Friday, 29 June 2012

Meals a deux - Garlic Scape and Fennel Risotto

Did I make rash statements about eating with my children the other day. Well, we don’t always. Sometimes it‘s nice to eat just the two of us.

Sometimes, we want to eat something that despite my best efforts, they just won’t eat – neither of them can deal with a proper hot curry yet, and while mostly I’m happy to lay off the heat, sometimes, I just want to go for it.

Sometimes, when it’s just been a bit full on, it’s essential nice to get them in bed and crack open the wine relax.

On Monday, it was my turn to host the after school hordes. The girls don't have choir any more, so while the boys were at football, I spent an energetic 40 minutes playing hide and seek with them and the dog, before scooping up the boys and taking them home. Pasta with bolognaise sauce from the freezer for them, but I had my eye on a bigger prize for the Husband and I.

the green garlic is in the middle.
You can just see some 'scapes'

One of my purchases on Sunday at the Hampshire Farmers’ Market was 3 heads of green garlic with their ‘scapes’. I had to google ‘scape’ because I didn’t know that it meant the long green bits, but I do now. And so do you. My garlic scapes looked a little like leeks, and they might have dried out a bit, but I was keen to do something with them.

The nice man at The Garlic Farm stall gave me a couple of recipes with my garlic, and contemplating dinner on Monday, and wondering what to do with the fennel bulb I had bought, and the cheese, I came up with

Green Garlic Scape and Fennel risotto

(serves 2)

Ingredients: a knob of butter and some olive oil, 3 green garlic scapes, finely chopped, 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and fairly finely chopped (if you get fronds, save them and finely chop to sprinkle as garnish at the end – it looks very pretty), 150 g risotto rice, 1 glass of white wine, approx 400 ml veg stock, 50 g Twineham grange Vegetarian pasta cheese, finely grated, salt and pepper

Method: gently heat the olive oil and butter in a wide pan which has a lid, till the butter is melted then add the scapes and fennel and fry gently for about 10 minutes till soft but not coloured (if you can). Add  the rice, stir to combine and cook for about a minute, then pour in the wine and allow it to bubble and cook as you stir, until the wine is almost absorbed.

Once the wine is gone, add the stock a little at a time, stirring until nearly absorbed. I read somewhere that if you can pull your wooden spoon through the risotto and it leaves a path, it’s time to add the next lot of liquid.

Continue cooking till the rice is pretty much tender but still has some bite to it.
Stir in the cheese and another knob of butter, then put the lid on and leave to sit for a couple of minutes.

Remove the lid, sprinkle with the chopped fennel fronds if you have them

Divide between 2 plates. Serve with a grown up glass of chilled white wine and enjoy the silence.

p.s. I drafted this post a couple of nights ago. This morning, I remembered that I had also chopped up some of the Husband's home made (thanks River Cottage) prosciutto type ham and chucked that in towards the end. It was a tasty addition, but as you can see, I'd forgotten about it, so I add this more as an afterthought.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Meals to eat together - Smoked Mackerel and beetroot salad ***with a poncey ingredient alert***

Do we eat together as a family? Well, I guess, yes, we do try.

We tend to eat breakfast together in the week, mostly grunting at each other (me and the Husband), fending off accusations about what is or isn’t in the packed lunches that day (me and the kids), and running through what each child needs for the day ahead (this is mainly aimed at Blue – we are trying to teach him strategies to help him take responsibility and make sure he remembers his kit. We’re playing a long game here).
breakfast chez Recipe Junkie -


Breakfast at the weekend is slightly more disparate, but while we eat lunch apart during the week (although the Husband and I occasionally get a Monday lunch together if he works from home too), at the weekend, we will nearly always lunch together. Evening meals too.

During the week, the evening meal has been moveable. When the kids were smaller, they would eat earlier, and we would eat later, for sanity’s sake if nothing else. These days, a number of things have conspired, and we do often manage to eat together:  As the kids have got older, and do more after school, the evening meal has by necessity shifted to later - usually somewhere between 6 and 6.30. By happy coincidence, when the Husband is not away, he tends  to make it home at around that time, so I can play the happy housewife and pretend that I’d planned all along for us to eat together.

I do mostly enjoy eating with the kids, not just because I am usually ravenous by then. Don’t get the impression that we sit round like the Waltons every night, all sunshine and smiles, but after the general dispersal when we get in from the school run, it’s good to regroup, and chat about things, after it’s all had a chance to filter down. I do firmly believe that you can’t just rely on your children volunteering information about what’s happened during the day, or what’s worrying them, and you need to make opportunities available where you are encouraging them to talk. Lots of stuff comes out at teatime, and I am pleased that we have this time together, even if some of the time, the Husband and I feel like we are dishing out table manners ‘advice’ and nothing else.

