January 2021

Well that was an interesting December, Christmas, New Year. I think I hit the most massive slump which I am still in. But fingers crossed it all comes good in the end.

I prepared vegetables from the plot, made my Dad a full Christmas meal for him and my eldest brother, which seemed to go down well, made Christmas cakes, christmas pudding and mince pies. I think these activities kept me sane and I just wish there could have been more of them and we could have had the family Christmas we had planned and promised my Dad. But like so many of us we just had to do the best we could.

Now, as the virus cases continue to rise, I think we will be heading for even stricter measures. It’s no wonder really, even in my small home town people think that it is perfectly acceptable to queue up for coffee as though it were a vital food source that will indeed keep them alive. The queues get longer and tighter and with this new highly infectious variant, how can they be sure that they are doing enough to stay safe. Well you can’t as the increased number of cases testifies.

The last time I had contact with a supermarket, was when Dad bought me a salmon to fillet to make Gravlax for Christmas on the 19th and then I did a quick top up shop at the greengrocers on the 21st, the Monday before Christmas.

Not too shabby considering I only fillet a salmon about twice a year!

Here’s a quick tip, save the bones and head and poach in the oven in water for 10 minutes and then pick it over, it is surprising how much fish you can find, easily enough for two very decadent poached salmon sandwiches for a very fine lunch or the doings for some very grand fish cakes. Waste not, want not, as my grandmother would say.

So it is 21 days since I last went to the shops. Fortunately I have a milkman and hubby washes the bottles with soapy water as they come into the house and decants the eggs into our pottery chicken. We also buy sacks of potatoes from him, we can leave them for a few days after bringing them in, so they are hopefully covid free.

We are not doing so bad, we are at the last of the lettuce and tomatoes, the bananas have been eaten, we have a few apples, oranges and lemons left. Loads of tomatoes and vegetables in the freezer along with meat and fish, a draw full of onions in the fridge and enough flour to last a couple of months at least. Today I made a large lasagne from a ragu I had made a couple of months before and then I made a beautiful blackcurrant ice cream from our home grown black currants picked in the summer and a fresh custard I had made this afternoon, we are not doing so bad. The egg whites shall be made into macaroons as I have found some desiccated coconut and I’ll even be able to decorate them with some chocolate that hubby remembered we had. And if all else fails there is the tinned fruit I stashed for Brexit. Fortunately the pandemic came at the same time that there was so much nervousness about Brexit and I’d made sure our store cupboards were well stocked.

We seem to have had some difficulty with our seed delivery for the allotment this year. I’d wanted to start my leeks off, but unfortunately that is not to be. I hope they arrive in the next couple of weeks.

The allotment is giving us brussel sprouts, parsnips, purple sprouting, kale and rainbow chard along with the odd cabbage. At least we are getting all of our vitamins.

I might even break out a war time recipe book, to see what hidden gems I am able to unearth.

Until next time, stay safe.

December.

I’m not going to lie, the last six weeks have been a bit of a struggle. I think Covid has really got to me and knowing we were going back into a lockdown and then doing so practically finished me off along with a sinus infection that was quite painful and I think laid me lower than I realised. But within that there has been some good stuff. So I’m just going to give you and me some much needed edited highlights.

First of the brussels.

Playing Crokinole with Dad.
Another sock, its mate yet to be knitted.
Feeding the ducks with Dad.
A much needed mid November Christmas tree
Our new ornaments this year. A giraffe for me to remind me of fun times at London Zoo and a red telephone box for hubby to remind him of London – and because we broke one this year.
This years Christmas cake fresh out of the oven.
Surrendering to middle age or maybe its covid with the addition of a cocktail trolley.
A Friday night Strawberry Daiquiri, which was very good.
And a beautiful sunset in a break from the rain.
The Art of Christmas card writing.

I’ve nearly finished the Christmas cards, apart from the odd stragglers. You know the one’s, they come to you in the middle of the night and you suddenly scream a name, whilst at the same time shamefully wondering how you could have forgotten them. To be honest I’d been thinning out my Christmas card writing over the last few years as it all became a bit too much and then popping some money into the charity of my choice to compensate. But this year after losing Mum and Auntie B, it doesn’t seem right and reaching out to people, through text and telephone and Christmas cards seems a much more natural way of doing things. The importance of family and friends has never felt so necessary to me. This comes from the voice of a hermit who is more than happy not to see anyone for weeks on end and is quite happy entertaining herself, so its a bit of a turn around. But the joy I’ve had is beautiful, I reached out to an old college friend that I hadn’t seen for over ten years today, and she literally screamed with delight. That was a great hour long conversation.

Dad’s and my eldest brother’s Christmas Day dinner has been prepared and is carefully packed up in the freezer. Turkey with all the trimmings and I do mean all, turkey both light meat and dark, sausages wrapped in bacon, extra bacon, roast parnips, roast home grown pumpkin, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, home grown brussel sprouts, carrot and swede mash and lots of lovely gravy all packed up in large foil containers which they just have to pop in the oven and then help themselves from. That should keep the wolf from their door and there is enough to easily last for two days. It took us hours to prepare, for some reason we are quite out of practise, but it was very nice to have a turkey sandwich for supper!

