Radical Radio

Review books by black writers… and other shenanigans

This is the first of a series of posts around my trip to Congo Brazzaville, which is the country I was born in. I just realised recently that there is always a moment at the dinner table when my mother mentions something happening to someone in the family and my response 7 out of 10 would always be: “who is this” and she would answer something like “your uncle”, or “your Aunt” or “your cousin”. This is because I don’t really know every single member of my family. It’s quite tragic, I know. But I am working on it. I want to actively document my journey while I am working on it. To be fair I have a really big family. Ok it’s probably not a valid excuse.

A couple of years ago my mother told me that my great-great-great-grandfather was a white french soldier assigned in Brazzaville for a short while. And while he was here he happened to have fallen in love with my relative. Out of this love came my great-great-grandmother who was mixed-race. This is a very short summary and a rather trivial version of what happened. It was of course a bit more complicated than that. How much more complicated, well I am on a quest to find out. I’m not an idealist so I’m certain this story did not get a happy ending.

Just like this one there are many mysteries in my family. I would like to investigate the most captivating ones if I can. It’s not going to be an easy task, because it’s very hard to get members of the family to talk about specific moments in time. In my family we don’t really document anything at all. I created our first family tree last year and it is very far from being complete and it only goes as far as my maternal grandfather. Even that took a lot of negotiations and phone calls to my mother’s older brother who I don’t remember when I saw last.

My previous trip to Congo was just over 20 years ago. My next trip is fast approaching and there are so many questions flying through my brain. Will I recognise my grandmother’s house? Do I still know the way from my aunt’s house to my old primary school? What’s the heat going to be like? Will I use sun cream? of course I will use sun cream, it will be silly and reckless not to. Will my niece and nephew make fun of me for applying sun cream though?

A few years ago I was stopped on a street in Paris by a young woman who claimed that we used to go to primary school together. She said that we were good friends and we used to see each other a lot outside school. My short term memory is really good and I don’t remember the last time I lost keys or a phone. But on the other hand my long term memory is the worst. You ask me about a specific event 5 years ago I would have to think really hard for a very long to give you an answer. Basically don’t expect me to remember who I went to school with 27 years ago. I don’t actually remember the name of that school either, nor any teacher’s names. There is only one teacher I remember and she was my philosophy teacher in high school. I loved her so much. I remember thinking when she was teaching us that she actually loved her job and cared about us. She was a genuine nutter and used to make us all laugh out loud no matter what colour you were. I sometimes wonder what she got up to after I graduated from high school.

I am leaving in 2 weeks today and will probably start packing next week. I have had 3 vaccinations done in 2 months and I received my visa a few days ago. Because my congolese passport is too old I cannot travel with it. The congolese embassy in London does not issue new passports either so I had to swallow my pride and pay for a very expensive visa to ensure a stress free journey. I will apply for a new passport while I’m there.

I am talking about my memory and I will keep talking about it, because I don’t want my family history to be lost. So I have decided to start writing more about it. So in a few years I can read back and remember.

If you are not too fond of rice and looking for an alternative to the traditional italian risotto, I just found the perfect recipe for you below from chef David Royer. This is suitable for vegetarians and easily adjustable for vegans if you are only doing the risotto.

My mom and I found that recipe online which was part of an old french cooking tv program called “Meteo à la carte”. I don’t know if the program still exists as I no longer live in France but there a link to their tv program below the Youtube video. if you are a french speaker this is going to be easy for you to follow. If you are not a french speaker, this is your lucky day because I’m going to translate the recipe for you plus of course a few tips.

First a couple of notes to say that I did not do the chicken recipe because it was a week day and it takes up to 5 hours. I only tried the risotto on its own which was filing and delicious. Second if you only do the risotto the portion will not be enough for 4 hungry adults. It would suit 4 people if you do the chicken as well. I’m going to give you the recipe anyway just the way it is and if you need more then you will have to adjust the ingredients. Worth mentioning that it should be ok for 2 adults and 2 children though.

I really like this recipe because there is just enough ingredients for exactly a family of 4. There is no waste at all and everything is affordable. If you have to buy all ingredients it won’t cost you more than £11 minus the wine because this depends on what sort of wine you want to buy. I already had a decent chenin blanc which I only use for cooking and it was around £4. If you want some leftovers for next day’s pack lunch just double the recipe.

