Only Connect

Battersea Arts Centre

Only connect! … Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.
E M Forster, Howard’s End

It might seem a little odd but I recently gave up one of my weekends, one of the hottest of the year, to be at a conference in London. In the run up, when friends asked me what I was doing at the weekend, their sympathies were all too obvious as they pictured me in a stuffy lecture theatre, forcing myself to concentrate on one dull lecture after another and missing out on all the sunshine and fun. But they couldn’t have been more wrong.  I really could not have been more in my element. Thinking about, talking about, looking at pictures of, tweeting about, photographing and, most importantly, eating food. I was like a pig in the proverbial.

Food Blogger Connect took place at Battersea Arts Centre in London at the start of July. It’s a major annual and truly global event, attracting food bloggers from all around the world. I hadn’t actually heard of it until back in the autumn when the lovely Louisa from Chez Foti mentioned it on Twitter and then suggested we attend as ‘buddies’ to take advantage of the two-for-one delegate offer. And I am indebted to her for doing so.

food blogger connect

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from Food Blogger Connect, but whatever expectations I might have had, they were certainly exceeded. There was something extremely exciting and inspiring surrounded by more than 150 other food bloggers, writers, photographers and food professionals, all there because we share the same passion – food. So many of my friends and family can’t get their heads round why I spend so much of my spare time writing this food blog, which in all likelihood is never going to make me much (if any) money, but at Food Blogger Connect I didn’t need to explain my motives to everyone. People just understood and took great pleasure in sharing ideas, recipes, experiences and advice.

There was an impressive line up of speakers on offer to fill us with the confidence, as well as the tips, tools and a few industry secrets to take our blogs to the next level. Sadly I had to miss the Friday as I was at the wedding of some good friends in Bristol; of course there was no way I was going to miss a wedding, and it was a truly beautiful affair. But I was a little disappointed to miss hearing from food blogging supremos David Lebovitz and Niamh Shields on that first day. Plus I’ve heard tell of some incredible cheeses from La Fromagerie, including a to-die-for cheese from France layered with truffle. I hope my friends Jake and Kat realise the sacrifice I  made for them…

But I did get to hear from many fantastic speakers, who have given me a whole stack of ideas I look forward to incorporating into Bangers & Mash in the coming weeks and months. I will only mention a few here as I don’t want this post to turn into a lecture itself on food blogging and so many other bloggers have already shared their learning much better than I can. If you’re after a few tips, check out Fiona Beckett’s Matching Food & Wine blog, where in the course of three separate posts she brilliantly summarises much of what was shared during the three days. Sally from My Custard Pie has also written an excellent post on Food Blogger Connect. And here’s another excellent top tips post from Laura at How to  Cook Good Food. I am in awe at how well they all have captured the essence of the conference in their posts. I’m still mulling and processing…

Branding was a particular area of interest for me. As a PR consultant, I totally get the need for a strong brand in order to stand out from the ever-expanding crowd that is the food blogging community. I have a lot of work to do with Bangers & Mash to create the brand I want it to be, much of which won’t be possible until I take the leap and so self-hosted. But I have lots of ideas whirring away up there, so watch this space. Some of them may come to fruition at some point in the not-so-distant future.

Regine Wilber of Essence  Design took us on a practical tour of what makes a distinctive brand, emphasising the fact that a brand is so much more than a logo and must permeate every element of what you do.

Essence Design Collage

While I might have found the über confident Regula Ysewjin of Miss Foodwise fame a little awe-inspiring initially, I thoroughly enjoyed her very different talk on branding. She is a physical embodiment of her brand, or rather her brand is a graphical embodiment of her persona. Ultimately, she argues, it all comes down to the simple question ‘Why do you blog?’ – answer that and you’re practically there in determining your brand.

Miss Foodwise Collage

And it was a real delight to hear from Kerstin Rodgers aka Ms Marmite Lover, the originator of the Supper Club, who managed so beautifully to cut through all the formulaic advice on how to monetize your blog by sharing her personal story of making a living from her blog by staying true to her passion and instincts and never selling her soul to the corporate devil.

Ms Marmite Lover

Kerstin was followed on ‘stage’ by Denise Baker-McClearn of Moel Faban Suppers talking about her experience of setting up her own take on a supper club up a mountain in North Wales. I’d always assumed living in a small village out in the sticks in Somerset that a supper club could never work here, but who knows? Surely if you can run them up a mountain, you can run them anywhere. But then again, not everyone has the sheer passion and commitment that Denise has. Anyone who can tell that good a story when the presentation equipment throws a wobbly is a bit of a star in my book.

