I’ve been reviewing stuff here since the early days of the blog in some shape or form. Usually stuff rather than eating out experiences, there are plenty of people doing eating out reviews way better than I ever could hope to. I’ve also done mini reviews on both of my posterous blogs.
Sometimes the stuff I review has been sent to me for free, sometimes I’ve paid for it with hard cash, sometimes its been an exchange or barter of a truly old fashioned type – some of my help in return for food.
Just as I don’t review every single thing I buy I don’t review everything I get sent.
But somewhere along the line I thought it might be fun to have a rating system for the reviews.
So today I bring you…. (drumroll, trumpet fanfare)…..
…..Oh yes its…the…..
goodshoeday ‘shoe’ rating system (TM) ….gsdR(TM) for short
The reviews will be totally honest and the rating will be a genuine reflection of what I think but its also a little bit of fun, shoes instead of stars.
Ah yes, another break in the blogging flow. It been nearly four weeks since I posted here and that was after a gap of nearly two weeks. I don’t know how some people manage to keep such a regular flow of posts going. Sometimes the inspiration comes in huge chunks sometimes not, and when it doesn’t well there is no deadline to make you file on time.
I have been doing a few things elsewhere…like over on my various posterous sites where I’ve been posting food and non-food related snippets and also splitting the food and none food into two separate sites.
Take a look here for food stuff:
And here for other not so foodie stuff:
I also wrote a guest piece for the world famous Where’s my Pork Chop? blog run by Danny at Food Urchin all about well food and the internet:
And of course I did my regular piece for Francoise Murat’s newsletter which you can find here but I’ll be posting the full post on the blog too soon.
And finally there’s another guest piece on another blog that will be popping up soon, I’ll let you know when it does.
So I haven’t been sitting round doing nothing, honest!
Even after a year on Twitter I still find the connections you make amazing and surreal at the same time. I guess its true of any kind of networking that if you put effort in and talk to people then you’ll have some great opportunities present themselves. I’ve meet a whole lot of fascinating people, some I’ve only talked to on Twitter so far but plenty I’ve met in the ‘real’ world as well. So I’ll be carrying on tweeting (and other online networking) and hoping to meet more.
One opportunity that came up recently was the chance to write articles somewhere other than here on my blog. I was thrilled. I don’t think I really thought about why I started my blog in January 2009, I just did. Well that’s not quite true a very good friend and (ex)colleague said over lunch:
‘If you say one more time that you want to do something with your love of food and don’t do anything about it I’ll dump you as a mate.’
I kind of hope he wouldn’t have dumped me but it did spur me into action, well at least to writing the blog and then other things unfolded from there. I have to say that writing for others wasn’t particularly on my list of places it might take me, so it was nice to have someone think my writing was what they needed for their newsletter that goes to 6000 people every two weeks. I’m sharing the writing with Helen from A Forkful of Spaghetti, we’ll be trying to alternate each newsletter so that the readers get a different outlook. We’ll be talking about what’s in season and trying to highlight the best of local British produce, things very dear to my heart when it comes to food.
So without further ado I’d like to say a big big shout for Francoise Murat for asking me to contribute to her company’s newsletters. Its very nice to see my writing sitting alongside articles about garden and interior design, two things I love but rarely touch on here, after all this is all about the food.
I’ll post each piece on the blog close to when it goes out but if you like gardens and interiors then you should at the very least take a look at Francoise’s website and follow her on Twitter.
I don’t particulary recall eating macaroni cheese as a child not from a Heinz tin, not lovingly made by mother or grandmother, its simply not a dish that springs to mind as something we ate often. I don’t know why. So when Fiona Beckett started the idea of the ultimate mac n’ cheese (as our friends in the US of A call it) I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to create my own version. Fiona’s competition started out simple and then got lots of categories (best this, best that, best other and so on) and I toyed with the artisanal cheese category for quite sometime knowing which cheese I would choose. And then Fiona announced the prizes and my mind was made up I had to have the Emma Bridgewater macaroni cheese dish come what may. So my entry is for the most original recipe.
Starting with my artisanal cheese idea and then spooling it out into the dish my mother or grandmother could have made I decide this had to be a dish based in the foods of Lancashire (well apart from the macaroni of course). I played with adding things like vimto or tizer, might they be secret umami giving ingredients, unlikely, so they were consigned to the ‘too original’ slot. Some researching in Laura Mason and Catherine Brown’s Traditional Foods of Britain (if you don’t have this book and you love British food just get it) led me to two possibilities: potted shrimps or bury black pudding. A tough one a really tough one. So I flipped a coin and it came down on the side of the black pudding.
