Thursday, 30 June 2011

Foodie Heaven

It was Eddie's birthday at the weekend, and on Friday we treated ourselves to an afternoon in foodie heaven - errr, I mean Borough Market, next to London Bridge.

Borough Market is one of London's largest food markets and has operated here for hundreds of years - perhaps even since Roman times. It opens in the early hours of every weekday morning for wholesale trade to the restaurant industry, and is open to the public for retail on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays only.

Although it is traditionally for fruit and veg - on the website it still calls itself a "wholesale fruit and vegetable market" - these days it is also packed with fine artisan foods and exotic international produce. Traders come here from all over the world! There are German sausages, Italian oils, Spanish olives, Indian teas, French pates and cheeses, Greek olives and cheeses and dips... There's a chilli expert, an ostrich farmer and a smoothie specialist... There are garlic products from the Isle of Wight garlic farm, vast displays of seasonal British fruits and veggies - and not-so-seasonal foreign ones - quality jams from England Preserves, organic beers from Utobeer, Spanish delicacies from Brindisa, a wealth of spices at Spice Mountain... There are breads, cakes, meats and fresh fish, including boil-while-you-wait crab and lobster. There are free tasters of everything - we tried fine darjeeling tea, truffle and herb oils, cheeses and garlic chutneys, including a banana chutney! And you can munch-while-you-browse too - there are falafels and oysters and hot dogs and fish-and-chips and veggie delights, not to mention sangria, Pimms and hot spicy cider... In fact, there's so much stuff, I'm just gonna let the pictures speak for themselves for a bit... Click for close-ups!


Of course, as well as all the stalls offering lunch for hungry shoppers, plenty of restaurants have popped up in the close vicinity too. There's a Fish! kitchen, a Brindisa tapas bar (next on the list for us...), Feng Sushi, the highly acclaimed 'Roast'... This time, we opted for traditional real alehouse The Market Porter, with a gastropub reputation and an impressive range of beers.

Although downstairs and on the forecourt the place was buzzing (err, this picture was taken later), we were amazed how quiet the upstairs restaurant was - apparently that's the way it goes on a hot day with so much on offer outside too - but the food was great. Eddie had the 'Porter Quarter Pounder', I opted for a delicious duck, fig and pistachio pate with bread and salad, to leave plenty of room for market-treats later...

Of course, if you're going for a day out at a market, you have to buy some stuff...

We came home with a chocolate beer, an elderflower and elderberry champagne-yeast beer, a peach beer, some white truffle oil, gooseberry and elderflower jam, white asparagus (a delicacy I'd never had the opportunity to try), dried ancho chillies (smoky, not hot), extremely cheap English cherries (lovely!), ginger beer (better than the big-brand stuff packed with sweeteners!), delicious chocolate brownies, and white-chocolate coated raspberries! I was disappointed I didn't manage to find the awesome garlic cheddar I bought last time I was here, but I think this little lot made up for it. Of course, most of it's gone now. More of that in another post, I suspect...

So. Borough Market. Highly recommended. If you're gonna go, go hungry, go ready to try new things, and go with spare cash!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Signs of Trouble

I've been spotting a few problems arising in some of the plants in the garden during the last month or so. It always seems to happen as summer hits us - I guess warm, humid weather is the best time for pests and disease to thrive.

The sorrel is full of leaf-miners - you can see three wormy grubs inside the left here on the right. Apparently the parent - a flying insect of some sort - lays its eggs on the edge of the leaf, and the grubs burrow straight inside to feed.

It's not a problem I've had before, and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do except pick and destroy the affected leaves (or net the whole plants, but that ain't gonna happen). Any tips, anyone?

The French beans are well on their way now - I'll be picking the first this week - but several plants have discoloured leaves and I really have no idea what it is. Some look like this...

And some look like this...

The plants seem to be in great health otherwise, but it's hard to know whether this is the start of something bad, or nothing to worry about!

Some of the courgette leaves are yellowing badly - another problem I've never seen like this before.

And the 'Hundreds and Thousands' tomato plants have some very yellow leaves in the middle too, and some black spots. We surely haven't had the right conditions for blight yet. I'm thinking maybe it's some kind of leaf-spot...?

Can anyone can help identify any of these problems?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Wild Food Night - June

Regular readers of this blog will now be familiar with these monthly posts from the Wild Food Night held in The Red Lion in Woolmer Green (and a few other Hertfordshire locations throughout the month) by wild-food caterers The Country Bumpkin. It's fun and fascinating to see what each new month brings - as it says on the menu; "...each season heralds new and exciting culinary opportunities - and we try not to miss a single one!" You never know what you're going to get so it's a great opportunity to try new things - and an opportunity for the chef, too, to experiment with new recipes and try them out on us!

The canapes last night got top marks from me - they're the best we've had yet.

