People and Events

Wine Tasting and Cookery Demonstration at La Cucina Caldesi

9th September 6.30pm – 9.30pm

One thing about blogging that constantly surprises me is how sociable it is. I’ve met interesting people, been to great events and had some lively debates, both on and off line, about all sorts of topics. Which is one reason why I’m very excited about hosting another bloggers evening on Thursday 9th September.  It will be a great chance to catch up with old friends and meet people whose blogs I’ve read.

The second reason is because all the food and wine will be supplied by  ‘Discover the Origin‘. This is a campaign promoting ‘Products of Designated Origin’ or PDO. Like a lot of people I am very keen on knowing where my food comes from and that it is produced in an ethical way. The PDO system does just that.

Discover the Origin promotes five PDO products: Parmesan cheese, Parma Ham, Burgundy wines, Douro wines and Port. It would be fantastic if it did more, but these five are a great start.

The bloggers event will take place at La Cucina Caldesi. Katie Caldesi will demonstrate some Autumn recipes. I’ve seen Katie cook before and she is an inspiring and accomplished chef and her recipes are authentic and approachable.

I will talk through a selection of really delicious Burgundy and Douro wines, plus a few ports. Selecting wines and ports  from two of the greatest wine regions in the world means I am spoilt for choice!

Of course it will also be a great opportunity to chat with friends and meet other bloggers, after all who wants to sit in front of a computer all the time?

Bona fide bloggers are welcome, please send a link to your blog to

Places are limited and will be allocated on a strictly first come first served basis.

To whet your appetite here is the list of canapes:

Parma Ham, Toasted Parmesan Focaccia, Red pepper Jam and rocket Cress
Cornish crab, avocado puree, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese biscuit
Sautéed Artichoke, Parma Ham and truffle Frittata, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese cream.
Smashes pea and mint Tart with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shards
Seared Beef Sirloin, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and truffle oil polenta, Rocket Pesto, Tomato Confit
Raspberry Shortcake with vanilla cream

At the Plaimont St Mont en Fête festival I discovered some wonderful and quirky wines and that the true spirit of carnival lives on.

queennunWhen wine co-operative Producteurs Plaimont invited me to attend the festival Plaimont St Mont en Fête in Gascony, South West of France, it would have been foolish of me not to say yes. Not only did I need a break from grimy London but this event would be a great opportunity to visit a part of France that I hadn’t been to before. What’s more, as well as being a wine and food lover, I also have an interest in the carnivalesque. (To see some of my articles on this visit my website) So a weekend of wine, food and carnival: how could I refuse?

But having accepted my invitation and packed my bags I started to worry. One of the key phenomena of traditional carnival is that it is a special occasion, a time where normal social hierarchies don’t apply: the king becomes the fool and the fool becomes king etc. As the St Mont festival is only twenty years old and does not date back to the great carnival era, i.e. the Middle Ages, I worried that the essential ‘liminality’, the ‘other worldliness’ vital to the true carnival spirit, might not exist. After all the carnivalesque is not something that can be created, it happens naturally or not at all.
I worried further when I heard that Producteurs Plaimont own 98% of the Saint Mont appellation and that this festival is also a platform for showing their wines. I was prepared to be disappointed and to drag my way through a blatant wine promotion; the sort of event where promo staff, chosen for their nubile looks over their expertise, pour plastic thimbles of wine for an increasingly drunken crowd.

So you can imagine how delighted I was when standing amongst the throng in Saint Mont on Saturday morning I witnessed a Harley Davidson gang riding into the village and start chatting up a group of local, middle aged ladies, dressed as nuns, who responded with appropriately girlish-glee. Hurrah I thought, this is the true spirit of carnival, the inappropriate flirtation, the triumph of the human. Plaimont Saint Mont en Fête might not be historic but it is a true carnival. I could relax.
The festival centred around a street theatre performance which re-enacted the tale of how the Monastery in Saint Mont was established in the 11the century. To be honest it’s the sort of theatre that only really works if you know somebody in the cast, but I still appreciated the joie de vivre and the moments of incongruity that a group of people dressed as monks and peasants wandering about in the twenty-first century affords. Plus the costumes set the carnival tone and there was a general feeling of conviviality throughout the village.

