Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Preview: Cambridge Gin Laboratory

In addition to my husband, children, and a really good steak, there are two other ways into my heart: gin and Labrador Retrievers. You know those Saint Bernard dogs in cartoons that rescue people stranded in mountains with a small barrel of spirits attached to their collars? If someone could send me a Labrador bearing a G&T, that would be awesome.

I was watching "Great British Menu" the other night and Rich Bainbridge (a Norwich-based chef) wanted to make a Victoria sponge cocktail to go with his dessert course. For this, he created a bespoke vanilla gin. The next thing we know, we're in Will and Lucy Lowe's house in Cambridge where they distill their own gin. (Side note: when people ask about the benefits of working from home, this is the sort of thing I have in mind.) Their Cambridge Distillery works with restaurants such as Alimentum and Morston Hall, businesses, and (if you're very lucky) individuals to create tailored gins. On a busy week, Will says, they can produce up to 60 bottles of gin. They are award-winning, world renowned distillers and I had no idea that this was happening a few miles from my house.

Lucy and Will are in the process of opening the Cambridge Gin Laboratory in central Cambridge, offering gin lovers a lesson in gin history, a behind the scenes look at how it is produced, and the opportunity to blend their own gin. There will be various experiences available, which you will be able to view and book on their site.

DSC_0978 DSC_0982

DSC_0971 Will is not only a Master Distiller, he is also studying to become a Master of Wine - a combination that is a rare breed. I asked him how wine tasting compares to gin tasting and he said that it all comes down to detecting flavours. "I even eat foods I don't like just to experience different flavours," he said. I learned more about gin in the few minutes I spoke to Will than I have in the many years I've been drinking it.

One of the gins they produce is a seasonal gin that changes annually depending on what's been growing in their garden or available to forage that particular year. It is, without wanting to sound horribly cliche, Cambridge in bottle. Each vintage's report is a story about what was happening in Cambridge that season. We had the pleasure of tasting three drinks yesterday evening at the Gin Lab: a Cambridge Dry gin and tonic, a Japanese Gin martini, and a summery Basil Smash. You're probably supposed delicately sip and savour it, but I took great mouthfuls and said things like "OHMYGOD THIS IS SO GOOD."


How do Labradors fit into all of this? I have an unapologetic, extremely biased love for Labs and Lucy and Will have a very lovely one called Darcy. She graces the labels and if you visit the distillery, you'll get to meet this gorgeous lady yourself. Darcy is key to Lucy and Will's foraging, as they find botanicals to use in their gin during their walks. Also, it's rather lovely to sip a remarkable gin and tonic while giving her ears a little scratch.

Gin seems to have evolved from your grandmother's tipple to a spirit we are starting to care much more about. My heart sinks a little when I walk into a pub and all they have is Gordon's and tonic out of a nozzle. It's not snobbery, it's the knowledge that there is something so much better out there. To know that there is exceptional gin being produced right here in Cambridge is cause for celebration indeed.


The Cambridge Gin Laboratory aims to open at the end of October. We were invited to visit before the opening, and other than the really amazing G&T, the only compensation I received for my visit was the extreme joy in having gin on a school night. This is not a sponsored post because I don't do that sort of nonsense.

Saturday, 27 June 2015


Mia bambina. You're eight now! You helped bake your own cake and decorated it all yourself. You had your rollerskating birthday party today and supper at Jamie's Italian afterwards. The fact that you picked out your outfit last night and were very specific about how you wanted to wear your beanie hat today tells me that you're growing up fast. Lip gloss and chewing gum were big highlights of your day. 

I love that you are pretty easy going about most things, especially about your friendships. You simply like most people and if you're not that keen on someone you still like them, but you just don't hang out with them all that much. Long may that last. You can be so stubborn and can turn angry at the blink of an eye, but you'll offer to forego something so someone else can have it without hesitation. 

You are strong. You are funny. You are kind. You are clever. You have a giant heart. You make me very, very proud to be your mama. Happy birthday, dear Mimi.

Monday, 15 June 2015

school daze

How I miss the days of nursery. Drop children off whenever, pick them up whenever(ish), no term breaks or summer holidays to fill up, no lunches to pack, no homework, and no letters home asking for random things.

