Interviews with restaurateurs, food writers, fellow bloggers, food and drink producers and others.

 

I first met Ren a few years ago at a blogger event and have been an admirer of her blog ever since. Her recipes are always appealing, her writing is warm and engaging and her photographs show off a her very elegant personal style.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello, my name is Ren, and I’m the writer and blogger behind RenBehan.com . My blog has just turned four years old, which is quite unbelievable really, given that I started it as a hobby/creative outlet whilst on maternity leave with my second baby. We’ve now got three children and the blog is growing from strength to strength.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

There is a bit of a story behind my blog name, in that it used to be called Fabulicious Food! – though the URL was always renbehan.com. For various reasons (mainly spelling issues and a book being release in the USA called Fabulicious) I decided to re-brand to my name, which meant that my blog name and domain name matched. I do slightly miss having a quirky blog name, but as I have gone on to become a professional food writer, I think it has helped to use my personal name across the board.

RenBehan

For those who specialise in a particular cuisine, diet or technique why did you choose to blog about your niche and does it present any particular challenges?

The biggest challenge for me has been narrowing down the topics I write about! When I first started my blog, I wanted to write about cookery courses I’d been on and about places that I had eaten. I quickly also decided to focus on seasonal and local food, as I had always enjoyed shopping at local independent places and food markets. I launched a community blog event called Simple and in Season, which attracted (and continues to attract) entries from all over the world. Hosting a blog event is always a great way of generating a community feel.

As a mum of three, I also share family-friendly recipes – really, the food we eat at home. And, since I also have Polish heritage and a love of Eastern European food, I have sometimes blogged my Polish family recipes and I’ve hosted a few pop-ups under the banner of My Polish Kitchen. As it happens, my Polish recipes are the ones that tend to attract the most attention, and I’ve had recipes published in delicious. Magazine, in BBC Good Food Magazine and more recently on my weekly features column for JamieOliver.com.

In 2015, I’ve decided I’m going to place a bigger emphasis on my Polish recipes as I love sharing them and have been receiving lots of positive feedback. However, at the same time, I don’t want to lose readers who enjoy the seasonal and family-friendly aspects of my blog so there’s a fine balance to be found.

I think that in order to stand out, it can help to focus on one topic or type of cuisine, but equally, I’ve been very keen not to box myself in. Plus, I just love any food so I will always have more things to write about than I have time to write!

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

The hardest aspect of blogging for me is being short on time! I’m constantly playing catch up with posts, there is so much more I’d love to write about and a whole bunch of recipes that I simply never seem to find the time to post. Also, writing for external platforms now takes precedence, which means that I have a bit less time for my own blog. However, what I would say is that blogging has opened up so many doors for me and so many opportunities. A blog can be many things; a personal diary, a place to share recipes, a creative outlet and increasingly for me, a professional portfolio. The work I do now (food writing, photography and styling) is flexible and I mainly work from home.

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Polish apple cake for BBC Good Food

What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

My earliest memories of cooking are at home with my Mum (Mama) and Grandmother (Babcia) who loved cooking and used it as a way to hold onto memories of their homeland in Poland. We kept Polish traditions (for example, a huge twelve course meal on Christmas Eve called Wigilia) and food was always central to any family gathering or celebration – and still is.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

At the moment, I’d say my children are the biggest influencers of my cooking. I want them to be healthy and to have a good appreciate of food and of varying cuisines. My mother always tells me that I was weaned on Polish beetroot soup, so at the moment I’m just debating whether or not to feed our youngest baby some beetroot as his first taste at six months. It didn’t seem to do me any harm!

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Gosh, I’ve had lots of kitchen failures. There have been a fair few #bingates in my time! Most recently, I baked a cake I’d seen on a friend’s blog and forgot to check whether the middle was cooked. When I took the cake out of its tin it collapsed into a big sloppy mess. I had a second go at making it and it turned out fine – my oven settings are not particularly reliable and I should have checked the middle. Baking and cooking disasters happen to us all!

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I adore cook books and have amassed quite a lot of them over the last few years. If I had to pick one author, I’d say that Diana Henry is incredibly inspirational – she’s a cook and writer who always pens and creates the most interesting recipes and anecdotes. A big ‘blog’ highlight for me was meeting Diana at her home and interviewing her. She gave me some very sound advice about food writing and has always been very encouraging.

I think I own every cook book written by Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson and by Jamie Oliver – who were very much my early inspirations and they are the most thumbed and well-used books on my shelf.

For Polish cookery books I like ‘The Polish Kitchen’ by Mary Pininska, ‘Rose Petal Jam’ by Beata Zatgorska, and ‘From a Polish Country House Kitchen’ by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden.

I also love keeping up with ‘up and coming’ food writers and I’d say that Sabrina Ghayour’s ‘Persiana’ has inspired me the most this year.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Ooh I’d love to have you over for dinner Kavey. I think I’d cook you a Slavic feast and introduce you to some hearty Polish food. We’d start with either a very rich and velvety beetroot soup or autumnal mushrooms soup, then I’d serve up some Polish Kopytka – little dumplings similar to gnocchi, with bacon and sweet onions, then we’d move onto either duck or venison with a vodka and cherry sauce. For dessert, we’d have a baked Polish cheesecake.

My Polish Kopytka recipe was recently featured on my column for JamieOliver.com.

Kopytka

What’s been your favourite destination thus far and why did you love it so much? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

I adore travelling, but having three small children has meant that the majority of our family holidays most recently have been spent in North Wales, which is where most of my childhood holidays were spent. However, I’ve also had some great opportunities through blogging, including a trip to Martell’s Chateau de Chanteloup to follow the process of making Cognac. That was really an amazing trip, a particular highlight being a Martell-inspired meal where I sat next to David Lebovitz.

I also flew to Seattle last year to join in with IFBC – an International Food Blogging Conference. Seattle is very special to me as I have a sister who lives there and I met my husband on a plane flying over there, so we’ve visited quite often. I loved visiting Pike Place Market and I still crave ‘Seattle Dogs’ – a street food made with Polish sausages. I also loved visiting my other sister and her family in Emilia-Romagna last year; the foodie city of Bologna was a particular highlight.

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list?

Next on my list is most certainly Poland. I’ll be working on a big Polish project next year and I’m very much looking forward to getting some more trips in.

Ren_Work

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

At the moment, the burger trend has really caught my attention as a lot of new restaurants have opened up in St Albans featuring really good burgers. I also love street food, things like pulled pork, steamed buns, meatballs and so I look out for that type of thing, especially linked to farmers’ markets. I’m also hoping that Polish food will make a bigger impact, as it has always been huge in America, with big Polish communities – Pierogi restaurants and stalls for example. I also love a good mooch around a Christmas Market – mulled wine, Nutella crepes and roasted chestnuts all make me feel very warm and cosy!

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

The single most popular post on my blog is my Polish Spiced Christmas Cookies – Pierniczki. I’m hoping to give them a bit of a revamp in time for Christmas this year!

PolishSpice

What’s the one question you wish I’d asked you but didn’t?

Would you recommend starting a food blog and what advice would you give?

Please go ahead and answer it!

Absolutely, I’ve managed to forge a new career path by starting a blog – having left the law behind during my first stint on maternity. It’s quite a change, but I love what I do now and I find it allows me a great deal of creativity. My blog has enabled me to travel, make new blogging friends, meet chefs and writers I hugely admire and take on paid recipe work.

My advice for anyone starting a food blog would be to focus on a skill and to try to improve it. Don’t focus on trying to make money, or on getting free stuff, and don’t give up your day job! What pays is improving your skills, investing in yourself and working hard.

When I started my blog, I did so because I enjoyed writing and wanting to be a better writer. I found an online writing course and gained a Diploma in Food Journalism. Then I moved onto wanting to improve my food styling, so I took a short course at Leiths School of Food and Wine. Most recently, I’ve focused on developing my photography, so I asked a local family photographer to spend a couple of hours with me to teach me how to use the manual settings on my camera. Building a successful blog takes a lot of hard work, too, so don’t expect it to happen overnight, but do enjoy the process and only blog because you love it!

