Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The trailer for my documentary!

Although it's not at all food related, I couldn't resist the temptation to post my just-completed trailer to the blog!

The Solitary Alchemist, Trailer from Mariel Brown on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

At the farmers market in Elora

My friend Shivaun took me on my first trek out of Toronto. We went to the enchanting town of Elora, which is just outside of Guelph. While we were driving in, she spotted a farmers market and declared excitedly that we had to go. I was all for it. Although there was no need for me to buy anything, I've always been impressed by the idea of these informal gatherings of people who grow and make things for the purposes of selling.

One of the very exciting things that's been happening in North America recently, is a shift towards buying local produce. I think the idea is to buy fruit and vegetables that have been grown within 100 miles of where you live. And farmers markets are an ideal place for making such purchases. They seem to be run by people who are either farmers for real, or people who love to grow things. The market in Elora was nothing fancy - just a few temporary tents with about 10 to 15 people selling seasonal fruit and vegetables, honey, home made sausage and a variety of baked goods. Shoppers and their children browsed the stalls. Shivaun bought a huge selection of gorgeous looking fruit and vegetables.

It's the sort of thing I wish we could really get off the ground in Trinidad. Both because it's great to support the idea of local growing and consuming, and because we are such food lovers in this country. Although the Central Market, and other markets like it, continue to be huge hubs for the selling of fresh produce, it's becoming increasingly difficult to guarantee the provenance of a lot of it. Plus there's the problem of vast quantities of pesticides that many farmers here use. And while there are one or two places where it's possible to buy a limited amount of organic local stuff, it's prohibitively expensive, and remains, by and large, the realm of the upper middle class and ex-pat community.

So for now, I'll continue to buy veggies from my local stall and hope that one day the idea of the farmers market will truly take root here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A neighbourhood coffee shop

I have to reveal one of my dreams: to own a small restaurant or coffee shop; something that's affordable and friendly; a place where people can hang out with their friends and families where the food and service are excellent but unpretentious.

I'm in Toronto at the moment, staying with my friend, Sharon. She lives close to Greek Town and on Saturday we went for one of those lovely, long, city walks. It was a gorgeous, balmy day. Our walk took us to one of her neighbourhood coffee shops - a really cool little place where people from the area gather to catch up, drink some great coffee and lime. It's called the Rooster Coffee Shop. It's my dream made real! Here are some photos:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Glorious Bamboo!

I have always loved bamboo. A few years ago I did a writer's workshop in Grande Riviere during which I spent hours by the river everyday, listening to the bamboo swish and groan in the afternoon breeze. In Jamaica, the hillsides are covered in huge bamboo patches that look lacy and feminine from afar.

This weekend I went with my friend, Michele, on a trek to the three pools in Blanchisseuse. She was taking a group of boys that had been participating in the YMCA programme, Shoot to Live, and the idea was that we'd hike and take photos. Well, it's been raining very heavily recently, so we didn't get very far. But I was still able to take some photos I really like - of the glorious bamboo!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Review of Taryn's: The Panyol Place

A plate of pulled beef with white rice and black beans, fried plantain and avocado pear.

A couple of months ago, Richard brought some arepas home for me to try. They weren't what I was accustomed to: these were round instead of crescent shaped, and the corn patty had been sliced open and filled with various things. Then my friend, Chris, mentioned it to me. He said they served proper milky coffee and real rice and beans from Venezuela. So I decided to give it a try myself.

Taryn's has a fairly unprepossessing facade on Mucarapo Road (opposite Hotte Shoppe and next to Creole Cuisine), which is a shame, because it means that if you're walking along the street, you're likely to pass it straight (as I have been doing for several years now). But, if you make it through the door, you'll be pleasantly surprised. It's a bright eating spot, decorated unpretentiously with bits of Venezuelan bric-a-brac and a handful of dining tables, which are generally decorated with little vases of fresh-cut flowers (score big points from me!).

Taryn's serves a variety of simple South American eats including empanadas, arepas, rice and beans, fried plantain, pulled beef and flan (the ubiquitous creme caramelesque desert). The first time I went, I ordered coffee and an arepa with crispy pork. The arepa was made out of white corn - it was firm and creamy, and the crispy pork wasn't bad at all - a little dry, but tasty none-the-less. Of course, what made me very happy were the two thin slices of avocado pear Taryn added! Yum! And Chris was right - the coffee was great - fresh, strong and milky (far superior to, say, Rituals).

Taryn herself was a delight. It seemed to me that this was her passion - that she enjoyed looking after people and feeding them. She greeted everyone with a smile of welcome which was very endearing.

