October no buy fail.

I think we can clarify that October’s no buy was a complete flop. Although I myself didn’t buy any make up or shoes so I am taking that as a win. Did you notice that specific ‘I myself’ because hubby surprised me with an advent beauty calendar from Fortnum and Mason. It is beautiful and it is very expensive and I do adore it and yes I know I am a very lucky girl. It will be fabulousness personified to play around with all of their luxurious goodies and I am looking forward to the next few months of playing very much.

So what did I spend on.

Well I bought some wool. I started a crochet blanket and realised that I would much rather have a larger blanket than one that won’t wrap around me, and a very kind lady on Ravelry was willing to part with some of her stash and help me out, at a very generous price too, so I am very, very happy. As is Eric who has already found my pile of granny squares.

There was a small clothing purchase. I looked high and low for my deep pink Dents gloves, (I think they call the colour claret) I have other colours but I love this pair and I could not find them. So after two weeks of searching, I realised they were lost and seem to remember not being able to find them at the end of last spring. It’s always a tricky time for gloves that, if you leave a place in the middle of winter you realise pretty quickly and go back for them, at the end of the spring you might just forget that you had them with you. This will be my second pair of gloves that I have lost in my life, the first and I remember the restaurant I left them in and rang them to which they denied all knowledge, was my first pair of hand knitted gloves, in a variegated yarn which had turned out beautifully. I still mourn the loss of that particular pair. But these are beautiful and more than make up for my recent loss.

There was a purchase of a small chest freezer, which I hadn’t realised I might need, but the plot has been doing quite well along with being able to purchase that whole lamb from a farmer just up the road, so I realised I would need another freezer to be able to cope with the overspill from the plot as well as extra items we enjoy at Christmas. I’m calling it my Christmas freezer and hope to have it shut down by the end of February.

And now we have the cookery book situation. It is such a bad time of the year to not buy, just as they release all of the new season cookery books of which to tempt the Christmas present shopper. I generally buy my own cookery books because I do have quite an extensive food/cookery book library. Not as many as Nigella Lawson, google her library, I am completely in awe.

Son no.1 bought me last Christmas How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry, which is a beautiful book and has some lovely recipes in it. The more I read of Diana Henry the more I liked her and it reminded me of a chicken book of hers that I wanted to buy when I visited Books for Cooks in Notting Hill about four years ago. I remember standing over ‘A Bird in the Hand’ for what seemed like hours debating whether to get it or an Italian book I’d had my eye on for a while, it was the middle of summer, I went with the Italian, but as soon as autumn approached I wished I had bought the chicken book. Books for Cooks have over 8000 books so to remember one that keeps calling to you is an impressive feat.

So when Diana Henry released From the Oven to the Table I bought it immediately, knowing that this type of food is right up my street. Then later I thought I’m just going to get that chicken book so ‘A Bird in the Hand’ arrived yesterday.

During that process I had started to watch Jamie Olivers new series on Veg and really enjoyed it, so VEG has come home to roost during the month as well.

Am I a lost cause on no buy? probably. Am I more aware of my buying patterns? Definitely. Is it fun to challenge one’s self? Always.

I think that I can definitely own at this stage in my life that I am an avid home cook who enjoys new seasons, new ideas, cultures and ingredients so will probably always buy and keep and use as many recipe books that I am able.

Cake tins.

Whilst handing over the freshly baked rich fruit cake to my Dad my Mum and I were making a pot of tea in the kitchen when she suddenly darted into the draw where she keeps her cake tins and rummaged around a little and found and presented me with her Christmas cake tin and asked me if I would like it.

Like it? I’d Love it.

I could see she was a little bit sad at handing over such a treasure and she tried to explain that it was old and a bit rusty but once you’d lined it really well etc etc. I brushed her worries aside and told her how I had hubby’s mothers original Christmas cake tin and how it too needs to be lined well, and how happy I was to have both cake tins. I mean to say for me, I couldn’t have been happier if you had given me the crown jewels. I’ve used hubby’s Mothers Christmas cake tin all the way through my 30 years of marriage, hubbys Mum gave up on Christmas cake making quite early really. And my Mother was until recently a very avid baker of a fruit cake, making I would think at least ten maybe more a year, it has definitely seen decent service. If only we could go to all the parties and Christmases that these cake tins have been used for, in much the same way that Scrooge visits Christmas past, it would be wonderful wouldn’t it.

