Hobbling into Spring, a lovely new mural, and Victoria Park

Friday, 23 March, 2018

Somehow I missed the Spring Equinox. So no photos from that day, sadly. This Spring in London reminds me more of a Toronto Spring – warm days  mixed with very cold, even snowy, days. A yoyo time and I’m so so ready for the day I can throw off the winter coat and boots.

My cheeses are worrying me. Yes, Philip and Keith both said leave them alone and they’ll be fine. They are now sitting in my fridge inside a cardboard box, on a trivet, with a cup of water to keep the humidity up. They are all covered in a grey fur (apparently normal) I have mixed up the blue and the white – was so careful to keep the labels close and then in the transfer got not-surprisingly confused. Now no idea which is which. The French cheese wouldn’t come out of the mould but when Philip suggested I turn it upside and let it fall out on its own, it did – almost immediately, ripping the bottom off. Now we just have to wait and see how it ends up!

My cheeses maturing - before the French one ripped
My cheeses maturing – before the French one (bottom left) ripped

On Wednesday I went to Leigh on Sea to see my aunt Ruth.  We ate our usual fish and chips and talked about family. It was a pleasant and mild day – the sun shone and all was right with the world.  I have yet to fix a date to see my other aunt, Kay – who is also my cousin, but that confuses everyone. My mum and dad officially met when mum’s cousin Kay married Dad’s older brother Ed. Couldn’t be easier but everyone looks stunned and mutters things like incest…um, no!

My aunt's suburban street and her usual seat
My aunt’s suburban street and her usual seat

Thursday, it was cooler again and quite grey. I put the finishing touches on another doll and I decided to take the bus to see a new mural that had been commissioned for the centenary of the vote for some UK women. But first, back to Green Papaya where I sat quietly and contemplated my life or my navel or perhaps the dish in front of me. My decision was that I prefer the Toronto version, which has the sauce served separately and uses a different type of pork – even a choice of grilled meats. However, these little breaks in my week are very important to me and it’s the best thing to eat in this neighbourhood!

Grilled belly pork at Green Papaya
Grilled belly pork at Green Papaya

The bus to Old Ford Road goes through Victoria Park, where I played as a child. There are a lot of memories but not many clear facts about this area. I don’t recall exploring as a child but instead treading the same streets many many times on the way to the market, to nursery school, to the sweet shop, going to the park, visiting my Aunt Kay’s dress factory (a treasure trove!) outside playing on the pavement, and walking down towards my maternal grandmother, Charlotte’s (Lottie’s) house (perhaps a mile away).

Today I was headed to see a mural, though. It’s on the Old Ford Road which runs adjacent to the park. A long time ago, as a child, my mother had a friend on this street. She lived in one of the tall houses, perhaps occupying one or two of the floors. She had a daughter my age and that daughter introduced me to the ‘interesting’ game of ‘doctor.’ The details are shameful and I hope no permanent damage was done! Other people’s children seemed far more experienced in such things. Always the ‘good girl,’ I’d follow along and wonder why. I still do.

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Wildes Cheesemaking workshop

Thursday, 15 March, 2018

Today was the day I took my cheesemaking workshop. it seemed so far away when I got it as a gift from Krish over Christmas but suddenly it was time.

Lisa’s husband, Richard, had taken a cheesemaking workshop before and even showed me how he made goat’s cheese one day. So I had a bit of a clue. I knew I would be on my feet, working, in a cold environment so I was somewhat prepared.

Wildes Cheese is a small artisan cheesemaking business in Tottenham, North London – not so many miles from here.  It was founded by two men, who I assumed were a couple – Philip (the kooky, extrovert one) and Keith (the quieter, gentle one). Keith was the original hobby cheesemaker and now they have a small business, operating out of a little space on an industrial estate in what’s basically a residential area.

That morning I travelled by train to White Hart Lane and began my journey to cheese.

