Recipe: Alfajores y Empanadas de Argentina
23.08.16

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(Above left, my first alfajor. Above right, a batch of empanadas)

Here are the recipes for two delightfully doughy Argentinian snacks – savoury corn and paprika empanadas and fluffy dulce de leche and coconut alfajores… I've used corn flour for both these recipes, but you can use plain flour if you can't get your hands on the stuff.

Alfajores de Maizena
(Makes 16 alfajores)

For all intents and purposes, alfajores de maizena are a cross between a giant, Latin American macaroon and a dulce de leche burger. Literally the dream. Two corn flour biscuits sandwich a delicious filling, usually made from dulce de leche or some other kind of cream based sugary treat. They’re everywhere in Argentina (and South America for that matter but became fewer and further between once I left Peru. Usually I don’t like to publish complicated recipes – alfajores are not hard to make, but they ARE fiddly because they’re so delicate. However, the faff time it takes to make these is totally worth it because they’re delicious and you just can’t find them in the UK.

Ingredients:

For the dough:
230 g sugar
230 g butter
5 egg yolks
270 g corn flour
3 tsp of liqueur (I used amaretto, you can use whatever you like really, as long as it’s sweet and alcoholic)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt

For the filling:
Dulce de leche (A bit tricky to find, but it's worth hunting it out on Ocado or a speciality deli. You can also use caramel, but the Argentinian version is always better!)
Dessicated coconut


1. Whisk the butter, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract and liqueur together until light and fluffy.
2. Add the mix to baking powder, salt and flour and combine with a spoon. You should have a very fluffy, buttery dough that is quite sticky. It will be a bit difficult to manage, but don't panic.
3. Wrap the dough in cling film and put it in the fridge to set for at least an hour. I find it better to leave it overnight.
4. Once the dough is set, take it out of the fridge and roll into biscuit shaped rounds. As the dough is so buttery it tends to come apart so I have found that the best way to shape is to roll it into balls with your hands and squash it into a circle, then cut using a pastry cutter or cold glass. The rounds must be quite thick, I would say about 1 cm is perfect. If they are too thin, the biscuit will fall apart.
5. Line a tin with baking parchment and lay the rounds on. Bake at 190 C for 10 - 12 minutes. They will still be relatively raw, so on taking the biscuits out of the oven, wait for them to cool before moving them so that they don’t fall apart.
6. Add a thick layer of dulce de leche to every other biscuit, then sprinkle the dulce de leche with coconut.
7. Stick the un-dulced biscuits on top of the dulce de leched up ones.
8. Eat! And enjoy!

Empanaditas Humitas
(Makes 24 little empanadas)
Just as the alfajor reminds us of macaroons, empanadas, to me, are just more delicious South American Cornish pasties. These have corn and paprika in them, which are not a traditional Argentine recipe, but once you have the dough down you can pretty much fill them with whatever you like.

Ingredients:

For the dough:
600 g of plain or corn flour
300 g butter
150 chilled water
2 eggs
A pinch of salt

For the filling:
500 g of sweetcorn
A handful of spring onions
Paprika
Chilli, salt, pepper and any other seasoning you might like to put in.
1 red onion


1. Combine the butter and the flour until the mixture looks like crumbs.
2. Whisk together egg and water. Make a well in the middle of the mixture and, little by little, add the eggs and water to the middle until the dough has combined. Wrap the dough in cling film and put it in the fridge for an hour.
3. After it has chilled, roll onto a floured surface until it is quite thin. I would advice 2 mm thickness. If the dough is too thick, it will end up being quite dry.
4. While the dough is chilling, chop the onions and fry onions and sweetcorn together then season with lots of paprika, chilli, salt and pepper.
5. Cut into rounds, ideally using a glass tumbler width for small empanadas, although you can make them bigger.
6. Coat the dough with melted butter and add a teaspoon of filling.
7. Fold the dough over so that you end up with something that looks a bit like ravioli. Seal with a fork and coat generously with the remaining egg and water mixture so the empanadas are nice and shiny.
8. Place on a baking tray and bake for 12 - 15 minutes at 180 C or bake until browned and shiny.

Recipe and photos by Julia Georgallis

The Travelling Forager
06.08.16

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(Above photo: a picnic on the beach on an island in Sweden...)

