Three lunches and a hot water bottle

It’s been such a busy week and my blog has taken a back seat. On the plus side I had an unexpected, completely free Sunday and used it to work on my novel. I wrote and edited and wrote and edited and…….you get the picture. Writers each have their own way of working. Some choose to write the whole and then go back and edit. Others, like myself, cannot move on until satisfied with each paragraph. The writer Dorothy Parker once said “I cannot write five words but that I change seven.” I can identify with that. I’ve no idea how many I wrote but I ended up with 2,000 satisfactory words and I was very happy with that.

I had three lunch dates this week. I did try to be mindful of my Slimming World membership!  The first was a belated birthday lunch with an old friend i.e. she is a couple of years younger than me but is a Friend of thirty-eight years standing. We went to a pub that I used to visit regularly in the 1970s. In those days they served scampi and chips in a basket for 55p. Isn’t it funny how the little details stay in the memory? It’s undergone many transformations over the years but it must be seven or so since I was last there so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We both decided that a starter and dessert was more appealing than a main meal. My Greek salad was ample with a very generous helping of feta cheese. It was really tasty but totally overshadowed by the ‘white chocolate creme brûlée with raspberry shortbread’. Oh my goodness, it was amazing…the best creme brûlée I have ever tasted. My friend chose the same and agreed wholeheartedly. The shortbread was sprinkled with raspberry sugar. Yum, yum, yum! That reminds me, I still haven’t tried the lavender shortbread again. The first batch I made didn’t quite make the grade.

Lunch number two was to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We visited a pub which always offers several fish dishes. Depending what is available wholesale, the menu varies. When I saw that there was fresh dressed crab on offer, there was no other choice for me. With a sprinkling of black pepper and a dash of vinegar there’s none better. It came with thick slices of soft brown bread and a salad. Two lunches out so far, and salad both times. No pudding today!

My daughter took an afternoon off work today and we met in Bridgnorth. It’s closer to her than to me but is the nicest place between the two of us. Winner of five Britain in Bloom gold medals it is situated on the edge of the River Severn in Shropshire and is split into low town and high town, the latter being reached by means of the cliff railway (or a road…thank goodness). Evidence suggests that this busy market town originated during Saxon times, and certainly the Saxon caves, known now as the Hermitage Caves were in existence then, with King Alfred’s grandson being the first inhabitant, though it wasn’t until the Normans built a castle and that a larger settlement was formed. The town boasts an array of architecturally interesting buildings. I really do have to get more practice at taking photographs. The few I took were very poor so I’ve decided not to include most of them.

 

At The Brasserie I chose a mushroom and melted cheese baguette with chips, onion rings and side salad. Shortly after we’d finished the waitress walked past with a plate of lemon meringue pie. It looked amazing and I can’t pretend that I wasn’t tempted but I did manage to resist.

Bridgenorth is a ‘moochy’ sort of place so we walked the length of the High Street where I bought a hot water bottle (more in a moment) and a couple of OPI nail polishes.   I chose a deep red and a deep purple, both pearlised which I prefer. Daughter bought new pillows and treated me to a notebook that I’d admired and then we had a coffee.

I’ve been suffering from ‘shin splints (severe cramp, not in the calf as usual, but in the shins). Extremely painful, it starts across the instep of my foot and is apparently caused by either excessive exercise (haha) or extreme cold. Now I know the weather has taken a turn for the worse in the past week but this is England in September, not a time of year known for its freezing temperatures. The only way to relieve the pain is vigorous rubbing and heat.  Though it happens during the daytime, it affects me more at night. I like to get into a cold bed but wonder whether if I warm it first, whether it will help, hence the hot water bottle.

Not the most exciting photo but here’s what I came home with:

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No other way to slice an egg!

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Some while ago Delicious, a rather nice upmarket foodie magazine ran an article on the most useless kitchen gadgets. I don’t remember what most of them were but I was certainly surprised to find that an egg slicer featured among them. The egg slicer was probably the most exotic piece of kitchen equipment my mother ever owned! You may remember from my past posts that she wasn’t renowned for her culinary prowess. Though to be fair, a look around my kitchen wouldn’t exactly shout ‘domestic goddess’ because I’m not a great one for gadgets. However, the egg slicer was one of the first things I bought for my ‘bottom drawer’ (does this concept still even still exist?) and I’ve never been without one since. A knife doesn’t do the job nearly so well. It’s hard to cut the egg thinly enough to provide enough slices to cover a piece of toast adequately (and I do enjoy a hard boiled egg on a piece of toast that’s been spread with marmite – I’m one of those who loves the stuff). When my daughter left home to go to university I was required to supply various kitchen bits and pieces and top of her list? Yes, an egg slicer.

