Thursday, 28 July 2011

The White House Special

A number of restaurants and cafes in the Cardiff area have signed up with the Chicago-based internet giant Groupon, who offer online discounts for limited periods. The idea is that local businesses get new customers through their doors, who may become regulars. However, I suspect it’s often regulars who snap up some of these bargains.

At the New York Deli (High Street Arcade, Cardiff) today we used our Groupon coupon (bought for about £6) to get lunch for two with hot drinks to the value of £16.80 (I don’t think it’s possible to spend more on lunch for two there).

Under the circumstances, this was the time to go for the White House Special, which is the New York Deli’s biggest and most expensive hoagie.

The White House Special contains turkey, ham, pastrami, coleslaw, Swiss cheese and mayonnaise, barely contained by a long bread roll. It’s a massive meat and coleslaw feast. I had it with the Reggae Reggae sauce (I think this one really benefits from one of the hot sauces on offer). My partner had the New York Hoagie.

In general, Groupon vouchers do make you opt for the more expensive things on the menu, items you would not usually go for. This was certainly the case today. I was hungry, so I finished my White House Special. It was good, and I will not need to eat again today!

A short video of Harriet Davies, owner of the New York Deli (which celebrated its 20th anniversary in Cardiff last year), posted by Hannah Waldram:

A previous post on the New York Deli:

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Insole Court, Cardiff

I visited Insole Court for the first time this morning.
This mansion in Llandaff, Cardiff, was built by the Insole family, who were coalmine and shipping company owners. The original building dates from 1856, but was added to extensively as the family became wealthier.

In 1932, the building was acquired by Cardiff Corporation. Today it is a local community centre managed by Cardiff Council, where you’ll find childcare facilities, arts and language courses, yoga and other activities.

Refreshments are available from The Panty, a small café serving mainly tea, coffee and cakes. The house, which can be hired for weddings and other events, has the benefit of attractive gardens. At the back are lawns (one for croquet), well-tended flower beds, some notable trees, and a shady woodland walk. There’s an Acer Memorial Lawn off the drive leading to the house, where some colourful borders can also be found.

A recently-established feature is the Community Garden, towards the back of the house, past the old stables and the preserved World War 2 garages. Cultivated plots are emerging from an area that was previously just weeds.

It is interesting to see the different approaches to reclaiming this land for productive use. This garden is ideal for members of the local community who want a piece of land to cultivate, but do not want anything as big as an allotment plot (and allotments around here are oversubscribed in any case).

There's a small area of newly-planted fruit trees, patches of beans and potatoes, tomatoes and courgettes, and some ripening heads of wheat, while herbs are liberally interplanted around the plots.

Along one wall, a couple of local schools have been gardening, with colourful flowers predominant.
Back in the house, the 50+ Friends of Insole Court host an interesting series of talks on Wednesday mornings; including ones about apples (Oct 12), salmon fishing (Oct 19) and beekeeping (16 Nov).

Insole Court, Fairwater Road, Llandaff, Cardiff CF5 2LN

Good news regarding lottery funding and Insole Court:

Monday, 25 July 2011

Third Wave Coffee: The Plan, Cardiff

A late Breakfast this morning – an egg and bacon roll with a coffee at The Plan Café, Cardiff. Incense was wafting from the Fairtrade shops along the Morgan Arcade; I was in the mood for trying out something on the specialist coffee menu.

Trevor, who makes the coffee in The Plan Café, is among a group of professional baristas who have pioneered 'Third Wave Coffee’ in the UK (first wave was freeze-dried coffee and second wave was global gourmet coffee in chains like Starbucks). Coined in 2002, ‘Third Wave Coffee’ refers to the coffee sold in independent coffee shops that consider it a high-quality artisanal drink rather a commodity. Innovation is the key, and improvements at all stages of coffee production - from growing, processing, roasting to brewing - are exploited (e.g., new techniques for fresh roasting or micro-roasting).

Third Wave Coffee houses invite you to appreciate subtleties of flavour, and to be aware of different bean varieties and growing regions (in a similar way to how wines are appreciated). The menu in a Third Wave Coffee shop will therefore list specialty coffees in terms of single-origin (down to the name of an estate in a particular country). Freshly-roasted beans and cutting-edge equipment are the order of the day.

Today at The Plan Café, I ordered Ethiopian: Kelenso Mokanisa from the Seasonal Coffee for Cafeteria menu: “Notes of sweet citrus, apricot, stone fruit, cocoa and florals. A delicious washed coffee from this cooperative in the Sidano region, composed of heirloom varietals. An organic and Fair Trade branded coffee.” It indeed had an attractively deep and subtle fruity flavour, and was refreshingly different from your average coffee. I shall be returning to work my way down the menu. Other coffees are sourced from estates in Indonesia, Tanzania and India (and supplied by James' Gourmet Coffees of Ross-on-Wye).