I’m currently sitting in a field on an island in Sweden (sounds wanky doesn’t it?). Whilst I’ve been here, camping and cooking for 20 designers on holiday, foraging has been on my mind. We’ve been trying to use things that are around us for project ideas, food ideas and fun ideas. So I’ve been thinking about this verb – ‘to forage.’ Meaning ‘to gather, especially food.’ A word that has its roots in one of the oldest of human activities, when we were hunter-gatherers finding food from wherever we could. Unfortunately, nowadays, to me, the word ‘forage’ is just a bit… well it’s also quite wanky really. The extent of my foraging in normal life stretches as far as gathering some blackberries from the bush next to where I park my car which has probably been pissed on by a million foxes. I don’t need to forage. There is an abundance of food where I live in supermarkets and markets and because people I know grow things and give me the occasional courgette or fig or apple. So really, it’s a bit unnecessary. However. There is another definition of foraging. ‘To forage - (of a person or animal) search widely for food or provisions.’ It’s a good definition, possibly one that is far more modern. I can get behind this, as my main premise in life is to travel and cook. I am, as the phrase says, always searching far AND wide for food and provisions. Wherever I go, my memories of places seem to be marked by the food that I ate there.

I’m a pretty lucky eater – I was raised by an extremely foodie family who cooked delicious food. I’ve had the pleasure of eating at some of the most amazing restaurants in the world. But still, some of the best food experiences have been the most basic, and usually whilst travelling. Catching and eating blue crabs in Western Australian with my best friend, sitting on the side of the road with my housemate and her parents in Sardinia drinking wine from a tiny plastic glass and eating sea urchins, the lady cooking spring onions and potatoes by the side of Lake Atitlan, horsemeat and aubergine burgers at 3 am on New Years Day again in Sardinia (but this time sitting in a boot of a car because there was no room in the actual car), the best muffin I’ve ever eaten in Floripa when I was really hung over, picking mussels in Cornwall and eating them with a bit of freshly made bread, a pot of molten fondue eaten with crumbly bread and a killer red wine on Lake Geneva or a smoked fish picnic on a rocky beach one cold summer in Sweden - the list goes on and on and on. And it would probably be a really boring list for anyone else other than me, anyway.

So I always wonder why. Why can’t I just say that the fancy restaurants are the best? I’m not trying to be contrary on purpose. But I’ve decided that I think at the heart of it all lies spontaneity that occurred when we used to actually forage - the joy of accidental food. Though our digestive systems are hardwired to like routine, our brains perhaps don’t yet. And so, we go to the supermarket once or twice a week with our regular shopping list and we buy our normal things and we eat three times a day and it’s all very nice. But then you find that the chili plant you bought from Tesco’s has actually grown some knobbly red demonstration or you find yourself hungry in Patagonia and stumbling across a hole in the wall that serves the biggest King Crabs you’ve ever seen - things like that. It deviates from the path of normal eating and stimulates some other thing in your brain that is probably attached to the pleasure bit on your tongue. So I’m still going to go to fancy restaurants, I think. But. I might just end up enjoying that blackberry crumble laced with fox wee that little bit more.

Words and images by Julia Georgallis

Sharing in Argentina
Monday 18.07.16

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Photo: A boiling water dispenser at a petrol station on the border between Uruguay and Argentina

Like a good friend Argentina is a warm and generous place. It offers a lot. There are waterfalls and ranches and vineyards and glaciers and cities and lakes and snow and beaches. It's for the greedy traveller, activity wise. And also food wise. But aside from the quality of food, Argentina's food culture has so much behind it symbolically – it is what happens when you mix generosity with South American magic.

This magic comes, I think, from the presence of so much belief, not necessarily in religion, but in all the small things. A lot of the Argentines I had the pleasure of meeting were full to the brim of charming idiosyncracies and rituals about everything – from the ratios of Fernet (an Italian imported digestif that tastes a bit like Jagermeister, drunk in Argentina with ice and coke) to how much sugar you should put in your mate. Food rituals permeate everyday life – Take Gnocchi Day (Dia de Noquis), for example. On the 29th of the month many put some money under a plate of gnocchi, usually the largest denomination carried at the time, to give prosperity in the month ahead. Gnocchi Day is a clue about the cultural influences on Arg – let’s not forget that the country is a mixture of colonising Spaniards and fleeing post WW2 Germans and, as the allusion to gnocchi suggests, Italians. Throw in a dictatorial government and an ever fluctuating economy and you get a real need for some kind of stability, some kind of pleasure in things being just so.

