Kate O’Brien

Setting out with a packed lunch in search of a wild flower seems like romance (for some). But when the flower in question is a commonplace, back yard self-seeder it can take enterprise to feel the romance. Even more so when its more hotly famous relative was gathered 888, 246 strong at the Tower of London, on spectacular display to commemorate the fatalities of WWI. From the Napoleonic wars to In Flanders Fields the red poppy has been used to commemorate the fallen. Today the remembrance poppy is on every lapel and the snouts of black cabs everywhere; each one of Tower of London ceramic poppies have been sold and replanted in homes around the world. The Welsh poppy on the other hand keeps a lower profile. Looking for an excuse to break with tightly packaged weekend plans and beat the crowds at Tower Hill, I set off one Saturday in search the most vigorous Welsh poppy in east London, or more specifically after its seed.

Unlike the blushing red, or indeed the blowsy opium poppy, the delicate buttercup petals from Meconopsis cambrica are modest, discrete and classy. If it weren’t for the Welsh political party Plaid Cymru taking this demurring flower as their logo, you could say that M. cambrica has no agenda whatsoever. It flutters independently on the fringes; in crevices of pavements or on the edge of your garden wall. Spotted just when you need a lift, set against a few rogue ferns or as Wikipedia describes in ‘damp, shady places on rocky ground, it is increasingly found on more open ground with less cover.’ Could it be that this resilient little flower is stepping out?

My hunt for the yellow poppy seed was a cheat and hardly a journey, in fact it’s found in a place I cycle by every day, and my packed lunch was yesterdays scraps brought from sheer greed. I left for the Clapton Park Estate, where among raised vegetable beds, wild flowers, corn poppies and other bright oriental varieties grows a stray group of Welsh poppies, special for their commonness – a black sheep in the penny bag. I had been eyeing them all summer. Welsh poppies, Montbretia ‘His Majesty’ and bracken remind me of my childhood garden in Dublin. The plan was to harvest and save some seeds from the strongest looking head to plant in my new back garden, for a yellow splash against the green come spring. Poppy seeds were once a folk remedy to help aid sleep, they were also said to bring wealth and the magical powers of invisibility. With an old mason jar I found one brownish grey seed head bordering the footpath, leaning against a garden gate. Little window openings in the rattle head let out tiny kidney shaped seeds. I tapped and trapped, ready to decant into small brown paper bags later. Now, in the cold, bleakness of January, knowing the potential for yellow is scattered around my back garden brings me great comfort. The magic is in knowing that they’re there, waiting for their moment, despite their current invisibility.

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by TOAST ( 16.01.15 )



Orlando Gough

Percy Bysshe Shelley,
along with
Finnegan’s Wake,
the Arabic language,
yoga, etc.,

is on the long list of things I probably ought to be attending to, instead of the things I am attending to, like

a rasher of bacon,
my emails, etc.

So I was almost completely unfamiliar with Shelley’s work until my friend Melanie, wonderful singer and life-long vegetarian, with whom I’m working on a theatre piece about food, sent me a link to his brilliant, tub-thumping essay of 1813, A Vindication of Natural Diet. It was originally written as one of the notes to the epic poem Queen Mab, but it was eventually published independently as a pamphlet.

Queen Mab, despite its frisky title, is a tough read, all nine cantos of it. Shelley intended Queen Mab only for private publication, but it was pirated and published on the black market, becoming popular with working class political reformers, an inspiration for Chartism.It’s ostensibly a fairy tale, about the fairy Queen Mab (exquisitely described by Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet). But it’s really an opportunity for Shelley to imagine a stupendously unlikely utopia –now I come to think of it, it’s in the nature of utopias to be stupendously unlikely – in which humanity and nature are reconciled. This reconciliation includes the adoption of what was then called the Pythagorean System, or the Vegetable Regimen (the word ‘vegetarianism’ wasn’t invented until 1847):

‘And man, once fleeting o’er the transient scene
Swift as an unremembered vision, stands
Immortal upon earth: no longer now
He stays the lamb that looks him in the face,
And horribly devours his mangled flesh,
Which still avenging nature’s broken law,
Kindled all putrid humours in his frame,
All evil passions, and all vain belief,
Hatred, despair, and loathing in his mind,
The germs of misery, death, disease and crime.’

