Photo courtesy and © of Ilva Beretta
The story so far: for the third Plate to Page workshop, 11 participants and 4 instructors had travelled from far and wide to congregate at Meare Court Farm in Somerset for a weekend of learning, teaching, photographing, writing, laughter and friendship. The first day and a half are described in my Plate to Page Somerset, Part I – now read on.
After bidding a fond farewell to Brown & Forrest smokery, we moved on to our next outing: an English pub lunch. The Canal Inn certainly fits the bill in appearance, with its gleaming draught beer taps, dark wooden beamed interior and low ceilings. Staff and regular patrons were a little taken aback when 15 out-of-towners descended on them and spent the first 10 minutes snapping pictures of everything from the decorative horse brasses to the vinegar bottles – but then how were they to know that these were 15 people on a mission who had to write up the visit as part of an assignment! The menu, however, is more modern gastropub than toad-in-the-hole and Scotch eggs and we were treated to a starter of asparagus with a poached duck egg and hollandaise; a main of seabass; and dessert (which I shared with Meeta) of a bread & butter syrup pudding and a berry tart with clotted cream. Maybe not traditional English pub food, but lovely nonetheless.
And from there it was back to the house for a large pot of coffee, some fortifying luxury almond nougat from South African company Sally Williams, and a writing workshop before participants were turned loose in pairs to write a blog post on the morning’s visit to the smokery, while instructors had the opportunity of spending time with each team, providing individual support, advice and guidance. Once all the groups had finished and presented their pieces, it was back to the house for a little light log-throwing for Tess; and a glass of Jeio Rosé prosecco from Bisol. Our neighbours (a weekend hen party) were clearly off on a far more boisterous night as we watched them totter off for a night out, all dressed as Virgin air hostesses! Dinner was catered by the Canal Inn once againwho brought large serving dishes to the house: carrot & coriander soup, salad and mackerel pate starters; poached salmon, roasted chicken with pears, and butternut risotto for mains; plus a mixed berry Eton mess, a lemon cheesecake and a fresh fruit salad for dessert. The Bisol Jeio Rosé prosecco was a beautiful match with the poached salmon as well as the roasted chicken, and nobody went to bed hungry or thirsty!
Photo courtesy and © of Ilva Beretta
By Sunday morning, everybody was still surprisingly enthusiastic and keen for more, so after breakfast, Jamie and I led the group back to the training room for another writing workshop. This time, we were focusing on killer openings to hook your reader’s attention; and how to say a lot in as few words as possible. Although there was much head scratching, inspiration did finally strike everybody and participants produced some great work. After we had warmed up the crowd, Meeta and Ilva took over with their post-processing presentation while Jamie and I went to meet the lovely Hayley, a Plate to Page alumna from Plate to Page Class of Tuscany who had offered to come and help us cook on Sunday. She also brought with her the participants’ mid-morning snack: astonishing hand-made raw chocolate truffles from our sponsor Raw Love Life: Himalayan salted fudge caramel, mint truffle and lemon cheesecake. Raw chocolate is made without heating anything over 42C – but tasting it you would never know – and you’d certainly never guess that they are also vegan and gluten-free.
Chocolates safely delivered, Hayley and her adorable other half Seb were like whirling dervishes in the kitchen, whipping up a fantastic kedgeree for lunch, using the nutty and delicious Gallo 3-grain that we had received from our sponsors. For dessert Hayley made us a beautiful Victoria sponge cake, using with the incredible (and gorgeously packaged) jams supplied by our sponsor Sunchowder – think flavours like peach-lavender, raspberry-pepper, strawberry-balsamic, or pineapple-tangerine. To drink, we indulged in Orchard Pig‘s fresh and delicious range of fruit coolers: it was hard to choose between the Flower Power and the Totally Minted – but I think my new favourite non-alcoholic drink must be their zingy Deeply Rooted (apple, ginger, chilli and lime). For those who were after something alcoholic, there was Bisol Cartizze – the brand’s premier prosecco, with a fine mousse and good depth of flavour, and an affinity for food: a surprisingly good match with the kedgeree. And with dessert, the Bisol Jeio Rosé was the perfect match, both in colour and flavour. Lunch finished with an informal presentation by me and Jamie at the table, all about getting noticed online, getting published, and other ways to reap benefits from your blog. Meeta and Jo even found the time to fit in an impromptu modelling shoot for me in the garden, showing off their stylish and practical Kelly Moore camera bags – the bags for people who don’t like to carry a camera bag.
