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What about Perek?

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A few months ago, when I sat at the table with Maria Mouratidou to talk about Perek Farm near Thessaloniki, Greece I thought I would hear the story of a cooperative, a successful entrepreneurial model, which flourished in a Greece of adversity. But my conversation with Maria told me more about how food could help reframe our lives and reality. How important it is in preserving heritage, the recollection of which is starting to dwindle together with the lessons it has to offer. And how a different way of producing, farming and living could be one of the ways for a brighter personal and global future.

Greece is often branded as one of the most biodiverse, fertile and blessed soils in Europe which apparently can yield more produce per square mile than many of its neighbours. Yet it is in crisis. And the Greeks are running to supermarket chains offering them mass produced food from far-away lands. What has gone wrong?

Recently as I listened to BBC Food programme Sheila Dillon’s voice narrating the struggles and opportunities facing Greek agriculture I was reminded how hope is reborn by necessity, simplicity and through turning to the land. I come from a generation of Greeks whose parents left the countryside for a better future accessible through academic education. And here I am asking myself how many educated ‘fools’ does it take to break a country? Or could we turn our skills and knowledge to tools that could help us reframe reality for the future in Greece and around the world.

So what about Perek? Here’s my take on its story as a family business and an example of how our life, economy and nutrition could be reimagined.

What about Maria?

Maria is a sprightly, ageless lady, who left her academic career in 2003. She worked in molecular biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Medical School. This gave her a sound basis for understanding the links between intensified agricultural practices, the use of pesticides and the increasing health impacts experienced by many of the farming communities where agriculture grew in concentrated pockets of land mass. Maria was also looking to change the pace of her life. ‘We wanted to live’, she says, ‘to enjoy the sunsets and to take time to breathe in the lavender. We never imagined that we could do so much for the people around us. We never knew’.

Maria Mouratidou of Perek Farm

And so was Perek set up. Initially as a small business that produced traditional pasta and pie products typical of Northern Greece and the Pontos such as Trahanas (often fermented Greek pasta grain); Verenika (tortellini -like dumplings with various fillings encountered in other neighbouring cuisines such as that of the Ukraine); Ivristos (vegan pasta similar to tagliatelle but broken, dehydrated and toasted to enhance preservation); Perek pastry (large, thick filo pastry toasted and filled with greens or cheese or other goods); sourdough breads and specialty cakes flavoured with Tsipouro. All these goods used specialty wheat and rye varieties carefully selected for each product, grown and milled locally by farmers carefully chosen for their practices.


‘Subconsciously I looked at what my mother did’ says Maria. ‘I wanted more than just a business and to preserve methods, foods and practices from our long-lost homes in Pontos, Kerasounta’. There were many women in the area of the same micro-heritage that Maria could work with. So a workshop was set up and the reputation of its quality produce grew and grew. People visited to stock up on supplies, the place was like a magnet pulling in those seeking to reconnect with tradition and practices that Perek had to offer. The quality and flavour was unparalleled.

‘It was as if we had made a Nobel prize discovery, when all we had done was use resources grown in tune with nature. We made what we knew from our grandmothers and mothers – recipes and traditions handed down generation to generation. Gradually people started asking why they could not taste recipes with food they bought, why there was no restaurant on the premises. We were lead to growing as a business. As we say in Greece ‘the route leads the walker’.


Perek’s growth (?)

Maria applied her scientific knowledge in seeking wheat, dairy and meat produce that was uncompromised. ‘As a scientist I felt it was essential to make an alternative suggestion to society to help rectify the damage done to our ecosystems, society and health.  We have an obligation as scientists to talk about the impacts of chemicals on our food and genetics. And I wanted to also talk about the ‘science’ of tradition. To look deeply into our heritage and see how it leads us back to understanding the basis of longevity and how to enhance biodiversity’, Maria says.

‘All you need to do is watch and listen to each place (the Topos). The hint is often in the names of places, Ampelotopos or Agrampelo (the vine meadow), Karpouzlouko (the water melon field), Kapnohorafo (the tobacco plot). There is a reason for these names. People observed what grows and doesn’t grow well. Then they rested the land. They swapped crops’, she continues. ‘And you must remember, tradition does not focus on loss and profit and mass production. It is about making do, health and wellbeing’.