Looking ahead, I’d like to think that when I am living with hormonal teenagers, it will be so ingrained in our family rhythm that when all else is hell, we can still sit down as a family once a day. (And if you are parenting teenagers already   I don’t want to hear it. Allow me to carry on in blissful ignorance for now, and then tell me you could have told me so in years to come when I am tearing my hair out.)  

 What you will also have probably guessed is that also makes my life hugely easier, if I am only cooking once – especially as the kids are now very much eating the same food as we are. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes, the Husband doesn’t make it home in time, and then, I eat with the kids and because we don’t have a microwave, he gets it cold. Poor man.

the eggs are for cakes, in case you were wondering
Meals that work really well for this kind of arrangement, then, are salads, and last night was a case in point. Bookclub was at ours, and the Husband was later than normal leaving work, so I ate with the kids so I could get on with important gin drinking and crisp eating literary discussion (The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville if you're interested) and left him a pretty plateful all ready to eat. 
This was also a good recipe because I had 3 beetroot and salad leaves (lettuce and rocket) from the garden, and I can smugly pronounce that the kids enjoyed the finished meal as much as we did (although I must confess that Pink got hers dished up without beetroot or the dill on top.

There is a poncey ingredient alert attached to this recipe, I'm afraid. I got the inspiration from a Good Food recipe, when I was looking for a meal that included oily fish. I bought caraway seed ages ago to make Hugh F-W’s caraway shortbread at Blue’s request. Having used that 1 teaspoonful, the jar has lain untouched at the back of the herbs & spices cupboard, along with the Asfoetida (bought following a hot tip from Thomasina Miers to counteract the Jerusalem artichoke ‘effect’ – it didn’t work) and some mace blades, the reason for which is lost in the mists of time... This recipe won out last night because it gave me the opportunity to use some more of those little seeds in the dressing. The recipe said ¼ tsp for double the amount of oil & lemon juice, but I was thinking in terms of using some more up, so I pushed the boat out, and went for a whole ½ tsp...

Smoked Mackerel and Beetroot salad
(serves 2 adults & 2 children with an adult lunch box portion left – guess what the Husband took to work today...)

Ingredients: 500g new potatoes, 3 medium sized beetroot, 1 ½ packs smoked mackerel fillets, ¼ cucumber, sliced in ‘half moons’ (slice once lengthways, then slice along, if you see what I mean), 6 sliced spring onions,  a small pack of dill, juice of half a lemon, 1 tbsp olive oil, ½ tsp caraway seeds

Method: if you bought (or harvested) raw beetroot, you need to cook them, either by boiling for 45 mins-1hr depending on size, or you can wrap in foil and roast if the oven’s already on. Once cooked, and cool enough to handle, peel the beetroot. Put the potatoes in a pan, cover with water, bring to the boil then simmer till cooked (did I really just tell you how to boil potatoes?) – 15 to 20 mins should do it.

When the beetroot and potatoes are cool, slice into thick slices/wedges and put in a bowl. Flake the mackerel in and chuck in the cucumber slices and chopped spring onions.

Finely chop the dill, sprinkle over the top, then whisk the lemon juice, olive oil and caraway seeds together, pour over the salad and toss everything together. Serve with green salad.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012


Ok it's 'meme' time. I have been tagged so here we go...

The idea is I answer the 11 questions set by the lovely Single Married Mum, then make up 11 questions of my own and tag another 11 people to answer them and so on.

So here are my answers to her questions:
What word/phrase would you ban?

“But Mummy....” (banning this includes banning the whingey tone and snivelling that usually accompanies the words)

 Ultimate comfort food?

Unfortunately for me, all food tends to be comfort for me. I quite like to be one of those people who stops eating when they are stressed but no. A roast dinner probably wins overall, provided there is lots of proper gravy (sorry no bisto for me), and crumble for pudding, with custard.

Whose life would you like for a day?

In all seriousness, at the moment, my dog’s. I would dearly love to understand how his brain works. Otherwise, Fiona Bruce. She gets to read the news and present the Antiques Roadshow. She is intelligent, smart and strikes me as being an excellent human being. And I want to know how she raises her eyebrows like that.

Best ever bargain?

I got a great deal on the Prosecco I bought for my birthday party.

Worst ever holiday?

