Wednesday, 31 August 2011

What to do with all those peaches...Part 2

A bit spurious, this title, but bear with me.

After yesterday when everything was wrong, today has been a much better day, even if I have spent most of the time feeling like I'm living in an episode of Outnumbered. To be honest, I think that's why it's so funny - because for most people with children, that's what it's like. I never felt the same affinity with other 'family' sitcoms - My Family for instance just didn't do it for me, but Outnumbered has me weeping with laughter and relief that someone else's family must be like mine because otherwise how could they have written it.

I managed to sneak downstairs early this morning and get on with some work. Blue had already crashed out of bed for his early morning loo trip, but was back in his room, ensconsed in a little world of Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and J.K Rowling and pink was still fast asleep. Fred was ignoring me. We'd had a little incident at bedtime last night - I was on the phone to the husband and Fred had gone out for his bedtime sniff around the garden, come back in and had his biscuits. I turned off the downstairs lights but instead of going upstairs, had to go back in to the study and as I turned on the light, a flash of white and brown caught my eye, sneaking behind me towards the playroom. I caught him halfway through hoisting himself up on to the sofa, obviously settling down for a night of luxury. He slid off as he realised he'd been rumbled and we then had a comedy moment while he lay on the floor and looked all soulful and sorry but kept wagging his tail ever so slightly as if to say "Go on, let me...go on", and refused to leave the room despite my admonishments. Eventually he gave in and went sulking back to his bed, but as an experiment, I decided to leave the playroom door open. While I didn't hear him go back into the playroom last night, when blue got up this morning, I heard Fred leap off the sofa and return to his own bed...

Around 7, pink suddenly appeared at my elbow dressed in her yellow Easter Chick fairy outfit, all ready for holiday club. They had been told that they needed to wear something yellow today or bring a banana for "Marvin the Monkey". Fortunately tomorrow they only have to take a joke with them. I am keen to see what outfit she deems suitable - tiger outfit yesterday, fairy today - they must be holding their breaths at St Marys... The yellow thing though, caused a bit of a problem for blue. Blue is a boy who likes things to be as they are and as they have been planned out. Blue is a boy who does NOT like change. Last night, when we were discussing what he might wear to fulfil the 'something yellow' criteria, I'd reminded him about a yellow T shirt that he has, so all was well. However, this morning when he appeared, naked, asking where it was, that horrible and all too common feeling of maternal failure washed over me, accompanied with the very vivid realisation that it might in fact still be wet at the bottom of the washing basket. I suggested that he should put on another T shirt for now and I'd go and find the yellow one, iron it and hang it in the airing cupboard confidently predicting that it would be dry by 9.30. Queue lower lip wobble from blue. "But I might forget. I like to put on the Tshirt that I'm wearing and not change it" "We planned that I would wear that one mummy". So different from pink who changes her outfits up to 4 or even 5 times a day if I'm really lucky. We had a long and mildly hysterical conversation about contingency planning and he went off no happier, but slightly less close to tears. He then reappeared to tell me that it was OK because he had found his yellow stripy pants so he could wear those anyway. And in the end, the yellow Tshirt wasn't at the bottom of the wash basket after all - I had hung it on the airer. Quick iron - and bingo - yellow Tshirt and yellow stripy pants. Honour satisfied.

Lunch was a less random affair than yesterday's pancakes. The kids had both indicated a desire for tomato soup, so soup it was. I had lovely bread made yesterday, and started rummaging in the cupboard for some sun dried tomatoes. None to be found. My other stand by addition to tomato soup is some BBQ ketchup (a Gordon Ramsay tip, that was - honest!!), but today, in the absence of both, the soup was: 1 onion, 1 crushed clove of garlic and a grated carrot gently fried in some olive oil, add 2 cans of chopped tomatoes and a can's worth of stock (made up today from marigold bouillon powder). Simmer for a bit then add in a big handful of basil (from the garden, naturellement) and whizz up with a spoonful of creme fraiche/yoghurt (whatever you have in the fridge). The original recipe - the one that pops into my head when the kids ask for tomato soup - was in a Good Food mag - tinned tomatoes, sundried tomatoes stock and creme fraiche, but it gets changed according to what I have available. In the time that I took to knock that up, I also managed to make the turkey meatloaves that I was stressing about yesterday and put both in the freezer, and got to work on a kind of deconstructued fish pie/bake thing that I decided to cook for tea tonight (can't have turkey 2 days in a row unless it's Christmas, when you have to eat it for atleast a week: it's the law).

I love smoked haddock and had found some in the freezer on one of my recent riflings. I boiled a panful of new potatoes and steamed some spinach & chard (all garden veg!). When we got back from the park this afternoon, I poached the haddock in milk with bay leaves and peppercorns, then flaked the fish up in a baking dish, and mixed in the chopped and squeezed spinach. I sliced up some of the potatoes to make a layer, then used the milk I'd poached the fish in to make a white sauce flavoured with nutmeg to pour over the potatoes, topped it all with some grated cheese and bunged it under the grill while I steamed some carrots and beans (I'm getting a bit sick of beans if the truth be told). While this is the sort of meal I love, the kids aren't quite with me. Pink came into the kitchen at one point "What's for tea?" "Mummy's special delicious fish pie" said I - you see that was my mistake. They always get suspicious if I big something up like that, but I can't help it - if I know they probably won't be that keen, I just can't help but call it something like "Mummy's special, delicious XXXXX". "I don't like fish pie" said pink. "You do" I said "You really do". "Well I don't. You must have forgotten" Says she. "Well you need to try it because at your age, tastes change".

