Authentic Indian Home Cooking in Exeter

imageAuthenticity is surprisingly hard to find when dining on Indian food in Britain.  Restaurants, ground down by decades of ignorance and abuse,  often give the public what they deserve with wilful complicity - rich, salty, creamy or tomatoey slop using meat that is only just a cut above rat.

Well, I don’t want to eat it.  What I do want is simple – food cooked with love and confidence based on a deep faith in tradition, untainted by the perceived needs of the foreign (British) customer. In my experience this is often to be found on the street,  so when I noticed the ‘El Shaddais Traditional South Indian Food’ sign on a flappy, pop-up tent on Sidwell Street in Exeter,  I was hopeful.

imageEl Shaddais might not look much with its camp kitchen and two plastic tables plonked on the pavement for the few who prefer a seat when they eat, but Alexander and Shyla Devadhas run a tip-top eatery from this basic set up. Here, you will find authentic home cooking from Nagercoil, a town in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu in the southernmost tip of India.image

The menu is small but beautifully formed.  I stopped to sit with my friend Gabrielle and we feasted on dosa, (a type of pancake made from fermented rice and lentil batter) with chicken curry that was heady with aroma of blended spices that lingered in layers on the tongue.  In my rush to savour the dish, I broke two of their flimsy plastic forks, and soon gave up the cutlery to eat properly, with my fingers.  We followed this with a tasty chickpea curry, sopped up with delicious savoury idli (savoury rice cakes) and washed it all down with milky tea infused with cardamom.image

Alexander and Shyla enjoyed our relish in their food almost as much as we did eating it, and as we chatted, a few devotees in-the-know whipped up to their stand to rush away with a byriani or extremely reasonable rice and ‘cury’. “I can also cater for people who eat a wheat free or have food allergies,” explained Shyla with simple candour,  “as everything is homemade from scratch.” Indeed, it is, and they sell home-made lime pickle and mango chutney in jars to take home too. Not to be missed.

‘El Shaddais Traditional South Indian Food’ is open Thursday, Friday & Saturday (weather depending in the winter).  Look for the pop up tent on Sidwell Street on the opposite side of the road to Poundland and near John Lewis. They also cater for parties and events.

For events and special orders call 07878 852229 or email











Lao Paradise Chicken and Coconut Water Stew



I was taught this recipe by my friend Vandara at her guesthouse by the waterfall at Kung Sii. It is a light stew perfumed with lemon grass and lime leaves, gently heated in the third pressing of coconut milk. However, as I am no longer in beautiful Laos, but in Devon in the middle of Dartmoor National Park, good coconuts are not readily available to be hand pressed so I have had to adapt the recipe to fit a modern kitchen in the middle of England.

In the original recipe one would take a fresh coconut, remove the shell and scrape off the brown skin before shredding it with  a grater.  Once shredded, one would place the coconut meat  in a bowl lined with muslin and add a cup of water. Then you squeeze the coconut in the muslin until all the liquid has run out, this results in the ‘first’ pressing  which is thick, creamy and white.  Repeat  (adding a fresh cup of water) then squeeze again and you get the second pressing, less thick.   A third extraction results in the thinner liquid again. The taste is infinitely better than tinned coconut milk but it’s dastardly hard work.

But I have discovered ‘frozen young coconut water’ in my local Asian store. This one had shredded coconut in it too.



It’s much better than tinned coconut milk, and has the lighter, fresher taste I was looking for. I’ve also used chicken breast which I had in the fridge, rather than a feral Lao chicken but the recipe is really good with a whole organic chicken cut into pieces. But either way, you need to let it marinate. Here is my adapted version

1 whole chicken, skin removed, cut into 6 pieces with bone or 4 breasts cut into chunks


2 stems of lemon grass roughly chopped

4in. galangal, cut in slices

2 or 3 cloves of garlic peeled and bashed with a pestle

11/2 tsp of Maldon sea salt

2 -4 tbsp of fish sauce

The rest

Frozen young coconut water about 450 ml

1 tbsp. of coriander root, chopped roughly (leaves if you have no root)

4 kafir leaves, left whole

300 g of Pak Choi or water morning glory if you can get it, chopped up a bit

2 tbsp. of chopped spring onionsimage


Put the chicken pieces, lemon grass, galangal, garlic, salt and fish sauce in heavy saucepan and let them marinate for a minimum of two hours, preferably overnight.

