Monday, 20 July 2015

We've Got The Stories

One sultry summer evening while the light still blazed through the clear blue skies and the scent of meadow grass filled the air, I headed into the deepest depths of the beautiful Kentish countryside for a wonderful evening in an old cow shed.
Not just any cow shed though.  This is the new home of Wise Words, and I was there for the launch of their kickstarter campaign for a new yurt for the festival.
It sounds so simplistic when you put it like that - a new yurt, but the reality is that a new yurt will enable Wise Words to grow, develop and continue to enrich the lives of people in Canterbury and Kent through the celebration of the written and spoken word.  It will ensure that everyone has the stories, shares the stories and creates new stories.  It will bring people and communities together who will create new concepts, new ideas and new philosophies.
It will allow for writing retreats, slam poetry, live music, literature, theatre, debate,  discussion and exploration.  It will bring people to nature, sleeping under the stars, huddled in blankets and at peace with the world around them, away from the hustle and bustle and stress of today's modern world.  A place to unplug, to grow and to challenge.  A place to rewrite your own story surrounded with the lyrical backdrop of birdsong and humming bees deep within the orchards that the garden of England is so famed for.  A place where you can dare to dream
The kickstarter launch party was a chance for Wise Words to showcase what it was all about.  There was poetry and music, theatrical food and one of a kind cocktails, all in the cowshed with the book birds floating gracefully over your head and jam jars tied with fresh flowers and candles glowing in all the nooks and crannies, surrounded by the whimsy that the Wise Words Festival has become renowned for.
The first thing to catch my eye were the Gastro Guys and their giant, bronze liquid nitrogen tube and slightly mad scientist look in their eyes as they played havoc with people's tastebuds. 
Gastro Guys play with food the way I used to play with flowers in the back garden trying to create perfume.  Only their results are rather more successful.  I was treated to Mango Bubbles, little morsels of tropical explosions created using a techniques of reverse spherisfication.  In layman's terms that means that these genius' can take any liquid and wrap it inside itself! Their mango bubble with edible flowers is a fantastic combination that explodes with flavour in your mouth
Then there are the Nitrogen Meringues, poached at minus 196C with the subtle flavours of lemon, beetroot, apple and blackberry which melt on the tongue, leaving you you exhaling a vapour trail and releasing your true inner dragon and best Smaug impersonation!

Curiosity temporarily sated, I went in search of a more liquid form of refreshment, and found it with Wide Eyed Theatre's cocktail bar, run by the amazingly talented Paul Oliver and Latham Dent, previously responsible for the cocktails in one of my favourite bars, Bramleys (no wonder I love their creations!)  In honour of the occassion, Wide Eyed Theatre (who are one of the three partners in the Yurt kickstarter campaign) had created some original cocktails to celebrate, which they were handing out in return for a small donation to the fund. 
First up was The Gin Hedge, a cardinal concoction of gin, elderflower, cassis and berries all shaken over ice.  It was everything I loved served with a straw. 
Next was the Herby Honey, a sultry blend of lavender honey, vodka and drambuie served tall over ice with mint.  Not something I would choose to be honest, much preferring my berry and gin mix.  If experimentation with your cocktails was not something you were in the mood for, you could choose the classic perfection of a G&T.
Drink in hand, I settled on the cushion covered stools by the upturned cable spools that served as tables whilst others drifted onto rug covered pallets in front of the handcrafted stage to listen to Emrys Plant and Luke Jackson perform their specially crafted tribute to the kickstarter, a haunting mix of poetry and music.
Luke then took the stage, performing roots and folk classics.  A young and rising Kentish star, his vocals provided the perfect husky counterpoint to heat of the evening. So it wore on, to the soundtrack of the guitar and the hum of conversation against the backdrop of the rolling fields and setting sun low and gold in the dusky sky.
This was an evening of enchantment, filled with creativity and hope for a future that is filled with stories. 
If you would like to donate to the Kickstarter campaign to help Wise Words realise their dream of owning their own yurt, you can do so here

