There’s something in the air in Berwickland. It’s been hot for weeks. Our weekends have tumbled into our weekdays as muggy days roll into languid dreamy evenings. We’ve overdone it – working, gardening and, yes, eating and drinking.
So, Yotam Ottolenghi’s watermelon with pomegranate and mint sugar may sound cooling and seasonally appropriate, but it is the simple healing balm of Meera Sodha’s vegan tomato and turmeric kitchari that calls ‘eat me’ to us in Guardian Feast Issue No.183.
Kitchari is the perfect food for a Sunday soul slightly troubled by the memory of overindulgence the night before. And the fuel for a body wearied by hours of penitential garden strimming. Everything Meera says about this blend of rice, lentils, tomatoes, turmeric and cinnamon is spot on: cooking times, yoghurt and lime pickle accompaniments, suitable for all tastebuds.
Life feels pretty unpredictable right now and it’s kind of nice to have a steady week-by-week mission to work on. Having said that, I am having a moment of ‘why am I even doing this?‘ with my project to cook at least one recipe each week from Guardian Feast magazine.
I guess the answer is, that as well as keeping me writing regularly, it keeps me cooking way outside my knowledge zone and, hopefully, entertains a few people along the way. I’d also like to think that some readers are encouraged to ‘give it a go’ when they spot a fabulous mouthwatering pic which turns out to be the sidekick to a seemingly insurmountable recipe. Also, to take power in substitution of niche, unobtainable or simply not-in-stock ingredients. This week, for example, I used – shock, horror – tinned peaches instead of fresh for Liam Charles’ roast peach bao buns from Issue No.181 of Guardian Feast.
Read on, because this truly is an example of a recipe that is a bit time-consuming but not that difficult. And it SO pays back the energy investment in novelty value and taste sensations.
This is the first week of Feast I’ve tackled that is sponsored – sorry, supported by – Ocado. I see this is a good partnership for both but, frankly, when you live in North Northumberland… Ocado don’t deliver to Berwick-upon-Tweed and our nearest Waitrose is 59 miles away in Edinburgh’s Morningside. So, good on you Guardian and Ocado but your little QR ingredient buy codes mean nothing to me.
The great thing about Liam’s recipe for roast peach bao buns is that you simply follow it step-by-step. I have learnt, now I’m half way through this marathon year of cooking, to get all my ingredients ready from the get-go. It makes life so much easier. For this recipe, I also had to make my own pistachio paste – not available in the shop I tried and no time to go elsewhere to search. This is not difficult. Simply whizz the nuts in a blender as you do for nut butter. I did try to husk the pistachios (soak in boiling water for 1-2mins and rub gently in kitchen roll) to achieve a super green paste but wasn’t totally successful.
I also had to pound my cloves in a pestle and mortar to get ‘ground cloves’ and for ‘ground cardamom’ whizz my cardamoms in my coffee grinder. Ingredients set. Let’s cook!
Making the dough for the buns is easy peasy (I’ve wanted to make bao for a while, so I was super-excited). The radio accompanied my 10-minuted kneading session. As did the smug satisfaction that kneading always adds to my Fitbit footstep total. Over 94,000 steps in total this week (Mon-Fri). Thanks for asking.
The dough proved for an hour and, in that time window, I achieved the roast peaches and the custard (I’d had my doubts I’d make it). I’m sure fresh peaches would have given a fruitier tickle but tinned was what I had. I thought about reducing the roasting and syrup-reduction times but my peaches held their shape throughout the full cooking timings. I didn’t have lemon thyme so just used lovely fresh thyme from the garden.
The custard (my most angst-inducing element of the recipe) was also a doddle. I cut back on the caster sugar (actually I ran out!) using 100g instead of Liam’s 150g. I also had only semi skimmed milk but whisked in a dollop of double cream – that makes full fat, right? I had to battle through the foam I’d created through possible over-whisking to see if the custard was thickening – I enlisted Student Daughter, home from uni, to do a spoon test. In the event, the thin-to-thick turn was sudden. Into a sieve it went and out it squished. I’d just laid clingfilm over it when I remembered why the butter was winking at me. You have to stir 60g into the hot sieved custard and that makes all the silky smooth difference.