Ingredient for the lentil risotto (suitable for vegetarians at this point. If you are a vegan make sure you use vegan wine, a vegan soft cheese, and rice wine vinegar or mirin, and vegetable stock instead):

  • 200g of black raw lentils
  • 1 beetroot (this portion is if you have a large one. If like myself you can only find small ones at the supermarket use a ‘bunch’ instead) and 1 carrot
  • Water, olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper [to cook the beetroot]
  • 100g of celeriac
  • 50g of fresh goat cheese (any goat cheese from your local will do)
  • 2 onions (I used one white and one red to get a different flavour) and garlic
  • a splash of dry white wine
  • Chicken stock (in the video the chef is using amazing home made fresh stock. If you have other fish to fry than creating your own stock, buy one already made from the supermarket and dilute in hot water with a fork
  • Grated parmesan or a cheaper alternative to sprinkle at the end if you want

Now the ingredients for the chicken if you are not a vegetarian/vegan:

  • 4 chicken thighs
  • Garlic
  • 1 peeler cut in 4 quarters with skin left on (so don’t forget to clean the fruit first)
  • Star anise [I don’t like star anise because I don’t like licorice flavour. I would personally replace this either with Allspice or cloves instead]
  • Water, olive oil, salt, pepper, and dry white wine (the 70cl mentioned in the video is to share for the chicken and the risotto).
  • Foil – to cover (important if you want to make sure the chicken keeps most of its moisture throughout the cooking process)

In a baking tray lay the chicken, then crushed garlic, star anise (or cloves or allspice depending on what you prefer), the peeler cut in 4, water, olive oil, salt, dry white wine, pepper, all to taste. Cover as tight as you can with foil then in the over for 4 to 5 hours at 170 degrees celsius. you should end up with a confit like texture and flavour. (I can’t wait to try that recipe – I do like to call myself a vegetarian meat eater!).

Now for the risotto start with cooking the raw beetroot first. Just cut the beetroot in small cubes, add the water, olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. I added enough liquid to cover generously the beetroot in the pan but not too much as I didn’t want to drown it. It will take about 30 mins to cook and frankly you could just buy already cooked beetroot if you can’t be bothered. But here is the thing, cooking it yourself will make your beetroot a lot more flavoursome and you have to spend some time prepping the other veggies and start cooking the lentils before the beetroot comes into play. So technically you have time to do this. Once it’s on the hob leave to simmer gently and stir once in a while. It doesn’t need much attention from you from that point. You want it to still be a bit crunchy so 30 mins max.

Once the beetroot is simmering here comes the most time consuming part. Cut all the veggies in very small cubes like in the video (carrot, celeriac, onions). The reason for that is you want the veggies to be cooked all the way through. The chef fries the veggies with butter but I prefered to use olive oil instead. Fry all the veggies, then add the garlic, the lentils, a splash of white wine and gradually the chicken stock. If you have made risotto before then you should know how to add the stock: add a bit to cover the dish let it simmer until the moisture is absorbed then again until the lentils are cooked. Don’t cook it too much so taste regularly because you don’t want your lentils to become mushy. You want them to be cooked al dente so still a bit crunchy. Otherwise you might as well just buy ready made mushy lentil in a pack.

img_9258.jpg

Important tip from the chef: do not add the salt at the beginning because otherwise your lentils will NOT cook

Once cooked right at the end add the goat cheese (or a vegan alternative). Simmer enough time for the cheese to melt, then add the cooked beetroot, salt and fresh parsil. Now you are ready to plate.

The lentils are creamy and the chicken should be full of flavour, and falling off the bones because of the slow cooking process. Sprinkle with a bit of grated parmesan at the end if you wish for non-vegans, and enjoy. Happy Easter!

Let me know in the comment section if you have additional tips to share for this recipe or would like more info.

 

 

 

I am starting a baby blanket with a Barnet yarn which I bought online. Unfortunately it is not easy to find this yarn in shops in London because I believe that it is an American brand. I have to say that it’s my first time using this yarn and it’s not easy so I thought I should write about it. What I mean by it is not easy is that not only the pattern is hard to decipher but also that it is hard to actually keep track of your stitches because the yarn is very fluffy and makes everything blurry, with lack of better word.