Leaving the station at White Hart Lane
Leaving the station at White Hart Lane
This area of Tottenham is stiflingly (for me!) suburban and residential
This area of Tottenham is stiflingly (for me!) suburban and residential

I’d say it was uneventful but first the station had lost power for the Oyster machine so I have to call Transport for London to claim a refund – they charge the maximum when you can’t ‘tap out’ on the Oyster machine. The second thing was taking a wrong turning (or not taking the turning) to go up to the dairy. Smooth journey, not so much.

The industrial estate was just a yard, not the sprawling expanse I expected from my Canadian experience. The space was small. An ante room where we had talks and food, Two larger rooms used for making cheese, and two small rooms that were cold rooms for cheese storage. It amazed me that they were producing such quantities of cheese from there but produce it they do!

Philip is hysterical, ribald, warmer than he likes to pretend (I’m dead inside, he said, more than once.) After tea, biscuits and an overview of the day, we went into the cheesemaking room and were put into pairs. My partner was a quiet man, whose name I didn’t know. We barely spoke a word but it worked out OK. In front of each work station were three basins, a collander, a J-cloth, a wooden spoon, a thermometer and a blue straining cloth. It looked practical and basic!

We separated out the basins and waited for our milk. The milk used here is delivered from the cow to the farmer to Wildes each morning. It’s pasteurised but unhomogenised. We got to taste the milk alongside some supermarket milk and you can bet there’s a difference!

Fresh milk!
Fresh milk! Only hours old

We ended up with three buckets of milk each, placed into its own basin of warm water to raise the temperature.  The first two buckets had ten litres of milk, the third only three or four.

The buckets here have the culture added to the milk and are now resting
The buckets here have the culture added to the milk and are now resting
Xavier, who's from Spain and apprenticing at Wildes
Xavier, who’s from Spain and apprenticing at Wildes

The apprentice, Xavier, was weighing and packing cheese over in the corner. The little jars you see contain the bacterial culture (‘the mother’) that determines the type of cheese that will be produced. The granulated cultures we used were for a hard white cheese, a blue cheese, and a French-type cheese.  These granules were added into the milk and much stirring and checking milk temperature followed – it can’t go below 30C.

In the other room we looked at a soft cheese that was developing for us to use later. And we saw some of the harder cheeses sitting for us to check out. There was also a large heated vat where Philip told me they stored the milk that was delivered. No need for other storage.

Cheeses sitting - not sure at what stage
Cheeses sitting – not sure at what stage
Here you can see the whey separating from the curds of the soft cheese mix
Here you can see the whey separating from the curds of the soft cheese mix

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Let’s talk about food

Saturday, 10 March, 2018

There are two kinds of people – those who eat to live (I was one of these until I was perhaps 19) and those who live to eat (this is me now).

My mother was a good-enough cook. There was nothing fancy in her repertoire. She made an amazing roast beef and yorkshire pudding, although looking back I imagine the beef would be too well-done for me now.  There were old British favourites, such as pease pudding cooked with boiled gammon, meat pies, sausages (usually with liver and bacon) in a tomato onion gravy…and the Jewish favourites of chicken soup with lokshen (noodles) and cold things like pickled or salted herring.

When I was 14 I went with my sister on a holiday experience with a French family. Only French was spoken. I wasn’t keen on the food, which came in courses and was ridiculously formal. In my later teens I travelled alone a bit, in London and in Liverpool, and tried a bunch of things, now familiar but then exotic – pasta and pizza come to mind. Then when I was 19 I went back to France – to visit my cousin in Paris – at 19 she was already married with a baby – and really discovered food. I no longer remember what we ate but it intrigued me. There was such a mix of simple flavours but nothing was accidental.

That’s when I learned to cook.

Food we eat at home
Food we ate at home last week – Vietnamese grilled chicken, a simple lunch plate for 2, West Indian chicken curry with raita

In Toronto I found cooking classes that fulfilled everything on my wishlist. Each person with their own cooking station, each person preparing their own food, enough to taste, enough to take home for at least one amazing meal, a great chef-teacher, great back up and help from their assistant, a stool for when my legs got tired, interesting and varied menus… This was the Calphalon brand. I attended as many as I could afford. While the quality changed over the years, I kept going back. And then they closed. No class since has been as good.