With the help of her daughter, a food scientist who researched Meznikof’s work and returned to Greece to be part of the business, Perek grew. Today the business employs over forty people. There are at least five regular animal farmers it collaborates with as well as an array of carefully selected artisan businesses.

The Perek Restaurant, a beautiful stone building with a large cyclical fireplace/oven in the middle, overlooks Thermaikos Bay and looks at Mount Olympus. It feeds up to 2,500 people each week and is supplied by the Perek workshop which continues to provide employment to many women and communities in the area. Perek supports free range farmers whose produce it uses for the restaurant, whilst it has also set up its own small farm mainly focussing on the rearing of black pig pork, indigenous in Maria’s home land. The pies, including the amazing Perek pie, often use wild greens (Horta) such as purslane, amaranth and nettle. Stipa (Toursi), fermented cabbage similar to sauerkraut and kimchi, feature on the menu. Katsikisio tyri, goat’s cheeses from free range animals and Greek varieties of chickpeas, lentils and other pulses also feature on the menu. It is the place to visit if you want to taste the land’s flavours.


‘One of the positive impacts of the crisis, was the lack of money to buy some of the expensive, industrialised animal feed which increased productivity and commercialised dairy and animal farms. This hit farming in Greece badly. But the remaining farmers downsized and turned to grazing and traditional methods of feeding. Production rates decreased but quality improved. The taste of the milk and cheese for example is now more distinct of the land’s vegetation’, Maria explains.

With a model so successful there could be temptation for Perek to grow and expand. Make no mistake, Maria is a business woman, savvy, clever and resourceful, but her message is unequivocal. ‘We supply twenty to thirty external businesses at the most. There are limits to how far we can go without compromising quality and the ethos of our business. We will produce enough for our restaurant, our own shop and some suppliers but we cannot supply everyone. There would be costs to that and we have to be careful’.

The meaning of life…  

When Maria left her academic career for a different life she was ill. ‘Cancer made me revaluate life. I asked myself why I am running around like a mad woman. Why do I never have time? Why do I struggle?’, Maria told me. Can you relate to this too?

To me Perek is more than just a food business. It is a model and a way of business the depths of which might not be appreciated by everyone but its restaurant service for example remains accessible to the average Greek living in the area. And this is what makes it so amazing. That you can have quality in flavour, produce and life. That you can support ethical practices and communities through a conventional business model which is not willing to compromise its ethos. That you are able to preserve the elements of different segments of Greek traditions and tribes which shed light into who we are, how we can live more healthily and how we can connect to our neighbours.

I am not going to demonise where we are as a global society today, it gets tiring.  There is a reason we made this journey through progress and perhaps now we are better equipped to move on into the future. Take Perek and Maria’s story as an example of how our and future generations could take academic excellence, skills and knowledge and apply it towards a different direction awar from our conditioned aspirations of achievement and wealth. Towards a more meaningful future for us, our friends, our nature and our children. Just take that.

Visit Perek farm all year around from Monday to Sunday. For more information here: http://www.perek.gr/ . Visit Perek on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Perek-Restaurant-Monopigado-Thessaloniki/387257144667373

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MealSq Menywod – Cooking from our Heartland

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On 21 May 2017 Melissa (Penylan Pantry), Sam and Shauna (Hangfire), Bettina (Brød-The Danish Bakery), Goldie (Samosaco), Ericka Duffy (cocktail and taste expert), Ashli (Spillers Records) and I worked together to deliver a unique night of food, drink and music.  What united us, apart from our extremely worthy cause to raise money for Action Against Hunger, is our passion about women leading the way in food business and good, ethical, tasty food. We delivered this event under the banner of Meal Squared, a format that delivers collaborative events and which Melissa set up last year to strengthen Cardiff’s growing independent business community.

The inspiration for Cooking From the Heartland came from the ‘Severn Sisters’ Bristol dinner organised by Romy Gill MBE and Kim Somauroo in autumn 2016. It involved women from different food cultures to create a female feast. ‘We were so inspired by our experience [of attending the event] that we decided to have our own version in Wales. Our feast, ‘Cooking from our heartland’ is inspired by the international drinks, food and music makers we know and love’, say Sam and Shauna. For me and the other women who were approached to participate in this evening there was no doubt that this was going to be our kind of fun.

