To Absent Friends

It is Halloween this weekend. With all the carved pumpkins, witch costumes, zombie face paintings and spooky sweets, it is hard to get back to the essence of this feast of the start of winter. To honour the dead. To create light in darkness. To be reminded that life goes on with our children.

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The ritual of children carrying a lantern, going around singing and being rewarded with sweets must go back to an old pagan ritual, which found it’s way into modern societies in different forms. In Spain it is connected to Epiphany on the 6th of January, and children go around dressed up as the three wise men. When I grew up in the Netherlands we went around on st Martins day, the 11th of November, using a sugarbeet as a lantern, because they were widely available. I wouldn’t  be surprised that lighting candles, singing at Christmas and getting presents go back to same tradition. And now this practice has found its form as trick or treating on Halloween.
Parading children, singing lively and carrying the light must be a reminder that in this period of slumbering bleakness these children are our future.

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But as much as it is about the promise of a future, it is also time to look back at the past. In the Catholic Church the 1st of November is the day of the dead. In Mexico it is a very important festival. People visit the graves of their loved ones, bringing offerings to comfort the departed. Feeding the dead, so they won’t come back and feed on us. In Elizabeth Luard’s ‘Spiritual Food’ I read that  this is important to many cultutes, from Celtic to Chinese, to make sure you are at peace with your ancestors.

In modern society where the future is bright, and everything has to be new and better, we are not caring anymore what our ancestors would make of this. We stand in awe at the fireworks at Bonfire night, forgetting that the bangs should scare unhappy ghosts of the past. On the 11th of November we commemorate those who made the ultimate offer to our country, but what are we offering them? We treat them with silence.

To make peace with your lost ones might be a decisive step in accepting who you are, where you have come from, the relationships with the departed which have formed you. Before you have done that, it might be difficult to move on to the future.

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Food plays an important part in all this. Nothing brings you back to your childhood like the taste or smell of something. That is why I am hosting 2 dinners with an Absent Friend theme this weekend. It is important toast to them, so that they are happy with us.  We eat aromatic spiced soul cake, to evoke fond memories. And rosemary, which scent brings me back to the paradise allotment of my Italian neighbour in Utrecht, 20 years ago. To Franco.

Tune In

4th and 5th of September: German
Potato Salad
Sauerkraut Salad
Bremer salad
Konigsberger Klops – meatballs with horseradish sauce
Leipziger Allerlei
Braised Cucumber
Spaetzle with Mushrooms
Plum Cake

This menu started with the plumcake. I had the first British plums the other day, and they were gorgeous. What can I cook to showcase these plums I thought, and this German cake popped into my head. And so I built the rest of the menu around it.
There are 2 essential points to this process.

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The first is my wish to share the pleasure of these plums. I like to feed people, make them happy, by giving them the opportunity to experience what I did through tasting these fresh sweet juicy plums; a moment of absolute connection to whatever it is what we are part of.

The second is the idea that the plums are using me as an instrument to show their beauty, and not the other way round. I am not using them to accentuate the artist master chef in me. It is the old platonian idea that the art, the ideas, the recipe is already there in the world around us, waiting to be picked up. You just have to open up and tune in.

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from New Basics

When people hear that I am serving them something which I have never cooked before, they admire my bravery. But they also find it hard to disregard the scientific approach to cooking. How did I know the dish was right, good enough to serve? Shouldnt I test recipes, refine them till they lead to the ultimate, perfect dish, like scientists in a lab refining their theories to get a better grip of the world? We live in a contradictory world, because they might expect this from a professional like me, but they are not doing it themselves when they are cooking at home.

Prue Leith complained recently that nobody is using cookery books anymore, they have become coffee table products. If you want a recipe, you google it. A cookery book without glossy photographs is not selling and doesnt even get printed.The majority of people commenting on this said they were using cookery books ‘for ideas’.
It shows that the days of cookery books as manuals, centering on the methods instead of the ingredients, are over. We’ll try one recipe from the internet, and if it is good, we’ll make it again. If not, we’ll try another.