In London I haven’t found the same but Atelier des Chefs isn’t bad. The main differences are: No individual cooking stations, much of the preparation done as a team, no guarantee you can eat your own food. All minuses in my opinion but I’m trying to enjoy this experience on its own merits.

I had the slowest bus in the East going to the class and thought I’d be extremely late. Just getting out of my neighbourhood took half an hour, whereas it usually takes five to ten minutes. We crept along but got there in the end.

One of my favourite views in The City - from the Royal Exchange
One of my favourite views in The City – from the Royal Exchange
Creeping along behind another bus, finally The Gherkin ahead
Creeping along behind another bus, finally The Gherkin ahead

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Off to the doctor, Shacklewell, and another doll

Monday 5 March, 2018

I went to the doctor early in the morning. Doctor appointments in London are ten minutes long. It’s very short. Today I pushed my luck and got a few extra minutes. My original plan was to get some referrals to other areas but suddenly at the end of last week I got a very itchy rash over my whole trunk and one arm. I looked like I had measles. The doctor told me that the rash was a usual thing after a bad cold or cough and gave me antihistamine pills and ointment. Instant relief! The rash is still there but fading slightly. I’m a hypochondriac. I had ‘given myself’ several serious illnesses before this benign diagnosis.

Around by the clinic, there are some brick-cobbled streets filled with terraced cottages. I would love to see inside them. I have a romantic dream of having one become available to me…somehow. The cottages were built in 1881, 1882, and 1884. How do I know? It says so! (Hmm, are there some from 1883?)

Just around the corner from the doctor and through the rows of cottages is a lovely little coffee shop, Mouse and da Lotz. I somehow imagine this being the names of two Australians having an adventure in London! Don’t ask me why. They make lovely coffee!

A great coffee with white chocolate and raspberry loaf
Mouse and da Lotz counter
Mouse and da Lotz counter

There are still quiet hours at home. And time to make another doll!

Sunny day for the robots and the unfinished naked doll
Sunny day for the robots and the unfinished naked doll
A saucy doll with some detail to show the bloomers!
A saucy doll with some detail to show the bloomers!

A little bit more about Ridley Road Market

Thursday, 8 March, 2018

Ridley Road Market is the largest market in my area of Hackney, I assume in all of Hackney. It dates back to the 1880s. Originally, it was on the (Kingsland) High Street. But when they started to run trams along that road (hard to imagine now) it moved around the corner to Ridley Road. My family remembers when it was a very Jewish market. In the 60s it became a Caribbean market, then a Turkish and Greek market after the 70s. Today it’s an Afro-Caribbean market again. Slowly as the new and expensive developments have sprung up and the upwardly mobile people are beginning to take over, the ‘English’ traders are creeping back in, with a few fancier food trucks along the market route. One day it may either vanish or become more trendy, like Broadway Market.

It’s still a rag tag and messy/shabby market these days, though. The smells from the African and Caribbean hole in the wall market shops aren’t familiar or pleasant to me but they must all get trade since the same ones are always there. At the top of the market there are reminders of the old East End, the barrow boys yelling their wares if you’re lucky enough to hear them. However, in years gone by it would have been much noisier with everyone shouting their wares and bantering. And I understand that it was normal for the stall keepers to wear a shirt, tie and a hat. I would like to have seen that.

I love markets but I don’t buy much here.  I’m not a clean freak but it feels too dirty. The price of fruit is very low but it often looks unappealing or is sold in large bowls for £1 – too much to eat. I have bought mangoes (two for a pound), and eggs from the egg man. I pass by the butchers selling odd bits of animal, the too-smelly fish stalls, the hardware places with cheap pots and pans, the two or three stalls selling only incense – all too heavily jasmine-based for me. I know people who shop there very successfully. Maybe one day I will try to buy more and see how I do.