Saturday, 29 August 2009

Pure Food and Wine, New York

Pure Food & Wine - front garden

When you let a couple of self-confessed 'foodies' pick somewhere for dinner, you know you're going to get a treat.

Especially when they kindly pick a fully vegan restaurant.

I met up with the lovely Chef E and her husband in New York and, after a tour that took in some interesting less-touristy spots in Brooklyn and Queens (see photos on Flickr), they booked us a table at Pure Food and Wine for dinner.

The restaurant is vegan, gluten free, raw food....... but has an ambience a million miles from the hippy-chick style so often associated with vegetarian restaurants. Wow. Only in New York??

I'd actually never been to a raw food restaurant before. I'd assumed that raw meant, well, raw... but it turns out it doesn't actually mean that the food is completely uncooked, just that the temperature hasn't gone above a certain level.

The menu was full of amazing-sounding things, making it very difficult to choose, but somehow we managed to narrow it down.

For starters I shared a cheese plate (nut cheeses) with Elizabeth. Vegan cheese seldom has much in common with 'normal' cheese,and I think that was still true in this case, but they did taste great - really nutty flavours. The cheeses were served with a blackcurrant compote, watercress salad, and "rosemary crisps"; although all the individual parts were delicious, the extra flavours overpowered the cheeses, so in the end we mostly ate each thing seperately.

For my main course, I opted for the roasted chantarelle mushrooms with truffle creamed broccoli. This was served with a massive dollop of pesto, an artistic swirl of port & mustard sauce, and a generous sprinkling of tiny chive flowers. All the flavours were really distinctive, and delicious; nothing was overcooked (as you'd hope, in a raw food restaurant!) and all seemed really fresh. If I had chance to go back, there are several other dishes I'd like to try - but I'm also sorry that I'll probably never get another opportunity to have this meal again.

The only real complaint (and with my eyesight, I'd never have noticed this in the dim light) is that they hadn't bothered to repair some tattered corners on their chairs... which you'd think they could afford to do, considering how much they were charging.

This was one of the most expensive restaurants I've eaten at in a while, but it was definitely worth every penny cent for imagination within some pretty tough (self-imposed) constraints. The portions weren't large by American standards, but they certainly weren't small - the main course was enough to fill me up, which tends not to be the case in some of the fancier British restaurants. I've eaten at Michelin-starred places which have been a lot less innovative and frankly less tasty.

Thanks are due to Elizabeth for taking the food photos to avoid scaring everyone with my SLR! I'll post a link to her account of the evening just as soon as I get it, so you can hear about her stuffed squash flowers...

Address:54 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003
Style:Vegetarian raw
Date Visited:15 August 2009

One Year Ago

Throwing the bouquet

So, I've been married for a year - and it hardly seems five minutes.

When my husband asked me to marry him (for the second time... long story!), I said "yes, but only as long as getting married isn't a cause of stress", because I've seen so many people get stressed out by an impending wedding day. Keeping that caveat in mind throughout the planning made it easy to avoid all the commercialism and competitiveness that often comes with modern wedding planning; if anything was starting to feel stressful, we would simply not do it that way.

In the end, we had a fabulous day, and managed (I think) to keep everything very simple. Just us, surrounded by the people we love, promising to love and care for each other as long as we both shall live - and then food and a few drinks to celebrate. What could be nicer? When can we do it again??

Happy anniversary sweetheart!!

So today we're celebrating our first wedding anniversary (though we'll mostly be doing the actual celebrating next weekend, because I'm away at someone else's hen weekend today - one of my best friends who was an usher at our wedding!)

One year is supposed to be paper, and we agreed that instead of giving one another presents, we'll try to think together of something to buy that fits each theme. The only unfortunate thing, given the sort of people we are, is that there isn't a "computer gadgetry" year on the horizon......

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Secret Recipe Apple Chutney

We stayed with friends back in February, who fed us some absolutely amazing homemade apple chutney for lunch. Even though I don't get through a lot of chutney, this one was so delicious that I asked for the recipe.

What I got was a story.