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Blog URL http://www.renbehan.com
Facebook page www.facebook.com/renbehanfood
Twitter handle www.twitter.com/RenBehan
Pinterest profile www.pinterest.com/RenBehanFood
Instagram handle www.instagram.com/RenBehan

 

Today, I welcome another friend to participate in Meet The Blogger. Please say hello to Sian Reynolds, who writes the wonderfully named Fish Fingers For Tea.

FFFT header Kavey Eats

Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello! I’m Sian from Fish Fingers for Tea. I’m a huge fan of the Meet the Blogger series so it’s a real honour to be here today. Fish Fingers for Tea is all about family friendly, time friendly and budget friendly food. I blog what we eat so what you see is the kind of food we dish up on a regular basis. I used to be a parent blogger, setting up yet another blog when Izzy was born but over time it was taken over by recipes for cake so I took the plunge properly into the world of food blogging.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

The name refers to one of our all-time favourite teas – a fish finger butty (which has to be with pappy white bread and ketchup), though I am often asked if it has any connection to Dr Who!

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

Food and cooking seem to have been in my life for as long as I can remember. Weekends at my grandparents meant bowls of thick porridge and brown sugar, piles of fluffy scrambled eggs and always a roast on Sunday. Both of my parents cooked from scratch and threw regular dinner parties. No matter where I was I was always given little jobs to do and that’s how I learnt – just watching and having a go. I think perhaps that’s the best way. Cooking was just what you did but it more than just a way of getting something to eat, it was time together to chat and laugh.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

I think the biggest influence on my cooking at the moment is the weather! It’s my favourite time of year food wise – there’s little better to me than the comfort of autumn and winter food – steaming bowls of soup, thick stews and tasty pies. Izzy is also developing a liking for spicy food so we’re experimenting a lot with comfortable levels of heat for her.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Oh god, so many! We waited hours for a joint of beef one Christmas after I got my timings completely wrong and was battling with an ancient cooker. Stuck cakes, burnt offerings and dodgy combinations have all happened on a regular basis – I get distracted easily. I did melt a plastic sieve at school once as well, that didn’t go down very well.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Ingredient wise it would be Maldon sea salt, I throw it on and in everything and hot pepper sauce if I’m cooking for Rich. You will always find an abundance of cheese and chocolate in our fridge as well.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I’m a huge Nigella Lawson fan, I like her relaxed style of cooking and How To Be A Domestic Goddess is one book I turn to time and time again. My parents often cooked from Elizabeth David and I have a complete set of her books and though I rarely cook from them myself I wouldn’t be without them on my shelf, purely for sentimental reasons. Strangely though I rarely cook from cookery books. I have a large collection but I read them more like novels and to gain inspiration rather than following a recipe.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Can we cheat and get a takeaway? No? Ok. I’d probably throw together an oven baked risotto – they’re always tasty but I wouldn’t be stuck in the kitchen. Oh, and I would have made a batch of my gluten free hazelnut brownies earlier that day so that’s pudding sorted.

leftover gammon roast frittata 3 ingredient nutella cookies

Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I think the blog is constantly evolving. As our eating habits as a family change then so does the content. I’ve reached a place where I’ve developed my own style of photography (something that I’m always working on) and my own way of talking to my readers. I work with brands and on recipe commissions much more now so that obviously has some effect on the content, I try to only work with brands that fit into my own ethos though. A year ago I may have shied away from admitting that I use packets and tins in my own cooking, there is, I think, some pressure to cook everything from scratch but now I’m more than comfortable in showing that shortcuts are welcome in most family kitchens.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Time. Life is busy for everyone and some weeks finding that half an hour to write a post is incredibly difficult, not to mention the time it takes to photograph each dish.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

The never ending subject matter and feeling quite passionately that feeding your family well doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, one thing that I know a lot of readers worry about. I’ve had the occasional time when I’ve considered stopping but I usually find myself camera in hand, snapping photos of a dish within a day or so.

 date walnut granola basic meatballs and tomato sauce

What are you absolutely loving cooking and eating right now?

I took the slow cooker out of the cupboard a couple of weeks ago so we’re dishing up a lot stews and casseroles packed with seasonal veggies. I’m looking forward to my first bag of Brussel sprouts so I can demolish a plateful of them roasted with parmesan and lemon juice and of course cake is always to be enjoyed!

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

For a long time it was one for an oven baked risotto but crispy oven baked courgette fries have taken over now!

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Marmite is very much a love hate thing but I thought these puff pastry marmite whirls might be more popular. But we are very much a marmite loving family so I suspect my judgement is clouded!

courgette fries marmite and cheese whirls

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Blog URL: http://fishfingersfortea.co.uk
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fishfingersfortea
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/fishfingers4tea
Pinterest profile: http://www.pinterest.com/fishfingers4tea/
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/fishfingersfortea

 

This week I’m introducing another beer blogger that I once again met through Pete Drinks. Matt is an exuberant lover of beer, which is evident from his blog Total Ales and in his responses below.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello! My name is Matt Curtis and I’ve been writing a beer blog called Total Ales for almost three years. I started writing the blog because I was boring my friends by talking about beer all the time as I became more and more obsessed with it. I though it would be a good way to curb my enthusiasm a little but in fact it only served to reinforce it! I try to write about my personal experience of beer rather than just straight reviews of what and where I’m drinking and there is a healthy dose of both comment and opinion in there too. Hopefully people find it entertaining, enjoyable and informative as that’s the balance I’m trying to achieve.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

The blog is called Total Ales because when I was visiting the town of Fort Collins in Colorado, a true beer paradise, I went to an incredibly huge liquor store called ‘Total Beverage’ which was the base for the inspiration. It’s also a small homage to the video games magazines I read in my youth such as Total Play and Total Amiga.

Matt Curtis Headshot

Why did you choose to blog about beer?

I’d started blogs on other subjects I love before but they always seem to fall by the wayside. Something about beer just keeps the fire, the desire to write, burning away inside me. There are so many stories waiting to be told, I literally can’t wait to get home from work and start writing about beer. Sometimes just a single sip can inspire me to write thousands of words!

Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?

Trying to vary the pace of the writing and keep things fresh is always on my mind, I think this is something that all bloggers deal with regardless of their subject matter though. I think the biggest problem outside of the writing is that I blog about alcohol and this leads to a lot of drinking (what a nightmare) which is something I have to think about. It also takes up a lot of my time, especially as I get to attend a few press events but I’d rather be doing this than anything else.

Total Ales 1

Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?

I like hoppy American style pale ale and IPA and there are lots of good ones but I’m mostly seeking ones with clean, balanced and distinctive flavours that have a well-rounded juiciness and these are at the pinnacle of beer for me.

Which single beer could you not live without?

At the moment it’s Beavertown’s Gamma Ray pale ale. It’s my fridge staple and one of the best beers being brewed in the UK right now. Thankfully the brewery is only 10 miles from my flat!

Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?

I’ll try anything once, there can easily be good and bad examples of the same style. I mostly struggle with sweeter beers such as malt forward bocks or marzens. Another struggle is going to the pub with friends who aren’t interested in beer at all and finding something decent on the bar I want to drink. Thankfully great beer is exponentially rising in popularity so this is become less and less of a problem.

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What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?

Right now the beer scene is more exciting than it’s ever been and I still think it’s going to get even better! Since the late 80’s craft beer has been slowly bubbling away, gaining gradual momentum. Now this has spread all over the world and the UK is perhaps one of the most interesting places to be a beer lover. We have a strong traditional beer scene and a modern craft beer scene that’s growing incredibly quickly. This is now spilling out into the mainstream with even the Wetherspoons chain completely updating their offering. The trick is, like with great beer, finding the perfect balance.

Tell us about your pet controversy in the beer world.