Something that is distinctly NOT European, however, is yerba mate (prounounced matt-eh). Argentinians, some Brazilians, Uruguayans, Paraguayans, a hand full of Bolivians and Southern Chileans can be found, at most times of day, toting a hot flask, mate cup, metal straw and a pack of yerba. (There are even hot water dispensers in public places like petrol stations JUST INCASE.) With one of the main things about home that I really missed being tea, mate very quickly became a replacement. A green, bitter, caffeinated bunch of herbs (a relative of the holly, first harvested by the Guarani tribe), it’s a bit like green tea on steroids. Drunk by packing a gourd shaped mug with herbs, filling it with hot water and sipping on a metal straw (you aren’t allowed to touch the straw with your hands!) until the water is empty. Once you’re done, refill the water and pass it to your neighbour. Mate, many explained to me, is about sharing ideas. When you drink mate, you have to have a conversation, after all you’re drinking out of the same cup. It’s quite an intimate process and often leads to D&Ms, heated debates or revelations. In this respect, it’s a bit MORE than tea (I will probably be exiled for saying this). In the same way, drinking tea is about the process of making, especially when it comes to making it for others (Do you take sugar? How much milk would you like? Bag in or out?), but tea can also be enjoyed alone, as a break or as a mode of procrastination. Mate, however, cannot. It’s just no fun without the presence of others.

A great many things in Argentina are done in groups or in pairs, not because they need to be, but because of the gesture. It took me a while to realise that portion sizes in restaurants are very often for two. Like tapas or mezes, you don’t just go out for eating’s sake. You eat out for the shared experience. Birthdays are another cause for gestures, one of the most traditional forms of birthday cake being Choco Torta. Now, this cake is an assembly job that could give you a serious heartattack, but it’s delicious – comprised of a jenga like layer of chocolate biscuits, dulce de leche, cream and milk. But. It can’t be bought. It HAS to be made. Yet again, the gesture of making it for someone is what gives it significance. Otherwise it is just another pile of sugar and milk.

And so. From Iguassu to Patagonia. Yes, there was lots of delightful food, but eating in this big country is mainly about companionship as well as taste. And it can be said in many ways that this is the same the world over. For cups of tea, a round of mate, a glass of something strong or making someone a cake all mean the same thing. When you offer someone these things you are also offering the equivalent of a pat on the back, a cuddle, a handshake or a little bit of courage to welcome them in or send them, happily, on their way.

Text and images by Julia Georgallis

Recipe: When life gives your tuna... Make ceviche!
Tuesday 28.06.16

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On a hot day in the sleepy surfing town of Puerto Escondido, some friends of mine followed some dolphins and stole some of their snacks. These snacks happened to be 8 kilos of tuna. I decided to make a feast of guacamole, carpaccio and ceviche with this copious amount of fresh fish for the 20 people in our merry band of travellers. We ate everything with our hands and tortilla chips and washed it all down with beers. Here is a guide to recreating part of our fishy feast, complete with homemade nachos, ceviche and how to drink like a Mexican…

Homemade tortilla chips
(Makes 15 large tortillas or millions of small ones)
All tortilla chips are, unsurprisingly are dehydrated tortillas. Therefore you can either reuse any tortillas you have in your house and stick them in the oven for 7-10 minutes at full temperature until they are crispy and then break them up into small pieces. Or make them yourself. This is a faff, but the nicest thing about this is that you can stick whichever herbs and spices you like in them and make them extra tasty – and they have no nasties in them!

Ingredients:
700 g Corn flour
The most important part of this recipe is the flour – you will need to look for corn flour or, ‘masa harina.’ The biggest brand is called ‘Maseca.’ Tortillas and tortilla chips are made from corn and therefore are a great, gluten free snack, if you’re that way inclined. You can get the flour from South American supermarkets, Holland and Barrett or you can order it online. You can use other other flours, but they're not as... well... corny.

500 g Water

Spices – Add what you like – I like a bit of lime, paprika and salt but you can experiment. Rosemary tortillas anyone? Don’t put too much in, a couple of pinches of each is enough.


1. Mix the water slowly into the corn flour until it is the consistency of playdough. This particular type of flour dries out very quickly. You might need to keep adding more water. Keep the dough covered with a wet towel at all times, and keep your hands wet.
2. Shape. You would usually use a tortilla press to shape the tortillas but, in the absence of one, roll them into a ball, then roll out onto a floured surface so they are roughly 2 -3 mm thick. Personally, I like very small tortillas so I cut mine with pastry cutters, but you can also roll them out as big as you like.
3. Coat a skillet or non-stick pan lightly with some cooking oil (I always use rapeseed), and fry the tortillas on a medium heat for 1 or 2 minutes on each side.