This is the story of our coming together. It tells you why we chose Action Against Hunger, what ‘Cooking from the Heartland’ means to us and why we think it is so important that women work together…

I would particularly like to thank Oliveology, Blaencamel Farm, Cig Lodor Meat, All Greek Delicatessen, CocoCaravanCocoCaravan for donating ingredients for the mezze platter and dessert I prepared for the event. A massive thanks to all the other women who volunteered and worked hard on the night . And to Kas of Waterloo Tea who gave us access to his amazing restaurant/coffee house in Wyndham Arcade to run the event.

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We chose Action Against Hunger because

‘165 million people suffer from childhood malnutrition. If they joined hands, they could form a complete circle around the earth. I think this says it all.’ (Mel, Penylan Pantry)

‘When we started Hang Fire, we sofa surfed for the first year, ploughing every penny from the last pop-up back into next. Now that we have a roof over our heads, we think if you have two quid, you have a quid to share. It’s important to always give a something back. Action Against Hunger does amazing work all year round, both at home and further afield. It is our chosen partner charity this year. With everything happening in the world right now, we need to keep looking out for each other and help those who aren’t as fortunate as us.’ (Sam & Shauna, Hangfire)

‘We’re told that we’re living in exciting times of such progress and achievements in the sphere of technological development and medical advancements, yet so many children are going hungry and die of malnutrition.  That isn’t right. Thank goodness for Action Against Hunger for making it their business to help those who are less fortunate.’ (Ashli, Spillers Records)

‘Nobody is immune to misfortune. People’s lives change overnight through war, unemployment, illness. People go hungry in Wales. Refugees walk thousands of miles to safety, water and food.  In Greece people like us bin-dive to find food. Recently, at food community project in Uganda I often drove past international relief lorries transporting food to South Sudan and Yemen on a massive scale. I support Action Against Hunger with all my heart’.  (Lia, Lia’s Kitchen)

Cooking from our heartland means ….

‘Seasonal, free thinking, creative cooking inspires me. I love nutritious, wholesome ingredients, that are good for your health, soul and mind.  My heartland is wherever I happen to fall. I like to cook with local produce from the surrounding area. I feel strongly that the best way to know a new place, is to get stuck into the local food culture.’ (Mel, Penylan Pantry)

‘We are Celts and experts in the art of slow cooking and smoking. Cooking from our heartland brings those two things together to create our own version of Southern Wales style BBQ using great local produce. We take the best that the UK has to offer and couple it with the cooking techniques we learned in the States all to a soundtrack by Dolly Parton!’ (Sam & Shauna, Hangfire)

‘Baking is an important connection to my birthland. Moving to Wales in 1998, I quickly felt at home but always missed Danish bread. The rubbish Danish Pastries in the UK meant I had to set the record straight. My heartland is with my grandfather (FarFar) who was a baker in central København. My mother, grandmother and I baked to his tales of making bread (brød), pastries and cake. I’ve kept going and now I can do the same for you through Brød.’ (Bettina, Brød)

‘We live in an age where access to “stuff” in unlimited.  Every thing’s a commodity. You can hear music from a culture a million miles removed from your own.  You have access to ingredients from lands far and wide. Anything goes.  This creates an exciting palette for a music fan or food lover. But if something is made with passion, with heart and soul oozing out of it, it hits you in the solar plexus and resonates. That sort of passion is the difference between wholesale, mass produced for the highest margin return and the real deal.  I think that the unifying thing about the team bringing this event together is that we are only interested in the real deal.  It’s all about passion.’ (Ashli, Spillers Records)

‘The Heartland theme meant exploring my connection to Wales which for me revolves around art and literature. My cocktails are inspired by the Davies sisters who contributed much to the artwork and culture that enthrals me about Wales. They bought whole galleries of artwork (Monets, Manets, Rodins). They established Gregynog Hall as a centre of excellence for the arts, crafts and music. Most importantly, the Davies Sisters took in Belgian refugees including the sculptor George Minne, and the painters Valerius de Saedeleer and Gustave van de Woestyne. All three artists were to spend the rest of World War I largely dependent on the Davies family for support. You can visit the Davies Galleries at National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.’ (Ericka Duffy, Cocktail and taste expert)