I've been back to the Panyol Place a couple of times now - each time I've tried something different, and been generally pleased with the results. I do have a few critiques, though. When Taryn is not there, the service doesn't match up. The rest of the staff aren't as warm or friendly and it can take much longer to be served. I also find the price point generally on the high side. When I consider that the dining experience is not too far off what pertains at the Breakfast Shed, I'd say you pay at least $15 more per plate at Taryn's. For example, my lunch of rice and black beans, pulled beef, fried plantain and avocado was $60, when a similar lunch would have been $45 at the Breakfast Shed.

But I'd definitely go back - if for the coffee alone.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Review of new roti shop: Hurry Kurry

The ubiquitous roti is something I’ve steered clear of writing about since I started this blog. Like shark-and-bake or doubles, it’s something every self-respecting Trinidadian has an opinion on – who sells the best version of the said delicacies. But, given that the opening of a new roti shop in Port of Spain is such a rare thing, I decided to delve into the partisan world of our country’s favourite portable, eat-on-the-go, lip-licking curry wrap.

For every roti shop there is in Trinidad, there’s a gaggle of people that rambunctiously and defiantly swears it’s the best! People who love Shiann’s, for example, will almost never go anywhere else, they doh care if they have to stand doggedly in line for 45 minutes while ten people in front of them whip out their lists and recite 15 different combinations of ingredients that their entire office has ordered to the weary girls behind the counter. Other long-time favourites are: Don’s roti in Diego Martin (which, by the way, I didn’t get at all), a place in Boissiere village my friend Chris took me to (again, another huge disappointment, perhaps Chris has a nostalgic connection to the place he’s been going to all his life, so he can’t taste, in the now, how non-descript the roti is), Patraj or Hosein’s, Wings in Tunapuna, the little hole-in-the-wall shop on Belmont Circular Road that I go to for the cheapest goat roti with bhaggi, curry potato, baigan and slight pepper (no channa, mind-you, but the best $18 you’ll spend that day!), and the perennially popular and packed – though I still don’t understand why – Hotte Shoppe. (It was one of those coming-of-age experiences for me – the discovery of Dopson’s on Marli Street made me feel like I was more than just a middle class convent girl who’d gone to Bishops and thought the definition of roti was Hotte Shoppe. Once I tasted a real roti, ergo a Dopson’s roti, I understood how awful Hotte Shoppe’s version was with their insipid yellow and watery curry and perfectly white dhalpuri – not a brown spot to be found anywhere – which invariably bursts when you eat it, squirting the same watery curry all over your clean clothes, and I knew that I was one step closer to being a ‘real’ Trinidadian.) Even today, I maintain that the best paratha you can buy comes from Dopson’s (long-since relocated to the bottom of Maraval Road). It’s buttery, soft here and slightly crispy there, with lots of brown/ toasted patches. Yum!! And the best curry bodi comes from Shiann’s on Cipriani Boulevard: it’s never soggy or overcooked, and always treated like a vegetable that should require teeth and crunching to eat! As to curried meats, I’m not so polarised on the matter. I really like Wings by the highway side of Tunapuna for the fact that you can get huge portions of geera pork and paratha with a little curry pumpkin.

Anyway! I seem to have gone off on a tangent here. Back to the original subject of this post – the new roti shop, Hurry Kurry, in Royal Palm Plaza, Maraval. Firstly, it’s in a brilliant place. Considering that you can get seemingly every kind of fast food on the Saddle Road in Maraval, it took a LONG time for someone to figure out that a bright, clean and well-signed roti shop would be a good idea. So congratulations to the owners on that epiphany. (Hang-on, I’m having a vague memory that before there was Ellerslie Plaza or Mr Burger on the left, there was a roti shop. It’s way too fuzzy in my mind though!) Next, the staff are actually friendly – a kind of freakish thing when you think of the generally sullen, sour, and scowling people you normally find serving you at a roti shop. My third point is the reason I’ll go back to Hurry Kurry: it has the best relishes, pepper sauces and chutnies of any roti shop I’ve been to, AND slices of fresh cucumber with a little garlic to-boot! There’s regular pepper sauce, fresh kuchela, mother-in-law, and (the piece de resistence!) a scotch bonnet choka that is gorgeous! It’s smoky and mild when it first hits your palette, and has a wicked sting on the back end. Although neither the curry nor the dhalpuri was particularly noteworthy (still, in my mind, both were better than Hotte Shoppe) the complete package, along with cucumber slices, pepper choka and kuchela, was very satisfying. I happily recommend it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A dollop of aioli

