Joss Herd has been an editorial food stylist for the past 25 years, turning words into beautiful pictures of food for Waitrose magazine, along with showcasing her work for TV, books and packaging. We are delighted that Joss will be joining us to share some of her expertly curated recipes. We asked her to give us a sneak peek into what lockdown life has been like for her.
As a woman with a career of 25 years under my belt, working within an industry dominated by women, I have struggled with not being taken seriously by often (non-creative) men not understanding what I do other than ‘she cooks‘. Don’t get me wrong, my work does not require lifesaving or dangerous decision making skills, but I’m pretty sure it gives pleasure, inspiration and joy to many in their everyday lives and particularly, in this lockdown life, I have found that cooking delicious food has become one of our only pleasures.
Following three months of cancelled photo shoots, as a limited single person company, I found myself excluded from any government help. I had been well and truly knocked for six, along with the rest of the planet, and for the first time I was forced to slip into the role of a traditional housewife, something I had never done!
Whilst my teenage children got to grips with home school and their dad worked from home, all I could do was make sure the house remained tidy and clean and that everyone was fed. There was nothing else for me to do, and for the first three weeks I was lost, completely. I realised as a creative person, that my work isn’t just work, it is how I place myself in this world. I live with all boys/men, I work predominantly with women and all at once my whole support system had been whipped out from beneath me, both physically and mentally.
I felt like this big old Covid monster was absolutely out of control. In the past I have always managed to gain control over pretty much any situation, I have learnt with diplomacy, communication, gentleness and a smile that most situations can be made better for all. However, now I was starting to feel like a control freak and there was no way I could take charge of this new situation I was in.
After three weeks of panic and upset, I feared that my working life was over as my 25-year career became belittled by people (mainly men, sorry!) suggesting ways I could work from home “Can’t you just do it from your phone?”. I had not choice but to cave. I gave in and decided that for my own sake I needed to stop listening to the news and to just take one day at a time. It was a wonderful circuit breaker, I realised that I had become tired of my commutes into mainly west London, I was worn down and perhaps this was the forced break I had needed. I hadn’t even taken maternity leave. As a freelancer, you find a way to carry on earning, I went back to work when both my children were four months old, which had meant a serious degree of juggling and stress, but I had support from my partner and I loved my job and now without it I felt sort of misplaced.
Lockdown for me meant thinking predominantly about food. I cooked for the local food bank but I pretty much focused on my own family, soon realising that we had rarely sat round the table to eat together. The four of us have serious sports habits which had meant that, pre-Covid, we would only sit together for our Sunday lunch. Lockdown gave us the opportunity to sit at the table for three meals a day and with time to chat. Although teenage boy chat was normally not always to my choice, we enjoyed it and I’m glad to say it has carried on.
I also became the hotline for recipe ideas for my friends, like a phone a friend/ready steady cook style challenge. Friends would ring and tell me what they had in their cupboards and I would suggest what to do with it, all off the cuff but I have a photographic memory for recipes, so could always suggest an idea or screen grab a book reference. I made all the cliches and more; sourdough, banana bread, pizzas, pavlovas and pies, all fresh, all time-consuming but it kept me on an even keel and gave me structure. Never has my gym wear (my new kitchen cook wear) been so floury!
After three months without work, I have been lucky that I am now able to return to my day job. I took a hit financially but nothing like how my friends in the events and catering industry have suffered. My work has become harder with reduced teams, plus strict Covid protocols and it is freezing cold to work at this time of year, but I am grateful to get back to it.
I’m not sure what my ‘new normal’ will be like. Most of my friends who are chefs or restaurant owners have shown incredible resilience but are now at breaking point. We need to see businesses reopen and towns to be bustling again, but we also need to carry on sitting round our own dinner tables and sharing home cooked meals with each other. A lot can be learnt about ourselves when we are forced to stop and slow our pace down a bit.
I feel like I should be grateful for Covid in some small way as I have always wanted to encourage people to cook from scratch. To help others understand that cooking can be achievable and enjoyable. There is no greater pleasure than cooking a meal for someone and watching their face as they eat it with such happiness. Pre-covid we were all guilty of claiming that there wasn’t enough time to cook from scratch. Life was busy. but maybe these adjustments we have been forced to make will stay with us.
My family and I we will try to take life slower, at the moment we have no choice, but I’m hoping our lockdown habits will carry on in essence, even when life becomes busy again. Having had the time to get to know my family better has been enlightening and hearing from the most reluctant cooks that they CAN cook and enjoy it has been wonderful. In your face Covid! We will come out WINNING.
By Joss Herd
Give us our daily bread
Fresh Pitta and our favourite filling
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
375g strong white or strong wholemeal flour
1 ½ tsp dried yeast
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp caster sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
Combine the flour, yeast, salt and caster in a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the centre and drizzle in the olive oil, followed by 175ml warm water. Stir with your hand or mix with a dough hook to form a claggy rough dough, continue to add a further 75ml warm water until you have a sticky but not wet dough.
Knead on a floured surface until silky and stretchy by hand or continue to knead in the stand mixer.
Place the kneaded dough into a clean oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for at least 1 hour until doubled in size.
Tip the dough out of the bowl, briefly knead on a floured surface. Weigh the dough and divide into 8 equal pieces, roll each piece into a ball and place on a floured tray, cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rest for 20 minutes before rolling into thin oval shapes using a rolling pin.
Preheat oven 240c and place 2 x baking sheets in to preheat.
Place the pittas onto 2 or 3 sheets of baking parchment, slide each sheet onto the flat baking sheet and cook in the hot oven for 4 – 5 minutes until puffed and starting to colour.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool before stuffing with your favourite filling! Ours is below…
Beetroot falafel with tahini & garlic dressing
Prep time 25 mins
Cook time 10 mins
For the falafel
150g fresh beetroot grated
1 x 410g tin chickpeas
2 cloves garlic crushed
50g chickpea flour / gram flour
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp crushed chilli flakes
50g sesame seeds
1 red onion finely sliced
1/2 lemon juiced
For the sauce
1 tsp clear honey
1 clove garlic crushed
2 tbsp olive oil to fry
pea shoots, feta and chilli oil to serve
Place the beetroot, chickpeas, garlic, chickpea flour, cumin, dried chilli and sea salt in a food processor & blitz to a rough paste.
Using wet hands roll into approx. 16 walnut sizes balls and dip in the sesame seeds, refrigerate until ready to cook.
Steep the onions in the lemon juice and leave for 20 minutes to draw out the colour & soften the flavour.
Add 1 tbsp olive oil to a pan & gently fry half the falafel for 5 minutes turning frequently until crisp on each side, remove & keep warm in the oven whilst the other batch is fried.
Mix the tahini with the honey and garlic, loosen with 2 – 3 tbsp cold water until the consistency of double cream. Season with sea salt and black pepper.
Serve the falafel with the steeped red onions, tahini sauce with pea shoots and feta stuffed into your homemade pitta with a drizzle of chilli oil.