I have to say it – our honeymoon. Not the one we had immediately after we got married, when we snatched 3 days in Barcelona before the Husband deployed to Bosnia for 6 months, but the 2 weeks all inclusive in Kenya we had when he got back. He returned, we moved me out of our flat in London into married quarters on the outer edges of Salisbury Plain (a comedy of errors in itself involving 2 white vans and an ironing board – remind me to elaborate one day), and then went on holiday in the space of about 4 days. We were both exhausted and although nothing bad happened, we just didn’t make the most of it. That, or the Mark Warner sailing holiday in Turkey where by dint of the fact that we hadn’t read the small print, and the Army telling us when the Husband could take his holidays, we ended up the only DINKY couple in a family resort in the middle of the school summer holidays. We drank. Alot.

Lark or owl?

Lark, mostly, although I seem to be shifting away from being a lark while not necessarily embracing the owl that may or may not be in me somewhere – so mornings are getting harder while evenings...

Most loved item in your wardrobe?

I have a blue silk shift dress from the 1950s that was my Granny’s. It is gorgeous, with beading around the neck line, just the right colour for me. I wore it to my brother’s wedding a few years’ ago, after I’d lost 3 stone, and felt amazingly glamorous (which is a very rare thing for me). I am hoping to shift half a stone over the summer to be able to wear it to another wedding in September.

Beach or mountain?

 Definitely beach, but active walking by the sea, building sandcastles, swimming, sailing, diving beach. I only really like sitting on beaches on still, clear, crisp, winter days – especially the beaches on the Jurassic coast where you can lie on the stones and listen to the water washing on to the beach. It’s a special type of calm.

Most annoying habit?

Nail biting. And finishing off the Husband’s sentences for him. My Dad does it to me and it drives me INSANE, so why I can’t stop myself doing it back, I don’t know...

The nail biting. Well, between the ages of 12 – 15, I progressed smoothly from thumb sucking to nail biting to cigarettes. I finally kicked the fags well and truly about 5 years ago, but the nail biting has crept back in. I only bite one finger nail – the middle one on my left hand, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop.

Favourite subject at school?

Top blogging tip?

Keep going but don’t be afraid to do something different every now and again and see what happens.

And here are my ELEVEN questions, you lucky people:
Wham or Frankie Goes to Hollywood?
Dog or Cat?

Nigella or Delia?

Silent Witness or CSI?

Thomas Cook or Internet?

TV or Radio?

London or Paris?

If you could choose any 6 people to come for dinner with you (living or dead) who would you choose and why?
What would you cook?

Favourite book when you were a child?
Earliest memory?

p.s. sorry about the formatting... not sure what happened there!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Honey Oaty Wholemeal Cake with Strawberries and Mint

So, what of the strawberries that we bought at the Farmers' Market yesterday?

Well, they looked so delicious that I bought 2 punnets. As with the asparagus, it meant I had enough to do 'something' with some of them rather than just wait for Blue to inhale them.

River Cottage Everday came up with the wonderful and delicious puddingy goods.

Strawberries and Mint - I followed the 'recipe' such as it is, word for word - for 500 g strawberries, hull and halve (or quarter if very big) the strawbs and sprinkle over 2 tablespoons of caster sugar. Leave for a few minutes, then add a tablespoon of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of chopped mint. We have mint growing like weeds under our apple tree, so anything with mint in is a good thing.

Once you've added the mint, leave for at least an hour - Hugh recommends 3-4 hrs as ideal.

The cake was a little more of an adventure as I had to improvise on the ingredients, and I didn't quite follow Hugh's method because I was rushing a little and didn't read it properly feeling adventurous.

The original recipe appeared in the Guardian in 2008, if you want to go back to the expert. If not, here is my version:

Honey Oaty Wholemeal Cake

Ingredients: 300g margarine, 250g goldencaster sugar, 3 large eggs, 150g fine wholemeal flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 100g ground almonds, 50 g oats, 50g flaked almonds, about 2.5 tbsp runny honey

Method: Pre-heat the oven to 170 C, Grease and line a 23cm spring form cake tin, and placeon a baking sheet. Beat the marg and sugar together till very pale and fluffy. Sift together the flour and baking powder, then add the eggs one at a time into the creamed marg and sugar. With each egg, add a third of the flour/baking powder and beat in well, scraping the sides down between each egg if necessary. Fold in the ground almonds and oats, then scrape into the prepared tin. Bang the tin down a couple of times to spread out the mixture, then scatter the flaked almond over the top.

Bake in the oven until a skewer (or whatever you use for this sort of thing) comes out clean. Hugh reckons about 45 mins, but it was closer to an hour for me, and I increased the heat to 180 at the 45 min point because it really didn't look cooked. I also covered the cake loosely with foil at that point to stop the top burning.