They didn't like it that much, but I was pretty pleased with it. Blue ate it all, give him his due, although tried to get away without eating the spinach by hiding it under his cutlery. Pink took one bite - "I've tried it and it's delicious" said she. "Now can I have ketchup on it?" Grrrr. Ever the diplomat, her alternative position on food she doesn't like is "It's really good but I just don't want to eat it". Double grrrr. What's even more irritating with her is that she is so wilful that she will go without anything just to prove a point. She would go without her most favourite thing if the deal was that she had to eat something that she didn't want in return. She must have been really hungry this evening because she managed half of her portion.

Anyway, I expect that most of you who might have started reading this in order to find out what I did with the peaches may have lost interest, but for those who have persevered, here it is. I had a big punnet of raspberries in the fridge from Allotment Junkie that desperately needing eating - or something. 700 grams - more than we could have eaten, and suddenly I was seized with inspiration. I made the raspberries into coulis and the search results when I'd quickly googled for coulis pointed me towards a recipe for caramleised peaches to eat with said coulis. Heaven - split and stone the peaches, turn them cut side up in the grill pan (line the grill with foil) sprinkle with a little caster sugar and then grill on high till the sugar caramelises and the peaches are slightly softened and hot. Serve with raspberry coulis and ice cream (or yoghurt, creme fraiche etc). A fitting and fine end to some delicious peaches, and some lovely raspberries and the best thing is that I've now got 4 more decent portions of the coulis in the freezer...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Back to reality...nearly

After a whole week staying with my parents, I am back, home alone with kids and dog as the husband is back over to west Wales. There's still a week left of the holidays, but it feels like the end of the holiday already. In some ways, of course, it is. As always after a stay in Yorkshire, where I don't have to organise meals or child-entertaining activities, or do any housework, but just get on with work and then slot in as necessary with mum and the kids, it's always a big back to reality bump the first day back at home where I am juggling everything.

Things were going OK this morning. I managed to motivate the kids enough to get dressed (pink insisting on wearing her tiger outift, but really, things like that just don't bother me any more) and have breakfast then to do some reading and, for blue, a couple of pages of his scrapbook before watching a bit of Mary Poppins then off to the church holiday club that is running every morning this week. The dog was looking thoroughly depressed so I took him for a good walk and managed to fit in another hour or so of work before getting the kids home for lunch, but then it has all seemed to go down hill.

I didn't have any bread for lunch so decided to make pancakes with cheese and ham, but realised that I didn't have enough milk, so made them with half water instead. All things considered, they weren't too bad, I suppose. Having promised an action-packed afternoon at the park and the school swimming pool. I remembered that my Sainsburys delivery was booked to come so we had to wait in for that. It arrived, and in about 5 minutes flat the kitchen looked like a disaster zone. I managed to put away the chilled stuff, but then realised that if we were going to do anything that afternoon I was going to have to leave the rest of it for later. Once again, I'd forgotten that I was going to make turkey meatloaf for supper tonight (double portions, as mused on last week), but decided that really I couldn't be bothered, and went and rooted in the freezer for a batch of turkey meatballs. Meatloaf can wait. In the meantime, however, on the basis that I was going to be baking the meatloaf, I decided to knock up some bread dough to make the most of the oven being on, but - oh yes - the oven wasn't going to be on any more was it - because I couldn't be bothered with meat loaf.

We didn't have time for park as well as the pool so we headed up to the pool which was fine, then the kids had their hair cut and it was back home for the meatballs which hadn't defrosted so I had to do remedial heating (don't read, all those with higher food hygiene standards than me). We don't have a microwave, having binned it for complicated reasons when blue was diagnosed with Leukaemia, so in these circumstances, the only way to go is gentle heating on the stove top. Except when you really really want to feed the kids really really quickly because you want to get them in bed and get on with all the work you haven't done yet... Grr. Having put the oven on to bake the bread, I did at least remember that I could bake some of the apple samosas that I'd made a few weeks ago and frozen for puddings, so I didn't feel quite so profligate with the electricity. These samosas are great - the recipe was in a Good Food magazine, and you basically stew up some apple & raisin with lemon juice & cinammon, then make little samosas using strips of filo pastry - you cut a sheet of filo into 2 or 3 strips, put a spoonful of the apple mixture at the bottom and then fold the pastry over itself to make a samosa parcel, then bake in the oven.

After tea, we took the dog for a quick walk, pink managed to get bird poo on her foot, and we all went home. And now it's 8 p.m., I have another couple of hours work ahead of me, and I bet blue is still reading upstairs.  "Tomorrow is another day" I tell myself...

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Competitive vegetable modelling and other pursuits

Today is the day of the Aberford Horitcultural Society's Annual Show. It is a Big Deal. Allotment Junkie is President of the Aberford Horticultural Society, and has many duties including hosting the Lord Mayor of Leeds to a lunch at the pub, opening the Show and helping the Lord Mayor hand out the 'big' prizes. Pink is all dressed up ready to present the pub landlady with a bouquet of flowers that's almost as big as she is, which is quite exciting, but not nearly as exciting as speculating on the outcome of the 'vegetable animal' class in which blue and pink have, respectively entered a vegetable cow and a vegetable octopus.

Now, when I say blue and pink have entered them, it is true to say that there has been a certain amount of Recipe Junkie's input here, and so there's more at stake than simply their happiness for the rest of the day. There's nothing like a trivial little local competition to get Recipe Junkie's creative juices going, and so when both indicated a desire to enter Class 90 - A Vegetable Animal - I was in heaven.

We spent yesterday planning what we would need and checking that the wherewithal was available in Allotment Junkie's various vegetable beds (and if not, then in the fridge). Having overslept again this morning (the husband arrived late last night and then the residual bass thump from the Leeds festival made for a broken night's sleep) I lept out of bed just after 8 and we threw ourselves into creating fabulous things. The octopus (potato body, french bean tentacles, raisin eyes and radish mouth) was relatively straight forward, but the cow presented more difficulties, both creative and practical. The carrot legs required 3 cocktail sticks each to provide sufficient support, and the potato head, atop the courgette 'end' neck (with carrot horns), while a work of artistic genius, may well prove too heavy. I am particularly proud of the radish udder...