Hubby’s Mum’s is on the left and my Mum’s is on the right. It made me laugh when I put them together, one can see that hubby comes from a family of four and we come from a family of seven just by the size of the cake tin!

There are no identifying marks on the tins but when one turns them over I am pretty sure that are made by the same manufacturer. They seem to feel the same, have the same welding and air holes etc. Both tins must be over sixty years old, hubby’s Mums might be getting on for eighty!

The beauty of these tins is that they are made specifically for the baking of a rich fruit cake, you would never bake a light cake in them because of their construction. I don’t know if you can see but they have a double layer on the bottom with an air gap in-between the layers which makes them perfect for the long slow cooking of a fruit cake, mine often stay in for 4 1/2 hours, sometimes a little more. If you used a normal tin, even with a good layer of grease proof you would run the risk of burning the bottom of the cake. In fact it’s almost a certainty, but with a cake tin like this and a good quadruple layer of brown paper around the sides tied up with string the cake cooks evenly and gently.

And along with this I have never come across one of this type of tin brand new. Which is I think a terrible shame, manufacturers are missing a trick there. And I’ve never seen a second hand one and believe me I have looked.

Yesterday Mum and I looked through her old recipe books for her original cake recipe, I wanted to christen my new to me tin and present her with a cake that she loved to eat and make from me. Sadly we could not find it, so I am in search of a recipe to fill such a big tin. I’ll find one soon before my next batch of baking.

I can safely say this tin has gone to a very good home.

October wet but busy.

As with all allotment holders that enjoy their food I have been busy gathering and storing mine. Tomatoes have been gathered in.

Apples and pears were picked and then processed for the freezer, we managed 22lb of peeled and cored apples this year. I’m so pleased because last year this apple tree gave us two apples and one of those was not much bigger than an acorn.

And with the left over peel I am making organic apple cider vinegar.

We have been pumpkin hunting, which was great fun and found three beautiful Crown Prince to add to our not so great harvest this year.

There has been chestnuting, an old custom from our town, all ages take part and this year the sweet chestnuts have been excellent – must have been all that rain.

It is a slow and arduous process to get the second skin off a sweet chestnut, but one that is worth it I think. My method is to snip the pointy end into a cross with a pair of kitchen shears then plunge five and only five chestnuts into boiling water for one minute, lift out into a bowl and run to the table with them and pull of the first shell and with the aid of a pointy knife lift off the second skin. This must be done while the chestnut is still hot otherwise the second skin known as the ‘tan’ which is the pellicle (and this tastes bitter and is best removed) welds itself back onto the chestnut. While I am doing this I have turned off the heat and thrown another five into the hot water, I repeat the process until the water becomes murky and cool and start again with fresh water. If the chestnut cools, simply plunge back into hot water to warm the chestnut and allow the second skin to be removed.

I have three pounds in weight in the freezer and a half bag to do this morning. Then that will do me, even though chestnuts are still bouncing off the parked cars sat underneath the chestnut trees. Unless I get a second wind, that is! You never know!

I’ve been baking rich fruit cakes this autumn. It is nice to get the oven going after a long hot summer, this is my fourth cake. I think there is a competition between hubby and my Dad as to who can eat them the fastest. I use Delia’s recipe, she’s never let me down although I do increase the ratio of nuts, cherries and citrus rind, but add 25g of extra flour to compensate and a little longer in the oven.

Along with that the autumnal crops are coming along. We ate some beautiful rainbow chard yesterday that I made into a garlic and cream gratin which we had with some very local sheep, which was delicious. The sheep had been reared and grown, slaughtered and delivered to me, all on the same lane. It seemed a natural process to have it with our home grown rainbow chard, also grown on the same lane. How’s that for food miles!

What with all the rain we have not got on top of the plot as yet, it looks like it is drying out for a few days so we should get a little autumn digging done, fingers crossed.