So after a hearty round of applause it was off to the wine tastings. French wineries are often criticised for operating a closed-door policy.  I have sympathy for both sides in the debate. It’s a tall order to expect a hard working, self-employed, vigneron to break off a day’s work in order to show a couple of tourists, who may or may not buy, round their set up. But equally if you have travelled several 100/1000 miles in order to taste Madiran/St Mont in the place where it was grown, it is easy to feel short-changed by a less than welcoming wine grower.
snoggingnuns10The Plaimont St Mont en Fête is a great answer to the problem. There are tastings going on at the various wineries owned by the co-operative plus there are a number of marquees also offering wines. These tastings are manned by the wine growers and Producteur Plaimont staff, so if you ask a question, you will get a proper response. And while the atmosphere here is relaxed and lively there’s a serious side. Most people are leaving with at least one case of wine in the boot of their car. So this means that a) people are watching their alcohol in take and b) they are making some careful decisions about they actually spend their money on.

Our party ate lunch in another marquee, joining other revellers on long trestle tables and chatting with our neighbours in true carnival spirit. This being the South West we were served duck in various guises: duck soup, duck gizzard salad, duck maigret and best of all a very tasty duck foie gras, cooked in aluminium foil on the grill. (To see my South West recipes visit the Duck Soup recipe page above right).

We had another duck-fest in the evening at Le Vieux Logis restaurant in Aignan before trouping off to a couple of parties. It was here that my sense of carnival failed me. I’ve never been a fan of French rock music and fourth-rate, full-decimal cover versions of Pink Floyd and REM tested my largesse d’esprit beyond its limits, so I headed back to the hotel leaving my more robust colleagues behind. Overall though, a good time had been had by all.

Here are some of my favourite Producteurs Plaimont wine discoveries:

White Wines:

Saint Mont le Faîte 2006
This wine is a true showcase for South West white grapes. Made from 50% Gros Manseng, 20% Petit Courbu, 15% Arrufiac and 15% Petit Manseng. The nose smells of bruised apples and mint. The palate is creamy with a touch of mint, apricots and honey with terrific length. This is a high-brow white wine.

Rosé Wines:

Saint Mont Rosé de Campagne 2008
This is a serious pink. Made from the South West grape variety Tannat plus Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc it has a herbaceous/tea aroma and bone dry strawberry palate making it a great food as well as quaffing wine.
Red Wines:

Saint Mont, Rive Haute 2005
A savoury, rubber-smelling nose, uplifted by some pretty floral notes. This mix of Tannat, Pinnec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes make this a delicious, muscular and meaty wine. It has the bonus of an attractive lick of acidity and very long length. At four years old there’ll be plenty of life in this wine for years to come.

Saint Mont, Château de Sabazan 2006
A beautiful rich wine with lots of leathery, herbaceous notes on the nose and palate. Again this has that typical South West acidity that turns a blockbuster into an attractive and fresh wine.

Saint Mont, Le Monastre du Saint Mont 2006
A more mainstream version of Saint Mont, this wine is softer with a chocolatey note and cherry fruit. But it has a quirky touch of bees wax and violets on the nose and the typical South West freshness making it a true reflection of the region.

Saint Mont, Le Monastre du Saint Mont 2005
A year older and from a hotter vintage than the above, this wine is showing more coffee-chocolate liqueur flavours. These follow through on to the palate but the famed 2005 heat didn’t burn off all the Tannat acidity and the wine remains fresh and appealing.
knightlady4Sweet Wines:
We enjoyed these two sweet wines with a delicious selection of foie gras. Choosing the favourite was a tough call but at a pinch I think the 2002 made the better match.

Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, Saint Albert, 2007
A lovely, light and pretty sweet wine with a complex palate with almond, sultana, apricot and quince flavours. Very fresh.

Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, La Saint Sylvestre, 2002
Harvested on the 31st December from shrivelled grapes, this is a fabulous, mature, sweet wine. With caramel, linseed oil and ripe peach flavours on the palate. A real treat.

To find out more about Producteurs Plaimont visit:

Katrina’s website

The incredible true story of a two decade old cake and a quiet act of charity.