The Plan Café, 28-29 Morgan Arcade, Cardiff, CF10 1AF

Trevor is passionate about coffee, as is evident from his fascinating blog:

Further reading on ‘third wave coffee shops’:

The Independent’s 50 Best Coffee Shops in the UK (No. 47: The Plan Café):

Previous post on The Plan Café

James' Gourmet Coffees:

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Edible Landscapes

Each year, since we moved to Dinas Powys, the distinction between decorative and horticultural planting in our garden has become increasingly blurred. Rainbow chard, brassicas, beetroot, tomatoes, courgettes and herbs grow alongside flowers, and between shrubs and trees. It has become an edible landscape.

Combining food and non-food plants in landscaping is becoming more common in community and municipal gardens. The garden outside the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, for instance, has been redesigned as an edible landscape. In a previous post I said I would report back on progress. Here are some pictures I took there last week.

In the borders outside Chapter are tomatoes, courgettes, runner beans, broad beans, nasturtiums, kale, poppies, purple-sprouting broccoli and an avocado tree. They are both decorative and productive.

The idea is that the plants can be harvested by the local community. Last autumn when the purple-sprouting broccoli was ready, Chapter used Twitter to invite people to help themselves from the community garden.


Previous Chapter garden post:

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


The first beetroot are ready to harvest in the garden. I'll be roasting a few Forono beetroots tomorrow; they are a cylindrical-rooted variety that I particularly like. I have been looking at my online Beetroot book ( this evening, for the first time in ages (a pleasing 19,556 hits).

Here's an extract about cooking beetroot as a hot vegetable, from the Cuisine chapter. I'll be trying a few of these ideas again this year.

"Baked beetroot can be served simply in their skins by slicing them open and adding butter and seasoning. Alternatively, a sauce of crème fraîche, creamed horseradish and chopped fresh dill can be used to fill baked beetroot. This works best with larger globe-shaped roots. There are, however, numerous other ways that beetroot can be prepared as a hot vegetable dish.

The Italian regions have their own traditional ways of preparing beetroot. Beets are parboiled and baked in cream in the Valle d’Aosta, for instance, while in Emilia-Romagna they are baked in a béchamel sauce topped with Parmesan cheese. Antonio Carluccio describes an Italian beetroot and red cabbage dish (Barbabietola e cavola rosso), in which the vegetables are baked in stock with cumin seed, a bay leaf and red wine vinegar, for serving with game or roast beef. Beetroot á la Lyonnaise is a French recipe, listed in Larousse Gastronomique, which calls for parboiled beets to be peeled, sliced and cooked until tender in butter with thinly sliced onion. The dish is finished, over heat, with the addition of a little brown stock or bouillon and additional butter.

Beetroot and potato are combined in a recipe from Mrs. Conrad’s Home Cooking. The beetroot is cooked with onions, cream, sugar, white wine vinegar and dill; then served inside a ring of hot mashed potato. This red and white, sweet and sour, beetroot dish originated in Poland suggests Jane Grigson, who reproduces the recipe in her Vegetable Book of 1978. The red and white zones are suggestive of the Polish flag, while the author’s husband Conrad was from that country. Joseph Conrad, the famous author of Heart of Darkness, wrote in the preface of his wife’s first cookery book that of all books, only cookery books are morally above suspicion because their one aim is to increase the happiness of mankind. Jane Grigson also gives a recipe for Polish braised beetroot with stuffed eggs, which combines the interesting textures of a creamy egg stuffing, a crisp outer egg coating, and grated beetroot flavoured with horseradish and lemon juice.

Russian beetroot casserole resembles a thickened borsch, but with less liquid and a sweet-and-sour flavour. Onions are fried in melted butter, to which stock, chopped vegetables, including beetroot, and mushrooms are added. After simmering for about an hour, lemon juice, chopped mint with other herbs, seasoning and paprika are stirred in or used to garnish, along with the inevitable soured cream.

A traditional Dutch method of preparing beets is to simmer them in water thickened with cornstarch, along with butter, vinegar, sugar, onions, cloves and seasoning. The influential French cookery writer La Varenne describes the frying of slices of pre-cooked beetroots in butter with chopped onions and a dash of vinegar.

Beetroot became popular in Turkey during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and a recipe for beetroot casserole from that time advises cutting up peeled roots and cooking them with butter, parsley, chopped onion and garlic, with flour being added to the water to thicken the sauce.