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from Kitchen Diaries

In a way, I am glad people no longer treat a cookery book as a (dogmatic) bible. The main quality is that it should be inspirational, and glossy photographs might help with that, but are not necessary. Some of my favourites (Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ New Basics, Jane Grigsons Vegetable Book) just have illustrations.
What makes them inspiritional is that they evoke so much more then just the image of the pretty perfect end result. Time and time again I am gripped by how much fun cooking is when I go through  New Basics. Reading the Vegetable Book indeed makes you want to serve the vegetables in their own right. In another favourite, Jerusalem  (Ottolenghi), glossy photographs give you a glimpse of life in a divided city, and when you are cooking the dishes from the different traditions, you feel the uniting power of cooking.

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from Ken Hom, The Taste of China.

So imagine that there are these plums which need you to use them, in which of your cookery books is the recipe waiting for you which shows what to do with them? Chinese sauce with duck? With crisp breadcrumbs? (Nigel Slaters Kitchen Diaries) In a chicken and leek pie? (Hugh Fearnley Whittingstalls Fruit Book)

You see, there are bestselling cookbooks which are kept on a shelve in the kitchen, and not on the coffee table. These books are not about cooking methods, but are inspirational, because they centre on the changing seasons, and all the goodness the earth is offering us.

By orencaernarfon Posted in food

I love you too

Gwyl Arall menu
Broadbean and Dill Hummus
Caws Rhydydelyn and Purslane Salad
Terrine with Pickled Cammomile Peaches

Rice Bowl with Beef or Tofu
and Strawberry Ketchup,  Russian Kale,  Coffee Beets, Creamed Rosemary Courgette

Gooseberry  Pie

Often I get asked what my speciality/favourite cuisine is. And always I forget to answer: the joys of June. The soft whites and pinks of May, the month of expectancy, have made way for the blood red fruits of love. My heart skips a beat when I spot the first real sun ripened strawberries, raspberries and cherries. For me, it is as with these fruits  nature is saying ‘I love you  too’.
Its is the sparkling burst of abundance which I so love about these last weeks. The vegetable boxes which my local farm has started again are overflowing with green leafs and crisp new carrots, potatoes and onions. Tasting a freshly picked cucumber you realise how much flavour is lost with wrapping it in plastic and transporting it.

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June is the month for haying. The smell of freshly cut grass is loved by so many people I think because it makes them feel right in the middle of summer, when the sunshine is still sparkling. Strawberries in Ginger Ale Jelly are the optimal foodification of this sparkling sunshine in a glass. You could use champagne but I like the extra zing of ginger.

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Gorfennaf is the Welsh for July, and it means the end of summer. That’s a bit premature I hear you say, are summers in Wales that short? But it harbours a grain of truth. Nights are shortening. From now on summer is ripening, drying out. The next few months are all about harvesting, and conserving the crops for winter. Not long before combines almost cowlike graze the fields of golden grain, and digest it, seperating the wheat from the chaff.
The revitalising sparkle has left summer. It is about maturing now. That is why I like pickles so much. The vinegar adds the bit of zing which got lost. Recipes for the peaches and coffee beets on this weeks menu I found in the very inspiring ‘Smoke and Pickles’ by Edward Lee.

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Preparing for next weeks Welsh cultural festival Gwyl Arall I talked to Carwyn Jones, who set himself the challenge to live of the land and the sea for a year. While I am jubilating the abundance of vegetable and fruit produce, for Carwyn these are difficult months. There is not much to hunt and fish for. He’s trying hard to catch that shyest of fishes, sea trout. Although there is an element of sport, achieving the catch, it is mostly about becoming one with nature, feeling almost what the trout is doing, and simulating with your ‘fly’ the movement of small fish it is hungry for.

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If you eat it, you have to be able to kill it, is Carwyns  motto. When you kill an animal for meat, it should be done with respect. That is the word which ressonates with me most. Cooking is not an art, sport or nutritional necessarily action, but paying respect to what nature is giving you. Your way of saying ‘I love you too ‘ to the earth and all what it is providing you with.