‘Cooking from the heartland brings you the taste of my Greece whilst mixing it with world food influences, and good Welsh/UK produce I discovered in the past twenty years living away from the birth land. My platter is about ingredients from some of the businesses involved in the collaboration, whilst I introduce you to some of my favourite Greek and Welsh, UK- based businesses. And every dish reminds me of someone I love. My Yaya (Grandma) for the boozy tzatziki, my Mana (Mom) for the meatballs and my Aderfo (brother) for the fava dip.’ (Lia, Lia’s Kitchen)

Women should work together …

‘Women make up 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, and account for about two-thirds of the world’s 600 million livestock keepers. Still to this day millions of women and girls around the world are discriminated against simply because they are born female. Events like International women’s day send a message of unity, solidarity and compassion. I hope MealSq Menywod sends out the same message on a smaller scale.  Gender discrimination should not be accepted in this day and age.’ (Mel, Penylan Pantry)

‘We have always championed the idea of bridging the gender gap in any industry, and the hospitality industry is no different. We’re surrounded by talented, courageous women who are a daily inspiration to us. It’s a great privilege to come together and produce an event that is not only authentic but heartfelt from some incredible women truly passionate about what they do.’ (Sam & Shauna, Hangfire)

‘In the words of Poly Styrene “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard. But I think “oh bondage, up yours!”. Being a go-getting female with a lot of knowledge in your field, you often have to play down your expertise and shrink below your ambitions.  With politics at the forefront of many people’s minds at the moment, it’s important to remember that not so long ago women were denied the basic human right to have our say.  But let’s not forget we are the lucky ones. Many women worldwide still do not have the right to exercise their own choice. In the face of regressive steps the world has taken lately we must continue to fight for our rights and demand equality.’ (Ashli, Spillers Records)

‘I like working with inspirational people, both men and women. But I think this is an event that shows how we women can support each other in business.’ (Bettina, Brød)

‘This meal presents females who work in flavour and taste – each of us in traditionally male-dominated fields. Between our different skillsets, point-of-view, and aesthetics there is a collaboration occurring – from baking, Greek cuisine, smoking, cheese pairing, cocktail mixing, and the music selection by the World’s Oldest Record shop.’ (Ericka Duffy, Cocktail and taste expert)

‘I have had fun and struggles being a female immigrant claiming my place in Britain! As a Greek girl, I was often stereotyped to suit the service industry just fine but some people were shocked I was also a law graduate, a young lecturer or that I chose to start my own food venture. I have had many lives. I refuse to be pigeonholed. And women should fight together against prejudice. Antagonism is not a female trait so it’s time to resist being turned into alpha-males. Our global village relies on running it together. There is space for everyone. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’ (Lia, Lia’s Kitchen)

All you need is love … and chocolate coated, caramel almonds

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Happy St Dwynwen’s Day you lovely people! So proud that in Wales we have a lady patron of love.

Last week the amazing We Are Cardiff blog asked me to develop a recipe for them! And here it is together with the full blog. 

wearecardiff.co.uk/2017/01/23/all-you-need-is-a-love-inspired-recipe-for-saint-dwynwens-day/

Remember to find out more about Greek food join one of Lia’s Kitchen intimate cooking classes on 3 and 10 February. I will be introducing participants to Greek Kitchen basics but will also be sharing Greek flavours and recipes that are not yet widely known in the UK. You can book online here www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/lias-kitchen-7901836356. 
Or contact Lia for more information at lia@liaskitchen.com.

The story of my August dinner

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My pop-up dinner at Cardiff’s Street Food Circus in August 2016 showcased one of my most favourite menus to date. Food inspired by my homes of Greece and Wales was served under a canvas tent and the leafy trees of Sophia Gardens, in the green heart of the city centre at a pop-up restaurant operated by Milgi Cardiff.

I cannot think of a menu that sums up the Lia’s Kitchen approach to cooking and dishes better. It’s based on how I eat and my adventures in food. I am always on the look-out for fantastic, local and sustainable produce and products from my Greek and Welsh homes to integrate in my cooking. And I always try to showcase  producers, flavours and ingredients that you might not have heard or savoured, like for example salepi, the wild orchid powder that flavoured my yoghurt ice-cream desert.

And here’s one other very important thing. I work with people I like and whose business I respect. Their produce/product is as good as their business and working ethos. I love what they do and how they do it. And this is why I believe I should tell you about them. They provide me with daily inspiration and nourishment, and they are or are becoming good friends in the most beautiful, unrushed, organic way.