I think my biggest problem is with breweries trying to cash in on the hard work of those that ‘get it’. People stealing anything from branding through to falsifying their own ethos so they look like another brewery. A common thing I see is that a lot of new breweries have a ‘Brewdog Complex’ where they copy the in your face marketing tactics of the cheeky Scottish brewery. This is in fact the antithesis of what Brewdog did in creating something quite different, in the UK at least (it could be said that Brewdog simply copied the ethos of their favourite American breweries.) I think a lot of newer breweries (and some older ones) would do better to find their own path rather than walk somebody elses well trodden one.

Total Ales 5

What are your top three criteria for a great pub? Do you have a favourite pub? Why?

Great beer, good food and vibe. The first two are obvious but the third is really the trick. It’s tough to create the perfect atmosphere that ebbs and flows with the mood of your patrons, few really have it but the best example in the UK is probably North Bar in Leeds. It just has a certain magic that makes it hard for me to leave when I’m in there.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, in the pubs you don’t like?

Sticky tables, smelly toilets and bar staff that are selling craft beers but have little interest in having a conversation with me about what I’m drinking. If you don’t want to chat you could at least be wiping down the tables.

What’s the strangest / funniest thing that’s happened to you in a pub?

I once drunkenly haggled with Masterchef winner Tim Anderson when he worked behind the bar in the Euston Tap. My friend picked a bottle of imported American beer that wasn’t priced on the till so he said we had to haggle for it. I think we probably paid over the odds but we were pretty drunk and didn’t care too much!

Total Ales 2

Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I think my writing has improved markedly since I began this blog in particular. I always feel like I’m learning and improving but this blog has dramatically improved my writing. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned it how to edit a post properly and cut the crap that no one wants to read out! I’ve also learned that the most important thing is to blog for yourself, if you’re happy with what you’re creating then people will come and read what you’ve created and share the experience with you.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Keeping things fresh and keeping the momentum going can be challenging. As with any creative pastime sometimes you can write for days on end and sometimes you have nothing. I try and keep writing through the dry spells, which have been thankfully few and far between, just to keep the momentum constant. Blogging moves so quickly that I find you can soon fall by the wayside if you stop writing.

What inspires you to keep blogging?

Beer! Honestly the beer scene is so vibrant at the moment that there is so much to write about and I’m constantly discovering stories or tastes that I have to write about.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates them from traditional journalists?

The best bloggers are a combination of a great journalist, a great editor and a wonderful storyteller. The best blogs are the newspapers of the future!

Total Ales 4

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

I wrote a post on the price of imported American craft beer coming into the UK. This was picked up by the US beer blogging scene which is exponentially larger than the one we have here and it got a lot of attention and started a lot of conversation.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

I wrote a short story based on an experience I had out in Colorado a couple of years ago when I had some absolutely incredible pulled pork at a roadside diner. No other pulled pork I’ve tasted since has come close but a lot of that was to do with the experience. It’s probably the piece of writing I’m most happy with and I still enjoy reading it. http://totalales.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/the-best-pulled-pork-i-ever-had.html

What’s the one question you wish I’d asked you but didn’t?

What’s the best beer in the world?

Please go ahead and answer it!

Russian River Pliny The Elder of course! Except its nearly impossible to get hold of outside of California. It’s exactly what I look for in a beer; clean, bright, distinctive flavours of grapefruit and pine resin and a booming aroma to match. Perfection!

 

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Blog URL: http://totalales.blogspot.com
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/totalcurtis
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/totalcurtis

Oct 272014
 

Married to a drinks blogger, it’s inevitable that I dip my toe into the world of drinks blogging too. One of the first drinks bloggers I met through Pete was Simon Williams, the founder of CAMRGB. I’ll let him tell you more about his mission to get us drinking really good beer in his own words…

CAMRGB-WEB-HEADER

Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello, I’m Simon and I write about beer and run a small organisation that tries to promote and celebrate beer regardless of particular dispense methods.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

I called the blog The Campaign For Really Good Beer purposefully to annoy CAMRA (The Campaign For Real Ale) as the blog started as a rant against that particular organisation’s lack of support for new UK breweries.

The name also works well graphically – Really Good Beer is Red Green and Blue, RGB, the colour breakdown on an image used online.

I expected more people to make the connection straight away, but many still look surprised when I explain, and I still get people saying, “It should be red white and blue,” meaning I then have to explain again that I’m not interested in any weird nationalist agenda.

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Why did you choose to blog about beer?

As I already mentioned, it was a direct result of what CAMRA were (or weren’t) doing. They were not supporting (and still aren’t supporting) new breweries who were making what has started to be termed “Craft” beer and not brewing to CAMRA’s definition of what “Real Ale” is.

Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?

For me, blogging about anything presents certain challenges as I have a young family and a full time job.

Once a blog becomes more than just a blog (as CAMRGB has) it’s imperative to keep the interest for the group and to grow the group.

Online this means regular new content, and so my days have become a process:

I get up at 5am and publish any beer reviews from the night before, answer emails etc., get the kids up, feed them, get them ready for school, get myself ready and off to work, get home at 5:30pm and pick the kids up from the child-minder, get them home, feed them and get them ready for bed, then I choose a couple of beers to drink and write about, eat and go to bed.

It is, put frankly, a bit boring.

Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?

Nope

Which single beer could you not live without?

Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo

Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?

Not especially.

What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?

The current trends seem to be in ridiculous facial hair more than anything.

To be serious though, you can watch the brewing industry and see where things are going.

A couple of years ago everyone was making Black IPAs, then they were all making Saisons and now everyone is sticking as much beer into as many casks and barrels for ageing as they possibly can, with sometimes amazing and sometimes hideous results.

Tell us about your pet controversy in the beer world.

Ooh, I couldn’t possibly. There would be blushes and finger pointing amongst a certain group of, shall we say, traditional ale drinkers.

Chainsaw-Ale-Double-Sawtooth-300x300

Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

Not really, it’s about beer and about trying to connect people.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Fitting it into everyday life.

What inspires you to keep blogging?

Meeting people and connecting people.

Seeing photos being posted on Twitter last night of people at IMBC 2014 who had struck up conversations because they were all wearing CAMRGB T-shirts is fantastic.

They know that whatever their differences they can agree on beer and share a certain ideology and can have a chat and have a good evening.

I think that that is just brilliant.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates them from traditional journalists?

Bloggers are the new fanzine writers.

Passionate amateurs writing from the heart.

The downside of that – and I remember from dealing with fanzine writers in the 80s ad 90s – is that lots of people who start blogging do it to get free stuff and the result is they will only ever say things are great as they believe that that will get them more free stuff.

I try to always be honest in my writing and some people don’t like when I say their product isn’t very good, forgetting it’s just my personal opinion, but most take it on the chin and continue to allow me to get things to review.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

I don’t know. The blog gets over 9000 hits a month right now, so I don’t really check to see who is looking at what.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

I still love the two articles I wrote on Greene King: Insurgency Over The Front Line and Greene King Do The Wrong Thing

 

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Blog URL: http://camrgb.org
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CAMRGB
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/CAMRGB
Pinterest profile: http://www.pinterest.com/crayolasarandon/

 

For this week’s Meet The Blogger, I’m happy to introduce Laura, the author behind How To Cook Good Food. Based in Surrey, Laura is a very seasonal cook, and she enjoys growing her own fruit and vegetables, as we do.

ES4U-Logo-Design

Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello, I’m Laura. My blog has a tag line, recipes for food lovers. It is for fellow food fans and cooks who appreciate good food. I write recipes using the influence of the growing season. I also like to create recipes that are influenced by different food cultures and I love to use spices and fresh herbs. I also attend the occasional chef masterclass or food event/show and I review these along with food related products. I will only mention these products if I genuinely think my readers will want to hear about them and they are of good quality.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

The blog’s name came from an idea by my husband of combining “How to Cook” by Delia and “Good Food” magazine by the BBC.