Here’s what I did (its in old measures in honour of my Grandma):
Ingredients (for 2 hungry people):
1 bury black pudding (the sort in a hoop shape and of about 1” diameter)
3-4 oz dried macaroni each – depending on your greed
¾ pint full fat milk
1 oz flour
1 oz butter and some for frying
4 oz Sandhams Tasty Lancashire cheese*
2 oz Booths** Special Reserve Tasty Lancashire Cheese*, grated/crumbled
pre heat oven to R4/180C
Cook the macaroni in boiling lightly salted water as per the instructions on your packet (mine said 8 minutes). When cooked drain and keep on one side.
Slices the black pudding into ½” rounds and fry quickly on either side in a small amount of butter. You are aiming for the outside to be crispy and the middle still soft. Removes the skin from the pudding and crumble the slices.
Make a white sauce of a thickish consistency (between coating and panada) using the ‘all in one’ method. So put the flour, milk and butter in a pan and heat gently stirring continouosly until it thickens. Add the 4oz of Sandhams Tasty Lancashire cheese and season to taste.
Toss the crumbled black pudding in with the cooked macaroni, stir in the cheese sauce. Tip it all in the buttered dish.
Sprinkle with the 2oz of Booths Special Reserve Tasty Lancashire.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
Eat and dream of Lancashire.
* If you don’t know that there’s more than 1 version of real Lancashire cheese then watch out for my tasting of seven types coming soon. I’ve picked these two examples because like all Lancashire they melt beautifully and because they differ in strength, the Sandhams is slighty milder (but still with a good tang) the Booths** has a strong tasty Lancs hit.
** Booths is a small supermarket chain based in the North West of England. If all supermarkets were like Booths it would be a good thing.
Go on admit it. You did, didn’t you? Yes really you did. I know you did. What? Missed me, of course. That’s nice. Its nice to know someone spotted I wasn’t around. Cared what I have to say. Missed my amazing blog posts. Oh you didn’t. Right. Surely you did. Well I missed you at any rate. Is that enough or do I have to apologise as well. Okay I know I was absent without leave so to speak. But you know sometimes these things happen. What, you don’t just want an apology you want to know what I was up to as well. What every last minute of the 36 days I was gone for? You sure you won’t get bored, after all it might not be that exciting might it. Or you might find out something you don’t want to know or…..
Well okay here you go….
Blogging is a curious thing and I’m sure we all have ideas when we set out blogging about how often we want to blog and the kinds of things we want to talk about and then some kind of reality hits us. Blogging is quite time consuming. To write a reasonable post of any length takes time and a certain amount of care. That’s not say its not fun but sometimes the ideas dry up or more often there are so many ideas and not enough hours in the day to write about them all. So those well laid intentions go a bit skew wiff and sometimes the blogging just has to take a back seat to the rest of the stuff.
So for 36 days the blogging took a back seat – well probably worse than a back seat, more a didn’t really get a spot in the car and stayed at home sulking seat but anyway. It was definitely a case of too many ideas and not enough time. I already had a huge backlog of things I wanted to talk about and then a whole bunch of deadlines kind of came rushing up close together.
For the record here are some of the things I got up to:
I took 20 trips to the supermarket, 4 ocado deliveries and 2 trips to the farm shop. Yes really. I’ve embraced the idea of regular day-to-day food shopping I’ve just failed so far to translate it properly into local, artisanal, whatever, whatever.
I ate three meals every day, many based around cheese and pickles; twenty of them in cafes or restaurants. None of them at my desk.
I went on a photography workshop at Scandinavian Kitchen with a whole load of other food bloggers and tried to concentrate on learning about good composition. This was not that easy with Food Urchin chomping on hotdogs in the background.
I immersed my self in data. I thought. I analysed. I described. I drew funny spider diagram thingies. I went off on tangents only to return by another route. I read more social science theory than is good for one person in a week. And then wrote 5000 words of my dissertation. Fortunately its all about twitter and food and blogging, how handy ;0
I went to a wonderful gin cocktail evening at the Dorchester with the very lovely Sipsmith’s maker of fabulous gin. I compared notes about making flavoured vodkas at home with cocktail and spirits maestro Jared Brown. I now have a whole new batch of gins and vodkas to get on the go and a dangerous desire for a still.
I did two sets of financial statements for clients. And three VAT returns. It’s a good job they are truly lovely clients. I don’t do that just for anyone.