A Vindication of Natural Diet is essentially an expansion of this idea. In 1811, Shelley’s friend John Frank Newton published The Return to Nature: A Defence of the Vegetable Regimen. Shelley and his wife Harriet took up a ‘vegetable regimen’ in March 1812, and he started writing A Vindication of Natural Diet later that year. The first part of the essay is mostly a rehash of Newton’s arguments, starting with a pair of examples from mythology: the first iffy – Adam and Eve bring misery and mortality on themselves and their descendants by adopting an unnatural diet (but it was an apple!); the second more promising – Prometheus steals fire from heaven, and as a punishment his liver is continuously eaten by a vulture (ouch). He has enabled cooking, and cooking enables us to be carnivores, despite our anatomical unsuitability: ‘It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation, that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion; and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust.’ And this unnatural diet has made him ‘a sickly, suffering creature.’

What comes next is pure Shelley. The argument extends to the moral and political realms: ‘There is no disease, bodily or mental, which adoption of vegetable diet…has not infallibly mitigated….Debility is gradually converted into strength, disease into healthfulness; madness in all its hideous variety, from the ravings of the fettered maniac, to the unaccountable irrationalities of ill temper, that make a hell of domestic life, into a calm and considerate evenness of temper, that alone might offer a certain pledge of future moral reformation of society. On a natural system of diet, old age would be our last and our only malady; the term of our existence would be protracted*; we should enjoy life, and no longer preclude others from the enjoyment of it….The monopolising eater of animal flesh would no longer destroy his constitution by devouring an acre at a meal…The quantity of nutritious vegetable matter, consumed in fattening the carcase of an ox would afford ten times the sustenance…if gathered directly from the bosom of the earth.’

What if we grew all our necessities? ‘We should require no spices from India; no wines from Portugal, Spain, France or Madeira; none of those multitudinous articles of luxury, for which every corner of the globe is rifled, and which are the causes of so much individual rivalship, such calamitous and sanguinary national disputes.’ No blood! No wars! ‘Let it ever be remembered, that it is the direct influence of commerce to make the interval between the richest and the poorest man wider and more unconquerable.’ (When did he write this? Yesterday?) But with this great reform, ‘commerce, with all its vice, selfishness and corruption, would gradually decline…and the excessive complication of political relations would be so far simplified, that every individual might feel and understand why he loved his country, and took a personal interest in its welfare.’

Yes, of course it’s over the top. The use of fire for culinary purposes has hardly been an unmitigated disaster (Saffron Risotto! Cheese Soufflé!); in fact there are many vegetables and grains that would be indigestible without cooking – potatoes, rice, lentils….. And it’s going to take rather more than vegetarianism to create a political utopia. On the other hand, in a world where commerce rules and states are routinely bullied by corporations, it’s definitely an argument worth making. Amazing that he was making it 200 years ago.

*The essay ends with a glorious appendix of long-lived vegetarians:
Old Parr 152
Mary Patten 136
A shepherd in Hungary 126
Patrick O’Neale 113…
Aurungzebe 100…
James the Hermit 104…
Rombald 120.
As a cricket fanatic I can’t help reading this as an amazing batting achievement by a very strong side.

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal. Click here to find out more.

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by TOAST ( 08.01.15 )




















11. EGON SCHIELE EXHIBITION*. COURTAULD GALLERY, LONDON. Still showing until 18 January 2015




FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM @TOASTtravels in 2015 for lots of other good things.