One of my friend's friends always won the chutney competition at her local W.I., but refused to share her recipe with anyone over the years. My friend pointed out repeatedly (and hopefully tactfully!) over a period of time that she wasn't getting any younger, and it would be a shame if no-one else was ever able to make the chutney after she died... and eventually the lady caved in and wrote out the recipe for her!

So without further ado, here is a prize-winning, secret recipe for apple chutney for which I claim absolutely no credit at all. (But which I did make at the weekend, and which I've written up according to what I did, rather than the somewhat shorter original instructions.)

I used apples which are sweet enough to eat from the tree; for cooking apples, you'd probably want to add a little extra sugar.

Note: the resulting chutney is very well preserved, and I'm still safely eating 2009-vintage chutney in 2013. I'm providing this information as a representation of my own experience, only; obviously I can make no guarantees for anyone else's results.


Apple Chutney (fills 5 large jam-jars)

3lb (1360g) eating apples
1lb (454g) onions
1pt (570ml) spiced vinegar
6oz (170g) sultanas
pinch of salt
¾lb (340g) sugar (half white, half brown)
  1. Use a bigger pan than you think you could possibly need (I barely fitted all the apples in my 26cm casserole dish).
  2. First, dice the apples. This recipe calls for a lot of apples, so chop them first; a little browning won't hurt. I didn't peel them, as I like the added texture of the softened apple skin (and also because I'm lazy).
  3. If your vinegar isn't spiced to start with, heat vinegar gently with a selection of whole spices (I used black pepper, star anise, cinnamon, coriander seed, cumin seed, and nutmeg), then strain before adding the onions.
  4. Chop onions and simmer in vinegar until soft.
  5. Once onions are soft, add the apples to the pan and cook on a low heat until the apples are tender but not mushy. The vinegar probably won't cover the apples, so put the lid on the pan for this stage to retain the moisture.
  6. Add the remaining ingredients, stir thoroughly, and simmer for at least two hours with the pan uncovered.
  7. Decant into sterilised jars (warmed with boiling water), and seal while still warm. I tend to use old jam jars, and put a sheet of waxed paper between the jar and the lid.
Visit my recipe index page for more recipes.

Rachel Cotterill on Punk Domestics

Starlite Diner, Moscow

Starlite Diner, Moscow

We knew exactly where we were going first in Moscow. It was seven o'clock in the morning when we got off the train, and after a good fifteen minutes struggling in broken Russian with the staff of the left luggage offices (what do the times above the different windows actually mean?), we wanted somewhere to get coffee and a familiar breakfast. Fortunately, Moscow has its own chain of American-style diners.

With English menus, English-speaking staff, free copies of Moscow's English-language newspapers, and CNN on the big-screen TV, you could almost forget you were in Russia. Generally I wouldn't think that was such a great thing, but for our first stop in the city it was nice to have a familiar environment to relax in as we studied our maps and guidebooks to form a plan for the next few days, and answer critical questions like "where is our hotel?"

There weren't that many vegetarian options, but I had the Mediterranean Veggie Omelet [sic], which was excellent - filled with a tasty mixture of feta cheese, broccoli, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, black olives, peppers and onion. And I tend to be quite pragmatic when I'm travelling: at home, a lack of choice would be a turn-off, but when I'm away I'm just happy to find one dish that I enjoy in each place. The free coffee refills (very American) also cheered me up no end - the only disappointment was finding, when we went back mid-afternoon one day, that unlimited coffee is only a breakfast thing.

Starlite Diner menu

Address:Branches across Moscow
Style:American diner
Date Visited:7 September 2008

Sunday, 23 August 2009


It seems a bit early in the year for harvesting, but all of a sudden our garden is full of fruits that are ripe and ready for picking. Yesterday morning, we had a good attempt at moving fruit from garden to kitchen.





....and plums....


I strongly approve of free food, but honestly, I have more than I know what to do with. Yesterday, I made three fruit crumbles (two blackberry & apple, and one plum). This morning I stewed most of the remaining plums and will freeze that mixture until I need it. I'll probably make an apple cake, and I have loads of onions so I might also try out an apple chutney recipe that a friend gave me back in February.