Laura sepia headshot-1

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

I once had some friends over to dinner and forgot I had brownies baking in the oven. I blame the wine! When I spotted them, completely burned I decided to knock up another batch whilst the guests were sitting happily drinking lots more wine in the sitting room. The next batch turned out perfectly and we were able to eat them warm. I never admitted this was because I burnt the first batch.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

I could not live without sea salt, garlic or chillies.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

My favourite cook books are by female chefs. One in particular is “The Cook’s Companion” by Stephanie Alexander. It is a huge tome which I bought years ago when I lived near Books for Cooks and I refer to it regularly more for personal use than for the blog.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

As I know you are a huge fan of Japanese food, as am I, I would cook you a Japanese feast. Gyoza, tempura, sushi, okonomiyaki and some teryaki and yakitori meats with pickled vegetables.

Fig raspberry tart sml

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

The hardest aspect of blogging is the time it takes to put a post together. Even when I keep them short and sweet, there is still the lengthy process of editing photos and naming them. Then there is the time spent promoting the posts on social media and checking comments. Not to mention the shopping for ingredients and composing half decent photographs, a skill I am always trying to improve on. Also, the proof reading takes quite a bit of concentration.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

For me it is about CPD (Continual professional development). As a cookery tutor, I am always striving to learn and improve my skills both as a cook and as a teacher. I find that blogging helps me keep up to date with trends, developing my cookery skills and techniques as well as learning from others by attending cookery masterclasses and reading a huge amount of food blogs plus the odd cook book.

I aim to blog a recipe once a week but on a good week I can stretch to two as long as one of them is short on words and pictures. I do struggle to fit in the reviews I must say and have been pretty poor with hosting blog challenges. These are things I will try to rectify next year.

In reality, there is always something I could be doing more of for my blog but life, 3 kids and a ridiculous amount of after school activities not to mention cooking every day for the family tends to get in the way. And my teaching work too!

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

There are two types of influence that I have when cooking and eating. One is seasonal and the other is cultural.

Seasonally, I am loving pumpkin, butternut squash, apples, pears, chard and kale.

My seasonal cooking includes loads of soups and bakes. I have been making pumpkin soup and bread, roasted butternut squash enjoyed with gran Luchito chilli honey, Kale in my superfood salad or stir fried with garlic & chilli and crumbles aplenty with the fruits.

Culturally, I am obsessed by both Japanese and Korean food. I have a cupboard full of ingredients that I come back to using regularly. I bought a mammoth selection of seaweeds, vinegars, noodles and sauces and I have a new found love of tofu and an ongoing love of anything chilli’ed and pickled.

I have been making lots of Japanese pancakes (okonomiyaki) and miso noodle soups but also some Bibimbap and Korean fried chicken. I find Japanese food subtle and light whereas Korean food satisfies my chilli habit.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Roasted Mediterranean vegetables – This never ceases to amaze me. Every day it is top of the most viewed pages. The weird thing is, it has absolutely no comments on it!

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

My tagliatelle with flower sprouts & chorizo. This is such a tasty dish, and if you haven’t tried flower sprouts you really should, They are so much better than regular sprouts and are a perfect partner for chorizo. The post also happens to have one of my better photos from the early days of blogging. There is still one shocker on there which I keep meaning to replace but I won’t draw your attention to it!

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For this week’s Meet The Blogger, I talk to Sally Prosser, author of My Custard Pie. Based in Dubai, Sally shares a mix of British and local cuisine and recommendations for visitors to her adopted home.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

My Custard Pie is about food at the centre my everyday family life as an expat in Dubai. It includes recipes which I try to base on the seasonal local produce that’s available here – I’d sum this up as British influenced comfort food with a twist. Visitors to Dubai usually have an idea of a modern, blingy place – I try to offer an alternative view through food stories and reviews (although I did try an £800 cocktail with gold in it once). Travel is also viewed through a food lens…. or wine (a life-long journey to learn and taste more). My motivation…? I’m a keen eater

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

It’s metaphor for life: delicious, inviting but unexpectedly might hit you in the face. It reminds me of childhood squabbles with my sister over the skin of the custard (Birds) and the Phantom Flan Flinger. I do have a bit of a custard obsession.

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

Rolling out bits of pastry with my Mum on the kitchen table… and she inspired me to cook, although she’d be astonished to hear that. It was basic food on a budget but all cooked from scratch, a lot of produce from the garden. She taught me to value good ingredients, for instance we ate bread from the baker rather than ‘rubber bread’ (white-sliced) which was the norm for the rest of our street.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

The changing dynamics of our family. My daughter has just gone to University so the vegetarian vote in our house (my younger daughter) has increased to one-third! I’ve acquired a slow-cooker so expect lots of gently-cooked but spicy pulse-based recipes. I also love the flavours and ingredients I experienced in Georgia and I’m learning about the cuisines which spread from the Caspian sea to the Black Sea and down to Iran.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Probably when hot fat from some pork rind dripped onto my oven floor and caught fire while I was cooking for 10 people. A friend threw water on it, which sparked off huge flames – I thought the house would burn down. It didn’t and we still ate the roast potatoes that had been in there… outside in the garden.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Garlic – my Polish grandma ate a raw clove every day which may account for my high tolerance levels and love of the stuff. Lemon, I would choose lemon over chocolate any day.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

Tamasin Day-Lewis is the cookbook author I turn to most. She is so in tune with the seasons, good simple food and great produce that’s available locally. One of the absolute highlights of my blogging journey was being invited to Diana Henry’s home. Her writing style is warm, inviting and her recipes meticulous. She manages to have her finger on the foodie pulse without succumbing to fashion or transience. Claudia Roden shaped the way I cook Middle Eastern food, was my companion in Saudi Arabia and I still refer to her New Book of Middle Eastern Food regularly. Dubai-life has meant I’ve been lucky enough to meet many celebrity chefs including Giorgio Locatelli several times. His dedication to achieving the best flavours with simple ingredients is impressive, and his genuine concern for the environment and his enthusiasm for great produce sets him way apart from so many who pay lip service. Oh, and his truffle risotto is sublime.

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If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Usually something I’d never cooked before. I love having people round as it gives me carte blanche to try things out. Probably quite a high risk strategy. Perhaps a full-blown Georgian feast, or an Iranian rice dish…although I might change my mind. We’d have good wine and great cheese at the end and I always over-cater…

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If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?

In the UK I would return to the Riverford Field Kitchen in the middle of their Devon Farm. Huge sharing platters of delicious simple dishes which are very veg heavy (and picked outside that day) and traditional puds with loads of custard of course. In Dubai it would be a tiny Morrocan restaurant in an obscure part of the city where the chefs sing and ululate from the kitchen to welcome you, and the waiters slice the enormous sugar-coated pastilla with a ceremonial dagger.

What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

Definitely Georgia in the Caucasus – a beautiful country with five micro-climates, stunning scenery and warm, kind people with a unique culture and heritage which has survived almost miraculously. Opening a qvevri (a clay vessel) which is buried in the ground and tasting the new wine with the people who had picked the grapes and made the wine was really special… as well as many banquets with heart-felt speeches, myriad courses and haunting polyphonic singing.

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list?

The Caucasus beckon again with Armenia and Azerbaijan tied in top place.

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If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

We’d drive from Dubai to the Mussandam coast in Oman. A dhow (wooden boat) trip would show us the splendour of the coast line which is like Norways fjords but barren and rocky. We’d eat freshly caught fish smothered in herbs hot from the barbecue.

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What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

Endless subject matter (I have over 150 draft posts) and the wonderful online community. Fooderati Arabia in the UAE and many, many friends I’ve met online and off from all over the world… all with a passion for food.

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

I’m on a preserved lemon kick right now, the vibrant, sharp, saltiness enhances so many things. It’s peak pomegranate season now and I bought some wild, organic fruit picked in Oman. Such a fresh and delicate flavour.

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Where to take visitors to eat out in Dubai on a budget – based on the reactions of a stream of friends and family visiting for over 14 years.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

I spent a year researching my Desert Island Dishes post and it includes Georgio Locatelli, Antonio Carluccio, Clovis Tattinger (all interviewed personally) and many of my very favourite bloggers. This courgette cluster bread deserves some more love too.