When the cake is done, remove from the oven and drizzle the honey all over it. Leave to cool.

It will be gorgeous and moist on the inside, with a lovely wholesome smell.

Serve with the macerated strawberries which by now will be lovely and sweet but minty, and slightly syrupy, and a dollop of Greek yoghurt. I used 0% fat, because I'm trying to lose some weight. Couldn't you tell??

Sunday, 24 June 2012

A lovely Haul of Vegetables from Hampshire Famers' market

This morning, the Husband, Pink and I made a foray down to Winchester for the Hampshire Farmers’ Market. We took Fred the dog with us to fill the gap left by Blue who was off for the day with the Cubs. He alternately pulled on the lead desperate to look at whatever we weren't looking at, or sulked, so made a fitting replacement for a small child.

It’s ages since we’ve made it down the this fantastic market – it’s held on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month, and well worth it. In my fantasy world, the one where I don’t shout at the kids, never eat more than one biscuit/piece of cake/chocolate/cheese etc, and the dog doesn’t kill ducks, rabbits or frankly, anything that moves and is smaller than a sheep, I shop on an almost daily basis at such a market. The reality is that more often than not, I’m online to the supermarket, begging them to have a delivery slot at a convenient time to me. I have done veg boxes, but we usually have a reasonable amount in the garden. Unfortunately this is not the case at the moment.

Anyway, it was lovely. Not particularly busy – certainly not as busy as it has been sometimes when we’ve managed to get ourselves down there, but lots of lovely stalls to visit, some very good things to taste, and gorgeous produce to buy.

This is my haul: asparagus, green garlic, tomatoes, radishes, strawberries, fennel, broad beans,

 I also got a block of vegetarian ‘parmesan’ type cheese )(as to which, see below for more) and some merguez sausages that I just couldn’t resist.

And a doughnut. For Pink.

The garlic came from The Garlic Farm stall. They have amazing looking garlic, and I love the smell that hangs gently round the stall. They sell green garlic, normal garlic, elephant garlic, smoked garlic, plus other garlic related stuff. On taste they had  garlic butter. We had to leave when I realised that Pink was on about her 3rd cracker, and was digging deep into the pot that was out for tasting, but not before buying some lovely green garlic. I’m going to cook something with the ‘scapes’ (the long top bit that looks a bit like a leek) tomorrow.

I loved The Tomato Stall too. Even though they haven’t had enough sun and they haven’t got as many tomatoes they still had these beautiful red and yellow baby plum tomatoes for sale. I couldn’t resist.

Mr Bookham and his 'Sussex Charmer'

The last stall I’m going to mention is the Bookhams stall where they sell their ‘Twineham Grange Vegetarian Pasta Cheese’. They aren’t allowed to call it parmesan, but it’s made in the same way, although using vegetarian rennet, and I love it. It has Vegetarian Society approval, and I think it is a worthy alternative.

With all this booty, I had a lovely time in the kitchen this afternoon/evening deciding what to cook, and then cooking. Yesterday majored on BBQ, so today was pleasingly meat-free.

We had Tomato and Vegetarian Pasta Cheese tart, with Green Lentils, Asparagus and Watercress salad, more asparagus and broad beans, followed by honey wholemeal cake with strawberries macerated with mint. Just the thing for a summer (yes – summer – the sun was shining!!) evening.

Tomato and 'Vegetarian Pasta Cheese' Tart

After our lovely trip to the Farmers Market this morning, I was trying to find a tomato tart recipe that I’m sure I have got somewhere. I couldn’t find the one I was thinking of, but tomato tart was what I wanted to make with the gorgeous baby plum tomatoes I bought from The Tomato Stall.

well - I didn't buy ALL of them, just 2 punnets

I made the easy tomato tart from Simon Rimmer’s ‘The Accidental Vegetarian’ a couple of months ago, so I thought it only fair to give St Hugh’s version a go. It’s in Veg Everyday, and is basically an open tomato tart. These open tarts are just brilliant and dead easy. You can put almost anything on them – all you need is a block of puff pastry. Keep it in the freezer – it defrosts really quickly and is a complete winner. Even better, this version gave me an opportunity to break into the Bookhams ‘Twineham Grange Vegetarian Pasta Cheese’ that I also bought from the market this morning.