*Egon Schiele. Seated Femail Nude with Raised Arm (Gertrude Schiele), 1910. Wien Museum, Vienna.

posted in: Do, Read, See, Travel, Watch

by TOAST ( 24.12.14 )


Michael Smith

Last Friday I found myself in a part of London that may well have passed you by, a neighbourhood whose twists and turns have enchanted me for years, twists and turns I’ve deliberately got lost down, as a wrong turn is generally a right turn in this labyrinthine blind spot between the financial district of the City and the consumer district of the West End – Old Holborn, lawyer’s London, a no-man’s-land where only the shirt and tie types venture, annoyingly rebranded “Midtown”, like it was some amnesiac district in a generic American city rather than one of the most evocative and mysterious parts of this ancient, impossible metropolis.

As The Strand becomes Fleet Street and Westminster becomes The City, there’s an imposing statue of a griffin on the border, that mythical beast that guards treasure-hoards, set in the middle of the medieval street, a statue the gridlocked traffic has to grind round, tucked discreetly between two gigantic office blocks, a tiny one-storey building with statues of a Victorian’s idea of Chinamen lounge beside a Royal crest: Twining’s original shop, a shop the shape of a long corridor, lined with dozens of oil portraits of the various scions of the tea dynasty going back to 1706, when the shop opened. In the little tasting room at the back I tried some 1st flush Darjeeling that smelled of musk and honey, an exquisite tea that was £35 a bag, and that I was almost heartbroken to have to part with.

Fleet Street is one of London’s riches seams, a knot of tight alleys and Dickensian courtyards, just behind the crosstown traffic and the sea of suits. A few doors down, like the wardrobe into Narnia, an antique gateway leads down a windy gothic lane to another world, the original round stone church of the Knights Templar, many of them buried inside, statues of them all laid out with legs crossed like the hanged man from the tarot deck.

Even the big ex-bank-cum-Wetherspoons is called “The Knights Templar” here; much better is the Seven Stars, a rickety old establishment selling “Gastronomic Pub Food,” full of old school, red nosed Rumpole of the Bailey types, presided over by glamourous redhead Ms. Roxy Beaujolais and her cat, or El Vino’s, former haunt of the old Fleet Street hacks, with its tobacco stained walls, its beat-up leather chairs with horse hair hanging out, its ancient dusty bottles of Chateauneuf du Pape behind iron grills.

The jewel in the crown for me though is the John Soane Museum, with its room full of Hogarths, but more so, its myriad mirrors at odd angles and coloured glass skylights conspiring to suggest delirious infinities and the impossible spaces of a cavernous and troubled opium dream, the Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement adding to the sense of being buried alive in this hallucinatory grotto, stuffed to the brim with winged Grecian torsos, medieval gargoyles and grotesque evil spirits carved in antiquity, a real human skull in the middle of a séance table, every available piece of wall space covered in a kind of mania for collecting, a jumbled up phantasmagoria, the fantastical, slightly deranged home of John Soane, a master-mason who designed the original Bank of England.

Next time you’re in a traffic jam between the east and west ends, which is generally the case on a bus in these parts, I suggest you get off, and get lost, in the vague direction you were headed. Odds are you’ll get there nearly as fast, and you’ll stumble on something remarkable on the way. 

Photograph by Ruth L, Flickr

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by TOAST ( 28.11.14 )

Nothing-Impossible12_webCatrina Davies

I met Alice Myers in Scotland on a day when nature was getting the better of us. The sky had cracked open and unleashed a summer’s worth of pent-up rain. The ground beneath our feet was dissolving, sucking us into the sticky earth. I was trying not to feel smug about the fact that all I had to worry about was my notebook getting a bit soggy. Alice had several thousand pounds worth of camera slung around her neck. She kept stopping to remove an excess of water from valuable, vulnerable lenses. I was struck by her quiet professionalism. She seemed, above all, to be listening.

“As a photographer I keep returning to the invisible,” she tells me later, referring to her award-winning work with migrants in Calais, Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun. One photograph in particular draws me in. Two men on a beach are wandering aimlessly in a sea mist behind a couple of traffic cones. “The cones just happened to be there,” says Alice. “I like the way they are almost obscured by the fog and the way the cones divide the space arbitrarily.”

Nothing-Impossible6_webAlice is drawn to borders. Before Calais she spent several months in the hot desert between Mexico and the US. “Thousands cross there, and many die. But you can’t see them, only the marks left on the landscape.”