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What’s the one question you wish I’d asked you but didn’t?

What’s my biggest concern about food?

Please go ahead and answer it!

The control of our food chain and supply system by ‘Big Food’, Chemical companies and those solely motivated by the bottom-line and share-holder value.

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Sarah started her blog Maison Cupcake just a few months after I started Kavey Eats and we met pretty soon after that, via blogger events we both attended. We’ve been friends ever since and Sarah’s blog is a wonderful source of inspiration for tasty,family-friendly cooking.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share. Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

I’m Sarah from Maison Cupcake my blog started as only baking but has morphed into other things along the way.. I’d have put much more thought into the name of my site if I’d realised I’d be using it five years later.

Why did you choose to blog about baking?

I started the blog in a month when I had volunteered to make cupcakes for a street party. My first efforts were pretty terrible but I logged photos of my progress and then blogged about the party itself. After that I didn’t want to stop and wanted to improve my baking skills, possibly to launch a local cake making business if I got good enough. At the time there were only about six proper baking blogs in the UK and I got my inspiration from American baking sites. After much consideration I didn’t sell baked goods commercially as I found brand collaborations on the blog were more lucrative and were less of a drain on time with my family. I would find supplying cafés with the same old brownies week after week very tedious. With the blog you rarely do the same thing twice.

Does blogging about baking present any particular challenges?

It can be hard to keep up a conveyor belt of posts when you don’t feel like eating baked stuff yourself. Often I seriously don’t want any sweet stuff in the house whatsoever because it’s too much of a temptation. I should blog more breads but I find it’s the naughty stuff that’s more popular! The ingredients can work out expensive – which is annoying if it’s not naturally what you’d have been having for dinner. The advantage though is that baked items are often ok to photograph the next day when you’ve got better light and you can take your time with photo shoots because your dinner isn’t going cold.

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

My grandmother was a very traditional cook and turned out amazing meals from a tiny kitchen. I had also adored home economics lessons at school and nearly went to catering college but was put off by the prospect of unsocial hours working in hotel or restaurant trade. No one ever suggested I might get trained up and then work for myself, there wasn’t the same sense of entrepreneurial spirit that there is today.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

I am very keen on making as many things as I can from scratch. I get very disheartened in supermarkets seeing how they profit from getting us to cut corners in the kitchen. It’s great to see kit for old fashioned skills such as making your own cheeses or sausages being sold in Lakeland and such places but I’d sooner see people confidently knocking up everyday sauces and pesto without relying on gloop in jars.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

I made some chocolate brioche once that looked like dog turds. Had I wanted to invent a recipe for edible chocolate dog turds I couldn’t have done it any better. A Japanese Buzzfeed style site once picked them up saying it was a recipe for edible dog turds and the post suddenly got about 3000 hits 3 years after publication.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

On a practical level, flour, eggs, butter and sugar. But personal favourite must-have ingredients are chickpeas, sweet red chilli peppers, rocket, dill mustard and gherkins from IKEA.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I enjoy Rose Prince’s books very much. They’re like Nigella’s first book How to Eat in that they’re very conversational about real home cooking and all words and no pictures. My guilty pleasure is collecting tiny hardback cookbooks on niche topics/brands from French supermarkets. I own about 25 of them and they’re fabulous as food styling reference for different dish types.

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If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Oh blimey I think I would feel too flustered and show off the fine eateries of Walthamstow Village to you instead!

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

I always take my Heston vegetable knife and OXO potato peeler on holiday. We go self catering a lot and there’s nothing worse than an ineffective knife or peeler.

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

I don’t really have any white elephants as I’m meticulous about decluttering stuff I don’t use but the Morphy Intellisteamer was something I couldn’t justify countertop space for.

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What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

A plate being cleared before you’ve finished chewing the last mouthful. That makes me really mad!

If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?

I am dying to try the new branch of Eat17 in Hackney. It’s a brasserie style restaurant above a Spar convenience store. The original one is near my home in Walthamstow and the Spar won a national convenience store award. It’s like having a mini Selfridge’s food hall on the doorstep. The owners are very finger on the pulse with new trends and small producers so anything new and interesting tends to show up in there. Next door in the Eat17 restaurant, their burgers in brioche buns (and yes with Eat17 bacon jam) are the best I’ve ever had. GBK and Byron just don’t cut it for me now I’ve been spoiled.

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If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

Let’s hop over to Bruges and tour chocolate shops followed by glasses of red cherry Kriek beer. And I could show you my favourite ever homewares shop – it’s a Dutch/Belgian chain called Dille & Kamille and is fabulous for food styling props!

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I have varied the mix of content over time… it started as mostly baking and then become more a journal of places we’d been as a family or blog events I’d attended. I attend far fewer events now as my motivation had mainly been to make friends with other bloggers and now we don’t need an event to get together! I used to worry it was all too random but so long as I put my personality into everything I don’t think it matters if you deviate onto other subjects.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Not having enough hours in the day. There are so many ideas I’d love to get off the ground but never enough time to do them especially with family commitments. There’s only so much blog related work they’ll let me get away with in evenings and at weekends.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

I hate to say it but money. Not everything I blog is done to earn money through brands but enough of it to justify me being self employed publishing brand content or blogging for commercial sites. The perks that come with working with brands keep things interesting although one does quickly tire of yet another free apron / hessian bag / kitchen timer. I prefer it when brands provide a good spread of their products in an adequate quantity to experiment properly – rather than “goodies” that are invariably branded cheap spoons/pens/mugs. And if they want you to meet their latest brand campaign deadline or provide them with content for their own websites and social media they should pay you too.

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

I am in love with fregola since having some served at Britmums in a macaroni cheese style sauce topped with shin of beef in gravy. It was the best meal I ate out of a cardboard box with disposable cutlery ever. After struggling to track fregola down, my trusty Walthamstow Spar started to stock it but unfortunately my husband has a horror of small round things and refuses to eat it.

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Bizarrely enough it’s a terrible photo of a chocolate smoothie that I tagged The Shrink Mummy Shake. It regularly goes crazy on Pinterest.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

This is very old post about a ramshackle market in Montenegro where my in-laws have a holiday home followed by recipe for an Eastern European pepper sauce called ajvar. I always wish I published more travel posts, certainly I have a massive backlog of unblogged pictures taken abroad. There’s so much well researched travel content out there I worry that my holiday snaps would be too facile in comparison!

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You might think it a little strange for me to interview my own husband, since I might reasonably be expected to know most, if not all, of his answers! But of course, Monday Meet The Blogger is about sharing the blogs I love with a wider audience. So please read on to find out more about Pete Drinks, a blog where Pete talks about beer, whisky and coffee.

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Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

Not really; I started out writing guest spots on Kavey Eats and it just seemed the obvious name!

Why did you choose to blog about drink?

Honestly? It all came about because after a spate of food arriving at the house for Kavey to review; I (jokingly) asked Kavey why she never got offered beer. I was slightly horrified to learn that she had turned down such offers because she didn’t write about beer. She said she’d accept the next offer if I would write the review, and in the meantime invited me to guest post about beers I already had in the house. That sounds bad, because it makes it seem like I was only in it for free beer but actually I very quickly realised I just liked writing about beer and I didn’t care whether it was free or not.

The trouble with only making guest posts on someone else’s blog is that I soon found myself asking for yet another slot and being told that I’d have to wait a month. By that stage, I’d accepted that it wasn’t going to be a short-lived hobby so it seemed time to cut myself adrift and set up my very own blog.

Of course, the downside to that is that I don’t get to enjoy all the lovely traffic that came with being on a popular blog like Kavey Eats! [I didn’t pay him to say that! KF]

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Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?

I don’t think the challenges are particularly specific to drink – they’re the same whenever you’re reviewing anything. You have to try and form an impartial opinion on something (the easy bit) and then put into words why you’ve reached that conclusion (the hard bit).

