Saturday, 31 March 2012

Not Quite Veg Everyday - but trying: new potato and chard curry. And wine.

Well, for a moment there, it was touch and go, but we made it through to the end of term with only the toothpaste down the dress and missing cardigan buttons incident, and a forgotten trumpet (which I didn’t post about because frankly it was too distressing for all concerned. I decided that it was a good moment to teach resilience, and refused to go back and fetch it. Maybe if I ever feel superior enough about how I brought up my children to write about it, I’ll include the anecdote as an example of good parenting, but I’m not so sure a parenting guide is ever going to be on my list of things to write.)

But my mission to reduce our meat consumption has fallen by the wayside as I battled my way through the organisational bloodbath of the last week of term with the aid of whatever was at the bottom of the freezer, and whatever else was lying around – not only was it the end of term but also the end of the month...cottage pie, cold roast chicken, bonus sausages (sausages are always a bonus in our house!).

Anyway, yesterday a very chirpy young man (you can tell I’m nearly 40 can’t you – good grief!) delivered some shiny bags full of new food, the sun was shining and the kids had eaten a school dinner for lunch which was my cue to head to the park with some half-hearted excuse for a picnic and a bottle of wine to share with some friends. A lovely way to celebrate the sunshine – I thoroughly recommend it.

Kids fed (although Pink had mainly eaten crisps so had to be topped up with some oatcakes and cheese. It would have been apple and cheese, which she asked for, but this week I managed to forget to order ANY fruit WHATSOEVER so we will all die of scurvy. Anything but actually step foot inside a supermarket) and I realised I would have to do something to feed the Husband and I. The garden is just starting to yield some produce and there was a whole picking of swiss chard waiting for me so I toddled off. Now I’m going to sound all Felicity Kendal, but it’s really exciting after the winter – especially the last few weeks when all there’s been is some tired sprout tops, the last of the red cabbages which basically rotted, and the trough of flat leaf parsley  – to get a decent helping of something green out of the garden.

I had planned a Hugh meal, so had the wherewithal to supplement the chard and turn it into new potato and chard curry out of Veg Everyday. It was really good. I would recommend it – and although I didn’t give it to the kids this time round because I was worried that the addition of the chilli would make it too hot for them, actually it wasn’t hot, just delicious, so I think I’ll try them with it the next time we have enough chard.

 It uses a paste of garlic, green chilli and ginger, and some dry spices too (garam masala, cumin, turmeric and mustard seeds plus some cardamom pods) and is very easy to put together. In fact having picked the chard, a friend dropped by to pick something up and so we had another glass of wine, just because. Then it was definitely bed time for the kids. And the Husband got home. But I managed to get the curry on the go while skilfully (ha ha!) managing all these events into a seamless display of domestic harmony. And only a little bit of irritated, and slightly squiffy, chivvying.

The chard and potatoes cooked in about 15 mins, then you stir in a yoghurt/tomato puree/cooking liquid mixture and top with some toasted almonds and coriander. I suppose it wasn’t quite Veg Everyday because I had retrieved a container of chicken curry (another Hugh one – from River Cottage Everyday) from the bottom of the freezer just in case I didn’t get round to making the veg curry. But having made the veg curry I didn’t need to worry about rice, just about where I’d put the rest of the bottle of wine...

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Lemon drizzle and a Husband who knows what it's at...

The Husband clearly knows how things are these days. He’s made a couple of comments recently to the effect that he daren’t say ANYTHING about the food I put on the table for fear that it will be repeated for all of cyberspace to read.

However, he has clearly decided to take pre-emptive action. Today, when I popped onto Facebook for a quick lunchtime schmooze, and before I had begun to consider the angle that I might approach last night’s cake baking session, I saw that he had posted his status as follows:

before I get too much grief for mentioning the rather dark crust on the lemon drizzle cake...I can confirm that it is delicious.”

Wise man. Not so earlier this morning – as I was standing in my PJs, not yet appropriately tea’d up and tearing my hair out, trying to stretch some fairly stale crusts of bread into 3 lunch boxes, he appeared, cast an eye over the cake and commented as indicated. Cue much unnecessary banging of cereal packets etc while he made a quick exit to let the chickens out.
‘The Cake’ is Baked in America’s Lemon Drizzle. Ignoring the fact that there’s quite a lot of ORANGE in it for a LEMON drizzle cake, I was particularly excited about the inclusion of marzipan.

The Domestic Goddess herself (I mean Nigella, not me) is partial to lemon and almond, as am I. One of my favourite pieces of cookery writing is her recipe for Damp Lemon and Almond Cake in the eponymous book, where she writes “...the citrus element, though intense, just melds with the almonds to give a slab of dense, sharp-toned meltiness... I can’t stop myself murmuring ‘raspberries’ to you, either”. It makes me shiver with delight – not only lemon and almonds, but raspberries too? Utter gorgeousness. I could go on, but back to Baked... and the Lemon Drizzle.

I suddenly realised yesterday that there was no cake in the house and this was a situation that had to be rectified IMMEDIATELY, despite the fact that it was nearly time to banish the kids to bed for the evening. I had half planned to bake this last week but ended up delaying in order to preserve my sanity and also to make sure I could eat some of it. No point baking a cake and then going away, leaving it for someone else to eat, is there?

'The Girls' - French, Saunders, Hornby, Barbie and Pepper

As a result, I knew I had lemons and oranges;  I also knew I had some marzipan stashed away (yes, ok, so WHAT if it was left over from Christmas, I tried it, a couple of times – just to make sure, you understand, and it was fine. More than fine) so I didn’t have to bother myself with making my own ‘almond paste’ as recommended. Sometimes life is too short. I also had plenty of eggs (the recipe requires 5) thanks to the girls’ labours and granulated sugar which I had specifically bought last week, for the purposes of making this cake. I wouldn’t normally have bothered, but in the absence of homemade almond paste, I thought I might as well make the effort – and they are pretty insistent in the recipe that it has to be granulated, in order to make the appropriately crunchy topping.

In an extraordinary display of culinary generosity, I let Pink help me. She is, in fact very good at cracking eggs and keeping an eye on the Kenwood, so she was fairly much an asset, despite the fact that I caught her surreptitiously scraping at the butter. There’s a bit of faff grating lemon and orange peel, but basically, another straightforward loaf cake, so thumbs up on that front. Less satisfying is the fact that although my loaf tin SAYS it’s big enough, actually it wasn’t. Fortunately I’d put a baking tray in the oven on the shelf below, so the spillage was contained, but next time, I will rethink. Actually, next time, I will probably make it in a wider square tin and make a slightly shallower cake – see what happens then. Because my lovely loaf sank in the middle again. And I may have slightly over-cooked it. This leads me to conclude that I may in fact need to invest in an oven thermometer. But I will try a different tin a perhaps a shorter cooking time next.
cooled; crunchy sugar topping...
That said, once drizzled with the lemon/orange juice and sugar at the appointed time, and left to cool, the cake sat in all its gloriousness waiting to be tasted. After the Husband’s remark, I decided that it was only appropriate that I should have a little teeny slice just then. Heavenly. The marzipan (sorry, ‘almond paste’) is genius, and it works well with the orange, I think, but I will be tempted to do it all lemon next time. Watch this space.
Let's ignore the 'slightly darker than normal' crust and marvel at the wondrous middle, shall we?

