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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

My Friday letter today is about trying to balance gardening and guardianship here - and about why I registered the land here as an ARK (Acts of Restorative Kindness) as a formal commitment.⁠⁠
It is also about why I need the kitchen garden and community garden as an outlet for my obsessive growing of seedlings . . . .⁠⁠
Smoking chimney and fireweed with a halo of haws - November studio.⁠⁠
Teasel is the boss of the house. ⁠⁠
I said that I was looking for a scruffy, badly behaved, short legged dog, and that is exactly what I found.⁠⁠
He stamps in temper when I won't let him do whatever it is he has been stopped from doing.  He runs around manically, he torments poor patient Dixie until she plays and then, exhausted, he crawls up onto my knee for a cuddle and that wonderful soft puppy shudder of contentment.⁠⁠
Off to the vet for jags today.

#yorkshireterriersofinstagram #yorkielove #yorkshireterrier #yorkshireterrierpuppy #takeyourdogtowork #studiodog #puppylove
It has been weirdly warm.⁠⁠
Poppies and cornflowers are trying to bloom raggedly in the meadow and outside our bedroom window this rose has come to life again with heavy perfumed flowers.⁠⁠
They seem smaller and deeper in colour than they were in June.⁠⁠
Is anyone else finding unseasonal blooms at the moment?

#wildforflowers #awhisperedbeauty #cornersofmyworld #lifelivedbeautifully #raw_flowers #livesimple #simpleandstill #shared-joy #atmine #myeverydaymagic #slowfloralstyle #seekmoments #cornersofmygarden
One of things I chatted with @eva_nemeth about in Yorkshire a few weeks ago was mess and light.⁠⁠
I said that I wanted to be able to show beauty without worrying about tidying up around it. Life is messy, time is short . . . .⁠⁠
Eva said that all I needed to do was look for the light and the mess would be transformed.⁠⁠
She was right, this was the kitchen a couple of mornings ago, coffee on the stove, light hitting the washing up and defrosting milk.⁠⁠
Everyday beauty.

#howihueit #simpleandstill #capturequiet #beautyyouseek #calm_collected #aseasonalway #aseasonalshift #mystoryoflight #cornersofmyworld #slowlived #slowandsimpledays #quietchaotics #ihaveathingwithwindows #ofsimplethings #beautyinsimplicity #mystoryofautumn #slowfloralstyle #everydaybeauty #nestandflourish #livethelittlethings #thehappynow  #cornersofmyhome #aseasonalway #slowlivingforlife
Next year the vegetable garden will be free of hens - I'm determined of that because it is a complete waste of time to grow things when they break in and eat it all - but I think that this winter I shall let them wander.  I'm reframing it as slug patrol and fertilising.⁠⁠
Though I shall harvest all the remaining sprouts first as, from the shredded state of some plants, they seem to be a favourite.

#myquietbeauty_autumn #upandautumn #simpleandseasonal #natureandnourish #shiftingseasons #quietinthewild #simplejoys #aseasonalway #snapdragonlife #calmversation #rurallifestrong #simplethings #growyourown #growyourownflowers #aseasonalshift #bantamsofinstagram #vegetablegarden
A couple of weeks ago I tried, and failed, to convince a friend that dahlias are often at their best when part frosted and on the way out.⁠⁠
They stand bedraggled and desaturated, capturing perfectly that slightly melancholy mood of autumn.⁠⁠
This year I have seen people who have previously loved autumn best, talking about how difficult they are finding it this year. ⁠⁠
I think it may be that we are not in the mood for more melancholy. It is difficult to embrace the cosy slide into darkness when, for many, there hasn't been much light.

I know that I’ve been choosing more upbeat music to keep me company in the Studio. Steering away from the heartbreak and sadness. Seeking the light. 

#myquietbeauty_autumn #upandautumn #simpleandseasonal #natureandnourish #shiftingseasons #quietinthewild #simplejoys #aseasonalway #snapdragonlife #calmversation #rurallifestrong #simplethings  #aseasonalshift #flowersandotherstories #scotlandsgardens #simplethingsmadebeautiful #daysofsmallthings
Planting tulips in the vegetable garden - 12 of each in close rows so that I don’t feel guilty about picking them - and discovering that Yorkshire terriers come pre-programmed to dig. 

#yorkshireterrier #yorkie #yorkshireterriersofinstagram #yorkshireterrierpuppy
The hornbeam arch that leads through to the vegetable garden is always a thing of two halves. 

At this time of year half is bright autumn leaves, half bare imploring branches. 

Spent vegetables and fallen leaves, hens and hazel supports. 

November garden. It’s where you will find me today. 

#slowlived #hashtagauthentic #aseasonalway #gatherandcurate #mygarden #kitchengarden #distractionsandinspirations #stillswithstories #calmversation #novembergarden #cherishandrelish #aquietstyle #growyourown #searchwondercollect #alliseeispretty #seekinspirecreate #ofsimplethings #natureandnourish #myalmanacmoment

About Snapdragon Life

At Snapdragon Life 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.


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