But don’t worry, the weekend was all about sitting in a large dark room being talked at. There were plenty of breaks to chat to others and, of course, eat and drink. As well as morning and afternoon breaks, there was a two-hour lunchtime strEAT party, with another strEAT party at the end of the day, featuring a whole host of food stalls and pop up kitchens tempting us with their wares.

The event was admittedly pretty ‘brand heavy’ but that isn’t really a criticism. Many of the brands I hadn’t come across before and it was such good fun and a delicious treat to sample their goodies. Eddie’s Chilli Jam was one of my favourite finds – as you probably know I’m a bit of a chilli fiend – and it was such a pleasure to meet its founder, Mo Ellis, who developed the product to capture her West Indian father Eddie’s love of hot chilli peppers. It is her father’s face that appears on every jar. What a fantastic tribute to pay to your dad.

Eddies Chilli Jam Collage

I was also rather taken with the Peppermongers‘ offerings, especially their Indonesian Long Pepper. It’s fantastic with sweet, ripe strawberries and as an unusual flavouring for ice cream. I want the recipe. Now.

Peppermongers Collage

Chobani had a massive presence at Food Blogger Connect. I’d never come across their strained yoghurt before but I fell for it hook, line and sinker. They say it’s 100% fat free, but I don’t believe them. It tastes far too good. Pots and pots of it were available at every break and for days afterwards I found myself pining for it during my tea breaks at work. I’ve heard it’s available in Tesco so I might be paying the store a visit very soon.

ChobaniCollage

Brunch on Sunday was also sponsored by Chobani, where we saw the yoghurt featured in pizza muffins and scrambled eggs (decadently served with smoked salmon), as well as with plenty of fruit and granola.

Brunch Collage

Other delicious new products I came across during the weekend and will be keeping an eye out for include the amazingly refreshing Jax Coco coconut water,  heavenly Moose Maple Butter (spread it on hot toast and I challenge you not to make noises you’d normally only hear in the bedroom), Joe & Seph’s surprising popcorn flavours (I was taken aback to find I actually rather liked their Cheddar & Paprika version, but wasn’t so impressed by the Gin & Tonic variety) and Luchito’s addictive range of products made with smoked Mexican chillies – yum!

Fave Products Collage

I heard from some who’d been to previous Food Blogger Connects that the amount of food on offer during the numerous strEAT parties wasn’t as much as in previous years. But for one who’s never been before, I wasn’t complaining, although I was glad not to be vegetarian as meat, and particularly barbecued meat, featured heavily.

The curry served up by Lovedesh Curry cooked over a wood fire was ever so good. Shame the portion size was so small but I guess there were a lot of people to cater for. And I loved the way Yasmin’s young daughter was on hand to demonstrate her skill in crushing the spices.

Love Desh Collage

The artisan cakes from Petit Gateau were every bit as good as they looked and I somehow found myself beside their stall for quite some time. Regrettably I didn’t manage to get a photo of their pretty macarons – my focus was clearly on eating them rather than photographing them.

Petit Gateau CollageThai food is one of my favourite cuisines and I could have eaten the deliciously hot and spicy Thai street food on offer from Pig a Chic all weekend long. As you can see from the queue they were rather popular. If you happen to be in North London at the end of the month, you can catch Pig a Chic at the Islington Summer Fayre from 26 to 28 July.

Pig A Chic Collage

Bethany Kehdy is the impossibly beautiful, young and talented force behind Food Blogger Connect and founder of Taste Lebanon. Somehow she has also managed to find time to publish her stunning cookery book The Jewelled Kitchen Souk, officially launched at Saturday night’s strEAT party. Of course I had to buy a signed copy to add to my ever-expanding collection – just don’t tell the other half! Bethany cooked a selection of sumptuous dishes from her cookbook for the party and I can’t wait to try my hand at her incredible Venison & Sour Cherry Nests – see bottom left below.

Bethany Collage

And finally a few more mentions must go to the Funky Chicken Van – don’t you just love their van?, Vegan Tart, creators of a mind-boggling array of tarts and cakes you’d never guess were free-from gluten, nuts, dairy and eggs, and last but not least African Volcano, whose spicy peri peri sauce I simply couldn’t get enough of, especially when served up with pulled pork in a bun. Oh dear – I’m drooling on the keyboard…

Curtain Call CollageAt the final party, the winners were announced for the various giveaways that had been running all weekend. Like the airhead I am, I completely missed the giveaways but was so chuffed for Louisa when her name was read out as the winner of the Kitchen Nomad recipe box, full of lots of Greek delights. I didn’t feel too jealous as I was sent a box recently and spent last weekend cooking up lots of amazing Greek dishes. Watch this space for the review and recipes. But I did feel slightly jealous when another blogger won a trip to Canada. How on earth did I miss that one?