The other challenge is vocabulary; describing a beer (or anything else for that matter) is hard if you’re not in the habit of doing so – those first few cringe-worthy posts are filled with useful descriptions like “malty” and “bitter” which is a bit like describing the Antarctic as “a bit cold”; technically correct, but not exactly informative.

One of the joys of blogging is that it forces you to think far more deeply about what you’re tasting, and search for different ways to describe those tastes. I used to laugh at some of the Jilly Goolden-like excesses of tasting notes, but the more I try and understand flavour, the more I understand where she’s coming from.

The downside, of course, is that there’s always a small voice telling me that what I’m writing is unbearably pretentious twaddle when I begin waxing lyrical!

You mainly focus on coffee, whisky and beer. Why?

When I started, I was dedicated to beer, because that was what I knew most about (although not, to be honest, a great deal back then) and beer blogging appeared to be “a thing”.

It was over a year before I branched out into whisky, and that was largely caused by the large Drinks by the Dram parcel I got for my birthday. In many ways, that felt like going back to my initial days of talking about beer, because there was an entirely different palette of flavours to recognise.

Coffee came another year later; I’d tended to be a Nescafe Instant drinker to be honest, until I ended up working in an office where we had a coffee club – any time we bought a coffee we’d not tried before, Phil would demand our marks out of ten and we slowly built up a revealing list of our favourites. They knew I was a drinks blogger, so when they suggested I should add coffee to my repertoire, I took the plunge.

When you are pulling together a new review post, what are the similarities and differences when talking about coffee, whisky and beer?

The vocabularies and flavour palettes are different, but the basic questions you’re asking are the same: how does it smell? how does it taste? do I like it? and above all, why (or why not)?!

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Many of your posts are about your home-brewing experiences. What are your top homebrew tips to share with a) a complete novice b) a kit brewer thinking of branching out?

a) Just go for it. It’s dead easy, it’s cheap to start out and beer comes out the other end. Buy a kit, and get stuck in. Ignore anything you read about water treatment.

I would suggest you resist diving into homebrew forums at all to start with; they are fantastic resources of information and opinion, but they’re also full of people who will insist that if you don’t do everything exactly the way they do, that your beer will be ruined, destined to go down the drain. It will scare you out of doing anything.

Above all, keep in mind that people were brewing beer in mud huts five thousand years ago, and they didn’t have digital thermometers back then. Sure, if you’re a commercial brewer trying to reproduce the same beer day after day you need to be precise, but for the novice home-brewer, you can get away with a lot of errors (trust me!)

b) Stop using kits! “Brewing” with cans of extract is a little bit like baking cakes with packet mixes – sure, it produces something roughly beer-like (or cake-like) at the end of it, but you’ve only been half-involved. This ties a little into the first part of this question, because I’d say that if possible, complete novices should jump straight into ‘real’ brewing from the beginning.

Brewing from grain gives you so much more flexibility, and really doesn’t make things all that more complicated. If you can make a cup of tea, you can make all-grain beer. And it’ll taste better.

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What’s been the homebrew you’ve been most pleased with, and why?

That’s a little like asking a parent to pick their favourite child!

My Coffee Porter is an obvious one, because I got to brew it in a real brewery, sell it in a real pub and see real people paying actual money to drink it.

Have you had any homebrew disasters? What happened?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes – getting mash temperatures wildly out, managing to start a brew day without checking that I actually had all the ingredients and having to re-write the recipe on the fly – but things invariably work out ok. Beer really wants to be made.

Perhaps the closest to ‘disaster’ was the time I realised (at the end of the boil) that I’d forgotten to fit the hop filter inside the boiler. The hop filter is essentially a strainer that keeps the hops back in the boiler, and stops them from clogging up the tap when you’re trying to get all your lovely beer out.

After realising that just trying to carry on wasn’t going to work (the tap was so plugged up by hops that nothing was coming out) I eventually had to plunge my (thoroughly washed!) arm into still-rather-hot wort and fit the damn filter with the boiler still full.

Again, the beer came out fine at the end of it all.

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For those who don’t have an understanding of the brewing process, can you give us a brief explanation of the process; a short dummies guide?

Beer only (normally) has four ingredients; malted grain, hops, water and yeast. It also has four basic steps:

  1. Soak the malted grain in hot water (65degrees, give or take) for an hour. This extracts the sugar from the malt, and gives you a sweet liquid (called wort).
  2. Boil the wort for an hour (after straining out the malt grain), adding hops along the way. Hops added at the start of the boil mainly contribute bitterness to the beer, while hops added later in the process (especially in the last 15 minutes) are more about flavour and aroma.
  3. Once the wort has cooled down (and you’ve strained out the hops), add the yeast. This is the bit that turns all those sugars into alcohol.
  4. Drink!

If you can make a cup of tea and boil and egg, you’ve already mastered the fundamental techniques.

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As you also feature in many of the cooking posts on Kavey Eats, we must surely squeeze in some cooking questions…

What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

Growing up, my cooking was limited to making cakes with my mum. It’s fair to say that we weren’t an adventurous family, food-wise so those cakes were limited to what was in Mrs. Beeton – Victoria sponges and butterfly cakes.

I’m not sure I could claim to be “inspired” to cook; at University it was more of a necessity than a passion, but over time being married to a foodie changes your perspective!

What recipe are you fondest / proudest of?

I’m not sure I’d describe myself as *proud* of any of my recipes; I mean I can produce tasty enough food, but I don’t see myself signing up to MasterChef any time soon.

The recipe that’s been most widely (and positively!) enjoyed is probably my Chocolate Porter Cake. I somehow agreed to take part in a Great Chocolate Cake-Off at Chocolate Unwrapped, and ended up creating a Devil’s Food Cake-based affair, liberally laced with Fuller’s excellent London Porter, in the sponge and the filling. And the cream on top.

It’s not the prettiest cake in the world – I still have the same design skills as I had when I was 8 years old – but it’s damn tasty.

I also had fun making up a paprika ginger beer recipe for a mixer challenge!

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Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?

Short answer, no. The slightly longer answer is, I’ll usually seek out something different to the beer I’ve just finished!

Which single beer could you not live without?

Honestly, I’m not sure there is one. There are about a million different beers out there, and while I’d be sad if, say, Bristol Beer Factory’s Southville Hop was suddenly discontinued, I’m sure I’d find something to take its place in my affections!

Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?

I don’t get Pilsners. It’s not that I don’t like them; I just don’t see why they seem to be so revered among beer “experts”.

What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?

Cans seem to be very trendy right now; as with so many things, British breweries are starting to import the US concept of putting their beer into cans rather than bottles. Of course, beer in cans is hardly revolutionary – Special Brew has been in cans for decades – it’s something new for “premium” beers.

In theory, it’s a superior package – light-proof, more robust and far lighter than glass bottles. In practice… I’m unconvinced. I generally find them over-carbonated and while I’ll happily drink from a bottle sometimes, I just don’t enjoy drinking beer straight from the can.

I probably need to do more research.

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What are your top three criteria for a great pub? Do you have a favourite pub? Why?

  1. Decent beer – by which I mean, (a) well kept, (b) not too damn cold, and (c) a decent – and changing – selection.
  2. Peace – going to the pub is a social experience; I want to be able to hear the people I’m with, not loud music or a blaring TV
  3. Food – having decent food means there’s a better chance of me being able to persuade my food-loving, beer-hating beloved to go to the pub with me!

Happily, our local – The Bohemia – ticks all those boxes quite nicely, and happens to be a brewery too!

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What are the biggest turn offs for you, in the pubs you don’t like?

TV. I HATE pub TV. I loathe it. There are few things more likely to stop me from even going into a pub. I’d rather – MUCH rather – be in a smoke-filled pub than a Sky Sports-filled one.

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How did you get into whisky?

Unlike beer, I haven’t always loved whisky. I put this down to my initial taste, in my teens, when I somehow acquired a small bottle of Teachers and decided that whisky was icky. To be fair to Teachers, I don’t think my teenage palate would have fallen in love with the finest single malt but the experience formed a firm belief that whisky was some sort of grain-flavoured sink cleaner.

