me with a very restricted diet, excluding lactose and gluten.

All in all, it’s not easy to find low FODMAP recipes so to help my fellow IBS sufferers, I am going to be posting some alongside the regular stuff. But don’t get put off! They’ll still be delicious, plus lactose and gluten free!

More exciting stuff…I have an instagram! Yes, this is totally just an excuse for gratuitous foodie photos but that’s fine, right? Check it out

Nutty falafel pita (and why being vegan doesn’t need to be so hard)

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Any foodie who finds themselves in London with a rumbling stomach, head to Camden market. The area is one of the most vibrant parts of London and a must-visit for any London tourist. The stalls sell an eclectic mix of crafts, bric-a-brac, clothing and accessories. But the highlight, and of course, my favourite part is the vast mix of food stalls selling every cuisine imaginable. I just so happened to find myself there last week during a temporary vegan high, on the hunt for Cookies and Scream (vegans, you can thank me later). Unfortunately, the rest of the food market is not so vegan friendly, but I was not deterred, and quickly found myself drawn to the stands making fresh falafel. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and served in giant soft wraps with salad and chilli sauce, I could not have asked for anything more.

In honour of those beautiful wraps, the next segment of my sandwich-y adventures will be my own take on a falafel pita. Enjoy!

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For the falafel
3/4 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
40g each pistachios, pecans, cashews
1 tbsp ground almonds
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp fennel
1 tsp baking powder

Soak the chickpeas overnight, allowing to expand until you have around 1.5 cups.
The following day, preheat the oven to 200°C
Place the onion and garlic into a food processor and process until finely chopped.
Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse. The dough will come together but keep it slightly rough.
I baked the falafel to save the hassle of deep frying and with the oven on a high temperature, they will come out wonderfully crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.
Form 15 roughly tablespoon sized balls and place them on a sheet of baking parchment. Bake for 15 minutes, but turn every 5 minutes to ensure they are done evenly.

This recipe makes 5 servings of 3 falafel

For the pita
1 fresh pita bread
1 slice of aubergine – about 0.5cm thick and as long as the pita
1 tbsp greek yogurt
half a white cabbage leaf
3 homemade falafel (still warm from the oven)
1 salad tomato
a drizzle of tahini
a sprinkle of paprika
coriander for garnish

Heat a griddle pan and cook the aubergine for a few minutes on either side until softened.
Slice open the pita bread.
Spoon in the yogurt, then add the aubergine and cabbage leaf, the falafel, and sliced tomato.
Drizzle over the tahini and garnish with the paprika and coriander.
Serve warm.

PB&J French toast

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I couldn’t do a sandwich series without including a guilty pleasure of my own: peanut butter and jam sandwich. Of course, I had to do my own take on it and this baby was born. It’s less of a sandwich and more of a dessert…and oh my, what a dessert…

Any favourite sandwiches you want to see reinvented here in the future, leave a comment!

Ingredients

For the filling
half a cup strawberries (around 15) halved
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp chunky peanut butter
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt

For the toast
1 inch slice fresh white bread

For the “French”
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk

icing sugar and strawberries to decorate

Add the ingredients for the filling to a small pan and heat gently until everything is combined and the strawberries have become soft and started to break down slightly. This will take about 5 minutes.

With a sharp knife, cut along the top of the bread slice, halving it and cut down to form a pocket inside the bread, without slicing the other sides. Fill the bread with the strawberry, peanut butter mix.

In bowl large enough for the bread to lay flat, whisk together the milk and eggs. Place the slice of bread in this and leave to soak for about a minute. Turn the bread over and allow both sides to fully soak up the mixture.

Heat the butter in a large frying pan. Once it has melted fully, place the sandwich in the pan and fry for about 4 minutes on either side, until the egg is cooked and the sandwich is slightly browned.

Serve…

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Some recent and exciting news: my recipes are popping up around and about. My seedcake recipe was posted in the stunning, eloquent and unusual Ernest Journal, a relatively new publication and already a favourite of mine. Check them out!

A soup recipe from my blog will also be popping up on supermarket shelves around the UK later this year! I will tell you more nearer the time…
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Green goodness sandwich

Green goodness sandwich

I really love a good sandwich. As a lunch staple, they often become overdone, uninspired and generally dull. It makes me sad to see housemates slap a couple of pieces of ham between two slices of white bread because there’s a sort of magic in a sandwich. It’s like a contained salad: fresh veg or cooked with oozing cheese, by holding everything together in a single handful, it’s like an entire meal in each bite. Unless you’re like my dad, who part of each component onto his meal into a single forkful, resulting in an unappetising sludge, there’re few other foods where you can enjoy such a range of tastes and textures in a single mouthful. So in the next few weeks, I will offer some inspiring sandwich recipes – from healthy lunches to decadent cheese toasties – in the hopes they will encourage you to branch out with your creativity next time you need to pack lunch…

To kick it all off, we have my Green Goodness sandwich, inspired by The Bojon Gourmet’s Green Goddess sandwich.

For one sandwich…
Half a ripe avocado
1 teaspoon natural yogurt
half a teaspoon tomato puree
half a teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Pinch of salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper

2 slices of fresh walnut bread (or other bread of choice – best something earthy with seeds in!)
A handful of wild rocket
2 thin slices of bramley apple

Start by mixing the first group of ingredients into avocado mash.
Spread this on one slice of bread, top with rocket and apple and final bread slice.
Simple. Healthy. Utterly delicious.

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Green goodness ingredients

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