Creations completed, we took them proudly down to the village hall, and there they wait, while the judges peruse the entries in private and make their decision. We will head back after lunch to view the results, as eager as any of the entrants of the vegetable classes.

I am quietly confident. After all, when we left the hall with 20 minutes left for entries, ours were the only 2 entered...  


Friday, 26 August 2011

Meatballs - a recipe for life?

It’s very wet and miserable in this part of West Yorkshire today. We’ve been to the cinema (Cars 2)and played pick-up sticks, and now we’re trying to do some more work on the holiday scrapbooks that the children were sent home with. In fairness, it’s blue who has been asked to do the scrapbook, but pink is doing one too so she doesn’t feel left out. As the holiday has progressed, the enthusiasm to update the scrapbook has waned, to the point where we’ve been at mum’s since Monday and haven’t done anything on the scrapbook since last week – and all we did last week was to put in the photos from the holiday with a few captions. Suffice to say that it’s like pulling teeth so I am sitting next to the poor boy trying not to sound exasperated as he laboriously writes about trying to push the trolley through to Platform 9 3/4 , and am thinking about all I want to write about meatballs.

Allotment Junkie made these for supper last night – made in advance they are a great freezer meal  - but after a day of revisiting old haunts in York from my Law Student days, these meatballs took me back to a more recent, and certainly more sober, period.
Picture if you will, a fairly hectic household – 2 working parents, 2 yr old and a baby on the way. Blue was in nursery 4 days a week as husband and I rushed around earning money. Definitely time poor, and suffering massively from maternal guilt I spent a lot of time trying to fill the freezer with wholesome food so that at least on one level I could feel like I was doing something right by my son. These meatballs were a huge hit, and I felt very smug that blue would eat them in huge quantities. Pride inevitably comes before a fall, especially when feeding small children, but I could never have anticipated how these meatballs (from a Good Food magazine – Moroccan Lamb meatballs, I think they were called) would come to haunt me.  

February 2006, and one morning, blue had a fall down the step into the kitchen and began to have problems walking. Then there was a strange day when nursery called me to say that something was obviously distressing him but they couldn’t work out what it was. He began to show reluctance walking to the point where he refused altogether, although when off his feet he seemed fine. He was having some extremely long nosebleeds.  3 visits to a GP and we were referred to an orthopaedic surgeon. Fortunately, at the time, we were in a position to go privately and were fitted in very conveniently the next evening. The consultant was about our age. As all consultants should, he exuded confidence. His manner told us that he would, without a doubt, be able to tell us what was ailing our small son. 90 minutes later, he could not tell us what was ailing our small son and he referred us to the paediatric department of the local hospital. His secretary completed the referral letter that night and phoned me the next day to say that she had faxed it off. It was a Wednesday. By Thursday morning I was ringing the hospital every 30 minutes until they had given us an appointment for the next Monday.
That Monday came, and unusually, blue was not awake when our alarm went off. I had planned to go to work as usual and pick him up from nursery at lunchtime  – in himself he still seemed fine – but by 7.30 he was still in bed so I went into him. Blood everywhere – he was having a catastrophic nosebleed. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre might have taken place in his bed. It took an hour to stop the bleeding and it was clear that he was, all of a sudden, very, very poorly. If I hadn’t had the appointment already arranged I would probably have gone to A&E then and there, but I didn’t. I’ll spare you the details of the hospital appointment. In fact we were there all afternoon. However, at about 7 p.m. we were the only people in the department, and the consultant took us into another room and told us that he had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia and our world exploded.

 After a nightmare 2 weeks in hospital, we were home and subject to an exhausting schedule of chemotherapy and blood tests. When we weren’t in hospital for treatment we were waiting for the community nurses to come out to do blood tests, or worrying about whether his immune system was down and whether the temperature that appears to be coming on would mean another 48 hours in hospital on intravenous antibiotics while they worked out if it was just a virus or a bacterial infection causing the temp. As if the treatment itself wasn’t bad enough, there were the side-effects to cope with too. In particular, the steroids that accompanied the chemotherapy made him constantly ravenous, and craving in a way that made my pregnancy desire for goats cheese (I was 6 months pregnant when he was diagnosed) look silly. He would wake hungry at 6 a.m. and eat until about 2.30 in the afternoon, when he would have a little break, and then start again around 4 in the afternoon until bedtime. Kilos of Shreddies, cheddar cheese (extra mature), cherry tomatoes, cocktail sausages – and these meatballs. His first words in the morning would often be “I’m feeling like meatballs today”, and he meant it. As cooking was practically one of the only things I could do for him in those first dreadful months of the disease, I cooked them.
The ingredients are straightforward:  500g lamb mince, 1 finely chopped onion, 1 clove of garlic, 1tsp each ground cumin, coriander and paprika, 400g chopped tomatoes, 300 ml veg stock, Lemon zest, Fresh coriander

There are many better things to be doing at 6.30 on a Sunday morning than frying onions with the  garlic, cumin paprika and coriander. But fry I did.  Once fried and cooled, half the onions are mixed with the mince and then formed into balls. The meatballs are then browned and set aside, then in the same pan, add the remaining onion mix, the chopped tomatoes and stock. Bring to the boil, return the meatballs to the pan and simmer for 30 minutes.  The original recipe required the meatballs to be served with couscous, garnished with lemon zest and chopped fresh coriander, but the cravings for pasta proved too strong, so they were served with spaghetti.
I must have made thousands of these over the course of his treatment. The local butcher got used to seeing me loitering as he opened up and started to keep a stash of lamb mince aside for me. When he was in the deepest grip of the steroids, I once used up 3lbs of mince in a weekend – all for him.