End of term, end of my tether?

OK here’s my latest bad mother story. Not that it really matters in the slightest, but as we all know, it can sometimes be the little things that knock everything out of kilter, sending one’s tightly scheduled (ha! I wish) day spinning into the mire of chaos.

This morning it was Pink’s assembly. They are 5 & 6 years old, her class, Year 1, and most of them still at the remarkably cute stage. They all had to take in aprons because they were going to be telling us about the recipe for making a GOOD story.
There was great excitement in the Recipe Junkie household because the Husband was able to come along too. (Blue had a bit of a sulk because the Husband always seems to be able to make Pink’s assembly but not Blue’s. Mind you, Allotment Junkie also came along to Pink’s last one and thrilled the crowds with her dinosaur impression. But let’s not revisit that...) Anyway, in all the excitement and drama of making sure Pink had matching socks (same length and pattern – something of a result), and the effort it took to scrape her locks into the desired ponytail, I completely failed to notice that she had toothpaste down her dress and only 2 buttons on her cardi.
The Husband’s attendance meant that we got to DRIVE to school – so that he could head straight off to work afterwards. Normally, rain, snow, shine, we walk. At least once a week, I have to explain yet again why we walk to school. We live less than a mile away. Petrol is expensive and we’re doing our bit for the environment. We have legs. We don’t have a second car. I could go on – and frequently do because in the abstract, the children are proud environmental campaigners, telling me that I should be turning off lights and generally saving the planet, but they don’t seem to be able to see how this might apply to real life. Grrrr.

Blue was torn about the prospect of driving. “I want to be with Daddy, but I want to save the environment too.” I tried to explain that on this occasion, Daddy would be driving anyway, so the planet would be trashed regardless – but in the end the moral high ground won and he walked. Pink was unfeasibly excited (clearly she has no principles) and in the giddy whirl that she became, I didn’t notice the uniform aberrations till we got to school.
I noticed the toothpaste first, and after rubbing at it with a wet finger, decided that it would be fine because she could do her cardi up... which of course she couldn’t (or at least not enough – and in hiding the toothpaste it would then be obvious that she was a girl whose mother DIDN’T CARE ENOUGH, and sent her to school with defective uniform.) as always, Pink had the answer – “But I’ll be wearing my apron” she observed. So she would.

I had some respite, and spent an indulgent 15 minutes or so watching the assembly and thinking how fab they all were, and also being relieved that it was someone else’s daughter who bent over to pick something up and displayed her pants to the whole school for more time than any mother could bear, but then DISASTER. The head stood up and reminded all the children that they should try and look SMART, with their JUMPERS ON for the SCHOOL PHOTOGRAPHER...
She doesn't walk me properly. She doesn't.
The loser in all this, of course is the poor dog, who hasn’t had a proper walk (certainly not the hard hour’s pheasant chasing that just about passes for a ‘proper walk’ in his eyes) for 36 hours now. Normally, he comes up to school with us and I then head off over the fields after dropping the kids. This was already not going to happen this morning but I had planned to take him out as soon as I got home, straight into the fields. Instead he had to do the long walk back up to school as I delivered a cardi with 4 buttons on it to save Recipe Junkie’s name.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Leftovers for a sunny day

So all good things sort of come to an end, and 3 days later, Venice seems like just a beautiful memory. This afternoon, I have taken the path of least resistance and sent the kids out into the garden with a tub of water. As I type they are naked, muddy and having a whale of a time. I’m trying to put off the inevitable ‘what’s for tea’ question because frankly I’m not rightly sure.

Since 6.30 on Monday morning I have been in full end-of-term-mummy mode, juggling cub investiture (Blue, Monday evening), ballet ‘show’ (Pink, yesterday, 5 – 5.45) school Easter ‘production’ (Blue, yesterday,  6-7 – the story of Easter set to what can only be described as hotel lobby music...), class trip (Pink, today), class assembly (Pink, tomorrow). The children are exhausted – evidenced by the fact that Blue isn’t waking up until our alarm goes off, and Pink is staggering downstairs around 7.45 – and frankly, we all need the holiday. On top of that, I have been returning the house to my version of chaos, as opposed to Allotment Junkie’s version. The cutlery drawer has been re-ordered; and the cheese grater is hanging up on my pan rack, not in the dresser; and the cereal bowls are in the dresser and not in the cupboard. I have NO IDEA where the loo rolls have gone.

I have to whisper because I know that it makes me sound incredibly ungrateful. She has fielded my kids for a weekend AND done my ironing, with my father in situ (he came to ‘help’ this time, which is always a tricky one), and I am NOT complaining. But it is true that she always rearranges everything. Still – I doubt it’s going to stop me relying on her amazing grannyness in future.
She has also left me with half a roasted chicken which will probably save me this evening, because 2 paragraphs later and I am still feeling distinctly uninspired as far as food goes. I can’t wait until Friday because the kids are having a school dinner (‘Easter lunch’) so I can throw sandwiches at them for tea instead of thinking of something delicious and nutritious. In fact, on the way up to school this afternoon, basking in the glorious sunshine, some of us have hatched a plan to go to the park after school on Friday with a picnic tea for the kids and a bottle or 2 of wine for the mummies, so that will ease us into the weekend nicely.

Despite my pre-trip organisation frenzy, I did nothing in relation to this week apart from ear mark a cottage pie that was in the freezer for Monday evening. So we had cottage pie, and last night the kids ate cold chicken with some potato salad made out of some cold potatoes left over from last week (well they smelled OK) and some rogue spring onions that we discovered hiding in a corner of the veg patch. The Husband had the left over cottage pie and I had the cold chicken made into a couscous salad (the kids ate all the potatoes) with some pine nuts, and chopped cucumber. The Husband, lucky man, got to take the couscous to work with him for lunch too.
Further inspection of the fridge has now revealed the remaining gravy and – what a bonus!! - some leftover cream that Allotment Junkie must have brought, so it looks like creamy chicken and parsley pasta this evening (I have a water trough full of parsley, as I may have mentioned previously. It comes in handy when there’s nothing else fresh in the house). Sorted.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Edited highlights of the trip to Venice - straight up

We got back at 2.00 a.m. this morning to be up again at 6.30 for the usual Monday morning madness and it’s now nearly 10.30 p.m. and I am about to crawl to my bed but I must just post some highlights of our FABULOUS weekend in Venice. I was trying to think of an ‘angle’ but the whole trip was so amazing that I thought I’d just go with it – rather than trying to turn it into something funny (although when I eventually write my novel, the incident in duty free with the non-tester pot of wildly expensive hand cream, the Husband and the over-made up shop assistant with unfeasibly long finger nails will be there).

So... lovely lunch on Friday (so what if it was Cafe Rouge at the airport – nothing like a large glass of white wine to get you in the mood) ... easy journey...gorgeous hotel & room in a peaceful Campo...bellini...comfortable bed, so quiet – and a full night’s sleep.

Waking up to glorious, glorious sunshine on Saturday morning ...cake for breakfast (oh yes! The Venetians have obviously been reading my blog)...wandering through the streets and over the canals of Venice, visiting the touristy places and getting lost in the not-at-all touristy places... al fresco frito misto fresh from the market and a glass (or 2) of prosecco ...ALL THAT ART... EVERYWHERE... delicious pizza...time to talk...more prosecco...another full night’s sleep...