I love that TV show, "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations". It's an unpretentious tour of the world of food and Bourdain is as likely to find himself at some dodgy street food joint as he is a 5-star Michelin restaurant. The other day I watched him visit Provence and eat some of the simplest yet most delicious-looking food. Fish or poultry with vegetables and a heavenly aioli (garlic mayonnaise) made by one of the town's grannies in a mortar and pestle. It reminded me that it's been years since I've made mayonnaise from scratch. Doing so requires patience and courage. Forcing egg yolk and olive oil to emulsify can be a tricky thing, particularly because the two elements just don't want to combine. Over the years I've had several disasters with the whole mixture separating.

So last night, when I started the process in my little mortar and pestle, Richard looked at me incredulous. "Why don't you just throw it in the blender," he asked. A good question that I really had no answer to, except to say that I felt like trying to make mayonnaise the way the Provençal granny had. A generous teaspoon of sea salt, a clove of garlic and an egg-yolk. And I start to pound and mix. I add the olive oil a few drops at a time and Richard is even more incredulous. A few more drops. Pound and mix. A little bit of nice mustard. Pound and mix. And more pounding and mixing. Nah boy - this thing hard! And tiring! And... lemme just use the whisk instead!

As I whisked I could see the mixture starting to emulsify and take shape. I tried to get Richard to taste it, but he declined, saying it was too yellow and mayonnaise is white. "It's only white if it's store bought," I told him. I'm using olive oil. It's always going to be yellow. I kept on though. Adding the olive oil more bravely by this point as I knew it would hold together. When I'd got the mixture to about a half-cup in volume I stopped adding oil and whisked until I was blue in the face. Then it was ready! I made salad with croutons, lettuce, parmesan and beefsteak tomatoes. And I stove-top grilled a piece of chicken for each of us.

A dollop of the creamy, glossy mayonnaise on each plate, along with the salad and chicken. It was delicious! So simple and so decadent. I almost licked the plate clean! Yum! Richard, by the way, nearly licked his plate too!

Monday, May 10, 2010

A potted garden of veggies and herbs

In June 2009, I visited the inspiring eco-friendly country, Costa Rica. Coincidentally, I was reading Barbara Kingsolver's, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" at the time. Some of the food I ate in Costa Rica was incredible, and utilised vegetables and products that are available in the Caribbean too, but which we would never choose to prepare in the way the Costa Ricans do. For example, peewah featured deliciously in dips and salads. Meanwhile, in her book, Kingsolver describes the choice her family made to eat only food they had grown or slaughtered, or that came from the immediate vicinity of their Virginia home. Although parts of the book were irritatingly earnest, in general, I was inspired to try, in some small way, to change some of my own food buying practices - to try making things from scratch, and to attempt to grow more or buy more that was grown locally. Hence the requests for a pasta-press and yogurt maker. And too my revived interest in growing herbs and vegetables.

I wouldn't say that I have a particularly green thumb. My grandmother and aunt in England both had gorgeous gardens which they tended with lots of love and attention. And although I enjoyed helping them when I was at their homes, I could never really muster the drive to create similar gardens where I've lived. And now I live in an apartment with no garden at all! But the good news is I have a roof "deck". It's really just a concrete square, but I've had friends over for dinner up there, and I decided to try some potted plants to see how they'd fare. The trouble is, it's a concrete roof, which means it gets super hot in the day. And with this dry season we've had, well, trying to keep any plants alive these last few months has been a huge challenge.

None-the-less, I bought a little ficus, and a miniature bamboo plant, which have already started providing some shade for less hardy plants. I planted a variety of seedlings: rosemary (in the direct sun, because it can take the jammin'); regular and purple basil (these can also handle lots of sun); dill (in the shade of the ficus); chives, mint and local lettuces. And you know, they're doing really well. I trim and harvest almost daily to add to my salads and cooking. And the thrill of picking your own freshly grown, pesticide-free herbs is quite something. And having the garden in pots means that it's much easier to tend - easy to weed and water and easy to access.

Next I'm going to try the pesky tomato and some wild rocket.

Some of the things I've had success growing are:
basil (probably the easiest thing the grow!)

I still have had no success growing coriander - not even from seedlings. What am I doing wrong?

