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Getting to know Anja Dunk

Anja Dunk is a polymath – a Renaissance woman. She is a writer, a cook, an artist, a photographer. She has written books on preserving and on German food, her fluid pen and ink drawings of fruit and vegetables and her bold linocuts are sought after, her pop up restaurant events sell out. If you ask her to describe what she does however, she answers ‘I am a Mother’. It somehow feels radical. It doesn’t, however, feel surprising. The books she has written, the art she creates, the cooking that she does for events, the way that she talks about life - all are rooted in the family home, in instinct, in memory and sentiment, in the importance of gathering around a table. In the simple things that matter. She writes in the introduction to Strudel, Noodles & Dumplings:

“There is a wonderful German word, gemütlich, which when translated into English loosely means ‘cosy’, although in actual fact it means much more but is hard to put into words - to me it really means feeling at home. So wherever we are in the world, I try to make it gemütlich”

I first met Anja in the carpark of The Good Life Experience in Wales last September – shuttling back and forward from our tents, packing up bedding and camping equipment, clothes and provisions. We were both on a high after a few days of cooking and eating and being amongst interesting people. We met again in January this year for coffee and delicious cakes at Honey and Co in London. Anja grew up mainly in Wales, her Dad is Welsh, her Mum is German and the family lived a nomadic kind of life. They lived for periods aboard in Cameroon, Indonesia and Malaysia, where her dad worked on agricultural projects, holidays were spent with family in Germany and they always returned to Wales in between. Home and continuity meant the family unit, the kitchen table, her Mum’s cooking, her grandmother’s bottled fruit and preserves. After studying Mandarin, working in art galleries and for a fashion company, Anja fell into making food for people – working at a delicatessen restaurant in Wales, then cooking for weddings at Fforest in West Wales – scaling up her family food style to large events.

Children followed – at one point three children under three – along with books, more events and periods living in the Netherlands and America. Food, cooking, the kitchen table remained the moveable heart of her life. In 2018 she published her book on modern German Cookery, Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings – a book which firmly points out that German cookery is about a lot more than bratwurst and sauerkraut. It is a recipe book rooted in seasonality, full of the flavours of caraway and dill, with a comforting and welcoming atmosphere. The recipes are mainly frugal, simple and adaptable. Perhaps because, although there are many recipes containing meat in the book, Anja and her family eat a vegetarian diet at home there is that feeling that things can be swapped about, added to, ingredients can be left out if not available – that food is not something that has to be a certain way.

“The best way to approach any kind of cooking – whether it is for family or for 200 people – is to be relaxed about it all.”

Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings was written over the course of a year. The recipes are ones cooked for family – the photographs are those taken by Anja (often balanced on a ladder over the table) of the meals that were actually eaten. They are wonderful photos but they are not perfectly styled, they do not have that clinical feel of the studio shot, little hands hover with forks, the food is there to be eaten.

And somehow, in a world where food is so often shown as perfect, glossed up and complicated, this homeliness feels radical. Running alongside all of this is Anja’s art – linocuts and pen and ink drawings of ingredients. She sees art, especially drawing, as an important part of everyday life – in exactly the same way as cooking and eating and gathering around a table.

The process of creating, the making of marks on paper, the creativity, the concentration and flow are as important as what she ends up with. Drawing becomes part of the rhythm of daily life. Anja doesn’t take commissions for her paintings, as she finds they make her tense up and freeze, but sells in various galleries and online.

We talked a lot over our coffees about access to food and art – about how communities could gather together more over nutritious, affordable, seasonal food; about how drawing could be integrated more into schools and the NHS; about how the simple things in life are often the most important to people’s wellbeing. As she left to meet a friend and his new

baby who were waiting outside, she said “I want to use the next half of my life doing what I want to do.” It felt radical.

You can find out more about Anja and her current projects on Instagram @cocoinmykitchen where she shares photos of her daily life, well stocked pantry, delicious food and allotment.

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Snapdragon social

Stillness is such a difficult skill to acquire.  I suspect that so much of the rushing about that we do is simply an attempt to avoid being still.
For if we stopped, paid attention to ourselves, to the world around us, let everything sink in - well that might be very scary.
But I do think it is the most important skill - a five minute pause, a checking in.  I'm not talking about meditation here - nothing as formal as that - just a stilling and listening and paying attention. Appreciation, recognition, renewal.
It is something that I am very bad at by nature - but I have been taking lessons from Dixie. 

For if a spaniel can relax into stillness, nosing into a shaft of sunshine, then I'm sure I can.
Teasel isn't quite there yet.

#aseasonalway #springerspaniel #springerspanielsofinstagram #slowlivingforlife #lessonsfromdogs #bringyourdogtowork #storiesoftheeveryday
One thing that gardening teaches you year on year is that so much is beyond your control. Some things will thrive, others won’t, and mostly it will be nothing to do with anything you’ve done. 
Some years will be great for one crop, terrible for another. This is a great year for garlic here, awful for beans. 

It’s the same with business - a lot of things happen that are due to the ‘weather’ of the world. We can pivot and turn, change our tactics, Google ‘how to make reels’ and so on - but we can also choose to embrace and lean into what is working well. 

My Friday letter today is about social media and all the ways I’ve used to connect with people over the past 21 years - if you fancy a read you can sign up in my profile. 

And in the meantime I’d love to know what’s growing well for you. Or indeed, what has been a disaster! 

