One Night in Malmö, Part 2

Down the Ribersborgsstranden, not quite to the bridge, sits the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus (also known as Kallis). It’s over 100 years old and has been declared a historic building by the City of Malmö. Extending out from Ribersborg Beach into the Øresund, the pistachio green bathhouse houses a cafe, restaurant, and separate men’s and women’s sides with two saunas each, as well as a mixed sauna in the middle.

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One Night in Malmö – A Journey Begins

On the heels of my jaunt to Eastbourne, my wanderlust was somewhat satisfied – but not for long. The trip was a soothing, temporary relief, but it didn’t address the root of the problem. Besides the occasional trip home for some Christmases and Easters, I had not left England since moving here in 2010. The whole of Europe was on my doorstep — just a short flight or even a train ride away — and despite this, I always had excuses that kept me from going. One of the biggest of these excuses was, of course, money. Travel is expensive — there’s no denying that. But it came to a point where I sat down and reasoned with myself: travelling Europe is a lot less expensive for someone based in the UK than someone based in America; there was no guarantee that, when my time in university is over in two years, that I will be able to renew my visa and stay here. Suddenly, two years seemed like a very short time to fit all the European travels I dreamed of into.

My wistful pasttime of browsing budget airline sites took on a new, intent fervor. Where did I want to go that I could go for cheap? When would I go? I wanted to eschew touristy places that would be packed during the summer months. I took a look at the week I had set aside as my travel week, and noticed that it would encompass the summer solstice. In that moment, I knew where I had to go – Sweden. View Post

Postcards from Eastbourne

I was tired of London.

I’m aware of the Samuel Johnson quote. But he also said, “A man’s mind grows narrow in a narrow place.” London may be one of the biggest, most active, and most diverse cities in the world; however, when your passion is to travel, any place can feel too small if you stay for too long. After a long, cold, and rainy winter that was beginning to tread on the toes of summer, I felt trapped. I felt that my mind was growing narrow – London began to feel narrow. I didn’t like it one bit, and in a fit of desperation or wanderlust, I booked a train ticket to the south coast of England.

One of my friends had recently taken a trip to Seven Sisters and I was transported by the pictures they took of the cliffs. The stark, beautiful coastline was something entirely different to the golden, sandy coastlines I was used to from a childhood spent taking trips to the Gulf of Mexico. To me it was something wild and foreign, a new sight to experience; this was exactly what I needed. I needed to be somewhere besides London, somewhere where I could stretch my legs and look for miles and not see a single building.

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A Cotswolds Wedding

In a wonderful twist of fate, covering the Spit and Roast Jamboree back in February led me to a new photography job. I’ve begun to assist Nick White (one half of Orange Buffalo) as a secondary photographer at some of the weddings he is shooting. Wedding photography is a very hard nut to crack. You’re completely responsible for capturing the memories of one of the biggest days of someone’s life. The pressure is incredible, and I have a new found respect for anyone who can do wedding photography well. I would love to photograph weddings as the principal photographer one day, but for now I am happy to assist and learn.

My very first wedding was on May 11th in a gorgeous country setting in the Cotswolds, in a small village called Moreton-in-Marsh. Becky and Ray’s wedding was a pleasure to photograph, with the weather putting on its very best show for almost the whole day, and some great unique touches such as a sweets bar at the reception and a baby blue VW camper van as the day’s transport. It’s hard to blog about someone’s wedding, so I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Congratulations Becky and Ray!

 

A Wynyard Script

Just a short time ago, Ben Spalding had no idea that he would be cooking an elaborate 15-course meal in the beautiful surroundings of Wynyard Hall. It’s the kind of thing most chefs would plan for quite a long time, but for Ben, things just kind of fell into place. In January, head chef at Wynyard Hall Alan O’Kane invited him to cook in the 3-Rosette starred kitchen for a night. When Ben saw the venue, he was floored both by the splendid surroundings as well as the ambition shown by the team of chefs there. Soon the idea for the dinner at Wynyard Hall entered his mind. After an action-packed return to London, preceded by 5 years of working abroad, this was to be a dinner showcasing the idea of who Ben is as a chef and as a character. It is the first of what he hopes will be many dinners like it – performances taking the diner past the passive experience of eating and challenging the ideas of what fine dining can and should be.

