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Jenna Todd Jones

Jenna Todd Jones


Neuroscientist, (moderately) crazy cat lady, master baker, homebrewer, and gardener. Blog in tribute to the most excellent Julie & Julia http://www.jenandjulia.tumblr.com

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9 May 2014

Digging for victory

Admittedly there is nothing more in the war-time theme here other than the title - except perhaps for the fact that gardening was something my grandfather did during the war and passed on to my father who passed it onto me. I will be forever grateful of growing up in a home where having flowers to admire was equaled by having vegetables to enjoy all year around. Since moving to Bristol I have tried my hardest to maintain a kitchen garden, and fortunately given the space I have out back I have previously had a glass greenhouse and now several smaller polythene houses and tubs. When I first moved here I was delighted to find that the city was ostensibly a good place to think about growing your own food and buying locally grown and produced food (see image 4). I got on board and have been eating my own vegetables and herbs ever since including potatoes, carrots, mangetout, tomatoes, cucumbers (image 3), spring onions, radish, lettuce, courgette, turnips, as well as basil (green and purple), mint (English [image 1], spear, and chocolate), sage (green and pineapple), oregano (green and variegated), coriander, fennel, dill, Vietnamese coriander, lemon balm, parsley, and rosemary. While shopping at a well-known supermarket I noticed that a polythene wrapped back of herbs was 90p for around 30g. An entire plant was £1.50 – I sprung for the whole plant, with a view to planting it somewhere in our herb patch. However, by this logic my entire garden will be a herb patch by the end of the summer, so how can I prioritise? What herbs are most useful or practical to grow? Although I enjoy gardening I tend to attack the job in much the same way as my cooking, read the instructions, and then just have a go. Either it works, or it doesn't. Admittedly, I won't be running a farm (well) anytime soon, but it tends to work fairly well for me, but herbs? The bane of my life! Some I plant one year and the seeds never emerge from the soil, the next year I plant up the same thing and it grows and spreads ferociously (c.f. this years bountiful coriander, image 2). In the end I've resolved to plant herbs where I can without worrying too much about, while keeping in mind those that are a little more sensitive. If there's any advice I can give (and take myself) moving forward: mint should always have it's own pot (like potatoes it dominates and strangles other plants); and basil emphatically does not grow as well on this continent as it does in the Americas, don't put it outside, definitely don't put it outside before July, in fact probably keep it inside and nurse it like a child. Images: 1 - Preparation for mint julep cocktails, and perhaps more importantly, mint julep cupcakes 2 - Still trialing macarons, these from Stokes Croft with the soft green backdrop of our herb patch behind 3 - Cucumber seedling, grown from seed with a propagation table and hardening off in the greenhouse 4 - Bristol Food Connections talk at the Canteen, Local Food: Pollyanna or panacea?

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3 May 2014

Increasing food efficiency - having your cake and eating the leftovers too

Currently I am practicing macaron recipes in preparation for a friends wedding at the end of May. For a day of celebration that is every bit in their character we are going to be partying in a Yurt somewhere south of the city with no wedding cake, but a tower of biscuits and cookies supplied by the guests! I once made macarons for a friend several years ago with a perfect turn out (if I say so myself) on my very first try. Now, two attempts in, and I've still got cracked domes, hollow shells, and too much buttercream filling (quelle horreur!)... BUT, this makes for an interesting conversation about food efficiency. Macaron shells are essentially meringues that require only egg whites, almonds, and sugar, leaving behind a good deal of unused egg yolk. Stuck with what to do about this I researched the fillings for macarons. A traditional buttercream filling is just that, creamed butter with powdered sugar; however, if I had taken this route I would have been left with a bowl full of egg yolks that I would inevitably put in the fridge and forget about. Instead, I found a recipe for French buttercream filling (apparently a variation on Italian buttercream filling, who knew?) that involves warming egg yolks with sugar over a bowl of simmering water and then whipping with soft butter. The result is a glorious (and, of course, dangerously calorific) bowl of thick, shining buttercream - the perfect filling for macarons. Having said this it transpires that if you use 6 egg whites to create your macarons, 6 egg yolks will make roughly two times as much buttercream as you need to fill them (hence my over-filling issues).On my second attempt this left me with 3 egg yolks doomed to a short life on the top shelf of the fridge before a swift slide into the trashcan afterlife. But all is not lost, since if you happen to be making these close to, or on, the weekend as I do, you can turn those egg yolks into a homemade Hollandaise sauce by similarly whisking over a bowl of hot water until they thicken before taking off the heat and whisking in some melted butter. Pour over poached eggs and bacon for a Benedictine breakfast! And remember to put your egg shells into food waste recycling, whether that's your own or the council collection service (you can request one for free here http://www.bristol.gov.uk/page/bins-recycling-and-street-cleaning/order-new-bins-boxes-and-nets).
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