Blue has been off treatment and in remission for over 2 years and should get a qualified 'all clear' next June. I don’t make these so often these days – I have discovered other meatball recipes, and thankfully, despite my worries that the limited diet he had tolerated during his treatment would leave him fussy and picky about his food, once he was off chemo his diet broadened out considerably. It was as if after 3 years of most things tasting awful, a whole new world of food had opened up to him. But these meatballs served a huge purpose and I will always be grateful to them. After having them again yesterday, maybe I will cook them a bit more...

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A trip down memory lane - and how to entertain the kids in York

Despite an inauspicious start to the day - overslept so couldn't get any significant work done before the day's planned activities, woke to sound of pouring rain, children squabbling over a rudimentary game of chess (pawns & knights only) and dog choosing his moment to breach the final frontier and  eat the cat's dinner after 5 weeks of planning the attack - it has been great, and very nostalgic.

Allotment Junkie had booked tickets for us to see Peter Pan at the Theatre Royal in York. Recipe Junkie went to college in York manay moons ago and indeed met the Husband there (Henry J Beans, classy joint, classy bird...), and I was keen to show it to the kids so we planned a day out and about.

The Leeds Festival is on this weekend, so we decided to take the train rather than risk driving to York and getting stuck in hideous traffic. Allotment Junkie is very risk averse, so in the interests of preserving her nerves, my father drove us to the local station as instructed, in order to take the train. In typical Recipe Junkie/Allotment Junkie fashion, we were 25 minutes early for the train we had planned to get, and we had both forgotten our mobile phones. My father was staying at home to dog sit and 'work' (a euphemism he employs for playing solitaire on the computer) and later to pick us back up from the station. Fortunately, I had remembered the time the earliest train we could get home left York and thus waved him goodbye with a rough return ETA.

We had an exciting train trip mainly because as we neared York, we were passed by a steam train in full 'puff' coming in the opposite direction. "The Hogwarts Express!" yelled blue, making the slumped teenager on the table opposite leap from his torpor... This is the first time in about 5 years that we have been able to come to York without the purpose of the visit being to go to the National Railway Museum. The NRM is a very excellent institution and I recommend it to anyone wholeheartedly, but really, 3 times a year and its attraction does start to pall somewhat (although not, it seems, if you are a 7 yr old boy). However, the sighting of a genuine steam train and the promise of a visit to the real 'Diagon Alley' (The Shambles) seemed to make up for this. As we left the station and started to walk towards Lendal Bridge and the Minster, I tried to explain to blue and pink that York was where Recipe Junkie and the Husband had met but they seemed distinctly unimpressed. "How many minutes is it until we see Peter Pan" asked pink. "Is it lunchtime yet" asked blue.

We had a lovely wander round the Shambles, although despite all my attempts at expectation management prior to the trip, Blue was clearly confused as to why he couldn't find Flourish & Blotts. What appears to have been far more of an impact was the fudge shop - well, they are my children after all. What a place. It just smells of sugar, and the nice man at the counter actively encourages you to taste the fudge. In the back fo the shop you can watch them makign the fudge. This chap here is cooling the fidge (toffee, if you're interested) by moving it round on a marble slab. This stops large sugar crystals forming doncha know...

We tried to go in to the Minster but they are now charging £9.00 per adult and as I never allow my children to spend more than 10 minutes in any kind of ancient monument on the grounds that they get bored and destructive, I decided that we wouldn't pay. You can, however, get in far enough to see the Blue Peter bosses on the roof by the Rose Window though (any one remember that competition??)

The rain had cleared as the forecast had said it would and so we were glad to have brought our picnic (rather than cramming in to the busiest Pizza Express in the world) and headed for the Museum gardens, passing by Cafe Concerto, the best cafe ever, and still serving delicious coffee and salads and cakes and stuff more than 15 years since I last lived in York. Unfortunately, we didn't have the opportunity to go in today, but if you're ever visiting York, it really is worth it - just down the road from the Minster.
We picnicked in the sunshine - Allotment Junkie had made baked scotch eggs which were delicious, although pink decided that she would still rather just have a hard boiled egg. I haven't managed to get the recipe yet but basically you wrap the hard boiled egg in the sausagemeat mixture as you would for the deep fried version and them back them in muffin tins, each hole lined with a rasher of bacon. We had half an hour to kill so headed for the Art Gallery and spent a happy time using the loo and looking at the exhibition "Art and Controversy" - lots of nudes by William Etty (never heard of him? neither had I) - perhaps not entirely appropriate for a 7 & 5 yr old but they seemed happy enough.

Then came the main event - Peter Pan. It was fab - we all loved it - but it would be difficult to write about it. I must report that before the doors opened, pink asked if it would be in 3D. ... It finished later than we had anticipated, but still managed to get a train at a reasonable time and dad managed to meet us without too much bother, and (here comes the final bit of nostalgia of the day) it was meatballs for tea. It's late now and I'm quite tired, so I am going to finish for the day but tomorrow I shall bore you all with the meatball story...

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Good food, great company

So today, I got the opportunity to nick off with Allotment Junkie's car, leaving the kids with her, and headed off to the Dales with Fred in tow, to meet up with an old uni friend, her husband (who was also at uni) and his dad who came along for the ride. Em and Jon are visiting from Italy where they live outside Rome with 2 dogs, a cat and a swimming pool and they drive to work at the British International School in a convertible everday. Not that I'm jealous or anything...

