And, you know, give me all your money.
More on this madness later.
And, you know, give me all your money.
More on this madness later.
Barely at all, frankly. Our back garden is mostly terracotta tiles with a border of bed, a disused pond and flowers in garish shades of pink and orange as beloved by the previous owner. It’s dominated by an overgrown bay tree that desperately needs to be cut back by half. Although without any input from us, the apple tree had beautiful blossom this year and the pear tree looks good too, so fingers crossed for another good crop this year.
The histamine plan is… flexible, let’s say. I do think it’s helping but god, it’s hard. And I get bored of it really easily and just want to eat chocolate. Not terribly helpful. But I am coughing less.
Yet again this year I am banging on about wanting to grow vegetables in the garden. Foolhardy? Undoubtedly. There are days I don’t manage to brush my hair due to demands of the small child so weeding and watering a mini-allotment is going to be interesting. But as even things like bagged salad do seem to set me off coughing, there’s never been a better time to try growing some veg here.
I aim to start small, with four 35cm square planters and two hanging baskets. I’d like strawberries and tomatoes in the baskets and cut-and-come-again lettuce and perhaps courgettes in the planters, plus herbs I think. Any suggestions on what varieties to try? I’m kind of tempted to offer one planter up to Meantime Brewery for their True Brew of London which I think is a genius idea of theirs.
They’ve planted hops in royal parks and gardens all over London, including grand institutions like the Natural History Museum and Battersea Power Station, and lots of pubs are participating too. I think the closest growing stations to us are the View Tube at the Olympic Park and Waitrose in Stratford. The hops will be harvested in September and then dried. After that they are mixed with malt, yeast and water and left to mature, to be ready for drinking at the end of the year. Given that hops are perennials, I presume they could make this year after year?
I’ve just realised that May is marching onwards so hopefully we’ll actually get to a garden centre somewhere to get some plants before it’s too late to sow them. Any advice for a first-time, time-poor veggie grower?
I’d never given histamine much thought, apart from popping anti- pills from about February onwards for the past six years or so. I never suffered from hayfever as a child and it was savage when it hit me, with severe sinus pain and the feeling that I needed to rip my eyes from their sockets to get any relief.
Probably about the same time, I started suffering from a dry cough. Others probably suffered more, to be honest – when it cleared up my mother revealed that she’d always known when I was about to cough during our phone conversations, and she’d pull the receiver away from her ear before the bellow came.
The cough stopped without fanfare just before our wedding and I didn’t even realise until my mum mentioned its absence. “You must not be eating dairy,” she guessed, knowing that we were on a mad panic last-minute diet. In fact I was mainlining yoghurt and cheese, along with meat on a well-known and frequently derided high-protein diet which I reluctantly thought actually suited me rather well even if I still hankered after bread and potatoes and all things magnificently carbulous.
Not long after the wedding I got pregnant and ate my way through morning sickness, mashed potato was particularly helpful. The pounds piled on too, and they weren’t just baby. When our son was a couple of weeks old, at the beginning of August the cough came back. So I was sleep deprived, hacking, and fat. Winner! By Christmas it was so bad that one night nursing the baby at 3:00am I coughed so hard I felt something pop under a rib – and it still hurts now.
The short version of what happened is GP appointments, the chest clinic at the local hospital, some interesting tests and an asthma diagnosis. That came from me performing exceptionally badly in a histamine challenge test (which sounds like a remake of an 80s television show) but I’m still not sure that they are right.
Yes, I react badly to histamine – my lung function dropped 40% at the beginning of the test, when they only wanted a 20% reaction over the course of the entire test. This, to my consultant, is consistent with asthma and there can’t be any possibility of it being food related – he was very dismissive when I asked him if there could be any link between diet and the cough. Even though long-term symptoms disappeared during a restricted diet and returned with a vengeance when I was eating everything.
So I decided to do a little research. I explained the story to a friend who’s a naturopath if she could think of anything that I might be allergic to, or any other reason for the coughing. She asked me if anyone had discussed histamine-rich foods with me. Um, no.