A recipe for Glazed Beetroot is given in a traditional British cookbook (Good Housekeeping Cookery Book). Sliced cooked beetroot is added to melted butter in a saucepan, along with lemon rind and juice, sugar and seasoning. The beetroot is stirred and heated, while capers and chopped chives and parsley are added, before serving hot. Sophie Grigson gives a recipe for Beetroot with Apple, in which slices of dessert apple are first pan-fried in oil and butter, followed by sliced cooked beetroot. The apple and beetroot are transferred to a serving dish. Lemon juice and horseradish sauce are added to the pan and mixed with the juices, and then poured over the apple and beetroot immediately before serving.

A modern British recipe for Roast balsamic beetroot, from a book by Nigel Slater, involves cutting cooked beetroot into wedges, and tossing them into a roasting tin with onion segments and olive oil. This is covered and the dish roasted for 30 minutes, after which a little balsamic vinegar and salt are added. It is then roasted uncovered for 30 minutes longer. Cooked sliced beetroot can also be given a roasting in an orange sauce (orange juice, flour to thicken and vinegar or lemon juice to sharpen), with orange segments being added near the end. Another modern treatment for beetroot is to cut them raw into thin strips and stir-fry them, with the later addition of beetroot leaves and spinach. Stir-fried beetroot can also include garlic, ginger, soy sauce, spring onions, chilli or mushrooms.

Hot beetroot goes well with double cream, soured cream (smetana), crème fraîche, fromage frais, buttermilk or yoghurt. A simple way of serving, for instance, involves heating cream with the beetroot cooking liquor and pouring over hot baked beetroot. Baby beets and spring onions stewed in cream is a version from Alastair Little's Keep it Simple.

The first recipes for Beetroot fritters appeared in early British cookbooks. John Nott, in his 1723 cookbook, dips slices of baked beetroot in a batter of flour, white wine, cream, egg, crushed cloves and nutmeg, and seasoning. He then coats them in flour, breadcrumbs and parsley, and fries them. The fritters are served with lemon juice. Beetroot fitters were popular in British cookbooks of the 1930s. Gary Rhodes has recently updated beetroot fritters, with wedges of floured and seasoned beetroot being deep-fried in a thick batter of flour, salt and lager beer. They can be served with salt and vinegar, like French fries or chips.

Thinly sliced beetroot can be deep-fried in hot oil to make beetroot crisps (chips in the USA). Along with parsnip crisps, beetroot crisps are an alternative to potato crisps. They are gaining in popularity. At least one international sandwich bar chain is now stocking beetroot crisps.

Gary Rhodes gives a recipe for Beetroot Bubble and Squeak, substituting beetroot for the brassicas (e.g. Brussels sprouts) traditionally used in this British recipe, but retaining the potato, onion and butter.

Beetroot can be mashed, like potato. It can never be made as smooth as mashed potatoes, but the rougher texture lends itself to recipes containing toasted seeds (e.g. poppy seeds) and roasted nuts. A dash of red wine vinegar and a generous spoonful of double cream enhance a bowl of mashed beetroot. Mashed beetroot found its way onto fashionable restaurant menus in the 1990s. Sabodet with Beetroot and Horseradish Mash, for example, has featured on the Bibendum menu in London; sabodet being a traditional French sausage made using pigs’ heads".

Continue reading and find references at:

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Penarth Food Festival

The first Penarth Local Food Festival, held today at The Kymin, was a great success. Despite the changeable weather there was a big turnout, which suggests this could become an annual event.

I started with an oyster from The Fig Tree stall, with a dash of their shallot vinegar. Watching the effort that went into opening it reminded me of why I don't have many at home. They were also selling grilled fish. During the summer, The Fig Tree grill food from a BBQ on the roof terrace of their seafront restaurant, just around the corner from the Kymin.

This was followed by a lamb burger from Glam Lamb, with the addition of their own minted mayonnaise (for sale in jars). They only had small brown rolls, so a large burger was manoeuvred into the two rolls. I am not complained though, as both the lamb and the bread were excellent. Glam Lamb are John and Fiona Davies of Wern Fawr Farm, near Cowbridge, in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The peddle-powered smoothie-maker was a hit with the kids. There were vegetables for sale from local gardens, while rival box vegetable schemes were keen to sign up customers. Other stalls included Brutons Bakery, Cogan Hall Farm, Edible Landscapes, Foxy’s Deli, Herbs in Wales and the Pierhead Café (selling ice creams). Nature’s Little Helpers were demonstrating how a bee hive is put together. There were also art and craft stalls within Kymin House.

I bought a Rye and Caraway loaf from the Lonely Planet co-op’s bakery stall and, before I left, a summer Vegetable Curry with Cumin Bread and a Beetroot leaf crème fraiche salad from The Parsnipship.

This is a great location for a festival: looking down toward Penarth Pier and the Esplanade. Maybe some live music next year?

