Emails from Exile, Homemade butter, Bread and Matisse.

Updated: Apr 22

Dear Tori,

Thank you for your email. I am glad you’re keeping busy. I would love to say I am too, but I have mostly limited my time to three activities: gardening, reading and cooking. That great triumvirate of lockdown activities has kept me content and sufficiently sane, however, my relationship with ‘zoom’ teaching begins this week and early indications show that it might be a fraught one. Please keep me updated on how you’re maintaining order of your benevolent (I hope) cooking dictatorship, the Prior family have attempted a more communal approach with mixed success. Mum and I have formed a harmonious partnership with the cooking, we have a well-ordered division of labour. In comparison, Tilly and Dad’s ‘washing up coalition’ is heading more in the direction of Cameron and Clegg, with tensions between the pot wash and dryer upper reportedly very high.

Your recipes have been added to my notebook and I am in complete agreement with your minimum effort, maximum output approach. I have also, predictably, fallen headfirst into the asparagus season. The Friday market in Uppingham have started a vegetable box scheme and luckily, the boxes are filled to brim with the green spears; the first bite of the asparagus omelette was perhaps my highlight of the month.

I have been pondering what to include in this email, I thought about sharing my new and slightly odd obsession for finding depictions of food in art, but that would mean you would get very little utility. I have also been thinking of handmade recipes. Unable to settle the dispute in my head and not unlike Tarantino’s approach to editing a film, I have opted to just lob it all in. Hopefully, the outcome will be a perfect balance between pleasure and usefulness; William Morris would be proud.

When kneading another loaf of bread for the house, I started noticing the utensils attached to my arms which were doing the work. Hands were made for a lot more than typing and scrolling, instead they’re our most intimate connection with the material world. Our ability to make is a defining characteristic of what it is to be human, alongside our capacity for love, the development of language and the shaving of our heads during lockdown (you next). John Ruskin said fine art is that in which the hand, the head and the heart of man, go together; now we possibly aren’t looking for fine art, but a loaf of bread, a rhubarb tart or even your very own homemade stick of butter can provide an achievable alternative. Especially in these uncertain times, I reckon the chance to see a bit of ourselves in something we produce is important, it is also an integral break from my watching of Michael Palin travel programmes. Making something is an expression, an act of creation, which explains why the root of the word ‘poet’ is ‘poetes’ or ‘maker’. This doesn’t mean we all have to start writing haikus, in fact, I think by using our hands more, by making things from scratch which have individuality, we will become happier people. At this time of intense separation, I have found real satisfaction and comfort in cooking, being able to look down at a bunch of ingredients detached from each other and then find a way to piece them together and make a whole.

Right, speech over, hope that was inspiring enough. I decided handmade bread and butter would be a winning combo. Let me know how they go.

Butter. Now, you can either use an electric hand mixer (which might defeat the object of this exercise) or go full caveman and just mix it yourself. I have tried both and was convinced the latter should be used as a new type of work out, maybe replacing a spin class. You only need one ingredient- 600ml of good double cream. Keep whipping that cream until it becomes stiff and then continue the abuse, until the cream finally collapses and separates into buttermilk and butterfat.  Line a sieve with clean muslin or a new J-cloth and set over a bowl. Pour in that cream and allow the buttermilk to drain into the bowl (this can used to make my favourite foodstuff - soda bread.) Transfer the butter to a bowl, then squeeze with all your earthly might to drain as much buttermilk out as possible.

Next, my favourite bit, fill a bowl with ice water and drop the butter in. Kneed, squeeze and push the butter in between your hands. Then, with cold hands, remove the butter, and then shape into two evenly sized rolls (unless you have some butter paddles kicking around). Wrap your creations in baking paper, salt, then chill until ready to use.

Bread. This recipe for Guinness Bread has come from relatives in Ireland and the Kilkenny Café, it is as beautifully rich and dark as it sounds and will give you all the strength needed to bicep curl a Le Creuset. You will love it.

Ingredients: 450g of Brown Flour, 20g Brown Sugar, 2tsp Bread Soda, 100g Chopped Walnuts, 25g Pinhead Oats, 1 can of Guinness, 65g of butter melted, 2tbsp Treacle, Pumpkins seed to scatter.

Simply combine, in a large bowl, the flour, brown sugar, bicarbonate of soda, Pinhead oats and walnuts. Then melt the butter and add with the treacle and mix through. Appreciate the ‘sssssttttppp’ of opening the can, then pour the Guinness and bring together gently yet thoroughly. Line a baking tin with baking parchment, tip in the mixture and then sprinkle with some pumpkin seeds. Bake at 160 degrees for 60 minutes, until the smell is too delicious to ignore

I hope those creations bring some joy to your day and before I sign off I thought I would share with you a few of the food inspired paintings I have discovered.

Number one. Édouard Manet, Luncheon on the Grass. Post-lockdown goals.

Emilie Friant, Les Canotiers de la Meurthe. The man on the right, hugging bread is my spirit animal.

Matisse, The Dessert. Now I wish my table cloth was my wall.

Keep cooking and stick it to the man,



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