Bakestones And Brack

Celtic bakes with E.

The cooler autumn days have inspired me to bake. There is danger in this because if I bake, I invariably give in to the temptation to eat what I bake and I am still trying to undo the effects of too much early lockdown baking and eating in April and May. You know what they say: a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips and, believe me, as Shakira sang, but meant in quite a different way, “you know my hips don’t lie”.

A couple of fleeting moments over the past few weeks resulted in my baking taking a turn towards traditional, homely fare and two recipes with Celtic heritage. Both the bakes are variations on the customary recipes to enable me to exclude dairy, eggs and lard and to take advantage of a large quantity of dried fruit I acquired in July but about which I cannot speak publicly (enigmatic, I know, but sometimes silence is the deal we have to strike in return for receiving copious amounts of Italian peel, glacé cherries, stem ginger in syrup and many kilos of currants).

Inspiration for the first recipe came from rearranging the cupboard under the oven and happening upon my Nana Mary’s bakestone. In a rather lovely display of cross-family/in-law affection, this cast iron griddle was made for Nana Mary, my paternal grandmother, by my maternal grandfather, the chap of Mr and Mrs fame. I can’t really remember how or when, but it’s another treasure I inherited from my Nan. For the uninitiated, bakestones are, perhaps more accurately were, used for cooking Welsh cakes on the fire or cooker, indeed the Welsh cakes themselves, a type of fruited griddle scone, are often call bakestones because of the way they are traditionally cooked. They are certainly called bakestones in my family. They are also a treat I haven’t eaten for more than half a decade as, despite loving them, Welsh cake recipes contain butter, lard, milk and eggs. Sight of the blackened griddle in the bottom of the cupboard gave me a shot of pure hiraeth for Sunday afternoon’s munching warm bakestones at Nana Mary’s so I hefted out of the cupboard (it weights a (metaphorical) ton), washed and oiled it and set about researching vegan Welsh cake recipes.

Welsh cakes on the bakestone

Turns out there are reams of said recipes online and I needn’t have been depriving myself all these years. I followed a recipe by the fabulous Gaz Oakley – plain flour, currants, baking powder, mixed spice, salt, caster sugar, vegan marg and almond milk (though I used oat milk as that’s what was in the fridge) – doubling all the quantities to make twice as many because, you know, twice as many and all that. I then had a great half an hour griddling like a demon. I needed to have prep’d the bakestone with an oil with a far higher smoking point than the olive oil I used, so things got a bit fuggy in the kitchen. I singed my finger twice in my eagerness to flip my cakes and a few times I took too long on sugar-sprinkling duty and the griddleful of cakes next in the production line caught a bit too much colour on one side but I didn’t care. My bakestones tasted almost as good as Nan’s and I had the best time making, and eating, them.

A tin full of fresh bake stones and left over orange polenta cake

A day or so later, scrolling through my Insta feed I spotted a gorgeous looking bake my very lovely Dublin friend, Collette, had made. A couple of messages later and I had in my possession not only her beloved Mum’s recipe for Irish Tea Brack, but a copy of the recipe written in her Mum’s fair hand on paper now much-handled and stained by the teas of years of brack preparation by Collette while living in London, Sydney and Dublin. I felt very privileged to have this favourite family recipe shared with me.

Mrs McDonald’s treasured brack recipe

Mrs McDonald’s recipe required the pound of dried fruit to be soaked for a day in tea and sugar before flour, mixed spice and an egg are added the following day, everything given a good stir and baked for an hour. I used an egg replacement mix to bind all the ingredients and though I was a little worried that the batter seemed very wet, it baked beautifully, held its shape in slicing and tastes delicious. It is delightfully “substantial” and perfect with a cuppa.

Delicious Irish Tea Brack – worth a try for your tea BREAK!

Two traditional and homely bakes, with Celtic origins, successfully veganised over the course of a few days. And, mindful of the Shakira on my shoulder, whom I now paraphrase badly, I was wise, read the signs of my (wobbly) body, and stuck half of the bakestone and half of the brack in the freezer for another day. ~ E

Boshing About With Baba G

Cook up a vegan storm with E

I wasn’t hungry…but suddenly I am now!

As I’ve mentioned previously, I love my cookery books and over the past years my collection of vegan and plant-based recipe books has grown and grown. One of my favourites for straightforward and exceptionally tasty vegan food is “Bosh!”, the original publication from Henry Firth and Ian Theasby. I was excited to get my hands on the latest release from the Bosh boys in early September: “Speedy Bosh” promises lots of new recipes for “amazing food” in 30 minutes. I know (because I bought them) that Nigella and Jamie have previously put together volumes for the time-conscious cook, but this is the first, all-colour, mainstream (for plant-based eating has undoubtedly swum to the mainstream) release I’ve seen for vegan cooking.