Creatively, I’m at the start of a crochet blanket, several socks are lodged in nooks and crannies around the house, a King sized quilt is half way through and ideas abound.

One month, no buy.

Well the first half of the month was definitely more tricky than the second half. It is all about discovery and I have discovered that make up has become even more addictive than I thought it was. There is something that lifts the soul when wandering through a department store looking at all the jewel like offerings as their packages glitter in the light whilst singing in soft enchanting voices, ‘buy me, I am beautiful’.

There was that purchase at the beginning of the month and then and lets be honest, there was a make up palette that came home with me a couple of weeks ago, it was just too beautiful. But it is a learning curve on how best to curb those cravings for pleasure, or at least turn them into something other than a need to purchase pretty make up.

I’ve finished my favourite pot of evening moisturiser, which means I have opened a new brand in my stash. To be honest this one came in a beauty subscription box and is said to cost over £90.00. I’m not feeling the love and over the course of the last two weeks I feel like my skin is drying out slowly. I might start something else and finish it off as a body cream. At least that is the beauty of the subscription boxes, one can try expensive items without spending serious amounts of money. And because of that and in the name of transparency, my no buy year has become more of a reduced buy year, perhaps I should amend the title. I had intended on cancelling all of my beauty subscription boxes, which I actually did, but a few days ago I have just resubscribed to Cohorted, as the value and products are just too good to miss. I think I am deeming this a vital necessity for the good of my mental health and have chosen to embrace my inner spendthrift in this purchase and this purchase alone.

Clothes wise, no problems. I have plenty of jumpers and shoes, I bought new jeans a few months ago and I have recently sorted out my wardrobe so as to better appreciate its often hidden depths. I’m halfway through washing all of my jumpers, which makes one realise just how many one has and have sorted out my pyjama and lingerie draw, so as to better appraise its offerings.

Linens and towels we have plenty, after 30 years of marriage one does tend to accumulate a fair pile.

So the plan is that next month I am going to knuckle down a bit harder and see where that takes me.

The Tall Man’s Pâté

As we delved further into Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger we discovered more delicious treats. We saw this recipe and thought it would be both delicious and easy to make. It has been ages since I have made a pâté and I never buy them. Once you have made a chicken liver pâté at home, you would never buy one, shop bought are just too dreary by comparison, pale and flavourless and full of fat. Home made are robust, full of flavour and substantial. The sort of thing that one could happily munch on for lunch, or dinner, with just some good bread, butter and maybe a little sweet chutney for company.

So I gathered the ingredients a few days ago, fully intending to make this yesterday. But I had a rough day, aches and pains, headache, glands up, sort of thing. So I asked hubby if he would make it, he didn’t seem too keen, he’s not as keen a cook as he was, but because I was a bit poorly he made it for me.

And it was amazing, I staggered down stairs just because of the smell, it drew me to it, like a moth to the flame. A recipe definitely worth living for, as all Ella’s recipes so far have proven to be.

Now I know hubby will have followed the recipe to the letter, the fatty pork he used was from a shoulder, that being what we had at home at the time. But he won’t have deviated in any way, you can be sure of that.

I praised him to the rooftops, and I think he was a little impressed with himself as well.

The following day, I’m still headachy etc, better than I was but something is still grumbling away. Hubby on the other hand is pottering in the kitchen, making another batch of The Tallman’s Pâté, it has certainly caught his imagination.

Swimming

I always seem to come back to swimming. In good times and in bad. I remember having my babies and being really upset that I couldn’t go swimming when I wanted to, fortunately I had a hubby that had bought a time share before I met him, which had a lovely health club attached, we went swimming about three times a week, son no.2 was swimming widths at 18 months without arm bands! Then life got in the way and I was working lots and lost my hair and came down with a deep depression and lost my swimming bug. I found it again in London, it was great to go swimming and lose oneself in the pool, stretch and relax after a heavy day at Uni, and of course I didn’t have anyone to rush home to so could swim for as long as I wished.