Vaporetto over to San Giorgio de Maggiore to climb the bell tower there and take in the breathtaking views of the whole of Venice...everything looking like a Canaletto ... more sunshine... more ART...more talking...more pizza...new handbag...

Truly, we had the most fabulous time and I feel very spoilt. Magical times to store away and bring back out to sustain the soul when things are more testing.

Now, what are we going to eat for the rest of the week...

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Venice tomorrow - woo hoo!

The Husband and I are going to Venice tomorrow. I’m soooo excited.

Allotment Junkie is here, ready to take the reins. The freezer is full, both with the stuff I pre-cooked so she wouldn’t have to bother, and also with the stuff she brought with her, pre-cooked, so she wouldn’t have to bother. I love my mum.
I’ve checked my passport. And the tickets. And done online check-in.

I have done 2 loads of washing, explained 3 times how to get to the swimming pool for Saturday morning lessons, the complicated arrangements regarding how Pink likes which light left on and for how long when she goes to sleep at night, and how to operate Skype. I have reiterated the strict rules about not letting the dog (a) sleep on the sofa, nor (b) eat the chicken’s poo, not letting Pink watch any of the Harry Potter films on pain of having to deal with a basilisk-induced nightmare, and not letting Blue get away without doing at least some trumpet practise. I have over-engineered the various combinations of house keys to allow for the arrival of my father at the same time as school pick up. And I checked my passport.

I have produced some fairy cakes for Pink to take to school tomorrow in lieu of sport relief mufti money (not as ‘yummy’ as it might sound – believe it or not I had some un-iced mini fairy cakes stashed in the back of the freezer from last book day when she went as the Tiger Who Came to Tea – complete with ‘buns’), and sorted out piles of change with which they can enter the sport relief mile at school, buy cakes, and (Blue only) pay for his mufti – Blue did not wish to do anything as uncool as take cakes “I’ll just take the money, if that’s OK”.

I have packed- hand baggage only – and sweated over my total lack of ‘capsule wardrobe’. Still, I have dragged my most stylish items of clothing out of my drawers (for ‘most stylish’ read things that didn’t come from the charity shop) and I’m hoping I might just about pass muster – just need to polish my boots. I checked my passport. I have managed to remove the last, now chipped application of nail polish from a few weeks ago (in honour of the Sanctuary trip, I bothered my arse to slap a fresh coat over the last fading chips left over from the summer. Yes – the summer. You read that right. I am that rubbish). The Husband has sterilised a couple of small bottles so I can decant my contact lens solution from a bigger container and thus benefit from travelling hand baggage.

I didn’t have enough of the right kind of pasta to cook one meal for all of us, so we had macaroni peas (already tried and tested from Veg Everyday) and a new one – mushroom risoniotto. I couldn’t get Pink to try it “But I don’t like cooked mushrooms...” but Blue enjoyed it as much as the macaroni. I’d had to cadge a half-used pack of orzo pasta from a friend who’d tried the recipe previously. I offered to pay for it, but she just said “Have it” with feeling. I suspect it wasn’t going to feature in her repertoire again but we liked it and I will cook it again (with more garlic probably, and when Pink’s not around).Quite enjoyed having the combination of the two dishes.

Now, I need re-paint my toes (it might be warm, and I have packed my Birkenstocks – travel in hope, that’s my motto), find Miss Garnet’s Angel, by Sally Vickers – a lovely book, and I really want to read it while I’m in Venice,
and check I’ve got my passport...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

How baking cake can defeat maternal guilt

Wednesday seems to be turning into baking day in my life. The bread I’ve baked at the weekend usually runs out around now and so if the oven’s going to be on for bread purposes, I can use it as an excuse to save the environment and bake some cake.

I had rather over-ambitiously intended to bake not one but 2 today, to see us well in to next week. My plan was to bake the NYC crumb cake AND the lemon drizzle cake from Baked in America, and freeze at least half of each in lunchbox portions. Partly I couldn’t choose between which cake to bake, and partly I wanted to give myself a bit of a head start on next week because – oh, did I mention? I’m going to Venice for the weekend. Yes, that’s right. VENICE!! Just me and the Husband. I LOVE being nearly 40...

So, seeing as how I’m GOING TO VENICE for the weekend, I thought that if I could get ahead it would make the morning drudgery of the school lunch boxes next week easier. And also, by leaving behind oodles of cake – and a choice of cake no less - it would perhaps soothe the inevitable guilt I feel about leaving the children. Oh yes, I can look past the fact that they are excited beyond belief about another weekend in the charge of Allotment Junkie, the fact that the Husband and I have hardly seen each other for the last few weeks (since half term, in fact) in a  blur of trans-Atlantic junketing (him), Scout meetings (him), book club (me), blogging (me) and general life stuff, and the fact that, dammit all this is my longed for trip to Venice, the birthday treat to end all birthday treats – and feel the weight of maternal guilt. But I’ll do my best to throw it off, I promise...

Where was I anyway? Oh yes. The best place to be. Baking cake. In the end, I saw sense and what with bread, and supper, I decided to just make one cake. The Lemon Drizzle actually looks like something rather special, so I’m going to save that for next week (once I’ve recovered from my weekend. Did I mention I was going to Venice?), so NYC crumb cake it was.

A little fiddly this one – I fear I may have over mixed my crumbs, and there seemed to be an awful lot of butter and sugar disappearing in to it, but who am I to argue, especially when it turn out like this.

Beautifully plain cake, with a scrummy crunchy, thick, cinnamon-sugar crumb layer on top. I have to say I will cut it in to a lot more than 12 pieces, but it really is gorgeous, and none the worse for the fact that the required amount of sour cream turned out to be mostly sour cream topped up with basically all my left over yoghurt (some Greek, some plain and a little vanilla РI reduced the amount of vanilla extract accordingly) and a dollop of cr̬me fraiche.


So I have enough cake in the house to feel that I can leave the children for the weekend, and the smell of the cinnamon topping is lingering delightfully in my kitchen.

Even if I wasn’t going to Venice for the weekend, I’d be a happy woman!

Not Quite Veg Everyday but Trying - dressed Puy lentils, and green beans, new potatoes and olives (and a can of responsibly sourced tuna)

The Husband definitely wins in tomorrow’s lunch lottery.

After quite a ’meaty’ few days, mainly because I’m having another go at getting to the bottom of the freezer, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a bit of a food rut again – which is ridiculous, but it’s what I felt. When not walking the dog, dealing with overtired children and moving a shed, I did manage to spend a bit of time on Sunday (Mother’s Day, remember – that day when we’re supposed to get a rest) flicking through Veg Everyday again, and looking beyond the swede and potato pasties. I’ve been slightly evangelical about those pasties, them and the twice baked potatoes which have become a regular fixture on our menu, but nearly 3 months in, and they've kind of blinded me to the rest of the book.

That’s how we came to be having dressed Puy lentils and green beans, new potatoes and olives for supper this evening. Still in the interests of getting through the stockpile (I am beginning to suspect that the nuclear winter may never actually come, in which case, never mind the freezer, what AM I going to do with all those cans of pineapple rings??) I was pleased to find a lentil recipe to use up half a pack lying around in the cupboard, and I had some potatoes from the previous week’s shop which I’d forgotten about and which were surreptitiously sprouting ‘eyes’ in my veg basket. Clearly the makings of a feast.