“Speedy Bosh” has great kerb appeal: it’s all hot pink and black, stuffed with Insta-worthy photographs of plates, bowls and boards of the prepared recipes and offers lots of hacks (for anyone not down with the latest lingo, this means hints and recommendations) for speedy cooking. The recipes are clustered together in sections covering hearty, takeaways, sharing, lighter, sweet, drinks and breakfasts. The weekend I got my hands on the book, I thought I’d start by cooking the first two recipe in the hearty section: cheat’s toad in the hole with curry gravy and aubergine and lentil meatball pasta.

We love a flat lay

The cheat’s toad in the hole is a great idea, using ready-rolled puff pastry instead of a traditional egg and milk-heavy batter. It was quick and easy to assemble and the addition of a tablespoon of curry powder to the wash for the pastry is inspired, adding richness to the colour and taste of the finished meal. The curry gravy is also a doddle to make though I deviated from the recipe by crushing in a couple of cloves of garlic and allowing them to cook out with the onion, rather than putting them in whole and removing just before serving. It added a few extra minutes to the overall cooking time but I wasn’t in a rush and wanted to get a more garlicky depth to the gravy. As ever with the Bosh boys, as well as dollops of ketchup, mustard and soy sauce and a good sprinkle of curry powder, the gravy had the extra flavour boost of nutritional yeast (nooch, as the L likes to call it). If you haven’t investigated nutritional yeast, let me introduce you to this incredible product: deactivated yeast, dried and sold as feather-light golden flakes which, when added to dishes, gives a nutty cheesy taste. My incomparable sister-in-law, Christine, says it smells like old socks. I think it smells delicious and opening the tin and having a deep sniff is a guilty pleasure and takes me back to being a child and inhaling greedily the scent wafting from a bag of freshly opened cheesy Wotsits. 

A quick and easy recipe that made for a tasty Saturday evening dinner, served with a green salad, and left plenty for lunch on Sunday. Apart from anything else, the recipe reminded me how utterly joyful it is to cut into well-baked puff pastry and watch the explosion of flakes land in a close perimeter around your plate, and the pleasure of collecting up all the crumbly flakes with a (washed, sanitised and) dampened finger. This one is being added to my rep.

The following morning I went in search of a tub of baba ganoush for the second recipe I wanted to try: aubergine and lentil meatball pasta. I won’t retell here the sorry story of the lack of baba ganoush in the Surrey/Kent/Sussex borderlands in mid-September but four supermarkets, three convenience stores and a seven-day Post Office later, I gave up on my quest to find a tub, instead buying five aubergines and deciding to make my own. Inevitably this drove, as we like to say, a coach and horses through the 30 minute prep time. And all for four tablespoons of baba G in the meatball mix! It was worth it though, as we had enough left over to enjoyed as “cracker snacks” until mid-week.

Baby, Ganoush look good to me

Essentially this is a “spaghetti and meatballs” recipe where the meatballs are speedily assembled (baba G permitting) using a packet of pre-cooked puy lentils, breadcrumbs, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes. The baba ganoush acts as the binder which, of course, results in quite crumbly meatballs, a fact acknowledged in the recipe. I cooked the meatballs in the oven, rather than risk them falling apart in a frying pan as recommended by the boys. Oven-baking produced a crispy shell and soft inside, and they held together. The addition of fresh mint to the meatballs alongside the more usual parsley was an innovation I wasn’t sure about, but it worked very well and I’ll definitely use this again.

The recipe called for the cooked meatballs to be added to and moved through the warmed pasta sauce prior to serving but I decided they looked too fragile so served them on top of the sauce which resulted in a finished dish that had a look of the falafel about it, but tasted great. I’m not sure I’ll return to this recipe any time soon, partly because of the memory of baba G-gate is still too raw, but mainly because Waitrose does excellent frozen vegan meatballs – better even than Ikea’s, I think – which taste great and do hold their shape so I can throw them around the pan with abandon.

The next recipe in the hearty section of the book is for a deep, dark and smoky chilli, and I’m going to head there next. ~ E

Feast your eyes on this midweek winner dinner!

My Morning Routine

Get ready this morning with the de-la-Haye Girls.

A bright, crisp morning is probably our favourite time of the day. The possibility of the day, stretching out ahead, sparkling with potential. For the longest time we have both been fascinated by how others start their days, what tips and tricks people use to help maximise their productivity and wake up well.

With this in mind, we thought we’d share with you what each of our morning routines look like, perhaps to give you inspiration to spruce up your own AM habits…