Alice shows me a grid of nine photographs. Each one is a different path, cut through the desert by invisible feet. I stare at the paths, trying to imagine the people who have walked them. I wonder if borders are like airports – blank canvases against which individual human stories can be lived and told without the significance of the landscape getting in the way. Alice disagrees. For her, borderlands have “masses of overarching, overlapping cultural significance, because their ownership has shifted backwards and forwards.” I look at these scratches in the sand and huddles of empty plastic milk bottles and feel as if the ground beneath my feet is tilting.

Plastic-Bottles_webRefugees have to tell good stories. “A complete and satisfying narrative is required to justify their presence in Europe,” Alice explains. It strikes me that a good story is something we increasingly require from our landscapes, in order for them to justify their value in the face of economic pressures. But it strikes me also that the stories we tell ourselves about nature are as fractured and unreliable as the stories Alice tells with her photographs and the stories migrants tell the authorities.




Alice shows me some photographs from her time at the Sruth Fada Conn estuary, Co. Mayo, Ireland. Since 2002 there has been strong resistance to the installation of a gas pipeline underneath the estuary. The photographs are bleak, raw. The project is called The Sky is Down on the Ground. Alice describes “shadows of clouds that swipe over you like being hit by a train”.




Looking at these photographs, which are of big skies and empty, boggy grasslands, I make a final grab for solid ground. I venture that art, particularly photography, might be one way that landscapes get to tell their real stories. The stories that have not been processed by (often competing) human desire for meaning. No such luck. “Art just tells yet another story, even less reliable than all the others,” says Alice.


All photos by Alice Myers. Alice studied photography at Edinburgh College of Art and London College of Communication. In 2008 she won the Jerwood Award and received a development grant from Arts Trust Scotland. She was subsequently published in Guardian Weekend Magazine and Portfolio Magazine. ‘Nothing is Impossible Under the Sun’ is a book combining drawings, writing and photographs representing migrants trying to cross the border between France and the United Kingdom. It was shortlisted for a MACK first book award 2014.

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by TOAST ( 26.11.14 )


Andie Cusick

The literal translation of ‘Fair Isle’ is ‘island of tranquillity’ from the Norse form Friðarey, meaning ‘calm’ or ‘tranquil’. Considering its remote locale (the northern most inhabited island in the UK), and its population density of just nine people per square kilometre, making a total population just shy of 70 in permanent residence on the island, Fair Isle certainly lives up to its name. A plentiful supply of wool from Fair Isle’s resident sheep ensures that knitting is a usable skill. Sadly, it’s a declining local craft. Yet demand for this very specific style of knitwear remains high.

In recent years, the term ‘fair isle knit’ has become popular – used generically to describe the stranded knitting technique, featuring bands of horizontal colours in geometric patterns. Traditionally, the style features limited, muted colours used with only two variations per row. Perhaps confusingly, it’s often assumed to be Nordic or Icelandic (aided – yet not to be confused by – Sarah Lund wearing her now infamous star knit jumper from the Danish show, The Killing). It does in fact originate from Fair Isle itself, which sits halfway between mainland Shetland and the Orkney Islands and is most widely known for both knitwear and a bird observatory.

Fair Isle resident and well-known knitwear designer Kathy Coull operates a small textile business creating hand and mill spun yarns where she offers handspinning workshops to visitors. A leading expert in authentic Fair Isle knitwear, Coull says people visit Shetland and Fair Isle “because of the heritage, hands-on opportunities with textiles, sustainability interest and unique harmony between fabric, environment and community”. For Coull, an authentic Fair Isle design must be made on the island using wool from pure-bred Shetland sheep raised in the unspoiled conditions of the isle. Other important factors include, “The traditional bands of patterns used on fair isle – each band is different but balanced over the work, and symmetrical in horizontal repeat motifs.” Hand-clipping or ‘rooing’ (plucking) the sheep’s fleece is a skill Coull invests time in to achieve a high-quality yarn for spinning. “This method avoids double-cuts, which happen more with electric shears and give lots of short fibres in the wool affecting the strength,” adds Coull. Colour, too, must be natural, using traditional dyes –“red from madder, blue from indigo and golden yellow from local plants”.