Ben Spalding viewed this dinner, and envisions future dinners like it, as a play. “The ‘script’ is what I call the ‘tasting menu’. I try to do it so it’s not pretentious – it’s about keeping the taste of the food at the front of my mind. I don’t skim the grease or fat off my sauces, I serve it from the pan it was heated in, because this gives it the best flavour. I ask guests to offer me the back of their hand so I can squirt warm, salty chocolate on it. And why not? It’s just in people’s minds that it’s weird. It’s great fun to watch people’s reactions, and I have seen the change in their attention and attitudes after experiencing these things. I love to see this because it lets me know I’m provoking and pleasing more than just your appetite.”

A play, unlike your average dining experience, has precise timings for entrances, exits, and lines to be said. It requires you to pay attention to what is going on all around you, often following more than one plot at once. A play can also involve a good bit of improvisation, allowing for changes to suit the venue and the audience. “A large part of the structure was built in the last few days before the dinner, when we could visualize the ideas and spaces we had thought about. I spent a lot of time imagining myself as a guest.” But once the ideas were slotted into place, it was all about getting the timing and execution down perfectly. “When I cook for you, I aim to engage as many senses as possible without being intrusive. A meal like that is an absolute disaster and looks stupid when the timing isn’t correct.”

While the opulent surroundings of Wynyard Hall’s Wellington dining room lended a gravitas to the occasion, what followed was a dinner that was innovative and quirky in its delivery, and daring in the scope and variety of the dishes.

The Starters

Ratte potato, gorse flower, and English marmalade.

Shrimp, wasabi, and goose egg mayo.

Sea urchin (not pictured – a puree served onto the back of the diner’s hand) and culatello.

Dashi, glass noodles, miso, and shiso.

“Ain’t nothing but a chicken wing.”

Iced jasmine and elderflower cleanser.

Intermission

As the dinner transitioned from the starters to the main courses, many people began to notice that there were other goings-on in the dining room besides the waiters delivering their food. On a table in the middle of the dining room, a row of glass decanters with funnels in their tops had been sitting throughout the meal, so far untouched. Shortly after the palate cleanser was served, two chefs entered the room and began to fill the funnels with frozen chunks of purple ice. It was unclear as to what exactly the purple ice was, and it caused much speculation – one diner wondered whether it was frozen meat. It was to be a mystery until later in the meal, something for us to ponder over and watch as the evening progressed.

To one side of the room, another plot played out: throughout the evening, chefs would enter and begin to lay what appeared to be assorted sweets onto a glass-topped table. It began with candy laces and sprigs of an evergreen tree; over the next few hours a variety of sweets in all colours, shapes, and sizes appeared in an organic and ever-growing tableaux.

The Mains

Bread and butter.

Seed rye, Hackney wild, malt and muesli, lard brioche, and red wine and brown sugar bread. Accompanied by a trio of “whipped”, “acidic”, and “sweet” butters, served on a slab of salt.

Salad.

57 component salad with Original Beans chocolate and cream soured for 3 days at 25° C. Paired with a Macon-Villages Chardonnay, 2010.

“Chicken on a coal.”

Chicken liver purée, corn, lingonberries, chicken scratchings, bitter caramel glass, and celery leaves on a “coal”. Paired with an organic Momo Sauvignon Blanc, 2012.

King oyster.

Poached and grilled king oyster with aromatic ketchup, spruce, stonecrop, and lettuce hearts. Paired with a Pu’erh tea from the Yunnan Province of China. Before the dish was served, a chef with a basket of smouldering tea leaves made a round of the dining room, infusing the air with a smoky scent reminiscent of the flavours in the dish and the tea.

Mackerel.

Mackerel cured in seawater with broccoli cream, pickled shallots, and warm flower honey. Paired with a Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, 2011.

Cow.

Heel of single muscle Longhorn beef with kimchi, spring peas, Holy Fuck sauce, golden crumbs, and greasy gravy served warm from the saucepan. Paired with a Château Grand Village Bordeaux Supérieur, 2008.

Cheese.

Soft sheep’s curd, Pecorino cheese, cloudberries from north Sweden, and 50-year-old balsamic vinegar with malt house bread from a clay oven. Paired with the melted contents of the decanters – thick, sweet grape juice.

