Tuesday, 28 July 2009

All by ourselves


We grew that. All by ourselves! I know earlier this year we had radishes, and last year we got two little tomatoes, so this doesn't technically count as our first harvest from the North London Garden. But it feels like it is, because this is more than a mouthful, this is enough for a meal, a meal made from a courgette picked just moments before cooking, from a pot in our back garden.

I feel so immensely proud. Last year we lost all nine of our courgette and squash plants to disease. This year, we seem to have prevailed, and are finally beginning to see the fruits (or rather the vegetables) of our labour.

My biggest problem after picking the courgette was knowing what to do with it. We have tonnes of courgette recipes. Being veggie they are a large part of our diet. The problem was that I wanted to make a dish with our not-so-little beauty as the star of the show.

In the end I settled for a puff pastry tart. My Mum and I discovered this concept in a restaurant years ago, and have been using it ever since. It's such a basic idea, but it's so effective.

You roll out puff pastry into a rectangle or square (or any shape you like really), and then place vegetables on top, sprinkle with a little cheese, dab the edges of the pastry with milk, and cook at 190C until the pastry edges are brown and puffed up. Simple, yet oh-so good. We have many variations of the recipe. I believe my Mum does it with roasted veg and lashings of cheddar, I often forgo the roasting, and add parmesan, basil and balsamic vinegar. However you do it, it really allows the vegetables to hold their own against a flaky puffy indulgent background.

This time I sliced the courgette really thin (note to self (I must invest in a mandolin, it would make things so much easier and faster) and layered them prettily on the pastry base. I then place little cherry tomatoes in between the rows. Over this I sprinkled a very light helping of Swiss cheese and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Off it went into the oven, and out came this:

It was so nice. I can't believe how amazing the courgette tasted. It just goes to prove how much better home-grown is.

I can't wait until our tomatoes and beans start fruiting!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

It's all over...for now.

I'm done, and done in really. I had my final day on the stall on Thursday, and now it's all over. It's a strange feeling. As I packed everything up on Thursday night and hoiked it into an awaiting taxi (just before the heavens opened and dumped half the north sea on London) I couldn't really work out how I felt about it all.

I still don't know how I feel really. It felt so good to be back working on a market, and even better when the nice comments about the product really were about my product. But at the same time I was relieved that I no longer had to spend any and every but of spare time making jam or granola, or cakes, or sticking labels on things.

One thing I do know. I'm exhausted. I've spent three weeks not being able to stop. Even when I did manage to find a spare minute that had relaxing potential I discovered something inside me that wouldn't let me calm down. Even N, who is used to my manic-ness got a bit worried about me. As a result the last three weeks have been unbelievably productive, and taken a huge toll. Suddenly this weekend my body gave in, and it doesn't seem to want to relinquish it's new-found power over my will to do things, especially anything involving the oven or stove.

I'm sure I should pay attention and accept that I should be lying in bed or on the sofa groaning softly and recouping. But oh no, there's a new project that must be done...

...I'm making a wedding cake!

Monday, 13 July 2009

The great British summer.

I have a confession to make. I've never barbecued. I've been to a few (though not that many considering how we Brits love any excuse to don an apron al fresco), but have never actually taken it upon myself to stoke the coals.

Now some of this reluctance might have had something to do with never really having had a garden (except briefly during my final year of undergrad, but all I remember of the garden that summer was the loud rave music coming from the strange neighbours and the endless task of attempting to memorise the finer details of 18 Shakes
peare plays - not much room for flipping veggie burgers as you can probably imagine), however, we did have a garden last year, and even a few sunny days (though it seemed more like sunny half hours to be honest) and yet the snail-infested barbecue was left to its own pestilent devices and the disposable grills never graced our decking.

Until now!

Yep, we finally broke and decided that barbecue time had rolled around. It'd been a tense day
of cricket watching (frankly, all days being an England fan are tense due to our remarkable ability to invent a sport and immediately become rubbish at it) and the Pimms had been flowing, and suddenly I get the bright idea to hunt out a disposable grill that a friend had donated, fire it up and whack on the veggie sausages, halloumi and courgettes.It was of course thoroughly overcast and blowing a gale, true British barbecue weather, but hey! that's what it's all about, and didn't detract from tasty veggies on grilled bread smothered with homemade ketchup.We've got three grills left. It's going to be a tasty summer...

Friday, 10 July 2009

Here I go again!