The yarn itself is soft, indulgent and most importantly tested for harmful substances which is very important if you are making something for a baby. As a bonus the brand also provides a couple of free patterns with the yarn and provides a website where you can find all the abbreviations and buy yarns. Below the link to the website:

http://www.yarnspirations.com/row-en/

Now I’m going to show you how to do the crochet pattern in you live in Europe (UK for me but I believe other countries in Europe also use the same terminology). The pattern is called ‘From the middle baby blanket’ for crochet. I assume ‘from the middle’ is actually what they called a circular pattern. The pattern is American and in order to follow you need to translate all stitches first. I’m not going to provide a conversation table because you can easily find it online.

The pattern uses 3 different colours. I am only using one single colour. If you choose to use three colours then change it every time the pattern prompts you to change to the colour you chose for A, B and C.

To start with: Chain 4 then join with slip stitch (UK = ss) to form a ring.

1st round (the easy one):

US: chain 1 (ch1), single crochet (sc), chain 3 (ch3) / UK: ch 1, (double crochet (dc), ch3) X 4 inside the loop. Join with a ss

2nd round 

UK: ss into the next ch3 space (your next corner basically). Ch 3 [US: 2 dc, ch3, 3 dc]. UK = (2 trebles (tr), ch 3, 3 tr) in the same corner space. Then repeat this in the next 3 corners and ss to top of chain 3 and fasten off (if you want to change to a different colour here)

3rd round

If you are using a different colour: join colour B into a ss in the next corner. If you are not adding a colour then just ss the same colour without fasting off into the next corner. Don’t forget that this is going to make working on the st you are covering with this year at the end of the round a bit tricky.

ch 1. [1dc, ch3, 1dc. Chain 3 in same corner space, miss next two tr and 1dc into following two tr. then chain 3.] X 4. Join in ss in the last dc

4th round (gets a bit complicated and doesn’t actually make any sense on the american pattern because they write down enough stitches for 6 sides when you actually only have 4 sides. Unless they want you to transform this into an exagone which is nonsense. So this is what I would do below)

ss inside the ch3 space. ch3. *(2tr, ch3, 3tr)* in the same space. then 3tr in the next two ch3 space.

**(3tr, ch3, 3tr)** in the next corner ch3 space.

Repeat *(…)* and then **(…)** once more

Join with ss to top of 3ch (fasten off your second colour at this point and get ready to start your new colour. If you are using one single colour then ss into the ch3 space)

5th round

You are starting from your next corner at usual. Ch1.

[(1dc, ch3, 1dc) in same corner space. Ch 3. (Miss next two tr, 1dc into next 2 tr, ch3) X 3 ch3] = Repeat until you finish your loop and ss into first dc.

6th round

ss into the next corner ch3.

[Ch3 (2tr, ch3, 3tr) in same space. 3tr inside ch3 space until the end of the row. (3tr, ch3, 3tr) in the next corner.] = Repeat twice then join with ss in top of last ch3

7th round

join new colour in next corner or ss same colour in next corner. Repeat same in round 5

8th round

ss into next corner and then do as in round 6. Change yarn colour every couple of rows.

So basically as you might have guessed the pattern is basically a repetition of row 2 and 3 until you have reached your desired length. If you are a beginner then you might want to do check until row 8 just to make sure you understand the pattern which slightly change of course as you work grows.

Leave any comments if you have any questions or if you are from the US and would like me to send a snapshot of the US pattern.

This is recipe is from the Waitrose youtube channel. I’m a huge fan of Waitrose because they have great quality products. It’s on the expensive side but I don’t do my main shopping there. I go there when I need something specific that I cannot find in my cheaper local. I recently discovered their youtube channel and they have great recipes there. So I will be reviewing those quite a lot.

I tried the upside-down cake recipe last week and although it was delicious I was not completely happy with it because of a few misses in the process. Below are a few things that I would change.

  1. The clementines are cut in half and left with the skin on: This didn’t work for me. Having to eat warm mandarin skin was a bit strange and it was getting stuck in my teeth. Next time I think I will buy skinless mandarin which I would lay down in the tin on top of the caramel as instructed in the video.
  2. The cardamom crushing: Never again! There look similar to pumpkin seeds, and you have to open to get tiny little seeds inside and crush them. It was pretty much a nightmare for two reasons. It’s hard to open the cardamum shell with your own hands so what you would do is crush them inside the mortar to reveal the seeds. Second, once you do that you then have to spend ages trying to remove the shell. My advice here is not to do what John Whaite tells you to do in the video and actually buy powdered cardamom. You will save lots of time and hassle.
  3. The caramel: So this is really depending on how deep your cake tin is, Mine I think was slightly deeper than John Waite’s (see featured image) but even so I think there just wasn’t enough caramel. The cake itself is moisturised by the caramel. The top part which was embedded in caramel was absolutely delicious, especially because it was also mixed with clementine juice. The bottom half… not so much once your cake is cold. I suggest using between 200g and 250g of sugar for the caramel instead so you have a larger amount. This hopefully will provide the whole cake with a bit more moisture.