By the way, a really great place in Trinidad for buying seedlings is a little garden shop called Agriflora on Aranguez Main Road. They sell seedlings and more mature plants - lots of herbs and vegetables, and of course, flowering plants and shrubs.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I know this is a blog about food and related things, but I was going through my photo albums this afternoon, and I came across these photos of the sensational bromeliads I found in Costa Rica when I went there on holiday with my great friend, Rachel, last year.

We stayed all over the place, but our last day was spent in the city of Alijuela, at a beautiful guest house on top the hill. The view sort of reminded me of Port of Spain. And the gardens at the hotel were quite spectacular. Here are just a few of the photos I took:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Making soda bread with Pauline and Leah

Baking bread is one of the great mysteries of life to me. In form one at high school, Mrs Cumberbatch tried to encourage us to make sweetbread, knotted bread and rock cakes. In retrospect, home economics class (taught at an all-girls school) seems like such a 1950s, sexist thing; a course to prepare us ladies to become heads of households and home-makers. But I digress.

Even way back in form one, I knew bread-baking was not for me. My dinner rolls came out like rocks that could give someone a buss-head if pelted hard enough. In my first season of Sancoche, I made the mistake of scheduling hot-cross-buns as a segment of a show. Well - after the kneading, raising, proofing, kneading and raising, it took us almost two days to shoot the damn segment. Never me and yeast-containing baked goods on tv again!

My great friend Michele's mum, Pauline, is from Ireland. Every time I go over to Pauline's house, I am plied with food and grog: "Oh come on, you must have a glass of wine!" And there is invariably a jug of milk going sour hanging around on the kitchen counter. This may seem a curious thing, but because Pauline habitually bakes soda bread, she's always in need of her home-made version of buttermilk (something it's impossible to buy in Trinidad.) She adds a little yogurt to a jug of milk, and leaves the milk out for 24 hours to sour and thicken.

Soda bread is so-called because it contains baking soda as a raising agent, rather than yeast. It's full of really good things like whole wheat flour, wheat germ and bran. You can also add dried fruit and nuts and a little sugar, if you like.

The other day I was liming by Pauline and noticed another jug of souring milk on the counter. She said she was going to be making a batch of soda bread and I asked if I could come over to help/ look on. She said yes, and we made a date for the following day.

By the time I arrived, Leah, Pauline's 3-year-old granddaughter, had already sifted all the flour, and with Granny's help, measured all the ingredients. She was determinedly mixing the whole wheat and white flours in a bowl. Pauline went about adding the balance of ingredients: salt, wheat germ, bran, olive oil, the soured milk, bicarb of soda and baking powder. She mixed everything up until it formed a fairly wet dough.

And then, without leaving anything to raise or proof or set, she divided the mixture up among three loaf tins which she put in the oven to bake. Punto finale!! Yay! And the smell! Wow, there's nothing like having the smell of baking bread in your home to make you feel completely safe and loved!

The bread was absolutely delicious. Heavy and toothsome - after eating a slice you felt full. Not at all like the store-bought breads you get here which are just like cardboard. Richard and I nearly came to blows over who would get the last piece. As it was, I carefully rationed the bread so that we could get two and a half days of enjoyment from it. I'm going to have to get the recipe from Pauline so that I can make it. It's too easy to make, and too delicious not to!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My father's books

I miss my father's home. Although Daddy had lived in Jamaica from 1997 until he died, and I only lived with him there for a year, his home was always my home. It was unpretentious and very comfortable. There were always his hundreds of books on shelves scattered around the house and in his study. His copies of Nabokov and Naipaul novels, his collection of plays and poetry from Borges to Walcott, Tony Mc Neil to Robert Frost, his biographies of famous writers, thinkers and politicians; he had books on the Mayans and Greeks, the world wars and the Nazis. They lined the shelves of every book case of every home I've ever known him to live in. They were always organised by genre and then alphabetically by author. Just like a library, even though he would never have called what he had a library. He would have thought that pretentious. They were just his books which went with him wherever he went.

The bookshelf in my Dad's study.

When my sister and I were sorting through his books after he died, I started considering them a 'collection'. But then, that's not the right word. A 'collection' suggests something that's a deified entity, that is stored carefully and rarely touched - revered for what it represents rather than its actual content and meaning. Daddy's books were very much intrinsic to his creative life. He read constantly. His favourite novels he read several times. And most of his favourite poems he knew by heart. All of his books bore the signs of having been read - they had faded and curling pages, many of them were covered in his annotations and underlinings. Some of them had ancient library stamps and the names of other owners scribbled onto their pages.

Even though no doubt over the years he lent out many books that were never returned, he still lent his books to friends and students, often recommending a particular story or poem that would reveal some truth that was specific to the person to whom he was lending the book.

