Belizean breakfast

July 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.

Belize is a tiny little country just 180 miles long situated in Central America. Mexico lies to the North, Guatemala to the South and West and the Caribbean Sea to the East. The colony formerly known as British Honduras is now a hot tourist destination and a must-see place on the gap-year ecotourism trail according to my niece Lucy. It does sound rather idyllic – coral atolls, Mayan ruins, tropical rain forest… Maybe it’s not just for the low tax régime that Belize’s most famous resident Michael Ashcroft chooses to make his home here.

Because of the thriving tourism industry, descriptions of Belizean hospitality and specifically its breakfasts are not hard to come by on the web. I found this entry http://www.travellious.com/breakfast_in_belize pretty helpful in setting out what constitutes breakfast in Belize: refried beans, scrambled eggs, salsa, fry-jacks, and above all Marie Sharp’s hot sauce.

Here’s my version cooked up at home last Sunday morning. There’s one further addition to the Travellious list which is some greens quickly stir-fried with garlic. They’d use amaranth greens in Belize, sometimes referred to as callaloo, but I had to be content with some less exotic baby spinach:

The Marie Sharp’s hot sauce was impressively easy to obtain – a couple of mouse clicks and it arrived by post the next day. It’s a fiery red Tabasco type sauce but made authentically in Belize, and yes there really is a person called Marie Sharp who runs the company, it’s not just a marketing man’s fantasy à la Betty Crocker.

OK so menu and sauce sorted, this breakfast was beginning to take shape. Scrambled eggs, stir-fried greens and fresh salsa would be easy enough to whip-up, but what about the refried beans and those intriguingly named fry jacks?

My starting point for authentic refried beans was a recipe from the website of the rather lovely looking Chaa Creek ecolodge. Their recipe was a little sketchy so I’ve added my own tips for preparing refried beans. Despite the name, the beans are fried just once. I think I read somewhere that it’s more mellifluous in Spanish to refer to frijoles refritos rather than the uncomfortably alliterative frijoles fritos.

The soaked black beans look a dramatic inky deep purple colour as they go into the pot with the flavouring ingredients:

This softens when you come to fry and mash the beans to more of a sludgy grey. They may not look that pretty, but they do taste good:

Now for the fryjacks. I found an authentic recipe from fascinating blog Rice and Beans A Belizean in the USA which I’ve adapted and given below. My fry jacks tasted good – a bit like a savoury doughnut but didn’t puff up quite as much as expected.

First step was to make the dough and divide it into little balls:

Next, the dough balls are flattened and cut into quarters:

Finally, when you’re ready to eat, the quarters are dropped into hot deep fat to fry:

In keeping with the tropical vibe, I set up the deep fat fryer in the garage with the intention of eating our breakfast on the terrace outside. Great for containing cooking smells and conjuring up the beach shack atmosphere but unfortunately a Mancunian tropical downpour sent us scurrying back inside to eat.

Recipe for refried beans

Adapted from a recipe on the award winning Belizean eco-lodge Chaa Creek’s website.

Serves 6.

Ingredients

To cook the beans
1 lb dried black or red beans
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled but lightly crushed
2 bayleaves
1 sprig thyme
salt to taste

To fry the beans
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
a little powdered cumin (optional)
handful chopped coriander (optional)

Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Next morning, drain the beans in a colander, rinse them and tip them into a deep lidded pot. Add enough fresh cold water to cover the beans adding an additional 1cm of water on top.

Add the flavouring ingredients except the salt and bring the beans to the boil leaving the lid off the pan as otherwise it will boil over. Skim off the scum, turn down to a very gentle simmer and cover the pan. Check the beans after 30 minutes – add salt as soon as the beans are nearly cooked through. Simmer until the beans are nice and soft but not too mushy. This might take anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour or longer depending on your batch of beans and how long they’ve soaked for. Don’t taste the beans until they gave boiled for at least 20 minutes as they are mildly toxic until cooked through. Remove the flavouring ingredients using a slotted spoon and leave the beans in their cooking liquid until you’re ready to fry. You can fry the beans straightaway or, once cooled, store them covered in their liquid in the fridge for a couple of days.