The Flavour of Life

A Dutch farm menu this week.
Dutch  Farm Salad with Cheese and/or Cured Sausage and Buttermilk Dressing
Dutch Beef Burger with Fried Liver Sausage and Mustard
White Asparagus with Egg and Lime Tree Blossom Sauce
served with Sautéed New Potatoes, Broad Beans and Aniseed Carrots.
Dutch style Semolina Pudding with Camomile Cream and Stewed Strawberries

June is my favourite month. Spring is over. Woken up after winter, all its detoxing fresh green leafs were like a refreshing morning shower. All its flowers and blossoms were a dawn chorus of better things to come. But it is in June that these promises are kept, as it is the month of real first harvesting. Ah, the taste of freshly dug up new potatoes, planted at Easter, with some butter and mustard. Strawberries, rose blossoms turned into a sweet juicy fruit of love. Cherries, gooseberries, currants, peas, broad beans.

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It is the month of my birthday, and sometimes it feels like the whole month is a birthday, being given all this fresh fruit and veg. And as on the morning of a birthday, there is the almost exhilarating anticipation of more things to come. Went for the hills on this early summer day, a lark singing high in the sky, surrounded by heather and llus bushes (bilberry). Couldn’t help but checking how many berries there are on the bushes, hoping the sheep will leave them alone, and that I will be able to pick my fair share in a month or so. Looking out below me I noticed the wheat is already starting to turn into fields of gold, and I could already almost smell a freshly baked bread.

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A friend of mine lost his farming father earlier this year. Living in the city himself he told me that he felt he lost more then his father. He missed the connection with the land, his father came from a way of life which is gone now. I guess he felt that the rhytm of his life has changed. For centuries food, and producing food, gave structure to our existence. Nowadays it seems more and more that food is just something nutritious. Instead of seeing it as a way of connecting, we separate  it by wrapping it in as much plastic as possible. In restaurants the distance is created  by turning food into some kind of art.

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I feel blessed that I can see golden fields and wild bilberries growing where I live. The importance of food as the flavour of life is also shown in the brilliant novel I recently read by Manon Steffan Ros: the Seasoning. It tells the story of Peggy, living in a village in the Welsh hills.  Each chapter centers around a different person and starts with a recipe of food they enjoyed together. It is the food that gives her memories some extra spice.
I applaud the concept of this book. I wish everybody the excitement of baking a cake, picking homegrown strawberries or the waiting for the right moment to pick wild blackberries. You can feel natures pulse through it, and that makes life so much tastier.

Fragments of Spring

Next week I am collaborating with a local artist. Her work evolves the fragments of household ware that are on the steep slope behind her home.  The earth is churning up the contents of a waste tip which was used by the inhabitants of her cottage about a century ago. The rain has washed down broken china, shoes, perfume bottles and complete earthenware jam jars.

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At first I marvelled at how beautiful these reminiscences of a past hard life are. Then I realised that the true beauty for me is the earth bringing it all up again. And giving it a new life as it id used as part of an artwork.

That is the essence of spring to me. The earth breaking up and providing us with a new life. I do feel particularly revived by spring this year. When I was walking about at Easter I noticed how abundant nature already is.
Shaded woods offer plenty of wild garlic to make a pesto. I use hazelnuts and any hard cheese in mine.
Tender dandelion leafs are sprouting up everywhere, and are good in a potato salad with toasted pumpkin seed oil, which is a memory of Austria for me.
Heavenly scented bright yellow gorse flowers make good wine or a cordial. Just soak them overnight in a taken of the boil syrup.

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Nettles are just right at the moment. Tingling more then stinging when you pick them without gloves, like I did. Use them as spinach, in a pie for instance. Or with butter toasted oats in a soup.
Always think spring is one big egg with all these white and yellow flowers around. So many of them are edible. Daisies are a favourite of mine. Tiny sunshaped hearts which open themselves to the sun. The turn a dish into a smiling plate of food.

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The knife is the symbol of modern cooking. It is all about fragmenting food, slicing it, breaking it up, grinding  or blending it.
But in the end it is the becoming one when we eat all these fragments what matters.

Simple is best

We  had an orchard when I grew up, and I still love apples. For the Bistro night last week I cooked a Pompe au Pommes (apple pie) from ‘Floyd on France’ and it reminded me of how the simplest of recipes are usually the best. The ingredients were: flour, butter, salt, apples and sugar. The hint of salt in the perfectly crunchy shortcrust worked fantastic with  the smooth apples which had just the right sweetness.
Only 5 ingredients working together in perfect harmony.