1.Tom Frost and Blaencamel Farm work tirelessly through the seasons in a fertile valley of West Wales, between river and coastline, and grow vegetable using organic, biodynamic methods. Their land is unadulterated and pristine. The food is nourishing and full of unique flavours. For my August menu I used organic aubergines, tomatoes, chard, cucumbers, beetroot grown and summer salad leaves grown in Wales. Their vegetable is the perfect match for my recipes and some of the great Greek products I have sourced.

2. Marianna and Oliveology are based in London Borough market. She sources her olive products from a small, organic farm in Sparta, Greece. She also sources other organic and wild, foraged goods from the Peloponnese. I swear this is not a sales pitch, they are not paying me – I urge you to try their products for your taste buds’ happiness and your soul’s nourishment! Together with their organic grape molasses and their fantastic Agiorgitiko grape balsamic vinegar, I used their 18 degrees organic, extra virgin olive oil (so aromatic but delicate at the same time) to dress Tom’s fresh salad leaves. I also used their white balsamic vinegar with Greek honey and Oliveology’s flavoured extra virgin olive oil (rosemary, purslane, walnut, oregano) – another product on my menu exceptionally high in Omega 3 – to dress a summer vegetable slaw, made mostly with Tom’s vegetable too. The success of Oliveology’s products is that their quality will not let you down and their flavours are distinct but well balanced. As my one of my diners said: ‘You can taste every single flavour but it doesn’t punch you in the face’. I think Oliveology’s products are an experience you should not miss.

3. Benni Thomas and Cig Lodor Meat are a butcher business based in Carmarthenshire Wales. I eat meat once a week (or less than that) and it is mostly if not exclusively from Benni who supplies both Riverside Farmers’ Markets in Cardiff. Benni supplies me with Dexter Beef which is what I used for my Moussaka main dish. Not only does the grass fed beef taste like no other, it is also contains almost as high Omega 3 as oily fish (for example mackerel). It has a rich and moreish flavour that complements creamy béchamel dishes, a tomato sauce with hints of cinnamon and loves to be cooked with the meaty aubergine! I use it in burgers and stews, and everything I cook really. With such low carbon footprint this beef should satisfy the most environmentally conscious person. So if you live in Wales and you have not tried Benni’s products I think you should definitely put it on your to-eat list.

4.  Jacque and CocoCaravan make delicious raw chocolate and hot chocolate drinks. I use the vanilla and cinnamon cocoa powder every day and for my August menu I sprinkled it amply on the Greek yoghurt ice cream served for the last course. I also coated my homemade pasteli (Greek Sesame and pistachio energy bar) in melted CocoCaravan’s raw, dark chocolate. Jacque’s chocolates, which he started making in Wales a few years ago, are creamy and melt in your mouth, their flavour is subtle and the digest incredibly easily (compared to other chocolates) in my opinion. His products are just incredible.

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Jacques’ CocoCaran Raw Dark Chocolate and Vanilla and CInnamon Raw Cacao5.
5. Yannos, Stefanos and Maltby and Greek Wines, were introduced to me by Marianna when I was looking for a Greek supplier of two of my favourite grapes of wine Xinomavro and Malagouzia. Not only did they provide me with wine from a great vineyard but they were able to recommend the better wine for my menu. The Xinomavro and Syrah sweeter grape mix they recommended was a much better pairing for the moreish flavours of the menu. For their professionalism and support at a very hard personal time for them I give them ten out of ten – they are so professional and helpful. It is so easy to order their wines online and they don’t let you down. Try shopping from them and you will see what I mean.

6. Mel, Jo and the Penylan Pantry are a sustainable, local corner store/cafe/deli a stone throw’s away from my Cardiff home. These days I only change Blaencamel as my vegetable supplier for the Penylan Pantry, who source organic vegetable ethically from around Wales, UK and Europe. The stepped in to source additional vegetable for the menu as part of their weekly vegetable box scheme. They also have one of the biggest selections of delicious British cheeses I have found in a place in Cardiff and I just love them. And their home is one of the brightest, cosiest cafés in Cardiff. If you have not lounged and shopped there yet, do it soon!

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Mel and Jo of the Penylan Pantry

Lia’s Kitchen’s  next event is on 8 October 2016 at Slow Food South East Wales’s Dunraven Bay festival. We will be serving Greek pies made with organic chard and foraged nettles from Bleancamel Farm

Love your leftovers, reduce waste!

