It’s been a while….

Over the past couple of months it feels as though I have been totally consumed with work, which has left little (or no) time to keep up with the blog. Really it is inexcusable but I can assure you there have been daily thoughts about it, or more like ‘daily pangs of guilt.’ It is finally time for me to give A Shuffle in the Pantry some much needed TLC, whilst I sit in the peace and quiet of the Spanish countryside…. (and breathe a sigh of relief).

I am waking up early at the moment around 7:30am and spending 20 minutes meditating- something I have been doing twice daily for the past 3 weeks. It clears my heads and provides an inner calm, which in turn prepares me for the day ahead. Prior to learning the Transcendental Meditation technique my stress levels were sky high, which was manifesting in the inability to sit down and the constant tidying up and moving of objects (to his dismay, my boyfriends belongings) around our flat. The need for a holiday was becoming increasingly apparent. Now I am here, it is heavenly and paired with TM*, contentment has captured me.

Today is no different with regard to my routine. I woke up naturally (no alarm, which is bliss!), sat for 20 minutes then made myself scrambled eggs with the essential addition of Salsa Picante, a glass of peach juice and a French press. I never make coffee this way at home in the UK but it has become habitual for me when on Spanish soil, finding the whole process satisfying and delicious.

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Now this is when I sit down to write but where do I start? There are places I have been that I’d love to share with you, dishes I have cooked or baked that I want to tell you about and lethal-but-delicious cocktails consumed which are a must, however with mention already of meditation and trascendence…it seems appropriate to touch on the book I am currently reading- “The Physiology of Taste, Or Meditations on Trascendetal Gastronomy” by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.

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“Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are.”

I came across it on Amazon when I was buying a book on TM called the Science of Being and Art of Living. In the section labelled “Recommended for you”, was this book, staring at me with its big, beautifully illustrated artichoke. No sooner had I read “The most famous book about food ever written” in the description, I had ‘bought now’ and it was on its way…

A book that would appear to be so highly sophisticated is always daunting as a holiday read. Last year as part of a book club that I am in, I was battling my way through ’50 Shades of Grey’ poolside, grimacing with each page turn and every repeatition of “lip biting” and appearance by her “inner goddess”! As much as I would love for a minute to be the sort of person who loses themselves in a romantic fiction or the like, I am not. I generally look through cookery books, read biographies and learn from books on spirituality (although did totally adore the Hunger Games!)

Let me touch on this all ever so briefly, as I am only just starting to read this myself but firstly I will admit one thing. I am reading this book in one hand with a dictionary firmly in the other. There are the most magnificent words page after page, some I know and some I don’t (and as it was first published in 1825, this is no surprise), what a shame it would be to never know their meaning. It is easy to arrogantly breeze through a book like this and pretend to yourself that you understand all of it, which will potentially result in very little learning, however I swallowed my pride (a mildly dyslexic one at that) and made a decision after the first page to have a reference guide alongside.

The book is set out not in chapters but in ‘Meditations’, which makes clear to the reader the devotion and contemplation of this subject of Gastronomy by the author. Jean Anthelme Brillat- Savarin was born in France in 1755, aside from his epicure status, he was primarily a lawyer and politician. He spent the last few years of his life writing ‘The Physiology of Taste’ and in 1825 published the book at his own expense. He died in 1826.

From what I have read thus far, I have learned that Brillat-Savarin had a wicked sense of humour and a brilliant mind. For a foodie of any kind this book will be a wonderful education and an entertaining read. Don’t rush it, take it all in at your own pace, research as you go anything you do not understand, underline beautiful quotes and enjoy all that it has to offer on food, drink and the culture that surrounds it. It covers everything from the senses & the power of taste, to the theory of frying & the pleasures of the table.

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“Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking”

*TM or Transcendtal Meditation; A technique of meditation derived from Hindu traditions that promotes deep relaxation through the use of a mantra.

For more information have a look at the work of the David Lynch Foundation.

Shake it in the Sunshine!