The Penarth Local Food Festival was organized by Gwyrddio Penarth Greening (GPG), who aim to make Penarth a more self-reliant place, by supporting local food initiatives. In addition to the food festival, GPG have been involved in setting up the local traders' Loyalty Card scheme (cost £1 and discounts in local businesses), a Plotshare scheme, and a Community Orchard.

GPG are inspired in part by The Transition Movement, whose aims are set out in Rob Hopkins’ The Transition Handbook, and communities such as Totnes, where measures to make the transition to greater self-reliance have already been put in place. This is seen as an essential step in the years to come, to counter the challenges of peak oil supplies and global climate change.

Further information:

Rob Hopkin (2008) ‘The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience’. Green Books, Totnes.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Welsh National Museum of Art

The recent opening of six new galleries devoted to contemporary art at the National Museum of Art in Cardiff has turned the museum into one of Britain’s best. It has long been famous for its Impressionist and post-Impressionist works (e.g., Corot, Millet, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Rodin, Van Gogh, Cezanne and Sisley) collected by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies. However, the new extension enables the museum to strike a better balance and to show much more of its art collection, from 16th Century paintings through to very recently-completed site-specific works, including a slate circle by Richard Long and an installation of bird boxes by Carwyn Evans.

Canvases by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin and Graham Sutherland, rub shoulders with works by Welsh artists, who make up the core of the collection, including Kyffin Williams, Ceri Richards, Augustus and Gwen John, Josef Herman and Shani Rhys James.

Among the new contemporary art on show, is one piece directly relating to food. Counter Culture II is an installation by the artist group Common Culture, which was first produced in 1997. It is made up of light-box menu displays, of the sort found above the counters in fast-food outlets. The framing of these ‘ready-made’ light boxes in a gallery makes us look at them in a different light.

The artists are using the signs to investigate British identity, with the multi-cultural cuisine reflecting traces of Britain’s colonial past. They are also interested in the intersection between so-called high and low art.

Rather than pinch something from McDonalds, the artists worked with a sign-maker to produce a typical range of menus (using fictitious names) that reflected the kitsch commercial artwork and range of food items found along, say, Caroline Street or City Road in Cardiff:

Chicken Tikka Masala (Britain’s most popular fast food dish), Lamb Donor, Apple Pie, Fish & Chips, Adana Kofte, Fried Chicken, Quarter Pounder, Veggie Burger, Chips & Gravy, Sweet & Sour Pork Balls.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Forest Café, Porthkerry Country Park

On a walk this week from The Knap in Barry to Rhoose Point (“Most southerly point on mainland of Wales”), I stopped off in Porthkerry Country Park. Near the viaduct, just inland from the pebble beach, down from the woodland walks, the new Forest Café Porthkerry has recently replaced the old refreshment kiosk. This new facility is a vast improvement on what was there before.

The Forest Café serves meals (burgers, hot dogs, and dishes of the egg and chips variety); a range of basic paninis, baguettes and sandwiches; coffees, teas and soft drinks; pastries and cakes; and Sidoli’s ice cream. Also for sale are nets (the ponds and streams here are rich in wildlife), sunscreen, sunhats and other items.

There were plenty of kid’s lunch boxes behind the counter, just as well as several coaches full of school children were there today (although I think some had bought their own barbeques). Organized games were in progress on the long expanse of grass nearby. There’s also a play area and a miniature golf course here.
An extended area of decking has been built around the café, with plenty of outdoor seating. The café is a welcome addition to Porthkerry.

Rhoose Point, incidentally, is more interesting than the photo I have posted below suggests. There's a vast sprawling new housing estate, but the coastal section is an area of reclaimed industrial land that has been recently landscaped. There are lakes in the old quarry that is now a maturing nature reserve. The stones on the ground have been landscaped into interesting shapes, which are worth looking at from an aerial view (click on the third link below), An impressive new stone monument within a stone circle has now been erected by Blue Circle Cement at the most southerly point of mainland Wales. Further along from the point some industry remains - the cement works and the coal-fired Aberthaw power station. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Penarth Food Festival

The first Penarth Food Festival will be held this Sunday, 17th July, from 11am to 3pm at The Kymin on Beach Road in Penarth, just up the hill from the pier.

The festival is organized by local community group Gwyrddio Penarth Greening, who seek to promote awareness and the use of local growers, producers and suppliers. “Local food is about supporting the local economy, lowering food miles and creating healthy sustainable communities,” says festival organiser Susannah McWilliam.

There are over 30 confirmed stalls, selling locally-produced bread, honey, cheeses, honey products, and much more. There will be a pedal-powered smoothie maker and cookery demonstrations.

Cooked food on offer will include lamb burgers from Glam Lamb and a fish grill by The Fig Tree restaurant.

Entrance to the festival is free. See you there.