Fast forward many years to the time we went up to Aberdeen to visit one of my wife’s friends. I’m sure we chatted and had a very pleasant time on the way in from the airport, but in my memory I’m convinced the first words this formidable Scots lady said to me were: “So, I hear you don’t like whisky, Pete. We’ll see about that!” – whereupon she opened a huge cupboard filled with an alarming number of bottles. A few were selected and pulled out onto the table; she is (and therefore, I am) a big Islay fan and decided that Lagavulin was an excellent distillery with which to start my education.

The rest of that evening is something of a haze. I do remember calling a halt to proceedings, having not yet even ventured past Islay, on the basis that I could no longer feel my face. Despite this, I was converted and have been on a voyage of discovery on the sea of whisky ever since.

What is your favourite style of whisky?

With that kind of start, I’ve always had a love of the big, powerful, smoky whiskies of Islay, and many of the other Scottish Island whiskies are the same.

That said, I’m developing an appreciation of bourbon too.

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You’ve visited Japan twice in the last two years and enjoyed trying Japanese whisky. How does Japanese whisky compare to Scotch and what might be a good bottle to buy for someone who’s not tried any before?

It’s probably closer to Scotch than whisky from other countries, although they’re not generally big on peat. The biggest difference is that they tend to benefit a lot more from a drop of water being added to them – I suspect that’s largely because the Japanese largely drink whisky with water, rather than straight up as we do.

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You’re a keen coffee drinker but have steered clear of the more pretentious side of coffeephilia. Tell us your thoughts on enjoying coffee as a regular coffee drinker.

There’s a lot of snobbery around coffee; as with everything I think it’s best to ignore what “the right way” is. For example, when I taste and review coffee I make it the same way as I drink it – in a big mug, with milk.

Now a coffeephile will tell you that a straight espresso is “the right way” to taste coffee and in a sense they’re right – diluting it with water and milk alters the flavour, but I don’t drink it that way normally. What’s the point in reviewing coffee in a form I never normally drink it?

What’s your top tip for an affordable tasty coffee to drink at home?

Buy an Aeropress; it’s the neatest, simplest device for brewing ground coffee. Then start working your way through the coffee in your local supermarket – there’s a huge range and something for everybody’s taste, and none of it very expensive.

For my money, you can’t go wrong with Taylor’s, and it’s often on special offer. Their After Dark remains one of my “go-to” coffees.

What are your thoughts on the increasing popularity of pod coffee machines?

Bemusement. Why buy a machine that restricts you to only drinking a limited range of (very expensively packaged) coffees? I genuinely do not get the point of them.

That said, I’ve never actually lived with one so maybe I’m missing something AMAZING about them.

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Since I’m a travel addict, you get dragged around the world regularly…

What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a drinker’s perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

Whenever I travel I’ve always got my eye open for the local beer; I don’t see the point of going to another country and heading for the nearest Englishe Pubbe for an overpriced half-litre of John Smiths.

Amsterdam was an impressive beer experience (largely thanks to some excellent pre-trip research not done by me!), although it’s hardly an exotic destination!

What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

Hayling Island, as a child. I don’t remember there being much beer, but I do remember an arcade machine that you could win bubble gum out of.

Where are you going next?

Washington DC. I’ve heard Americans can make quite good beer these days…

What three things can you never travel without? 

Camera, Kindle and Kavey :)

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I write more better.

Ahem. I write longer and more conversationally (sometimes to the frustration of my editor). I’ve become way better at self-editing. I’m even getting over my (incorrect) use of the possessive apostrophe in “it’s”.

Mostly, though, I just suck less than I used to. Writing, like everything else, is something you just have to do a lot – badly – before you learn how to do it properly.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Getting around to it. Once I actually sit down and start typing it’s pretty painless, but I’m very bad at the starting part.

What inspires you to keep blogging?

I just enjoy writing, and blogging about drink gives me the focus to actually put some words down, and the freedom to keep it pretty short.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates you from traditional journalists?

A lack of professionalism. And I mean that in a good way.

Journalists are, ultimately, bound by the person paying the bills – the publisher, the client, or whoever. Bloggers aren’t (or rather, shouldn’t be) so we can follow our hearts more easily.

The line is blurred because there’s such a wide spectrum of bloggers, from those who are just in it for fun – like me – to those who are looking for the book deal, the sponsorship deal, or the “real” journalism job.

The kind of blogging I do isn’t, in my mind, journalism. It’s standing on a box at Speaker’s Corner. I’m just talking about stuff I want to talk about – if someone stops and listens, that’s great but at the end of the day I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it for me.

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You grow fruit, vegetables, wheat and hops in your garden and allotment…

What do you love about doing that?

I like seeing stuff grow. I like how the garden and the allotment changes every day, even if it is just weeds half the time. I enjoy the tidiness of a freshly weeded bed (although that rarely happens!) and the peace of being out in the fresh air watching the robins watch me dig up worms for them.

Obviously it’s great to get real edible stuff out at the other end, but it’s the journey more than the destination that matters. If I was only in it for the crop, it would be cheaper and easier to go to Aldi.

What’s the hardest aspect?

Getting around to it. Once I’m there I’m happy to do the work, but I’m rubbish at taking that first step (I’m starting to see a pattern in these answers….)

What’s new on your list to grow next year?

Barley. I already grow hops, so the next logical step is to grow some barley, figure out how the hell to malt it, and make beer genuinely from scratch.

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What are you absolutely loving cooking/ eating/ drinking right now?

I recently found a case of my homebrew Coffee Stout lurking forgotten at the back of the cupboard. That was a very happy discovery!

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

By a considerable margin, my Alcoholic Ginger Beer tasting. I should probably do more things like that!

 

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Blog URL: petedrinks.com/
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Twitter handle: twitter.com/petedrinks/

 

Nazima and Pierre Corne are the couple behind Franglais Kitchen, a recipe blog full of tasty home cooking. They also run a supperclub in Cambridge and provide food consultancy to producers and restaurateurs. Nazima talks to us about their experiences.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Franglais Kitchen is largely a recipe blog, with occasional equipment and restaurant review. Pierre is an ex chef and I am a clinical academic. We both work full time and have 2 young children. We feature 3 main types of recipe on the blog: Everyday family food (with a global influence, a bit like our family itself), healthy food (with an interest in raw, vegan and unprocessed food) and food for entertaining. We run a supperclub in Cambridge, which has been great for our culinary creativity and research. We share some of the recipes on the blog.

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What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

Healthy food and experimenting with raw food. It hasn’t changed what we eat every day but it is an area that is interesting. We have found a lot of really good blogs with creative ways of making such food seem very pretty/indulgent/filling.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Nutella (Pierre), Tea (Nazima).

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

We have had some fun playing with the sous vide and working through a lot of recipes in Thomas Keller’s cookbook ‘Under Pressure’. We also use Larousse Gastronomique a lot as a reference and guide.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

We think a long slowcooked super tender lamb shank – we do ours in the sous vide for 2 days – with potato millefeuille and herb olive sauce.

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What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

I got given a Japanese Tamahagane knife from my lovely work colleagues when I left my last job in London. It has retained it’s incredible cutting power and I use it constantly.

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

We have a juicer (I insisted putting it on our wedding list) that has not actually made it out of the box in our 7 years of marriage…

Braised aubergine

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Fitting it in around work and family, trying to engage with other food bloggers and writers.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

We love the creativity of preparing and presenting food and we enjoy the community of food bloggers we have become part of over the last few years.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Sourdough naan bread – I guess there are not many recipes out there and we kind of got a lot of interest on pinterest which has really boosted interest in this recipe.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

This Jasmine Rice Pannacotta is a favourite. We simmered Jasmine rice in milk and then set it into a pannacotta. It was inspired by a Thomas Keller recipe for Jasmine rice sherbet and the flavour is subtle, mildly floral but not quite jasmine, not quite rice.

jasmine rice pannacotta

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Blog URL: http://franglaiskitchen.com
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Franglaiskitchen
Twitter handle: @franglaiscook
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Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/franglaiskitchen

 

Cooksister is one of the longest standing food blogs around and has gone from strength to strength in the last decade. I’ve been reading for several years, so it’s with great pleasure that I interview Jeanne Horak-Druiff for this week’s Monday Meet The Blogger.