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There is something very reassuring about being able to produce something so nice out of the simplest of ingredients. You can almost invision a French peasant wife baking this apple pie in her Normandy kitchen in the beginning of the 20th century. It is a traditional recipe, embedded in daily life, connected to the land and for me, in that way, to the essence of life.

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Food like this you find all over the world. Korea is this week’s theme in Oren. When I travelled there in 2007 I discovered that Bibimbap -mixed rice- is the national dish. Another example of the perfect combination of simple ingredients. Rice as the smooth operator, with a velvet runny fried egg, uplifted by hot chilli paste and crunchy vegetables.
Yes, comfort in a bowl. The first time I had it I was not impressed, thought it was too simple. But then when I had it again I realised it fed me, and not only in a nutritional way.
With the modern accents on diets, allergies an the appearance of food, we can almost forget the most important thing. That it should feed body and soul.

Living Together

This week I am cooking Roman. It usually evokes images of toga clothed men lying around the table, feeding themselves as young birds with wide open mouths, holding up bunches of grapes. An image that for me as a Dutchman rhymes with the Dutch way of eating salted herring.

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For the Dutch this tradition might have been born out of pragmacy, visitors to the lowlands look at it with slight disgust. “For goodness sake, that herring is raw, and then to slide it down your throat as herrons or seagulls….”

Roman grape eating has almost the opposite connection, that of decedancy. Part of a jetset lifestyle, we think.

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But that is how we look at it with our modern eyes. I wonder what the Romans would have made of our dinner parties.
There is something rejective about those reactions to the Dutch herring ‘happen’ and the Roman banquet. That is something the Romans wouldn’t have liked. The called their banquet a convivium, a ‘living together’.

I find modern food culture more and more that of an exclusive one. New European legislation on allergy advice have made a menu in a restaurant almost more about what you can’t eat then about what the restaurant is offering.
I know Oren is only covering a niche market, because more and more people describe themselves as picky eaters.  The food they choose to eat is used as part of their identity, a way of setting them apart from everybody else, instead of ‘living together’, joining in.

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When I was a child I hated green beans, because we had them every monday. Now I love them in a good salad Nicoise. I couldn’t stand raw tomato, I melt now when I smell a perfect ripe example. Recently I was given a jar of honey so good,  I had a teaspoon as a treat every day. My 14 year old self would have looked at it with disgust.
Only with real allergies the rejection of food is a physical thing. For the rest it is a mental switch. And as soon as you have made it, you can discover a world of flavour you might have been excluding yourself from.

I am convinced it is better to live together with the world and all its possibilities, then to distance yourself from it. So for all of you who do and don’t like honey, here is finally something the Chinese didn’t invent, but apparently the Romans,  a cheesecake.

http://www.deliciousitaly.com/lazio-rome-recipes/ancient-roman-cheesecake

Seeds of Change

This morning I heared somebody on the radio describing February as a month of nothing, and I couldn’t disagree more. In olden days this was the month the farming year started. Farms would change hands, or rents would be renewed. A month of cleaning out and getting ready. When people were counting moons instead of looking in their diaries, this was the time of the new year.

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There used to be a pagan festival of light at the beginning of February, in the middle of winter. Christianity turned it into Candlemas, on February 2nd , 40 days after Christmas. The celebration of the Light outside found a form in the blessing of the church candles.
Pagans baked round cakes, symbolising the return of the sun. This tradition still lives on on Shrove Tuesday, which is part of the Carnaval period. And that is Partytime!, look at Venice, Brazil or New Orleans. This might be why eating pancakes always seem to be a feast.

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Yes, this is the middle of winter, a time when there used to be nothing left to eat, and the scarseness of Lent is still to come, but the Light is there, so ‘let’s party’.
I am with the Chinese on this. For them the New Year is only starting just now, and it is the biggest party of the year. So a Chinese menu at Oren this week, with 8 (lucky number) dishes, long noodles and red cooked chicken wings.