Amazingly, when I was updating my internet shop (which conveniently arrived this evening, and early to boot), I managed to remember to get the extra bits I needed for the green bean etc dish (mainly, green beans and olives - fairly fundamental, I suppose), so for once I had everything in the list of ingredients (a bit boring perhaps, but just sometimes it’s nice to find out what a recipe is actually supposed to taste like instead of a close approximation). Anyway, the lentils are very simply cooked in water (or veg stock) with a bay leaf, 2 bashed up garlic cloves and some parsley stalks, then dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. The potato salad is even easier – cut the new potatoes into small chunks, cook till nearly done then chuck in the beans for 3 minutes. While you’re doing that, finely slice some garlic, cook it gently in a little olive oil, then chuck in a load of chopped black olives. Drain potatoes and beans, tip over the oil, garlic and olives, chuck in a handful of basil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

I would like to point out that I didn’t buy the parsley or the basil. We have a trough of parsley growing in the garden which has saved me on many occasions: No coriander? Use parsley. No mint? Use parsley etc. We do have basil too - the Husband has been valiantly tending one of those supermarket pots of basil – he’s kept it going for a good couple of months now, and I think it’s turning into a battle of wills.

And what of the tuna? Well, the Husband was looking a bit disappointed when I explained the menu, especially since he'd had cold twice baked potatoes yesterday. He hid it well, but not well enough. So I suggested that we could bung in a can of tuna. It actually would have been delicious without, and he said as much, but it definitely worked with – and it would also have been good with ‘soft hardboiled’ eggs too, so I think that’s what I’ll try next time. So not quite Veg Everyday – but on this occasion, I feel that it was worth bending the rule for. And it was some responsibly fished tuna so I'm not feeling too bad about it.

What’s more, there is enough leftover for the Husband to take it for lunch tomorrow, and with Blue having a school lunch tomorrow, I only need worry about making 1 packed lunch. Success, success, success.

(Perhaps I shouldn't mention that I wimped out as far as the kids were concerned and they had turkey meatballs from ¾ way down the freezer???)

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Perhaps I have a problem


chick, chick,chick, chick chicken - gotta have this mug for tea

My morning tea tastes all wrong unless I have it in a specific mug. Well – it could be one of 2: either of my prized Emma Bridgewater chicken mugs. If neither is available, there’s a particular white mug that will also do (just). I don’t know why this is the case – it’s something about the amount of tea the mug will hold, the feel and thickness of the china and how hot the tea stays as I drink it - but that first morning cup very definitely tastes wrong in anything else. 


I find it very hard to cope without that first mug of tea, but any more than one makes me feel a bit out of sorts, so it’s important to get it right. That one precious mug gets me through the mayhem until the children are safely deposited at the local seat of learning , then I can recover my equilibrium whilst walking the dog (ha ha ha did I really write that? My dog is a bonkers 3-legged springer- hardly calm-inducing, but that’s for another time) before returning home to a cup of coffee and work. 


Now, interestingly enough, my daily cup of coffee (proper coffee, made in a stove top thingy) tastes all wrong in the Emma B mugs. The optimum mug turns out to be a Cath Kidston one. I had 2 as a Christmas present. Won’t do for tea, but just perfect for coffee.

Do you know what I mean? I guess there's not much that I have to call my own at the moment- what with kids, work etc etc, and it's the little things that can make all the difference getting through the day sometimes.

Anyway, moving swiftly on to the point of all this, I was in need of comfort for my lunch today. The chickens have been laying and inspiration struck. ‘Egg in a Cup’. Egg in a cup was a childhood staple. Strangely Blue and Pink aren’t so keen – can’t imagine why not.
Basically, you soft boil an egg (or 2), and toast some bread. It has to be a soft boiled egg so that the toast gets all covered in the yolk. Our Sussex eggs need 5 minutes on the timer in a pan of boiling water to get them perfectly runny. Butter (not marge, and definitely not anything that calls itself a ‘spread’) the toast and cut it into squares, then put it in a mug (yes, I know it’s called egg in a cup but actually it’s egg in a mug. Just work with me here, OK?), scoop the egg out of its shell and mash it in to the toast in the mug. Add lots of salt and pepper. Mash around a bit more then eat with a teaspoon. Yes, a teaspoon. Not a fork or anything else. 

Bearing in mind the above, you’ll appreciate that it was important to me to get the mug right. It’s quite a long time since I’ve had egg in a cup, and my mug collection has grown. Choices, choices.

Happily, I got it first go. Cath Kidston. The one with the strawberries on it. Phew.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Another list....

I was looking at Kate's latest list. Dangerous. This List business. I feel myself getting sucked in.

I did the list last week – top 5 cook books. That was easy in a hard kind of way. This week a little more imagination is required – 5 reasons I know I’m... fill in the blank yourself

Kate’s chosen 5 reasons she knows she’s a mum. I have been pondering whether I could actually say that (a) I knew for sure that I was something and (b) that I could give 5 reasons that I knew that (if you see what I mean). A mum, perhaps? Well, I could only come up with one reason (or maybe it’s a symptom?) – I’m close to hysteria 90% of the time, drunk the remaining 10% (flexible ratio depending on the type of day I’m having to be honest). Same goes for ‘dog owner’ - although I could add a second reason that no longer applies to me as a mum  – I have poo bags everywhere. I’m no longer a lawyer, I haven’t been blogging long enough (in my opinion and in being in awe of those with infinitely more blog-credibility) to call myself a blogger.... Someone else has already taken “old fart” and she’s not as old as me. Aaarrrggghhh.
Anyway, as I was walking the hound up to school to collect the children, it came to me. Many, many reasons – hard to choose 5 in fact. And so, with apologies to ‘old fart’ (which I enjoyed reading muchly but whose list I hadn’t read until after I came back from the school run), here are my 5 reasons why I know I am turning into my mother:

1.       Wholemeal pasta. My mother has kept an essay I wrote when I was 13 about how hideous, how grossly unfair it was that she fed us wholemeal spaghetti. Guess what...

2.       Given the choice between shopping and a good long stride out over the fields with the dog, 9 times out of 10, I’d take the stride.

3.       I say things to the children like “Only boring people are bored”. And “good long stride”.

4.       Oh damn – I missed Desert Island discs...

5.       What? Out after 10 p.m.? Do we have to? I’ve got a new Maeve Binchy to read.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Surviving till bedtime

Ok it’s getting desperate. The Husband has just suggested that I wait another 20 minutes before I put the kids in the bath – to give the hot water a chance to heat up properly. I hadn’t said anything. He could just tell what I was thinking. Ten past 5 on a Sunday afternoon and already I’m counting down the minutes – nay seconds, before I can legitimately get them upstairs. 20 minutes is 20 minutes too long this afternoon, so I’ve absented myself (although I know they’ll find me) to find the strength to get through bath time.

It is mostly my fault (isn’t it always). In a spectacular piece of bad planning this close to the end of term, not only did they both have school discos on Friday night but then swimming on Saturday morning and sleepovers last night. Pink (nearly 6) was elsewhere. Her sleepover partner’s mother said that they went to bed around 8.30 and were up at 5.30, although they stayed in bed till 7.