We met at The Tempest Arms at Elslack, outside Skipton, which has just been awarded Pub of the Year in the Good Pub Guide 2011. . Had a LOVELY steak sandwich with fat chips and caesar salad, Em had fish pie and Jon and Clem both had the oak smoked salmon open sandwich which looked delicious. After lunch, Em and I took Fred for a walk along the canal while Jon & Clem went to find a bike shop in Skipton. Fred managed to restrain himself from launching into the canal despite severe provocation from some ducks, but just after we'd turned round to head back to the car, he realised that although he might not make it into the canal he had an opportunity to leap over the wall the other side of the towpath and get into the open fields. Fortunately, there was no livestock around (I had been keeping an eye out) and he was also quite knackered from a walk he'd had earlier in the day, so when I started shouting at him, and whistling like a thing possessed, he was reasonably compliant. I had to follow him over the wall in a rather indignified manner, but in the end it turned out all he really wanted was a long drink from the cattle trough.

I really enjoyed catching up and hearing Em's news and plans. I hope things all work out - maybe the next time we get together it can be in Italy - wouldn't that be lovely...

Got back to the ranch to find the kids engrossed in James and the Giant Peach after a fun packed day which involved the swimming pool, raspberry and blackberry picking and a close encounter with a hedgehog at Allotment Junkie's allotment.

So after all that it was a good job that supper was uncomplicated and delicious. Allotment Junkie had made meatloaf and it's a really good recipe, so I'm going to share it with you. I have it on an index card ready to go in the box when I get home. I can guarantee that this is going to become a regular:

450g turkey mince
3 pork sausages (meat squeezed from skins)
1 slice of bread made into crumbs
2 shallots
2tsp mixed herbs (or use handful of fresh, chopped finely, if you've got)
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 170 (fan). Fry the shallots in a little oil until soft; mix together the onions with the mince, sausagemeat, breadcrumbs, herbs and beaten egg and stick in a loaf tim. Cover with foil and bake in the oven until the mixture is coming away from the sides of the tim - about 45 mins.

Allotment Junkie had made this up and frozen the loaf mix in the tin before cooking it, then had got it out of the freezer, defrosted it and baked it, so it's probably worth making double if you've got enough loaf tins and freezing one uncooked. Or I guess if you lined the loaf tin with foil and froze it you could take the mixture out of the loaf tin once frozen, and then when you want to cook it, take it out of the freezer and put back into a tin for cooking.

Anyway, we had it with beans, beetroot and potatoes from the allotment, followed by rasps and her 'homemade' frozen strawberry yoghurt/icecream.

I've also finally got hold of the recipe for my Great Aunt's totally scrummy ginger shortbread. But I'm not going to share that with you till I'm back at home, can back a huge plate of it and tell you how delicious it really is - I need to sample it again, and you could probably do with a photo of it...

Monday, 22 August 2011

Back together again...

So, after 5 long weeks of separation, the children and I were finally reunited with Fred the dog. The husband has to wait till Friday when he's joining us, so until then, here is a picture, just for him:

As you can see, he's looking quite soulful - it's those spaniel eyes that do it every time. The problem is that although I don't doubt that he's pleased to see us, perhaps in his own doggy way he realises that his stay in dog heaven is about to be curtailed.

I was a bit worried that he'd been having such a good time that he would shun us on arrival. Being a dog, of course, he wouldn't appreciate the lengths I'd had to go to, to get North before Friday. Not for him, the knowledge that I'd crammed on to a commuter train into London with blue and pink, endured their toilet tourism while staying calm and trying to guard the precious seats that I'd gained by tactical elbow deployment; he wouldn't appreciate the stress of steering the 2 of them safely across London via the Underground, nor the total embuggerance caused by Network Rail helpfully sticking up posters all over  Kings Cross directing passengers for Hogwarts to the new location of 'Platform 9 3/4'. And yes, I could have told them that we didn't have time, that we'd miss our train, but the look of hope on their faces made me crumble, so we battled across the main concourse of Kings X, out the other side, queued up for the photo opportunity (and despite my loud mutterings of 'I do hope we'll make our train' and 'Well you may have to have a picture together because we DON'T WANT TO MISS OUR TRAIN' no one let us go in front of them ) battled back across the concourse to see which platfrom the real train north was going from, only to have to battle back from whence we had come to get to Platform 1. At least in all that battling I managed to get a Nero Latte - my reward to myself when I make these train journeys. And the kids got their photos.

The rest of the journey, was, I have to say relatively uneventful. The train was uncrowded, the toilet tourists only managed 2 trips to the loo (the trains on the East Coast line have sliding doors, so they deserved a second look) and it was gratifying that after reading 16 chapters of Daisy and the Trouble with Zoos, and a significant amount of Five go to Treasure Island, one of my fellow passengers (adult) actually stopped me as we were getting off the train to tell me how much she'd enjoyed listening to the Famous Five again. Allotment Junkie was there to meet us and the children were, as expected overjoyed. Fortunately she had decided not to bring Fred with her to the station to meet us (I had strongly counselled against it - I had visions of my mother and the children being bound together as the dog went nuts with excitement, ran round them with the lead and then dragged them on to a train line).

20 minutes later and we were back at Recipe Junkie's childhood (well, from the age of 14) home, and there was Fred. After an initial 'who's there' bark, as I was hoping, he did his silly grin that he reserves for long lost friends, and went into wriggle mode, then started running backwards and forwards doing silly little yelps which I took to mean that he was pleased to see us. Apparently he has been spending much time in the garden, where he can keep an eye on all the comings and goings, and also, I suspect, to avoid the resident cat - apparently the relationship between them has not mellowed over the last 5 weeks. Tomorrow, I will be back on walks duty, and it will be my responsibility again if he hurls himself off a cliff/into the road/through a patch of thorns - because for all this time, Fred has managed to remain injury free for 5 whole weeks. Someting of a record. I am keeping everything crossed that it stays that way. 