The way he was with his books was exactly how he how he approached his life. The books weren't precious objects to him. They were only useful in-so-far as they were well-written or interesting. He didn't care a fig if he owned books that were rare or autographed. They were what he used everyday, to learn, to relax, to delight, inspire and to educate.

When my father found out that he was dying, all he did differently was to eat more ice cream and cake. He was exactly himself - writing, reading, teaching, sailing when he could, laughing, agonising: living. He told my sister and I that until you die you're alive. I think his one indulgence was to tell someone, "Fuck you, I'm dying!" when they suggested he stop smoking. His life was not more precious to him than his ability to live it.

Dad's books are all over the place now. They will no longer line the bookshelves of his home. They belong to me and to Saffrey. To his dearest friends and to strangers. There's a part of me that's confused about the dilemma nostalgia creates. Do we keep everything because it belonged to him once? But then, that would be to make those things exactly what he never did: relics, 'libraries' and 'collections'. What's the point of keeping an autographed copy of a shitty book, when there would be less space for something you might actually want to read?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pollo Tropical - Yuk!

It's not a great feeling this. Knowing that the food was complete rubbish, it's hard to come up with a good thing to say about the new restaurant and drive through, Pollo Tropical, and that's hard for me. Let me think on it....

Oh yes, from the car the interior design of the new building on the south western side of the Savannah looked nice. Oh, and the food was reasonably priced. But the price doesn't really matter, nor the interiors, when you just wouldn't want to eat the food. Talk about bland, tasteless, non-descript!

Richard and I went to the drive-through to pick up food for us and his family. I wanted a combination of different sandwiches on the menu, they didn't have any sandwiches. So I ordered variations on their roasted chicken: with cassava in garlic; rice and beans; yellow rice with veggies; caesar salad; black beans.

It ALL tasted yuk! Bland chicken; soggy and wilted caesar salad (at least the croutons were crispy!); bland yellow rice; mushy boiled cassava with no butter, no garlic, no salt, no flavour! What a disappointment! I can't imagine that I'll be going there anytime soon. Nor would I recommend it to anyone.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A pasta adventure!

My Mum gave me a pasta pressing gadget for christmas. I'd been wanting one forever, and I'd finally remembered to ask. The wrapped present was surprisingly small - for some reason I'd been expecting a food-processor sized box - but heavy. I unwrapped the shiny new thing an put it away in the cupboard behind my blender and cheese toastie grill (never to be seen again, you might think!)

I'd actually seen Jamie Oliver make pasta once on the Martha Stewart show, and there was something about his assertions that it was dead easy that made me think, nah. That looks hard! So the pasta press was languishing in the darkness of my cupboard next to the kitchen aid mixer that I haven't used in 10 years! It was in grave danger of suffering the same fate as the mixer. Until my friend, Franka, posted a pasta recipe on Facebook. I knew it was the signal I'd been unconsciously waiting for, so I printed the recipe and sent an email to five foodie friends, inviting them to come over for a pasta-making lime. (hey - if the pasta tasted like rubbish or didn't do what it was meant to, at least I'd have had a good time with friends!)

My mum arrives first, and I realise I haven't even made up the first batch of dough (which, by the way, is meant to sit and chill in the fridge for at least an hour - crapadoodle!) Having never tried to make pasta in my life, I decide to change the recipe - 4 eggs, 300 gms all purpose flour, 100 gms spelt flour, salt and olive oil all mixed into a dough which you're meant to knead until it's smooth and pliable (it's meant to be quite elastic) and then, like I said, wrap in plastic wrap and leave it to chill in the fridge for an hour.

Be warned, whenever you see the pros mixing everything on a table top and creating a well in the flour into which easily (and neatly) fit the eggs, it's like that because they've practiced loads. On my first attempt, one of the walls of the well caved in and egg quickly ran out all over the counter while I tried desperately to contain it with my hands! The tirck is to start bringing the flour in from the outside to the egg very quickly, mixing all the while with your fork! (My mum, by the way, eyed with with suspicion and amusement as I went through this rigmarole: she, clean as a whistle, me, covered in raw egg!)

Once I knead the dough for a good 10 minutes I put it in the fridge to chill and make another batch, this time using 400 gms of all purpose flour. The women arrive and we spend forever chatting about what we're going to make. The consensus is ravioli in different shapes - circles or triangles depending on whether we're stuffing them with meat or vegetables. We settle on our stuffings. Mine: home made pesto with ricotta and bacon. Nicola's: bhaggi and ricotta. Michele: some exotic asian something with shrimp and water chestnuts.