Glutton for punishment that I am, I took on not only one week on Covent Garden Real Food Market, but three! All this in the few weeks when I have a chapter deadline looming. Yes, it seemed like a good idea at the time.Anyway, somehow I am managing - just about - to hold everything together, and so yesterday I lugged my trolley, backpack and huge Farmer's market shoulder bag on the rush hour tube and just about managed to make it to Covent Garden, both on time and intact. I must have been quite a sight dragging my stuff around. A fundamental flaw in my business plan is the fact that I don't drive! Oops!
So by the time I arrived I was already exhausted and I hadn't even set out the stall, let alone stood behind it for eleven hours. This time I remembered to charge my little point-and-shoot camera, and couldn't resist having it tucked in my bag so I could share some pictures with you.

After last weeks mild disaster with the baked stuff not selling I did a lot of thinking and decided that making stuff I thought was a winner in hot weather had actually put me at a disadvantage. It didn't show off my skills at all, as I think lots of people were looking at the stuff and thinking "well I can make cookies and scones" and not bothering.
This week I decided to completely change the approach. I made things I really like making, things I think look great and taste great, and things that if they didn't sell, would frankly be gobbled up once they got home, rather than making the trip into the depths of the freezer. I hope that this stuff would show off my skills a bit more too, and be a bit more impressive. Oh, and it would be cooler, so hopefully people would be hungry.

On top of this approach, I made more of the best sellers from last week (the white chocolate and macadamia nut cookies and the two granola's) and topped up my jam and chutney displays. All in all I might have been exhausted when I arrived, but I was feeling pretty psyched about the day, and aiming to try and sell out.
Of course, things never turn out the way you would hope.

I thought that the comfortable temperatures and spattering of sunshine would bring out droves of people to the market, alas this was not the case, and the day started reeeeeaaaaallllllly slowly. I barely sold anything in the first few hours, and even the supply of wine from my amazing friends on the stall next to me was doing little to lift my spirits. I have to admit that at one point I even got a little teary and pondered why on earth I was doing this whole thing, and what was I thinking trying to start a business when I'm clearly not good enough. These thoughts weren't helped by the lady who tasted one of the jams, pronouced it "alright" and flounced off, or the lady who tasted a different jam and said "oh, it's very sweet and sugary" (it's jam people, fruit preserved in SUGAR?!). So yes, things were not going all that well.However, things did slowly pick up, and although this week my jams and chutneys didn't sell as well (I partly put this down to being sold out of my most popular chutney the previous week), I did almost sell out of all the baked goods, with only a few fruit tarts left over at the end of the day (which were very successfully traded for some very delicious looking food from other people).

This week truly has showed me that Covent Garden is a strange market indeed. My knowledge of markets is based on specialist food markets, and my products bear that in mind. However, Covent Garden isn't usually occupied by foodie stuff, and so the crowd just isn't the same. Well, that's the verdict of myself and several other traders I spoke to.

So yes, perhaps it isn't that my stuff isn't good enough, perhaps it's just not in the right place, perhaps my takings (which haven't been as high as hoped for) are actually pretty good. We shall see. I have one more week, and after some very nice and supportive hugs from N (who came down after work, kept me sane for the last hour helping me sell, packed down with me, and then even dragged the trolley home after a few too many post-work pints) I've decided that I'm going to go all out. I'm going to bake lots and lots of stuff, and make more jams and chutney and hopefully it'll be a bonanza week.

Plus, there is a huge food event going on in Covent Garden next week, someone is making a giant cupcake at lunchtime, so who know, the place might be packed with food loving (jam buying) people!

Fingers crossed I can go out with a bang, and if you fancy a taste of the world's largest cupcake, or some baked stuff from moi, please pop down and say hello.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Back on the horse

I love summer. Okay, it doesn't have the crisp bright mornings of autumn, or the cosy evenings of winter, or the fresh new smells of spring. But it does have sunshine (no really, this year England seems to have remembered what summer is all about and conjoured up some proper hot sunshine!) and with that sunshine comes flowers, and after flowers, fruit!

Although the berries in our garden don't seem to be thriving (I'm not sure why, I clearly need to do some more reading up on the matter) the farmer's market has been packed with bright jewels

I can't tell you how excited I was when I spotted the above. Loganberries! I'd never actually seen a loganberry in real life until this morning, I'd only seen photos and eaten them in jam. My favourite jam ever in fact. Loganberries are like raspberries, but larger, sharper and richer, they make the most divine jam, and I wanted me some of that.