When you’re ready to fry, choose a heavy based deep wide sauté or frying pan and heat the vegetable oil until medium hot. Add the chopped onions and cook until soft and just turning golden. Throw in the garlic and cook for a minute or so more until just beginning to brown but not burn. Add a couple of ladlefuls of beans and their cooking liquid to the frying pan, turn down the heat to low and cook the beans and associated liquid mashing them into the base of a pan with your wooden spoon or a potato masher. Once each ladleful of beans is mashed and heated, add the next. Add more bean cooking liquid as required to form a thick paste. It won’t look too pretty – a thick, grey sludgy paste, but it will taste good. Taste and season with salt and pepper and, if using, ground cumin. Scatter over the optional chopped coriander and serve.

Recipe for Belizean fry jacks

Adapted from an authentic fry jacks recipe from the blog “Rice and Beans A Belizean in the USA”

Ingredients

1/2 cup wholewheat flour
1 and 1/2 cups white flour
1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
about 3/4 cup of water

Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the vegetable oil and, using your hands, work the oil into the flour until you have little pebbles of oil saturated dough evenly distributed throughout the flour.

Make a well in the mixture and pour in the water a little at a time, using your other hand to stir the flour into the water in the centre of your pile. Keep adding the water and mixing it in a little at a time until you have formed the entire pile of flour into a rough ball of slightly sticky dough. You may need a little less water than specified in the list of ingredients.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes until it is smooth and stretchy. Then roll it out into a snake shape and cut it into 8 equal sized pieces. Take each piece and roll it into a ball. Cover and leave the balls to rest on a lightly floured surface for at least 30 minutes.

Next, prepare to deep fry the fry jacks. I used an electric deep fat fryer and my chosen cooking oil was rapeseed (canola). Heat the oil until really hot. To test if the oil is hot enough, drop in a small scrap of dough. If it sizzles but doesn’t smoke, the oil is the right temperature.

Take one of the dough balls and roll or pat it out into a circle, about 6 inches across. Take a knife or pizza cutter and cut the circle into four pieces. Once your oil is hot, drop several fry jacks into the pan. I managed to cook four at once without overcrowding. The fry jacks first sink then quickly rise to the surface of the oil. After 20-30 seconds, check to see if the sides in the oil have browned. If so, flip the fry jacks over with a pair of tongs fork and let the other side cook. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Eat immediately.

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Bring and share – two salads for summer

July 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Help! Three words that bring on a panic attack. You know the kind of thing I mean – a communal summer event, maybe a club or choir social evening, a music teacher’s summer pupils’ concert, perhaps even a street party. Some people you’ll know well, others less so, and everyone is asked to bring a dish to create an inpromptu meal.

What to bring? It’s got to be transportable; capable of sitting around on a warm buffet table without melting/disintegrating/giving everyone food poisoning; taste good; look a teeny bit impressive but not as if you’v tried too hard, and finally not something that’s going to take all day to prepare.

My suggestion is to avoid little canapé nibble type things at all costs as these take forever to put together and to go for a generous bowl of colourful salad instead. I have two reliable standby recipes, the first an old favourite and the second a recent discovery.

My first recipe is for tabbouleh, the much-loved middle-Eastern parsley and mint salad mixed with chewy grains of burghul.

I learned how to make this from one of my all time favourite cookery books, Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food”. My cookery book collection has grown over the years and has had to have a whole bookcase of its own set aside for it in our study. Neverthless, a selection of just ten books has crept back downstairs into the kitchen because I refer to them so often. ” A New Book of Middle Eastern Food” is one of those ten. It’s a book with no glossy photos (aside from the weird close-up of spring onions and vine leaves on the cover) yet manages to conjure up all sorts of evocative images of the Middle East in its imaginative and well-informed writing. A sort of Arabian Nights of the kitchen. And this small battered paperback is full of meticulously researched, concisely written recipes that actually work.