Ceviche
(Serves 5-6 people as a light snack or starter)

Ingredients:
400 g Tuna (you can also use any other meaty fish like salmon, trout or white fish).
2 small Mangos, 2 red onions, 15 g of fresh ginger
Chilli flakes, salt, pepper, paprika
Lots of lime (You’ll need about 16 limes for this - you can use lemons a cheaper, more accessible alternative)


1. To prepare the fish: You must, must, must use sea-fresh fish or ‘sushi grade’ fish to make ceviche or you might give yourself something nasty. The best way to do this is to buy the freshest fish you can and pop it in the freezer over night. Defrost before use. The cold kills any bacteria on the fish.
2. Chop up the tuna, mango into cubes, dice the onion and slice the ginger into thin strips.
3. Mix it together in a big bowl.
4. Add a handful of chilli, a pinch of paprika and salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, squeeze all the limes and then pour over the fish and veg.
5. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for at least an hour. Season to taste.
6. Scoop it up with your tortillas and fill your bellies.

Drink like a Mexican
Mexican beer was good and refreshing and I also took to Tequilla’s tough little cousin, Mezcal. In Mexico, these two go together like ham and cheese. Here’s how to drink them.

Ingredients:
A bottle of Mezcal and a Pilsner-style lager, something quite light like Sol or Corona will do. Lime, coarse salt, chilli flakes and a pinch of pepper


1. Cut a lime in half and spread it evenly around the rim of the glass or bottle.
2. In a shallow plate, mix the salt, pepper and chilli flakes then either dip your glass into use a spoon to coat the rim.
3. Squeeze the lime into the beer and pour yourself a shot of Mezcal.
4. Drink the Mezcal (in Mexico, FYI, they sip it rather than shot it) and then wash it down with your spicy, salty beer.

Recipe & Image by Julia Georgallis

The Backpacker's Food Directory: A Mexican Food Safari
Tuesday 21.06.16

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(From the top: Crazy grains, a feast of cochinita pibil, a tortilleria, an agave mound to make Mezcal and a market stall selling grasshoppers)

I am disappointed in Julia of the Past. I am disappointed in her because she had very little faith in Mexican food. I was all for the occasional burrito, but I always associated it with those Old El Paso fajita ready mix boxes I used to buy in order not to starve to death when I first left home at 18. How very wrong I was.

As was the theme for my entire time in Latin America, I stayed for far longer than expected in Mexico. A 10-day stop over turned into a 5 week Odyssey. Part of this reason was the fun-factor, the second was that I could eat delicious food for very little money. Food varies from region to region - I explored mainly the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico City, Chiapas and Oaxaca and all of them introduced me to new ways of eating (and drinking). From cactuses to hibiscus tea, here are my 8 favorite foodie experiences and a restaurant guide (non of these have websites, some don't even have addresses so I've attached either the Trip Advisor page or Google Maps for addresses and reviews)...

1. Champulines
Champulines are fried grasshoppers coated in chilli. They are vinegary, crunchy and filling. One particular night, we gorged on these with beers, Mezcal and potato salad. Delish. You can buy them by the kilo in the markets, particularly the Mercado de Benito Juarez, Oaxaca City (If grasshoppers don’t float your boat, you can pick up other specialities at market like Oaxaca cheese and courgette flowers)

2. Cochinita Pibil
Marinated, soft pulled-pork, served with tortillas and often eaten with spicy, fermented wonderfulness like chilli and onion pickles. The first time I tried this was in La Popular, Oaxaca. This restaurant also serves other brilliant Mexican specialities like Tlyayudas. I also had a fantastic Yucatan-style cochinita meal at Manjar Blanco, Merida.

3. Spicy Street Fruit
In most parts of Mexico, you can pick up packs of fruit coated in chilli and doused in lime from street vendors. My two favourite chilli vs fruit combos were mango and a white yam called ‘jicama.’

4. Ceviche
If you find yourself on the coast, I highly recommend you find a local fisherman who will take you out on his boat to catch some fish. If this is not for you however, stuff your face full of ceviche instead – raw, lime coated fish. I particularly enjoyed El Camello Jr, Tulum and El Costenito Cevicheria, Puerto Escondido – both of these restaurants also serve tasty grilled fish options.

5. Drinking in Mexico
I fell in love with drinking Mezcal, Tequilla’s tougher cousin, with my beer in the evenings. I particularly enjoyed going on a Mezcal tour in Oaxaca – there are lots and I don’t think it matters which one you do, just make sure you go! La Negrita Cantina, Merida is a great Mezcaleria and also serves fun, complementary bar snacks and the before-mentioned El Popular in Oaxaca redresses itself at night and turns into a ravey Mezcaleria. When I wasn’t drinking Mezcal, beers coated in chilli or tequila, however, I looked for non alcoholic ways to quench my thirst, either with Horchata (which can be found all over Latin America) - a rice-milk with cinnammon drink. or Jamaica, a cold brewed Hibiscus tea with sugar. Occasionally, I was also sent to sleep like a child with raw hot chocolate. All of these had fewer consequences than their alcoholic relatives.