Further information:

Monday, 11 July 2011

Green Man: Good Food

Today I was writing a preview of the Green Man Festival (18-21 August 2011), based on an interview I conducted by email with the festival’s Managing Director Fiona Stewart.

One of the many delights of the festival is eating at the food stalls. Indeed, it is becoming known as a bit of a foodie festival. Hot drinks and hot dogs are sold by the local school to raise funds, the Pieminister van sells a full range of their pies, the rotisserie chicken smells and tastes great, the Moroccan food tent is always interesting, the paella stall consistently good. There's crepes and pizza, fish'n'chips and chinese take-away. A market selling fresh fruit was a welcome addition last year. There are artisan cordials and ice creams, and several bars with a good range of real ales and cider.

This area of the Brecon Beacons has a good reputation for food. Crickhowell has several top restaurants, including The Nantyffin Cider Mill Inn, close to the festival site, as has Abergavenny, which also hosts one of the UK’s best food festivals.

Increasing numbers of people are staying the week on the Green Man Festival site on holiday tickets, to make the most of the area. Fiona Stewart told me, “It’s great to see the pleasure people get from discovering the attractions in the area. From the smiling faces it’s evident that they have a lot of fun, and the opportunity of meeting like-minded people has led to friendships forming and groups now return from year to year. Primarily it’s the incredible beauty of the area which I enjoy exploring on long walks with my dog Walter. During the festival build a group of us walk up to Table Mountain each year, which we all look forward to.” She adds: “There are great places to eat in the area and the welcome and warmth we always receive in Crickhowell when we eat out is a life-saver for bedraggled exhausted crew.”

You will be able to read my full interview with Fiona Stewart in the August edition of Buzz magazine (and below), which will be hitting the streets of south Wales at the end of this month, when it will also be available to read online:

Here’s a time lapse film taken of the main stage area at last year’s festival:

26 July added:
FOUNDED in 2003, the Green Man is one of Britain’s best-loved festivals. It first moved to its beautiful setting in Glanusk Park in 2006, the year that Fiona Stewart became its Managing Director. Green Man won the Best Medium Sized Festival Award in 2010 and aims to be even better this year.

“There are eight stages offering music, comedy, literature, science and film, as well as a great kid’s area so there should be something for everyone,” Fiona tells me. This year’s top acts include Fleet Foxes, Noah and the Whale, Bellowhead, Laura Marling, Explosions in the Sky, Squarepusher and Gruff Rhys. The festival also supports new and emerging talent, with many unsigned artists playing. The opening band will be Will and the People: winners of Green Poll (the festival’s battle of the bands competition).

“Although music is at the heart of Green Man, it is also filled with the kind of unexpected experiences and areas which change a concert into a festival,” explains Fiona. “The people who come to Green Man are very discerning and their ideas are a great resource,” she notes, “Feedback shows audiences want to have the immersive experience that only a festival can offer and getting this right is integral to the success of Green Man.” According to Fiona, “originality, authenticity, eccentricity and the unexpected” are essential ingredients.

This year sees some new features take their place alongside old favourites. “We are developing the Nature and Nurture massage and therapy area,” says Fiona, “so if you fancy a relaxing therapy between acts then it’s definitely worth booking in early. Also there are some great new surprises and bonkers experiences in Einstein's Garden - the art and science area.”

Simon Armitage, Howard Marks and Joe Dunthorne are among the bill in the Literature Tent; Tom Wrigglesworth and Tony Law perform in the Comedy Tent. The sing-a-long {Wicker Man} is a typical happening in the Cinema Tent. Chai Wallahs is like a festival within a festival, which takes place in a massive Bedouin marquee with food and music from around the world. Green Man stays up late, with the Far Out After Dark stage running to 4am. Tim Minchin will be performing on Thursday evening, for those arriving early, while the festival concludes on Sunday night with the burning of the green man.

The Holiday Ticket option, where people came for the week leading up to the festival, is becoming increasingly popular. “It’s great to see the pleasure people get from discovering the attractions in the area,” Fiona says. “Primarily it’s the incredible beauty of the area, which I enjoy exploring on long walks with my dog Walter. During the festival build a group of us walk up to Table Mountain each year.” The area is noted for its range of great places to eat (and the festival itself is also gaining a reputation as a foodie event). “Local accommodation is booked out and more and more businesses offer supplies or other services to the festival,” Fiona notes, “We think it’s great that Green Man stimulates tourism and boosts the local economy.”

The Green Man Festival has grown, while maintaining its independent spirit. It is refreshingly free of big corporate sponsors, even though this makes it harder to finance. “We feel that sponsorship should add to the experience for festival-goers not detract from it,” says Fiona. “If a sponsorship deal brought in something that would really add to the festival from a company that we all felt happy to be associated with, then we would consider it; but that has not happened so far.”