Last autumn I started going swimming regularly again, I no longer care if people think I am a big fat thing, ‘I am, get over it’, ‘laughs’. I enjoy the solitude, hubby did come for a while, but he doesn’t enjoy it. And, with his heart condition I think it might be a bit dangerous as he gets so out of breath and I spend a lot of time panicking as to whether he is okay, all the time my anxiety rising. So when he decided he didn’t really like it, that was okay with me. The act of swimming length after length, focussing on my breathing and stroke, the stretch and the glide, the breath in and then out, the kick, the thrust, the pull, feeling the aches lessen as my body stretches out, the endorphins rise after twenty or so lengths, the ease of the next ten lengths as worries lessen and all I can focus on is my breathing as I am completely intone with myself, is simply wonderful. The hot shower afterwards whilst still in the zone is treasure, dressing is easier than in the morning as all my muscles are warm and supple. I am more pain free than I am at any other time of the day (I have fybro) and happier. If I could fit in a swim everyday I would. It’s cheap too, £25.00 a month I pay, all that pleasure for not much more than a quid a day.

I had lessons in January for a few months, it taught me how to swim like an olympian. Although this olympian can only do one length of a beautiful crawl before being totally winded, but I hope to build on that. It has also improved my breast stroke and I no longer suffer with a sore neck from a poor technique.

Since January I have been working hard, I was very pleased to be able to fit in forty lengths in an hour, slow but most standards, but good stamina for me. Since then I have been increasing my speed and at a recent session I could fit in 56 lengths in an hour. I wanted to do 64 because that seen as equivalent to a mile, but I just can’t fit it in the hour.

Then I went to a non lane swimming session which was longer and racked up forty, then fifty, then thought I might try for the 64, which I did then thought, oh well, might as well do 70, I might have gone for the 80 but the session was ending.

It had been a particularly tough day and I knew I was in need of a good swim, I find that, its like baking bread, if you need to let yourself go, pummel you’re dough, you’ll get great bread, swimming is the same. Lane after lane had zipped by and I wasn’t tiring. Try swimming, you never know, it might make you feel amazing.

Saturday Afternoon Charred Leek Lasagne.

As soon as I read this recipe in Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger I knew it was exactly the sort of dish that I love to eat and cook. As with all things food, firstly comes the wanting to eat it, then I learn to cook it. I’ve followed this philosophy for many years and all the greats have come out of my kitchen in fact I don’t think I have turned down a recipe based on its complexity.

I eagerly digested the ingredients list, all the autumn stars were there, charred leeks, butternut squash, kale. I often feel cheese lends itself to autumn/winter food as well. I decided I would definitely make it and photographed the recipe list with my phone, a far simpler way than finding pen and paper and writing a list. Gathered the ingredients at my local supermarket and planned my Saturday afternoon cooking. Ella extolls the virtues of Saturday afternoon cooking for such a complicated dish and I have to agree with her, it’s lovely to pootle around the cooker immersed in a little light stirring with savoury smells gently wafting from the oven.

The most difficult thing to do was to prepare the butternut squash. I do believe they sell it already prepared these days, but I always have at least one or two on the windowsill ready and willing to be prepared into a lovely risotto or roasted to have with salads or main courses. They are so versatile and will keep for weeks and in my mind, quite cheap to buy.

The butternut squash prepared with butter, thyme and black pepper and a slosh of white wine, along with a head of garlic to be roasted, that needed to come out at half time.

Some beautiful leeks,

that needed to be fried in two pans! With the benefit of hind sight I should have got my wok out.

The garlic retrieved at half time had roasted beautifully.

I prepared our home grown kale. Hubby had retrieved it for me from the allotment and although there was a lot, it was still less than the required 400g. And I only used about half of this, I don’t know whether my dish is too small or the amount is wrong. I think in this case go with your instincts.

I then made a cheese sauce which included leaving a bay leaf in (removed once cooked) and squeezed the roasted garlic into this, retrieved the bubbling, slightly scorched, slightly syrupy butternut squash from the oven and lightly mashed it in the baking tray. And set about assembling the lasagne, studiously following Ella’s layering technique.