Lupe assembles the pasta gadget (the only one among us with the good sense to look at the manual!). I get the spelt dough from the fridge (chilling for 45 mins) and we start.

Guess what. It works!! Plenty hands on deck gently cradle the pasta as we roll it through the press, one notch at a time. Lupe, Mum and Miche are in charge of the pressing, me and Nicola the stuffing, and Gabby is making the tomato and mushroom sauce. We giggle and chuckle and talk rubbish and squeal excitedly: "We makin' PASTA!".

I boil the delicate (somewhat lopsided) raviolis for about 5 minutes each. And mummy samples. We're in shock. They're delicious. We cook and eat and chat for the next several hours. Richard arrives and beats a hasty retreat to the bedroom (muttering something about Lilith fair)! And the women are completely thrilled at the Lillith Food Fair! Will I be making pasta from scratch anytime soon? Probably not. Was it a brilliant way to spend a night with friends? Absolutely!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Trying something new.

I've been meaning to write about this creation since I made it for Christmas dinner. But I forgot that I'd taken a photo of it (what's the point of recipes without photos?) and only just discovered it a couple of days ago.

In my family, we always make a first course for Christmas dinner, which, more often than not, is a seafood dish. My auntie's favourite such dish is shrimps in marie rose sauce in half an avocado. So I knew I wanted to do something with fish, and had asked my sister to bring some sliced smoked marlin from Jamaica (better than smoked salmon, I swear!) for whatever it was I as going to make. I wanted it to be interesting in terms of eating and beautiful to look at. I'd also spent anarmandaleg buying some smoked salmon here and some white fish. I looked through my recipe books for inspiration and found a smoked salmon terrine.

When sliced it was beautiful, because there were layers of colour: the pink of the salmon, white fish, dotted here and there with green capers and peppercorns.

So I set about making my terrine with caution and trepidation. For some reason, anything that looks like it could have come out of a Cordon Bleu cookery book absolutely terrifies me! Completely intimidating! Instead of using only smoked salmon for the outer layer, I added also my precious smoked marlin, and some inexpensive white fish formed the bulk of the internal layers. The dish was set in a custard of eggs, cream and creme fraiche (just add a teaspoon of yogurt to a cup of fresh cream, leave it to sit at room temperature for an hour or two, and you'll have creme fraiche) and a sprinkling of chopped capers and brine-soaked green peppercorns.

The whole dish was baked in the oven, then left outside to cool. I put two heavy tins of tomatoes or beans on top the terrine and then left it to chill in the fridge until I was ready to serve it. A day later, and I still didn't know how the terrine looked! You have to wait to cut it until you're ready to serve it and waiting is not something I do so well! So I was completely excited when it was time to serve it. With a very sharp knife, I carefully cut slices at maybe 2 inches wide, and the beauty of the terrine was revealed!

It was also, by the way, quite delicious. A good combination of textures and colours and tastes. Not so scary after all, and a definite crowd-pleaser!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Photos from Butternut Farm

Okay - so I had enormous problems with the second Butternut Farm post, so I decided to create a little album of pictures separately.


Don Reid, me and Irving Hopkins.

Happy hens make delicious eggs

"Breakfast is at 8:30 in the morning," Don said as we were telling him goodnight. Hmmm. 8:30. That might be a bit of a stretch for me considering I'd been waking up routinely at 10-10:30 every day since the start of our holiday. But I resolved to try my best.

It was a cold morning with a bright blue sky. Because we'd arrived in the dark, it was the first chance for me and Richard to take a look around. He got dressed, put on his boots and headed out into the garden early. We were both excited. The snow lay on the grounds of the farm, white and glistening in the sunshine. I could hear people moving around through the wooden house, which creaked and groaned with every step.

The house, the living quarters of Butternut Farm, was built in 1720 by Jonathon Hale. Don Reid bought the property in the early 1970s and immediately set about restoring the building. Reid, a graduate of Harvard, had previously worked for years in banking and then as a school teacher. But it quickly became obvious to me that Don was born to run a period bed and breakfast. He has a passion for collecting antiques - more like an obsession, he admits over breakfast - which he places in each room of the inn. The doors all hang on period hammered hinges; all the rooms are furnished with ancient rugs and beds, sliver and brass objets, antique books, drawings and paintings, and a decanter of sherry, two glasses and little pile of chocolates. Two Abysinnian cats wander freely through the house, and there's a huge variety of stuffed animals and fox pelts leaping off of walls and strewn over the backs of chairs.