6. Cactus
Cactuses are magical things. They can kill you, send you on a trip or satisfy your hunger. I ate a copious amount of the nopi variety, mainly as a bar snack but, most excellently, in burrito form. I had very few burritos during my trip but Burrito Amor, Tulum made me crazy - It was so good I walked for 40 minutes in the baking sun to make sure that this was my last meal in Mexico.

7. Tarts
The most loveable street vendor I encountered was a middle aged man in a shirt who walked up and down La Punta beach in Puerto Escondido selling tarts. These tarts are in fact the best form of baked good ever invented – usually filled with pineapple custard, cheese custard or coconut custard with a shortcrust pastry. On several occasions they saved my life after long walks to various beaches, invariable walks of shame and as a post 18-hour bus journey snack.

8. Puerto Escondido & Mazunte
I left this one until last as it's pretty hefty - I got utterly stuck in the surfer vortexes that are the Oaxacan beaches. There are certain meals that I ate on this coast that will quite literally haunt me forever:
Siddharta, Mazunte - The meal that changed my life. Me and a friend ate here for two days in a row – don’t order anything else just order the rice bowl (either with chicken or squid). I cried myself to sleep at the memory of this meal every night for weeks.
La Olita, Zicatela. - Hands down the best tacos in Puerto Escondido. Cosy vibes, Frida Kahlo on the wall, delicious food. Stellar job.
Black Velvet Fish Tacos, Zicatela - Known locally just as ‘fish tacos’ and serves interesting versions of Mexican classics. I had a delicious (but slightly pricier) "rice ball." (There isn't an address for this place let alone a map - but it's a little way passed the main beach strip in Zicatela, walking towards Rinconada on the opposite side of the beach.)
Congo - This has nothing to do with food but it IS the funnest salsa club ever, open every Wednesday. Lols will ensue and you WILL dance your little socks off.
Palma Negra - This micro brand sells homemade palitas (Mexican ice lollies) with naughty AND healthy options. They have their own shop on Zicatela beach and also stock their ice creams in Moringa, La Punta beach.
Moringa, La Punta – A health shop selling homemade treats, fresh produce and skin care to all the yogis, backpackers and hippies that saunter through the door. (Located next to Frutas y Verduras)

So there you have it - that's my list. I would invite you to enjoy the places that I discovered on my trip, but also look forward to hearing about all the holes in the walls, street vendors and new food adventures you manage to stumble across! hello@thebreadcompanion.com

Photos and text by Julia Georgallis

La Gozadera y La Comida - Good Time Food
Monday 13.06.16

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(Above photo: Walk along a mountain path to a beach along the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Covered in cactuses with a deep, blue sea)

I was only supposed to be gone for a couple of months, maximum three, I thought to myself. “You’ll extend,” people told me. “You’ll never want to come back” others said. I didn’t believe them. I left an icy London day in early January, terrified, 10 kg backpack in tow and resolute that I would retreat to my mum’s house in North London 6 weeks later. 6 weeks turned to 3 months. 3 months turned to 5. And then all of a sudden it was the end of May and I was happily rolling around the Americas, bare foot, with barely any luggage, pretty much saying yes to every opportunity that came my way and going wherever the wind took me. And then the tug. The tug of home. Summer had started in Europe. I missed my mum. I missed my cat. I missed bacon butties and really bad Chinese food and most of all, I missed a really good cup of tea. Also, I thought it was about time I put some shoes back on. And so, from somewhere in Mexico, I booked my flight back, happy to return. Over the last week, when I tell people that I have been travelling for five months, solo, in Latin America a few have asked, “why did you decide to do THAT?” This to me, is a silly question. Sillier perhaps than working on building a business for a year, getting that business to a point where all is going well, then abandoning it, packing up your belongings into your dad’s garage and leaving the country indefinitely.

Because I’ve always seen the value in travelling and I am fortunate to have been to a great many places. From hanging out in Italy for 8 months, to trekking in the Himalayas, to spending time on a boat near some Southern Pacific island…. These are not degrees or mortgages or Swiss army knives, but they’re useful experiences nonetheless. I travelled this time to South and Central America because, after having studied a lot and working a bit, I was painfully aware that life does not always give us the opportunity to take off and be free. Plus I really like empanadas. Travel is at the heart of The Bread Companion’s story. Founding a mobile, micro bakery meant that I could drive around finding out new things about bread from different parts of this lovely country. All I was really doing was swapping my trailer for a backpack.