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After the party it is time to plan your farming year. Get the seeds of the crops you want to grow ready. What do you want to achieve in your life this year? Start thinking now. Sow your Seeds of Change. They will germinate during lent, and will rise from the ground at your own Easter.
A recipe for some Cumin and Caraway Seed Biscuits here, so you can nibble on them while pondering. I would use Aniseed instead of Cumin.But that depends if you like it more sweet than spicy!

http://socialkitchenblog.com/2012/05/10/cumin-and-caraway-tea-biscuits/

By orencaernarfon Posted in food

Pop Ups and Juniper

Since November 2014 I am popping up. It is an extra challenge for me. Not only do I have to think of a different MENU every week, I have to find a LOCATION  as well. But as so often, when one door (to a kitchen) closed, other ones opened. I was invited to the lovely logcabin cafe at Eisteddfa Fisheries, and cooked trout caught in their lakes. Oren nestled inside the Caernarfon town wall for an evening at the Royal Welsh Yacht Club. We sang st. Nicolas songs when I collaborated with Scoops Dutch Pancakes and Artisan Ice Cream. While children were listening to Rudolphs Farty Christmas story, I served sprouts at Palas Print bookshop.

indexThe help I get from  friends, neighbours and local businesses to keep Oren going, is like little lights popping up in these grey midwinter days. A true manifestation of christmas. And being forced to delve into my own creativity is like trying to find the evergreen between the treeskeletons on the barren midwinterland, another one of the christmas symbols. It is good to know that while death seems around us, we are still alive and part of nature’s everlasting cycle.

juniper_berries_16x9In Britain, I have read somewhere, the juniper tree is the only native evergreen. I’d like this to be true, I love juniper. it clears the muddy taste of my favourite vegetable beetroot into pure water and earth. The cleansing effect of juniper comes also to the surface when used in combination of sauerkraut (it gets rid of that overcooked cabbage undertone) and with game like venison (it cures it of its raunciness). The mean medicinal quality of junipers is diuretic, so it helps to purify our body as well.

indexI often get asked for the typical Dutch christmas meal is. I answer that it is not important what we eat, but that we celebrate it together. Maybe I should say ”Anything, accompanied by a ‘borrel’-Dutch shot of gin”. In a clear glass, preferable this upside down bell shape. For that little drink symbolises everything. The evergreen tree, the purifying water, the grain of life and the ringing bells which tell us of the eternal light.

For the Love in Food

A month ago I had a group of bakers staying with me for a baking weekend, in which they all tried out different recipes and were taking notes of each others comments. While watching them at work I learned how dependent cooks and bakers are on our senses. But while for a cook apart from eyes and nose his tongue is his main  instrument, for a baker the tactile bit of feeling the dough is as important.

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Off course the most important sense to use while baking or cooking is the sixth, your stomach. When I did my chefs training my teacher used to say: ” forget cooking times, you have to know, feel, understand what is going on inside your pan”. Never been one for textbook guidelines, this was a lesson I easily took to heart. For me it’s the zen bit of cooking, zoning in on what your doing, centering yourself (which for me is in my stomach) and be in the moment with, for instance, your wilting spinach in the pan. Yep, that hurts! But at the same time they are fresh leafs sprouting from the ground, glistening drops of  water hanging on them, turning into this radiant green full of life.

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I noticed my baking guests doing it, “being with” the dough. They had their basic technic knowledge, their lists of percentages of ingredients,  but in the end, while kneading it, they might decide that they “felt” that they had to alter it, because the air is too humid, or the temperature is too low for the leaven to do its work.

We’ve lived in an age where food became more and more functional, broken down to a list of ingredients, nutritional values and technical instructions how to prepare it. Down to the milligram we can know what is on our food. But it doesnt say on the package how much love went into our ready made meal. Luckily there are signs that an holistic approach to cooking gains ground. Watching Masterchef these weeks I noticed how often it is mentioned that contestants have to put love and passion into their food, apart from being technologically skilled chefs who can cook something tasty.

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I often get the question if I try out dishes. That would be an immense task with a weekly changing menu. I trust my stomach and my basic technological knowledge enough now to just give a recipe a go. I use cookery books for inspiration, not to find that technological perfect recipe. One of the first books to give me that, because of the love for food with which it was written, is ‘New Basics’ by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.  It looks the most well used out of all the cookery books in my collection, and not without a reason. To honour them, and to urge you to trust your stomach as a New Basic of your cooking, this week a menu with a selection from that book.