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Read about us on BBC Wales front page on 28 December 2015! 

A5 Template [Converted].aiAs the year draws to an end and in the midst of this wonderful festive season it is time to reflect on our food consumption and the amount of edible food that may be wasted. What can you do to love your leftovers and to reduce your food waste?

This Christmas weekend we have had fantastic time in our kitchen using our limited leftovers from Christmas dinner. They went such a long way making us two delicious pie dinners (one with turkey and one with ham), bubble & squeak with our roasted veg, whilst we had planned to use our organic cabbage in a pickled raw salad with seeds because it lasts well over a week! Yesteday we cleared through our cupboards making sure that everything is clearly labelled and this week we will be mainly eating what’s already there.

Make a pledge to join us this year in our effort to help reduce waste, to take care of ourselves better through nutritional meals and to benefit our pockets.  There is plenty of inspiration and help from us and Green City Events coming up with Love Food Hate Waste roadshows and cook ups scheduled most of the weekends of January and February 2016. 

To stay up to date with booking links and further information, follow us on twitter and facebook, and subscribe to our mailing list.

http://www.twitter.com/liaskitchen 

http://www.facebook.com/liaskitchen

http://liaskitchen.us8.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=b2e35c09f36569927d96ab105&id=5cdbfd6e87 

 

Waste Not Cakes! Carrot & Banana sweetness and pumpkin & mushroom savoury delight

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This year our dream team consisting of Green City Events, Cynefin Cardiff and Lia’s Kitchen will be organising more food waste reduction events in Cardiff’s Roath/Penylan, Splott and Adamsdown areas. Our first Love Food Hate Waste Roadshow on 21 November 2015 kicked off a series of roadshows and workshops to follow in 2016. We cannot explain how much we believe in what we do so we hope that our enthusiasm and dedication is contagious. Now is a great time to think about reducing your food waste and to join the fight to help do something about this ever increasing problem.

At our November 2015 roadshow we provided advice and tips on how to use our imagination to cook with what we have at home. Our savoury and sweet cake samples inspired many of you to be creative in the kitchen. So here are the recipes below. Remember don’t be afraid to replace an ingredient you are missing with another. The cake recipes were inspired by ingredients most us of are likely to waste and seasonal, affordable ingredients such as squash.

The sweet cake recipe is based on a similar recipe shared with me by a dear friend Wendy Twell about ten years ago. Whilst the savoury cake is inspired by pumpkin and winter squash which is abundant at the moment – it is designed to help people not waste some of the larger pumpkins/squash they get hold off. For more inspiration on pumpkin see here.

Follow @greencityevens, @liaskitchen, @cynefincardiff for information on upcoming events.

Thanks to www.dangreenphotography.com and Luke From Cynefin for the snaps today.

Sweet Carrot & Banana Cake

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Ingredients (8-10 portions)

  • 1 carrot coarsely grated
  • 2 ripe bananas mashed with a fork
  • 100ml/g of fat (vegetable oil or melted butter)
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 150 sugar (caster or light brown sugar or a mix)
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g chopped nuts of your choice or roughly chopped chocolate
  • 1 tsp mixed spices of your choices (we recommend mixing half tsp ground cardamom, half tsp ground cinnamon powder, ¼ tsp ground nutmeg)

Preparation (1.5 hours)

  1. Grease and line a 20cm long bread tin or a 20cm round baking tray with flour.
  2. Mix the flour with the baking powder and the spices of your choice.
  3. Mash the bananas with a fork and grate the carrot in the same bowl.
  4. Add the banana and carrot and mix with the flour.
  5. Make a well in the middle and add the fat of your choice and eggs.
  6. Beat well until blended.
  7. Bake in a medium oven (170 centigrade) for 45-1hr or until a skewer pierced into the centre comes out clean.

Lia’s tips:

  • If you have one banana only add another carrot. If the mixture is tight add 1-2 tablespoons of milk to make it looser so that the cake is not dry.
  • Cool down the butter a little before you add to your mixture. Mix in before adding your eggs.
  • The cake keeps well in the fridge for about a week.
  • Have too much leftover cake? Why not eat some of it for breakfast with Greek yoghurt and honey. Or soak the drier slices win some coffee and marsala or other sweet wine, topping it with sweetened yoghurt and fruit for an alternative trifle desert which will impress all your guests.