A couple of year’s back I bought The Husband a steamer from the charity shop. Now was it’s moment to shine!
Just take a moment to enjoy my buns. Look at the perky shape. Look at the rich colour palette. Now imagine the pillowy, chewy bite of the buns spiked with clovey deliciousness. Then let the flavours of honey, thyme, peach, cardamom and vanilla harmonise with the crunchy creamy pistachio. And don’t forget to scoop up that dollop of custard and syrup squelching down your chin.
The Husband has since discovered that Liam’s clove-spiked boa buns work deliciously with pork pie meat (from a homemade pork pie), spring onions, lettuce and hoisin sauce. Deep joy!
For me, this recipe is everything that my challenge is about. Give it a go and let me know what you think and how you get on.
‘Moroccan or Thai,’ asked The Husband as he cooked the prawns to go with my marinating peppers. I was on the phone to London daughter and gave her the choice. Thai it was. Perhaps not the obvious choice with vegan red peppers drenched in soy sauce, cider vinegar, garlic, maple syrup, sesame oil and topped with a cumin seed, pine nut and coriander crunch. The moral of the story: don’t consult someone who’s not there on your menu creation. Or, maybe, just don’t give options.
Fortunately, Yotam Ottolenghi’s sweet ‘n’ sour peppers with pine nut crumble from Guardian Feast Issue No.179 is so easy peasy and so darn delicious, you could serve them with old shoe leather and they’d still dazzle and dance around all your senses. These beauties made right pepper pigs of us!
And so my self-imposed challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), continues to surprise and delight.
I was right out of red romano peppers but Billy at Berwick market’s fruit and veg stall supplied me with some spot-on red peppers ordinaire. As there were just two of us, I halved the quantity of peppers to 500g (wish I hadn’t – so tasty!) but stuck to the same amount of nutty cuminy crumble (Yotam counsels to make double: he’s right, it’s a super crunchy, salty topping – a condiment as well as a crumble).
The only faff is peeling the roasted red peppers – but it’s worth the time. This easy vegan recipe punches above its ingredient and effort-weight in terms of flavour, aroma and prettiness.
It’s probably the same countrywide but I didn’t realise until we moved to Northumberland that many people judge a café purely on its scones. We’ve lived here nearly 11 years and I now know people who won’t enter the doors of certain establishments because of perceived scone quality.
Such people would surely celebrate were Yotam Ottolenghi to set up shop selling pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta on the corner of Marygate in Berwick-upon-Tweed. These gluten-free, veggie beauties are scones, Jim, but not as we know them.
My take on Ottolenghi’s pull-apart scones with za’atar and feta from Guardian Feast: they are scones, Jim, but not as we know them (in a good way)!
I’m six months into my epic challenge to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021 (find out more about that here), and the goodies just keep coming.
Some may take issue with a 16-ingredient scone. They’re wrong. But they’ve probably stopped reading already so they’ll never know. The only ingredient I couldn’t source here in Berwick was ‘powdered pectin’. After much consideration and a bit of Googling, I decided to eschew gelatin and agar agar and up the quantity of ‘finely grated lemon zest’ to a full lemon instead of 1/2 tsp. My square baking tin wasn’t quite the dimensions required by Yotam, but all was well with the end product.
My za’atar was what I’d term cupboard vintage – but it worked a treat.
Only two crisis points for me in the recipe:
Yotam says: ‘Pour in the cream mix, pulse again until the ‘crumbs’ are moist but not quite coming together’ – see picture below. Also, am I the only person who, when a recipe says ‘in a small bowl’, takes it literally and then has to upgrade to a bigger bowl? There was no way I could safely whisk my cream, yoghurt and egg in my chosen bowl.
Not sure what a ‘rough 15cm long rectangle’ looks like. I made a square – see below. The pile of cheese looked impossibly huge heaped on it, but it wrapped up just fine.
