September 25, 2012

Sugar & Spice

Harissa. How often we've bemoaned the fact that it is so hard to come by; how well it would go with this that or the other; how it has the ability to transport you straight back to the pungent smells and vivid colours of daily life in Morocco... and it is actually really easy to make!

Essentially you just whizz up fresh tomatoes and chillis with spices (cumin, caraway, coriander), some salt, garlic and onions. You're then meant to briefly cook for ten minutes or so and then bottle hot, topping with olive oil to seal.

I misread my recipe and blended in the oil too. It tasted okay, but seemed to be calling for a base note. So I decided to really cook it down and left it chuckling boldly away on our fire all evening.

It reduced by half and now tastes absolutely fantastic. The intensity brought by cooking down was all it needed. The oil naturally separates off a little, making it look very authentic in the jars.

The other experiment that really paid off this week was plum and tomato jam! Somehow it feels right to put plums and tomatoes together, but I had never considered bringing in sweetness until I found a recipe for tomato jam. Adding the plums brought texture and natural sweetness and the bold spices (fresh chilli, ginger, cumin, cinnamon and cloves, and a generous slosh of fresh lime juice right at the end) gave it a kick that can jazz savoury meat dishes as well as pancakes and simple cheese sandwiches.

To balance our culinary explorations and take a break from the kitchen for a while, we both turned our hands to building. Neither of us have built a proper wall before, but we found the process very appealing. Working from opposite sides of the passage (whose side enclosure opening into Saskia's room I had freed last week) we found a rhythm laying bricks, smoothing cement and straightening in turn until we could only just see each other's noses.

At this stage we noticed how the contracted passage would now have practically no natural light. The remainder of the curved wall had already sustained a horizontal crack at the height of where the new wall now reached. So we decided to take the top section out and put in a window in its place.

Round windows are hard to come by and perspex just wouldn't have felt right... and then the brainwave struck – use glass jars!

The traditional jars that we had been given have glass disks for lids and were therefore the ideal material for the job. A few had cracks (which prompted the idea) and others we simply sacrificed for the good cause.

It was very fiddly work, but the effect is beautiful.

I have learned never to work with cement for long periods of time without gloves. I sustained the most painful, tiny sores on my finger tips and incredibly dry, sensitive skin that lasted for days.

Luckily there is always plenty of washing up to be done!

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