The sun is shining and the skies are blue yet I am inside trying desperately to finish writing an assignment for a Management Training Programme i’m on and struggling to get past the first 500 words (only 1,500 to go!) I tried moving my office into the park but stared blankly at the page, only getting agitated and distracted by the slightest gust of wind or whirring leaf blower…

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Back home again and still feeling discontent, I do the usual root around in the kitchen.  Days like this can often lead to me picking and snacking my way through the contents of the fridge or cupboards with no structure to meal times at all, high on caffeine after a hundred cups of tea.

I came across a number of ingredients today however that brought on that sudden ‘milkshake’ urge and I told myself that bananas would be the potassium boost my brain needs to start functioning properly, RIGHT? So here you go….

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Banana and Coconut Shake

(makes 2 large shakes)

Easy to make, tastes like Summer…and only a tiny bit naughty.

3 Bananas

Drop of Milk

100 mls Coconut milk (20 tblsp of the coconut cream)

2 scoops Vanilla Ice Cream

Honey (optional)

Nutmeg

Pop the sliced bananas, ice cream and coconut cream (usually sits at the top of the tin) into the blender and give it a whizz. Add the coconut milk and dash of whole or semi skimmed milk then blend well.

Pour into a nice cold glass and finish with a sprinkling of nutmeg.

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My hungry, thirsty gap filled and my brain ready for action…

Be My Guest!

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I love hosting and entertaining, getting friends together and enjoying food & drink in an intimate environment is my ‘happy place’! On Friday night, I held a dinner party for a group of my oldest girlfriends from school to celebrate Valentine’s day.

About a month ago, when I first emailed the gang to get a date in the diary I had just bought Supper Club, which is all about the joys of entertaining in your own home. Kirstin Rodgers however, entertains strangers with her Supper Clubs. She is a skilled cook, with much experience in catering for large groups of people, unlike me! She is also responsible for getting the Underground Restaurant craze fired up in the UK! However much I love to cook and bake, a group of more than 5 can come with it’s complexities and in turn, result in lost sleep leading up to the big day. So I came up with some pointers below, that help make the process a whole lot more efficient and enjoyable from start to finish.

In Advance

  • Invites! I personally email my invites to guests, as that is the most reliable form of communication with a large group of friends. As much as I would adore to use pen and paper at all times, it is not always viable time wise and can be expensive. My mum introduced me to the fabulous ‘Paperless Post’ which is ideal for any occasion. You can also see when the mail has been read and the guest can respond by the click of button. It adds charm & ease right from the start of the organising…
  • Putting your menu together– firstly, I would find out if there are any dietary requirements within your party. No point finding out once it’s too late and throwing you into a panic! When you have confirmation of this, start piecing together your seasonal menu using books, magazine tear outs, Pinterest…Keeping in mind your own level of skill and experience (I should mentioned my first attempt at making fresh ravioli on the day of was daring to say the least and resulted in a few fails, disaster! Read my next blog on pasta to hear ALL about that).

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(For Friday night, I printed out my menu’s and on the back of each one I put a different Love poem. Adding a romantic twist!)
  • Music- make a playlist that last lasts at least 4 hours, so you don’t have to worry about fiddling around with the ipod during the night. Bear in mind that this music is for your guests too and so you have to think about what they would enjoy? Choosing something like ‘Death Metal’ wouldn’t be everyones cup of tea for instance…
  • Shopping lists- a few days before the party I go through all the recipes and make a note of ingredients, I then go through the cupboards and start crossing off anything I might already have. Once I have a list of things to buy, I split the list into 3; ‘Fresh Produce’, ‘Supermarket’ & ‘To Drink’. Doing this keeps it all clear and concise and ensures that nothing is overlooked! 

The Day Before

  • Start Shopping– Head to the Supermarket with that list you have made and buy your condiments, juices, dairy produce etc. 
  • Got Everything? Do a count of all your crockery, glassware and cutlery to make sure you have enough. I realised the day before that I was short of one set, so lucky I checked! Phew!

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  • Your table- get your table ready and arrange your seating plan. Name places are lovely ‘extra detail’. Think about who should be next to who, things in common, any newcomers to the group? It is important to give this some thought so that you get the dynamic right.