Blue (8) and his friend were here. They watched Harry Potter and were in bed by 8.30. Silence reigned. At some point in the middle of the night, I became aware of movement and muffled noise. I tried not to listen to hard because I didn’t want to wake up too much, but I managed to ascertain that they were playing Mario on their DSIs. I wouldn’t normally countenance DSIs in bedrooms and certainly not the playing thereof at midnight (or whenever it was – I didn’t look at the clock), but in the end I just couldn’t be bothered getting out of bed. I decided that my stomping in and reading the riot act was unlikely to change anything, and that it was probably best to just let them get on with it. They must have gone back to sleep  - I certainly did – but they were up again at 6 creeping around and sneaking downstairs to watch TV.

The consequences of all this of course is that today they are utterly, utterly exhausted, as am I. I have been a good mother and worn my Mother’s Day earrings (thanks, Rainbows) all day (even out in public) and put my other earrings in the clay pot spray painted silver and gold (thanks Cubs). I cried at the lovely book Pink had done at school “A book about you and me” – It goes something like this – “Your eys are blue – like school jumpers. My eys are blue like the sky. Your hair is dark brown like dog fur, my hair is light brown like chocolate” etc. It is the loveliest thing.

The rest of Mother’s Day included church for Pink and I, a dog walk (me and the dog) and moving a reclaimed shed in pieces from our back garden up to the allotment for reconstruction at a later date (all of us). Lots of fresh air to help the children through the day.

4 minutes to go, and the water will be hot. I could probably review the rest of the weekend’s food in that time. A bit hit and miss to be honest. I had to go fridge diving on Friday, not because I hadn’t planned anything but because I couldnt’ be bothered to do what I’d planned. In the end, I whizzed up the leftover chachouka sauce with a little more veg stock and served it with pasta for the kids (lots of carbs before the disco). For the husband and I, a glittering prize at the bottom of the freezer – a tub of Nigella’s south Indian curry sauce (from Kitchen). I made a huge batch ages ago to use a whole pot of the tamarind paste I’d bought (rather than using a small amount and leaving the rest to go mouldy in the fridge), so that made supper easy for us.

On Saturday, we had a Nigella minestrone type soup – macaroni and cannellini beans with stock, greens and cubes of carrot and parsnip – for lunch and for supper, fajitas, chosen by Blue. I love fajitas. To me it’s a sure fire way of getting huge amounts of veg into the kids. Sure, there’s some chicken thrown in (I used a pack of 4 chicken thigh fillets last night, marinaded in the juice of a lime, and a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander before cooking), but then it’s a red onion and 2 red peppers thinly sliced and fried up first, salsa of tomatoes and spring onions, mashed up avocado and lime juice to make guacamole, coriander leaves – it’s just veg veg veg. How satisfying (sorry if I’m being smug, but it does please me).

Today – a roast for lunch and snack tea. I realised on Saturday morning that I hadn’t actually planned anything for today – not because I was expecting any kind of meal out, I just forgot – this is typical of my 'meal planning’. Fortunately the Husband had managed to find some pork in the freezer. Roast at lunch means snack tea – fried up leftover potatoes, sandwiches, date and walnut loaf. All good – and easy.

And now it’s 5.43 p.m. We’ve made it, the Husband and I. In fact the kids are already in the bath and the Husband is skyping me from upstairs on his iTouch (the wonders of modern technology). Right. (Takes deep breath)... not long now...

The Girl Effect

Mothers Day. I thank my mother for many things. There are a few things that I’m annoyed about (like the lack of sparkly, silver party shoes), and we haven’t always got on – there have been times in her life when she has been under pressure and our relationship grew distant, but it’s only now as a mother myself that I can appreciate the things that are really important.

She (and my father) gave me a comfortable home where I was encouraged to make the most of my education, become professionally qualified and to believe in myself. She has been there for me through the good times in my life (despite the argument about whether egg mayonnaise should feature on our wedding buffet menu) even when things have been hard for her, and she has been a rock throughout the hardest time I can ever imagine facing, when our son was diagnosed with leaukaemia . For the 3 following years which included the gruelling chemo regime that Blue had to undergo, and Pink’s birth by emergency caesarean (we’re talking general anaesthetic here), she regularly dropped everything to drive 250 miles and pick up the threads of life for us when Blue had unscheduled hospital visits, on top of regularly spending weeks at a time with us over particularly hard periods of chemo. I will never be able to thank her enough for what she has done for me.

But what if I didn’t have a mother who could support me like that? What if the situation was different. One of my friends has been working on a project with her sixth form students about maternal mortality, and the impact of poverty still has in a horrible cycle that is robbing the world of mothers. I couldn't attend a fundraiser she ran yesterday, but listening to her has made me think. What if I had grown up in a place (not necessarily third world) where my mother’s life was so hard that she couldn’t give me the support that my mother gave me through those difficult times. Or that she couldn’t be there for the good times too. That thought makes me so sad.
I am lucky – I have a wonderful mother, and I hope that I can be at least half as wonderful a mother for my own children. But some people don’t even get the chance.

Perhaps you could take the time to consider  The Girl Effect .

Makes you think, doesn't it.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The dog made me do it. Honest. If he hadn’t needed a walk in the rain, I wouldn’t have slipped over in the mud and started to feel old and sorry for myself as well as slightly ‘jaded’ after the over-ambitious consumption (i.e. 3 glasses) of white wine last night.

And if he hadn’t needed a walk as soon as we got back from the kids’ swimming lessons, I might have remembered to take some bread out of the freezer so it would have defrosted in time for lunch. But we got in from the pool, and he looked at me with those big, beseeching, spaniel eyes, and I felt mean for not having got up at 6.30 when it was pouring with rain to take him out before we went swimming. How could I have laid in bed for a whole extra hour when I could have been stomping across the fields with the rain dripping down my neck while he chased pheasant, impervious to the conditions. How selfish could I have been?

In fact, when I did take him out and then came a cropper sliding down a bank and landing on my posterior, did he come and check out what had happened to his mistress? Oh no, no loyal rescue dog he. I clocked him clocking me as I was trying to recover my dignity, taking stock of the situation, and taking the opportunity to leg it for further pheasant follies while I was incapacitated and unable to yell at him to come back. But that’s springers for you.

So feeling in need of comfort, and breadless apart from some drying crusts in the bread bin, I had to make some soda bread (for ‘had’ to, read “used it as an excuse to have a go at the River Cottage Bread Handbook’s version of soda bread”). And if the oven hadn’t been on, I probably wouldn’t have forced myself to do something useful with all that electricity and the extra space in the oven and bake this latest deliciousness that is Baked in America’s Date and Walnut loaf.
I would say that this is the best yet that I’ve baked from this book. I had nearly all the ingredients this time which probably helped, although I had to use half wholemeal plain flour because I didn’t have enough ordinary plain, but I don’t think that’s really made a difference. The recipe uses cream cheese and soft dark brown sugar so it’s beautifully fudgy, and the dates and walnuts managed to distribute themselves throughout the loaf rather than all congregating at the bottom.