We live in a community where all actions must always be justified. So I justified my voyage. My premise for travelling, then, was to “find recipes and study grains.” For the first 3 days I did just this in Buenos Aires, traipsing around actively LOOKING for bakeries to review. These were massive disappointments. So I gave up and had a bloody good time instead. And then that became the reason for travelling. And do you know what? That decision has led me to return with hundreds of recipes. In search of good food seemed to come hand in hand with in search of a good time. La comida – the cuisine. La gozadera – the good time. They fit together perfectly. My plans flew out the window. My route became haphazard and illogical. I missed flights, I didn’t post any blogs, I never made it to where I was supposed to make it to, you haven’t heard from me in months! But it didn’t matter, because in the end, I achieved what I was looking for – a new perspective, new recipes, new ways of eating – and with this, as it so often does, comes new ideas about how life should be lived, as food quite rightly is intertwined with daily life and daily rituals.

I am back now, full of guacamole, my skin considerably darker and I am ready to share the experiences and recipes that have made me happy and will make you happy in trying them out with your own hands and eating them with your own mouths. This is what the core of my brand is and this is the spirit that I go into the next few months with – have the heart of an explorer when you eat. Eat different things, try making different things, look at things in a different way. And most importantly, when you eat something, especially if you yourself has made it, don't think of it as a carb or as a protein or as something that you should or shouldn't be eating - think of it as an adventure, as a 'gozadera' and enjoy it.

Photos and text by Julia Georgallis

The Topical Pie
Monday 30.11.15

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Photo: A mega pie, roughly about the same size as my own face, that was made during our mince pie making workshop at The London Artisan market, Brick Lane)

The first mince pie of the year is a monumental moment for me. It marks the start of my favourite season. I blahdy love Christmas and I blahdy love that weird and ambiguous filling and a lovely flakey pastry. But every year, without fail, I find myself at some point being baffled by them. I mean, what on earth even is mince? I’ve been chasing the myth of the mince pie around for a while now, trying to get to the bottom of this bizarre piece of pastry. A few weeks ago, I began my mince pie offensive by running a two hour mince pie making workshop in Brick Lane as part of The London Artisan market. I taught people about the ingredients of a mince pie and passers by decorated their pies with different shaped pastry before being baked in my mobile oven. But I also armed myself with the story of the pie and gave participants a little history lesson as well.

I have always assumed that mince pies were an invention of the Victorians because, in my head, the Victorians invented Christmas (which is not true, but I like to imagine that it was perpetually Christmas in the 1800s). But it goes back much further than that – the mince pie came about after those returning from the Crusades brought back spices and recipes from the Levant in the middle ages. Middle Eastern cuisine is not afraid of combining meat with fruit – a winning combination, I think – but this was very new to Britain. And so, the original mince pie did actually contain mince meat, as well raisins, sultanas, currents, cinnamon and cloves – all ingredients that derive from the gastronomically rich Islamic world.

It’s a bit unclear how the pie jumped from import to being eaten exclusively at Christmas, but I assume it is because of its decadence and therefore only eaten on a special occasion. Mince pies were also huge and square, eaten as a meal rather than as a sweet snack. The squareness of the old mince pie was supposed to represent Jesus’ crib (I feel like this is a pretty vague and quite catastrophic metaphor here, but oh well). In the late 1600’s however, Oliver Cromwell got the hump with the mince pie and decided that they were heretical symbols of Catholicism, so he banned them. What a spoil-sport. When they resurfaced a few years later, they were much smaller and gradually the meat disappeared. There is no real reason given as to why they shrunk, but I have decided that the reason for their diminutive size is because they were still slightly clandestine and I envisage some kind of mince pie dealer hiding them under his coat, trying to flog them on the pie black market (that is 100% made up, by the way).

So there you have it – the mince pie is a Middle Eastern import, did contain meat, and shrunk because of its clandestine activity. Now, I know I’ve darted around some big issues here, such as what the Crusades actually were, the horrible things going on in the Middle East at the moment (mega understatement, I know) and also the tensions in our own society between various religious communities. I’ve done that on purpose, because at the end of the day, I’m a baker from North London not a politician and, let’s face it, I’m talking about pastry here. But, one thing I do keep thinking, and it seems frivolous, is that the mince pie is actually very topical right now, what with its history of something that came directly out of a war between Christianity and Islam. So, when someone offers you a mince pie this year perhaps a nice way to look at it, is as an excellent collaboration between two quite literally warring worlds and as a symbol of inter-culturalism. Forget about your shwarma, the mince pie is very quickly becoming one of my favourite Levantine imports.