Sorry for the lack of media for this post – Next time I bake this cake, I will add photos taking into account the bits of advice above so you can see what it looks like.

Don’t hesitate to leave your comments if you’ve tried that recipe before and have further advised, or if you would like to do it and need more info.

There is a new pub in north London. Not quite new actually because it used to be a couple of different pubs before it became The Brave Sir Robin. There was a bit of anticipation atmosphere in the air as everybody was wondering what would finally emerge from the ashes of the old place. After a 6 months battle with squatters and a reluctant landlord, the ‘brave’ Sir Robin managed to obtain a license and open its premises. It does not disappoint. A good variety of craft beers but what I was looking forward to were the craft ciders.

If you are like me and you do not like fizzy sweet commercial cider it can be hard to find happiness in London. This pub has at least 3 different craft still ciders on tap. Those are anything from dry to medium sweet. I haven’t had that level of variety since I left Cambridge. On top of that there some fizzy dry and medium dry ciders which are also delicious and that I have grown to like.

There is a good selection of board games and a fantastic DJ on the weekend. The DJ plays anything from Jazz to Soul and Rock. None of the commercial popular pop which is a relief. The setting is grunge, cozy with a Scandinavian food theme. I am not sure about the Scandinavian food theme but who cares because it’s delicious. You will be served the type of food you would expect in a high-end restaurant with fresh and delicious ingredients. I cannot recommend anything because most dishes are of high quality.

The only downside is the dessert. There is only one dessert on offer and it is a sort of a chocolate torte. unfortunately, it was rock hard when we got it and the portion was way too big. In my opinion, anything chocolate is never too big but in this case, even sharing with someone else was not enough to finish it because of its richness.

That said the disappointing dessert is not enough to keep me away from the place. This is by far my favorite pub in London. In the 14 years I’ve been living in this city I don’t think I have stumbled into such an intricate place before.

Who would have thought that I would ever talk about food that I had on a camp site! Definitely not me in a million years. I’m a planner. Let me explain. I’m always on a tight budget when I travel and travelling, even in Europe, is not cheap. So when I go away I always make sure to plan carefully so I see as much as possible. My holidays are never restful holidays but that’s just how I like it. This means that often I end up waiting for a ferry or a train to go somewhere. I’ve had good and bad experiences in that situation. The worst ones I’ve had were when I was backpacking in Thailand waiting in deserted wastelands for a night bus or arriving in one. A couple of times I thought that I would probably end up being kidnapped by Thai gangs and chopped up and eaten with sweet sour sauce.

Prapratno for me is the sort of place you don’t actually plan to go to. It’s a transitional hub to get from one place to another. But it was surely the most beautiful transitional hub I’ve ever had the pleasure to stay in. Many people complain about the lack of sandy beaches in Croatia. If you decide to go to Croatia don’t forget to buy diving shoes so you don’t end up with blisters because of the rocks everywhere. But there are a few sandy beaches in Croatia and you just have to know where they are (as in ‘use google’). Prapratno was my first surprise, and a very good one. The weather was perfection for a dive. Forty degrees in the city is horrendous, but forty degrees at the beach, your toes deep in the sand and the warm crystal clear water caressing your cheeks is luxurious. The place is also surrounded by olive trees which provide a welcome shade.

The water was shallow and full of colourful fish. Before travelling I researched snorkelling in Croatia and apparently it wasn’t recommended at all but this is my opportunity to say that snorkelling in Croatia is actually great in many places. There isn’t a huge amount of variety in terms of species but I still fell blessed to have been abled to catch a glimpse of such a magnificent underwater display. Regardless whether you are taking the ferry or not I recommend going to that beach if you happen to be driving to Dubrovnik because it’s on the way. Many other things spring to mind as well when I think about this place such as a feeling of safety (we left the car open at some point and the staff at the camp noticed and spread the message over their walkie talkie until it reached the waiter who told us) and a deep sense of peace. No this post wasn’t just going to be about food!