So what was the best thing about Food Blogger Connect? My daughters would say the goodie bag I brought home…

goodies

It certainly was rather impressively full and we’re still working our way through the contents almost a fortnight later. A tin of vegetable soup was a rather incongruous inclusion though…

goodies

But as so may delegates have already said before me, the best thing about Food Bloggers Connect was meeting other bloggers. As the name says, it’s all about connecting. I’d been chatting to many of these people across the ether over the last year or so and it was dead exciting to meet them in the flesh and discover they were absolutely every bit as interesting, inspiring and downright lovely as they’d come across online.

Bloggers CollageWhile I spent much of the time feeling like a rabbit in the headlights and fighting in my head with my silly shy self, I did manage to ‘connect’, and a glass or two of wine in the evenings certainly helped. In particular it was fantastic to finally meet Lou from Chez Foti and Karen from Lavender & Lovage, who were two of the first bloggers I started following and whom I’ve always found so supportive.

Lavender CollageWhat rounded the whole weekend off perfectly was going for drinks at a new Italian restaurant in Battersea called The Lavender – very fitting for Karen of course. It was pure serendipity. As we turned up on the doorstep they weren’t yet open, but when they heard we were in need of refreshment, they asked us to wait 10 minutes before warmly welcoming us in. It turned out it was their opening night and couldn’t believe their luck when they discovered we were a group of thirsty/hungry food bloggers! They looked after us wonderfully, serving up beautiful platters of antipasti and delicious glasses of some sparkling orange concoction I’ve completely forgotten the name of. It looked a little like Tizer but tasted much more grown up. If you’re in the Lavender Hill area in Battersea, please do check them out.

And do also check out the blogs and latest recipes of some of the wonderful bloggers I met that weekend…

paella6
The Diary of a Cake Maker: Seafood Paella
Tinned Tomatoes: Mango Lassi with Cardamom & Cinnamon
Tinned Tomatoes: Mango Lassi with Cardamom & Cinnamon
key lime pie
Slice Off Me: Key Lime Pie
Potatoes-with-minced-kale
The Daily Spud: Colcannon a la Spud
salmoncarbonara
Chez Foti: Smoked Salmon & Courgette Carbonara
Recipes from a Pantry: Banana & Nutella Pops
Lavender & Lovage: Chocolate Peppermint  Squares
Lavender & Lovage: Chocolate Peppermint Squares
Happiness is Homemade:  Banana and Chocolate Muffins
Happiness is Homemade: Banana and Chocolate Muffins
The Hedge Combers: Pork Tenderloin
The Hedge Combers: Pork Tenderloin
Well Worn Whisk: Chargrilled courgette and purple sprouting broccoli with feta
Well Worn Whisk: Chargrilled courgette and purple sprouting broccoli with feta
How to Cook Good Food: Summer Berry & Elderflower Cobbler
How to Cook Good Food: Summer Berry & Elderflower Cobbler
On Top of Spaghetti: Chicken & Egg Salad
On Top of Spaghetti: Chicken & Egg Salad
London Unattached: Low Calorie Tarragon Chicken
London Unattached: Low Calorie Tarragon Chicken

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 5

The last few weeks have been as busy as ever in the Bangers & Mash house. I jetted off to Amsterdam and London for work leaving my darling Mashettes to fend for themselves for a few days. I’ve never been apart from my family for that long before but of course when it came to food they were all sorted, as I’d left them with a trusty meal plan…

That’ll be me then. In the Dam.

Amsterdam was wonderful. The last time I visited I was in my early twenties and it felt quite strange going back all grown up and all professional. I was there for the Meet the Blogger event for interior design bloggers at the simply stunning Conservatorium Hotel. If you’ve ever seen my home, you’ll know how incongruous I felt being at a conference for glamorous ladies talking about the latest in home design trends. But my role there was to tweet and blog about the proceedings, and I’m always happy when tasked with writing. There is a lovely short film documenting Meet the Blogger if you’re interested…

As I was there in a work capacity I didn’t have much opportunity unfortunately to really explore Amsterdam’s restaurant scene, although I did enjoy a rather splendid steak somewhere I can’t remember the name of at the end of a very long day. And I was also taken to a lovely bakery for a quick bite of lunch on my way back to the train station. De Bakkerswinkel bakes superb bread, as well as pastries, cakes, pies and all kinds of baked delights. I only had a simple ham and cheese roll but it was sensational and a delicious way to end my stint in the Dam.