The write up in the book refers to it as a favourite after school treat, and I can see why. Just had a slice with a lovely cup of tea. Saturday afternoon heaven.
And I only had the best interests of the environment at heart – “Save electricity – bake more cake”. I think it could catch on.

Friday, 16 March 2012

My top 5 cookbooks - on Friday 16th March 2012 at precisely 22.43

MMMMM a list of my top 5 cook books. Having survived the school discos, (well, 1.5 of them – Blue had to leave half way through the KS2 event due to being over-sweeted, and “...well, it’s been a hard week, Mummy, Friday night, you know...” and half way down a bottle of wine, I thought I couldn’t resist my first linky blog hop...
(1)    How to be a Domestic Goddess
Where Recipe Junkie began: Blue was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was just over 2. I was 6 months pregnant with Pink.  As quick as you could say ‘blood test’, life as we knew it was over. In an attempt to gain a very tiny bit of control back over my life, I began to work my way through Domestic Goddess. I still haven’t baked everything, but I’m working on it.





(2)    Still on the Nigella theme, Kitchen

The woman may be a little annoying occasionally on TV these days, but she knows how to dish up the crowd pleasers. African drumsticks... spaghetti with marmite...South Indian Vegetable curry... not to mention her blondies. I will be cooking out of Kitchen for a long time to come.









3)    Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook

Despite the fact that I have neither a velvet Boden coat to do my gardening in, nor a close personal friendship with Emma Bridgewater, I find that when I am stuck with a glut and looking for inspiration, I will usually find it in here

(4)    River Cottage Veg Everyday/River Cottage Everyday

       Am I allowed to have 2 books as one choice? To be honest, I’d have any of Hugh's books but these 2 in particular have done a huge amount to change the way I cook lately. I’ve totally bought in to the ‘reduce your meat consumption’ ideal, and am having a massive amount of success. Who’d of thought my kids would actually request something like swede and potato pasties....

(5)    Baked in America



I’m so fickle. A couple of months ago it would have been ‘Short and Sweet’ by Dan Lepard, but I had a bad experience with the passion fruit melting moments and my current cake porn is Baked in America. I got a signed copy as an early birthday present, and so far it’s been nothing but deliciousness. Cinammon Loaf anyone? Oh yes please...

I could go on all night... but there are many more cookbooks out there and many more lists. Check out Kate’s blog . Thank you and goodnight.

On being a reluctant wardrobe mistress

This evening, it is the school disco. Oh Joy. However, it is not the fact that I will be spending the early part of my Friday night selling glow sticks to 250 over-sugared pre-teens (in 2 bite sized helpings, of course – Key Stage 1 6p.m.-7p.m., KS2 from 7.15 to 8.15 – or thereabouts, timing can be fluid) to the delightful sounds of Crazy Frog, Nelly the Elephant and The Locomotion. Nor is the worst of it that my own children, Pink in particular, are already suffering from end of term exhaustion with 2 weeks to go, which means that as well as selling glow sticks, I will be dealing with a near-hysterical Pink who will undoubtedly lose her sweet money, have her toes trodden on and lose the hoop game resulting in meltdown of meteoric proportions (believe me – I know the drill). 

The worst of it is acting as Pink’s wardrobe mistress in preparation for the big event.

Pink is very particular about what she will wear. Fortunately, in spite of that, she is still happy to pick and choose from the amazing and wonderfully generous hand- me-downs I receive from a number of sources. Occasionally I feel a bit sad that I get very little handed down for Blue, thus requiring me to spend money on variations on the same theme of sludge coloured combat trousers/jeans and T-Shirts, and hardly ever spend money on clothes for the Pink one, but I feel that this is probably a good thing given the experience I had with her in Monsoon last year when I said I would buy her a dress for her 5th birthday. I can’t even begin to repeat it – let’s just say that we had a disagreement over accessories.
The donated clothes range from mini-Boden and Captain Tortue through to Next and George at ASDA. I usually do a quick triage ( and yes, I get rid of anything smacking of High School Musical and the like, before she gets her hands on them – but you knew I would), and then I can usually do another sweep about 3 weeks later when it has become clear what she actually likes and will wear. But she still has far more than she ever would if I bought clothes for her. If she wants to wear a party dress to make mud pies in, I usually let her because otherwise it wouldn’t get worn, but the downside comes when she has to make choices for an event such as this.

While Blue will wear his favourite pair of jeans (“Mummy, these won’t do at all – someone has cut them up!” “No darling, it’s called the ‘distressed look – they are meant to be like that” “Oh”) and a Mario Bros T Shirt, I have already been called upon this morning to assist in Pink’s ensemble. While I am in the shower, hoping that she is getting dressed for school, she has emptied the entire contents of her chest of drawers out on the floor. She comes leaping into the shower, naked, bearing 2 items (I can’t quite see because I don’t yet have my lenses in and am in the middle of washing my hair) “Mummy, what if I wear this dress and this skirt underneath it?” (she has picked out one of her favourite cord skirts and a long sundress) “Hmm. Tell you what why don’t you just go and GET YOUR SCHOOL UNIFORM ON, and I’ll come and help after I’ve had my shower?”.

Ten minutes later, we are in top level negotiations. “Well, why don’t you just wear the dress with a cardi over the top – it might get quite hot?” “But I like them BOTH”. “Well that’s fine, love, but just remember that it does get quite sweaty and with all that dancing...” You see it has to be her choice – I can only plant ideas in her head. Eventually we get somewhere. “Actually I want to wear THIS T-shirt” – the lilac one that says “Too Cool” across the front in sparkly letters. This is progress – with a firm decision on one item for one part of the body, we then manage to pick out a skirt and the tights or leggings she might want to wear, and an embroidered denim jacket that will enhance that item to the max.
Then the shoe debate. Under some duress, I purchased a pair of sparkly silver party shoes for Pink before Christmas. Actually, there wasn't much duress. I like shoes as much as next woman, and I could totally see why she wanted them.


sparkly silver party shoes. I want some too!
Also, I never had a pair of sparkly silver party shoes, and I feel sure it has scarred me for life. "So. Party shoes?" I enquire. "Well, mummy, I know you're going to say 'no' - I just know it". "No you don't (she does) - what did you want to wear?" I respond, trying to keep the edge out of my voice - I am expecting flipflops to be the footwear of choice. Oh foul flip flops, how you trip my child up and cause many a banged knee... But I know of old that if she senses  irritation, the 'debate' will intensify. But no, it's not flipflops. She is intending to go barefoot.

I feel that on the whole I handled the suggestion rather well. I did, I admit, use the inflammatory words "No you can't" thus ramping up the tantrums and tiaras factor, but on the whole, common sense won out. I majored on opportunity that going barefoot would give for the stubbed and jumped on toes.
"o-KAY" she eventually huffed. "Party shoes".
And all this before 8.30. Now I can only hope that she won’t have changed her mind during the course of the day, leaving me only with the dilemma of how to handle ‘the MAKEUP question’. Having worn me out on the clothes question, I confidently predict that I will be too tired to challenge the 'Barbara Cartland does Alice Cooper' look. She’ll learn.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Not Quite Veg Everyday - but trying: Chachouka with flatbreads and celeriac, apple, raisin and parsley salad

Another watershed moment yesterday morning in my quest for less meat (they're coming thick and fast at the moment. The usual question from Blue. “What’s for tea tonight, mummy?” Sometimes he even prefaces it with “Hmm, I know you’re not going to like me asking but...". Often, if the reply is something that indicates a plate including meat, I hear him say “Yyeessss!” – but quietly. However, yesterday, when I replied “Chachouka. You know that eggs in the pepper and tomato sauce”. He just said “OK”. It's a measure of how far we've come down this road that I told him straight and didn't try to avoid
I made the sauce at lunchtime. Based on portion issues last time round I used 4 peppers and 2 cans of tomatoes. I made a batch of the magic bread dough to make flatbreads as soon as we got in from school so that it was ready to go just before 6, and also made the celeriac, apple, raisin and parsley salad from the Raw section in Veg Everyday.