One high-profile festival has been cancelled next year, due to logistical problems arising from the Olympics (portable toilets and suchlike). However, Fiona has few concerns on that front: “All our suppliers have reassured us that they will be supporting us next year and that is good enough for me. So happily Green Man will be back in 2012 and for as long as you want us”.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Chorleywood Bread Process

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP), named after the Hertfordshire town where it was created in the labs of the Flour Milling and Baking Research Association. However, not everyone will be celebrating. The process enabled bread to be made in record time, using processing aids and artificial additives: the cheap, spongy, sliced white loaf was born. Eighty percent of the loaves bought by the British public are still made using this process.

The Real Bread Campaign are marking today’s anniversary by announcing the winner of a Pappy Birthday contest, from their stall at Chorleywood Village Day on Chorleywood Common - where they will be baking Real Bread from a mobile oven. The prize is for the best ‘pappy birthday’ card to the modern industrial loaf.

The Real Bread Campaign is about community-based bakeries, home-baking, and using only the basic essential ingredients and natural additions (e.g., herbs, seeds), without any processing aids or artificial additives.

Dinas Powys-based baker Geraint Roberts is a supporter of the Real Bread Campaign. He told me recently, “They are trying to raise awareness through the media about all the rubbish that goes into supermarket bread, and equally promote home baking and bread that is made with just flour, water, yeast and salt.” Geraint says the degree of processing involved is not always obvious from the label on bread made using the CBP: “With supermarket bread there are certain things that do not need to be declared on the label because they are processing aids rather than ingredients.” These include enzymes that are added to speed up the manufacturing process. “The time to make a supermarket loaf from start to packaged product is less than two hours”. The Real Bread Campaign wants Real Bread to be defined as a product that takes around four hours to complete its cycle (the time it takes without additives and processing aids).

With a longer fermentation process, more nutrients become available in the bread. The flavour develops and the harmful enzymes get broken down. So, rapidly-produced CBP loaves are nutritionally-depleted and don’t taste as good – hence the hefty salt levels associated with them. The CBP also utilizes weak-protein flours and, so to build an adequate structure in the final loaf, fats, flour improvers and emulsifiers are added.

Geraint is among a growing band of artisan bakers who sell Real Bread to independent local businesses (delicatessens and cafes) and directly to the public. They operate from relatively small bakeries and make a range of interesting loaves, such as sourdoughs with the addition of natural and seasonal ingredients, which are not amenable to mass-production.

The rise of the Real Bread movement is helping to educate people as to the health benefits and the superior flavour of Real Bread. It served it's purpose, but after fifty years the CBP is past its sell-by-date.

Previous post on Real Bread:

Further reading:
Andrew Whitley (2006) Bread Matters. Fourth Estate (ISBN 0-00-720374-8)

Rose Prince.


Friday, 8 July 2011

The Cardiff International Food and Drink Festival 2011

The Cardiff International Food and Drink Festival started today and runs to Sunday (8-10 July 2011) in Roald Dahl Plass, and along to the Norwegian Church, in Cardiff Bay.

A critique of the Festival on the Cardiff Bites blog has highlighted some of its shortcomings. I’ll come to that later, but first I’ll tell you a bit about my enjoyable few hours at the Festival this afternoon.

A key feature is the Live Kitchen Programme in the John Lewis-sponsored Food Theatre. Today I watched Dominic Powell from Cardiff’s Park Plaza Laguna Kitchen and Bar cook a fish risotto, and a dish of Roast Lamb Rump and Soft Polenta with Summer Vegetable Sauce Vierge. I had some of the risotto afterwards and it was really good (must try that final drizzle of curry powder-infused olive oil at home). The activities started in the theatre at midday with Angela Gray on bread and pasta, followed by a Pasta Masterclass from chefs at Jamie’s Italian Restaurant. Angela appears with the other chefs on the programme to ensure the talk is kept informative and entertaining as they go about their cooking. Martin Blunos of the Crown Social will also be appeared over the next two days, as will Norman Musa preparing Malaysian dishes.

Many of the stalls around the Plass serve food. It is a good place to eat and drink outside while listening to live music. The final two acts on the bandstand this afternoon played jazz and soft rock covers. Under the Driftwood Tree are among the six acts playing tomorrow. This all works well when the weather is fine, like this afternoon, but this festival can be an altogether bleaker affair if wind and rain are sweeping in off the channel. The John Lewis Food Theatre and the Wine Bar are the only two large covered areas in the festival.