These days, this is what every week is like for me:

  • Child 1: Homework given out Mondays and is due on Fridays. Every Wednesday she needs a change of clothing for outdoor learning.
  • Child 2: Literacy homework given out on Mondays and is due on Wednesdays, maths homework given out on Fridays and is due on Mondays.  Class swimming one term a year on Wednesdays. Costumes required for class assemblies, details of which will not be available until 8:00pm the night before via ParentMail. 
  • Child 3: Literacy and maths homework given out on Mondays or maybe Fridays or possibly Wednesdays depending on the phases of the moon. Child must wear one orange sock, but only on alternate Tuesdays on the third week of each month with the exception of the week before term break. All home project assignments must sit in a tray, completely forgotten until the day before the assignment is due. 
In addition:
  • Monthly requests will be sent to parents for specific and obscure objects that must be purchased if you don't want to look like a bad parent. Objects must be placed in a blue bag and left at the office by 8:59am on the fourth Friday of the month. 
  • All important meetings pertaining to your child and his/her school will only occur during office hours. 
  • Awkward small talk with people you don't really know/like is mandatory during all school runs.
I love my kids' school. I really do. But I am not mentally equipped to deal with all of the information required to have three children in primary school. Thank the gods for phone reminders and kitchen wall calendars, I say.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Penang soup

I have a cold, but just a little cold. Not enough to knock me right out, but enough to be really annoying. I can't cough with much vigour because my abdominal muscles (who knew I even had any?) still hurt from my Wednesday workout. I'm doing tiny little lady coughs that aren't actually accomplishing anything, and I sound like an idiot. It's a good thing that I'm working from home today.

My lovely friend Georgia posted a recipe yesterday for a Thai-inspired soup, and it sounded like the perfect remedy for a cold. One of the benefits of having a terrible short term memory is being pleasantly surprised by things I find in my cupboard that I forgot I bought - like a tub of Penang curry paste. I'd just made some chicken stock to help knock out Jack's cold, the weather turned cold and rainy today, so soup was the sensible lunchtime conclusion. I made this recipe up based on what I'd usually add to my standard Thai curry, with a little nod to laksa.

I only needed to feed me today, so I made the full batch of soup but didn't add the noodles, prawns, or lime juice to the pot. I added these to my bowl and ladled the hot stock on top, and put the rest of the soup in the fridge for another day. The paste I used was pretty hot, so not only are my sinuses clearer, I can see through time. (Thank you for that reference, Lisa Simpson.) If you've got leftover chicken or some other form of animal protein, by all means use that instead of prawns.

This isn't even remotely authentic. It's like a thinned out Thai curry on rice noodles instead of rice. I'm not really selling this, am I? It's good. Trust me.

Where are the prawns?

Oh look, there they are.

Thai Penang Curry Soup
(Serves 4)
50g/3 heaped tablespoons Penang curry paste
1 tbsp oil
400 ml/1 tin coconut milk
1 litre/4 cups of chicken or fish stock (unsalted, because you're adding fish sauce for seasoning)
4 "nests" of rice vermicelli (I used the Mama Noodles brand at 45g for each portion)
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp palm sugar (You can also use dark brown sugar or raw cane sugar)
200g/about 20 king prawns
Juice of 1 lime, or more to taste
Garnishes: bean sprouts, coriander/cilantro, spring onions/green onions, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Fry the curry paste in the oil over medium heat for about 2-3 minutes. Add the coconut milk and stock, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes or so. 

While the soup is simmering, add boiling water to the vermicelli and let stand according to package instructions. Mine only took three minutes, so you can do this near the end. Drain and set aside.

Add the fish sauce and palm sugar to the soup and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the prawns* and noodles, stir and heat the soup through for a minute or two. Squeeze the lime juice on top.

Ladle/pour/slop the soup into bowls and top with your garnishes. Say goodbye to your cold.

*If you're using raw prawns, throw them in at the end for about two minutes, and cook until they're thoroughly pink.

Per serving: 499 calories, 23g fat, 24g protein, 48g carbs.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

sunday best at gog magog farm shop with guerilla kitchen: Eat Cambridge

I had neither the time nor calorie allowance to go to any of the Eat Cambridge events this year with one exception: Sunday Best at Gog Magog Farm Shop. I couldn't pass up the chance to have food cooked by one of my favourite chefs, and Sunday roast is one of the best things I've discovered since moving to England. It's also one of the trickiest meals to do for mass catering. Jay Scrimshaw not only managed to feed us all with a couple of green eggs and his truck, he gave us one of the best Sunday lunches I've ever had.

I first heard about Jay in 2009 when he and his wife Taffeta ran The Pheasant in Keyston, shortly before their appearance on Gordon Ramsay's "F Word" where they came in second place overall. I went with a couple of friends to check it out before it got hugely popular from their TV appearance, and we loved it. The Scrimshaws eventually moved on, focussing on pop-ups. I spoke to Taffeta about it for an article and had the chance to enjoy Jay's food again at two subsequent pop-ups. Jay now brings his food (specifically, his incredible steamed buns) to Cambridge via his food truck Myrtle and did a special one-off roast dinner as part of the Eat Cambridge food festival.

There are so many things I love about a Sunday roast: the gathering of family around the table after a week of speed eating and uncoordinated meal times, crispy roast potatoes, big hunks of meat, the excuse to have wine in the afternoon. Although I do love making a weekly roast for our family, it's very, very nice when someone else does the job for me every now and then.