Sunday, 21 August 2011

2 Mile Meals

So today, I have been mainly cooking 'off recipe', which might come as a surprise, given the self-styled 'junkie' moniker, but please know that I am not totally tied to my books and index cards.

I was in a particularly benign mood this morning, having been allowed a lie in, during which I managed to finish my latest good book - 'When god was a rabbit', by Sarah Winman. To be honest, with a title like that it was going to be great or really dreadful. Fortunately, it was great (well, I enjoyed it). My mood spilled over into breakfast, which on a Sunday means the kids get breakfast pancakes (drop scones) and I'm not too mean about how much maple syrup they slop over them. I didn't have HFW's preferred wholemeal self raising flour in the cupboard (from River Cottage Everyday) but they were fine with normal (just without the healthy bran element), but to be honest there are loads of recipes for this and I don't think they can differ that much. The Camper Van Cook Book has a good version which the husband valiantly created on our last camping trip, despite the lack of a non-stick pan (we didn't have any maple syrup in the van, but we did have appelstroop
 which is a kind of apple marmite - the translation is apple syrup I think, but it's more marmitey in texture than syrup - perhaps even more gelatinous, and slightly lighter brown, and very yummy. We discovered it this summer while we were in Holland at the Haarlem Jamborette with the local scout troop.The blue one liked to eat it with cheese sandwiches while we were in Haarlem)

(The van:


The only thing I'd say about all the various breakfast pancake type recipes is that Nigella's blueberry sauce/syrup concoction in Express is too sickly sweet for me. I did make it once but it's not very nice, and in truth, better to eat fresh blueberries & maple syrup with the pancakes rather than making them into a warm syrup.

The kids both love these pancakes - pink has them straight with maple syrup but blue prefers to have them with fresh fruit (more peaches), yoghurt, appelstroop and jam - not necessarily all at once, although at least one plateful had all of the above slopped on.

The morning passed in a haze of chores - Recipe Junkie mainly tackling Mount Ironing, the husband in the garden, blue and pink practising their piggy back technique, and after a very Recipe Junkie lunch of beans on toast (sorry to disappoint any of you expecting me to document some delicious and inventive dish - Lea & Perrins, tabasco and grated cheese available individually or in combination depending on taste is about as good as beans gets in our house), we set off for a walk, incidentally the last one before we are reunited with Fred tomorrow. More in hope than expectation, Recipe Junkie took a handy plastic box just in case we stumbled upon a suitable blackberry patch, and we came back with nearly a kilo of blackberries without even trying. It's looking like it will be a good hedgerow harvest in our corner of Hampshire as the blackberries are looking really good, the sloes and rose hips are abundant and we also found some 'wild' plum trees. Just need to get there before the birds.

Having got home, the husband gathered in the various produce ready for eating today, so supper consisted of: pork steaks that are the last cuts from the pig we purchased for a local smallholder, potato and onion salad, broad beans, fine beans and corn on the cob. the only elements not produced within 2 miles of the house were the butter on the corn on the cob and the mayo on the potato salad - which I think is pretty good if we're talking about food miles etc (and yes, I could have made mayo with the eggs from the chickens, but sometimes, life is just too short). Pudding was apple and blackberry (apples from the garden, blackberries that we picked this afternoon) along with some of the carrot cake I made on Friday - still keeping well, and Green & Blacks ice cream, so I can't claim total sustainability but still pretty good.

Tomorrow, I am heading north with the kids to visit Allotment Junkie (a.k.a. recipe Junkie's much loved mum) (and Dad of course) and to be reunited with Fred the dog who we have missed muchly. I am not sure Fred has missed us as much - Allotment Junkie is also Dog Junkie and I think Fred will be more resentful of us when we tear him away next weekend than he was when we left him there 5 weeks ago for his extended summer break. No doubt I will blog all about it, particularly as I will be out of my kitchen for a week. Sob. ...

Saturday, 20 August 2011

What to do with all those peaches...Part 1

In a cruel twist of fate (and as the result of Recipe Junkie's impatience and slightly haphazard approach to overboiling fruit and sugar) Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook is now recovering from a near fatal application of Nigella's Peach and redcurrant jam.

You see, I was getting quite stressed about all those delicious peaches that my friend dropped round yesterday, so much so that I woke up at 6 this morning and all I could think about was THE PEACHES. I know we could just eat them, but they seemed to offer so much potential that I couldn't just leave them all to the gannets - sorry - the children. (The blue one has already eaten 3 today, despite dire warnings about the potential repercussions of such an intake).

So there I was, with a cup of tea, perusing the cookbooks, half listening for the sound of the elephants thundering around upstairs ready to break my peace, but none came. Bliss.

Sarah seemed the best place to start but I was slightly disappointed by the lack of culinary imagination in her Apricot Peach and Nectarine section. She was raving on about apricots (and rightly so) but didn't have much to say when she actually got down to it, about peaches. So I turned to Nigella, and there we had it in Domestic Goddess - the perfect solution: Peach and Redcurrant Jam. I say the perfect solution because I have been troubled for some time by a bag of redcurrants sitting in the freezer and begging to have some kind of large scale culinary process applied to them. I hasten to add that the bag has been much reduced over the year from additions to summer pudding etc, but they are the remains of last year's harvest and definitely needed using.