As Yotam promised, I ended up with nine scones and had 54g of dough left over rather than the predicted 80g – not bad!
The alchemy of Yotam’s scones is not only in magically making something gluten free feel light and fluffy (I know enough people with celiac disease to understand the sad hefty mouthfeel of many gluten free products), but also in the perfect balance of intense cheesy herbiness and floaty pastry.
I tuned into turmeric five years ago when I had bowel cancer and had chemotherapy. I’d read somewhere that curcumin – one of turmeric’s constituents (the one that gives it its trademark orange colour and stains your fingers) – has antioxidant properties and a whole raft of immuno-positive benefits. I decided to drink a daily mug of ginger, turmeric and lemon – which became known as ‘hot water on my bits’.
Obviously, I have no idea if my hot water and turmeric infusions have boosted my immune system or helped ward off a recurrence of bowel cancer. But I do like to think that turmeric has played its part alongside the gruelling but effective doses of chemo and a healthy, balanced diet.
Turmeric, the curry essential isn’t proven to have health-giving benefits but this little study from the BBC programme Trust Me, I’m a Doctor makes interesting reading. I’m particularly taken with the idea that heating in food with fat may make turmeric’s active ingredients more absorbable. In some chats I’ve seen, people suggest that a grind of black pepper may also help with absorption.
Overall, the suggestion is that turmeric may have a positive impact on depression, asthma, eczema and some cancers (others also suggest it’s useful with arthritis). In our household we’ve become partial to a turmeric latte (fresh turmeric and a piece of cinnamon warmed in milk, with an optional splash of maple syrup and sprinkling of cinnamon to serve).
Research around turmeric and its possible benefits are limited. However, potential health benefits aside, turmeric’s such a brilliant, vibrant, versatile and delicious aromatic – why not add a teaspoonful to your daily diet? And, as it turns out, it’s also a rather a dramatic plant.
My Sri Lankan friend Dewa who I collaborated with on Sri Lankan meal in a book We don’t write recipes down encouraged me to plant my piece of turmeric. Dewa remembers her family using it in cooking and as a face wash – although not the bright orange root, a paler part of the plant – when she was growing up in Sri Lanka. The root I planted (indoors) a year ago was shooting within days of potting up. I transplanted it a few times to ever bigger pots.
After about eight months or so, it grew into the giant on the right. Who knew that turmeric could be such a fine houseplant?
We kept wondering when we should dig it up and see how much (if any) turmeric was lurking beneath. Everything I read online suggested that once the leaves began to wilt, the roots should be ready to harvest.
So, almost exactly a year later, the eldest daughter and I took the plunge.
And what a thrilling harvest it turned out to be! We are now grating and chopping turmeric liberally into our food and drinks. When I don’t have a liberal supply of homegrown turmeric, I get my supply of delicious fresh root from our organic Green Shop here in Berwick.
We’ve already planted another shooting root to do its thing during the course of the forthcoming year – although, hopefully, we won’t have to endure three lockdowns before harvest.
Turmeric bounty: from little shoots many roots will grow
I have loved some things about lockdowns – although like everyone else, I ache when I think about the human cost of the pandemic. I feel a bit lost and a bit demotivated and a bit sad and a bit – but ENOUGH OF THAT. Counting your blessings doesn’t solve all the downsides of anything but – just like a brisk walk – it can offer a moment of escape, uplift and re-grounding in things that matter and offer bite-sized chunks of positivity and/or pride.
I have in a past life liked to think of myself as someone who would rather buy a new shirt than sew on a button
Technology has been a huge blessing during these times of little or no contact with those we love and those we work with. I’ve gone from hating Zoom to embracing its idiosyncrasies and awkwardnesses – from that little moment when people are signing in and haven’t quite got their facial expressions sorted, through the tricky lulls in conversation and the over-speaking, to the bamboozling protocols around backdrops, right on to the frayed leaving the meeting as the ‘byes’ dribble on.