I went and had my hair cropped sort of a la Winona Ryder. It must have worked I’ve been asked for my autograph several times in the street.
I celebrated 3 birthdays with people, one of them my own.
I blagged and blagged for goody bags. I ferried the entire contents of Sainsbury’s dairy dept from Scandilicious flat to Hawksmoor. I stuffed goody bags. I went on the hunt for missing ingredients. I served food. I worked on the pass. I dried dishes. I handed out goody bags. I made donor lists. YES I was part of the wonderful Blaggers Banquet.
I spent 3 days in the Marriot Northampton with 15 lawyers. I tried to get them to understand what blogging was. And Facebook. And LinkedIn. And Flickr. And Twitter. And why it was important to have worked out how they would or wouldn’t use it and why. I think they understood.
I allowed myself 2 weekends of R+R in the lovely Suffolk countryside. I ate. I picked sloes and rosehips. I ate some more. I brought back bootfuls (that’s car bootfuls not any other kind of boot) of some of my favourite Suffolk foods. Pinneys. Purely Pesto. Lane Farm/Suffolk Salami. Maple Farm eggs. Peakhill farm veg. And on. And on. (Please see the side bar for links to some of these).
I went to a wonderful cooking with tea workshop run by Teanamu.
I slept, sometimes.
And amongst all that work levels started to pick up with more new jobs coming in, more marketing opportunities and more interest. Lots of really exciting possibilities. Starting up a business a few months before the recession has been an interesting ride but being your own boss is wonderful. Even if it means blogging has to stop now and then you still have the freedom to juggle how each day looks and that is priceless.
I’ll be blogging some of the things I got up to separately (I hope), especially the 20 trips to the supermarket, and also plenty of other things. The blogging isn’t going to stop this was just a temporary hiatus.
Last night I attended an event affectionately known on Twitter as #BPRSummit. Sounds really high powered and like it could be about trying to fix a major world issue such as climate change or war or something? Whilst it wasn’t quite as serious as all that it was about trying to get the food blogging community and food PR’s to have a discussion about how they might or might not work together going forward instead of randomly (and often justifiably) slinging mud as has happened a fair bit of late.
The event was conceived and organised by Sarah of Spoon PR and Tim Hayward of The Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog and Tim did a call to arms last week outlining some of the problems that have arisen: food bloggers being referred to as food blaggers, talk of a ‘code of ethics’ raising hackles and some food PRs running woeful campaigns and alienating bloggers. So it was that a group of bloggers and PRs met at the Rubens Hotel near Victoria to thrash things out.
A few of us bloggers met first at a nearby pub and spent half an hour mulling over what the evening would hold, would it be a useful and helpful discussion or would it turn into an almighty spat. At 6.30pm (BST) we duly wandered over to the hotel to find out. Here we were directed to one of the conference rooms where we were greeted by Sarah and badged up (red for bloggers, blue for PRs).
In the spirit of all good summits we had a panel of expert speakers to kick things off and then we would move to an open Q&A. Tim (as quizmaster/chair) got the ball rolling with a brief round of introductions and thanks. Then the serious work began.
First up we heard from Kelly, Jacob & Adam of Luchford APM who act for the likes of Daylesford Organics (although Luchford don’t only work with food companies). They explained a little bit about how they work and suggested that for PRs to work well with bloggers there is going to need to be trust on both sides. They seemed keen to understand what bloggers do or don’t want from PRs, food companies and restaurants and also how they approach blogging.
Then it was the turn of Anthony of Silverbrow on Food who explained his motivation for blogging (personal enjoyment) and some good and bad PR experiences he’d had:
bad = an approach to review bacon when his blog is strictly about kosher food – oh dear!
good = Starbucks PR convincing him to try their new instant coffee despite him regularly being openly dismissive of Starbucks.
The difference being all about how the PR approached him and the fact they either clearly had or hadn’t done their background research on what his blog is about. A straightforward lesson maybe, but one that the subsequent comments from bloggers on the floor demonstrated still needs to be learnt by many PRs.
Next it was on to Sarah of Spoon PR, a much smaller operation than Luchford, a different approach and an equally impressive client list (e.g. Petersham Nurseries). Sarah explained that she only works with food companies because that’s what she’s passionate about. Its obvious she’s already very tech savvy but she was also very clear that she wants to learn how bloggers work and how they want to work with PRs.
And finally on the panel another food blogger, Oliver Thring from Thring for your Supper. He echoed much of what Anthony had said and emphasised the fact that bloggers want to be taken seriously by PRs i.e. not treated as some amorphous mass of cheap resource to be ‘spam’ mailed but instead individual relationships should be forged.