When you look into it there are a lot of slightly conflicting lists of what you can eat if you’re sensitive to histamine. The theory is that your histamine levels are like a bucket – once it’s full you’ll get symptoms (cough, bloating, sneezing etc) but you can empty the bucket a little by managing what you eat, taking Vitamin C which is a natural antihistamine, and drinking lots of water. I took this lightly as I’ve always been a bit of a an intolerance denier (if you swell up like a pumpkin with anaphylaxis fair enough, but some people are just fussy eaters) but decided to try an exclusion diet in line with the histamine-sensitivity principles. Here’s the things I’m supposed to avoid (from Allergy UK).
Certain foods (even food that is low in histamine) can stimulate the release of histamine from mast cells in your body (a type of immune cell). These foods include:
Yeah, I particularly like “spices” thrown in there at the end. It cuts out so many condiments and any source of umami seems to be completely verboten.
However, the cough is gone.
Except when I eat things from that list.
I’ve already sussed that peppers and potatoes hate me, wheat isn’t great and chocolate and white wine are no-nos. So if I’ve declined an invitation to dine, or try various food products, this is probably why. I’m also taking anti-histamine now just to try to help. And I’ll be looking for new recipe ideas and trying to post food ideas here too.
It should almost go without saying, but all resource suggestions gratefully accepted!
With only a few days to go until Stir Wars: A Night at the Death Star Canteen, there are two rather brilliant announcements.
Firstly, a huge thank you to everyone at ASDA for joining the Rebel Alliance, aka our list of brilliant sponsors and donors. They jumped into the breach at this late stage to help us with our store-cupboard ingredients after we were let down, and we’re delighted that this means the maximum amount of cash from tickets sales can go directly to the Make A Wish Foundation.
Of course you all know that the event is entirely sold out… or is it? Yes, the rumours of this late-stage plot point are indeed true. We have four tickets available, and they will be auctioned as two pairs via Twitter and this blog tomorrow, Tuesday 1st May.
How will it work?
Good luck to all, and Danny, Mimi and Arianna (along with our Front of House legends, Oisin and Phil from The Ship) look forward to welcoming you on Saturday. I can’t be there on the night, unfortunately – but I’ve been promised lots and lots of photos!
If you’re free on the 31st of March, the next #foodbloggerslunch will be taking place at….
Ben’s Canteen. It’s at 140 St John’s Hill, SW11 1SL, apparently a short stroll from Clapham Junction, Northcote Road and Wandsworth Town.
Arrive: 12:30 – 1:00pm
Seated for 1:00pm sharp
Cost: £25 per head (bargain!) Please bring the correct money in cash on the day, to make my life easier.
Over half of the places have already gone to people on my mailing list*, and if you’re in, you’ll get an email by Monday letting you know.
Dave has put together an absolutely cracking menu, which is below.
:: Menu ::
Anyone got any leftovers still lurking around the fridge? Or are you all cleared out and about to start that New Year detox? If the answer to the second question (and indeed probably the first) is yes, then look away now. Go on, shoo. This will only upset you. Unless you’re only doing a two week healthfest…
Because guess what’s coming up? A food bloggers’ trip to The Ship.
Date: Saturday 14th January
It’s a lunchtime start, arrive from 12:00 with food coming out at 12:30 and there will be more complete menu details nearer the time but we’re looking at something along the lines of four starters, three pies, the Ship’s new burger, loads of sides, loads of desserts, and there’s always a drink or two to be had! We’ve always had the best possible welcome from the Ship and this will be an ideal opportunity to catch up with food blogger mates at the start of the year.
Cost: £20 per person, payable in cash on the day (please bring exact money).