So, for tonight’s supper, here’s what I did:

Tomato and Vegetarian Pasta Cheese Tart

Ingredients: 375g puff pastry, 400 g baby plum tomatoes, each sliced into 3-4 slices (on the diagonal is pretty if you can be bothered) depending on how big they are, 1 finely chopped garlic clove, 50 g Vegetarian Pasta Cheese, finely grated, 1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary, salt & pepper, olive oil

Method: Set the oven to 1900 C, lightly oil a baking sheet – the one I use is a shallow rectangular one, approx 23 cm x 34 cm, then roll out the pastry to fit, and score (but don’t cut through) a 1 cm border all round the edge. Sprinkle the garlic over the pastry, then arrange the tomato slices on top. I was feeling particularly artistic this afternoon, so I tried to alternate the red and yellow slices. Grind over some pepper and salt and trickle over a little olive oil, then bake for about 15 minutes.

When the tomatoes are looking tender and starting to brown, take the tart out of the oven, sprinkle over the rosemary and cheese.

Return to the oven for another 10 or so minutes. The cheese will be melting and may be even a little browned, and the pastry cooked.

I served it with Yotam Ottolenghi’s Green Lentils, Aparagus,and Watercress salad from Plenty, amd broad beans, also from today's haul,

Green lentils, Asparagus and Watercress

We bought loads of asparagus this morning – we all absolutely love it (even if it does make your wee smell funny – I know you were all thinking it, so I thought I’d just get that bit out there and over with).

I was determined not to simply steam it all and serve with butter and salt as is traditional in our house (not that it’s not delicious that way, but I really did buy loads – enough to have an experiment). I pondered various tomes, the favourites currently up on my shelf – Veg Everyday, Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook, and then remembered Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi,  currently languishing under my bed, and vying for my nightime attentions with Real fast Food by Nigel Slater. I haven’t really cooked much of Ottolenghi’s stuff (actually, only a dip thing a few months ago for a dinner party ‘mezze’ type starter platter thing) and nothing from Plenty since I bought it, although reading it makes me drool, so I was pleased to find his recipe for Green Lentils, Asparagus and Watercress.

It’s a shame the watercress stall wasn’t in evidence at the market today, I had it in mind to buy loads because we all love it, but I had some at home any way.

I can’t find a link to an online version of the recipe, and I did make a few changes because (a) I had coriander rather than parsely, (b) I didn’t have as much watercress as the recipe said, and (c) as I had put cheese on the tomato tart, we didn’t have cheese in the salad. So here’s my version of Ottolenghi’s

Green Lentils, Asparagus and Watercress

Ingredients: 200g puy lentils, 75g watercress, thick stalks removed, 40g fresh coriander, 150ml olive oil, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 garlic clove, peeled, 400g thin asparagus spears, juice of half a lemon

Method: rinse the lentils well, then put in a pan with plenty of water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until the lentils are just cooked but still firm (not disintegrating). While the lentils are cooking, blend the watercress, coriander, olive oil, vinegar, and garlic in a food processor with some salt and pepper until smooth.

When the lentils are cooked, drain them well and tip into your serving dish. Pour the watercress dressing over and stir through immediately, while the lentils are still hot. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the asparagus spears for no more than 3 minutes till just tender. Drain and slice the spears in half – or so that the pieces are 5-6 cm long. Add the asparagus spears to the lentils, and gently toss together, stirring in the lemon juice as you go.

Friday, 22 June 2012

School fete tomorrow = Baking fest

School fete tomorrow, so fingers crossed for the weather. It can’t be any wetter than it was last year, but please don’t take that as a challenge.

Anyway, I decided to prove to Cherie Blair just how much value I can add, even though I ‘m no longer a super high flying career girl, by having a baking fest this evening.

Fortunately, Good Food June 2012 (they really aren’t paying me, I promise) had a whole section entitled ‘Baking for the school fete’ and reader, I embraced it.

We now have


all courtesy of this vintage issue. The citrus bars were slightly more complicated in that they involved a 2 step approach (first make shortbread, then make curd topping) and I only had lemons, so I went off-recipe and made the curd with 3 lemons rather than 2 lemons and an orange, but otherwise, all recipes followed and the results are most pleasing.

I also made this onion tart. My mum had sent me the recipe, basically because it uses a lower fat, scone base rather than pastry. She was worried about my cholesterol – hers is bad, despite her being the healthiest nearly 70 yr old I know. Mum, you’ll be pleased to hear that at my 40+ health check, I scored excellent on cholesterol, but I made the tart anyway. I think I made the scone base too wet, so there was no rolling out, more squodging in to the tin, (with cursing) but it all worked out OK. As you can see, there’s not much left.