Happy Christmas everyone. And remember, give pies a chance. (Sorry, I just couldn't help myself).

Writing by Julia Georgallis
Image by Farida Farooqi

A Pot Full of Love - Designers on Holiday Part II
Thursday 08.10.15

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Images above from top to bottom: the volvo and three mattresses that were waiting for us on the first night, pea soup with knackebrod bruschetta, Rye bread dough and my feet, banana cake with cream and beer, more aggressive home brewed beer bottles, cup of tea, baked pears and a cinnamon bun, smoked fish we ate by the beach

I promised another blog about my dreamy Swedish summer project but it really has taken me a bit of time to get there. 3 months on, as the winter draws in, I find myself daydreaming about sleeping outside in a Swedish field. However, the thing that I actually miss the most is not the camping - it’s the cooking. Just to recap, Designers on Holiday was a project run by Featuring Featuring, a London design duo who selected a group of people with specific skills to build a camper’s paradise this summer amongst the poppies and high grasses of Gotland, Sweden.

Now, look, not to sound like a recluse but I live on my own AND work on my own, the point being that I don’t cook for many people very often. It's generally meals for one. I don’t even have a cat I can feed. So maybe you’ll be surprised to read that, as well as building a bread oven, my task on the island was to cook for 20 people, three times a day for two weeks. I went into this quite naively. I had heard stories about the inaugural Designers on Holiday the year before, where everybody lived off things in tubes and Swedish hot dogs. Now I love tube-food and a hot dog as much as the next girl, but I couldn’t imagine living off pickled herring and reconstituted fish roe for two weeks, not least because we would probably have come back with scurvy. So when I saw that there was an opening in the campsite for a mum and feeder, I decided to fill the position.

When we arrived in Gotland there was a volvo in a field, 3 mattresses and a community hall from WWII with a kitchen attached to it. Until the bread oven was built, I stationed myself in the hall’s kitchen. Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is funny at first. It’s like wearing someone else’s shoes. But the thing I immediately loved about this particular kitchen was its pots. Vast pots. Pots that I could have swum in. And so, I just needed a bit of time to accustom myself - then I jumped straight in (to the cooking, not the pots).

I’ve never cooked for that many people before. There were two key things that I learned almost immediately – one is to over season everything. The other is that the cheapest and easiest way to combat the hunger of a bunch of people who have been working outside all day is mainly with carbs and dairy. The produce was an absolute treat to cook with. The veg on Gotland, despite it being just from a supermarket, was knobbly, unperfect and fresh. The eggs and meat were given to us by Bokeslundsgården, a farm that supplies some of the best chefs in Sweden. And Gordon Bennett, the flour was amazing. Proper top banana flour. There was even a mill up the road from the campsite.

Working between the kitchen and my oven, spending my days thinking about what to cook next, I never got bored. And what I loved the most, was that despite all the space and all the places on the campsite people could have gone to hang out, the kitchen was always the place to be. I found that I knew exactly what was going on that particular day, even though I spent the least time outside (although having said that I did still spend quite a lot of time outdoors).

So because of the pot situation and the oven situation and sheer quantity of food to be cooked and people’s perpetual hunger, I got into a rhythm of cooking quite simple one pot dishes each day, followed by a baked dessert or dough related item (and there would usually be something green on the side). I enlisted people to chop and slice. My good friend Laylah gave me ideas for recipes and egged me on to season things more. After a while, we started to have the same thing for breakfast – a bircher muesli with cinnamon, honey and whatever fruit we could find with a lovely natural yog. We did revert to eating tubed and pickled things with glorious knackebrod for lunch, but it was great and scurvy free. And then at dinner, we’d all sit down together under a tree or out by the oven on a long table with candles and share what had happened during the day. Sometimes we picnicked on the beach, or built a fire and melted chocolate and marshmallows. But wherever we were eating, we were still sharing a big pot, a big table and a big adventure.

Writing & images by Julia Georgallis

Koulourakia
Tuesday 16.09.15

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During my recent summer trip to Cyprus, I was reminded of a very sweet little song I used to sing as a child that made be feel nostalgic for carbohydrates. The Great British Bake Off's recent explorations into Cypriot pastries made me think it might be about the right time to post it! It's about 'koulourakia' - or bread sticks coated in sesame and nigella seeds (the ones in the photo above I actually made with chocolate and sesame, but hey ho!). It's sort of the equivalent of 'Pattercake, Pattercake', but it mentions the wood fired oven that many houses in Cyprus still have.