Of course the plan was to have Dad over for Christmas dinner, but what with Covid and hubby’s health we just cannot take the risk. So we, in as much as we are able, took Christmas to them.

We have nearly finished the wrapping of presents, so apart from decorating the Christmas cake along with the making of the pudding and finding more decorations to put up we are pretty much there, btw, lighting the Christmas tree mid November was inspirational and is a habit I intend to pursue every year. We love its sparkling prettiness in the deep dark days of winter, I very much want to keep it up until March, but I’m not sure if hubby will let me get away with that.

Until next time, stay safe and well everybody.

More chutney and relish making.

I am nearing the end of my chutney making mainly because I am running out of jars and available space in the pickles and chutney cupboard. Although within that premise I always seem to find jars and space and so have taken to keeping industrial sized quantities of dried English mustard, vinegar and garlic as I’ve found it less onerous to knock up a quick sweet piccalilli, which we enjoy, compared to the long slow reduction of a chutney.

When hubby returned with a tray of cucumbers I nearly wept.

It’s all good fun at the start of the season but at this stage there is so much to do.

But I bit the bullet and decided to turn them into a sweet piccalilli with peppers and onions.

And I think they turned out great.

I’ve also taken to freezing produce that can be frozen, the green tomatoes for instance. I knew I wanted to make chutney with them and I didn’t want them to be affected by the blight, so it seemed a suitable answer. It also gave me time to catch my breath. I also have various fruits in the freezer that I might turn to jam or curds, it’s a good solution when you receive an unexpected offering or time is short.

The start of my spicy green tomato chutney. I do love a spicy tomato chutney, it is one of my favourites.

On its way.

Unfortunately I haven’t taken any further photos but I did have some with a venison burger topped with cheese yesterday and I literally purred with happiness, it was so good. I’ll definitely be making this again with my green tomatoes next year, as well as making a batch with my red tomatoes that are frozen in time in the near future.

Pic of the week.

From little acorns do mighty oaks grow.

Oak trees, my favourite of all trees, mainly because of the oak tree at the bottom of the garden where we were put to get some fresh air as babies and my first memories of the leaves rustling in the wind, the shapes of the leaves, the changing colours.

I wonder how old this magnificent tree is? We are going to take a tape measure and find out.

Bejewelled Biscotti

I was rummaging through my cupboards and came across a few opened packets of nuts including almonds and automatically thought of that lovely Italian biscuit called Biscotti.

I used the recipe from Easy Baking by Linda Collister as a base and went from there.

Easy baking was published in 2008, a small compact little book, that is an absolute darling. No longer in publication and when Son no.2 was home I went to look for a recipe and simply could not find it in my collection – it will turn up one day,, but knowing how difficult to find this book is. I ordered two, one for me and one for him to add to his collection of books, not that he has many, but as a budding pastry chef, this is one that simplifies the ingredient list into a doable recipe therefore making it easier to practise or just turn out a few biscuits or cakes in times of need or want. I recommend it.

Firstly I pan roasted a collection of nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and chopped mixed nuts that I had in my collection. The recipe indicated oven roasting but I think pan roasting is much more controllable and there is nothing more disappointing or expensive than forgetting for a moment your nuts that are roasting in the oven and finding them too far gone and slightly blackened and bitter.

Next I had purchased the first of the seasons candied peel up at the market, so portioned about 75g out and chopped that up into tiny jewels.

Made the mix up according to the recipe which involved whizzing a few nuts into a fine powder to add to the flour and baked the mixture into two long sausages, allowed them to cool and then with a serrated knife cut on the angle and baked again.

If I am honest I think I should have baked them a little bit harder. They are just under the hardness of a shop bought biscotti.

But you live and learn and they are still extremely delicious, perfect for a pick me up with a hot drink in the afternoon.

Home made yoghurt.

Let me start by talking about the elephant in the room that is Covid. I am not a political animal in any sense of the word but it has seemed to me that it makes sense to be as self sufficient as is possible, so as not to have to go to the shops for items and risk contamination, along with not wanting to be part of the panic buying brigade. My cupboards, freezers and allotment are amply supplied, having as a child been very curious about Nan’s cupboards always full of interesting tins, dried fruits, sugars and flours, there were butters, cheeses and bacon in the fridge, a chest freezer in the hall full of ice cream, fruit, meat, fish and vegetables. There was a brick built shed strung high with net sacks or plaits of home grown onions and sacks of potatoes along with an allotment in her back garden of veg with three apple and one plum tree my war time mentality of food security was triggered at a very early age. I might explain that Nan had been bombed out twice in Liverpool and evacuated with four very small children in tow while her husband was serving in India. I suspect food security became very important to her too.