Finally, 2 rather odd shaped loaves of bread

and a rather delicious  looking banoffee pie, which I was inspired to make after reading this post about it by The View from the Table, which is a lovely blog that I always enjoy reading. The first time I had banoffee pie was at a big family party when I was about 10. I was totally and utterly hooked. For reasons that are too complicated to go into now, that weekend and the pie are one of my strongest ‘early’ memories. It’s not something that crosses my path that often, but when I saw it on her blog, I knew I had to make it. We are hosting the post fete BBQ tomorrow afternoon, so I have made double quantities in a lined tray bake tin. Oh, and I used Carnation caramel, rather than boiling the condensed milk, because I just wasn’t sure I could live that dangerously. ...

Is this what you meant, Cherie?

I don't just cook.
Last night, I commented on a blog about that speech Cherie Blair made. The one in which she “criticises career yummy-mummies” . I was mad as hell. I had to stop work because my son was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was 2 ½ . Does she consider me a bad example? Perhaps I should have spent the 3.5 years of his chemo and regular (scheduled and unscheduled) hospital admissions carrying on furthering my career to set him (and his sister, who was born 3 months into his treatment) a good example. May be I should have employed a nanny to do all the shit stuff with him, comfort him when he was sick and frightened? If she (Cherie) read this she’d say (may be) oh, well of course that’s exceptional – but I would argue that my reason for stopping work is no more valid than any of the many reasons any other woman gives (although why a reason is necessary) for working or staying at home (although granted, it’s slightly extreme).

I have been quietly stewing about this over night. Not working, or stepping back in a career while children are around, is a big decision. Some people take to it like a duck to water, for others it’s harder. That doesn’t mean that those who found the decision to stop work easy or straightforward were secretly plotting it all along. Pregnancy does funny things to you. It didn’t come easily to me, and although it was absolutely the right thing to do, I raged about it silently (and sometimes not so silently). It took me a long time to get life back on track – albeit that it is now a completely different track. Who is she, Cherie, to judge me for the choices I made – for the choices any woman makes – when it comes to how they bring up their children and manage their lives.

But I calmed down a little and re-read some of the articles again, and the point I wanted to come back to was this. One of the things that she highlighted was a culture where young women – those who perhaps are highly educated and have every advantage, but not necessarily limited to them  – are choosing to actively seek out marriage to the right sort of man (one who earns heaps of cash) with the sole aim of not having to work, and simply to bring up children (or, in fact, to be able to hire the right nanny to bring up the children while they ‘retire’) rather than even thinking about a ‘career’. I hope she wasn’t I don’t think she was necessarily talking about women who began their adult life pursuing a career, or working, because they were interested, passionate, single-mindedly focussed, wanted to change the world (or just a little part of it), but then for whatever reason – be it financial, lifestyle or other - chose to step back.  

Now, I have a friend who works in the sort of educational establishment where such breed of the former young women exist. Those wannabe ‘yummy mummies’. We’re not actually talking about a huge section of society, but those who are offered every educational advantage and are driven to achieving excellent exam results. They need these results to get to the right sort of university. Why? So that they will meet the right man –a rich man. And this is OK with their parents. It is kind of expected. After all, doesn’t a career make one frightfully dull? A little job’s OK for a while, something nice in publishing or the art world, but a career??  My friend has been advised of this by her pupils.

I appreciate that this is ‘hearsay evidence’ (get me, Cherie – I used to be a lawyer myself, once), but I can believe it. While I was slogging my guts out (some of the time) to get a good degree, so that I could have a high-flying career and save the world, I was aware of some of my peers who had this type of attitude. I can also see that for women in less-privileged circles, marriage to a rich man might seem like an easy route, and  something to pursue. The media does of course propound this. Look at how they venerate the Middleton sisters  – but if you choose to believe some of the nastier comments made about them, they are just such a type: boarding school, the ‘right’ university, a stint at Jigsaw (I believe it was, Kate?), marking time in her parent’s business until she bagged a rich guy...  but I don’t want to get into a bitch about her. It’s not just the Middleton Sisters though. Look at the WAGS. I try not to, so I will probably say something uninformed and be shot down in flames, but my impression is that they are never ever really portrayed as doing anything other than being out to bag a rich guy, and yes, girls, you too can do this if you look like a carbon copy: Be thin! Be tanned! Wear the right clothes! Be vacuous! It’s the continued peddling of this sort of nonsense in the media that encourages this attitude at all levels in society. How are career women portrayed? Do you need me to remind you?