I guess it's not necessarily the best time to start making jam but by 7.30 the kids were up, and had assumed their usual first thing on a Saturday morning position in front of the TV, and the husband was also otherwise engaged, so I thought, "Why not"?  Had a brief panic that the courgette and apple chutney making session earlier in the week might have wiped out my jam jar stock, but a quick check of the cupboard confirmed that I can indeed still make many more pots of jam before I run out of appropriate vessals. At least I'd checked first though, and actually was disciplined enough to do the sterilising thang first, rather than getting carried away with the whole chopping, stirring and boiling process and then realising at setting point that I have nothing clean to put the end product in. Believe me, it has been known.

Having got down the jam pan and cleaned it out again (last used a couple of days ago by the husband to start off another batch of homebrew), put a plate in the freezer, loaded up the fruit, sugar, water and lemon juice into the jam pan and set it off with good stuff and got it going, occasionally stirring and looking anxiously at it, the husband reminded me that I do in fact have a sugar thermometer. In fact, he is much better at jam than I am - I think I have a deep rooted insecurity that it will never set (I had a bad experience with some marrow and ginger jam a few years ago - more like syrup, although still quite tasty) - but I'm never quite sure that the thermometer is the answer either.  "Oh yes!" I said and rummaged around in one of the drawers for a couple of minutes. I retrieved the thermometer and stuck it in. Fortunately it didn't crack (the jam was already boiling at this stage) but the temperature shot straight up to 'jam' almost immediately. But Nigella said it needed to boil for 20 minutes. Cue loss of confidence, more anxious peering and a premature test on the cold saucer. Now this particular jam is supposed to be soft set but it definitely wasn't ready so I carried on going. After 25 minutes, the confidence had returned as had another of Recipe Junkie's kitchen flaws - impatience. "Why isn't it setting?" I asked the husband. "I don't think it's going to set".  "It will set" he said "especially if it's soft set". Cue more testing on the cold plate, and then just for good measure, I threw in the juice of the other half of lemon. Result! Hurrah!

Now I had thought that I would be clever and cover the board I was going to use to put the hot, filled jam jars on with kitchen paper to easily clear up drips. So as I was cackhandedly filling the jars with the ladle (I really need one of those jam pourer ladles with the spout I've seen in Lakeland), and putting the jars down, I forgot to notice where the egde of the board was, hidden as it was by kitchen towel. The rest you can imagine. Recipe Junkie never works on a clear worktop and this time the casualty was the Garden Cookbook, also open on the worktop at the time. However, I think it has been saved, and I have 6 jars of scrummy jam to go in the cupboard.

By the way, it did set - very solidly - I told you I was impatient: the additional half lemon might have been a step too far...

Friday, 19 August 2011

Chaos reigns - in the best possible way.

My oldest friend, E, and her cousin, S, who happens to live a couple of miles away, and who is also, I hope, my friend (we met once when we were 14 on a music camp and then became friends nearly 6 years ago when E, who had been visiting us separately finally realised that we lived only a few miles from each other) came to visit today with their children.

S texted first thing to see if it was OK to come around 12.15. E had indicated an eta of 11 but on past performance I was confidently predicting that she would be here also around 12 so that was fine. S texted back that one of the laws of sod requires that people normally known for their lateness will arrive on time when you actually want them to be late.

The blue one was returned to me just before 10 after a visit to the dentist with the husband who then legged it off to work, and the kids and I went to cash in the Euros to buy a lime and some runny honey to make the carrot and poppy seed salad recipe and the HFW carrot cake that I was wittering about yesterday. We also had to go to the bank for something else and to make appointments for blue and pink to have pre-return to school haircuts, so by the time we got home and the kids, it was about 10.30 - plenty of time to finish the quiche (fill and bake) whip up the cake and grate the carrots, meaning that by 12.15, I would be the hostess with the mostess, house tidy, children clean and playing angelically in the garden (may be drawing a lovely picture or something) - the usual fantasy of those of us who spend too much time at home (well it's one of mine - like the fantasy where the husband gets home from work to find the house gleaming, the kitchen tidy, the children playing an improving game quietly together (or better still, in bed and asleep) and I am  feeling refreshed and fulfilled after a day working flexibly from home and caring for my offspring, wearing a drop dead gorgeous outfit with some make up on and say "darling, go take ashower and change, we're popping out for dinner. The baby sitter will be here in half an hour". But I digress...)

By 10.50 the quiche (spinach and chard wilted and chopped with a good grating of nutmeg and some cheddar), was in the oven and the eggs and sugar were beating in the Kenwood. The kitchen was looking like a bomb had exploded and the children were bickering. Some of the carrots were tending toward the slimy side.

I thought I heard the door and after briefly hoping it might be the children going off to play in the traffic, I realised that it was E, with her pink ones.  I couldn't find the base of my springform cake tim that I wanted to use and I had run out of greaseproof paper. The washing machine started the spin cycle. ...

Fortunately, E and I grew up in each others equally chaotic houses, so after 15 minutes while carrots were doctored and grated, the Kenwood beat, the cake tin base was retrieved and lined with a liberal amount of butter and the butter paper (for good measure), the washing machine span and the children reorganised their pecking order to take account of each other, there was a cake in the oven, a quiche cooked, a salad made and E and I were drinking a cup of tea. It doesn't take long to create order again - and for it all to descend once more into anarchy. S arrived with her 2 blue ones, so the pecking order had to be reorganised but by 1 o'clock, armed with glasses of rose, we were all sitting outside enjoying lunch.

The lovely thing about friends like E and S is that with a shared history, it is so easy to sit back and relax. E and I did, as I have said, grow up together - indeed our mothers went to school together. At one stage of our friendship we would share a boiled egg - she would eat the white and I would eat the yolk. We haven't always been exceptionally close, but we have stayed in touch and there is a bond that is very special in the friendship. Although I haven't know S as long, I have always known of her, too, as E's cousin. Sitting down with people you feel truly comfortable with sharing a glass of wine while the chaos of small children (between us we have 6 ranging from my 7.5 yr old blue to E's nearly 1 yr old pink) raged around us felt like a real luxury.