T’was all lovely. Our chickens are back to laying properly so we had beautiful eggs from the bottom of the garden, and the doubling up of peppers and tomatoes meant a more subtle tone to the spices which is good as far as I’m concerned at the moment, in my bid to broaden the kids’ taste buds without scaring them half to death. The Husband and I did add some Tabasco, but not much.
There is some if the sauce left over but certainly not a huge amount and I will definitely stick with the extra peppers and tomatoes when I make it again.

For pudding, we had cake. Cinammon Loaf, from Baked in America, my new cake porn. You can read more about that here...

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Cinammon Loaf - enough said

Well, for a moment there, I was getting all introspective, so it’s good to be back at the shallow end of life again, baking lovely things.
My plan to make the Cinammon Loaf from Baked in America last weekend was scuppered by the fact that we were overrun with fair-trade chocolate cake from the cake competition. Fortunately, we’ve pretty much finished the choc sponge (Pink’s effort) and I put what was left of Blue’s Rocky Road in the freezer, in lunchbox sized pre-wrapped portions (yes yes, I know, it’s akin to Nigella freezing wine left over from dinner parties – I always used to think – “What left over wine? What kind of dinner parties does she throw?” – and now here I am freezing chocolate cake. What’s the world coming to – but that’s probably for another blog.)
Back to the loaf. I am particularly fond of cinnamon things. My lovely sister in law even ventured to suggest recently that Nigella's cinammon buns were becoming my ‘signature’ dish. As the Baked in America guys write “...there is nothing more satisfying than a piece of gooey cinnamon something for breakfast”. Well who am I to argue with that? But I decided that I better put it to the test. Ideally, I should have waited for the weekend to come round again so that we could have this as a treat (in the vein of pancakes, or indeed, the aforementioned buns) but the urge to bake was too strong, And besides, the oven was going to be on anyway for supper, and you can never have too many cinnamon recipes in your repertoire.
I didn’t have the sour cream, but did have buttermilk. Now I am a Twitter newbie, I don’t pretend to understand even the basics, but I managed to tweet @Outsider Tart to ask if that would be OK, and guess what, they tweeted me back. How exciting! (I don’t get out much) Not only that, but yes, buttermilk would do. I would probably have used it anyway, but it was good to get it straight from ‘the horse’s mouth’ as it were. You make up some cinnamon sugar and then the batter, then you layer the batter and sugar in a loaf tin, and make a zigzag (only one) through the batter to prompt the swirl of cinnamon during baking. 60 mins later – cinnamon heaven

I was going to keep it for breakfast tomorrow, but after a fairly virtuous supper - Chachouka with celeriac, apple, raisin and parsley salad with flatbread (all from Veg Everyday, and not even one suggestion that some meat would have improved the meal – more progress!!), the mood was likely to have turned ugly had the cake been withheld. Still warm from the oven, it was of the “thin vein imparting a whiff of cinnamon” variety as opposed to the “...moist chewy blob your tongue will thank you for”. In truth I was hoping for the second but actually I don’t think I used enough of the sugar, and I also misread the recipe so instead of having 2 layers of sugar within the loaf, I had 2 in and a sprinkling on top.

However, to dwell on what might have been, along with my own failings, detracts from the fact that it was BLOODY LOVELY and I will definitely be making it again – possibly tomorrow, once we have finished off what remains for breakfast. Indeed, I will have to make it at least once more, because the recipe allows for double the required amount of cinnamon sugar to be made, the unused half to be kept for a ‘next time’. What a shame.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

On getting a grip and worrying about narrow horizons

On balance, I think I am coping reasonably well with the fact that neither of my children’s cakes were even placed in the fair trade cake competition.
To be a bit miffed that the cakes weren’t even tasted in the end, but judged on ‘smell’ and appearance, would be childish. To suggest that this smacks of shifting the goal posts, particularly as the exhortation to submit a cake in the first place specifically said that the cakes would be returned less one small piece for tasting, would sound like a case of bad loser. To suggest that only a weak woman would balk at the prospect of tasting some 60+ (mainly chocolate) cakes (I mean come on – isn’t that what we live for? Cake?? Pour yourself a cup of tea and rise up to the challenge, sister) would make me sound bitter and twisted. To venture that, if all they were going to judge in the end was the decoration, perhaps they could have MADE THAT CLEAR AT THE OUTSET makes me sound plain pathetic.

Pink seemed fairly content that she’d received a certificate for taking part. “Well, Mummy,” she told me “We’re all winners because we all had lovely cake to eat”. Wise words indeed from my nearly-6 year old. I could learn a lot from her. I shall have to content myself with the fact that I’ve never pretended to be anything other than a ‘substance over form’ kinda gal and get over it. I mean come on – people are dying in Syria for no good reason, and I’m getting worked up about a school cake competition. Get a grip woman.

I do think it’s interesting though, how narrow my horizons have become since having children. How did that Big Issue buying, Green voting, Shelter supporting European politics student turned Employment lawyer turn into the kind of woman who gets annoyed because her kids didn’t win a cake competition?  Instead of getting to the point of raging about the injustice of world poverty, oppression and the rest of the general awfulness, I don’t get beyond dissolving into tears at the images of starving children. More to the point, how am I ever going to regain an adequate intellectual handle on domestic politics, let alone world affairs - if I cry at the Muppet movie (but before you say anything, let me make it quite clear that no I did NOT cry at losing the cake competition).
Sure, I have a basic grasp of what’s going on in the world, but any real understanding I might pretend to have stops circa November 2003. These days, I buy the Guardian on a Saturday, read the magazine and, during the winter months at least, catch up on the rest of the week’s news as I roll the sections up to light the wood burners. If I’m honest, it’s a bit more hit and miss during the summer months. I try to watch the 10 O’clock news, but more often than not, as soon as the headlines have finished, the dog usually makes an appearance, and starts insisting in his own special way (head on knee, pawing at the sofa) that it’s time for his biscuits. That, or I am glazing over with cross-eyed tiredness sewing on buttons, cub or rainbow badges or turning up hems – if not openly snoring  (although now the kids are slightly older, I am finding that I am sleeping less on the sofa). Broadening my horizons these days is more likely to involve cooking something Asian or reading a book that I wouldn’t have chosen myself for book club.

It does matter to me, all this (no, not the cake competition – the other stuff). I want my children to grow up being aware that life doesn’t revolve around our own little corner of Hampshire, that for every time they think it’s not fair that they can’t watch TV all day on a Saturday there’s some child (millions in fact) who doesn’t even have enough food to eat, let alone TV to watch – but where to start? Answers on a post card please.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

on NOT grumbling because the sun is shining...