If this is what Cherie is railing against, then I agree that this is an enormous waste. It is a waste that  education will never be put to any use in the world, and it is a crying shame that these girls will not necessarily develop the resources to fall back on should they find themselves on their own.  I’m not talking financial, but the kind of inner resources you need to survive these days. It is also a shame that many will not even concentrate on their education because they believe that it is possible to marry a rich man/footballer and everything will be fine - and I think this applies across the board, not just the rich girls. If you are not committed to what you are doing because the end game is not to work, you are unlikely to reap the benefit of all the experiences (bad as well as good) that come from your working life. If it’s all a bit of a game, a time-filler between parties and suitable social engagements, you may not develop the inner resources to fall back on when times are tough. And you do need them. You never know what life is going to throw at you. My experiences at work helped me enormously when I was navigating the minefield that surrounded my son’s illness, Not the treatment itself, but how to deal with consultants, various agencies, pre-school and then school – to make sure he was properly cared for in the widest sense of the word.

However, Cherie, if you read this, please bear this in mind: If you are criticising women who choose to stay at home with their children, or to take a step back, having begun a career; those, like me who started out with thoughts OTHER than marriage on their mind, then my earlier comment stands. Women who have committed to work and then step back for a time, have a huge amount to offer to their children. They know about work and about the work ethic, and can share this with their children. They can (as they get older) talk to them about what they did and the choices they had to make. They can keep their skills going by volunteering - I used my skills to run the voluntary parent committee of our local pre-school for a couple of years – and can gain new skills. Can you imagine all the things that would fall apart without these women to offer their support? My experience currently is that more and more women are going back to work out of necessity and it’s noticeable that those voluntary groups that do amazing things but rely on volunteers, are suffering.  This is all part of setting a good example to your kids. Please don’t forget that.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Poached egg & 'chips' to soothe a tortured soul.

Well, there we go it was short-lived, but for 24hrs I basked – yes, BASKED – in the most recent reward for sort of persevering with Twitter. I don't really get Twitter, but I am trying ot be better at it, and - wow - Nigel Slater (yes, actually, NIGEL SLATER) retweeted my rhubarb & vanillajam post, and my daily page views, which have been steadily creeping up (nothing awesome you understand but satisfying for me personally), shot up so that I got OVER 400 page views in about 36 hours. Now I know there are many, many bloggers out there who get 400 pages views just for coughing, but I tell you, wow, it was exciting.

You’ll be pleased to know though that it’s back to reality, and as with all good things, it came to an end. Still, nice while it lasted, and it gave me a boost because I have been feeling a little over-wrought with life. Probably better that it’s over, really, because frankly, I’m not sure I can cope with much more excitement (what am I saying?? Nigel. If you ever read my blog again, if you read this – thank you – thank you – it was AMAZING!).

go on - guess how much you think it weighs
I do like to be busy, but I’m finding this half-term a little exhausting – the relentless events: sports day (which may or may not go ahead on Friday having already been postponed once), the school fete (fruit cake for guess the weight of duly baked, face painting team organised, raffle tickets obtained, sorted, distributed and prizes sourced),the parents evenings, the swimming gala, the discos...

Instead of wading through to the end and crumpling into a big heap on the last day of term with a vat of chilled sauvignon blanc in which to drown, the first week of our holidays is Scout camp. No sooner has the cash been counted after the school fete finished on Saturday than I will be assisting the senior scout wife organise various Olympic-themed craft activities, the meal plan (actually, that needs to be read in a big, deep, booming voice “T-H-E-M-E-A-L-P-L-A-N” – 18 meals for 22 scouts plus the leaders and hangers on, partners and kids is serious business!), a cash & carry run, a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ night. ... There’s also the small matter of a job, and everything else to contend with too. At this rate, I can see myself hitting Christmas with a bang and wondering where on earth the rest of the year went. It will be loads of fun, but sometimes, it’s a bit tiring to think about it all.

On top of this (I am getting to my point, slowly), Pink seems intent on picking a fight with me every step of the way at the moment. I’m trying not to over-analyse, to accept it’s just a phase. I know she’s tired, and  perhaps some of the fall-out from all the busy-ness that she’s feeling a little neglected. I’m trying not to lose my temper with her -  that’s the thing with Pink, she knows EXACTLY which buttons to press with me. I’m trying to second guess her, to stay ahead of the game, but it’s exhausting.

So this evening, they had an hour’s after school activities. After I’d picked them up from school at 4.30, and had to deal with her latest list of my deficiencies as a mother (well, she didn’t quite put it like that, she’s only 6, but basically that’s what she was saying) as we walked home, I was amazed to find that not only did the complaints stop when I put the supper on the table, she actually started to be nice. Lovely and gorgeous in fact. First she apologised for not thanking me at her birthday party (in May) for the cake I had made (bless!), then she proceeded to get out the cutlery without complaining (and without being asked – I nearly dropped everything I was carrying on the floor at that point) and set the table, and she didn’t once niggle at her brother through the meal. Best of all, it was a doddle to put together, and was pretty much ready to go once I’d got in from school.