Red Onion Soup, Cheese Crôute
Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Parfait, Rum Soaked Baby Figs, Toasted Brioche
Scallops with Fennel Pure, Crisped Fennel, Garlic Chives
Grilled Lamb Cutlets with Spiced Tomato and Yoghurt Dressing
Black Sticks Blue and Mushroom Torte with Truffle Rosti Creamed Spinach
Seared Guinea Fowl with Truffled Mash, Sprouting Broccoli and Wild Mushroom Jus
Chargrilled Beef Burger with Cheese, Pickled Cucumber and Fries
Parsnip, Tomato and Goat’s Cheese Gratin, Jerusalem Artichoke, Chestnut Mushroom and Spinach Fricassée
Seared Plaice, Parma Ham, Poached Leeks, Samphire and Champagne Sauce
Braised Pork and Cider Pastry Pie with Mustard Glazed Carrots
Passion Fruit Panacotta with Coffee Short Bread
Treacle Tart with Stem Ginger Ice Cream
Selection of Cheese
Plus I believe their famous Scotch Egg will also be making an appearance…
If you’d like to come: we’re at about half capacity already. If you’ve already responded to the early invitation that went out in December, then you’re on the list.
Otherwise, click on “Your Name’s Down” at the top of this page and in the “I’m particularly interested in…” field, put “Lunch at the Ship on the 14th”, by the 7th January and you’ll get a confirmation email.
Bring on the burgers…
It was only after I twirled the first forkful of pasta in Bar Semplice that I twigged exactly what I’d signed up to. “Carbonara cookoff, marvellous…compare dishes from x and y, yes” – with the chefs sitting there in front of us. Next off why don’t I just decide between your two children.
We started off with a Prosecco and Franciacorta comparison. I hadn’t been aware that Prosecco is barrel fermented where Franciacorta is bottle fermented (same as Cava and Champagne). The latter was a blanc de blanc, so entirely made from the Chardonnay grape. I’ll admit I liked them both, and was glad that this wasn’t in contention. Both Mario and his business partner Giovanni Baldino are from Lombardy and strive to source ingredients there for both of their restaurants.
On to the battle. In the blue corner, the celebrity chef and Italian traditionalist, Marco Torri. Head Chef and co-owner of Ristorante Semplice, and a fine goatee. Sporting chef’s whites and Birkenstocks. In the red corner, the challenger, Jane Hornby. Fighting fit even after spending six days (six!) at BBC Good Food in Birmingham. Author of What To Cook and How To Cook It. Wearing very fetching earrings and a lovely purple frock.
When the dishes arrived on identical platters, we were struck by how dissimilar they looked.
Dish 1 was startlingly well seasoned, evenly coated in finely ground black pepper. The jungle of pasta was perched in a lake of creamy sauce and lots of bacon peeked out from underneath.
Dish 2 looked comparatively dry. Specks of sauce clung to strands of spaghetti, again with generous amounts of meat on show.
Time to dig in, and the chefs rejoined us from the kitchen. The restaurant’s Muzak errs gloriously on the side of 80s kitsch and had either “under pressure” or the Rocky theme tune popped up next, it would have worked.
Dish 1 was punchy and rich from the first mouthful. My scribbled notes say pecorino, egg yolk and speck, and ‘very yellow’. We debated whether it was cream or pasta water making up the sauce. The liberal peppering added to the burst of flavour without overpowering as you might have expected.
Dish 2 was immediately sweeter. Certainly Parmesan and I thought maybe cheddar. The bacon tasted less smoked. Overall the effect was ‘comfort’. I could have eaten a trough of it. We decided it had garlic – and revised that to garlic oil.
Then we had to give our verdict. Audible gulp. We dallied by first attempting to call who’d cooked each dish. Our side of the table assigned Dish 1 to Marco and thought Jane had created Dish 2 and it turned out we were right thought we didn’t get all of the ingredients right.
Marco’s dish was made in the most traditional way with pork cheeks, and pecorino from Rome, egg yolks and pasta water. Jane’s used supermarket ingredients – a core principle of her book – including parmesan and whole eggs, and I think she said she put garlic in but left it whole (I’ll check when I get my mitts on the book again). Both of them were very tasty but it was interesting how different they were. Jane’s tasted like perfect comfort food from the cupboard, and Marco’s was more sharp and defined. I’d have a plate of either right now.
