An Open Table

Mollie writes… 

Since leaving my home in Australia last year and moving to London, I have felt a spectrum of emotions. I prepared myself for all the standard homesick symptoms, but on reflection I have been surprised by how contradictory my feelings are. I am settled yet restless, connected but lonely. In many ways I feel I have conquered this big and boundless city, but a sense of insignificance also filters through. Where do I fit in this puzzle of a place?

The process of establishing myself in London has led me to review how I value and understand community. I transitioned from the leafy suburbs of Melbourne to the bustling borough of Hackney. The landscape and dynamic of the city was more intense than I had expected. All I can say to sum it up is a sensory overload – this is both exhilarating and exhausting!

It has been a relief to establish a number of different friendships, most recently with the incredible people of Matryoshka Haus. My kind housemate extended an invitation to me to attend their weekly community meals held at a home in East London. I’d heard great things about what Shannon and the team were doing here and abroad, and couldn’t wait to spend the evening with others who had a passion for community service and social innovation. I was not disappointed by any means! The night was filled with lots of laughter and genuine conversations.

These dinners have helped me make sense of the wonderful chaos in London. It is really refreshing to hear about how others are living life in such a positive and pioneering manner. For me they are very much a source of encouragement and motivation. It is a safe space for strangers to become friends, and for people from all corners of the world to share their ideas. Most importantly, all who visit the Matryoshka Haus dinners are warmly welcomed and get to experience true hospitality. I always leave feeling relaxed, cheerful, and inspired. During the routine and mayhem of the working week, it is so reassuring to know that there is always a spot for me, and anyone, to sit at their table.

MH Thursday MealWe always make an effort to tweet a photo of our Thursday meals. Unfortunately, that means we don’t have any decent photos of Thursday meals! 

Jacob the hoover

Jacob Scofield, offspring of Thomasin the cop and Andy the consultant, will always be a healthy child and adult. His parents have assured this by allowing him – nay, nay, by encouraging him – to graze across my colorful carpet.

During his and his parents’ May and June stays in the Houston home I share with Robin the public relations lady, I thought he was just an unusually quiet seven-month old, a toddler saving his vocal efforts for the terrible twos. But as I observed him wiggling across our moderately-price imported carpet, I realized he was too busy to say anything: He was licking the rug. and it is one offering an enriched nap of imbedded dog hair, crushed tortilla chips, and a fine crumb of imported shortbread, enhanced with the dried yet heady aroma of tequila, Texas corn whiskey and a splash of soda water. And, afterwards, no reaction. The level of immunity he has built must be incredible.

Jacob takes his own photo with an iPhone

Jacob’s self-portrait

I have yet to vacuum the carpet hoping Jacob might soon return and save me the trouble.

– Richard Paoli

[Mr Richard is the Matryoshka Haus’ head chef and favourite story-teller…] 

Thank-you for your hospital

What if emotional wounds became physical injuries?

Thus ran the plot of a story that a friend of mine wanted to write. I’m still eagerly waiting for him to get the pen out, but I often ponder this in the meantime. Would I have an arm missing, and an infected sore on my cheek? Would I change the way I acted towards my friends or colleagues if I could see instantly what they were really dealing with? Would it move the targets of my envy?

I often feel guilty about being one of the world’s wealthiest (I am – and probably you are as well – in the top 5%), especially when our churches are increasingly focussed on poverty. But – poverty isn’t just about money. It’s about our spiritual state, too. And London is one of the most difficult places to have struggles of the heart. It’s hard to make friends here. And once you’ve made friends, it’s even harder to sustain those friendships.

Lately, I’ve seen how Matryoshka Haus is making a big difference when it comes to the poor – not those living on the breadline, but those of us (I’m willing to admit it – are you?) who are living on the lonely-line. Last night I sat around a table with nine others and enjoyed one of the tastiest meals I’ve had for months. The ten of us chatted incessantly, laughed, dined and drank. We were unafraid to show each other those valuable glimpses of our inner selves. We carried on healing each other, together.