And then to the floor. Rather than questions it was more a case of people throwing in their thoughts on the overall relationship that needed to be built or adding their comments on how the world looked from where they stood either as blogger or PR. I’d say the PR’s got a bit more of the airtime that the bloogers…but I think we all learnt a fair bit, bloggers and PRs alike.
The discussion threw up the following points:
many clients of the PRs are resistant to being involved in blogger events because of the bad press surrounding a minority of bloggers
the PRs seemed genuinely keen to engage properly with bloggers to the mutual benefit of both sides
the bloggers want to be treated properly not as spam fodder
both sides always need to be clear what ‘the deal’ is for any particular PR/blogger activity
events during the working day aren’t going to get much response as most bloggers have day jobs
lots of bloggers talking about the same product or event or restaurant at the same time makes for less interesting reading perhaps PR’s should phase any campaign
some bloggers feel that approaches direct from company and restaurant owners are better than from a PR company
some bloggers are never going to accept ‘freebies’ its not what they do
Overall the event was a good way to start bloggers and PR’s engaging with each other but there’s much debate still to be had. The issue of ethics and a blogging code didn’t really get aired and there were few traditional journalists there to put forward their views or concerns.
And then, as if set as a test, the bloggers were told there were goodie bags to take home….now then who didn’t blag one eh??
Last week I took part in Dan of Food Urchin’s dinner blogging challenge (called ‘Where’s my pork chop?’). Basically I cooked him some dinner and in return I got, well these:
There’s loads of potatoes, beans and courgettes hiding under the kale
I’m going to be blogging what I cooked for Dan in a separate post so check back for that in the next few days. Here I want to tell you some of what I’ve done with the veg so far.
Dan had been down to his allotment bright and early on the day of the swap and picked me a selection of goodies in their prime. In the bag were charlotte potatoes, curly kale, green (French) beans, courgettes and COURGETTE FLOWERS ?. I’d been hoping for some of the latter as I’ve only tried them once before and they aren’t that easy to buy. We’ve tried to grow our own courgettes this year but we aren’t having much success so far (the first lot of seeds didn’t germinate) so I was particularly delighted with the flowers.
Of course as everything had been picked only a few hours before I took the picture above the veg were absolutely bouncing with freshness. I was pretty pleased with my haul and it really demonstrated how lovely and fresh veg can be when their distance from the ground to the kitchen is short. I now have allotment envy.
So what I have I done with the veg so far?
Well as recommended by Dan I did some of the kale with oil and chilli. I actually steamed it first then gave it a quick sauté in rapeseed oil and chilli flakes. It was really good, the kale still had a little bit of crunch to it and the chilli complemented the slight bitterness that is inherent in brassicas like kale. I’ll definitely try it like this again and venture out into varying the spice choice as well.
The potatoes are just brilliant. One of my gripes about potatoes is that its not that easy to get ones that taste of anything much but when you do WOW instead of thinking potatoes taste kind of bland and nothingy you realise they have an earthy sweetness all of their own. Dan’s potatoes hit the mark on this – I assume its because they were straight from the ground. So far we’ve had them simply boiled and also crushed and cooked with some onion. Yum.
The beans and the courgettes we’ve steamed and tossed in a little oil or butter – again when things are this fresh they can shine on their own. And the flowers?
Well searching in cookbooks, on the internet and tweeting all seemed to point to stuffing the flowers, dipping in a tempura batter and deep-frying. Hmmmmm. I’ve never deep-fried anything; I don’t own a deep fat fryer, I too vividly recall close calls with chips pans in the 1970s (and that safety advert they used to run) to suddenly think that deep-frying them is the way to go. I also don’t want to experiment with a new technique on my precious courgette flowers – imagine if it goes wrong…..after a bit more thinking and searching I decide to just have them fresh and perky as they are in a salad but I do go with the flavours that many of the deep fried recipes suggest i.e. fresh soft cheese and herbs.
I simply tore the flowers and tossed them with the rest of the salad (rocket, basil, lollo rosso, tomato, cucumber) before adding some of my favourite Buxlow Wonmil cheese and drizzling with a little oil. The flowers aren’t particularly strong in flavour but they add a both a different colour and texture to the salad. They are curiously soft yet slightly crunchy at the same time and a good addition. I guess if I get more flowers I might dare to experiment with deep-frying but for now I’m happy I stuck to adding my flowers to a salad. (Dan – more flowers please….)!