I was going to have a ‘woe is me’ type post about how on Friday evening, once the supper was cleared away, I was frankly too tired to prepare the pearl barley broth and the swede and potato pasties that the meal planner said was on Saturday’s menu (lunch and supper respectively), so extracted a tub of part made mushroom soup (the Sarah Raven recipe out of her Garden Cookbook) and the basis of a spag bol out of the freezer instead. However, as it turned out, I had a pack of mushrooms destined for the risoniotto for Monday night (another Veg Everyday recipe) that really did need eating up, so chucking them in to finish off the soup worked rather well. What’s more, having cooked up the bol earlier in the day, we decided to take the kids to see the Muppets at the cinema late afternoon, so just having to quickly boil up some pasta when we got in from that worked rather well. (Actually, we didn’t go to the cinema BECAUSE I’d made the bolognaise, but the fact that it was made meant that the outing was all the more successful because I could feed the kids within 20 minutes of getting back home).

I could have moaned that I went off menu yet again today – roast chicken as planned, but instead of sticky date and ginger pudding , 2 bags of very overripe pears that the Husband had found lurking on top of the fridge meant that instead I could create a very delicious pear and ginger crumble. I thought it might be good, and a quick google turned up a couple of ideas. Based on this recipe from a blog that I found ‘Inside a British Mum’s Kitchen’, I sliced up all the salvageable bits of pear (probably the equivalent of about 6) and thinly sliced 2 balls of stem ginger into a dish, I couldn’t tell you how big it is – it’s the one I use to make crumble or cottage pie or fish pie (you get the picture) and whatever’s cooked in it will comfortably feed 2 adults and 2 kids with leftovers. Added the juice of half a lemon and a sprinkling of soft brown sugar. My crumble topping is never the same twice, but although I am often irritated by Delia, I always go back to the proportions she gives in her Complete Cookery Course. I have a copy of an omnibus edition printed in 1982. My copy falls open at the crumble page ... Anyway, today (I kept a note because I thought someone might be interested) it was 111g of wholewheat plain flour and 114 g of oats, 75 g ground almonds and 75 g soft brown sugar and 75 g of unsalted butter, all rubbed together then chucked over the top of the fruit and baked in the oven with the chicken for about 45 minutes. I always bake crumble ‘early’ so that it’s only warm by the time it’s pudding time, otherwise at least one of the kids gives themselves third degree burns. I had intended to add a teaspoon of ground ginger to the crumble mix but I forgot. It was really, really good and there were just enough leftovers for the kids to take some in their packed lunches tomorrow.
I nearly had a good old grumble about how my planned hour floating round the garden in a pretty dress this afternoon, doing a bit of light weeding here and there while listening to the birds singing, turned into 30 minutes of sweaty chopping down rampant ivy and digging up of the invidious creeping buttercup. Instead of peace, I had the dog to 'help' - alternately barking at me for not throwing his squeaky turkey for him to chase endlessly, or redistributing the pile of weeds around the garden, all the while accompanied by the sweet sound of my darling children running round half naked, playing ‘muddy slide attack’ with a pair of inflatable boxing gloves (just don’t ask, OK), and the Husband doing his best redneck impression, fixing axes for the scouts. Oh yes, and one of the chickens escaped. Twice. I bet Sarah Raven doesn’t have to work in these conditions. But then I don’t have a velvet Boden coat to do my gardening in nor a close personal friendship with Emma Bridgewater, so  I don’t know what I was thinking, and anyway, in half an hour I did actually manage to pretty much clear one of the beds.

Finally, I could have had a right old grump about (1) the fact that I babysat for a friend last night and didn’t get home till nearly 2.00 a.m. by which time I was too wired to sleep, the Husband was snoring and the smokers frorm the pub over the road decided to shun the smoking shelter on the side of the pub furthest from the house and smoke out the front thus making it noisier, and (2) the fact that I am blogging for as long as possible tonight because otherwise I have to face the towering edifice of THE IRONING.
So there we have it – and the reason for not woeing is me, moaning, grumbling and grumping? The SUNSHINE of course.  But without all the grumbling, the post would only have been short. Here it is – the alternative blog: What a glorious day. I got a lay in till 8, a fabulous walk with the dog and then some time at home pottering about in the kitchen ON MY OWN, sorting out lunch and making a beautiful pear and ginger crumble. After lunch, the children did their homework without complaint (I am lying about that, but it was sunny outside and the backdoor was open so I just mentally stuck my fingers in my ears and lahlahlahed for a bit against the sound of their souls being tortured while we did tables, spellings, reading etc) and then I had a productive afternoon in the garden, and managed to get all the washing dry. Finally, the pearl barley broth did eventually make an appearance for supper this evening, and as I type, the Husband is doing the ironing (actually, he really is). All’s right with the world.
But would that have been half as much fun to write?
p.s. did you notice that I have worked out how to include hyperlinks?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Not Quite Veg Everday - but trying: Refried bean Foldovers

I feel like I have crossed some kind of watershed in my bid to drag us towards Hugh’s vision of eating less meat as a family. Friday night – end of a busy week. The Husband back from a whirlwind trip to California - holding it together but totally jetlagged, Pink in almost constant meltdown about any number of things, Blue just being 8. I was tempted to scrap the menu and serve up fish and chips for dinner, but as I’d already gone off piste earlier in the week, going even  further in the total meltdown of my system (and frankly, where would it end?)

After a brief internal tussle. I managed to pursue the path of righteousness (good job I hadn’t indulged in my first Friday night G&T at that point), so Refried Bean foldovers from Veg Everyday (as planned) it was. Hugh has this great ‘magic bread dough’ in VE which he uses for pizza, flat breads, bread sticks, pittas, and in the same section of the book, he provides a few ideas for meals incorporating the flatbreads. The refried bean one uses the flat breads as more substantial wraps to fill with a dead-easy warm bean filling.
The bean recipe was for 3 people, so I doubled up, and as I didn’t have the cannellini beans specified, I used a can of blackeye beans and a can of butter beans. In deference to the kids once again, no chilli, so I added my usual fajita spices – a teaspoon each of ground cumin and coriander to the onion as it was cooking. Hugh champions a rather odd way of dealing with tomatoes – grating them in to the pan. I was sceptical, but indeed it worked, pulp in with the onions, skin for chicken scraps. After cooking the onions up, simply add in the beans and mash up. Simples.

The flatbreads are very straightforward – you have to make sure that you get the dough underway a couple of hours or so before you want them – although I got away with just over an hour last night – and they cook on a griddle or in a dry frying pan. Pink calls this ‘squidgy bread’ and even though it’s best fresh, it’s OK the next day – Pink took it the one remaining flatbreads with her in her packed lunch to a Rainbows ‘Quest’ day today.
We had the flatbreads and beans along with grated cheese and sour cream and a straightforward sliced spring onion and cherry tomato salsa. If I’d thought about it I would have also done some guacamole, but we had some salad so that did for greens.

All eaten – no complaints. No wondering if we’re vegetarians now (No we’re not, we’re just eating less meat and more vegetable). No ‘why can’t we have some more meat’ (Because there isn’t any this evening). No “What are we having tomorrow, mummy?” (Food. OK). As I said, a watershed.
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