But we haven't even picked half of the apples yet, so I'm going to need a few more ideas.

Does anyone know how to make those dried apple slices?

Apples & blackberries

In case anyone's in need of a good recipe for Crumble Topping, yesterday's one worked especially well because I had some almonds to use up.


I never use an actual recipe to make crumble because I have a mental picture of how it should look. I start with a quantity of butter depending on the amount of crumble mixture I want to end up with... yesterday I used about 150g and I made three large puddings from that. These are the steps I follow in my head:
  • Start with the butter. Let's say 50g per large dish that you want to top.

  • Rub in plain flour a little at a time until the mixture is just dry enough not to form little crumbs instead of one big lump (you don't want to make it too dry, because there are more dry ingredients to come).

  • Add enough oats to double the volume.

  • I then added a small handful of almonds, roughly chopped, and a couple of tablespoons of dark brown sugar (per crumble). [This is optional, and you can't really break this recipe, so experiment with quantities 'to taste'. For a savory crumble, instead of sugar, you can use herbs and grated cheese which is yummy.]

  • Mix everything together, and sprinkle on top of the 'filling'. For fruit crumbles, I find that from raw, sliced fruit, topped with raw crumble mixture, it needs about 40 minutes at 200C.

Crumble mixture

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

It should be called New London...

Looking up - New YorkSkyscraper
I may be missing the point with New York, but so far as I can tell, it's pretty much like London - but a little bit higher in places, and scruffier, with more litter and graffiti.

Graffiti in NY

Oh, and it's insanely hot and humid at this time of year, so I was wandering around in a daze a lot of the time. I had a few nice walks, a great dinner in Chinatown, and a tour and another lovely meal with Chef E (who's every bit as friendly in real life as on her blogs) which deserves a post of its own...


Of course the taxis are yellow, the accents are American, and there's a Starbucks on almost every corner. But basically NY is a Very Big City and I'm a bit short of things to say about that.... maybe something more inspired will come to me once I'm over the jetlag.


Saturday, 15 August 2009

Buddha Bodai, New York

When I passed Buddha Bodai in New York's Chinatown, I knew I had to go in. A fully vegan Chinese restaurant? How could I refuse?

It was a little bit early for dinner but I hadn't had lunch, I was hungry, and in any case I wasn't the first customer of the evening. Green tea arrived at my table without my needing to ask, along with a very long menu - knowing that everything was vegan, there was an awful lot of choice.


I went for dumplings to start, because I always love Chinese dumplings - and so many places in England don't have veggie dumplings. I chose to have them steamed rather than fried, though I briefly wondered if I could have asked for half and half.

The filling was a surprisingly moist mixture of chopped cabbage, carrot, celery, and some sort of 'fake meat' of which Chinese vegetarians seem to be so fond. They were absolutely delicious, and I finished all six easily, though I'm sure it would've been an adequate starter for two.


For the main course, after toying with all sorts of options, I decided to go with something I'd never seen (let alone sampled) before, and ordered the A Sam 'vegetarian fish', described on the menu simply as 'spicy'.

Vegetarian 'fish'

This was another gluten (I think) concoction, served in a very fruity, lightly spiced sauce. Some clever cooking had gone into making a crispy skin (very tasty) and an interesting, almost spaghetti-like texture to the main part. I have to confess it wasn't my favourite-ever dish, but that was more to do with my preferences (fruity sauces are not my favourite) than the quality of the cooking. In future I'll probably stick to vegetables and tofu instead of gluten 'meat', but the 'fish' presentation was something I'd never seen before so I had to try it.

I was a little disappointed that it didn't come with any rice, since they didn't do a single-person-sized portion of rice - the only rice on the menu was massive helpings of fried rice, which I could never have finished, since I didn't manage to eat all of my main anyway. (American portions always catch me off-guard!) The couple on the next table ordered a large mixed appetizer and then one main course to share, and I suspect that was about right.

I'd certainly go back again if I'm ever in New York, but I'd want to (a) visit with friends, to enable sharing, and (b) sample some dishes from the extensive dim sum selection.