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Chilli Con Carne

Steve and I have quite a good system when it comes to the household chores.  We share basically everything, bins are him, laundry is me, back garden is his responsibility, front garden is mine to maim, butcher and destroy.  We take it in turns to do the cooking as well, and much as it irks me to admit, he is at least as good a cook as I am.  Sometimes I think he is better.  He, at least, doesn't completely bugger up oven chips every time he tries to cook them.  Seriously, the last time I cooked them, I followed the packet exactly and they still came out frozen and burnt at the same time.  It's a unique skill.
This particular weekend he was let loose on my spice cupboard and recipe books and came out three hours later with bowls of the most delicious chilli con carne I had ever tasted.  Naturally it was a Thomasina Miers dish - everything in her books is just delicious, I once made my way through a jar of her chipotles en adobo sauce at a friends house who had just made approximately two gallons of the stuff - and I was more chuffed by the fact that I already had every single ingredient in stock in the house.

Every.  Single.  One.

I apparently keep a well stocked kitchen.  I am my mother's daughter.
This is one of those recipes that you can quite happily leave cooking merrily on its own whilst you go and attend to all those pesky chores that life demands you keep on top of.  Like accidentally pulling out that large plant in the front garden you thought was a weed and turns out to be quite an expensive shrub your husband had planted three years earlier and was finally getting to be a decent size.

Turns out the only green fingers I have are those caused by wearing cheap fashion rings.

So if you fancy a bloody good chilli this weekend, this is what you will need to check you have in your kitchen:

1kg minced beef
300g spicy chorizo
3 onions
4 cloves of garlic
olive oil
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cloves
1 large cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 deseeded ancho chillies
2 chilies de arbol
2 teaspoons sea salt
black pepper
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
800g tinned tomatoes
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons muscovado sugar
800g kidney beans

Preheat the oven to 120C and bring the meat to room temperature.

Finely chop the onions and garlic

Sear the meat in 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large casserole dish.

Set the meat to one side and add another small glug of oil to the casserole dish.  Brown the chopped chorizo in the oil until it is scented and golden brown with the sausage oils.  Remove the chorizo.

Add the onion, garlic, spices, herbs and chillies and cook in the chorizo oil until soft.  Season with salt and pepper, add the vinegar, tomatoes, ketchup and sugar.

Return the meat to the pan and top up with 400ml water, bring to a simmer and cook, covered in the oven for 2 hours.

After two hours, give it a stir and add the beans.  Cook for another hour.

Serve with a big pile of rice, some chopped coriander, salsa, cheese if you want and lime wedges. Add sour cream if you need to cool the heat down a little.

This chilli would also be amazing on top of jacket potatoes, on a hot dog or piled onto a mound of nachos with a group of friends, some beers and a good film.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Reggae Burgers

It's the height of summer and if the blazing sunshine and soaring temperatures are anything to go by, then it is most certainly BBQ weather.
The Nottinghill Carnival is next month and if, like me, you really wish you could be there but can't, then I think that these are the perfect substitute to add a little Jamaican flare into your summer parties!
These succulent burgers have a wonderfully warmth to them, nothing too overwhelming and the distinctive combination of heat and sweet that Jamaican food is so famed for.  Add some sweet potato chips and you have a Caribbean feast.

Burgers (makes 4 good sized patties)
500g good quality minced beef
1 scotch bonnet, de-seeded and minced.  Leave the seeds in if you want more of a heat hit.  If you can't get hold of scotch bonnets, use habanero's instead although the flavour profile won't be exactly the same.  Don't substitute with birds eye chilli's - the taste will be completely different.
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cider vinegar (white wine or rice vinegar would also work, not malt)
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoons ground thyme
1 teaspoon runny honey
1 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons Jamaican Jerk seasoning
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon reggae reggae sauce (I used Levi Roots).
Good sprinkle of freshly ground salt and pepper
50g mango, finely chopped
50g pineapple, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
4 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Mix all the ingredients for the beef together, apart from the mince.

In a large bowl break the mince up and form into 4 patties

Split the seasoning evenly over each pattie and work in, smushing it around and moulding it back into a patty shape.  You can just pour the seasoning over the mince in the bowl first if you want, but I find that the split and then pour method ensures a much more even distribution of flavour.
Put the patties on a plate and rest in the fridge for at least an hour before cooking.  This is important as if you don't let them rest you will find that your burgers simply fall apart when you try and cook them.  You can grill, BBQ or fry these - up to you!