Savoury pumpkin and mushroom cake

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Ingredients (8-10 portions)

  • 1 small-medium squash/pumpkin or up to 500g peeled squash/pumpkin
  • 1 onion
  • 300g mushrooms
  • 1 small bunch of sage (30g)
  • 300g cornmeal or polenta
  • 200g plain flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 100g butter melted
  • 50-100g cheddar cubed or grated
  • 300ml milk
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 30g sugar
  • Salt
  • Olive oil for frying
  • Butter for frying

Preparation (1.5hr)

  1. Grease and line a square baking tray (25cm x 35cm) or a deep round baking tray (20-25cm diameter).
  2. Cut and peel the pumpkin or squash removing sweet. Then grate coarsely or pulse in a food processor for 2 minutes.
  3. Finely slice the onion, mix with the pumpkin, add two pinches of salt and stir fry in a little bit of olive oil for 10 minutes.
  4. Slice the mushrooms, add a pinch of salt and fry in a little butter until soft.
  5. Fry the whole sage leaves and their chopped stalk in a little butter until crispy.
  6. Mix the flours together with the baking powder.
  7. Add the sugar, fried veg, the butter, the cheese , the milk and the two beaten eggs and mix into a soft batter that is neither too tight not too runny.
  8. Season with more salt if needed and add the fried sage.
  9. Bake for 45min-1hr in a medium over (175 centigrade) or until a skewer pierced in the middle comes out clean.

Lia’s tips:

  • Raw pumpkin does not in my opinion freeze that well uncooked. Stir frying pumpkin or squash is a great way to preserve it. If you have too much cook it, cool it, freeze it and use in cakes, pies and stir fries later on in the year.
  • This recipe is adaptable to various and seasonal ingredients. You can use carrot and greens such as kale and spinach. Or add more mushrooms and less pumpkin. Ingredients such as carrot, pumpkin, courgette, aubergine are good for this cake because the keep this cake moist and soft.
  • Same with the cheese- why not use a mix of cheeses, or blue cheese or whatever you might have in your fridge.
  • You can replace the milk with yoghurt and a little bit of water.
  • If you don’t have sage tarragon is a great alternative and so is rosemary. And of course you can use dried herbs instead of fresh. 1-2 tsp should be enough for this recipe.
  • Polenta or fine cornmeal is a great ingredient to store in your pantry. Many shops on or around City road in Cardiff  sell big bags for very little money. It will come handy for many savoury or sweet cakes which you can use your leftovers. Introduce cornmeal to your life – it is a great ingredient to cook with! s
  • This cake keeps well in the fridge for about a week. It freezes well too.
  • For the summer version of this cake see here.

And that is that …

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This morning I thought I had missed call from someone I have worked during the last two very intense years of my water related job (which takes up most of my time during the week). He has accepted a job in a faraway warm rich place and I had sent him a farewell card. I called him back to wish him well, thinking it was his last day at work. At this stage of our testing professional relationship, having been through intense challenges, trials and tribulations, we could just be human, and focus on the person immigrating to a different country, leaving their home behind, regardless of whether this is done happily or sadly. So it was to my surprise that at the end of the conversation he chose to say something awkward. It aimed to question the role of the hard working organisation I spend almost all of my working week at to protect the interests of the public in a private UK water industry. Still I obliged him. It was not personal, he’s a good guy, it was probably his way of joking and he was making small talk whilst I was calling to wish him good luck from the bottom of my heart.

Straight after that I went to Oasis, a refugee charity in Cardiff, where hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, migrants or immigrants, receive support and food every week. I found myself in the kitchen with women from Ghana, India, Uganda, Zambia, Albania whilst they were cooking a meal for ninety odd people who will have lunch at Oasis today. I met them for the first time. They all probably have interesting stories, perhaps some of these stories are harrowing. Some of them have their children at their home country whilst they work here. Still they opened their mind and their arms to me as soon as I walked in. You know that sense of that we are all in it together? That’s what I felt.

This morning I felt relieved as I was putting the phone down, being thankful for the bad signal that interrupted the awkward final bit of my discussion with a newly appointed ex-pat . And as I was leaving Oasis I felt grateful to Reynette and the women in the Oasis kitchen for opening their door to me, to cook, to share & record their recipes and listen to their experiences. As a human.

I think I know for good which conversation I’d rather be in.