‘I have no idea where this mixture originated,’ says South African born Patricia Van Graan-Brun as she hands me a piece of her apple laden Friendship Cake. ‘I was given a piece of the dough by a lady called Josie Warburg, she has since died, but I’ve continued baking it nearly every week. So I’ve been making this same cake for twenty years now!’

Friendship cakes get going when someone makes a start culture. This means mixing flour, milk and sugar and leaving it for around ten days until it ferments. Then further flour, milk and sugar are added, the mixture is divided in two, one half is baked and the remaining dough becomes the new culture and left to ferment for another week when the process is repeated. As a jar of the culture can be divided and passed on to other people, who in turn pass it on, it becomes the baking equivalent of those chain letters that promise the recipient a fortune as long as each person in turn harangues ten of their closest friends. At least with Friendship Cakes there’s a higher chance of a reward, you are at least guaranteed to get something to have with a cup of tea.


Patricia’s cake has done more than just that though. She is seated at her familiar table after Quaker meeting in Forest Hill, South London and is dishing out pieces to a small crowd and taking payments of 50p in return. She is doing a brisk trade as clearly a morning spent in quiet reflection is hungry work.

Patricia tells me that every few months when she has made £100, she sends the takings off to the Quaker run Cape Town Peace Centre in South Africa. This centre has a decade long track record of results in improving life in that still troubled country. It runs courses and projects on subjects ranging from Young Women in Leadership, Alternatives to Violence and Youth at Risk.

The centre’s mission statement is:  ‘to build a non-violent society where:  diversity is celebrated; the energies of conflict are turned into a positive transforming power and where the democratic rights of every individual are respected, protected and pursued’.

This is clearly admirable work that deserves support and over the years sales of Patricia’s Friendship Cake have raised around £3,600, which goes a long way in South African rand.

However perhaps the reason why the cake sale has been successful is it is actually incredibly tasty. I’ve noticed before that the belly quickly rebels against largesse if it is force-fed piety. And I’m sure that even Quakers, who are a notably philanthropic bunch, wouldn’t keep on buying this cake if it was simply a charitable donation. Patricia adds Bramley apples, cinnamon and sultanas to her dough making a cake that is light, crumbly and slightly sweet.

‘I don’t know how it is possible that this mixture doesn’t die or go off. I don’t even understand how it works, it just keeps on going,’ she says with a smile as another 50p drops into the jar.

I am sure that it wouldn’t be too hard to find a charitable act that raises much more money and kicks up far more hoopla than this cake sale. But few fund-raisers are such a metaphor for the longevity and dignity of hope than this quietly nurtured twenty-year-old cake which creates a network between those who eat it, those who bake it and those who benefit from the money it raises.

To find out more about the work that the Cape Town Peace Centre carries out visit:

And just for the record, I am not a Quaker, although many members of my family are, however I occasionally attend meeting because I appreciate the calm, the sense of self-reliance and the pure optimism that the occasional Sunday morning meeting gives me.







Katrina’s website

Grandpa’s attitude to eating reflected his attitude to life. For him  food was just fuel for the physical although he particularly enjoyed dinner time banter with family and friends and always chose home cooked over restaurant meals.

My Grandpa, Reverend George Arthur Hemming, born 19th September 1915, died on the 20th January 2009 aged 93. He was a complex and popular man with a wide range of interests. (I am sure the 120 people who attended his funeral would agree.) I could write many, many words about him quoting Shakespeare and the Bible, his pedantic insistence on good grammar, his ability to vault a five bar gate wearing shorts and long woolly socks and his way of getting to the heart of a problem in one pithy sentence. But as this is a food blog here I will focus on Grandpa’s attitude to food and how (as with us all) this mirrored his attitude to life.

He was not a gourmet, he enjoyed food but he was not extravagant about it either in quantity or expense. He always preferred a homemade blackberry and apple pie, preferably made by my Grandma, to a frivolous shop-bought patisserie. Perhaps this was because he always believed that ‘the Lord would provide’ and what better illustration of that than hedgerow fruit.

Grandpa was a Congregationalist minister; he had a profound conviction in Christianity. His belief in God and the Bible as God’s word shaped everything that he did and thought. For him the body was just the earthily vessel for the spirit, something that should be mastered and controlled. He pushed himself physically and frequently spent the day fasting and praying. Then in the last years of his life he completely lost his appetite and he would pick dissolutely at his plate, particularly as incapacity meant that most of the food that he and Grandma shared had to be frozen ready meals.