De Bakkerswinkel in Amsterdam

A day after getting back from Holland, I had to head off to London for a trade show where I was helping out as a press officer on a client’s stand. I can’t say the event was all that exciting but it was a good chance to catch up with my Dad and step-mum Sue the night before as they live in Tottenham. And I finally got to see their amazing new kitchen, which they’ve been talking about and planning for oh, only the last 20 years or so. I am now green with envy. I want a new kitchen. Now.

My step-mum Sue in her beautiful new kitchen

But back to the food. I’ve been trying out some really rather good recipes lately. Initially I was rather disappointed with my attempt at a lamb and rosemary crumble. When it came out of the oven it just didn’t look particularly appetising and so I didn’t bother taking any photographs. Yet it tasted surprisingly good. I’m to work on it a bit more to see if I can make it look as good as it tastes.

My rhubarb, strawberry and lemon tart creation went down rather well, although this was another dish that wasn’t much of a looker.

Strawberry, rhubarb and lemon tart

Another tart that turned out well was a butternut squash tart with blue cheese, spinach and ricotta. It was one of those very simple affairs where you roll out some ready-made puff pastry, smother it with a few choice ingredients and bake. Hey presto! You have a tasty supper.

Butternut squash, blue cheese and ricotta tart

Pasta is always popular in our house, particularly as a quick dinner after a busy day at work and school. We all loved this yummy sausage and courgette pasta carbonara from Chez Foti. Definitely a dish we’ll be making again. And again.

Sausage and courgette pasta carbonara from Chez Foti

Pasta makes another appearance in my list of highlights. Broad bean tops arrived in our veg box the other week. I have to admit I had no idea you could eat them but they are quite delicious; like a cross between pea shoots and chard. I used them in this recipe from Riverford for pasta with broad bean tops, ricotta and mint, which was very good indeed. We are growing broad beans in our vegetable patch, so I look forward to experimenting some more with this new ingredient.

Pasta with broad bean tops, ricotta and mint

Egg fried rice is an excellent speedy supper and so versatile too. You can throw in whatever you have to hand or need to use up. I cooked up a big wok full of egg fried rice the other night with peas and red pepper, served up with lashings of soy sauce and hot chilli oil. My kind of fast food. Yum.

Egg fried rice with peas and peppers

Last but not least comes the Full English pizza. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Pizza topped with all those staples of the traditional cooked English brekky: sausage, bacon, tomato, spinach and egg. I wanted to use mushroom as well but my daughter Jessie hates them with a passion. You’re probably thinking it sounds completely OTT and you’re probably right, but it was so tasty and very, very moreish. I can’t believe I’ve never tried it before.

The Full English Pizza

Well I think that’s it for now. I’m rather pleased to be able to look back and see the highs far outweigh the lows. I’m definitely getting better at this cooking lark, I think. Now, time for those meal plans…

Monday 11 June
Lunch: pasta with broad bean tops, ricotta and mint 
Dinner: Bangers & Mash bake (F)

Tuesday 12 June 
Lunch: tuna mayonnaise rolls
Dinner: butternut squash tart with spinach, blue cheese and ricotta

Wednesday 13 June
Lunch: rice salad
Dinner: sausage and courgette pasta carbonara

Thursday 14 June
Lunch: cheese and pickle rolls
Dinner: baked potatoes with garlic mushrooms and salad

Friday 15 June
Lunch:  pasta salad
Dinner: egg fried rice with peas and red peppers

Saturday 16 June
Lunch: cheese and tomato on toast
Dinner: courgette and summer greens pie and salad

Sunday 17 June
Lunch: OUT
Dinner: cold courgette and summer greens pie

Monday 18 June
Lunch: hummus, pitta bread and salad
Dinner: lamb and rosemary crumble with new potatoes

Tuesday 19 June
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: the Full English pizza with salad

Wednesday 20 June
Lunch: cous cous salad
Dinner: red Thai curry with tofu and vegetables

Thursday 21 June
Lunch: cheese and pickle rolls
Dinner: chicken and ginger stir fry with noodles

Friday 22 June
Lunch: wet garlic, tomatoes and mozzarella on toast
Dinner: pasta with pesto and cream cheese

Saturday 23 June
Lunch: bread and cheese
Dinner: pork chops with rice, asparagus and carrots

Sunday 24 June
Lunch: homemade ham with Finnish mustard and herby focaccia
Dinner: cheese omelette

F = from freezer