So what was this amazing feast? The feast that tames the spirit of a restless and dissatisfied 6 year old (for a short time, at least). I know you’re dying to know.

It was poached eggs and ‘chips’ (well, my homemade potato wedges) and a ‘salad’ of chopped raw stuff from the bottom of the fridge. Amazing.

Poached Egg and Potato Wedges with chopped salad

Ingredients: (to serve 1 Adult and 2 kids) 4 reasonable sized potatoes, a little olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and some chopped fresh rosemary if you have some, 3/4 of a red pepper, a courgette and 5 spring onions, 6 eggs

Method: Turn on the oven to 1800 C, and slice the potatoes into half lengthways, then slice each half into wedges – if the potatoes are quite thick, you can always cut the potato into thirds lengthways first then into thinner wedges. If you have time, drizzle a little olive oil into a roasting tin/baking tray and put it in the oven for 5 mins to heat up the oil, but if you don’t have time, toss the wedges in the oil first, spread out on the baking sheet and sprinkle with the salt and rosemary. Put the tray into the oven – the wedges will need about 40-45 minutes.

(At this point, I went to get the kids from school)

When the potatoes are pretty much done, fill a pan with water (I use a frying pan for poached egss) and put on to boil for the eggs. Chop your veg up into little-ish cubes, and mix together.

Poach the eggs (Delia can tell you how to do that), and serve with the wedges and salad.
with yolks this good, there's no need for salad dressing!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam

This is my jam pan. It is huge and enormous and we rescued it from on top of my mother’s kitchen cupboards. She had at least 3 up there, I think they were breeding.  

We’re at a bit of a critical period of the year as far as our preserves (ha ha!) are concerned. We ran out of chutney a few weeks ago as Blue seems to be inhaling it, and we’re running pretty low on jam. It’s at this point in the year that the balance between the shelf for jam and the shelf for empty jam jars starts to tip in favour of the latter, while the kids end up digging out something half-crystalised to spread on their toast from a jar that bears a label indicating the contents to be at least 3 years old.

The 'jam' cupboard. Spot the home-pickled chillies

I am not great at making jam. In fact, the Husband usually comes into his own here, confidently taking over the whole setting point thing, until he got so fed up with me wailing about it that he bought me a sugar thermometer. I used the sugar thermometer last summer when I made Nigella’s
peach and redcurrant jam . Not a fantastic example of confident jam making, granted, but we made some pretty lovely marmalade earlier this year with the help of the thermometer, and so tonight, I was prepared, and instead of sticking plates in the freezer, I just got the thermometer out of the drawer AT THE START of the process.

Everything is so late in the garden this year, there’s not much to make jam out of, and certainly nothing that could be worth turning into chutney yet, but we do have rhubarb. A colleague gave me this recipe a few months ago and I have been dying to try it. She assured me that the resulting jam tastes like rhubarb and custard. She was not wrong.

The original recipe was copied out of a Country Living magazine, but I have added a couple of bits in, and given some more detail in the method.

***Before you start on this, bear in mind that you need to leave the rhubarb to macerate in the sugar for at least 8 hrs – I left mine for 24 – before actually making the jam***

Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam

Ingredients: 1kg summer rhubarb (trimmed weight), 1 kg jam sugar, 1 vanilla pod, juice of half a lemon and half an orange.

Method: wash and trim the rhubarb, and slice into short lengths – I followed the picture my friend gave me so the pieces were about 1-2 cms long. Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds. Put rhubarb, vanilla pod and seeds in a large bowl with the sugar, stir together, cover and leave for at least 8 hrs somewhere cool – the fridge is good.

This draws out a lot of liquid from the fruit.

When you are ready to make the jam, empty the fruit and sugar mixture into a large pan. It will be quite gloopy and sticky with a load of sugar at the bottomg of the bowl. Scrape it all into the pan.
It doesn’t have to be a specific jam pan, but it needs to have a good, thick bottom.

Add the lemon and orange juice, then heat up the pan gently and stir (also gently) till the sugar is dissolved, then increase the heat and bring the pan to the boil till it has reached setting point. You can faff about with frozen plates but I urge you to buy a jam thermometer. It has a big line with the word JAM by it at approx 1020C /2200 F.
check out the pink froth!

When the jam mixture has reached this temperature, turn the heat off, remove the vanilla pod and skim off any scum that has formed on top of the jam. Leave for 5 mins then fill your sterilised jars (I used 850g rhubarb and 850g sugar and it made 4 jars). Cover the jars with a clean tea towel until cool, then put the lids on and feel smug as you put them in the cupboard.

Just loving the colour!