I went downstairs to the dining room for breakfast. Richard had come back in, and we were joined by Don and Irving and two other guests - a mother and her toddler. The table was set beautifully with silver cutlery, home made raspberry jam, toast, yogurt, cheese and an enormous yellow omelette.

"Happy hens make the best eggs!" declared Don, and so I tucked in to test his theory myself. There's something truly special about a fresh egg - I mean one that's been gathered and cooked in the same day, as our eggs had been. Their colour is magnificent; taste rich and decadent.

Don - like me - was a bit of a foodie. He'd even cooked for the famous Jullia Child and her husband, Paul, in the mid-70s. When I asked him about it, he was sufficiently vague. "You run a bed and breakfast for long enough and all kinds of people will come through your door." I liked his quiet humility. Both he and Iriving had a grace about them that made it easy to spend time with them. They spoke easily and without guile about their lives. They were curious about me and what I did and where I came from, but somehow managed, without any apparent effort, to not seem intrusive or prying.

Over the next couple of days, Richard and I would explore Glastonbury and go to Real Art Ways. Whenever we returned to the farm, we were greeted by Don or Irving or both. We ate fresh eggs every morning for breakfast and noted that the snow on the lawn had started to melt. We were at the end of our holiday, and on our final day we packed our things into the jeep and readied to leave for the airport. Don gave me a jar of home made jam. I said I'd better pay you now, lest I forget. "I feel so comfortable here, I might just walk out the door and forget all about money. Don felt similarly - that it was strange to be accepting money from friends. I was happy to pay him, though. It had been such a special few days, due in no small part, to the place itself and to its gracious proprietors.

Don't judge a place by its website

"You decide where we stay and make the arrangements," Richard said when I started to get excited about our trip to New York. We were going to be heading to Connecticut for a screening of my film at the Rockstone and Bootheel exhibition and I'd decided that it would be a gentle denouement to our New York trip, if we spent some time at a cozy inn or bed and breakfast. I got to searching on the internet - Bed and Breakfasts, Connecticut - and almost immediately came upon Butternut Farm. Here's one example of not judging a place by its website! The site was fairly dreadful - low-res photos, badly laid out. But I read through the entire site, realising that it was still run by owner, Don Reid; it was full of antiques, had been lovingly restored, was affordable and within 15 minutes drive of Hartford.

There wasn't an e mail address for making contact, so I called instead. Don answered the phone - the quiet voice of an older man. I told him who I was and where I was calling from. I gave him the dates I'd like to come. He asked why I was coming and I explained my film was going to be screened etc. I told him my boyfriend was a designer whose work was part of the exhibition. He seemed interested to learn more about us, but explained that he hadn't decided if he was going to be in the US in January, so could I call back in mid-December? I have to admit: I was a bit irritated by his request. Didn't he want my business? Why did I have to call him back, why couldn't he call me? Didn't he know there were a million other places I could stay instead of his?

"Okay," I said. "But could you make a note of my name and the dates?"

"Sure," he said. I gave him my information and decided I would wait till December to call him back, rather than search out other accommodations. I can be very impatient when I feel like it, so accepting the delay was a leap for me. But there was something about the dated website, the grainy photos and the reticent Don on the other end of the phone that made me decide - paradoxically - that this was the place for us.

And let me tell you - I was absolutely right! When I called back in December, Don answered the phone with, "Hello Mariel!" He'd remembered me and kept my number. He'd decided not to go anywhere in January (by this time it had become abundantly clear that it was going to be a hard winter) and he'd be delighted to welcome Richard and I on the 15th. Every time I called him after that, he spoke to me with a gentle familiarity, as though we'd known each other for years. So much so, that when Richard and I ended up staying longer in Salem than I'd expected, I called Don to let him know we'd be late - just in case he had errands he wanted to do.

It was cold and dark when we arrived at the farm. The settled snow was a strange pale blue in the night, and it muffled the sounds of Main Street just beyond the garden. Don and Irving greeted us warmly at the door, and we walked into probably the loveliest guest house I've ever had the pleasure to visit.

Photos taken by Richard Rawlins and Mariel Brown, with the permission of Don Reid.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Drive

It was perhaps the perfect drive.

When Richard and I arrived at the Hertz centre in Manhattan, it was with the understanding that we were to collect a Hyundai accent for our trip to Boston and Connecticut. I'd made the booking on line, and being the budget traveller that I am, had decided we should go for the economy car. Imagine our surprise and delight when instead of the tiny accent, we were offered a comfortable (and very stable-looking) Jeep.