The song goes like this:

Πλάθω κουλουράκια (Platho koulourakia)
με τα δυο χεράκια (Me ta thio hairakia)
Ο φούρνος θα τα ψήσει (O fournos tha da psisi)
το σπίτι θα μυρίσει (Do spidi na mirisi)


Translation:
I'm rolling koulourakia
With my two little hands
The oven will bake them
The house will smell nice
Koulourakia!


Moving and Baking: Designers on Holiday Part I
Tuesday 25.08.15

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(This is the prelude to a series of posts about the Designers on Holiday project in Sweden - there was just too much to fit in one post)

It occurred to me about 18 months ago that what I wanted was a lifestyle, not a job. I suddenly realised I’d lived my whole life in a city and was in an industry that dealt exclusively with STUFF. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, I like stuff – it’s really nice. But it somehow wasn’t what I wanted to do. So, I like food. A lot. And I like backpacking. Really, a lot. I like the idea of moving around, like a snail, with everything you need on your back, perhaps like how people used to do before they had televisions and sofas and cutlery and hair-brushes. So I started baking. And then, once I’d started baking I thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could bake’ and then ‘wouldn’t it also be nice to move around and teach everyone how to bake’ and THEN ‘hey, England is really nice wouldn’t it be nice to move around in England, baking?’ There are other factors that led to the conception of the Bread Companion but the idea of a more nomadic life appealed to me. So I started moving and baking.

Now, in spite of all this, the idea of leaving the city actually sort of terrifies me. But, recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about "The English Countryside" and "The Great Outdoors." So when my two very good friends told me their, what sounded at the time, hair brained scheme to build a campsite on a plot of land on a remote Swedish island, it both frightened and intrigued me. A few months later, I was on that island, running around in literally fields of wild flowers, baking bread for 20 hungry creative people for a project called Designers on Holiday. The project, which will take place every summer, run by design practice Featuring Featuring, enables people to leave behind their daily routine for a few days or weeks and build their very own rural getaway. A total of 20 of us travelled to Bergsasen, Gotland with a project that we wanted to realise on the island and in return for our creative contribution we were allowed to camp for free for 2 weeks. After a million trips to the equivalent of Swedish B&Q, a multitude of early morning cold showers, and what seemed like hundreds of discussions about how to build things by the campfire, our little clan built 10 tents, a very nice outdoor shower, a bread oven (by Bobby Petersen and I), a loom (by Laylah Cook), a kiln (by David and Laurence Symonds), a hot tub (by James Shaw ), a herbal distillery to make soap and cosmetics (by Santi Guerrero Font, Olaya Ruiz & Afra Quintanas), a boat (by Tom Gottelier and Avantika Agarwal), a very big flag (by David Horan), a pavilion (by architect Chloe Leen), natural paints and pigments (by Malgorzata Bany), millions of carved wooden spoons and some cinema screens in the woods where sound artist Boris Laible curated a brilliant sound/visual performance one Sunday night. Oh and, I should probably mention that there was already a huge tent made from handmade waxed cotton and a 2-man sauna when we got there. Building all these REAL THINGS and living almost entirely outside for 2 weeks was a really liberating experience. I should also probably mention that, prior to Designers on Holiday, I never really got hippies. I mean, I don’t mind them, but my city-minded view was that I generally didn’t think they belonged in 2015. But then, I realised that I had accidentally got involved in building something very similar to a hippy commune and it really wasn’t that bad an idea. To have the opportunity to have free reign over a patch of land is a wonderful thing and has really been happening for hundreds of years - people have probably been escaping the city since cities were invented. Being outside and baking for people who are so happy to receive a home made loaf, made in a bread oven that I designed myself, powered by wood from that spot of land, is exactly why I started the Bread Companion and I look forward to returning next year to Sweden for another few weeks of outdoor cooking in that sunny (well, a bit sunny), Swedish field.

Thanks to Elfrida and her lovely family for instigating the project, Bobby Petersen and Thomas Gottelier of Featuring Featuring for their drive and organization and Magnus for his company. Other holidaymakers who I haven't mentioned in this post, but who definitely deserve a mention include Rain Wu, Colin Mcswiggen, Erik Knudson, Aarika Hernandez and Hilary Symonds.

Written by Julia Georgallis
Images by Featuring Featuring