Place the pan stove with the lid firmly on and let it steam in its own juices for five minutes.

Now add the coconut water to cover the chicken. Throw in the coriander root and lime leaves, and replace the lid.

Bring to a gentle simmer and continue to heat for a few minutes until the chicken is cooked through (timing depends on whether the chicken is on the bone or not).

Now add chopped Pak Choi, and continue to cook for one minute. Remove the pan from the stove, add chopped spring onion and serve with sticky rice.

You may wish to add another dash of fish sauce or a squeeze of lime to taste.image


Olympians are not the only Brits to win gold – Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival unearths treasures

Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival at Powderham Castle on

Friday 2nd& Saturday 3rd May 2014

TobyBuckland-Matt-Austin 122

Toby Buckland at the Powderham Castle Estate ph: Matt Austin

Olympians are not the only Brits to win gold – the  exhibitors at Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival can boast over 100 RHS Gold Medals between them. See a spectacular display of extraordinary, unusual and beautiful plants with over 100 exhibitors showing across the Castle estate, children’s gardening activities, food and craft stalls and live music to help create a garden party atmosphere.

Meet Whetman Pinks, filling the festival air with the exceptional perfume of their internationally famous blooms,

Whetman Pinks carolyn in greenhouse

Carolyn Bourne of Whetman Pinks

and the Heucheraolics, bringing their astonishing Technicolour Dreamcoat of these leafy, showy plants.



Avon Bulbs, famous for their sumptuous displays at flower shows, will be there too.  Bowdens Hostas hold the National Hosta Collection as well as being champions with their ferns and bamboos;

Tim Penrose of Bowdens Hostas

Tim Penrose of Bowdens Hostas

Cornish nursery Kelnan Plants, specialist growers of South African plants, have won 26 RHS Gold Medals to date and leading ornamental grass expert, Neil Lucas of Knoll Gardens holds 10 consecutive RHS Chelsea Golds  – these are just some of the award winning exhibitors to be seen at Powderham Castle on the best Bank Holiday Gardening weekend of the year.

Toby and Anne Swithinbank

Toby and Anne Swithinbank

Headlining will be television gardening broadcaster, Toby Buckland, giving talks and demos including advice on planning and planting for year-round colour. Other garden stars include: Anne Swithinbank of Radio 4′s Gardeners’ Question Time; organic expert and author Charles Dowding; Neil Lucas from award-winning Dorset nursery Knoll Gardens; Devon garden historian Dr Todd Gray and  garden photographer Jason Ingram who shoots for BBC Gardeners’ World, Country Living and provides images for Toby’s BBC books. International tree expert, Kevin Croucher and

Jim Buttress

Jim Buttress will give talks and be a member of the Q & A panel.

RHS Show judge and soon-to-be-star, Jim Buttress of BBC 2′s The Big Allotment Challenge (airing this Spring), will also be entertaining us in the Speaker’s Marquee.

Clive Groves of Groves Nurseries will be talking Devon Violets in the Victorian Kitchen

Clive Groves of Groves Nurseries will be talking Devon Violets in the Victorian Kitchen

Not to forget the  “Kitchen Cuttings” informal 30 min talks in the Victorian Kitchen Fourteen gripping slots filled with gardening treasures during the two day event: Waste Not Weeds, Sally Harvey shows us how to love our weeds – and eat them too! Alarik Greenfield, artist, will talk about his extraordinarily beautiful trees crafted from wire and peridot stones that take weeks to complete; “Learn to love your Rhubarb” with Lori Reich of Shute Fruit or discover the art of good soil with compost maestro, Nicky Scott. Radio Cornwall’s Tracy Wilson will be talking plant disease and if you haven’t heard of Mexican Mouse Melon then stop by and hear all about them from Pennard Plants, a Somerset nursery with one of the most remarkable collections of “Incredible Edibles”.

Maddocks Farm Edible FlowersPIMMS

Jan of Maddocks Farm Organics will be talking edible flowers in the Victorian kitchen

Toby is a father of three and keen to encourage another generation of young gardeners, there’ll be a dedicated children’s tent.

Growing Devon Schools, an initiative that gets kids outside growing food, will be at the festival.

Growing Devon Schools, an initiative that gets kids outside growing food, will be at the festival.