Richard and I had searched our route on google maps and written out a 28-point list of directions that would take us from Rachel's apartment in Harlem, to Christina's house in Roslindale - just outside of Boston. We were heading up there for a Memorial in honour of my father. The university at which he used to teach - Lesley - would be celebrating his contributions as a writer and teacher of writing.

Leaving Manhattan was simple enough. It only took a minute or two to get used to driving on the right side of the road. And our directions seemed to be spot-on.

Within a few minutes, we were heading north along the banks of the Hudson River - miles of bare trees to our right, the cold and quiet Hudson on our left. White snow glistened and sparkled on the banks and fields, and we drove past frozen lakes that were like magic to me. Although I've lived through many winters in England, I've never really experienced the expanses of frozen water that we drove past.

I threatened to start singing, and Richard turned on the radio! He found exactly the right music - mellow and easy to listen to: familiar but not distracting. And we sang, or sometimes just sat in a sort of quiet elation at this perfect moment that lasted for hours. Until we got to Boston and got lost! Alas... such is life. But I'm certain to never forget that drive.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Decadent hot chocolate on a wintry night!

If you look closely at the menu, you'll see one of the hot chocolates is made with cocoa from Trinidad!

The mug is called a 'hug' - you're meant to cup it in both of your hands and get comfy - which Richard and I did!

Talk about indulgence!!! Have you ever seen a chocolate pizza?

We just happened upon the place after we left the Strand and bought tickets to see AVATAR in 3d (that was something!). We had about an hour to kill and it was freezing cold - the kind of cold that makes your teeth hurt! The restaurant was glowing gold and yellow and was irresistible.

What we drank was easily the most indulgent thing we've had so far - the most decadent hot chocolate you could possibly imagine! Richard's was a thick Italian hot chocolate with hints of vanilla. I promise you you could almost stand a spoon in it, it was that thick!

I had a simpler, dark hot chocolate that was quite perfect - with the heart-shaped design in my froth.

It's on Broadway and 13th Street, and I suspect we're gonna go back!

Let's start at the very beginning...

I realise I went about this the wrong way - starting with my little review of the Strand, without first explaining that Richard and I are on holiday (yay!) in New York for the next two weeks. It's as cold as hell, but really wonderful. With the year I've had, I desperately needed a break, and he's been working flat out too, so the timing is perfect.

Anyhoo, I'll be sharing some food experiences and other New York gems while I'm here.

One of my favourite things to do in a new place is go to the supermarket. I try to do this wherever I go. I remember being completely bowled over by a supermarket in Salamanca, Spain. The seafood counter was out of this world - every kind of thing you could imagine. I love a Whole Foods - even though I find it quite overwhelming! And don't talk for Zabar's! Supermarkets, markets and delis give you a first-hand introduction to the food culture of a place, and, if you're adventurous about food, they give you the opportunity to try new ingredients too.

So as I mentioned, I'm in New York. Staying with my friend Rachel in Harlem. On my 2nd day here, Richard and I braved the icy wind to trek over to the local supermarket. It had a wonderful vegetable s
ection, and I couldn't resist a dazzling bunch of chard - all magenta stems and green leaves! I've never cooked chard before, so I looked on the internet for inspiration, and here's what I came up with:

You'll need a fresh bunch of chard (chop off and discard the bottom third of the stems as they're tough and fibrous, and then give everything else a 1-inch chop); 4 or 5 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped; an onion, diced; 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced; salt and pepper.

Cook the bacon for a minute or two on a medium heat in a large frying pan (one that has a lid). (By the way, you don't need to put any oil in the pan, as the bacon will spring its own fat.) Once the bacon has cooked for a couple of minutes, add your onions and garlic and cook them until the onions are translucent. Throw in the chard with a little salt and pepper. Give everything a stir and put the lid on. Continue to cook on a medium heat for another 2 or 3 minutes, and serve immediately.


(Photo by Richard Rawlins)
18 miles of books.

This is just about my favourite bookstore in Manhattan. And I was very excited to share it with Richard. It's on the corner of 12th Street and Broadway, and like the caption says, it boasts 18 miles of books! The books are all discounted (some, heavily) and there's an incredible range of subjects and genres. However (and it was our second such encounter of the day) the staff are that particular breed of snooty Manhattan intelligentsia - no-doubt very knowledgeable about books, but covetous of their knowledge and ridiculously condescending. But the books are worth the staff minefield!