Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Aubergine and lentil lasagna

Serves 4-5

For the ragù

50g soy mince
100g red lentils
One medium to large onion
3 fat cloves garlic
One tin chopped tomatoes
5 tablespoons tomato purée
½ teaspoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon sugar
A glug of tomato ketchup
12 tea spoons Bisto favourite gravy granules (veggie friendly)
One tablespoon dried basil
One tablespoon fresh basil
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch paprika

For the white sauce

75g butter
70g flour
500ml milk

Glug of olive oil
One medium to large aubergine
125g packet of mozzarella
Salt and pepper for seasoning

4-5 plain lasagna sheets
4-5 spinach lasagna sheets

Slice the aubergine lengthways and salt by placing in a large baking tray, covering with salt and leaving for 30-40 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion, chopped. Stir for five minutes then add the garlic, chopped, cook for another five minutes. Add the soy mince and lentils and stir well to ensure they are coated with oil. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes and 200ml water. Turn the heat right down and keep stirring for another fifteen to twenty minutes, adding the tomato purée, ketchup, cocoa powder, sugar, gravy granules, basil (in whichever order you like) and enough water to ensure the mixture doesn’t stick to the pan. Season with nutmeg, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a smaller pan on a low heat and add the flour when the butter is bubbling. It should form a paste. Stir. Then, gradually add the milk and stir until absorbed. Repeat the process until you have the desired consistency. Keep cooking on a low heat, stirring all the time and adding more milk or water if required. Season well with salt and ground black pepper. Generously grate nutmeg into the sauce and stir.

Turn off the heat for the ragù and white sauce. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.

Rinse the aubergine and pat dry with kitchen roll. Fry in olive oil for five minutes on both sides until golden.

Spread half the ragù evenly on the bottom of a large, rectangular baking dish. Add a layer of half the aubergines. Pour a third of the white sauce on top and spread out evenly. Place the spinach lasagna sheets on top, breaking off pieces from the corners if necessary to make the sheets fit the dish. Add the remaining ragù and spread out evenly on top of the lasagna. Add the rest of the aubergines in a layer. Cover with white sauce and spread out evenly. Add the plain lasagna sheets. Top with the remaining white sauce and spread the mozzarella evenly on top.

Bake for 35 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Story of the Salford Star

A few years back, you might have seen copies of free community magazine the Salford Star, a snapshot of life in Salford that was searching, biting, sometimes funny, often celebratory and always readable and well-written. It featured everything from investigative reporting — showing the other side of local ‘success’ stories such as the Lowry, Mediacity and Urban Splash regeneration — to chats with councillors, gig reviews and interviews with local musicians and artists — the role, in fact, you would expect a local newspaper to fulfil. The Salford Star, though, was launched as an independent project, written and produced by Salfordians for Salfordians, with up to 100 members of the local community involved, from a pool of writers and photographers to graphic designers in bedrooms all over Salford, and families distributing it around the city streets door-to-door.

Unfortunately, the chances are you've never got your hands on the Salford Star. Since starting in 2006, the Salford Star produced nine highly regarded print copies — the magazine was even runner up in the prestigious nationwide Paul Foot Award for Campaigning Journalism in 2007 — before it was forced online in 2008, due to a difficulty attracting advertising and what could be seen as unfair competition from Salford City Council’s own expensive to produce, self-congratulatory magazine Life In Salford which is distributed around the city’s households. The situation has resulted in a long and frustrating struggle for funding, with requests for public funding repeatedly being denied by council committees.

At a talk at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford during the summer, Salford Star editor Stephen Kingston set the scene, describing the backdrop against which the Salford Star started and the motivation behind it: “Salford is one of the most deprived areas in the country. The Salford Star didn’t come about by people sitting in garrets thinking let’s make a nice community magazine. We spent six months researching what our communities wanted and needed.”

Kingston and the other volunteers chose tell the stories of the city because if they didn’t, no one else would. Kingston has to fit it around working in schools and driving a mobile library: “I was up at 4am this morning investigating swimming and taxi ranks. It’s a full time job investigating what’s going on. We‘re not saying it's right or wrong, we‘re investigating it objectively - who else is there to investigate it?”

At a time when the newspaper industry has been struggling, with local newspapers across the country being forced to make redundancies, or in some cases even close down altogether, the Salford Star plugs an important gap in being able to look at stories in depth and perform vital functions such as holding the local council to account, which includes frequently making Freedom of Information requests and looking at where public money goes.