They are giving away thousands of free Thompson and Morgan pumpkin seeds to launch the start of Toby’s Pumpkin Fest 2014. Take away your seeds, grow a big-un and bring it back to our Autumn Harvest on Sunday 26th October and you could win a prize.

  • Powderham Forge will be demonstrating their blacksmith skills
  • Devon Dowsers will be joining us to explain the mysterious art of dowsing
  • Growing Devon Schools, Send a Cow, & Devon Gardens Trust will be sharing a stand providing fun and interactive demonstrations will engage the whole family with techniques they can copy at home, building bag gardens and tip taps.
  • Bouncy castle
  • Live bands and Dan the Hat will be providing entertainment

Come and celebrate some of the West Country’s finest nurseries with a packed programme of talks, demos, and plenty of family fun to make this one of the finest and friendliest plant fairs of the year. Ample free parking and tractor-trailer service between the car park and Festival ground. Plant sherpas and plant creche available.

Friday 2nd May 10am – 5pm: Saturday 3rd May 10am – 6pm. Ticket costs: Adults £5, children under 16 free. Entry includes admission to Powderham Castle. Free parking. Discounts available. Group discounts are available for groups of 12 and over. Please contact with your requirements

Getting to the festival by train:

The Citizens’ Rail project has created a series of free printable train timetables for the festival weekend, showing times from locations including Exeter, Torquay and Paignton to Starcross station, close to Powderham Castle.

Toby Buckland infront of Powderham Castle, photo by Matt Austin

Toby Buckland in front of Powderham Castle, photo by Matt Austin


My love affair with our NutriBullet


This morning’s juice of spinach, cucumber, baby beetroot, strawberry, pineapple and banana.

Speed, that’s what I love about our NutriBullet. I used to have a juice extractor that took over an hour to produce one cup of juice – you had to chop the vegetables, ram the bits into a narrow feeder tube a little at a time, then take it apart and clean 8 different bits with a toothbrush thingy. Ahhh! and you don’t even get the fibre. I sold it on Ebay with great joy. Now I make a fabulous fruit and veg smoothie every morning in about 30 seconds, with a nifty little machine that pulverises everything to such a smooth consistency I can suck it through a straw.


Spinach, blueberries, banana, apple, spouted seeds and flax.

I discovered the NutriBullet (sometimes called Magic Bullet) through watching, of all things, an info commercial. I caught my attention because I happened to be looking for a blender as mine had just broken.  The powerful professional blenders cost about £400 so this one, though still pricey, at £99 looked like a much better buy. In the commercial they claimed all sorts of wonderful curing properties but what interested me was it could break down the pulp, skin, stems and seeds of plants into tiny drinkable particles. I was not looking for a diet plan or a medical miracle, I could just see it would make nutritional sense to start the day with a tasty drink of raw vegetables and fruit mixed with water. I do mean tasty, I have no interest in making puritanical tasteless slurry, our smoothies taste delicious.


You place the cup on upside down, press down and twist to blend. It takes only a few tens of seconds.

It does exactly what it says on the packet. It makes lovely drinks in a few seconds and you can wash it under the tap in a few more because the design places the blades in the lid of a cup which you turn upside down to blend and turn back upright to unscrew and wash. Simples.


A tasty, healthy drink that includes all the fibre a vegetable juicer would remove.

The kit includes three cups (with handles and tight-fitting lids so you can take your drink away) a general blade, a grinding blade and a couple of booklets with recipes.Image

You can pulse it to make nutty, fruit bars.image

Use the grinder for spices or coffee beans.image

Pulse a bit more to create hummus or gazpacho in under a minute. imageor use it like any blender for soup, salsa, sauces and salad dressings. Morning banana milkshakes or fruit blends have become much more simple to make for the kids. Our vege mixes are taking a bit more persuasion, but I think they’ll grow into those and soft fruit like melon or ripe peaches scooped into the bullet without water becomes a sweet frothy and refreshing treat that has them clamouring for more.

So, all in all, this has been a positive boost to the family diet. A great way to start the day.image

My favourite morning drink:

I prefer to use spinach as the main ‘green’ with cucumber and a bit of celery. You can use kale, spring greens, chard, lettuce etc., but spinach is light in flavour and blends down well.