My friend Millie runs Berwick’s food upcycling café Northern Soul Kitchen and asked me way back in April 2020 (before lockdown 3 was even a twinkle in the eye of Mr Johnson and his buddies) if I’d think about making a video using leftover food as part of a food waste promo. ‘Yes, of course,’ I said. Then I realised. My daughters mock the little clips I send them. Time for a bit of YouTube training.
My movie about turning leftover couscous into cheesy veggie cakes was (only in my eyes) a triumph – judge for yourself, it’s on the Berwick Slow Food website. I believe my second movie – re-purposing leftover chip shop chips into a Spanish-esque omelette is even finer. My crowning glory of film creation is about Sri Lankan meal in a book: We don’t write recipes down – another lockdown project raising funds for Sri Lankan charity The Jasmine Foundation. You can see that video here. For me, upskilling and experimenting with apps and media that I probably wouldn’t have attempted pre-lockdown has not just been fun, it’s been a great confidence booster.
Limiting visits to shops and supermarkets and trying to be more sustainable has turned our minds ever more to using every scrap of food (see couscous cakes above!) and making do and mending in ways not thought of or avoided like the, ahem, plague pre-pandemic. I have in a past life liked to think of myself as someone who would rather buy a new shirt than sew on a button.
The most poignant thing I’ve recently tried is darning woollen socks and jumpers. I say poignant because I remember vividly my mum taking her battered blue sewing bag from the dark oak dresser and settling to sew and darn at the kitchen table. She did this on what felt like a daily basis. I also remember despising Mum a little for undertaking something so menial and ‘womanly’. Oh, the ignorance of youth. Sorry Mum.
It’s strange to have waited all these years to darn – especially since every home I’ve ever lived in has been haunted by invisible moths quietly unravelling anything woollen. There’s something deeply therapeutic about restoring gorgeous woollen garments and getting more life and love from them – and thinking of my dear old Ma while I do it.
It feels as if coronavirus has snatched away our ability to plan and to be spontaneous. Focusing on small, accessible, doable things is somehow reassuring. And taking a moment to acknowledge and think about the things we have done during this last year that maybe we wouldn’t have done without lockdown gives some sort of rhythm and reason to these strange months. Yes, how I long for an impromptu cuppa with a friend, to go to my niece’s wedding, to hug loved ones (even strangers!), to go to parties and dance till the sweat runs, to sing loudly in church, to buy a pint in a pub, to visit people who miss me and who I miss… soon, soon, soon.
You’ll be able to enjoy all the joy of Christmas – including singing carols – when the final Berwick Advent Window is opened on Christmas Eve at 6pm at The Parade, Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Northumberland County Council has given the greenlight for a drive-in celebration of Christmas as part of Berwick’s Advent Window Trail. The pre-ticketed free event (order tickets by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org) will take place in the town’s Parade Car Park – between the Parish Church and the Church of Scotland at 6pm on Thursday 24th December.
As well as the opening of the final Advent window, families will be able to join a crib-style service of the Christmas story and carols from the safety and comfort of their cars. The fun service is a joint production from many local churches and will present all the warmth, love and hope of the traditional Christmas story of the birth of Jesus – including angels, shepherds, wise men – streamed on a large screen erected in The Parade car park. And because they’ll be in their own cars, those who attend will be able to do something that churchgoers have missed out on for most of this year: sing together.
Those who cannot attend by car can enjoy the experience of the service and the opening of the final window from their homes (visit the Parish Church website and the Parish Church’s YouTube channel) – and the window will be in situ until the New Year along with the rest of the Advent Window Trail round the town.
If you wish to attend the drive-in event, don’t forget to pre-book your ticket by emailing email@example.com
Further information available from:
Rev’d Tom Sample: 01289 298521 or Rev’d Tracey Usher on: 01289 783083
This year windows around Berwick are lighting up with the timeless themes of Christmas: love, joy, fun, thankfulness and celebration.
Christmas 2020 is set to be different and probably quite challenging for many. The creation of Berwick’s very own real-time Advent calendar in windows around the town offers residents and visitors the opportunity to mark the days to Christmas in an entertaining and safe way.
Twenty-three shops, businesses, private houses – and even the Police Station – will host an Advent window. Each window will be ‘opened’ during December – one a day from Tuesday 1st December through to Wednesday 23rd. And there will be a touch of extra drama on Christmas Eve when the final window is opened.
Schools, churches, businesses, community groups and property owners will all be involved in the decoration and creation of the windows. The themes for the windows are inspired by Christmas songs and carols. Each window will have a visual link to Berwick in the design.
Window dressers have agreed to keep their displays in situ until the New Year – so there will be plenty of time to enjoy the full Advent Trail.
As well as enjoying the fun and spectacle of the windows, children can enter a competition to spot the Berwick link in each window. There’ll be prizes for winners in the age groups 3 to 7 years and 8 to 12 years. You can pick up an entry form from many of the participating retailers around town.
The Maltings’ Christmas Light Show
It’s been a tough year for the arts across the country and Berwick’s own wonderful arts centre The Maltings is no exception. The Maltings is presenting its own Christmas light projection on the Theatre buildings as part of the Advent Trail. The Maltings is also streaming last year’s sell-out Panto ‘Aladdin’ on youtube here and ‘Christmas with the Hobs’ (details here)
The Unveiling of the Advent Windows
Jennie’s Wool Studio, Bridge St.
Foxton’s Wine Bar, Hyde Hill
‘Away in a Manger’
Holy Trinity School
Robertson’s, West St.
‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’
Tweedmouth West School
‘God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen’
Thistle do Nicely, Walkergate
‘Mary’s Boy Child’:
St Mary’s School
Berwick Community Trust, William Elder, Castlegate
‘Good King Wenceslas’
Berwick Visitor Centre, Walkergate
‘We Three Kings’
‘I Saw Three Ships’
‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’
Geek Hut, Guildhall Alley
‘Let it Snow’
Spittal First School
Lime Shoe Company, Marygate
Under the Clock Cafe, Guildhall Alley
‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’
‘Once in Royal David’s City’
Pictorial Photography, Quayside
‘Ding, Dong Merrily on High’
Greaves West & Ayre, Walkergate
Gemini Jewellers, Marygate
‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’
1 Greenside Ave
Police Station, Church St.
Holy Trinity School
Edwin Thompson, Hyde Hill
‘The Holly and the Ivy’
The Camera Club
‘Santa Clause is coming to Town’
Newcastle Building Society, Hyde Hill
‘Little Drummer Boy’
‘We wish you a Merry Christmas!’
Baptist Church, Golden Square.
‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’
Parade Car Park
‘In the Bleak Midwinter’
The organisers and supporters – thank yous!
The small group which has organised the project would like to say a big ‘Thank you!’ to all who have helped and supported this project: to those who have lent their windows; to those who have agreed to help decorate windows; to Stephen Scott and The Chamber of Trade; to all in the Tourist Information Centre; and to those involved in the Welcome Visitor Project. Without all this support the Advent Windows Trail would not have been possible.
I am absolutely delighted to be taking up the job of Community Fundraiser for our local nurse-led hospice care charity in Berwick: HospiceCare North Northumberland. Delighted, excited and a little bit daunted.
Day 2 in the office!
HospiceCare North Northumberland is a truly local charity and provides a superb range of free support and care to adults with life-limiting conditions at any stage of their illness – and to their families and carers too. From hospice at home to end-of-life care and from drop-ins to bereavement counselling, this work is an essential part of caring for the lives of everyone in our community.
HospiceCare has been around for 20 years and is the main palliative care provider in North Northumberland. You don’t need a referral to use the services of the Hospice, you can simply get in touch and speak to one of our nurses (check the link to the website above for contact details). This year we need to generate around £660,000 to bolster the contribution of about £40,000 we receive from the NHS.
I can’t wait to work with volunteers, community groups, individuals and local businesses to raise much needed funds to support the vital and life-enhancing work of this fabulous local charity. You’ll find me in Berwick in the office above HospiceCare’s Wear & Care shop on Violet Terrace. Whether you want to volunteer, make a donation, share a fundraising idea or just want to say ‘hello’, I’d love to meet you.
Since my family is cruising towards the end of our fifth year in Berwick, a little stocktake seems in order. What, I wonder, have I moaned about over the years? And what, if anything, has changed?
I didn’t see a parking problem when we first moved to Berwick. In London parking was way more expensive, exclusive (parking permit holders only) and elusive. Why can’t people walk a little? I asked. Of course, free parking at out-of-town supermarkets and retail parks versus fee-paying parking in Berwick was a challenge. Since then pop-to-the-shops parking has been reinstated in the town centre, and there’s free parking throughout town. Is everyone happy? Certainly not! The bollards on Marygate have yet to be removed, making parking a tad chaotic and, of course, pull-up parking is not very pedestrian friendly. Got the magic parking solution? Wave your wand now.
All parking in Berwick is currently free – but you’ll need to pick up a clock to indicate how long you’ve been in your space. Available at a range of outlets, incuding the Tourist Information Centre on Marygate
Back in 2011 I described the high street as not totally alluring. An Edinburgh family I’d met planned to explore Berwick but, on a dreich day, were so unallured by it that they drove straight on to Holy Island. This lack of pavement pizazz in Berwick was largely due to the one-two of the economic downturn and the trend towards internet shopping – and consolidated by the below-the-belt blow of high retail rents maintained by distant and uninterested investment fund landlords. Castlegate and Marygate – the gateways to the town – sported many flaking-paint and missing-letter shopfronts. Slam-on-the-brakes boutique shops and cafés tended to be tucked away in West Street and Bridge Street. So, what’s changed? As ever, we’ve seen shops come and go. But Castlegate is transformed, with many buildings and shopfronts benefiting from the Berwick Historic Area Improvement Scheme and private investment. Marygate still feels a mite vulnerable, but has reaped some rewards from the Portas monies, such as the craft collective shop Serendipity. Additionally, the tenacity of people such as John Haswell of the Chamber of Trade has ensured that several empty windows now display art and/or heritage information rather than curling carpets and dusty shelving.
The Free Trade public house on Castlegate – benefited from the Berwick Historic Area Improvement Scheme
In 2010 our nine-year-old longed for a playground in which to dangle and climb. I dubbed the facilities at Flagstaff the ‘sad swings’. In the intervening years the four swings there have dwindled to two. I know that these things take time. I also know that some people are working hard to ensure that a new generation has tip-top play facilities. But it has been a long wait and my now nearly 14-year-old has maybe passed that moment.
The sad swings at Flagstaff Park have dwindled to two – although there are great plans afoot for a spanking new playground.
Perhaps regeneration is most evident across some of the once eyesore-sites. Remember City Electrical Factors on Chapel Street? Hello spanking new flats. How about the mouldering loo on Bank Hill? Take a bow The Louvre ice cream parlour. And the ramshackle remains of the Elizabethan pub, North Road? Enter affordable housing. Recall the shards of Lindisfarne Pottery, Governors Garden? A snug residential square is emerging. Yes, St Aidan’s House crumbles on, and the Premier Inn guessing game continues at the old cinema site. And graffiti glitz from Berwick Youth Project and other artists puts a brave face on the former Youngman’s building on Hide Hill, but it still awaits regeneration – as do many other well-known sites.
Kwik Save due for demolition once the seagulls have flown the nest.
The old City Electrical Factors…
…during its transformation.
And the new flats on the site of the old Elizabethan pub on North Road.
Nevertheless, there is movement across the town – not least at the former Kwik Save building. Get those seagull chicks in the air and it can come down. Yes, opinion’s split on plans and usage – what’s new? It’s easy to forget that the peace that descends on Berwick post-October marks famine for many businesses. Investing in a town where all-year-round life and facilities must balance with seasonal footfall and a trembly economy is complex and risky. Even so, there are people and organisations wanting to invest in Berwick. All in all, taking stock suggests there’s plenty of hope for our fabulous feisty town for the forthcoming five years.
A fabulous feisty town.
A version of this article was published in the Berwick Advertiser on 13th August 2015