Address:5 Mott St, New York, NY 10013
Style:Chinese vegetarian
Date Visited:14 August 2009

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Well Co-ordinated

Man: I'm very impressed, your bag matches your shirt. Was that intentional?
Me: Well, yes. I am a woman.
Man: Do you do that every day?
Me: Yup, more or less.
Man: What, so you've come out for a week and you've brought seven handbags?
Me: No, I've brought seven pink tops. I'm an efficient woman.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Me, Art, and 41,000 LEDs

I don't have a great reputation when it comes to 'getting' art. I developed a fairly extreme case of gallery fatigue while my ex was an art student (it's only in the last couple of years that I've started to venture back), and many very famous pieces leave me cold and bemused.

On the other hand, when something does catch me, it really hits me.

Take, for example, Olafur Eliasson's apocalyptic sun in the Tate's turbine hall... I could have spent hours there, and I've been trying ever since (without success) to track down other Eliasson installations.

......or the oil room in the Saatchi gallery; I'm sad to say I didn't know who the artist is (Google assures me it's Richard Wilson), but it took my breath away.

......or almost anything by Lucio Fontana, whose slashed canvases have always spoken to me, and whose vertigo-inducing all-white labyrinth I encountered at the Hayward gallery's retrospective.

I'm not sure what it says about me that, almost without fail, my personal favourites are installations. I like to be immersed.... surrounded.... engrossed.

Leo Villeral's Multiverse has made an impression along with the best of them, guaranteed to stay in my head long after they un-install the installation.

Leo Villareal's 'Multiverse'

In the basement of the National Gallery in Washington DC, around 41,000 light emitting diodes have been programmed to fade in and out in evolving patterns. (Being a Proper Geek, I really, really want to see the code... Mr Villareal, if you're reading this, pretty please...?)

Leo Villareal's 'Multiverse'

Leo Villareal's 'Multiverse'

In addition to being great fun to experience, it was also an interesting challenge to photograph. I went to full manual settings on my camera to get different light effects.

Leo Villareal's 'Multiverse'

Leo Villareal's 'Multiverse'

Leo Villareal's 'Multiverse'

Leo Villareal's 'Multiverse'

Even the blurry photos come out as quite striking images:

Leo Villareal's 'Multiverse'

And this is the shot which almost got me escorted off the premises for getting in too close:

Leo Villareal's 'Multiverse'

If you're anywhere near DC - and especially if you love LEDs as much as I do - you should make time to go and see this before they take it down in November. Honestly, it's art you can walk through. It'll make your day.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Luna Blanca, Ulan Batar


I find as a vegetarian, it's important to do some research before heading to the more obscure corners of the globe. If I don't manage to get a list of veggie (or at least, veggie-tolerant) restaurants before setting off, it can sometimes be a struggle to find anything more inspiring than a few salad leaves - and that's even more of a problem in places where drinking the water is not advisable.

Even armed with a map from their own website, though, finding Luna Blanca was a challenge. We almost gave up... well, to be honest we did give up on our first day in Ulan Batar, and went to a Thai restaurant instead.

But we tried again before we left, and I was very glad we did. And obviously the Mongolians love the place as well - we arrived at 11.55am for lunch, and by 12.30 the place was so heaving that people were being asked to share tables with strangers.

The food was exceptional, my favourite being the refreshing 'Luna Blanca Special' soup which came with mini dumplings, sliced peppers, and handfuls of fresh coriander. I could eat this every single day:

Mongolian soup

The house noodles (cheap and cheerful) were tasty and filling, spiced and fried up with carrots and tofu, and quite capable of making a meal in itself:


I was a little more disappointed by the 'chicken' - a gluten-based meat substitute in a peanut sauce, served with rice and a little side salad. This was the most expensive thing we ordered, but actually not as tasty and substantially less quantity than the cheaper dishes (though not quite as bad as it may look from the picture, which was taken after we'd started eating).


On the whole I would heartily recommend a visit if you happen to be in the area - unfortunately I don't think I can justify the travel costs just to get some more of the amazing dumpling soup!