Authentic Fair Isle garments are distinctive and luxurious, qualities that a sensitive replica should seek to emulate. Hand-spun or not, modern or traditional, Fair Isle knits should be pure wool, chunky and slightly oversized. Perhaps most importantly, a Fair Isle knit should reflect on the wearer a good sense of humour.

Click here for our range of Fair Isle inspired sweaters and socks, including the sweater shown above.

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by TOAST ( 21.11.14 )

Taltsy 5

Sara Wheeler

An oval portrait of Tsar Alexander III hung uncertainly on one of the larch-log walls of the schoolroom. Wintery sun sliced onto an abacus, a row of low smooth desks, and a blackboard inscribed with looped Cyrillic script. The silence of the Siberian forest seemed to have penetrated the room. How many decades since a child’s voice had spoken there?

I was three quarters of the way across Russia, and that morning had stepped off train 080 at Irkutsk, the commercial centre of eastern Siberia. From there I planned to make my way by car down to the northern shore of the fabled Lake Baikal.

The highway was arrow-straight. The Soviets built it in 1961 for the Eisenhower-Khrushchev summit: a combination of poor soil, permafrost and seismic activity added up to a major engineering challenge – and then the summit never happened, because of the Gary Powers downed spy-plane episode. The taiga flanking the tarmac was dense with Siberian pine, cedar, larch, birch and aspen. I didn’t see a bear, but an arc of willow ptarmigan streaked across the sky, a Naples-yellow moon still gleaming at ten in the morning.

Thirty miles from Irkutsk, at a break in the trees, an arched iron sign announced the Taltsy Museum. There are five open-air museums in Russia, but I wondered, looking out at a scattering of wooden homes, a golden dome and a cluster of verdigris cupolas, if any of the others spoke so clearly of their time, of the loneliness of the taiga, and of the peace those regional heartlands so many thousands of miles from Moscow.

It was gratifying to see Russians doing something well. In the sixties and seventies, the authorities of the Irkutskaya oblast (the latter a geographical division similar to an American state or a Canadian province) dismantled remaining examples of traditional architecture in outlying districts and reassembled them here. Many were the homes of indigenous peoples – notably Buryat – and some were the work of European Russians who erected ostrogs (forts) like a necklace when they penetrated Siberia in the seventeenth century in pursuit of furs.

The temperature hovered at a spritely minus 20 – not cold for those parts – and fragments of ice and snow skittered through the air. My boots crunched over deep untrodden snow , a sound too vulgar for the pure silence of Taltsy. The first building I entered, pushing open a heavy door rimed with hoarfrost, was a small domestic dwelling with two sleeping platforms above a stove the size of a wardrobe. Opposite, in the kitchen area, birch-bark spoons hung from a rough-hewn pole.

The Buryat, the largest ethnic group in Russia (there are more than 500 tribal groups in Siberia with 120 languages between them) flourished in the region for centuries. They grew flax, as Taltsy looms indicated, cultivated wheat cooperatively, farmed cows and herded reindeer, often camping out in their yurt-like gers, several of which were on display. Today Buryat make up 10 per cent of the Greater Irkutsk population. They still breed cattle, but are integrated, or at least more integrated than many ethnic groups, some of whom have fared very poorly in modern Russia. Every morning over the next week I heard half an hour of news on the radio in the Buryat language.

In 1647 a ragged band of freebooting Cossacks erected a fort on a bank of the Angara River. One of the first Russian settlements east of the Urals, the fort lives on at Taltsy. Its Kazanskaya chapel has a gilded cupola shaped like a segment of a puckered tube. When I ran my fingers over the larch walls beneath the dome, I noted that the Cossacks had built them without nails.

The oldest buildings have mica windows (not that different to glass, but they have a bullion effect), though a glass factory operated in the area as early as 1796, facilitated by the sandy banks of the Angara. In that climate windows were always small, set deep into log-cabin-style walls, often with ornate carved shutters. On the three-storey Tower of the Saviour the Cossacks designed an elaborate closed balcony, less an act of devotion than a means of spying on pesky natives.