But even when he was suffering physically Grandpa was never a dour companion, far from it, as many people at his funeral fondly remembered he was a great joker. And he enjoyed mealtimes because he really appreciated how breaking bread brought family and friends together. Mealtimes at his home, The Sheeling, were lively, often argumentative, and fun. He was a great conversationalist, an exceptional raconteur with a love of witty banter, word games and traveller’s tales. 

For his time Grandpa was exceptionally well travelled. During World War II he served with the Royal Corps of Signals and was posted to India. This was his first trip of many. Later on he became a missionary and visited India, Pakistan and Bangladesh many times. He came back with a love of curry that unfortunately my Grandmother didn’t share, however English food was still his favourite.

 Grandma was an exceptional cook and baker. Her apple pies, trifles and jungle juice are legendary and she used to win rafts of prizes at the village show. As she grew older losing her ability to cook was very, very hard, yet she could still make a Victoria sponge aged 89, which Grandpa particularly enjoyed. And Grandma still tucks into a roast potato with relish.

The last meal I cooked for them both was beef stew with mashed neeps and potatoes followed by leftover Christmas pudding and custard. Both he and Grandma ate with appetite as we shared a bottle of Côte du Rhône and put the world to rights. He knew he was dying and after dinner we said goodbye. I am so very glad I had the chance.

Grandpa never ate a meal without saying grace first. He never took food, the fuel for a life well lived, for granted and for that, and so many other things, I miss him. But I know I have been very, very blessed to have shared so much with such a wonderful person.

George Hemming is survived by his wife Nina Hemming, four children, eight granddaughters, and five great-grandchildren.

Katrina’s website

Katrina’s website

Last Sunday I tasted something which was on a par with some of the greatest gourmet treats that I have ever had the pleasure of eating. For a second I thought it was all over and I would no longer care for fine wine and good dining. It was a freezing day and my sister and I were walking a 20 mile ‘challenge walk’ organised by the Long Distance Walkers Association. (We were the light-weights, there were plenty speeding past us doing the 30 mile event.) At the first checkpoint, 10 miles in, we were given a glass of blackcurrant juice and a digestive biscuit.

Rarely has anything tasted so sweet, so delicious, so nourishing and thirst quenching. Partially it was the effect of exercising outdoors on a cold day, every nerve was tingling and alive including, it seemed, my taste buds. But equally I have rarely been so conscious of food and fuel, the link between energy and eating. The sugar in the drink and biscuit seemed to race to my muscles (I’m not sure how long it takes sugar to convert to energy but surely longer than this) giving me an instant lift, helping me to bounce off for the next 10 miles.

 I’ve had this experience before, also on a cold day, part-way through a day of strenuous hiking. A few years ago I went trekking in Nepal, its not the exquisite curries that stick in my mind or the yummy mo-mos, but a meal knocked up by the sherpas who were guiding me and the rest of a band of hapless foreigners along the way, just below the snow line. On camping stoves they knocked up a meal of chips, coleslaw and a jam sandwich, all served on the same plate. Again the cold, the hunger, the need for energy made this simple fair taste far more wonderful than it would in normal circumstances.

 Usually, for me, food/cooking oscillates between necessity and absorbing hobby. I am aware of the need for a balanced diet, but often that can be reduced to a battle between excess calories and the love of good food. But that juice and biscuit, (just as the odd Nepalese thali had been) were a timely reminder of the correlation between nutrition and physical well-being. Just how profoundly what I eat affects the way I feel.

 So while I once again have made a mental note to be more conscious of nutrition, I also realise that there are those rare moments in life when the most ordinary food will taste exquisite and nourishing in a way that the finest haute cuisine never can. And those odd moments will always creep up on me unexpectedly and must be cherished for their simple beauty, the taste of good food. 




After cooking Christmas for my family I realise the error of my former ways and would like to say sorry.

To visit Katrina’s website click here.