Layered through with cheese sauce and enrobed on the top, finished with a fine layer of parmesan, a ball of mozzarella and a grating of nutmeg. it entered the oven for 45 minutes. Although I was worried about the raw kale not cooking enough as the lasagne dish was full to the brim, so left it for an extra ten minutes in the cooling oven, having first opened the door for a few seconds to release the blast of heat.

And just look at that! What a treat.

And it was lovely. The charred leeks shone, the butternut squash added comfort with the cheese sauce and pasta and the kale (which was so tender) added a touch of sprightliness and a touch of much needed bitterness to the whole dish. The nutmeg was inspired as was the roasted garlic and who doesn’t love the essence of a bayleaf and black pepper in a cheese sauce. We liked this a lot. Definitely on the list to do again.

The allotment in September.

It seems ages since I wrote about the allotment. There is not much to do in high summer apart from the odd bit of hoeing, some picking and lots of watering of tomatoes and to be honest being rather blue eyed and freckled (and bald!) I tend to become a bit of a hermit as more than twenty minutes in the sunshine and I start to glow. So hubby tends to do the watering early in the morning while walking the dogs and we just drop in and do a bit as and when. But autumn is here, hoorraah, my favourite time of the year, the stifling heat has gone and now we are into the warm and pleasant days of an Indian summer, the very best time of the year.

So let us have a little walk around.

You have to see my greenhouse, it is rammed full of tomatoes.

Picking tomatoes is like entering a rain forest of tomato plants, highly amusing and just wonderful.

We are growing a few varieties but slowly, year by year, the green house is being over taken by one variety. A small plum variety called Aviditas. According to Dobies it was the best tasting tomato from their last tomato trial out of 206 varieties and I would have to agree with them. I think this is the last year that we will grow a big slicing tomato, the flavour is just not anywhere near it. If you like piccolo’s, you’ll love these, the piccolo is slightly more acidic, this is much sweeter and slightly bigger in the mouth. They are perfect cut in half on an open sandwich or with some cheese on a cracker, they cook quickly, so say if one was doing eggs for breakfast and popped these in a pan with a little butter, wait a few moments before adding your eggs, they will be ready when your eggs are. The plants we buy are grafted onto a stronger root stock and are well worth the money, they are prolific and they don’t have a tendency to split.

If I could find them I would grow piccolos as well, but I have to say they are not as prolific, I think this is the second year we have grown Aviditas and everybody that we give them to loves them. I think if you grow them once, you’ll always grow them.

The runner beans and french beans have done well and are just coming towards as second flush as we head into autumn. I also planted a few more broad beans which have set fruit and should give us a final crop in a couple of weeks. Sadly the peas and mangtout are just about finished now.

Swede, carrots and parsnips are coming along. The swede took fine, the carrots are coming along for an autumn crop and had to be sowed three times before taking! and the parsnips have been sowed twice and we only have a few plants. You win some, you lose some.

The beetroot is still going well though, we have plenty coming through.

The corn is coming along, some of the cobs are ripe, I tested this one and the kernel produced a milky sap and I have to say it was delicious. I don’t know why the kernels don’t form right to the top.

And I sowed a second crop of sweetcorn, whether they will come good in time remains to be seen. Fingers crossed eh.

Pumpkins and butternut squash hide beneath big leaves as they quietly get on with their job of growing.

The brassicas do much better protected from the pigeons. We have rainbow chard, cabbages, kale, purple sprouting, broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. I need another cage really to space things out a bit.

The savoy’s are coming along, just starting to heart up,

And the kale has done amazing. That should last us all winter.

The apples have done really well and our fellow plot holder who knew the last owners tell me that this apple is a very good storer, which is good to know.

And the pears have done really well too.

And lastly my leeks, in a little late but doing well even so. We still have half a sack of charlottes, which are delicious when roasted, so if we have any left they will go really well with these leeks.

A little bounty to go home with after a little light weeding. I hope you enjoyed your ramble around our allotment.