“Without independent media, there is no democracy. There is no investigative journalism even in the nationals anymore because of the cost of reporting it,” Kingston explained.

“The Salford Advertiser has five reporters and the MEN has one reporter covering Salford — they have no time. Why are there so many police stories in the Salford Advertiser/MEN? They’re written for you, they come with video and a photo. They’re there for you. It’s cheap and easy journalism.”

The Salford Star quickly became a political hot potato (“Those that supported us took copies under the desk with a wink. If we put it in the civic centre then 10 minutes later it would be in the bin — but they don’t tell you they won’t take it.”), with the Council denouncing it as biased, although Kingston insists it is non-political: “They can’t find evidence of us being political or unbalanced. We’re not anti the council. We gave John Merry [Salford Council leader] seven pages — we don’t wave flags saying burn the town hall down, we use it as a bridge. We have no axe to grind. We’re not anti Labour. Whoever was in power we would investigate and print anything we find.”

The Salford Star also shows off positive aspects of life in Salford. Kingston claims: “2/3 of it is positive. We have positive stories — actors, dancers, singers, local artists, football teams.”

He continues, “We give people a voice to tell their stories. The Salford Star gets phoned up at least once, twice, five times a day by people wanting to get their stories told.”

The Salford Star was free, as a cover price could exclude people. Thousands of people a month read the Salford Star now it’s online, from as far afield as London, Australia and Brazil, but Kingston is adamant that ‘it has to be a print copy’. The magazine is currently trying to raise the funds to return to print as “we’re updating practically every day, but 60 per cent of people in Salford don’t have the internet”. Kingston gets lots of encouragement from the people the newspaper serves: “We get supportive letters and we’ve had donations in 5 and 10ps.”

Kingston undertook research in the WCML for inspiration for the Salford Star, linking the magazine to a long tradition of radical publications: “There is a history dating back 300 years of communities trying to tell the truth. We ransacked past community magazines — the Northern Star, the Tameside Eye, Rochdale Alternative Press — every little town had one.”

“People have always tried to stop magazines, criticising them and stopping people from having a choice. In 1712, a tax on newspapers was introduced. In 1815, there was a 4p tax on 2p newspapers. In 1818, the editor of the Manchester Observer was jailed, as was the editor of the Northern Star and Richard Carlile, the editor of the Republican.”

The Salford Star editor may not have been sent to jail, but according to Kingston, censorship is still alive and well, working in far more subtle ways: “Censorship is national and international. In Mexico and Columbia they blow up the offices of investigative journalists. In Britain they do it with your wallet. Salford has a regeneration economy. There is no business in Salford — it’s dead. The only businesses we have can’t afford to advertise. Our potential advertisers would be the Lowry, PCTs, fire and police services, but we’re saying things they don’t want to hear. Any application for funding we make just gets ripped up.”

“Salford has nothing. It’s so hard to do anything in Salford as it’s so spread out. That’s why we need the Salford Star.”

To make a donation towards the future of the Salford Star, or to read the magazine online, visit

The Salford Star also offers journalism training. Email for more information.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Shrieking Violet upcoming media special

Some time in the (hopefully near) future, there will be a media special of the Shrieking Violet fanzine. I have long been interested in Manchester's history as an alternative Fleet Street, producing northern editions of the daily newspapers, and the way the buildings of the old newspaper industry still shape the city, from the iconic Daily Express Building on Great Ancoats Street to the Printworks, formerly Withy Grove printing press. The Guardian famously started in Manchester as the Manchester Guardian, and the city also has a history of radical and alternative publications and journals, from socialist journal the Clarion to the Co-operative Women's Guild magazine Women's Outlook.

I would also like to cover good independent, alternative publications today and ask the question why do people still think it is important to produce print publications when it is so easy to publish online in an instant?

Although the Guardian Women's pages started in Manchester, something else I am interested in is whether, in the 21st century, these is still a role for specifically gendered 'men's' and 'women's' magazines, with particular focus on the slightly troubling Shortlist and Stylist magazines which are distributed for free in the city centre.

I have to admit I am feeling quite overwhelmed and have been suffering from writer's/mental block (for this reason, rather than writing anything I have been spending my time trying unsuccessfully to recreate the Daily Express building in lino cut form for inspiration). Therefore, if anyone would like to help me out or make any suggestions, please email

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Sloe gin, blackberry and apple pie and other recipes from the Ashton Canal

Sloe gin

I developed a taste for homemade sloe gin at my grandparents' house at Christmas time, and I have been regularly consulting them for advice on how to make my own sloe gin. Here are some instructions.