L’s laid back morning of mindfulness

  • 10am: Rise and shine! I’ve never been much of an early bird, especially if I’m working in the theatre the night before. Normally a show won’t come down until 10.30(ish). By the time I’ve had a drink with colleagues to decompress and travelled home it’s pushing midnight. I like to snuggle down with a crime procedural and get in a full nine or so hours of sleep. My body is pretty good at waking me up naturally, plus my boyfriend is now WFH so the gentle hum of a conference calls acts as my alarm clock. Still in my pjs, I stumble to the Nespresso machine. Coffee is an essential part of this de-la-Haye girl’s morning, except on Sundays when I treat myself to a Tetley.
  • 11am: I carefully transfer the mug of magical liquid back to bed. Yes, I do get back into bed. There’s something so luxurious about it, sipping my brew in between the sheets. If you’ve got the time, I recommend you try it. I take this time in the morning to journal. Now wait – before you eye-roll – I think this act of self care is more common than we think. Some call it “morning pages”, others “free writing”, but whatever you call it, the process remains the same: you take some time simply to put pen to paper and clear your mind of all its mental chatter. You can use the pages to document all your worries or give gratitude or, mine and E’s favourite pastime, write a list. Stick some music on and let your mind wander!
  • 11.30am: I air the bed, Febreezing and “Hinching” as I go. Then it’s into the bathroom to cleanse my face and brush my teeth. The less I put on my face the better my skin tends to be so warm water, a little moisturiser and some sunscreen in all I need. By this point I’m normally on my second cup of coffee. I grab the matches with my free hand and light a candle in each room. Even in the daytime, I just think they’re magic.
  • 12pm: Hair goes up on top of my head and sports bra is wriggled into. If I’ve a show that evening then I take this time, just as morning slides into afternoon, to run. I aim to do a 5k three/four times a week. I normally hate every second of it but once in a blue moon, it’s not too bad and it’s always worth it for that post-run hit of endorphins. If I’m between jobs this is my time for yoga. I aim to do a little work on my mat each day. It is so much more than stretching and slow breathing: for me, yoga is a spiritual activity and it makes me feel so powerful. I notice such a difference on the days I don’t allow myself the time to practise.
  • 12.30pm: I jump in the shower and do a quick vocal warm up. The steam is great for my voice which needs a bit of gentle coaxing to get going. Finally, I check my emails, Whatsapp messages and, of course, our blog. Often E will have sent something hilarious to the family group chat that brightens up my day. I catch up on any laptop-based work or teaching admin while I make my breakfast. I can’t bear eating first thing but once I’ve moved my body, my tummy will start to rumble. Brekky is undeniably my top meal of the day. Seriously, if I worked in an office all my meetings would be based around this meal time. Banana pancakes, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, sourdough with avocado and eggs and filthy Nutella oats are all on heavy rotation for me.
  • 1pm: I double check my to do list, ticking off anything completed from the previous day and catch up with my boyfriend on his lunch break. Then I’m off out and about, masked up, teaching, rehearsals or auditioning. Ready to handle whatever a day in 2020 fancies throwing at me!
The happiest of mornings when this delivery arrives!

Zooming about with E in the early AM

  • My morning routine begins very differently to L – if L is an owl, I am a lark – but other parts of our routine are similar. Prior to the arrival of Covid, I travelled all over the UK and often overseas for work. My morning routine then would begin about 6am in whichever hotel I was staying in and had a laser-focus on getting ready to meet my clients and spend full days working with them. Since March, my morning routine has been rather different.
  • Any time between 5 – 7am, depending on who I am working with that day, and which part of the planet they are based, I’m woken by my alarm. I am “up and at ’em” as I’ve learned from very stressful experience that the snooze button really doesn’t do me any favours. I head straight to the bathroom to spruce up for the day, avoiding, if at all possible, a morning shower that involves washing my hair. A warm body shower is perfect, but my hair is thick and heavy and I am incapable of blow-dry styling myself so if I wash it in the morning, I drip all over myself for hours and I’m lucky if it’s fully dry by late afternoon. My morning face routine has not changed for 25 years: Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish, followed by Liz Earle skin tonic and, yes, you guessed it, a mixture of Liz Earle Skin Repair and Superskin moisturisers. I used to spend about 30 minutes each morning on my daily make-up but my professional life is now based around Zoom and I have discovered the beautify filter, so a lick of mascara and my lipstick (always) is all I need.
The most important items in E’s office
  • 7:30am: downstairs to five, unalterable, “must dos”: feed Tyler and let him out for his morning constitutional; take my fistful of vitamins with a glass of Berocca; boil the kettle for a steaming mug of fruit or peppermint tea (I don’t do coffee or “normal” tea, and don’t get me started on the vileness that is green tea); crack open my journal to capture thoughts and notes that have occurred to me overnight and remind myself about what I plotted the previous evening as my actions for the day; and have a quick shufty at the latest comings and goings on my social media. I am verging on the compulsive with my journal; it is part reflective log, part daily agenda but mainly lists. I then hit work, invariably these days via one video conferencing platform or another, and there I am, in my little broadcast studio cum office, powered by Twinings’ peach, orange and boabab tea until lunchtime.
  • 12:30pm: my morning ends with food! Like Lily, I don’t eat in the morning but come early afternoon, two slices of The Sussex Kitchen’s delicious wholemeal sourdough are plunged into the toaster and the latest jar of Marmite crunchy peanut butter is cracked open. It truly is the superior brunch and, in the interests of candour, I share with you that most days, I am too impatient for the toast to pop and snaffle of couple of teaspoons of the Marmite peanut butter straight into ma bouche – yum-yum! These two slices, a piece of fruit (I’m not a complete savage) and another bucket of Twinings set me up for the afternoon’s work.
Manna, thank you.

The weekend routine starts later, of course, and is less structured and more relaxed; Tyler, tea and toast are constants though.