The Farmers’ Market comprises two rows of stalls on the road to the Norwegian Church. It’s the first Farmers’ Market I have ever been to where there is not a single fresh fruit or vegetable in sight. However, there are at least two stalls selling cupcakes. Enough said.
Among the stalls here though are some familiar faces from Cardiff’s regular Farmers’ Markets. I bought some Beetroot Burgers from The Parsnipship to take home. Among my other purchases: a walnut and maple Wild Fig ice cream, a bottle of Otleys 08 (8.0%) from the Pontypridd breweries stall, a bottle of wine from Cwm Deri vineyard in Pembrokeshire, and a chorizo sausage (Trealy Farm).

The Food Festival is not as big as it initially appears because the row of stalls by the WMC are a 'Craft Fayre' and not really food-related. The overall emphasis is on local food (with stall holders being predominantly from Wales and south-west England), with only a couple of overseas visitors (Poffertjes Dutch pancakes and produce from Stuttgart). There is some locally-produced world cuisine (e.g., samosas, sushi). The word “international” suggests this festival is grander and more cosmopolitan than it actually is. See Nicki’s Cardiff Bites blog (link below), whose summary of why she thinks this festival feels flat preceded this post. It’s hard to disagree with her main points.

However, I think this festival is well worth visiting and has the potential to get better. This year sees the renovated Norwegian Church being bought into play, with wine tasting seminars; while the programme includes demonstrations by top Cardiff chefs. Most importantly, it is free-entry, in a location that attracts visitors, and it provides an opportunity for local producers to meet and sell directly to the public.

What I would like to see is more undercover space (so it can be a success whatever the weather), with at least another marquee hosting an alternative programme of lectures and cookery demonstrations involving, say, local artisan producers, independent cafes and restaurants, and more vegetarian and ethnic cuisine (Tiger Bay was one of the first places that food from Asia and other regions got established in Britain). The Cardiff International Food and Drink Festival may yet evolve into a first-class event that can take its place in the foodie calendar alongside the likes of Abergavenny.

Cardiff Bites blog and discussion about the food festival:

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Pier & The Pebble, Penarth

We had lunch at The Pier & The Pebble on the Esplanade in Penarth this week. The building, situated next to the oldest Yacht Club in Wales, was originally an Edwardian residential property. Inside it is light and airy, with a simple nautical décor in blues and white.

The Pier & The Pebble is open for breakfast, lunch and evening meals. At lunchtimes the menu features salads; meat, fish and vegetarian platters; and steak and fish dishes.

After some fine garlic bread, I had Mussels Marina (sourced from Ashton’s) cooked in a home-made tomato, chilli and garlic sauce. This proved to be a thick, tasty and hot chilli sauce. I decided I preferred a wine broth that takes the flavour of the mussels, which can be spooned up afterwards; although that’s not, of course, a reflection of the dish here, which did everything it set out to. The mussels were perfectly cooked and the accompanying chips were excellent. A fingerbowl on the table would have been nice.
My dining partner, who is always better at choosing from the menu than me (do you know people like that?), went for the Rump Steak, served with a large grilled mushroom and tomato, and a bowl of chips. The piece of steak I scrounged was melt-in-the mouth lovely. We shared a mixed salad.

For dessert, we had a scoop of Sidoli's ice cream each (one Cappuccino and one Amaretto) with coffees.

There was a smooth Worthington’s Smooth on keg (no thanks) and the Continental bottled beer appeared to be limited to Peroni today. My partner enjoyed her Taffy Apple Cider. On the drinks front therefore, probably more wine bar than pub.

There are currently three good restaurants along the Esplanade: the others being The Pier & The Pebble’s superior sister restaurant Mediterraneo and the excellent Fig Tree. With funding in place for the development of the Pier building, things are certainly looking up for Penarth’s seafront.

Incidentally, we used a Groupon voucher toward the cost of this lunch. A number of restaurants and sandwich bars in the Cardiff area have signed up to this scheme, which will be the subject of a future post.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Price’s Sweet Shop, Cardiff

Think sweets are just for kids? Think again. Sweets are the gateway to nostalgia. One suck and you are transported back to your childhood. An old-fashioned candy shop can be an Aladdin’s cave of sweet memories.

This is the case for Price's Sweet Shop in the High Street Arcade, Cardiff. It’s mainly adults who are gazing at the jars of retro-sweets. They're all here: Rhubarb and Custard, Dandelion and Burdock, Strawberries and Cream, Mint Imperials, Bon Bons, Lemon Sherbets, Sherbet Dips, Refreshers, Bulls Eyes, Aniseed Balls, Blackjacks, Fruit Salads, Parma Violets, and much more besides.

For one of our visitors last weekend, it was the Coconut Mushrooms. For me it’s Soft Rock, which we knew as Edinburgh Rock. Our neighbours would bring it back for us from their trips to Scotland. It melted in the mouth in a burst of sugar and flavour, and was so much better than the more familiar tooth-crackingly hard toothpaste mint-flavoured seaside rock. One taste of Edinburgh Rock and memories of a sunny childhood summer unfold. I expect your very own Proustian moment awaits somewhere on these shelves.