There are several other small items that I wouldn’t want to be without in my kitchen… like the set of measuring spoons shown in the photograph above. Who would have guessed that the contents of a Christmas cracker would have proved so long-lasting or useful? The rim whisk (sometimes called a spiral whisk) is regularly used for gravy, custard or sauces and must be forty years old. The oldest whisks were made from twigs but although metal versions were available in the 19th century, it wasn’t until a 1963 television cookery programme featured one that they became popular.

So far as modern equipment goes I’m not really bothered beyond my garlic press (why ARE the bowls on these round? I’ve never found a round clove of garlic) and the electric steamer. My first steamer (a stove-top two part saucepan style stainless steel one which I still have) was another item bought for the bottom drawer. I’ve rarely ever boiled a vegetable. It’s so much more practical to cook several different ones using only one piece of equipment and it’s a healthy way to cook.

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The most recent addition to my kitchen is a pair of tongs kindly gifted to me by my son’s girlfriend when I admired her own. Oh what an exciting life, I lead!
And apart from my liquidiser (good for soup) and an electric hand blender, I think that’s about it for gadgets. I borrowed a soup maker from my daughter to see if it was something I’d use but it didn’t impress me enough to make me want one, and I’ve always made cakes by hand, never bothering with an electric mixer/chef type of thing either. It just seems like overkill for jobs that only take a few minutes.
How about you? What kitchen equipment do you consider essential? And does anyone else out there own an egg slicer?

 

Food related bits and pieces

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It was my birthday last week and celebrations included a wonderful Sunday lunch at my son and his girlfriend’s house, lunch out with husband at a pub we particularly like and a ladies’ lunch for four friends  at my house. By 9.30am last Friday morning I had made a strawberry roulade, a raspberry cheesecake and a rhubarb crumble.

The paprika chicken was ready for the oven, the potatoes peeled and the runner beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower all prepared. A coffee and walnut cake and date & walnut brownies were in the making. If you’re wondering about the unequal sizes of the brownies, the edges of two stuck to the tin and broke off so I ate them. Now, I could have trimmed the rest so that they were of uniform size but you know where they bits would have ended up, don’t you?  The excess of sweet treats was intentional. There were leftovers of course (my friends aren’t that greedy!) but that’s what freezers are for. I find it useful to portion things up so that we can just use the required amount (and, for a Slimming World member, it is less tempting that having, say, a whole cheesecake in the fridge).

Talk of freezers brings me on to the fact that I have not met my August target of two new recipes a week. This can be partly blamed on a freezer-failure. When I go to my Slimming World group I don’t get in until about 7.30. Husband prefers to eat earlier so I usually leave him a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ kind of meal, often from the freezer which he heats up in the microwave. Just before I was leaving the house I opened the freezer and…..got wet feet!  The fuse had popped in the fuse box. We saved what could be saved and it made for some ‘interesting’ meal combinations. I cooked some of the food into dishes (e.g. chicken pies and casseroles) as it can be re-frozen if cooked. However, some of it inevitably had to be discarded which I was rather upset about as I really hate food waste. I was especially disappointed that some of our home-grown runner beans had to go.  ‘Upset’ and ‘disappointed’ did not, however, adequately describe my feelings when we discovered that our house contents policy has a compulsory £50  excess on freezer-failures.  I’m pretty good at checking out policies at the time we buy, or noting amendments,  but you don’t remember all this kind of detail, do you? In 41 years of buying house contents insurance this would have been my first ever claim but I’d estimated the value of the ruined food at around £50 so the excess wiped it out.

One of my birthday presents from my daughter is a ticket to BBC’s Good Food Show at the NEC  later in the year. We’ve been before a couple of times and it’s great fun. We will undoubtedly come home with some tasty treats.