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  • Drinks– Go on a booze run to your off license with your ‘Drinks’ list; having decided on your menu at this point, go for wine’s that compliment the meal. I asked the lady in the shop near me to recommend good wines having told her my menu and she was unbelievably helpful. We got the task done in under 15 minutes! A bottle of prosecco or champagne as an apreratif is a good starting point, 1 glass each as people are arriving is a nice gesture. 3 bottles of red & 3 white’s for the table for a group of 9/10 people (it is roughly 5 glasses per bottle by the way!) and there is nearly always at least 1 beer drinker in the group, so I like to have a 6 pack in the fridge just in case.

On The Day

  • Get cooking! Anything you can cook in advance and put in the fridge, then do it! I made the fresh ravilioli & filling, chocolate puddings and herb crust for the lamb as early as I could, that way I had an organised mise en place and was ready to go once guests have arrived.
  • Flower arrangements- do it yourself! It is a really nice touch to have fresh flowers on the table and I like to buy a few bunches from the market and put little posies together myself. I think 3 different flowers, with some sort of greenery works perfectly. Old jam jars are the perfect vase for a small arrangement and add a rustic flavour…buy flowers on the morning of, otherwise they will start to look a little sad.

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(I used Anenomies, Hyacinths and Roses brought together with Solidago. It’s colour theme was romance but that hint of yellow remind us that spring is on its way!)
  • Fresh produce-Your 3rd and final list. It is so much more cost effective to buy all your fresh fruit and vegetables from either a green grocer, or if you are lucky… a fresh fruit & vegetable stall in a local market or farmers market. On the day, I wake up at 7am and get straight to my local to pick out the best before it goes. You can sleep tomorrow… so an early rise is definitely necessary to get everything done.
  • Hoover! I am a messy cook, so once everything is set, it is essential that I hoover the kitchen/living area and make sure the kitchen is looking acceptable (especially as my kitchen and living room are all in the same space). Get rid of any bin bags and dirty tea towels too, very off putting.
  • Atmosphere. Just before the guests arrive and once you are dressed and ready, it is time to get everything just right. Music on, not too loud. Turn the lights down a bit and get  some candles going (just be careful not to put them in any precarious places).

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Now It’s Showtime!

We Ate…

Starter

Beetroot Ravioli with Ricotta & Sage Butter

Main Course

Herb Crusted Lamb with roast potatoes, Kale & Beetroot Top

Dessert

Molten Chocolate Pudding with Amaretto Cream

&

Cheese Board with Chilli Jam

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We Drank…

Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial

Glorioso, Reserva 2006 & Cosme Palacio, Rioja 2008

Pazo Do Mar, Ribeiro Blanco 2010

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We Listened…

My love-themed playlist starting with 1940’s early blues, moving onto 1950’s (Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone…), then the swinging 60’s with Elvis & Ray Charles. The tempo progressively became more energetic, which coincided perfectly with the gradual volume increase and liveliness of my guests.

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We Played…

‘Apples to Apples’ provided by my friend Parker, the Games Master. A hilarious game, especially when tipsy.

P.S. It definitely helps to know your opponents in this one!

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And One For The Road…

Mmmm, Amaretto Sours

(Made by me but special thanks to my friend & colleague Chris who kindly text me the recipe, on demand, at 01:00 a.m. Gotta love him!)

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Why don’t you let us into some of your dinner party secrets….

Thank you Molly, Emily, Parker, Charlotte, Simon, Rupert, Lara & Skippy for being wonderful guests.

(Readers, I apologise for the lack of quality and of photographs but I was having far too much fun to snap!)

What Detox…?

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Nearly every year I jump on the band wagon and try out a new January detox. Not this year…oh no! For this year, I work far too close to the Electric Donuts in Notting Hill.

These delightfully soft, melt in the mouth, luxurious flavoured treats are being snatched up by locals and travellers of far & wide, on the notorious Portobello Road. The donuts can be found in the foyer of the renowned Electric Cinema and are open Wednesday through Sunday. They have a different special each day; with the Lemon & Poppyseed, Birthday Cake and Cinnamon Stack (pictured above) being just a sample of their worthy treats.

Honestly, if you are allowed to break the rules just once during the dry month of Jan, do it by devouring one of these!

(P.S. Follow the Donuts @ElectricDonuts for live updates)