I know, just last week I was complaining at how much jam I had to make and how ridiculous a project preserving is in such hot weather. Well, today I got right back on the horse. I had to, these red babies just called out to be potted for later in the year. The loganberry season is notoriously short and by the time we'd dragged ourselves out of bed and to the farmer's market there were only two punnets left. I pounced on them and couldn't give the man the cash fast enough!

I wasn't sure at that point what I was going to do with them, I just knew they had to be mine. I pondered a fool, or tarts topped with them, or even a compote. But having removed all the stalks I weighed the results and had almost a pound, just enough to produce two little jars of jam.

So now, I can put these pots of goodness away until the winter, and then indulge and be smug that I finally managed to snatch some up for my very own in the summer.

See, no matter how hot or hard the days, I can't be kept out of the kitchen! And don't worry, I have a lovely plan for those gooseberries, which will be coming soon.

Loganberry Jam: Makes 1 2/3 lbs.

450g loganberries (after the stalks have been removed and the berries washed and patted dry)
450g sugar
squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Place the berries in a large pan with the squeeze of lemon juice (this is not for set, as loganberries set really well, I use it for a hint of extra tartness and stop the jam being too sweet), cook over a low heat until the juices are released and the berries become tender. Add the sugar and stir until it has completely dissolved. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly until set (this will probably occur very quickly). Pour into hot sterilised jars and seal.

The jam should keep for a year, but refridgerate after opening.

Friday, 3 July 2009


I am so exhausted. I didn't drag my aching body out of bed until past midday and have spent most of the day on the sofa blurry eyed attempting to edit a chapter, or keep my concentration up for longer than a few minutes. I'd forgotten just what hard work it is standing up all day. I don't remember it being quite so tiring when I was at Borough. Then again, when I worked that market I hadn't spent the week beforehand putting in long days baking, preserving, designing business cards, labels and obsessing over stall layouts.

I don't think the heat helped much either!

Who's idea was it to make it the hottest day of the year when I had to stand up for eleven hours trying to sell homemade products to overheated tourists?!

Another bad picture as I didn't want to risk my camera at the market, but you get the idea of what my little stall looked like. I was expecting a double pitch and had planned the amount of stock I had accordingly, so I was a little disappointed to discover I only had one table to squeeze things onto. However, I did the best I could. I think.

The whole thing was such a learning curve, and the heat probably made the day a little unusual, but I feel like I've learnt so much. Overall I was pleased with the experience, but disappointed with the result. I know that must sound strange, but I'll explain. The response from people was wonderful, everyone was really interested in my flavour pairing, and encouraging about me trying to kick-start the From a North London Kitchen empire. Also, I couldn't believe how many people came down to show support, not only my friends (friends I hadn't seen for years who took time out of their precious lunch hours to keep me company, or friends who walked all the way from north london just to visit for half an hour, or friends who took tubes from work just to stop by) but also people from the blogging world, and the UK food bloggers association. It comfirmed what I already knew, that you lot out there are an amazing supportive bunch.

I got to meet the lovely lady of Green Ink (who was wearing the most fabulous green summer dress *want*), and soon after Julia of A Slice of Cherry Pie and Kavey of Kavey Eats bumped into each other in front of the stall. Their smiles and enthusiasm got me through the final hours, and Julia took what I'm sure are some very embarrassing photos, which she's promised to share in the next week or so. Oh dear!

I also caught up with some friends from Borough (who even let me store my leftover stock in their premises until next week, saving me a cab ride that would have left me with virtually no cash after a hard days work), and made some new ones, reminding me of the great camaraderie of the market, something that make the hard days worth it.

But, the actual selling didn't go as well as I'd hoped. The preserves went well, which is great, but the baked stuff just wasn't going. Frankly, I don't blame people as it was so unbelievably hot in the piazza that I didn't touch a bite all day and the last thing I would have wanted would have been baked stuff. However, I had spent almost fourteen hours the day before making as much as possible in fear of running out of stock and not being able to fill the space, and so going home having sold only a sixth of it was somewhat demoralising.

I'm hoping that next week it'll be cooler and people will be in the mood for some tasty goodies (well, I think they're tasty). I did speak to another trader who I know from Borough who said she just couldn't figure Covent Garden out, no week has yielded anything expected. Something that was nice to know.

So yes, there it is. A real mixed bag. I'm glad I'm doing more than one week, because I think if yesterday had been it I might have been ready to quit the whole stupid idea of starting a company. As it happens, I got enough positive feedback about my preserves, and enough people interested in my business cards, that I shall push on, try new things, and do it all over again with excitement and anticipation for the second go.

I'm mad aren't I?!