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Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hi – I’m Jeanne!  I am a South African who has been living in London for the past 14 years and loving it more with each passing year. My blog started as an outlet for my writing more than anything else, and has morphed into an outlet for my cooking, writing and photography.  Although I started as purely a food blog, I now see myself as 50/50 food and travel.  I try to post a recipe, a restaurant review and a travel piece per week – so expect food, photos and faraway places!

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

A koeksister is a plaited, deep-fried, syrup-soaked pastry that is hugely popular in South Africa.  I figured that I needed to anglicise the spelling a bit to make it non-threatening (!) but I knew that any South African looking down a list of Google search results seeing my blog name would definitely recognise a kindred spirit and click on it.

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who / what inspired you to cook?

The first thing I ever learnt to bake were scones – I was probably not ten years old yet and it became my party trick to back them after school at friends’ houses without a recipe. It was definitely my mom who taught and inspired me to cook – she was always a working mom, so she did not bake her own bread or make preserves.  But she loved to cook and taught me that there is no shame in customising an out-of-the-box or tin ingredient.  She said her greatest achievement as a cook was to cook dinner for the family year in and year out and not bore herself (and them) to death. I now get what she meant ;)

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

A combination of what’s in season, what’s being harvested on our allotment, and what dishes stuck in my mind from our travels.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Hah – there was that time when I we had dinner guests over and had been drinking rather a lot by the time I went to get the Schweinsbraten pork roast out of the oven and prepare the gravy, I clearly should not have been operating heavy machinery.  As I poured the gravy out of the roasting tin into a small saucepan, the heavy roasting tin slipped, tipped over the saucepan and sprayed hot, fatty, meaty liquid all over the countertop, the cupboards, the floor, the skirting boards… you name it. How I missed my feet, I do not know. After hubby mopped up a bit, I made Bisto gravy and served the roast.  Entertaining under the influence: don’t do it, kids!

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Salt, cheese, garlic and olive oil.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I love everything about Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries – from the ethos of using leftovers to make stuff to eating seasonally, to the simple but beautiful photography.  I also love his recipes. Donna Hay’s books inspire me visually but I have yet to cook from one of them…

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

For the starter I’d keep is simple with these astonishingly good tomato, olive and basil bruschetta;  followed by chicken in a creamy mustard, rosemary and preserved lemon sauce; and to finish, a South African classic:  coconut tart (klappertert).

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What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without? (It doesn’t have to be electrical)

Excellent sharp knives, and my WMF boiled egg shell chopper (a sheer indulgence, I know!)

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

A piping bag and some nozzles.  A baker, I ain’t!

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Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often?

I have a long-standing love affair with French cooking. But I have never yet been known to turn down an Italian meal!

Which single dish could you not live without?

An excellent Caesar salad topped with a grilled salmon fillet. Simple heaven.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

Rude staff, and too much noise (either from music or from fellow-diners)

Do you have a current favourite restaurant (or top 3?)

Club Gascon (their set lunch is outstanding value for money); L’Atelier Joel Robuchon; Vinoteca Farringdon

What’s the strangest / funniest / best / worst (pick one or more) thing that’s happened to you in a restaurant?

I once took some visitors to the capital out to dinner and was obviously keen to make a good impression. We ordered sole and what arrived, at the premium price of sole, was quite obviously cheap plaice. We complained to the waiter who looked like a bunny in the headlights and fetched The Most Supercilious Manager in London.  His opening gambit was: “Is there a problem?  Because the fish you ordered is almost exactly like sole… [pregnant pause]  but it is in fact plaice”. When we objected to being served a substitute without being given the choice of ordering something else, he blamed the fact that sole was not “in season”.  When we then objected to paying the price of sole for cheap plaice, he disagreed that there was a price difference until we Googled both from a fishmonger and showed him the results. He then grudgingly agreed to comp us desserts. It was a total PR/service fail from any angle you care to look at it and I have never been back.

What’s your take on the never-ending “discussion” about taking photographs in restaurants?

This is a non-topic as far as I am concerned, wheeled out by the press periodically when they need a bit of blogger-baiting to increase their engagement. It’s my food; I paid for it and I will photograph it if I like.  I am not using my flash and I am not taking pictures of other people. I am not expecting other people at my table to wait for me to do my thing – I only photograph my own food.  I cannot see how this is any more distressing to fellow-diners than somebody checking their text messages at the table.  And restaurants who panic about it need to remember that free publicity is a rare and beautiful thing.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that appeals to your readers / differentiates you from traditional journalists?

Bloggers are not constrained by available column inches like print journalists are, so I can give a blow-by-blow account of a meal, with accompanying pictures.  I have often said that I am not a restaurant critic – my intention is for you to feel as if you are there with me, experiencing everything I experienced. In my opinion, this gives people a good basis for deciding whether to spend their hard-earned cash on an expensive meal at a restaurant I have visited.  When I am booking restaurants in foreign cities, I often seek out blog reviews rather than critic reviews, because I want this sort of blow by blow account. And I figure if this is what I look for, then there may well be other people looking for the same kind of thing.

If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?

The Swan at the Globe – both for the view and the consistently excellent, unpretentious food

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What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

The seafood trip I took to West Sweden.  I had never thought about Sweden as a food e destination and this trip totally changed my perspective. On the first afternoon we went on a mussel safari, which involved going out into the archipelago in a boat to look at the baby mussels on their ropes, and then mooring up beside a tiny island where we stopped off and hosts Adriaan and Lars made us some of the freshest, most delicious moules mariniere I have ever tasted.  We sat on the rocks eating mussels and sipping wine in the late afternoon sun.  Bliss.

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list? (Make it a top 3 if you prefer)

Canada, Japan, India.

What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

The first overseas trip I took was with my parents when I was 14.  We flew to Nice from Johannesburg and rented a car; and then we drove around France for 3 weeks, Chevy Chase-style.  Nice to Bordeaux; Bordeaux to Brive; Brive to Rennes; Rennes to Mont St Michel; Mont St Michel to Paris; Paris to Chamonix; Chamonix to Monte Carlo; Monte Carlo to Portofino; and then back to Nice.  It gave me a passion for France (and for travel) that I cherish to this day.

Where are you going next?

Jersey, Paris and Australia!

What three things can you never travel without? 

My phone, my camera, my earplugs

What’s the best/ worst travel experience you’ve ever had?

Best travel experiences have been my stay at the utterly breath-taking  One&Only The Palm in Dubai; and my Business Class flights to Singapore. I have not had any utterly appalling travel experiences – other than the odd bit of delayed luggage.

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

Japan!  Because you could show me the ropes!

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

My style of writing has become less like a diary and more like a magazine –I now prefer to write something that might still be relevant in 5 years (e.g. a city guide) rather than breathlessly telling you where I’ve been.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

I never ever have enough time to do all the things I want to do. I always feel there is some aspect of my blog that I am neglecting…

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

It’s the satisfaction of creating something from nothing. A dish, a story and a photo, all combined together. It cheers me up even if I have had the worst of days.  And of course the fab friends and connections that I have made through blogging!

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

Loving the deluge of sweet, home-grown summer tomatoes. There is also much barbecuing going on while the weather holds…

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Sautéed Brussels sprouts. Who knew?

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Oh there are loads.  But I will restrict myself to this one: gem squash with a cheesy, spicy creamed sweetcorn filling.

 

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Blog URL – http://www.cooksister.com
Facebook page –  https://www.facebook.com/Cooksister
Twitter handle – https://twitter.com/cooksisterblog
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Instagram handle – http://instagram.com/cooksister
Google+ profile – https://plus.google.com/+JeanneHorakDruiff

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