Address:Ulan Batar
Style:Asian vegetarian
Date Visited:18 September 2008

Friday, 7 August 2009

Church, Abandoned

Last weekend we went for a walk with a friend who was visiting. My husband dug out the Ordnance Survey map, we picked a route, and decided to park by the church.

This was the sight that greeted us when we arrived:


The church was half-hidden by trees, and the design of the tower reminded me of some ancient temple buildings I'd visited once in Italy.

As we always do, we went to have a look around. We had to climb over an old tree-trunk that was blocking the way, and the whole place looked rather overgrown and abandoned.



What had first appeared to be nice shutters, turned out to be boarding up the window. A sign on one window had a faded For Sale notice, and a slightly-less-faded PRIVATE.


Not a church any longer, then. (It turns out my husband's map was from 1987, around the time he first moved to this area.)

Around the corner, though, and the plot thickened - a window was cordoned off with CRIME SCENE tape.


We did some reading when we got home, and found out that the church was sold off several years ago - but the new owners, for whatever reason, haven't done anything with it. It's such a waste, because if it's not going to be a church, it could be an absolutely tremendous house, right in the middle of nowhere.


Wednesday, 5 August 2009

(Not) Joining The NUJ

It's funny how you can be unsure whether you want something, but it still rankles when they say you can't have it.

Someone suggested I should join the NUJ since I'm doing some writing-for-money, and I was umming and ahhing over whether it was worth the money to sign up, but I decided to call them anyway and find out what the deal is.

Turns out the deal is, I can't join anyway - at least not yet. To be eligible, the majority of your income has to come 'from journalism' (which is quite broadly defined and could include novels, photography, etc.). The only student membership is if you're studying a related subject (e.g. journalism... not computer science...). I can see why they have rules, obviously, but it feels like they should have some kind of associate membership for beginners - after all, the time you need most help from like-minded folks is probably at the beginning of your career. Also, they should put the rules in big letters somewhere on their website (like, maybe, a section on eligibility).

Oh well. Now I have another incentive to try and earn more money! It would be kind of nice to have a press pass....

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Standing Stones & Cairns

The Hebrides are scattered with stone circles in varying degrees of collapse - like this one in North Uist, where only a few stones remain. Even when the stones are falling over and covered in moss, I still think there's something magical about them.

Standing Stones

Calanais (pronounced ca-la-nish) is on Harris & Lewis is the really big stone circle up in the Hebrides... I actually liked it more than Stonehenge, but then I've never managed to get to Stonehenge and it not be horribly overcrowded. There are three different circles on nearby hills but this is the main one:



The hillsides are also scattered with ancient cairns - we even went inside this one:



The Green Door, Ottawa

The Green Door Restaurant, Ottawa

The Green Door was recommended to me when I was visiting Ottawa last year. It's a fair walk from the city centre, but as it was (so far as I know) the only veggie restaurant in town, I wasn't going to miss it.

The whole place is laid out buffet-style: the layout of the self-service area was basically 1/3 hot dishes, 1/3 salad bar, and 1/3 cold desserts.
Help yourself to whatever you fancy, and then you pay by weight which came as a bit of a surprise. Even the desserts were charged by weight, so the only exception was the drinks (and there was free tap water available).

They also have takeaway containers, so I ended up getting some extra food to take for my lunch the next day. And then, because it was so good, going back that next evening and doing the same thing again!
Hot dishes had quite a heavily Asian influence (stir fried veg, curried dishes, noodles), but there were also more European flavours such as an exceptionally tasty lasagne and some great quiches. Several dishes were basically one or two vegetables with some complementary spices - making sure there was loads to choose from if you're vegan or have allergies.

The salads were interesting to say the least, mostly being based on pulses, grains or vegetables with very little sign of 'conventional' salad leaves (this suits me down to the ground!). Lots of spices in the salads as well, and again, almost all vegan.

I only tried one of the dessert options - a raspberry tart which was so incredible I had to get the recipe (they publish a cookbook), but I haven't yet managed to replicate it successfully. Which reminds me, I must try again now that it's summer...

The Green Door Restaurant, Ottawa

Address:198 Main Street, Ottawa, ON K1S1C6, Canada
Style:Vegetarian self-service
Date Visited:May 2008

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