Tabbouleh, as Ms Roden explains, is essentially a herb salad, a mass of dense green freshness speckled with the pale grains of burghul. Quite often you’ll see something described as tabbouleh which is this idea reversed – lots of pale grains flecked with specks of grain. Salads like this may be good, but to me now they’re just not tabbouleh.

I grew up reading 1970s recipe books where herbs were mostly dried and strictly rationed – a teaspoon of chopped parsley in a white sauce to accompany boiled ham perhaps. I think that’s why I love the hugely generous quantities of fresh herbs you need for this recipe – think handfuls rather than teaspoons. Even with 2 big bunches of parsley, you need still more…

All the salad ingredients can be prepped beforehand which makes it very convenient to put together for a party. I’ve included some walnuts in this version:

You can very the garnishes according to your mood, what you have in the cupboard or fridge and what’s in season. I decorated this version with a few snipped chives and tasty chive flowers from the garden:

Is there any downside to this salad? Well, being honest, it will almost certainly leave green herby flecks on you and your guests’ teeth.

If having to check yourself in the mirror doesn’t appeal, then my second suggestion is a salad of blanched mangetout and French beans livened up with orange zest, toasted hazelnuts and freshly snipped chives. It comes from “Ottolenghi – The Cookbook”, one of those books where I turn the pages and want to eat everything in there.

This isn’t a salad you can throw together in a couple of minutes – each element has to be prepared quite carefully, be it the accurate and separate blanching and refreshing of the vegetables;

the roasting of the hazelnuts to just the right degree of toastiness without burning them;

or the careful preparation of the orange zest to give visually appealing long, thin strips without any pith.

Your efforts spent on preparation will be rewarded in a crunchy salad with a harmonious mix of intriguing flavours – the orange, hazelnut and mild onion flavour of the chives work really well together without overpowering the beans and sugar snaps.

Recipe for tabbouleh

Adapted from Claudia Roden’s “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food”. Serves 10 or more as part of a selection of dishes.

Ingredients

250g bunched flat leaf parsley – approx. 3 supermarket LARGE bunches
100g bunched mint
100g burghul
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
80 ml extra virgin olive oil
200g spring onions

Garnish – standard
2 little gem letttuces
3 medium tomatoes or 8 cherry tomatoes
2 inches cucumber

Garnish – optional additions
Handful of roughly chopped walnuts
Chive flowers, wild garlic flowers
Handful of pomegranate seeds

Wash the mint and parsley and dry carefully using a salad spinner. Pull out the thickest of the parsley stems and any discoloured leaves. The thinner parsley stalks can stay in as they are fine to eat once chopped. Remove the mint leaves from their coarse stems as these are generally too fibrous to make pleasant eating.

Chop the herbs either in a food processor or by hand as you prefer. I tend to use a food processor, pulsing carefully to chop the herbs to a medium degree without turning them into too fine a mix or worse of all, a mush. Set the chopped herbs aside in a tightly sealed plastic box and place in the fridge. If you’re preparing this dish ahead of time, the herbs will keep quite well in the fridge for 24 hours, even longer. Given that freshness is the essence of this salad, I don’t like to leave the herbs in the fridge too long though.

Finely slice the spring onions and set these aside in the fridge.

Meanwhile, prepare the burghul. Covering with cold water and leave to soak for half an hour or so. Tip into a sieve and leave to drain for 10 minutes or so, pressing out any excess water. Put in a mixing bowl and add half the lemon juice and olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Let it absorb the dressing for a further 30 minutes or so.

While the burghul is soaking, prepare your chosen garnishes. Carefully remove perfect whole leaves from the little gem lettuces and wash and dry them thoroughly. Dice the tomato and cucumber. If using, roughly chop the walnuts and/or remove seeds from a pomegranate.

Now assemble the salad. It’s best to assemble it no more than 30 minutes before you plan to serve it as otherwise the lemon juice in the dressing begins to blacken the mint leaves. Add the chopped herbs and spring onions to the dressed burghul in the mixing bowl. Add the remaining lemon juice and olive oil and more salt an pepper. Taste and check flavours. You need plenty of lemon juice and salt to make the salad really sing. Once you’re happy with the balance of flavours, line your chosen serving bowl with the prepared lettuce leaves, pile in the tabbouleh and scatter your garnish of tomato and cucumber, plus any optional additions, over the top.