Spiced bread.

Warm spiced bread with a plum curd, salted almonds, and smoked clotted cream. Paired with a Cazes Muscat de Rivesaltes, 2008.

Tea and cake.

Green tea ice cream with caramel, Kaffir lime, banana skin cake, and thickened coconut. Paired with a Royal Tokaji Aszú, 2008.

Dessert

“Sugar Rush”

The dessert was a dizzying and colourful assortment of sweets, enough to inspire child-like giddiness in anyone. Like kids in a candyshop, the diners were allowed free reign of the varied choices, some familiar and some as wild as sweets imagined by Roald Dahl: bitter lime marshmallow, brown cheese popcorn, Douglas fir shortbread, iced Original Bean chocolate, jellied Coca-Cola, jellied meadowsweet, jellied pomegranate molasses, meringue and blackberry, microwave sponge with pearl sugar, milk bottles, muscovado custard, peanut butter truffle, salt baked pineapple, strawberry laces, strawberry lollipops, Szechuan pepper fudge, tonka bean meringue, treacle tart and ginger mousse, Victoria sponge with espresso cream and strawberry jam, and white chocolate meringue. You could tell which sweets were which some of the time, but no one seemed to be picky with their choices. It all looked and tasted delightful.

Future ‘Scripts’

Ben Spalding holds himself to some incredibly high standards. The quality of the food and service was outstanding, and it’s something I would love to experience again just like it was – but that won’t be happening. He wants to keep pushing, keep changing his menus and experiences every single time he does them. “It’s really tough to do this over and over, creating new experiences and executing them. The food is always changing. We never have the same menu for any event, and the food can even change by the minute – even at the last minute. It’s cooking at it’s most creative, spontaneous, and impulsive.” This sounds like an exhausting modus operandi, but he clearly believes it is worth it. “Funnily enough, this goes completely against what I believed in just two years ago. We now leave everything open.”

The venues, as well as the food, will also change and vary. Ben has said that he and his team are exploring many “quirky and interesting” locations throughout the UK, Europe, and the world. No matter where he is, though, Ben hopes it will spread the word about his vision for British cooking.

“I will be honest as always: apart from a select few, I feel dining out at the top restaurants in the UK is too safe, somewhat behind certain European countries. There are too few risk taking chefs and restaurants,” he asserts. “Why do we follow the rules? Why, as chefs in England, do we feel the need to use the same ingredients at the same time of year? Why write a menu and keep it the same for months or even a year? To me, that takes all the spontaneity and space for last-minute creativity out of cooking. I question and test everything that is supposedly the right way to do things, everything that I learned and that was drummed into me. Why? There are infinite combinations and ideas  – you can reinvent the wheel. I strongly disagree with people who say you can’t.”

Ben Spalding certainly isn’t afraid to leap at new opportunities and ideas. Though some chefs may find something that works and stick with it, that just isn’t his style. “It’s very easy to rest on any success you’ve had as a chef, but it’s the ones who never stop chasing the infinite learning curve that are shaping the future of British food.”

42 Years of Experience

At the beginning of this month, my dad celebrated his 82nd birthday. Or, as he likes to put it, “I’m turning 40 with 42 years of experience.”

In all his many years, my dad has loved one dessert over everything else: caramel cake. Caramel cake is a Southern staple, and most families have their own recipe. No good Southern cookbook is complete without it. As a kid raised in rural Alabama, it makes sense that my dad would cherish this dessert as his favourite. He has fond memories of his mother making it for him – buttery, crumbly cake swathed in tooth-achingly sweet caramel icing.

I had planned on making dad a caramel cake for his birthday for a while, but waited until the last minute (i.e. 2 pm on the day) to make preparations. This was a big mistake: one, I had assumed we had in our possession the secret family caramel cake recipe; and two, I had forgotten how work intensive making a one of these is. After checking with my mom, I was dismayed to hear we didn’t have the recipe. I took to the Internet, hoping to find a good alternative, and hoping that if I found one, I wouldn’t mess it up.