First, identify a sloe bush (as I have discovered, this is difficult it took me ages, after going through a process of elimination with several other bushes with black berries. It helped when I found out sloes are a type of plum, as then I just squeezed the berries, which look like fat, purple grapes, to see if there was a stone in the middle!). I discovered a bush, conveniently enough, growing out of a wall opposite my favourite building along the Ashton Canal and spent a couple of hours immersed in bushes getting plucked and scratched by branches and stung all over by nettles.

Second, find your jars I spent a long time wandering around city centre shops in search of suitable jars, before finally settling on some biscuit jars from a pound shop (I'm sure you could probably do better than this by finding a demijohn or something). Then, sterilise the jars by putting them in a pan of boiling water.

Third, pick the sloes! All the recipes called for 450g per litre of gin but, even after doing some climbing to reach the higher branches I only managed to gather 350g (so I accordingly adjusted the amount of gin I used to 777ml).

Once home, wash the sloes and prick all over with a clean needle (I dipped the needle in boiling water). This is the most time consuming part.

When the sloes are ready, place them in the jar with the gin (I used cheap gin from Aldi) and 175g of sugar (the recipe called for caster sugar, I only had light brown sugar so used this instead).

Then, shake, seal and find a cool, dark place for the jars mine are in the cupboard under the stairs. I split the mixture across two jars so there is space to shake the liquid without spilling it.

Then, shake the jars every other day for a week, then every week for two months (or longer, depending on how soon you want the gin to be ready). After a week, my sloe gin has already turned a warm, red colour like rosé wine and the sloes are getting lighter and lighter, starting to leave the bottom of the jars where they all settled and float around the liquid.

If you don't manage to find any sloes, try grape vodka instead, following the sloe gin recipe above but substituting the gin for vodka, adding grapes instead of sloes and using half the amount of sugar.

Blackberry and apple pie

Shortly after I had picked the sloes, I found an apple tree laden with ripe apples sitting next to an abandoned, boarded up housing estate. Frustratingly, I could only reach one of the apples, although I managed to knock another down with my umbrella and picked a third, after inspecting it for maggot holes, up off the floor.

There were also several blackberry bushes nearby, so I also picked lots of blackberries.

I made a pie using two of the apples and about a dessert bowl's worth of blackberries. I had some pastry in the freezer from the last time I made pastry, so defrosted it. However, to make the pastry:

Place 112.5g butter/margarine in a large bowl. Add 225g plain flour and rub it into the butter. Add a little salt and gradually add cold water table spoon by table spoon until the mixture starts to stick together, and shape it into dough. If you like cinammon as much as I do, add a table spoon of cinammon. When the mixture has formed a dough, wrap it in clingfilm (or a spare carrier bag if none is to hand) and refrigerate for 30 minutes. It will then be stretchy pastry!


Chop the apples and simmer in a little water and 75-100g sugar for 15 minutes (a tea spoon of cinammon is also a nice touch), adding the blackberries towards the end.

Meanwhile, divide your pastry in two (with one portion slightly larger) and roll out two separate pieces of pastry, thinly, on a floured surface. Line a tin or small round baking dish with the larger of the two pieces of pastry.

Add the fruit to the bottom of the pastry, having drained off almost all of the liquid (retain these juices, add to milk, sprinkle with cinammon and allow to cool down for a delicious milkshake!). Then, place the other piece of pastry on top of the fruit to form the pie lid, removing any excess pastry from the sides. Fold the edges of the bottom layer of pastry over the pie lid to form a thick crust to seal the pie. Use any leftover pastry to make a blackberry or apple shaped ornament on top.

Cook for an hour (after 45 minutes, I added a glaze consisting of of 50ml milk, a tea spoon of cinammon and a tea spoon of sugar to the crust) or until the pastry is hard. Allow to cool down then serve with custard.

Apple porridge

The remaining apple I used in porridge for breakfast.


Chop the apple and simmer in a little water for fifteen minutes or so (depending on how late you are running for work!). When the apple is soft, add 50g porridge oats, two tablespoons of cinammon and stir. Add half a cup of milk and stir, adding sugar and more milk or water as required.