Recipe for French bean and mangetout salad with orange and toasted hazelnuts

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s “The Ottolenghi Cookbook”. Serves 8 or more as part of a selection of salads and other dishes.

Ingredients

400g French beans (trimmed weight)
400g Mangetout peas (trimmed weight)
60-80g skinned hazelnuts (use the higher quantity if you like hazelnuts)
1 unwaxed orange
1 clove garlic, crushed
5 tablespoons hazelnut oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
10-20g chives, snipped into small pieces with a pair of scissors (plenty of chives perk up the flavour of this salad – use fewer if you prefer)
squeeze of lemon juice

Begin by blanching the vegetables. Bring a large pot of water to a fast rolling boil and add a little salt. Throw in the French beans and, using an accurate timer, cook them for 4 minutes, until just cooked. Using a slotted spoon, remove all the beans and throw them into a big bowl of iced water to refresh. Take the bowl to the sink and allow the cold tap to run over the beans until they are completely cold. Drain in a colander and tackle the mangetout in a similar fashion but the mangetout require just 60 seconds blanching time.

Pat the vegetables dry with kitchen paper and store in a sealed container in the fridge until needed. You can do this up to 24 hours ahead of time.

Scatter the hazelnuts on a shallow baking tray (I use a battered old Swiss roll tin) and bake in an oven preheated to 180 degrees C for 10 minutes until toasted to an even golden brown. Watch the nuts carefully as they bake and check them before 10 minutes is up to make sure they don’t burn. Chop roughly and set aside to cool.

Now prepare the dressing. I use a lidded jam jar to do this. Add to the jar the nut oil, the crushed clove of garlic and the zest of he orange. To prepare the orange zest, you need either to peel off a thin layer of orange skin without any pith using a swivel peeler. Having done this, using a sharp knife, cut the peel into long thin shreds. Much easier is to buy a special little zesting tool which you scrape over the surface of the orange which produces the desirable orange shreds in an instant. Add the juice of just half of the orange to the jar together with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Don’t add the chives at this stage as the fruit juices will make them go soggy and dark coloured.

When you’re ready to serve, tip the beans and peas and snipped chives into a handsome serving dish. Pour over the dressing and toss lightly. Scatter over the toasted hazelnuts and serve.

Belgian breakfast

July 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

The latest in our series of international breakfasts making up the Breakfasts of the World Project.

Unlike most of the far-flung destinations whose breakfasts we’ve tried to recreate at home, hopping over to Belgium is relatively straighforward for us in the UK so we were able to do some serious research on a recent family trip based in Bruges. This combined a little education (First World War graves, Ypres, Flemish painting and architecture) with gastronomic sight-seeing.

I know that Venice has the edge when it comes to a romantic weekend away à deux, but if you’re travelling en famille, as we were, a city which combines gorgeous architecture with chips, chocolate and waffles takes the biscuit (or should that be the speculoos…?).

We stayed in the charming canalside Ter Duinen hotel which these days would probably be called a boutique hotel as this sounds more desirable than “small hotel”. They laid on an impressive breakfast spread and if you were prepared to leap out of bed early, you could grab one of the coveted window seats with gorgeous reflected light from the canal:

This is how we attempted to recreate the experience at home. Not quite as beautiful as the Ter Duinen breakfast I know. I don’t run to white damask in our kitchen but I made an effort with some Flemish inspired tulips.

As you might expect from a country which has been fought over between the France and the Netherlands for aeons, its breakfast is a hybrid between the French influenced café au lait with croissants and the more Northern European influenced hearty brown bread with ham and sliced cheese. You get both at breakfast together with Belgium’s particular contribution to the breakfast universe, a host of tasty packaged treats, the legacy of its industrial and colonial past perhaps?