Also extremely luxurious was the HRW carrot cake from River Cottage Everyday. Once it's baked, you drizzle warmed honey over it so that it soaks in.

Scrummy - I can thoroughly recommend. And Sarah Raven , for all I dislike her name dropping ("My friend, Emma Bridgewater") and her striding around the veg patch in Boden velvet coats, does a mean carrot and toasted poppy seed salad - 3 grated carrots dressed with the grated zest and juice of a lime and a tablespoon of olive oil, and a tablespoon of poppy seeds, toasted, and poured hot onto the carrot - yum...

A final word on the subject of luxury. Another friend has just brought round a bag of homegrown  peaches - if I didn't have the proof sitting on my kitchen table:

I would never have believed peaches could grow in the UK like this - and they are delicious. I feel some peach cooking coming on. Spiced peaches for one, which go very well with roast ham...

Thursday, 18 August 2011

What a lovely afternoon...

Despite a rather inauspicious start when the poles on the camper van awning which was supposed to be drying out in the garden after our camping trip, actually buckled under the weight of the rain that lashed down over lunch, I have had a lovely afternoon.

The pink one went off to a jungle party resolutely not dressed as any kind of animal, but in fact as 'supergirl', and the blue one sat on the sofa with a friend, both clutching their 'wands', watching Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and occasionally hexing each other, so I had the chance to potter about in the kitchen. First off - braised mince - this is a great thing that I found in a Good Food magazine. It's a Paul Merrett recipe - here's a link to it on the BBC: and basically it's a way of preparing a kilo of mince which you can then split into 3 and turn in to other more interesting stuff. The benefit of braising the mince first is that it definitely makes the chili/spag bol/cottage pie (or whatever it is you're making) much richer. I couldn't find the relevant recipe on the Good Food website which then also has the follow on recipes for Chili, spag bol & cottage pie, but it's in the September 09 Good Food magazine.

Anyway, I am trying to get ahead, because I realised that the kids are back at school in just over 2 weeks, and I like to feel prepared for these things. So the other day I made double helpings of Nigella's African chicken and put half the uncooked drumsticks in the freezer, and yesterday I made more of her Turkey meatballs than a sane woman really ought to have done (both recipes in Kitchen - still the current fave). To add to that I now have the basis of 3 more meals in the freezer, so I am feeling oh so smug.

While the mince was bubbling I made some bread dough and while that was proving, made some pastry (thanks Hugh!) for a quiche to have for lunch tomorrow when some friends are coming. I was wondering what I would put in the quiche given that I am trying not to spend any money and I haven't got any bacon in, but I think it will be spinach and chard as the garden is full of the stuff. I am still trying to use up the many eggs that the chickens produced while we were on holiday and which the chicken sitter didn't use - she was about to get married so I am not sure baking was that high on her agenda - so there has been much egg recently. It's going to be egg for supper too - probably Nigella's snappily (I am joking) titled crustless pizza which is a really fab way of producing something out of nothing. She makes it more like a pizza, making and baking the batter first and then putting topping on it at the end of cooking but I prefer to chuck it all in with the batter and cook it. So this evening, it will mainly have courgette in it, because along with spinach and chard, that's what there is in the garden. And the potatoes. Although I am not looking forward to digging them up given the amount of rain we've had this afternoon. Still, needs must, especially as we need some for supper...

Even though I am trying not to spend any money, I am tempted to see if the local co-op has a lime because I've found a really lovely sounding recipe in Sarah Raven's garden Cook Book for a shredded carrot and poppy seed salad which I think would go nicely with the Nigella egg thing, and also some runny honey because I want to try Hugh FW's carrot cake from River Cottage Everyday, and which involves drizzling warmer honey over the hot cake when it comes out of the oven. I found 10 Euros in the depths of my purse so may be if I change that for real money it can count as holiday spending...

Having had some nice cooking time, I have also managed to clean up the kitchen quite substantially. I am still intending to tackle the 'how-to-amuse-the-children-when-it's-raining-and-I-can't-bear-to-let-them-watch-any-more-TV' drawer but frankly it's scary in there. I know I need to give it a clean out because the husband tried to put something in there last night and ended up failing miserably to re-close it.

And so here I am. I was going to sweep the kitchen floor but I got sidetracked, but I just remembered that's what I was going to do next, so off I go, tra la la, quite the housewife...

p.s. Made Sarah Raven's courgette and apple chutney the other evening to make an in road into the courgettes left over from while we were away, and also in an attempt to get to some of our apples before the wasps eat them all - very good; also HFW's caraway shortbread in River Cottage Everyday. very scrummy.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

back online...where to start

Ok, so as Blogger is telling me, the last post was on 26 July. So much for writing everyday and launching a career as a columnist (didn't you guess??). But in truth, being hacked has been a very strange experience. An odd text purporting to come from facebook and the next thing I know, I am being inundated with texts/IMs and phone calls - even a couple of callers to the house, to find out if I really had been mugged in Madrid and needed cash. Fortunately, the grammar was so appalling that no one really believed that the email that had been sent in my name from my gmail account was really from me, and took it for what it was as a hoax, but the thought that someone had got in to my email and my facebook account (for indeed they had done so - but they didn't manage to change my password and lock me out completely) was truly horrible. What was worse was the realisation that neither facebook nor google were actually interested in helping out. Look at the small print, they tell me - it's nothing to do with us...

Anyway, as if that wasn't enough, I then went on holiday and wasn't able to keep up the blog because I'd forgotten the newly reset passwords, and it's only now that I have managed to sort out my facebook account that I can blog again...

It's likely to ramble, but there's lots to tell, so watch this space.