I remember when I was a child sitting up at our kitchen’s breakfast bar watching my mum curate culinary activities and prepare the dinner. Quite often there was only me and her in our house; my dad worked away from home, sometimes several months at a time, and I used to sit and keep her company while she cooked up mountains of food for me – I may have been an only child – but my appetite was equivalent to that of two other siblings. We used to chatter about our days, plan the activities for the week, or sometimes she would tell me about her jungle experiences when she lived in Brunei.
While we chatted I would give her a hand with the preparations. Even though I was young, I was given responsibility with the sharpest Kitchen Devil – chopping and peeling the vegetables – checking every now and then that the carrots were the correct thickness. My mum liked things just so, and as her only daughter, I aimed to please. By helping out and observing her I learned how to gut fresh fish, make gravy from scratch, and test how al dente the pasta was – never has there ever been a better excuse to thrown spaghetti at the wall! I learned ridiculously simple, yet ridiculously useful tips – tips which cooks learn only through experience – at a very young age. Most importantly I learned about timing. A roast dinner is one of the simplest meals to cook, but allowing the chicken to rest, ensuring the potatoes have a crunchy exterior, making sure the gravy doesn’t burn, and not overcooking the broccoli can be one of the hardest things to coordinate. Yet by my early teens I was a comfortable kitchen hand and cook.
Between the ages of 19 to 24 I lost my love for the kitchen and the joy of cooking fresh food. It started when I moved to London. I was studying full time, paying out of my nose to live somewhere that, really, I couldn’t afford. It’s not that I couldn’t afford to eat – I obviously did and have survived to tell the tale – but when you have a limited budget you cook up meals with no more than four ingredients. It means the cooking experience lacks joy and creativity. Meals are filling, but uninspiring. Those who try to pay an affordable amount of rent in London do so through the mechanism that is the house-share. We all shudder with the term ‘Gumtree’. When your living space is not your own, and you share with strangers, you keep yourself to yourself. Kitchen space is at a premium and you become increasingly accommodating to a lack of utensils, space, and others’ unusual culinary habits. Also, making soup is mightily difficult when the household only has one bowl (my house-mate and I affectionately, and somewhat originally, named it ‘the house bowl’).
But there is a light ahead of this story’s tunnel. It came in the form of The SW Food Blog. I’ve been blogging now for just over a month, and unintentionally it has given me more impetus and desire to cook that I ever have had before. I set out to review a few restaurants and local producers, but now I’m finding myself planning dishes for a Sunday night and inviting friends over for dinner. I’ve been rekindling those tips and tricks my good old mum taught me (less of the old, she’d say), and for the best part of Sunday I was completely engrossed in the kitchen; making brownies as a teatime treat, as well as home-made fish cakes and cauliflower cheese. Not only have I been consumed by cooking once again, I have also been consuming the cooking.
The ingredients for Sunday night’s cauliflower cheese were sourced from Brixton’s weekly Station Road Farmers Market which is open from 10am until 2pm.
Meat and vegetables at Brixton Famers' Market
Perhaps it was the sunshine, but the market seemed to be more bustling than usual. Turning the corner under the bridge off Brixton Road, the eyes were greeted with Brassicas of all hues and varieties. Cauliflowers were selling for as little as 60p, and the purple cauliflower (actually a broccoli, although different from purple sprouting broccoli) was one I couldn’t resist. Cavolo nero, other varieties of kale, and leeks, were among the glut of potatoes, onions, carrots and storeroom essentials.
Brixton famers market broccoli
Sampling the wares I settled on a mature cheddar made by Green’s of Glastonbury. Strong, creamy with a grainy texture, it was going to give my cauliflower cheese a tangy bite.
There are so many other stalls there which I have yet to try. I did however pick up Giggly Pig’s Irish sausages; I have it on authority that they were meaty and filling. They didn’t lose any volume on cooking, which says a lot about the amount of water in your average supermarket saucisson.
Colourful and intriguing was the greenery of Wild Country Organics‘ salad leaves. Tatsoi, claytonia, and their mixed salad with spinach and rocket were just some of the highlights.
Wild Country Organics at Brixton Farmers Market
Veggie lovers can delight at Brixton Farmers’ Market, but those looking for something altogether less wholesome can still tuck into the Carribean vegan cakes of Global Fusion foods, and the pastries of the Old Post Office Bakery.
I even had a go myself at counteracting all this beautiful fruit and vegetables. Decadent brownies made with Green and Black’s cocoa, and a whole bar of 70% chocolate, made my Sunday cooking and domesticity a pleasure. It’s so great to be back in the kitchen after this long overdue absence and put the love of cooking and fresh food, learned from my ma, back into practice.
70% Chocolate Brownies