I said it was gratifying to see Russians doing something well (and stylishly). But almost all the Taltsy buildings had been abandoned as a result of floods engineered in the Soviet rush to industrialize eastern Siberia. Historians will never know how many villages were flooded during the construction of the Bratsk and Ust-Ilimsk dams.

Then it was on to Baikal. Mist hung low over the Hamar Daban mountains. I watched the sun set over the blue water from my eyrie in a guest house on a hill above the shore. The pines beyond, tipped with snow, were interleaved with stands of glistening beech. My amiable hotelier, Tatiana, was smoking omul – a white fish indigenous to Baikal – on a brazier in the yard. But this was modern Russia, where Buryat no longer hear the timeless symphony of the forest. When we had eaten the omul, I sat on the sofa next to Tatiana and watched Russian Strictly.

Sara Wheeler is the author of Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica

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by TOAST ( 14.11.14 )


Orlando Gough

My wife Jo, who is a knitwear designer, had the privilege of selling a jumper to Saint Mary Berry earlier this year, and the great woman promised to wear it on The Great British Bake Off, so naturally we had to watch every single minute of every single episode with intense care in the hope of spotting it. But she never wore it, probably because the temperature in the marquee during the competition never seemed to go below 30°C, which was of course part of the cause of Baked Alaskagate.

Like most people I was charmed by the competition, but my overriding feeling was of relief that I wasn’t a contestant. OK, yes, better than being roasted alive on Come Dine With Me. But… It’s not that I’m not competitive. Tennis yes, pool just about, Monopoly if I have to, but cooking – surely not. One of the joys of cooking is that it’s not competitive. And cooking against the clock, ugh. I can’t think of anything worse than having two minutes to attach an over-ambitious sculptured icing folly to a cake that’s still hot, and watching it melt down the sides like a Salvador Dali painting. And then there’s the ghastly imperative for complexity, a curious kind of obsessive over-elaboration that was the legacy of Middle Europe in the early part of the 20th century, was then championed by the Cordon Bleu Tendency in the 50s, and seemed to be in terminal decline by the end of the 60s as people discovered the perfect simplicity of Mediterranean cookery. Personally I don’t even like iced cakes.

Of course there’s the desire for personal betterment (which, by the way, I gather, is the actual meaning of the word ‘jihad’, it’s just got rather twisted), that drives people to do marathons and pay money to be insulted by Hanif Kurieshi, and of course there’s nothing wrong with trying to better oneself, but not in front of Paul Hollywood surely. I was continually surprised by the contestants’ intense humility when confronted by his withering critiques. I was fully expecting (translation: was desperate) to see someone take revenge with a slightly sub-standard Sachertorte.

So, in response, some easy baking recipes.

It’s worth saying that whereas in most aspects of cooking there is a large amount of leeway, in baking accuracy is more important: quantities, method (for example, beating egg whites), oven temperatures, baking times. So it’s worth following the recipes with some care, and being prepared to adjust the timings to suit your oven.

Granolaan update on the recipe in my book.

90ml water
90ml sunflower oil
135ml honey
Generous tsp ground cinnamon
Scant tsp salt
340g jumbo oats
80g whole skin-on almonds + a few hazelnuts
90g sunflower seeds
90g pumpkin seeds
70g raisins
8 dried apricots, sliced thinly

Heat the oven to 160°C.

Put in the water, oil, honey, cinnamon and salt in a small saucepan and heat it till the sugar dissolves. Measure out the oats, almonds and seeds into the largest possible baking tray. Mix in the syrup thoroughly. Spread out the mixture evenly.
Bake for 35 minutes altogether. Half way through, take the granola out of the oven, break up any lumps and mix it around. At the end, turn off the oven, prop the door slightly ajar, and leave for 15 minutes.

When the granola comes out of the oven, thoroughly mix it again, adding the raisins and dried apricots.