Not wishing to go into supermarkets at the present time we are living off our wits and stores, so when I noticed that hubby was running out of yoghurt I had a look at the Greek yoghurt tub that he favours and found it to contain a live bacteria. I promptly ordered some full fat milk off the milkman (we wash the bottles with soapy water as they come into the house) and examined the yoghurt instructions on my instapot.

Firstly I scalded the milk and then let it sit for a couple of hours to come back to room temperature, whisked 3 dessertspoons of yoghurt into it and put it into the instapot and hit the yoghurt button and walked away.

Eight hours later,… we had this lovely thick yoghurt.

Next I separated some kitchen towel, scalded that with hot water and lined a colander with it, then poured the yoghurt into it and allowed the whey to drain. I didn’t do this for long, maybe half an hour, I think you can strain it for a lot longer to make a very thick yoghurt if you wish to.

And then potted it into some glass jars that had also been scalded with boiling water.

To be placed into the fridge, where it will thicken up even more. 4 pints made 1.5 litres. (I love to mix imperial with metric!) Apparently the shelf life for home made yoghurt is about two weeks, I shouldn’t think we will have any left after a week. I might even get some fruit out the freezer and make some blackcurrant compote to accompany it. Or even make blackcurrant and yoghurt ice cream, or maybe I’ll need yoghurt in my new to me BIR curries, Oh the possibilities…

Cookbook of the month – Indian Restaurant Curry at Home

It has been my intention for many a long year to learn to cook British Indian Restaurant curry, known as BIR recipes. But for some reason maybe it was time constraints or an inability to find a way forward in how to learn or simply we have a very good Indian restaurant, that is absolutely delicious just up the road I haven’t done so. I think the main area was that I wasn’t sure how to start and at that point did not know that BIR recipes were even a thing.

Then one day I was tootling around youtube, and Misty Ricardo’s you tube video’s came into view and I was fascinated. This was exactly what I was looking for. I spent the next few evenings looking at his videos and then purchased his recipe books Indian Restaurant Curry at Home, versions 1 and 2 by Richard Sayce so as to read and experiment further.

Firstly I gathered my spices and made a mix powder as instructed.

And then made a gravy which has a vast amount of onions in. You seem to make gallons of gravy but this is okay as it freezes very nicely.

I chose the chicken bhuna recipe as it said this was a good recipe to start with.

Initially you poach your chicken breasts in spices and then you cover them with a sauce in which they can happily remain which means they keep flavourful and moist.

Once these two stages are complete and I recommend a spare afternoon to achieve them, you can leave the curry making until required. To get the levels of flavour required you need to make single portions or scant double portion. Otherwise you won’t achieve the repeated caramelisation, followed by the addition of the gravy and repeated at least twice more to achieve the many layered flavour profile of what you enjoy at your local good Indian restaurant. If you watch the videos of Misty Ricardo he will be able to explain much better than I.

It was an absolute blast to learn this and tasted extremely authentic. Well, authentic in a British Indian Restaurant kind of way, which after all, was exactly what I was looking for. I will be using this book this month and it will be interesting to see where it takes me in my understanding of this particular cuisine.

Pruning the blackberries.

The blackberries have been throwing very vigorous new canes out all summer. I’ve been carefully stepping over them or brushing them to one side as I’ve gone around the plot.

But the time had come to trim back our thornless blackberries.

So firstly I tied all the new canes together in the centre using some garden string, being careful that the string did not cut into the delicate new growth canes.

This gave me the space to chop back all of the old canes. At this stage it is easy to see which canes had fruited this year.

And this is difficult to see from this photograph, mainly because there is still so much green around. I tied the new growth into two wires that had been stretched between posts. I am very pleased with this plant now, we should get some good fruit next year, its neighbour has not done very well, so has been chopped back to the base.

Next I pruned the blackcurrants, I still have the apple, pear, gooseberries and blueberries to do, but for that I need to read up a little first.

Pic of the week.

I thought I would start to share my photo of the week on a Friday. There are no special rules, it may be taken with a mobile or a ‘proper’ camera. I’ll try to explain why I love it, if it inspires me, or creates emotion in me. It may not even be from that particular week! It may come from a place that is vibrating within me just at that moment, but the pic may be from long ago.

Sunflowers nearly ready for winter.

Planted and nurtured for the small birds to enjoy throughout the winter. A couple of heads have been taken to my Dad’s and he has placed them so that he may enjoy the birds finding the seeds during the winter from the comfort of his armchair in the living room. I always feel a little meloncholy as the summer growing season changes to autumn and then winter. I think it is the sadness of seeing all the vibrant verdant growth shrivelling up and turning brown. But within that I am pleased that the sparrows will find these seeds and they will nourish them through the short dark days of winter. Or the mice will find them and then terrorise my greenhouse where I hold no such compassions, it then becomes me verses the mice. Whatever way, it is natures way and for that I love this pic. Taken with an old iPhone on portrait mode, so a shallow depth of field, slightly spruced up in photos.