#theartofslowliving #livethelittlethings #nothingisordinary #natureandnourish #embracingaslowerlife #aseasonalway #seekthesimplicity #scotlandsgardens #growyourownfood #cornersofmyworld #greenthumb #rusticgamesttong #cornersofmyworld #simpleandstill #vintagegreenhouse
Each year I have a personal project running.  Something just for me. Something that allows me to experiment and play. 
The first year that I became obsessed with using the plants here to dye textiles - back in 2019 - it was twelve skeins of a raw slubby silk yarn that I  had been hoarding for decades. They became a patchwork cable blanket that now sits on the back of the sofa.
In 2020 it was double knitting yarns, in dozens of colours, knitted into a stripy jumper to keep me cosy in the Studio.
Last year I dyed linens and am gradually making them into patchworks and appliqués - many I am squirrelling away for a project that I may or may not ever begin.
This year I am using mini skeins - in an attempt to keep it more manageable - and exploring the differences in colour caused by the pH of the original extraction. 
There are four skeins for each plant, two for neutral extraction, two for alkali - with one of each pair being dipped in iron to 'sadden' the colour.
If science had been like this at school I might have paid more attention . . . .

#botanicaldye #alchemy #growyourowncolour #gameoftones #plantdyed #naturallydyedwool #plantdyersofinstagram #craftwithconscience
#shadesofnature #extractedfromnature #inspiredbynaturesbeauty #plantdyedyarn #naturaldyedyarn #foragedcolour
This is a tomato salad that was inspired by one I ate a few years ago in a cafe in Mingun, Myanmar,
There it was mainly made with green tomatoes, sharp against the shrimp powder.
In Myanmar the military junta have begun to execute activists arrested after the coup in February 2021. The brutality and violence continue, the quashing of democracy, the corruption. 

11,759 people, arrested after the coup, remain in detention, 78 people, including two children, have been sentenced to death.
You won't usually find much out about Myanmar in the 'fed to you' media, but this week there has been reporting and a Dispatches programme about mass killings  was on Channel 4 on Monday.  The Guardian has consistently been the newspaper reporting most on the aftermath of the coup and you can also follow hashtags like #whatishappeninginmyamar here. 
There may seem little we can actively do about the horrors in the world, but people involved always say that what matters is knowing that people care, bear witness and don’t simply forget when the news cycle moves on.
We always have a slight breeze here - a blessing as it stops the midges flying.
It often gets up at night after a warm day, seeming to breathe its way round corners. 
If you walk through the garden in the evening at the moment, the scent of Lilium regale drifts about you in eddies of spice.

#simpleandstill #capturequiet #beautyyouseek #calm_collected #aseasonalway #aseasonalshift #cornersofmyworld #slowlived #slowandsimpledays #quietchaotics #ofsimplethings #beautyinsimplicity #floralstories #allthingsbotanical #underthefloralspell #livethelittlethings #thehappynow #ihavethisthingwithflowers #moodforfloral #aseasonalway #slowlivingforlife #aflowerfilledlife
The more I travel down this road the more I realise that deciding how you live, which values you honour, what you will prioritise all have to be deliberately chosen. 
You can’t just drift into a slower, more intentional life. 
You can’t buy it. 
You have to make a commitment to actually live it. 
And that’s not always easy. 
It is why I go to events like last weekend’s summer camp @thegoodlifesoc . 
It is also why I surround myself with a supportive community where my choices don’t seem weird.

It is why my to do list today has sitting with a coffee taking in the swoony scent of the sweet peas on it. 

#howihueit #simpleandstill #capturequiet #beautyyouseek #calm_collected #aseasonalway #aseasonalshift #cornersofmyworld #slowlived #slowandsimpledays #quietchaotics #ofsimplethings #beautyinsimplicity #floralstories #allthingsbotanical #livethelittlethings #thehappynow #ihavethisthingwithflowers #moodforfloral #cornersofmyhome #aseasonalway #slowlivingforlife #aflowerfilledlife
This is the actual physical Studio.
It is a little cabin between meadow and wood - a space for creativity and connection a space that I deliberately and intentionally worked towards for a number of years.  There is a sunny deck looking onto trees for the summer, a wood burning stove for the winter.
The Studio is also another thing - it is a club of amazing people who are intentionally prioritising their creativity and connection to the natural world. 
It is a community of great humour, support and inspiration - the best thing that I have ever had a hand in.
The Studio Club is closed to new members at the moment and the doors will open to new members again on the Autumn Equinox. 

I'm currently working with @fbarrows, who is providing a gentle and encouraging outside eye, as I decide on what we will be doing in the club over the next six months.
I've been surveying all the members to find out exactly what it is they enjoy most, what they feel I could do better. 

In this week’s Friday letter I've included a link to a short survey, because I  think it would also be useful to know what people who follow me, but are not members, feel about these things. 
If you get it, it would help me so much if you could take a minute to fill it out - there are only five questions and there is also a bribe . . . .

#slowlivingforlife #simplelife #whereiwork #simpleandslow #creativelifehappylife
The more we actively take time to pause, to sit still and watch, the more we see. 
My Friday Letter this week is all about taking advantage of some unwanted early wakening and starting to use the binoculars which have been hanging on the coat rail for eighteen months.
Twenty minutes with a cup of tea, the binoculars and a lawn full of early birds and their worms.


About Snapdragon Life

In the Studio Club I gently guide you through bringing the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

Find out more about The Studio Club