Cheese Soufflé (serves four)

A soufflé easy? Oh really? Try it!

40g butter
2 tbsp plain flour
300ml hot milk
100g grated Cheddar
70g grated Parmesan
Pinch cayenne pepper
A scraping of grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
A little extra grated Cheddar

Heat the oven to 200°C.

The soufflé dish should hold about a litre. Thin china works better than thick.

Make a cheese sauce: melt the butter over a gentle heat, and cook the flour in it for a couple of minutes without letting it colour. Gradually add the milk, stirring continuously, and simmer for about five minutes until the sauce is smooth and thick. Add the cheese, the cayenne, the nutmeg and the salt and pepper, and stir well.

Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks into the sauce, and let the mixture cool to lukewarm. Add a pinch of salt to the whites and beat with a balloon whisk until they stand up in soft peaks that hold their shape. Stir a couple of tablespoons of the whisked whites into the cheese mixture to loosen it up, and then, using a rubber spatula, very lightly fold in the rest of the whites.

Butter a soufflé dish and sprinkle in a little grated cheddar. Pour in the mixture. Make a deep groove in the surface about 2cm from the rim – the idea being to make the soufflé rise like a cottage loaf. Bake for 25 minutes, or if you’re feeling brave, slightly less. The middle should be slightly runny.

Try using Gruyère instead of Cheddar.

Walnut Brownies

It used to be that in London you were never more than two metres from a rat. Now you’re never more than two metres from a chocolate brownie – which is a mild improvement. Try this alternative.

125g butter, melted
225g soft brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla essence
200g self-raising flour
100g chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 180°C.

Mix the melted butter, sugar, egg, salt and vanilla essence. Add the flour and walnuts, and mix well.

Butter a tart tin (approximately 20cm x 20cm) and spread out the mixture into it. Bake for 20 minutes. The inside should still be slightly runny. Cut into squares and leave to cool.

It’s true to say that cooking any of these recipes on Bake Off would ensure a severe Hollywooding and an early exit on grounds of lack of ambition, but let’s leave them to their Mohnstrudels and get on with our lives.

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by TOAST ( 07.11.14 )


Michael Smith

We’d gone to Whitby on the wrong day. The Sunday crowds were heaving, and all the famous chippies had queues round the higgledy-piggledy block. Above us, on top of the East Cliff, the parish church by the abbey ruins beckoned, with only the odd straggler snaking up its craggy cliffside stairs. Away from the harbour and the scrum of Yorkshire day-trippers, above the candyfloss and the slot machines, the goth jewellery shops and the hammy actors’ recorded voices beckoning you into The Dracula Experience – up those 199 steps, we found Whitby’s real magic and enchantment.

Away from the clamour of the crowds, with just the sound of the seagulls above the rickety-roofed old fishermen’s tenements tumbling back down the hilly slopes to the harbour mouth, floating somewhere above that busy little world, the East Cliff also seemed to command another type of birds’ eye view, a birds’ eye view of time: the sense of deep time opening out, going back to the foggiest recesses of the English psyche.

We walked around the parish grounds, winged cherubs’ heads weathered away over the centuries, gravestones weathered to the point of disintegrating over long epochs of salty sea air on this cliff-face graveyard of sailors, and its memorials to others less fortunate, whose only grave is the sea.

Though it’s essentially Norman, St Mary’s has been cobbled together over the ages, and parts of it, like the old archway over the chapel door, seemed like the whispered hints of an earlier civilization whose ways have become strange and obscure to us, a seabound civilization hugging the shores of Northumbria, Denmark, and Norway. Having grown up in these parts, the strange names that have survived still resonate with me from childhood: King Oswy (the local pub where I grew up), St Hilda (my local church), evoking an enchanted, far-off land, like the elusive first memories of childhood, beyond which all is forgotten darkness.

And at this spot on the edges of our memories, our very sense of England, the first poetry in the English language was gifted to Caedmon, an illiterate shepherd, through divine inspiration in a dream.