Belgium may not be known as a cheese producer, but here’s some prepacked slices of Bruges’ finest:

There were little squares of chocolate too – one of the reasons Belgium is world famous. Oddly, I can’t find a decent definition of what Belgian chocolate is – Côte d’Or with its familiar Elephant logo is the indigenous mass-market producer. Côte d’Or or Gold Coast is of course the old name for Ghana which is a former British rather than Belgian colony so how does that work? Maybe Belgian chocolates just refer to the delicious filled pralines sold by Neuhaus, Godiva and Leonidas and many more small artisan producers. A clear and comprehensive definition of Belgian chocolate remains elusive for the time being.

Popping into the Bruges branch of Delhaize (one of the big Belgian supermarket chains) to stock up on Belgian breakfast products I was thrilled to find family sized jars of two types of breakfast spread which we’d sampled only in indiviual portion packs at Ter Duinen.

On the right is an Ovomaltine spread based on the popular continental malted chocolate drink – imagine Nutella with the goodness of hazelnuts removed and replaced with nuggets of crunchy malty sugary stuff.

But wait for it, on the left is a jar of Speculoos spread based on the national biscuit of Belgium – a thin crisp ginger-spiced biscuit. Speculoos have a sort of mediaeval feel about them and were no doubt originally hand-made in elaborately decorated wooden moulds. They are most often found now individually wrapped in cellophane, branded Rombouts or most often Lotus, and served as a complimentary sweet nibble with a cup of coffee.

The idea of turning this small spicy biscuit into a spread is as preposterous an idea as a spread made from our own indigenous McVities’ ginger nuts.

Both jars were packed with unsuitable ingredients with a high E number count but nevertheless both have made it onto my not-so-secret list of guilty pleasures. All the family were secretly taking spoonfuls from the jar. I was amused to read recently the similar reaction to Speculoos spread of Paris-based food writer David Lebovitz (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/05/speculoos-a-tartiner-gingersnap-paste/)

Grab a jar if you dare!

Contact details

Ter Duinen Hotel
Langerei 52
8000 Brugge
BELGIUM

info@terduinenhotel.be
http://www.terduinenhotel.be/
Tel: 00 32 50 33 04 37
Fax: 00 32 50 34 42 16

Lime tea and madeleines

July 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

The air outside is still fragrant with the scent of the blossom of the stately lime trees which line our pleasant suburban street. This is the year that I have finally harvested and dried some of these blossoms. They make the most delicately flavoured of tisanes to serve alongside a plateful of madeleines to recreate that oft-referenced literary reminiscence in Marcel Proust’s “Du Côté de Chez Swann”, the first instalment of the mighty novel cycle “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu”.

Towards the beginning of the novel, the narrator’s mother sends out for a small cake to serve with tea “un de ces gâteaux courts et dodus appelés Petites Madeleines qui semblaent avoir été moulés dans la valve rainurée d’une coquille de Saint-Jacques”.

Tasting the morsel of cake dipped in hot tea triggers in the narrator a childhood memory of eating madeleines dipped in his Aunt Léonie’s lime tea. The narrator is fascinated by the shape of the madeleine “the form, too of the little shell made of cake, so fatly sensual within its severe and pious pleating”.

The shape of the madeleine is undoubtedly part of its appeal. Its dainty size and unadorned simplicity make it the antithesis of an oversized, overfrosted, overdecorated cupcake.

The good news is that madeleines are very simple to make. The recipe I use comes from Frances Bissell’s book “Entertaining”. The key step before you start is getting hold of the essential madeleine moulds. Be sure to invest in at least two trays as it’s very frustrating being able to bake just 9 madeleines at a time. I picked up my pair of silicone moulds in a kitchen shop in France but there’s no need to travel – there’s a huge selection of similar moulds available on Amazon.

Some cooks insist that only metal moulds give good results but I’ve had excellent results with my silicone moulds which I grease lightly before use. I sit them on a baking tray to make the job of putting them in and taking them out of the oven risk-free.

I give the full madeleine recipe below, together with a slightly more complex recipe featured recently on BBC Radio 4’s “Woman’s Hour” which I haven’t tried out yet. Why bother when the basic recipe works so well?