Chilli Challah Salad by Midnight Chicken

I often end up with a large nub of sourdough that lingers in the bread bin, waiting to be transformed into cheese on toast or a bread and butter pudding or as has been happening most recently it turns a freckly green and ends up in the bin. I often feel guilty of the waste when that happens and try not to let it happen, even if it’s just bagged up as breadcrumbs and then tossed into the freezer. A good chef will use everything, I think I have been told, many times, while studying for my ‘O’ level in Home Economics, oh so many years ago. So it was with guilt increasing that I turned the page in Midnight Chicken whilst curled up in bed and knew immediately what I would make for lunch the next day.

We have tomatoes and cucumbers in abundance from the allotment, along with chilli’s and garlic and there are always a few onions from the shops knocking around in the bottom of the fridge. In fact the more I looked at this recipe, the more I wondered almost in awe as to how perfect a recipe it is for me, especially at this time of the year. And the alchemy of chilli, anchovy, garlic, balsamic vinegar and olives was magical.

I made a few amendments, I didn’t have red onions or kalamata olives and of course I didn’t have the Challah bread and I increased the level of anchovies, to just under a full tin, having taste tested a couple just to be certain they were okay. I also doubled the quantities, we really do have plenty of vegetables to get through at the moment.

I’m afraid you’ll have to get the full recipe from the book, but here is my version in all its glory.

We had it with long slices of cheddar, slow roasted butternut squash and home grown beetroot. It was absolutely delicious, perfection on a plate.

Some of the leftovers we had for supper and we finished it up as a lovely Sunday brunch with a couple of boiled eggs and the flavours had magnified over night. I do believe this recipe has made it to my salads for lunch list and very welcome it is too.

Midnight Chicken.

I have a stash of recipe books that I have never opened and I don’t mind it, because I know there will be jewels in these books whenever I choose to take them off the shelf on which they reside, stroke their hardback cover and crack open the spine and smell that divine smell only a freshly printed, even if stored for a while, book gives off. Out of all the pleasures that I have in my life, my biggest pleasure is one of a brand new book. It comes about from being a council kid who was an avid reader, all of my books were second hand or from the library to which I trudged to, carrying heavy books on a Saturday morning, bringing back brand new treasures for me to curl up with on a Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. Brand new books are my most wicked of pleasures and I shall never give them up. Fortunately I probably have enough to last a year!

Do you remember when I attended the Food in Art talks at the Royal Academy of Art, which were fabulous, one of the talks mentioned https://atthetable.co.uk is a platform that explores and celebrates British food culture, and it’s fab. Next I joined the newsletter and they send me emails quite regularly and often its a list of recipe books, which for me is quite exciting. In April an email landed while I was feeling a bit flush, so I bought six out of the eight suggested books. They have been waiting patiently for me. I have been busy at the allotment and in the heat of the summer I’m quite minimalist in the kitchen. But the cool of autumn is creeping ever nearer and I am starting to feel refreshed and renewed, and am ready to enjoy both the results of our labours at the allotment and new recipes that will come from far and wide. Let us begin.

Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger has been keeping me company during my bedtime reading for the last week and I have to say I do love her way of writing. It feels genuine and passionate and raw and much later in the book one gets to realise why and it all becomes sad, but Ella, with strength from somewhere carries on with her book and I am so glad that she had such a strong support network around her, because this book is lovely. It is the sort of book that I would happily give to a student or young person that is still finding their way around a kitchen. It is Ella’s foray into her own education at learning to find her feet in the kitchen, but within that there are beautiful elements that illustrate oh so clearly that Ella has an excellent food memory and deep knowledge is already there that she is exploring and I for one can’t wait for her second book.

The other beautiful element of this book are that there are no photographs only illustrations. I love that. It really opens my mind to possibilities and I’m not just staring at a photograph of a plate of food. I did do Food in Art for ten weeks, so for me, this book is simply an extension of that course and the illustrator Elisa Cunningham has done a wonderful job of transferring Ella’s ideas into pictorial imagery. I will show you a few because I can’t not.

It simply makes me happy to read this book and I know we are going to have some fun with it. So my plan is to explore the recipes and share them with you for as long as I want to and then when the urge strikes I will crack open another one of my new recipe books that are waiting for their turn to shine.