 

 

 

 

Let’s get cooking – new recipe update

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New recipes from the past week include lavender shortbread. I wasn’t sure whether garden lavender can be used though there seems no reason to assume that it can’t. However, I forgot to take into account that its flowering period is now over! I think I may once have made shortbread (though never lavender flavoured) but it was so far in the distant past that I decided it could count as a new recipe. Sourcing culinary lavender wasn’t easy but I eventually discovered that Bart spices do a small jar for £1.99 and that it’s available in Waitrose. We don’t have a local branch so I called the two nearest branches; neither stocked it. Ocado will deliver but since I was ordering nothing else this wasn’t an option. Eventually I found some at Webbs garden centre in Wychbold (a place definitely worthy of its own post sometime soon) – a decent sized bag for £1.79. I’d intended using a recipe found on the Cotswold lavender site but it was only when I began that I realised  it contains rice flour and I didn’t have any. No matter, I found a shortbread recipe from the baking booklet produced by Bygones Museum in Babbacombe, Devon (bought more than twenty years old, used constantly and very reliable). I made the shortbread as shown and added the lavender. It was ok but only partially successful; it was just not sweet enough. I think that perhaps lavender is a little bitter so more sugar is required to counteract this. I have added rice flour to my shopping list and will try again. I’m sure I can also improve on its appearance.

A Greek recipe for spanokopita (spinach and feta in filo pastry) was very successful though I shall make a smaller quantity next time. As I wasn’t sure how well it would freeze, I had to eat it for lunch and dinner on two consecutive days as husband is not keen on this kind of food. I’ve made something very similar in the past but finding recipes that are totally unlike anything previously cooked is a near impossibility when one has been cooking for forty years!

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The chicken dish was again similar to others that I’ve made but it was in my recipe scrapbook , handwritten on a slip of paper. It’s been there for years and I’ve no idea from where it originated. It was a tasty blend of tomato, peppers, onions, various spices and chicken, of course. I shall make this one again.

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These little frittatas are a Slimming World idea and very quick and simple to make. Simply pop a selection of chopped vegetables (I included potato, asparagus, spring onion and a little bit of ham) into bun tins, season, pour beaten egg over the top and bake. They tasted fine hot or cold and would be great for a picnic. I’ve made frittata lots of times but never so small. Is it stretching the boundaries to suggest that they count as a a new recipe?

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Saving the best for last: by far the most delicious new recipe made in the past week was the French onion soup from my blog-friend Margaret’s recipe. (You may recognise her name from the minted pea soup I made last week). It was very much enjoyed but I forgot to take a photograph! There is plenty of Gruyere cheese left over though so I shall be making it again very soon. I’d planned to use the cheese for Gruyere and tomato tarts as shown on the box which contained filo pastry but I’ve decided that the soup wins on this occasion.

Using tried and tested recipes I’ve also made this week …Vegi-burgers (a regular favourite from Jack Monroe’s fab cookery book A girl called Jack), a chocolate fudge cake and a coffee and walnut cake, a crustless quiche (similar to the tortilla recipe but with cheese)  a strawberry roulade (even more regular), an apple and nectarine crumble and black-bean chicken. And we’ve been eating runner beans…..a lot of runner beans.

 

 

The icing on the cake

Lindeth Howe

Whilst in the Lakes recently we found ourselves near to Lindeth Howe, a country house once owned by Beatrix Potter.  Here follows a piece I wrote following a previous visit and which won me a place as a finalist in the Birmingham Press Association’s Midlands Media Awards in 2015.

The Icing on the Cake

Sitting in the shade of a majestic magnolia, I enjoy the luxury of unseasonably warm April sunshine. A small brown rabbit pokes his head out from behind a lavender bush and hops forward, followed soon after by two even smaller ones. Perhaps not impressed by finding us invading their territory, they dart back behind the bush only to reconsider and reappear sporadically to entertain us for the remainder of the afternoon.

Lindeth Howe Country House is steeped in grandeur and history. Built in 1879 the Queen Anne style house with its wide white painted frontage and black timbered gables stands in 28 acres of abundant woodland.  It was here that a young visitor, Beatrix Potter, drew the  illustrations that she later used for my favourite of her books, Pigling Bland, and so completely did she fall in love with the  house that, in adulthood, she bought it for her mother.