Fill 50% of the cup with spinach leaves and cucumber and a small amount of celery

Fill the other 50% up to the line with:

Apple, banana, blueberries/stawbs/rasps

Add a few flax seeds, or sprouts or alfalfa

Add nuts if you want more protein. Soaked almonds (soak them overnight in water and they taste like fresh milky nuts) are my favourite.

Add ginger if you want some extra zing.

Fill with cold water to the line and blend.

Hummus Recipe

2 cloves garlic

1 tin of organic chickpeas

1tsp sea salt

3 tablespoons of tahini

juice of two fresh lemons

A dash of water, about 2-3 tablespoons

Place all the ingredients in the short cup, top with the mixer blade and place in the NutriBullet. Pulse. But don’t over-pulse or it will be too runny. You want it to be course but well combined. Scrape out and serve.

Here is the info commercial which is rather painfully long but may be of interest – NutruBullet Info Commercial (press to link)  I cannot say it is ‘saving my life’! but it can’t be bad to get some good stuff into your diet everyday.

Pigeon Pie

Our neighbour, Jim, kindly left us three pigeons as a gift.



Pigeon pie!

Brown the pigeons in a hot pan. Remove to a heavy casserole and simmer in 500ml chicken stock and a good glug of white wine, with the lid on, until tender. Meanwhile sauté  3 chopped onions, carrots and garlic until golden and lightly browned.

When the pigeons are ready remove them from the pot and let them cool.

Run the stock through a sieve and return to the pot.

Turn up the heat, add the sautéed veg and cook them through, with the lid off, while reducing the stock. Add a splash more wine and a dash of cream. Season with salt and pepper.

When the pigeons have cooled remove the meat from the bones. Chop up the meat.

Place the meat, vegetables and reduced sauce into a pie dish. Add chopped parsley, a bay leaf and possibly some mushrooms if you have any around.

Cover with short crust pastry and brush with egg to give the pie a sheen. Don’t forget to make a hole in the pastry to let the steam out.

Place in a hot oven for about 35 minutes.

Serve with mash.

Make a date to Animate – on an ipad at Animated Exeter 14

McLaren Workshops

I just made my first animated film in 20 minutes! Here’s a link to Flying Fish. It may be a bit wobbly but it was brilliant fun and I can’t wait to spend a few hours making something more beautiful. All I had to do was download this amazing app developed by the National Film Board of Canada for the iPad. 2014 is the centenary of the great animation pioneer, Norman McLaren and Animated Exeter is running two workshops explaining how to use this app to its full advantage. In this test, I just used my finger to draw the lines over the ghost lines of my previous drawings until I built up movement, coloured it in (easy) and posted it to YouTube – simple.  The workshops will allow you to further develop your own animation using Norman McLaren’s groundbreaking techniques.

Screen Shot

Why not download the app in advance of the workshop on the Animated Exeter website? The app allows you to create your own animations as well as watch 51 Norman McLaren films and 11 documentaries about his unique animation techniques.  If that doesn’t get you inspired I don’t know what will – what a delight.


The app includes a colourful collection of films to watch and start your ideas rolling.

There are three techniques to use on the app: paper cut out, etching and synthetic sound, all of which give demos to get you started. If you want to take them a bit further you can buy the extended version for a few pennies (69p or 99c), and bring out the animator within.

You can watch a hand-picked selection of  National Film Board of Canada films at the Phoenix on this Sataturday 15th at 11.30am -12.45, have a bit of lunch, then celebrate 75 years of NFBC excellence with Iain Gardner’s film illustrated talk at 2.30-4pm. The McLaren Workshops are being held at the Exeter Phoenix (see below). There are also plenty of other interesting animation workshops throughout the festitval.  

Date for McLaren Workshop is Thursday 20th February

10:00 am – 1.00 pm (7 – 12 years)

2.00 pm – 5:00 pm (12 – 17 years)


Level Beginner

Tickets must be booked at BOX OFFICE: 01392 667080

Liberate yourself from the rain at the Animated Exeter Film Festival

Boy and Bear_Lottie Kingslake

Boy and Bear_Lottie Kingslake

It rained relentlessly last night, then in the morning the rain turned to hail which piled up on my car in little wind-swept heaps. Then it rained again. I’m fed up with it.  My instinct is to curl up and stay at home but that would be such a waste when there is so much colour to be found at a festival on my doorstep.

