Sunday, 20 December 2009

Apple Chutney

I love chutney. I love it most with fried breakfasts, but also on a good cheese sandwich, or with some nice ham and a salad. I've loved it since I can remember, though I rarely eat it nowadays.

The chutney I ate through my childhood was always homemade - normally green tomato or plum, the former a lighter, spicy relish; the latter dark and thick and tartly divine.

I love making chutney. Yes, it makes your house temporarily smell as though you have doused everything in vinegar, but you need no more technical skills than chopping and lighting the hob, and you get a satisfying sense of homeliness and country craft - preserving the overflow of fruits of the season (even if those same fruit you just picked up at the supermarket on your busy city street).

This apple chutney recipe I used, comes from one of my favourite books, The Country Kitchen by Jocasta Innes , which a good friend brought for me from a second hand shop a few years back. I read it in bed, enjoying disconnecting from my London life by reading about how to make cheese, or cure meats, or make wine from hedgerow fruits. It's nostalgic and old-fashioned and comforting.
The instructions are as easy as this:
First, assemble your ingredients. I made a relatively small batch and used:
3 medium onions, diced
1 knob of fresh ginger, finely choppedd
1 tbsp salt
2 long red chillis, finely chopped
1 tbsp brown mustard seed, toasted and bashed
200 g dark brown sugar
7 medium Bramley apples, cored and roughly chopped, but not skinned
200 g sultanas
400ml malt vinegar
Then, lump all your ingredients together in a big pot, bring to a boil and then simmer until dark brown and thick, stirring occasionally. This takes a while, so you can read or watch TV or whatever, safe in the knowledge that you are all the time being quite productive.
Wash your jars, and put upside down on an oven shelf in a very low oven to dry and heat for about an hour before potting. Cut squares of greaseproof paper to go between jar and lid (if you don't have proper pickling/chutney jars the vinegar will erode most ordinary metal lids. I just used a collection of old jars we keep in the cupboard for this kind of reason.
When it's ready, pot in to the jars hot from the oven and cover.
I'm thinking a little homemade chutney could come in handy in the café if I wanted to do a little cheese platter...

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Let me tell you a little bit more about myself...

Sometimes I have these big pangs of regret. Especially if I'm walking across a bridge, with wind in my hair and music in my ears. I regret not taking up the place I was offered on Birkbeck's Dance Diploma, because my sodding boss said I might not always be able to leave work on time to get there. And I regret not having pursued the myriad creative dreams I once had. And not taking advantage of time and money I had in younger days to go and seek all those adventures in foreign lands that everyone else seemed to be doing.

But sometimes it seems to me perhaps 'doing' isn't so much my calling. I've often lamented being an observer, but actually I think I'm good at it. I never ended up publishing a novel before I was 18, as was my childhood plan, but I'm really good at the reading that inspired that plan. I can appreciate some lines with a kind of tangible thrill of love. I can get so caught up in worlds that everything looks different for a couple of days; even my internal narrative can be swayed by the prose patterns of whatever I'm reading.

And whilst I didn't 'do' much at university, opting for hours spent browsing bookshops and record shops rather than joining clubs or paragliding for charity, I think I really have idling down to an art. I can recall time spent in the simple pleasure of a good cup of tea, a pastry and a notepad with a huge amount of detail and a lot of fondness. I mused and sipped and wandered and wondered away most of my twenties. I spent hours sitting on benches and sofas and stools. I rejoiced in light on leaves and hidden puffs of smoke from chimneys. I loved evening sunlight on stone, I lay in parks for hours with half a baguette, a hunk of cheese and a paper, watching the grass, the beetles, the people.

I really appreciate the art of simple idling. And whilst I recognise too the importance of doing, and am really glad I have got better at doing (I got a job! I went on holidays! I did awesome courses!), I know that doing alone would be a robotic kind of life, and one that would really miss those moments of tea-aided relaxation, and cake-abetted introspection.

If I run a cafe, I'll be doing, doing, doing. But I'll be nurturing a lovely cocoon where others can choose to happily idle, dream, sit back and reflect and appreciate at their will.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


I'm an accountant who would like to run a little cafe. A cafe where you feel at home, where you really rate the coffee, where you love the homemade cakes. A cafe whose walls are adorned with the work of local artists, and where you can buy unique and more often-than-not eco-friendly crafts and handmade items. Where you can find out about what's going on in the community, where you can sit and dream and plan and scheme. A cafe where the herbs in the salad were grown in the little yard out the back, and where the bread comes from an organic bakery round the corner, and where I greet you and am pleased to make your acquaintance.

I work from 9 to 5 every day, earning enough to sustain a comfortable north London existence. I get home and I put my bag down and get into the kitchen to listen to Radio 4 and to chop and fry and boil and bake things. It's the most relaxing and satisfying bit of my day.

I don't think I can start on the real cafe just yet. For a start there's a little person growing in my abdomen, who I am reliably informed will eat up all my time and energy when - god willing etc. - they come out of the womb and into the world. Then there's the issue of capital.

But I can plan, and practice. I can build a repertoire of failsafe recipes. I can scout around for the kind of art and objects I want in the shop. I can seek inspiration in other lovely cafes. I can elicit your opinions and I can create a little space here where I build up my dream with more and more detail. And then maybe one day it will creep out of cyberspace and into this tangible old world.

I want the cafe to be as sustainable and low impact as possible. I want the food to be healthy and delicious. I would love - though I know I'm getting really ambitious now - for it to be attached to a studio where yoga and photography and dance and painting and all sorts are taught.

So this blog will be a collection of all those things I want to pull together - the food, the green issues, the decor, the art and craft, the other activities that might take place, as well as some idle chit chat from me as I lean across the counter when it's quieter and strike up a conversation.