 No one called me a cook twice when I was at catering college. I was a chef. I was training to cut carrots into the smallest brunoise dice, whip cream to its thickest point before it turned into grainy butter and cook every steak to perfection. My fellow students and I used to curl our lips and sneer at ‘domestic cooks’ with their over cooked vegetables, reliance on Delia Smith and most of all for their use of gravy granules. In those days a sauce wasn’t a sauce unless it had been deglazed, reduced, emulsified and napped. But those heady days are long gone. I am now a domestic cook and I have just cooked Christmas.

 My family is probably no more eccentric than anyone else’s (even if right now they feel as though they are). So cooking Christmas means accommodating: children with limited palates; the elderly with limited teeth; vegetarians; militant meat eaters; those who are hungry; those who don’t feel like eating much and those who have an abhorrence of garlic.

 How did I manage? By eating the very words that I shouted so loudly when I was a catering student.

 On Christmas day I cooked a turkey crown instead of a whole turkey. A crown is just the breast meat, As the meat isn’t cooked on the bone it isn’t as flavoursome and there’s no tougher but tastier brown meat, and there’s no carcass to make stock for a good Boxing Day soup. Plus there’s the moral objection (which I usually hold dear) that it is wrong to only use the best bits of meat and to spurn the lesser cuts. But a crown is easier to cook, carve and eat. And I had enough on my plate without worrying about what do with a couple of dried up wings. Sacrifices had to be made.

I also felt no shame in getting advice from those who have gone before. I looked up Delia on line (this is somehow less compromising than buying a whole Delia Smith cookbook) when I wanted to refresh my memory of how long to cook a honey-roast ham so the glaze is perfectly brown and bubbly.

Finally I used the odd convenience food: puff pastry, marzipan and yes gravy granules. How else was I going to get a gravy thick enough to please my good trenchermen relatives?

So all of this leaves looking back at the claims made my former self made and shaking my head in shame at my arrogant ignorance. I would like to apologise for any offence my high-fluting ways may have caused.

Of course working as a chef is a very, very gruelling profession, a few weeks of working double-shifts knocks the catering college greenery out of anyone pretty quick. But try doing a family Christmas with its inherent shopping, budgeting, cleaning keeping everyone happy, not swearing or drinking too much. That really sorts the women out from the girls. So here I say domestic cooks I salute you and all that you achieve day in day out 365 days a year!


To visit Katrina’s website click here. 

Working at consumer wine fairs is hard graft. But it is also – scary thought – a great opportunity to meet the general public and find out what really interests them.

The Wine Show at the Business Design Centre in Islington, aka the ‘UK’s only consumer wine fair’, has to be the coalface of the wine trade. Between Thursday 23rd and Sunday 26th October 2008, I, like the rest of the exhibitors from all over the wine producing world, will be pouring, talking and selling wine to the anticipated 15,000 visitors. If we can retain our enthusiasm for the product by the end of the show then it really is true love!

This year I will be working on the Wines of Argentina stand (a country which is increasingly capturing my imagination – wine and mountains, what could be better!) with a group of producers coming over especially from South American for the show. I am looking forward to meeting them but how they react to the Great British public is yet to be seen.

Most visitors are enthusiastic about wine. They come wanting to try different things, to learn something, to buy a few bottles to drink at home. While people always enjoy background information, questions about alcohol levels and price are by far the most commonly asked. However after a few hours and many, many free samples the noise level at the show goes up and up and people do revert to type.

There are those who want to pour as much free wine down their throats as they possibly can. There are the wine bores who try to trip you up with awkward questions and pontificate to all around in an attempt to intellectualise their alcoholism. There are those who obstreperously proclaim that they like ‘sweet white’ wine and leave converted to rich reds. There are those who change their mind about what they like when they discover a wine they dismissed sells for a higher price.

And finally there are those who are genuinely enthusiastic. Who block out the bedlam in the room around them while they have a conversation with the wine in their glass. They may ask you questions, but it is the drink that does the talking and convinces them whether they should or shouldn’t buy this bottle, or re-visit this style at some point in the future. Luckily this group of people are by far the majority or visitors to the wine show and most of them are genuinely pleasant and interesting.

Still 15,000 is an awful lot of people and I know that no matter how enthusiastically I will try to talk about Argentinean Malbec or Torrontés and answer their questions, I know that the best drink that I’ll have on Sunday will be the cup of tea I’ll have when I finally get home. 

To see Katrina Alloway’s webpage visit


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