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Easter in Auburn, Y’all

Whenever I used to go home to Alabama, visiting old friends was easy because my parents still lived in Auburn, where I grew up. However, in 2011, they decided they were quite done with life in a university town and ran away to the beach. (I aspire to do this too, one day.)

While I love that I can now call the sugar-white sands of the gulf coast “home”, I do miss being able to see everyone from my high school and brief university days in Auburn. On this trip, however, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see friends I hadn’t seen in years.

A few of us decided to meet for brunch at The Hound (formerly Bloodhound), a restaurant and bar that opened up since I left Auburn. I’d heard nothing but good things from everyone I’ve talked to about it.

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Boating and the Gulf

I made it out.

After not being able to visit home for the last 6 months (the UKBA took their sweet time with my visa) I’ve been able to get away from the arctic “wonderland” that is the UK for spring break. We’re all getting pretty tired of the extended winter over there, and I feel lucky that my home is somewhere warm and sunny.

I grew up in Auburn, Alabama, but a year or two after I went to university, my parents decided they were going to become full time beach bums.

Yes, that’s envy you hear.

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Fleeing London

Living in London is, I’m sure, an experience like none other. It is endlessly fascinating. I’m sure that even if I lived here my whole life, I would never be able to discover all it has to offer. But sometimes, it gets too much. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I was way overstressed. What I needed was to just get out of London.

I was unable to go home this Christmas – whilst one applies for a visa (or in my case, renews), the UKBA holds your passport. Luckily, I was invited to flee the modern stresses of London and while away my holiday in the small city of Lichfield.

On the day the world was supposed to end, we battled through queues and rushed for seats on the non-cancelled trains out of Euston.

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Hiatus

I’ve been horrible about updating my blog yet again!

But I’m currently immersed in this strange world some people call “real life” i.e. 40 hour work weeks in an office building. It’s a definite change from the past few years of university and au pairing.

The company I’m working at has a special schedule which allows me to work 9 hour days, with every other Friday off; it’s really great, but super tiring! I’ve never had to commute before (and Houston traffic is horrid) or stick to a schedule with long days so religiously. In the evenings, after I slog up the freeway through 50 minutes of traffic, I usually don’t have much brainpower left for anything but laying by the pool and reading.

I was worried I just wasn’t cut out for this, but according to my colleagues, it took them months to adjust to “working life” and that they too were tired all the time when they first started. As an intern, it will be especially odd, because just as I get into a groove, it will be time for me to go back to London!

I can’t complain much, though, as I have been busy with some pretty interesting projects and enjoy the people I work with. Everyone at the company is so nice and helpful, and willing to give me projects if I feel like I am capable of doing them, which I don’t think many companies would do for their interns.

I am already halfway through – 5 weeks in, 5 weeks to go – and time has absolutely flown by! When your days are disappearing in a flurry of work and commuting, it’s amazing how fast things can go.

One thing I have been able to keep up with is my Instagram. I think it’s because I always have my mobile phone on me, so it’s easy to snap a photo and upload it, rather than dealing with all the equipment that goes with my “proper photography”. I am looking forward to having the time and mental capacity to get back out with my Nikon again in August though, especially since I am planning trips to New York City and Los Angeles.

So I am sorry, dear little blog, for ignoring you yet again. Here are some little treats, some photographic petit fours, to satisfy you for now.

 1- Bougainvillas; 2- Longhorn in the backyard; 3- Memorial Day; 4- Pitiful Roxy; 5- Goin’ to the car wash yeah!; 6- Ultra pitiful Roxy; 7- Remnants of a cheaper past in Sabine, LA; 8- Morning light; 9- Pitiful Mikimoto; 10- Typical summer storm in Houston; 11- Roxy is never anything but pitiful; 12- Another early morning; 13- I believe you have my stapler?; 14- View from the top; 15- Another view from the top; 16- Queen Roxy; 17- Bay Area Rowing Club of Houston boathouse; 18- Gorgeous weather for sculling; 19- That face…; 20- Soaking up the sun; 21- Ominous fog; 22- Floating umbrellas; 23- Lucky Strike, the posh bowling alley; 24- A good hair day; 25- Double the pitiful; 26- Waiting patiently; 27-  It’s 5 o’clock and sunny somewhere; 28- Perfect holiday weather for July 4th (not)