I often joke when leaving dinner parties: “Thank you for your hospital”.
I think my dear friends at Matryoshka Haus prove this to be more true every day.

– Rachel N

Healing happens much more easily when it involves awesome yorkshire puddings…

How to feed the ‘sweating serfs’

Chateau Duffy is in France’s Limousin region, a rolling landscape of pastures and oaks dotted with centuries-old villages and soft brown cattle. Using local beef in a traditional French Beouf Bourguignon stew seemed an appropriate way to feed the sweating serfs.

Like any recipe, you are free to alter, adapt, or screw it up. The real trick is to let it cook low and long.

Bon appetit!

– Richard Paoli

Beef Bourguignon

Should serve 6, or 4 with nice leftovers

Thick cut bacon, 1/4 pound
Olive oil, about 1/2 cup
Small onions (often called boiling onions)
Stew beef, 2 pounds, uncut if possible — if not make sure the pieces are 1 1/2 inch cubes.
Flour, a cup
Salt and pepper
Bottle of a dry but inexpensive red wine
(Plus two more bottles of the same wine to drink with the meal.)
Carrots, 6 medium.
Peas, 1 pound, frozen will do nicely.
Bay leaf, 3 or 4.
Dried thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons

Cut the bacon into strips so they resemble fat matchsticks.
Trim and peel onions.
Wipe mushrooms clean and cut into quarters.
Cut beef into 1 1/2 inch cubes
Peel, slice carrots into 1/4 inch rounds. Blanch for 5 minutes in lightly salted water, drain.
Put the peas in warm water to defrost and then drain.

You’ll need a cast iron or enameled 6 to 8 quart pot. Place the pot over medium heat (medium heat for all the following steps, too), add a tablespoon of oil and the bacon. Render the fat from the bacon and when the strips are just about to crisp, remove from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside in a big bowl. Toss the onions into the pot and saute until golden. Remove the onions with the same slotted spoon and add to the bacon. Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and saute the mushrooms, probably in two or three batches. This allows them to brown quickly. Add mushrooms to the bacon and onions bowl.

Place the cup of flour in a plastic bag large enough to hold the beef. Add add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper to the bag and shake several times. Now add the beef and shake the bag, making sure the beef pieces are all evenly coated with flour. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the pot and, in batches, saute the beef, browning the pieces on all sides. The browned beef goes in the bowl.

Add a cup of red wine to the pot and scrape the bottom to loosen all the crusty bits. Then add the rest of the bottle and cook off the alcohol. Takes about 5-8 minutes.

Add the bacon, onions, beef, and the bay leaf and thyme. Cover. Cook over low heat (just simmering) for 3-4 hours.

About 15-20 minutes before serving, add the carrots and peas.

This stew can be served from the cooking pot at the table. Best served in a soup plate with sliced boiled potatoes, or wide egg noodles, or lots of crusty bread.


Photo: Liz Clutterbuck

The master at work in his domain...



Like many others when it comes to cooking, I fall into the category of I-like-food-so-I-think-I-can-cook-whereas-really-I’m-much-better-at-eating. So it was a delight to find myself having a one-on-one tutorial with a professional chef during Chateau Duffy April 2012.

We were tasked with feeding the many hungry mouths returning from a long and damp day on the building site. This should have taken the pressure off, since we probably would have washed our red wine down with just about anything after such a day, but by this point in the trip we had all become used to chef Richard’s lavish and authentic four course dinners.

Trusting that he would be able to un-do anything I did badly, I concentrated partly on the task in hand, but mostly on gleaning as much culinary information as possible. We covered everything from exemplary chopping technique to vineyard classifications, spaghetti handling and the perfect plate presentation (If we eat first with our eyes, then in France we ate very well indeed). I even acquired a tailored four course dinner party plan, including a recipe for gin marinated salmon (yes!).

By the time dinner was served, I was already full – mostly due to sampling the entire menu throughout cooking, but also with the many gems of gastronomical insight I had gained.

My name will be first up on the list for sous cheffing come August, and until then, where’s that gin…

– Lindsay