Mix all the salsa ingredients together and leave to rest, covered, in the fridge for at least an hour to allow the flavours to develop.
When you are ready, griddle, BBQ or fry the burgers until just cooked all the way through, melting some cheese on the top if you are that way inclined.

Layer up your buns with salad and the burger, top with the salsa and add a little extra Reggae Reggae sauce to really make it sizzle.

Steel band playing as you eat optional.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Canterbury Folk Festival

This year saw the first Canterbury Folk Festival in full swing in the Dane John Gardens over the last weekend in June.  A full weekend filled with sunshine and folk music, in the beautiful parkland setting of the Gardens overlooked by the bandstand where all the acts would be playing from.
All you need for a good folk festival, apart from good music of course, are craft beer and local ales, with fruity finishes and deep malty flavours.  I had the Rocking Robin Robin Redbest ale (the same one that Sally is enjoying below) which was seriously yummy, a light bronze easy drinking bitter made with Kentish hops.  I must admit, for a determined non-ale drinker, I am finding more and more that are quite quaffable!
To keep everything balanced, you also need delicious food from independent food stands, including Wimbledon ready strawberries in pots with lashings of fresh cream, carried around on trays by ladies from Simply Strawberries, duck wraps and duck fat chips, piles of fresh olives and huge containers of pad Thai noodles from A Taste of Thailand.  I had the plantain crisps and chilli balls from Vinngoute, which lived up to the translation of its name.
Music, food and ale is also best shared with a bunch of friends as chilled and relaxed as you are (Ben even more so as Green Diesel would not be playing until the Sunday afternoon, so he was completely off duty). Shay, Ben, Nick, Sally, Ellie, John and I had already arranged to meet by the Bandstand in the early afternoon but we ran into other familiar faces throughout the day who would pull up a pint and join us.  Canterbury is really very small and at an event like this you are pretty much guaranteed to bump into a number of people you know.
Finally, to really make you folk festival experience complete, you need a dog.  The ultimate hipster accessory that every good folk aficionado should not be without.  I should have tied a red scarf around his neck.  Opportunity missed.
James was in Malta with Steve on a lads holiday, and Sasha was visiting her sister so I was dog-sitting Jackson for the weekend.  With James and Sasha's permission, I packed up his water bowl, a litre of fresh water and a bag of dog biscuits and brought him along for the afternoon.  I quickly discovered that if you have a dog at a festival, especially one as large and good natured as Jax is, you very, very quickly make friends with a lot of people who will just come up and cuddle him.  He was like a magnet for small children and mid-30's gruff men who insisted on calling him 'good boy'.  He looked rather bewildered by all the attention, but took it with good grace.
This was the first time Canterbury had hosted a folk festival - Broadstairs and Faversham are the traditional homes of folk around here, but its popularity is growing, evidenced by the 5000 people who descended on the Bandstand for the weekend.  From 11am to 6pm each day we had the delights of folk in all its format, from rock to acoustic to blues (Thomas Ashby, second photo above) bluegrass (Gentleman of the Few) and reggae, courtesy of Jimmy and the Riddles.  There were a plethora of delights for your ears to feast upon, all repeated again on the Sunday with more bands playing, including old favourites Green Diesel.
There were also Morris Dancers (of course, its a folk festival in England, you can't get more traditional folk than Morris Dancers), balloon twisting clowns (one little girl had a balloon version of Ariel from The Little Mermaid, it was quite something), Mr Softee ice-cream and of course craft stands.
Kids dressed in Tinkerbell outfits were twirled in dizzying circles by their parents whilst teenagers hoola-hooped and flung diabolo's high in the air in time to the percussion beats and older couples dangled their feet in the cooling waters of the fountain.

We sat and chatted in the sunshine, occasionally taking it in turns to walk Jax in the shadier areas of the park under the trees where the scent of South American BBQ was drifting through the air from the newly occupied Kiosk.
Eventually I had to pack up and get the dog home as his dribbling was getting a little out of control and he kept eyeing up people's food, but the others carried on their festivities long into the night (I know as I kept getting text messages asking if I was walking back into town to meet them.  The texts got noticeably drunker and more demanding every hour), but by that stage I was tired and my feet hurt, so I was rather lame and just curled up on the sofa with a film.
Here's hoping this is just the first of many years of folk in the gardens.