What made me decide which was which? Simple. Apart from the pecorino in Mario’s, it was the pepper. Most non-professional chefs (by that I mean people who haven’t worked in a commercial kitchen) are more reticent about seasoning. The pepper gave it away.
Trattoria Semplice, 22 Woodstock St, London W1C 2AR
What to Eat and How to Cook It is published by Phaidon.
Thanks to Sauce for inviting me. I seem to also remember agreeing to do a stage in Marco’s kitchen at some point – more on that later…
The most enduring memory of the annual Sunday School picnic of my childhood revolves, unsurprisingly, around the food. I couldn’t tell you precisely what my mother used to bake but someone, possibly my great aunt, used to make what we called ‘Top Hats’. The level of culinary skill involved wasn’t – well, there wasn’t any skill, to be honest.
Top Hats consisted of cooking chocolate, melted and poured into bun cakes to a depth of about half a centimtre, with a Princess marshmallow plonked in the middle. Perhaps they weren’t top hats but toadstools. They were the sort of thing that children lusted after and made a beeline for. You’d manage one no problem and then generally find your teeth started to melt halfway through the second one. The cooking chocolate had that fatty fudgyness, without much flavour. It coated your tongue and cemented the marshmallow sweetness right on your tastebuds.
But I love marshmallows (and as soon I get a stand mixer – and, um, a new kitchen to fit it in, I’ll be making them at home) and they also make me think of the Devil’s Food Cake recipe in the 70s Hamlyn cook book I grew up with. I love cheesecake, or the base at least. This is what I came up with…
I used a springform tin – then also used paper liner just to be on the safe side. A non-stick pan is essential for the marshmallow melting – don’t say I didn’t warn you. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5/375.
The sweet from the chocolate and marshmallow is cut by the booze and sour fruits, as well as the saltiness from the peanut butter.
I’ve upped the fruit quantities in the recipe compared to the first time I made it, hence the scarcity in the photos. Use milk chocolate, or omit the fruits, at your peril. Or have the original Top Hat experience all over again.
Caramel. Just about my favourite thing in the world. I’d even say that if it came down to a fight, chocolate would get battered by the butter/sugar/cream combo. For some reason I thought that these Caramel Apples from the first Matt Lewis and Rene Poliafito book would be glass-shatter crack style toffee – um, like those neon commercial ones. Instead they were fudgy-sticky.
They were still good. The caramel coats the fruit like a thin veneer and you get a mixture of buttery sweetness and the sharp apple taste in each mouthful. I used Cox apples but they could have been more crisp, by the time I got around to making them, a couple of days later than planned. It was also a bit late to add lollipop sticks to the long order of baking supplies that I put in last week so I found kebab skewers in the local pound shop (they’ve got to be food safe, right?) and used three in each apple which worked a treat.
I used a mixture of vanilla essence (not seeds infused into cream as they suggest) and a little maple in the caramel which gave a heady smell, and added cinnamon sugar. Lots of flavours but they all blended beautifully. As you can see, there was plenty left over afterwards to scoop off the parchment too.
Time might be short for Halloween this year, although I’m still determined to get my hands on some tinned pumpkin…
I made these ghostie cookies using a Martha recipe – chocolate ginger biscuits. It needs some refinements – the fresh ginger needs to be exceptionally finely minced, I’d reduce the amount of baking powder, and roll them out more finely to get a crisper biscuit.
The other problem I had with them was that the dough was insanely soft and sticky. I ended up chilling it for two days (ok, I forgot about it) and then had to use lots of flour and roll using clingfilm and parchment! The smiles came from a mini aspic cutter. Knew that they would prove to be a crucial purchase. Eventually.
So far they’ve had good reports. I sent about 95% of them away out of the house (without taking photos). If the baking is going to start in earnest around here again, we might have to resurrect the Baked Goods Taster Panel.