On the left is ramson (wild garlic) toast - crunchy and full of fresh garlicky flavour. In the middle is pigeon mousse, with a sweet, slightly smokey flavour - gamey but mild. And on the right, a nod to the elderflower season with a sparkling elderflower shot. This was better than the elderflower cordial I made recently, and much sweeter - it made me think I should have put a lot more sugar in mine... I wonder if the recipe used is the same one as on the placemats for the event here - perhaps I'll try it next time:

The starter was a wood pigeon consomme - very delicious - served with a sweet red onion roll.

The chef confessed the red onions were not wild, but we didn't mind; the sweetness set off the soup beautifully, and we got a lovely surprise when we broke the rolls open - gooey caramelised onions inside!

Crayfish tagliatelle, with wild rocket, was the main course. Wow!

Good job we brought a seafood-loving friend with us this month - he showed us how to get all the meat out of the shell. A fiddly business, but well-rewarded - the meat was mild but lovely.

These are red signal crayfish - imposters brought over from America in the seventies for the restaurant trade, which have severely endangered our native white-clawed crayfish, as they're more aggressive and spread the 'crayfish plague'. The protected natives are olive-brown, with pale-coloured undersides to the claws, while the signal crayfish are darker in colour, with a white to pale blue-green patch near the claw hinge. (There are a few other non-native species about too, identifiable by spines or long, narrow claws. If you'd like to know more there's a helpful forum thread on the subject here.) I immediately had thoughts of catching crayfish in the river Ver, which runs along the back of our allotment site, but a little research this morning shows I have to have permission both from the Environment Agency and the landowner first. (Actually, some sources say you don't need permission if you're going to fish with a net, rather than trap them, but the EA's application form seems to cover net-fishing and simply 'removal of crayfish' as well, so I'll be double-checking that before I go trying it.)

Dessert was a damson sorbet, made with last year's preserves, and a shortbread-style biscuit filled with rich elderflower cream!

Another fun, delicious and inspiring evening!

Monday, 20 June 2011

St Albans Festival Launch

Yup, it's St Albans Festival time again, when the city's parks and public spaces are filled with music, dance, theatre, kids' activities and local food stalls, and local attractions and eateries offer special deals. The festival lasts a few weeks, but proceedings kicked off on Saturday with a one-day 'Festival for All', featuring everything you'd expect from a festival - music stages, tents for performances and storytelling, workshops, food stalls, cider... not to mention an inflatable whale and a puppet-pilgrimage to the cathedral featuring a re-enactment of the death of St Alban!

Only thing was...

Oh dear. Showers like this were intermittent, but brutal. Despite the umbrella, my jeans and shoes were soaked within minutes of arriving! Bad as I feel for the organisers, I can hardly blame everyone for staying away.

The show went on regardless though, and I have to admire the performers for staying positive and giving great shows despite the tiny audiences! Those of us there had a lot of fun!

We hung out for a long time at the folk stage, enjoying a bunch of traditional and modern folk performances (Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts pictured above, and highly recommended) plus some traditional African music, which felt a bit wrong in the pouring rain but soon brought out the sun again! At times the folk stage had a bigger audience than the main stage which was playing hip-hoppy stuff. Ha!

Have you ever seen a festival main stage looking so sorry? What a shame.

There were some nice sunny spells between downpours, and everyone would come out of hiding and enjoy themselves for a bit, but the place was still pretty bare. See the inflatable whale in the distance? Children were invited inside for a kids' show. I was very disappointed I was too big.

We treated ourselves to cupcakes from friend Lucy Clark's Heaven is a Cupcake, and got free cake pops! And very delicious they were too!

I had to question the wisdom of this sweetshop set-up, considering the strong gusty wind... Can you imagine the carnage?!

And we were treated to some pretty sights as the sun broke through the rain.

I hope the rest of the festival is not such a washout. I'm sure you'll be hearing plenty more about it as it goes on, either way!

For Fathers Day yesterday we had a little barbecue in the garden, which was really nice. I think my parents are seeing the garden as a bit of a burden lately, and after a lot of hard work getting it back in shape after a period of neglect, it was good to get them out there actually enjoying it! To accompany the obligatory beefburgers and marinated chicken, I made my awesomest potato salad (mayo, lemon juice, wholegrain mustard, black pepper, chives, and a drop of rapeseed oil to loosen it) and served NomeGrown lettuce (along with shop-bought tomatoes, cucumber and peppers), and we finished off with scones, strawberry jam, strawberries and clotted cream. Delish!

The blog may go a bit quiet for the next few weeks as I'm about to throw myself into screenplay rewrites... Oh, who am I kidding? I should be knee-deep in it right now but I'm not, and there's plenty of allotment work that desperately needs doing. I'll still be around, I'm sure, just maybe not every day. If I hang around here too much, somebody slap me, okay? Good.
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