Animated Exeter starts this week so I am going to point out some filmic highlights.  One of the great things about animation programmes is that you get so much in one sitting, animation is such a time consuming and delicate art that most films are by their nature – short.  Thus, at festivals you have the luck to be presented with a smorgasbord of delights all at once, and if one fails to enchant, a tastier morsel soon takes its place.

On Saturday at 11.30 The National Film Board of Canada (known for superb animation) will be showing their top picks followed at 2.30 by another screening of 75 years of Excellence when Iain Gardner will be discussing the work of Norman McLaren, alongside other films that have come out of the National Film Board’s archive.  McLaren’s (it’s his centenary) work still looks avant-garde today, he was a pioneer in many areas of animation and filmmaking and has influenced generations of animators. This is an event you won’t regret leaving home to see.  

But back to those lovely dishes of shorts –

On Friday 14th and Saturday 15th you can watch The Indies, 18 worldclass independent films back to back for a pleasurable hour and a half.

Get up early on Saturday (also showing 3 more times during the next week) to see Wide World at 10am with the kids. It’s fabulous selection of unique and unusual animated films made for young people from around the world.

On Monday 17th feb 7.30pm – There’s a free screening of ‘grassroots, community and activist’ animations at the Bike Shed Theatre (booking required) Including The Story of Solutions, Patricio Plaza’s brilliant El Empleyo and Zero by Zealous Creative

Pop out on Tuesday 2pm at Exeter College to watch a selection of favourite UK TV characters in Family Favourites and if you miss that they will be shown again on Thursday 20th at 2.30 at Exeter’s hidden medieval gem, Tuckers Hall.

Finally, BAFTA winning international artist, Tal Rosner and over 40 students from animation courses in the South West (SWAN), will be creating a series of fifteen (yes, that many) stunning, FREE, outdoor and indoor animated projections, combined with seductive soundscapes, lighting and installation art, along Fore Street.

Fifty-foot dancers pirouetting across buildings, exotic vines creeping up the ancient walls of a medieval hall, top hats spinning across shops inside the arcade, and interactive works of animated art will be just some of the treats in store for people taking an evening stroll on Valentine’s night and the next evening too, at 7pm-9pm

I mean, how could you stay at home?

ph Matt Austin

ph Matt Austin

More info on the programme, workshops, exhibitions and events at 

Animated Exeter Film Festival 2014 Film Preview

Watch the preview video for Animated Exeter film festival 2014 above, come along to Exeter this half term and brighten up a wet, miserable February with amazing animations.

Essential weekend 14th-16th February (schools week from 10th and half term fun until 22nd) Free public street animations on Fore Street 14th-15th February

This year Animated Exeter is celebrating its new status as an international animation festival, screening competitive films from around the globe in the company of wonderful animators and artists. The National Film Board of Canada are sending a goody bag of their most innovative and interesting films and thanks to our flood of competition entries, we will be providing a unique opportunity for cinema-goers to see a showcase of the world’s best animators.  We have filled the festival with brilliant master-classes, dedicated a day to the mad antics of the hit kids game Moshi Monsters, and booked venues all over the city for workshops, screenings and animated related exhibitions.

Our free outdoor projections ’LIGHTSTREAM’ illuminating the independent shops, cafes and businesses of Fore Street, continues our remit to bring animation to the wider public. It starts on Valentine’s night for two nights, start the evening with a romantic walk through animations lighting up the night.

Visit the website for more info

Image 2

And a partridge in…….


Before cooking in the oven

A Le Creuset casserole dish ( or Dutch oven for the yanks), well four partridges actually.

Take four partridges, brown them a tablespoon of olive oil and another of butter in a hot pan. Transfer them to the casserole. Meanwhile, keep that frying pan hot while you peel and chop 4 carrots, peel a few shallots, maybe add half a leek or some celery and throw them in that sizzling frying pan with as many cloves of garlic as takes your fancy. Brown the vegetables for about five minutes adding more fat as necessary. When golden, add the veg to the pot with half a litre of chicken stock and fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme and marjoram. Bring to the simmer, close the lid and cook in a low oven for 3 – 4 hours or until the birds are tender. When ready transfer the partridges and vegetables to a platter and cover with foil as you reduce the sauce by half at a galloping boil. Splash in a bit of wine. Serve in a deep dish with the reduced juices poured on top. The legs are particularly delicious.