Back to my parentheses, at the restaurant everything is made from scratch. The open kitchen sends waves of exotic mediterranean smells and showcase probably the happiest cook I’ve ever seen. On holiday you never really know why you’re content, you just are. Having this in mind perhaps this post will be biased because of it. Although the camp site is easily found online, you will not be able to find their restaurant. The food was the sort of simple food you will cook yourself at a family barbecue: Grilled meat, salads and homemade bread. Everything was seasoned well but not over powering so you can enjoy the full flavour of the main ingredients. I think the key two words to describe it are fresh and simple ingredients. You don’t need to do much with good quality local ingredients, your plate speaks for itself.

It is also affordable. With the British pound being at its lowest in value, gone are the days when you thought that everything outside the UK was incredibly cheap. Now you actually have to think twice about your budget, and this place ticks all the boxes. Add to this the friendly staff and you’ve found yourself in a tiny paradise on earth.

If you are on public transport you will never find this place. You will need to have a car to get around and allow yourself to make a detour there. Preferably with air-conditioning and packed with gallons of waterproof sun cream.

I tried a new gem in the neighbourhood. A place called hodge lodge doesn’t quite invite a burst of inspiration, when hodge podge literally means a mix of everything. It must be very obvious to a British person, but if you are french it is not quite obvious. You would have asked me what London cuisine meant 13 years ago I probably would have answered: doesn’t exist…

… until last night. The restaurant menu is simple. (can’t point you to their website because their menu is not yet available there yet) There are a dozen of dishes and they are all available either as starters or as mains, which I think is a clever idea. Only one dessert at the bottom, yes disappointing to say the least because that one dessert already there was absolutely divine. No actually there were two desserts, but I never count ice cream as dessert because ice cream for me is not rocket science. Not enough effort is put into ice cream which is why I would never spend a fortune for it.

I ordered the lamb and parsnips which came with a potato puree and something that looked like a red sauce. I wish I could remember all the ingredients but I don’t. Here is what I remember: The potato puree wasn’t just a potato puree, it had black seeds inside and was a light greenish colour. It had a intricate delicate taste and definitely not as boring as a regular potato mash. The parsnips were cooked to perfection, crunchy and soaked in the lamb juice. The lamb was tender and melting in my mouth and seasoned just right, not too salty and not too overpowering and most importantly not dry! I feel like I need to add a little about the saltiness because I’ve been trying to reduce my intake of salt for the last few months. It means that I don’t really add any salt in my food at home. When I go out this becomes a problem because everything at restaurants get easily too salty for me. Twice I had to send back my food because it was just uneatable for me. I realise now how much salt I used to consume on a daily basis. So for me to be at the restaurant and not thinking that I’m eating a jug of salt was victory.

My partner had beef which was served with thinly sliced roasted potatoes crispy on the top, whole roasted onions served with an oyster and parsley mayo. The portions were generous just the way I like it. The tendency in London now is to serve people tiny portions for the same price in the hope that people will spend more. This usually doesn’t work because most people have their food budget in mind when they go out. So once they’ve spend that budget they will go home and eat more if they are still hungry. Let’s get back to my generous portions. The beef was tender, succulent and juicy and almost fruity. Would it have been cooked less it would have reached perfection for me, but the cooking style was perfect for my partner. At this stage I have two minus points. The first one is that the food was colder than expected. We were only about 8 in the restaurant with two chefs on duty this should’t have happened. The second minus point is that the waiter didn’t not ask how we would like the beef cooked which is a shame. Because if it was my dish it would have ordered it rare.

Now that the minuses are out of the way, I have to say that I had one of the best nights I’ve had for a while. The manager and waiter were welcoming and smiley. We had an impromptu sake tasting at the end of our meal and got to taste very expensive delicious Japanese wine. The staff there were very attentive, very good at remembering our names and super fun. It is definitely worth trying a place that has just opened because there are less people so the staff tend were more attentive, and you don’t have to wait an hour to get your food served on a Friday night. I’m sure the cold plates thing was just a one off thing and will improve in the future. I recommend Hodge Podge which is on Crouch Hill – get there while it’s still quiet and unknown!

PS: if you are wondering what the featured image is, it’s actually the only dessert on the menu: marathon profiteroles with a superb filling!