After lunch, participants were once again set a task to perform in groups of two and left to work on their own while the presenters spent some time in the kitchen with Hayley and Seb. Donald Russell had sponsored us some legs of lamb which Hayley had stabbed with the ultra-sharp ceramic knives kindly provided by Edge of Belgravia, stuffed with garlic and rosemary, and then rubbed all over with olive oil before popping them in the oven. The smell in the kitchen by mid-afternoon was wonderful beyond words. As we sat around the table outside the kitchen door, listening to the lowing of the cows (and the clunk on the flagstones as Tess dropped larger and larger logs at our feet for throwing!), Hayley got to work snapping the ends off the giant pile of crisp, fresh asparagus that had been sent to us by The Garlic Farm on the Isle of White. I’ve seldon seen fresher – and they made fantastic photographic subjects. As the afternoon drew to a close, we gathered in the training room for a final time to hear participants present their final project. But of course, mankind cannot live by writing and photography alone: to fortify everyone for the presentations, we broke out the boxes of Bluebasil Brownies. Despite everyone’s assertions just an hour or two earlier that they never needed to eat again, the temptation of these delectable, gooey brownies in flavours like Caramel Crunch, Cardamom and Chocwork Orange proved too much and they were polished off in minutes. And just because we had not had enough chocolate yet, we were also served some Two helpings of chocolate and 60 mins later, we were done with the last of the participants’ presentations, and off to the main house for dinner.
We started with the wonderful asparagus from The Garlic Farm (barely cooked and covered in Parmesan), followed by the utterly delicious slow-roast legs of lamb from Donald Russell – succulent, lamby and everything you ever dreamed roast lamb could be. No wonder these guys supply meat to the Queen of England herself – they are good. A fantastic accompaniment was provided by the extraordinary mint sauce with garlic, also provided by The Garlic Farm – the perfect antidote for yor childhood memories of sickly-sweet mint jelly. Mint sauce with balls, if you will. The other big surprise of the evening was the wine. When our sponsor Laithwaite’s agreed to send me a case of fairly obscure French red called Domaine of the Bee, I agreed, not expecting fireworks. How wrong I was. Wrong, wrong wrong. This 100% grenache wine is made in tiny quantities at the estate in Maury, down south near Perpignan. The extremely low field means that they produce wines of tremendous depth and concentration – a mouthful of well-rounded cassis and vanilla with wonderfully integrated tannin – and a superb match for our lamb. And just because we are greedy, we finished off with a rhubarb crumble which paired well with the excellent Needless to say, we slept like the dead!
The next morning, those who did not have to leave at the crack of dawn formed a subdued party at the breakfast table, saying sad and heartfelt goodbyes as people slipped away from the table to undertake the journey home to Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Egypt – or just the north of England. I was sad to see everybody go, but glowing inside with the knowledge that this thing we do is a really good thing. People have been asking me why I do it. “Surely you are training people to compete with you?” they exclaim. But every time we do this and I’m overwhelmed at participants’ enthusiasm and willingness to share, grow and learn, I know that the old Latin saying is true: docendo discimus – by teaching we learn. And what I have learnt is that there is no finer thing than to see the grin of comprehension steal across somebody’s face, or to witness a tiny and deeply buried seed of confidence grow and blossom in a creative environment. That’s why we do it.
Roll on, Plate to Page 2013.
Photo courtesy and © of Nitin Kapoor
Thank you to our awesome participants for making the weekend as special as it was:
And thank you to our stellar cast of sponsors – we could not have done this without you:
Bisol Prosecco | Donald Russel (legs of lamb, curries and fish pies) | Sally Williams (nougat) | Halen Môn (smoked sea salt) | Orchard Pig (Somerset ciders and fruit coolers) | Laithwaites Domaine of the Bee wine | Capricorn Somerset Goats Cheese | F & W Media (Brette Sember’s Muffin Tin Cookbook) | Riso Gallo (3-grain rice & easy risotto) | Edge of Belgravia (limited edition numbered ceramic knives) | Sunchowder’s Emporia (gourmet jams) | Blue Basil Gourmet Brownies | Taste of Home (cookbooks and aprons) | Gourmelli (selected gourmet foods) | Nielsen-Massey flavoured extracts | The Garlic Farm (smoked garlic, fresh asparagus, relishes) | Raw Love Life raw chocolates | Kelly Moore (camera bag vouchers)
Here are some other perspectives on the weekend:
Meeta – From Plate to Page snapshots
Juliane – Plate to Page – a workshop to remember!
Wendy – Plate to Page 2012 Somerset
Don’t forget – I am hosting Meeta’s Monthly Mingle this month and the theme isA Taste of Yellow to honour our friend and ellow-blogger Barbara Harris of Winos and Foodies who passed away last month after finally losing a long battle with cancer. In honour of her annual Taste of Yellow event which raised cancer awareness, we have decided to paint the food blogs yellow with dishes in every shade of yellow, and we hope you can join us! Feel free also to share memories and pictures of Barbara in your post if you wish. You have until 6 August to get your entries in – click here for detalis of how to take part.