Bede recalls the story:

He set his limbs at rest and fell asleep, then some man stood by him in his dream and hailed and greeted him and addressed him by his name:
‘Caedmon, sing me something,’
‘I do not know how to sing,’
‘Nevertheless, you must sing,’
‘What must I sing?’
‘Sing to me of the first Creation.’
When he received this answer, then he began immediately to sing in praise of God the Creator verses and words which he had never heard.

Up here in the hazy golden light, blazing like a Saxon shield on the water of that rivermouth below, it’s easy to imagine that same mysterious voice whispering on the wind, calling you back to unknown eons, to the earliest England, a world and a way of life that is all but unimaginable to us. And up on that hill, with an eternity of blue spread out across the vast horizon, you cannot help but think how short a time we’re all allotted, and how little we really understand, and somehow there’s something satisfying and happy about that thought, as nevertheless it’s some small inkling granted us about our place in the world.

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by TOAST ( 05.11.14 )

Pleurotus ostreatus

Kate O’Brien

Amethyst death cap is a cheerful looking mushroom, often depicted in picture books with a cottage door in its stem and two miniature windows on either side, a grand entrance for fairies, cute mammals and all those magical creatures with an inclination for mushroom living.

For those of us who eat them, the death cap feast upon the eyes. Dressed in the likeness of edible Ceaser’s mushroom, straw mushroom or infant puff balls, these toxic mushrooms are believed to have caused more deaths than any other species. Famous victims include Roman Emperor Claudius, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI and Pope Clement VII who just hours before his snack commissioned Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement. With foraging season upon us and conditions ripe for high yields, a public health warning was issued this month against eating potentially fatal mushrooms. So far this year 84 people in the UK have been poisoned by the death cap, destroying angel or fool’s webcap, species which share common characteristics to harmless edible varieties. For those with a cautious interest, below are a few unmistakable (and delicious) mushrooms.

Cep known as porcini in Italy and the penny button here in the UK is prized for its earthy flavour. Often seen growing in groups of ten or more, ceps are very valuable, fetching about £40 per kilo at market. Sticky to the touch they are the most delectable and also safest mushrooms to harvest wild because with their bread roll cap they resemble no other.

Amethyst deceiver is bright purple top and bottom with wide spaced gills and a delicate smell, found by oak and beech trees. When cooked it has a subtle nutty flavour, used in cooking mostly to add colour.

Beefsteak mushroom, also known as Ox tongue can be spotted growing on living or dead oak and sweet chestnut all over Britain. With an obscene resemblance to raw meat, it excretes blood-like drops and is often used as a meat substitute. Like meat it is best eaten fresh as it sours and toughens with age. There is no other mushroom quite like it.

Chicken of the woods grows on broad-leaved trees in lemony yellow fan shaped tiers. Its rubbery texture (and taste) has been likened to chicken. Note that this taste does not agree with everyone! It is known to cause stomach upset in some.

Chanterelle are yoke coloured with a flat cap which looks like a baggy trumpet. They smell faintly of apricot and can be unearthed in all kinds of woodland. Considered a delicacy for centuries, with a peppery sweet taste that intensifies when dried they are easily distinguished from false chanterelle, an hallucinogenic cousin which is more colourful in looks but not especially in flavour.

Field Mushrooms are related to the button supermarket variety and are easily identified. The cap is approximately 10cm across and white, underside gills are chocolate brown. Distinct from the inedible yellow stainer which stains bright yellow when cut or bruised.

Oyster mushroom can only really be mistaken for similar, edible oyster mushrooms so are a safe bet foraged in the wild. With a wavy convex cap they are silver in colour and sharply defined. Deciduous trees are their habitat, preferably beech with a plentiful distribution in the UK.

Wood cauliflower is sweet smelling and individual, more sea sponge than mushroom. It fruits from conifers, with a particular preference for pine. Very tasty when young, but must be eaten fresh (and well cooked too.)

Kate O’Brien is editor of The Plant

Pictured: Pleurotus ostreatus, or oyster mushroom – a cyanotype by Holly Mitchell

posted in: Explore
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by TOAST ( 31.10.14 )
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