Deina and Steve Price opened their sweet shop in October 2010. It fits perfectly into its Victorian arcade setting. The window display currently features lollipops in dozens of flavours (20p each): Lemon and Lime, Iron Brew, Apple and Custard, and, I don’t think I’m making this up, a Bonfire flavour (remember those smoky, family Guy Fawkes nights?).

Price’s Sweet Shop

Monday, 4 July 2011

Cardiff Castle's Wartime Tunnels

Juliet (age 8) was asking me what it was like living during World War II. I convinced her that I did not have first-hand experience of it, although her nanny did.

In Cardiff, probably the best place to go to get a sense of what it was like in the city during the bombing is in wartime tunnels within the walls of Cardiff Castle.

The earliest walls on this site date from Roman times. Within the modern walls, the tunnels were used as air-raid shelters by up to 1,800 people. The tunnels were considered to be the safest air raid shelters in town, being shielded by thick walls and a massive earthen bank.

There is a recreation of a wartime canteen in the tunnels, complete with sink, cooker, water boiler, menu board, plates and mugs.

Research has recently revealed that, in addition to kitchens, there were also dormitories with bunks, toilets and first aid posts concealed within the walls. Wooden benches and a few bunk beds have been left in place.

Coming into the dank tunnels from the bright sunshine outside, you can easily imagine what it would have been like filled with thousands of anxious people. It was apparently cold, draughty, and smelly.

Earlier this year, the tunnels were used as a location for the recent series of Doctor Who (‘The Almost People’ two-parter, first shown in late May 2011) .

Someone (Simonwgb) took a video of their walk around the tunnels and posted it on YouTube. It’s not Doctor Who quality, but gives a good impression of the space.

Further information:

Saturday, 2 July 2011


Yesterday I picked 5lb 5oz of fruit off the modestly-sized gooseberry bush in our garden in Dinas Powys. After the picking, and topping-and-tailing, my hands felt a little worse for wear, but it has set us up for a few gooseberry crumbles, and stewed gooseberry with yoghurts, over the coming year. I also like a spoonful of chilled stewed gooseberry with my lunchtime mackerel.

Gooseberry (Ribes grossularia) is related to blackcurrants (R. nigrum) and redcurrants (R. sativum). There are hundreds of recorded varietal names for R. grossularia, although many varieties have been lost as gooseberry cultivation has declined in recent times. It was a very popular fruit in the past, especially in northern industrial towns in late 18th and early 19th-Century England; where gooseberry clubs were established, whose members would compete to grow the largest and best-flavoured gooseberry. There were 171 gooseberry clubs at the peak of their popularity in 1845. The tradition is still alive today, at the Egton Bridge Old Gooseberry Show in North Yorkshire.

I have frozen several batches of my gooseberries, and am about to make a gooseberry crumble for dinner tonight.

Further reading:
Leslie Johns and Violet Stevenson (1979) The Complete Book of Fruit. Angus & Robertson Publishers.

Bee Wilson (2008)

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Laura Mason and Catherine Brown (2010) The Taste of Britain. HarperCollins.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Buffalo Lounge, Cardiff

We had an early-evening dinner at Buffalo Lounge this week (prior to the Penguin Cafe), and are already planning a return trip. The Buffalo Bar and Lounge (“bar, kitchen, cocktails, music”) was established in 2005, in a smart end of terrace property in Windsor Place, Cardiff. Food is served from midday to 9pm.

For me, an obvious attraction on the menu is the Pieminister Pies. I first encountered these at the Green Man Festival several years ago (their van will be there again this year). Buffalo is now the only place I know in Cardiff serving pies from this Bristol-based company. They had a reasonable selection from the Pieminister range on Wednesday night, and I went for the Sweet potato and Goats Cheese, with the onion gravy, mashed potatoes and peas. Recommended.

My partner was attracted by the interesting range of salads. She opted for the Pork and Apple Salad. This included frozen grapes (actually arriving extremely chilled - very refreshing), strips of pork and a zingy mint and red mustard dressing. There is a Salad Pot option, where you can try a small portion of each of their salads. That will be my choice next time.

At the bar, Belgian and continental European beers are featured, so it was Hoegaarden from the tap for me. Three cider options were available in bottles - the Weston Organic Cider looking the best bet. The bar has a good reputation for cocktails.

The Buffalo Lounge is an attractive-looking place, with a choice of couches, different types of tables and a beer garden. The décor reflects the general interest in art and design here. Later in the evening, the upstairs Buffalo Bar opens for a range of nightly events. Here you will find live bands, DJs, light shows, fashion and party nights. It opens until 4am, daily!

11 Windsor Place, Cardiff CF10 3BY

Pieminister Pies: