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Archive for the tag “Food Festival”

Mouth of the Tweed: inspired by local produce

Today I toddled along to the sixth Annual Mouth of the Tweed event here in Berwick-upon-Tweed. There’s a nice buzz on the quayside as tourists and locals sample food and drink from the dozen or so stalls – all produced within a 16-mile radius of Berwick – with entertainment by young local musicians from the Small Hall Band.



My true aim was to help with the Berwick Slow Food stall – we are promoting two events:

  1. The 10th annual Berwick Food & Beer Festival  During the first weekend of September 2017 Berwick Barracks will be alive with food, music, beer and children’s activities (so if you missed the Mouth of the Tweed, fear not, you’ll be able to catch all today’s stall holders and many more in September!).
  2. This year we’re holding a pre-festival event – an Audience with MasterChef Finalist Lorna Robertson. Lorna’s a local young woman, schooled at Berwick Academy, and her trajectory since reaching the finals of the much-loved BBC show is thrilling and compelling. Lorna will talk about her experience on the show and share some of the highs and lows of that time, as well as the adventures she’s been having since. It’s a ticketed event that includes canapés using local produce, based on Lorna’s recipes. (For more info follow the link to the Food & Beer Festival above).

Of course, I knew I would not leave the Mouth of the Tweed Festival empty handed. Who can resist local honey from Chainbridge Honey Farm? Or super fresh shellfish from Berwick Shellfish? Or a burger from Well Hung and Tender and maybe a pie from Jarvis Pickle, all washed down with a locally roasted coffee from Northern Edge Coffee or (and?) a pint from local brewer Bear Claw? And it would be rude not to finish with an ice cream from Giacopazzi’s.

However, the real treat came in chatting with the chaps from Heatherslaw Mill. You can make porridge and flapjacks with oatflakes – I knew that. But, I wondered, what do you actually do with oatmeal (I know, I’m so ignorant!). Apparently oatmeal is delicious sprinkled over your potatoes before you roast them for an extra crispy coating and also for making oatcakes (doh!). Oatcakes that would no doubt be just yummy with a nice slab of local Doddington cheese.

I was lost. All I could think about was getting home and making my cheesy oatcakes. Yes, I was going to grate my tangy fruity Berwick Edge into my oatcake mix. I did an online search for a recipe and this Mumsnet one seemed suitably simple.

And, hey presto! There’s been a bit of an oatcake renaissance lately, with the nibble-sized ones widely available in supermarkets. The babies above tick all the boxes. AND they’ll be perfect for canapés – I’ll have a word with Lorna Robertson!


The trill of the opera – time to take the plunge

I took a plunger with me the first time I went to the opera in the early 1980s. My brother lived in Peckham, south London – his sink was blocked. I lived and worked near Shepherd’s Bush in west London. Covent Garden was a good halfway house. Our plan was to experience an alien music form (and hand over the plunger). Our chosen opera was in English – we figured that we’d never understand warbly voices and a foreign language. I’m pretty sure the work was called “Samson!” Nowadays I would immediately be wary of a gratuitous exclamation mark: then I was young and innocent in the ways of punctuation hyperbole!

It’s a plunger!!!

In our childhood, my Dear Old Ma had a few Gilbert & Sullivan LPs – Iolanthe and HMS Pinafore spring to mind – I was aware that these romping tunes and catchy songs were not ‘real opera’. Real opera was difficult and hard to listen to. “Samson!” confirmed this. We folded ourselves into the stifling gods of the Coliseum. Below, tiny figures aboard huge turrets – half in black, the other white – skittered about colliding and separating, emoting and trilling. The good/evil metaphor was obvious even to us but we came away bemused and sure that this was not an art form to pursue. My brother, however, did unblock his sink.

We’ve all heard of operas such as Carmen. Here’s the reason: they’re the good ones.

Years later I was lucky enough to be reintroduced to opera through the Husband’s work. Many of us have only heard of a handful of operas: Carmen, The Magic Flute, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La Traviata to name a few.  There’s a reason: the operas we’ve heard of are the best ones. If only I’d realised that 20 years earlier! Other winning aspects of opera that passed me by for many years were the spectacular sets, opulent costumes and huge casts. Opera, I now know, is glitz and bling – the Dubai of theatre, if you will.

“Opera is glitz and bling – the Dubai of theatre, if you will”

Matthew Rooke (Artistic Director of The Maltings, Berwick) has a beguiling vision to take well-known operas and produce vibrant new productions to fit smaller venues in smaller towns. He tested the water last year with a new orchestration of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury (performed by the ebullient Newcastle-based Rocket Opera at the Guildhall, Berwick). It was fab –and despite what the cognoscenti may say, I think G&S is real opera. The trial led to a mini opera season this year. Would punters miss the pizazz and panache of large scale productions?

Rocket Opera’s rumbustious performance of The Pirates of Penzance had the audience giggling and guffawing. One man in front of me silently sang along to the whole show. The orchestra navigated the pared down score seamlessly under the helmsmanship of Nick Butters.

Not at all. Each of Berwick Festival Opera’s offerings was extraordinary in its own right. This was opera up close and personal – conductors, singers, musicians and audience bound together in the experience. Who’d have imagined orchestrating Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas with four Saxes (the super Sax Ecosse) and an electric bass guitar? Rooke would. Or conjuring the seaside (G&S’s, Pirates of Penzance/Rocket Opera) with Doddington’s ice cream, some deck chair fun, and a sea-shanty riff or two? Watching Opera dei Lumi’s music director Peter Keenan rally some fine young regional musical talent in their electrifying inaugural performance of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte gave me goose bumps of delight – yes, the young male singers flagged slightly towards the end, but their female counterparts managed to buoy them up and sustain the energy and characterisation essential in a show without costumes, lights or sets and with the conductor tucked behind them. Hats off to them. Conductor Peter Selwyn dextrously steered the sublime Hebrides Ensemble and NYOS Camerata through the surges and splurges of Wagner’s Die Walkϋre with singers Gweneth-Ann Jeffers (first seen in Berwick last year in Rooke’s Flyting), Ronald Samm and Stuart Pendred making the most of the acoustically brilliant Guildhall. Pared down operas? Yes. Tailored to fit? Perfectly.

Another plus of local opera for local people is the opportunity to showcase local talent which was abundantly represented during the Berwick Festival Opera. Including well-known local singer Tamsin Davidson as the Sorceress in Dido and Aeneas.

Berwick-based singer, Tamsin Davidson.

Here in Berwick festival season is now in full swing – we’ve just smacked our lips over the final lobsters and locally sourced organic sausages of the family friendly Food Festival (13th & 14th Sept), and it’s eyes-down-look-in for the internationally acclaimed Film Festival (17th-21st Sept) with its blissful mix of free installations around our historic town, well-priced and accessible workshops, and cutting edge films. Plus there’s the all-new Literary Festival (17th-18th October). So, here’s to the delights still to come and, if you’re an opera sceptic, I urge you to take the plunge next year with the Berwick Festival Opera – but perhaps not the plunger.

Conductor Peter Selwyn conducted Jonathan Dove’s arrangement seemingly effortlessly.

(A version of this article was first printed in The Berwick Advertiser on 4th September 2014)

There’s no place like home

Sometimes you have to go away from a place to truly appreciate it. Recently we waved Berwick goodbye and headed to London where we used to live. It was a bit confusing. Were we going home or leaving home?

We started our trip in a whirl: two family weddings and the first hold of our brand new, very first grandchild. So grown up. However, being grown up wasn’t necessarily uppermost in our minds. We’d booked the 11-year-old on a week-long course and gleefully anticipated time spent mooching, eating and drinking.

Ah! The best laid plans. I hadn’t anticipated taking early morning tubes to get to London Daughter’s flat for 8am to wait for the broadband engineer while she went to work. Still, it’s good to be useful and that jaunt was followed by a top-notch afternoon. Once I’d recovered from the fact that in three short years London has become busier, hotter and noisier. Oh, and someone seems to have moved the streets around – can one really forget where things are in such a short space of time? I had a quick sprint through the National Gallery, marvelled at the huge blue cockerel that currently adorns the Fourth Plinth of Trafalgar Square, and met The Husband, released from a business meeting. The two of us skipped like schoolchildren to Terroirs, a French restaurant and wine bar, tucked behind Charing Cross. We’d loved it in 2008 when it first opened.

Katharina Fritch’s ‘Hahn/Cock’, Trafalgar Square

The restaurant blows a seasonal-food and sound-provenance trumpet. We spotted Lindisfarne Oysters on the menu (£14 a half dozen – we declined!) and knew the ethos was still in place. And it was with relish that we slurped luscious salty bone marrow straight from what looked like excavated relics. Cervelle de Canut, a sweet-and-sour creamy cheese spread, went the same way…Truly, I am ashamed to admit the many dishes we ate – earthy globe artichoke, unbelievably fruity-salty anchovies, silky pork rillons and a carafe of crisp cool rosé all featured.

We were happy bunnies as we toddled off to breathe garlic on the 11-year-old. And, who’d have thought? In the throng of waiting parents were some Berwick Friends. Their daughter was enrolled on the same course as ours, and their plans were not dissimilar to our own. They’d tried out the cable cars across the Thames, and done some relic hunting of their own (in their case more genealogy than gastronomy). It would have been rude not to unite in an evening of indulgence. Happy hour and cocktails at Smiths of Smithfields lured us. The beef, hung into melting submission, was a bonus.

Returning to London, as tourists rather than residents, was a buzz and we left for Berwick not rested but certainly replete.

And even more fired up about the delicious produce on our own doorstep. Let’s face it, for all London’s finery and top prices, it just can’t match Northumberland for field-to-plate freshness (or value). So here’s a cheer for local top-quality produce provided by the likes of Lindisfarne Oysters, Berwick Shellfish Company, Julian’s Veg, Peelham Farm (organic meat), Purely Pork, Doddington Dairy (ice cream and cheese), The Great Northumberland Bread Company, Chainbridge Honey Farm and many more besides.

You will have the chance to chat with many such producers and to purchase their wares this very weekend (7th & 8th September) at the sixth Berwick Food & Beer Festival at The Barracks on The Parade, Berwick. This lip-smacking festival is a brilliant family event – complete with small farm (alpacas and goats), demonstration kitchen – talks and demos galore featuring great local restaurants: Collingwood Arms, Cornhill and Queen’s Head, Berwick; boning and dressing a salmon; and much more. There’s live music, real ale (some locally brewed) – and a great atmosphere.

So, yes, it’s nice to get away. But there’s no place like home.

Who needs a pair of boots like this. Turns out I do - but only at half price!

There really is no place like home – even if it’s pink boots rather than red shoes that take you there.

(A version of this article appeared in the Berwick Advertiser September 2013)

Home: a place of dust and delights

Delightful Dorset. But…

It’s nice to have a break if only to enjoy that coming-home sensation: the one where your heart beats a wee bit faster and your shoulders relax as familiar scenery unfolds past the train or car window.

Since we moved up North from London we have often felt as if we are permanently on holiday. However, now we’ve been in Berwick for two years, the perspective is changing. When we come home, we also experience that familiar stomach tightening which indicates that you’re about to re-engage with all the commitments that have not evaporated during your carefree absence.

For us, the most immediate reminder that time doesn’t stop while you’re away is our on-going building work which is, well, on-going. Returning from the beaches of Dorset to wade through a house of dust and discover you have no kitchen (including no cooker or fridge) is an immediate reminder that home is not quite how you’d like it – yet!

Likewise, turn your back for a month, and it’s amazing how much happens in Berwick. Portas bids are won, parades pass by, civil disobedience takes place (here’s to all who marched to keep the Maternity Unit open!), tourists come and go, shops and cafés close and open – so many people working so hard to hang on to what we’ve got and to improve it all too. Good on yer, chaps!

Holidays also mean that the catalogue of upcoming events underscored in your diary for action has rushed ever closer without you actually doing any of the things you’re supposed to do. And, like the dust in our house, they will not be swept under the carpet.

There’s the Berwick Food & Beer Festival – this weekend – which is a source of excitement and anxiety for my family. We’re no longer litter pickers as we were that first weekend we arrived in Berwick. We’re involved in organising elements of it: The Husband a film tie-in – hope you caught Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia at The Maltings last night; and don’t miss Eat Drink Man Woman on Wednesday 12th September. As for me, the demonstration kitchen kept me entertained and out of trouble last year and looks set to do the same this. It’s so brilliant to welcome highly talented local chefs and producers cooking locally sourced produce –  the Wheatsheaf at Swinton, the Barn at Beal, the Fenton Centre, plus Denise from Peelham & Jimmy from Windgate farms will all feature. And, helping run the kitchen two brilliant foodies: local photographer Maggie Jary, and Lea Harris, the first person living in Scotland to appear on TV’s Great British Bake Off.

There’s no place like home…

I’ve also been fortunate enough to get involved with another great local community resource: Generate Radio, set up by two incredibly dynamic and creative young men, Kyle Alexander and Oscar MacAndrew. It broadcasts out of Duns to Berwickshire, Berwick, and the world via the internet, but hopefully will get an FM licence soon. The lads are gathering and training a group of volunteers who broadcast an eclectic and dynamic live schedule of music, news and chat shows from breakfast through the night. My show, Border Lines, goes out from noon ‘til 1pm on a Tuesday – it’s a mix of interviews, local news and general blether, plus a rifle through music drawers past, present, left-field and mainstream. It’s a brilliant opportunity to explore many things going on locally – from news and events, to people’s experiences and stories, and much more. I love it and am really grateful for the opportunity to try my hand at something new – but, my goodness, it takes time to prepare!

So, as the holiday wetsuits drip dry in the bright closet of irresponsibility, it is time to re-open the dusty (literally!) wardrobe of homely garments and deal with the day-to-day burden of real life. Pretty damn exciting, actually.

A version of this article appeared in the Berwick Advertiser on 6th September 2012

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