For the second of my new Monday Meet The Blogger series, I talk to Miss South, one half of the sibling duo behind North South Food.
Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.
I’m Miss South, one half of North/South Food. (Mister North is the other half and he’s my big brother). We set the blog up in 2010 to allow us to talk to each other about our love of food and how it was different in our two parts of the world. He’s in the North (West Yorkshire) and I’m in south London (Brixton) and we thought it would be interesting to see how who two people who grew up together cook in our different worlds now.
Is there a story behind your blog’s name?
We tried to think of all kinds of clever puns and then realised that simple was best. Plus it abbreviates nicely…
What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who / what inspired you to cook?
My parents cooked and my granny was a traditional Irish farmer’s wife who baked brilliantly. I grew up around food and was encouraged to be interested in it, so promptly rebelled and at the age of 19 could barely make toast. I lived on dry cereal and instant noodles. I developed gallbladder issues (genuinely not connected to my terrible diet!) and became very ill. From my sickbed on the sofa, I was forced to watch Ainsley Harriott turning his way through Ready Steady Cook and realised I could either let him annoy me or get up and learn something. So oddly enough, I owe it all to Ainsley Harriott. Not sure many bloggers can say that.
What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?
I’m actually getting MORE obsessed by my slow cooker. I thought I’d have reached peak slow cooker when I finished my book Slow Cooked in March, but no. I’m constantly adapting recipes and trying to create fresh deep flavours in there. I’ve also been combining this with loads of lovely salads in the recent hot weather.
Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!
I will let you into a little secret. I have kitchen disasters quite often. I think the worst recent one was when I misread a slow cooker recipe and added 4 teaspoons of baking powder to a pudding. I ended up with 3 and a half LITRES of rubbery salty steamed pudding that tasted metallic and soggy. I was cooking for someone I’d never met before and while their mouth said ‘it’s not that bad’, their eyes said ‘they asked you to write a cookbook’? I then re-made the recipe and it was fantastic. Unfortunately only I ate it though.
Which food or ingredients could you not live without?
I am an umami obsessive. I can’t do without savoury things like parmesan, anchovies, miso and tomatoes. I also worship at the shrine of butter. Margarine is like a swear word to me. And you will pry my potatoes from my cold dead hands.
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 have always been Team Nigella. I went straight from Ready Steady Cook to her columns in Vogue in the 90s. The first few ‘proper’ recipes I cooked were from those. I bought myself How To Eat and it was my first ever cookbook and still the one I use the most. I had a collection of recipes from early in my cooking career clipped from magazines, family members etc. and it got lost in a house move 10 years ago. I still miss it and now clip obsessively into Evernote instead.
Most of my food influences are women. I don’t know if that’s coincidence. I adore Lindsay Bareham and cooked so much stuff from her Evening Standard columns when I first moved to London in the early 2000s. My family swears by Marcella Hazan. I would trust Claudia Roden with my life. I’m loving Sally Butcher’s books and I’m obsessed by Diana Henry and Bee Wilson’s writing at the moment (books from both are by my bed currently.) I particularly enjoy reading cookbooks at night. Gives me interesting dreams.
If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?
Honestly I have no idea. But I would never have cooked it before. I have a slightly stressful habit of cooking new and complicated dishes for people who come round for dinner, usually something I have no idea how to cook and basically winging it. I’m surprised people come back. If I was sensible, I’d just roast a chicken…
If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?
It would probably have to be in Brixton Village if I were in author/tourist guide mode after writing Recipes from Brixton Village. I particularly like Okan for okonomiyaki or El Rancho De Lalo for hearty Colombian.
However if I was relaxing and money was no object, it would be the Hawksmoor or somewhere serving mountains of seafood.
If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?
In fantasy land I’d either like to go to Japan (and you’d make a great tour guide) or the Deep South. In reality, I suffer from agoraphobia and the thought of travelling really doesn’t do it for me. This is why London suits me so well. One can feel like you’ve gone places without having to travel.
Maybe I’d take you to my home city of Belfast though and feed you an Ulster Fry. You could travel the world off one of those.
Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?
Sometimes I find it hard to believe how much my style has changed since I started blogging. It’s much tighter and more concise. I find it much easier to sit down and write than when I first started. I blog for different publications now and practise makes it much easier. I also started out blogging my attempts to learn to cook and early posts featured me being hesitant, making mistakes and not blogging my own recipes. My confidence and skills in the kitchen has increased so much I find it hard to believe I’m the same person!
What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?
Definitely the photography. I just don’t find it very interesting and I’m also not very good at it. I can spend longer trying to get a decent photo of certain things than cooking them. Mister North however is a supremely talented photographer (he shot the images for Slow Cooked in fact) and if I could, I’d get him to take them all.
What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?
Quite simply I really really enjoy it. I love to write and the blog allows me to do that. I also enjoy the structure it gives my week. Having something to come up gives me focus and interest. I’ve found since going to once a week posting on a Sunday, the routine works well and I don’t have to think about it as mud, it just falls into place.
What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?
As I said earlier, as long as I have my slow cooker, I’m a happy bunny. I’m playing around with cooking offal and off cuts in it especially at the moment. I’m also enjoying baking. It must be the GBBO effect. I’m determined to finally master pastry. I loved writing both Recipes from Brixton Village and Slow Cooked but having done well over 350 recipes between the two books, I am enjoying being able to cook in a leisurely fashion right now!
What’s the single most popular post on your blog?
The two most popular blog posts are the ones where I talked about my experiences of living on benefits and the issues around food poverty from the perspective of someone who understands why it isn’t as simple as buying 10kg bags of rice and lentils. Food for Thought won me a Young British Foodies Award last year and A Letter to Jamie Oliver went properly viral last summer, leading to the blog being featured on the Food Programme on Radio 4.
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 think I’ll let the readers just dip in and out as they fancy it. I’d feel weird picking a post of my own, but Mister North’s experiences of making black pudding with fresh blood is worth a read…
What’s the one question you wish I’d asked you but didn’t?
Not probably a question you’d have asked, but I think it makes sense to explain. We blog under pseudonyms because it was easier to start with and now it’s become my persona so I keep it separate to my day to day ‘me’. That’s why there’s no ‘real name’ or photo.
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Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of the series, here.