A glimpse between trees of every hue shows the still snow-capped peaks of Claife Heights towering above the western shore of Lake Windermere. The lake shimmers today, silver and ribbon-like in the sunlight, just as Wordsworth must have seen it when he likened it to a ‘vast river, stretching in the sun’. The pretty informality of the garden, where fragrant roses, lavender and buddlia , proving irresistible to butterflies and bees,  invites exploration but I stretch lazily and decide to save this treat until later.

The air is almost still; the faintest of breeze barely cools the sun on my face and I concentrate on the surrounding stillness in hopeful anticipation that I might hear the Crier of Claife. Legend has it that this medieval monk rescued fallen women and was spurned when he fell in love with one of them. He lost his mind and his heart-rending cries may still be heard from time to time. Today is not one of those times for there is no sound but the harmonious song of a pair of tiny goldfinch and that of a lone blackbird taking a rest by the lily pond. Leaning back, I rest my head and close my eyes, and I can’t help feeling more than a little pleased that there are no other guests with whom we must share this idyll.

Our tea is served: sparkling white china cups and saucers with matching tea and coffee pots and a plate of the daintiest sandwiches; the freshest bread, light as air, with fillings so generous that they threaten to spill out – smoked salmon topped by wafer thin slices of cucumber, beef with creamy horseradish, honeyed ham, spread with wholegrain mustard and, reminiscent of the Sunday afternoon teatime of my childhood, chopped egg with a sprinkling of cress.

“Don’t eat too many,” warns my husband. “Leave room for the cakes”.

The waiter laughs. “There’s always room for cake,” he says as he turns back toward the house.  I suspect he senses my penchant for the sweet things in life! A few moments pass and he returns with a three tiered cake stand and accompanying tiny forks with pretty ceramic handles.

The cakes; oh my goodness – the cakes!  More cakes than any sane person could wish to eat but I’ll give it my best! Where to begin? Tiny fresh strawberries topple from one plate to another as I select a scone, take a spoonful of thick clotted cream from one of the miniature ramekins and another from the one filled to the brim with strawberry jam. Jam first or cream? I can never remember. I opt for jam, certain that either way, the taste will be sublime. I’m not disappointed. An exquisitely pretty éclair drizzled with white chocolate calls out to me. This is no six inch finger of dry supermarket choux topped with a machine squirted smear of artificial chocolate. This éclair is the lightest confection imaginable; an inch and a half of melt-in-the-mouth heaven oozing with silky smooth passion fruit cream.  A small glazed pastry case filled with intensely sharp lemon curd; a miniscule square of rich pecan nougatine and a perfectly executed pear and ginger trifle, liberally laced with something that tastes suspiciously like brandy and served in a delicately etched shot glass; an explosion of flavours –  all decadently divine.

Again, I lean back against the cushions – replete, quiescent. The sun has momentarily disappeared behind a cloud and I am able to watch the birds circling overhead and then I see it – a Red Kite.   It lands inches from our table and stays for a moment before soaring, once again, high in to the sky, and for all the deliciousness of our afternoon tea, this truly is the icing on the cake.

A nice way to spend Sunday and how to make a fat-free, sugar-free, flour-free cake.

Strawberry or raspberry roulade

Roulade

I like Sundays. I like the fact that I don’t have to go to work (although very occasionally I swap with someone who wants a Sunday off. This means I get the Saturday off and I like non-working Saturdays even more than Sundays).

The day began with a lazy lie-in, but I was up in time to greet the Ocado delivery man at 9.30. It’s rare that I get my shopping delivered, mainly because I like food shopping, but a voucher for £15 off a £50 online shop, a whopping 30%, seemed too good to miss. By choosing some of the half price or two-for-one offers, I ended up with £69 worth of food for just £36. Given my recent ‘using up what I had in the freezer and cupboards’ challenge, I did need to do a bit of stocking up. I also popped to Tesco yesterday to buy a few things that I can only get there. Apart from fresh fruit and veg, milk and bread, I shouldn’t need to shop now for at least a couple of weeks.