You can ring the changes a little by flavouring the madeleines classically with a little orange zest and a teaspoon of orange flower water, or a little lemon peel. In the last batch I made, I finally found the opportunity to use my latest food purchase – a precious little tin of must-have Tonka beans – and grated just a little into the batter to impart a subtle spicy richness.

Another trick to add depth of flavour to your madeleines is to take your melted butter to the beurre noisette stage before stirring it into the mix – this is something I learned to do from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Génoise Classique recipe from her aptly named “Cake Bible”. It’s also something that the second more complex madeleine recipe suggests.

Mixing the batter is very straightforward – no tricky creaming as the butter is melted and is incorporated very easily. It takes only a tablespoon of batter to fill each mould and the mixture really is quite runny – don’t be alarmed, this is how it should be.

OK, so that’s the madeleines taken care of. Now for the tea to dip them in.

The lime trees outside my front door may smell divine but are too close to the road to contemplate gathering the flowers to make a tisane. Lime trees are in flower for a very short time – just a week or so – so when a warm dry day arrives to gather the blossoms, you have to drop everything and seize the moment.

When the right day arrived, I headed off to nearby Dunham Park where lime trees grow in a perfect rolling parkland setting well away from roads:

I spread out the blossoms I’d collected on a wicker tray to dry gently in the dining room out of direct sunlight:

And a week later, I was ready to prepare my tisane and enjoy my Proustian moment.

So much more refined than dunking a jaffa cake into a mug of PG tips. Come to think of it, there’s a great literary pastiche to be written here…

Recipe for madeleines (1)

From Frances Bissell’s “Entertaining”

Makes 24

Ingredients

100g (4 oz) caster sugar
100g (4 oz) self raising flour
pinch of salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
130g (5 oz) unsalted butter, melted

Butter and flour madeleine moulds. Sift together the sugar, flour and salt. Beat in the eggs, and then mix in the melted butter. Pour the batter (which is quite liquid) into the prepared moulds, and bake in the top half of a preheated oven at 220 degrees C/450 degrees F/gas mark 8 for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven once the madeleines are golden, well risen and have the characteristic “bump” in the middle.

Recipe for madeleines (2)

Michael Vanheste of Betty’s cookery school’s recipe as featured on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour earlier this year.

Ingredients

60g (2 oz) lightly salted butter
1 medium egg
50 g (1.5 oz) caster sugar
30g (1 oz) plain flour
20g (1/2 oz) ground almonds
1 lemon, zested

1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees (fan assisted). Gas mark 5.

2. Warm a heavy-based pan over a moderate heat and add the butter. Cook the butter slowly until it has melted, turned a golden colour and gives off a nutty scent, hence the name “beurre noisette”. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

3. In a metal bowl, whisk the egg with the caster sugar until the mixture has become light and airy. You should be able to briefly leave a figure of eight with the balloon whisk on the surface of the mixture.

4. Sift the flour and ground almonds into the bowl and gently fold into the egg mixture together with the lemon zest. Finally, gently stir the beurre noisette through the mixture. Leave to rest for about an hour if you have the time, this will allow the gluten in the flour to relax, ensuring the cakes are light.

5. Spoon the batter into the madeleine moulds filling them 3/4 full. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown and springy to the touch.

6. Leave to cool in the mould for a while until cool enough to handle and then turn out onto a wire rack.

7. Once cooled, store in an airtight container.

Instructions for preparing lime or linden tea

Choose a warm sunny day to gather lime blossoms. Pick your trees carefully, away from roadside dirt and pollution. Using a pair of scissors, snip off the blossoms including the leaflike bracts. Transport the blossoms home carefully ideally in a wicker basket. Lay them out to dry on trays and leave in a warm dry place out of direct sunlight for about a week. Store in an airtight container.

When ready to brew, place 2 tablespoons blossoms (7g) in a teapot, pour on boiling water (I used 835 ml) and leave to infuse for at least 5 minutes. Strain into your favourite china cup, and if liked, sweeten with a little runny honey – choose one which is light and floral in character to complement rather than overpower the flavour of the tisane.

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