Sunday Best

Sunday Best
We sat in tables of six (or in our case, four adults, two children, and one 5-year-old diva who demanded a scotch egg) in "The Shack", a covered outdoor area next to the cafe. We started with charred leeks with romesco sauce, a dish we devoured at one of Jay's pop-ups a little while ago. There's no photo because we hoovered it all up in minutes. It came with a massive salad with apple, hazelnut, and blue cheese dressing.

The main course was pure heaven. Meat. Lots and lots and lots of meat. Even better, meat with perfectly cooked side dishes: beetroot, apple, and fennel slaw (no filter needed), roast potato cooked in dripping, crispy asparagus, and Yorkshire puddings.

Sunday BestSunday Best

Sunday Best

But the meat. We need to talk about the meat. LOOK AT THIS MOTHER LOVIN' MEAT.

Sunday Best

Lamb shoulder and pork belly that had a beautifully smoky taste that you can only get with charcoal cooking. I ate way too much meat. I had to go have a little walk outside for a few minutes before I could contemplate dessert.

Sunday Best
The sun came out, the kids ran in the fields, and I finished my glass of Sauvignon Blanc listening to some chilled vintage (i.e. songs by people who were alive when I was a kid) tunes. The stress and chaos of a very hectic week melted away. If there weren't other people around who could see me, I probably would have had a little nap.

By the time the pavolva came out, I was actually ready and able to cram a bit more into my stomach. It was like a giant marshmallow slathered in whipped cream and fresh, flavoursome strawberries I've been waiting for since last summer. We all had a huge slice. Then Isla wanted more. And Grandad wanted more. And Jack wanted more. And Isla started to have a hissy fit so Grandad shared his piece with Isla.

Sunday Best

This was a wonderfully perfect Sunday and as an added bonus, we came home with a bag full of leftovers*. Thanks Jay and the lovely people at Gogs. I will happily let you take the Sunday roast shift for our family again anytime.

Full photo set here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lisadurbin/sets/72157653368766202

*(I may have stolen a bit of pork belly from the bag before putting it in the freezer, and I might be feeling a little bit like Mr. Creosote right now.)

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

banana muffins

I wish I had an interesting story about this recipe, but I don't. Sorry about that. 

I had some very ripe bananas and Jack asked me to make him some muffins to take in his lunchbox. He's not allowed to bring in anything with nuts and I wanted to have some as well, so I went with this nut-free and wheat-free recipe: http://wellnessmama.com/2637/grain-free-banana-bread-muffins/

I didn't add any milk as the batter was runny enough and I used butter instead of coconut oil. And they were really good. The end.
Per muffin: 153 calories, 9g fat, 12g carbs, 6g protein.

Friday, 1 May 2015

frittata 4 dayz

Paul and I can't say the word "fritatta" without sounding like the angry Scottish bloke in this advert:

Which happens quite a lot because I make it often. Also known as a Spanish tortilla (or maybe it's not exactly the same thing; I have no idea), it's like a crustless quiche that you start off on the stove top and finish off in the oven. You can put anything you want in it, but the one I made last week had grilled red peppers, potatoes, onion, cheese, and bacon inside. I cut mine into six pieces, and it was a very handy and delicious breakfast at the office that week. You can eat it hot, cold, or at room temperature. Isn't that lovely? What a great dish you are, fritatta.

Here's how I made mine, but I'm going to tell you again, put what you want inside. Just follow the instructions for cooking and egg quantities, but the rest is up to you. I want you to have a fritatta you can love.


Red Pepper and Potato Fritatta
(Serves 6)

Per serving: 331 calories, 20g fat, 18g carbs, 19g protein.

8 large (US extra large) eggs, at room temperature
100g (about a cup) of grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
300g (about 3) potatoes, sliced thinly
1 onion, sliced thinly
4 streaky bacon rashers/slices of bacon, diced
Roasted red peppers that I got out of a jar, chopped. Don't judge.

Preheat the grill/broiler.

Heat a large, oven-proof frying pan with the olive oil over medium heat. Whisk the eggs and cheese with a bit of salt and pepper and set aside. 

Add the onions and potatoes to the frying pan, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Poke the potatoes with a knife to see if they're tender. If not, slap the lid back on and simmer for another 5 minutes or so. 

Take the lid off, turn the heat back up to medium-high, and add the diced bacon. Fry until crispy. Add the peppers until they're heated through. 

Pour in the egg mixture, stir it around a bit, and let it cook until you see the sides start to set. Put the frying pan under the grill/broiler until the fritatta goes lovely and brown on top (about 5 minutes.) 

Leave to cool for a couple of minutes before slicing into six pieces. Put it somewhere in the fridge where your husband can't see it because he will eat all of it before you get a chance to take it into the office for breakfast.