Shopping put away I turned my thoughts to cooking. My eldest son and family (including three sons) were coming for tea – a little birthday tea for my grandson who had his second birthday whilst we were away last week. I never think of cooking as a chore; I find it quite relaxing.  I made a salmon, broccoli and potato bake and a rhubarb cake using the recipe for apple cake that I’ve been using for years. I substituted rhubarb for apple and ginger for cinnamon. It tasted fine but another time I think it needs a little more of each. For the baby, ten months old, I made a cheese and potato pie. Mummy had offered to bring something for him but I think if you invite people to tea, you should be prepared to feed them all! Then I made a salad including a ‘red slaw’ which consists of thinly shredded beetroot, red onion, red cabbage and balsamic vinegar. Very tasty! Also for the elder grandson (ten and a half) I cooked some baby sausages as I know he enjoys them.

Now to the unlikely sounding free from fat, sugar and flour cake which I also made today.  Trust me on this -it’s really not bad at all. I’ve served this to friends many times and they always seem happy to have a second piece!

Strawberry/raspberry Roulade :  Separate 4 eggs and beat whites until stiff.  Beat yolks and add 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder and 3-4 tablespoons sweetener. I don’t buy anything with aspartame sweetener so I use Natvia, a natural plant based sweetener. This definitely improves flavour of cake over the usual artificial taste. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla essence. Fold the yolk mixture into egg white. Spread over parchment lined Swiss roll tin. Bake at 160-180 for approx 15 mins. Cool, remove from tin and gently peel off paper. Spread with a small tub of 0% Total Greek yogurt* and cover with fresh strawberries or raspberries, crushing them slightly. Carefully roll it up. Sometimes it cracks, sometimes not. It will last in the fridge for a couple of days.  Defrosted raspberries may also be used but eat soon after as the juice is inclined to make the sponge soggy.

Natvia

*I must fly the flag here for Total yogurt. I not only use it in this roulade but in several other ways too.

  • As I dislike buttercream I make a delicious cake topping by mixing Total with icing sugar and coffee (just make sure you keep the cake in the fridge as the ‘icing’ is inclined to go a bit runny at room temperature).
  • Make a very quick mackerel pate by mashing a cooked smoked mackerel fillet with a squeeze of lemon juice and three tablespoons of Total. I like it coarse with flakes of mackerel but you could put it into a blender for a smoother finish.
  • Add to mashed potato to make it creamy without adding calorific butter.
  • As a substitute for cream in any recipe (quiche, creamy sauces etc.)

Total

I always made my children’s birthday cakes but I’m afraid I bought one for today. I wasn’t sure how I’d be fixed for time so ordered it from Ocado. Clearly, since I made the rhubarb one and the roulade, I could have made one but I have to say that we did enjoy the very chocolaty ‘Cedric the Caterpillar’. Grandson loved blowing the candles out. He is adorable but a very lively little boy so we were quite tired afterwards, but I just remember how it must be for his mum and dad who spend a lot more time with him, of course! I can’t help reminding my son that he was exactly the same and according to his other nanny, his mum was also a handful.  Is that what they call Karma?  The baby and the big boy are much quieter, calmer children, as were my other two.

I hope you’ve had a nice Sunday too.

Hooray, it’s over!

Thank goodness for that – my shopping challenge is complete.

The last couple of weeks of trying to keep to a pre-determined spending limit in order to reduce my overstocked food supplies have proved very taxing indeed, not least because I’ve had food-shopping withdrawal symptoms! The £90 limit May challenge update and a new one for June was a step too far. Although I managed to keep on track during May, I struggled in June and ended up with a £31 deficit. I could have tried harder, I could have resisted a few of the purchases and we could have eaten a few odd combinations sans vegetables during the last week or so, but I just couldn’t do it.

The exercise has, however, proved that my shopping habits needed a serious overhaul and I believe that I have learned a valuable lesson in shopping more mindfully. There is still a fair amount of food left (especially cous cous which husband has now declared he doesn’t much like) both in the cupboards and freezer so, whilst not setting a stringent budget, I will build meals around the remaining items and look forward to restocking (more carefully) later in the month.

Although I got fed up, I do like a challenge so though I have no plans for a July, I’m thinking about what to do in August. Perhaps a commitment to try two new recipes a week, or maybe three no-meat days each week. What do you think?  Suggestions welcome.