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 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.

One year, no buy, week 2.

This week has been much more difficult. Remember the eyeliner from last week, well as I went into deeper thought about this along with using this eyeliner a couple of times I noticed that it often broke. And one day it did it too many times and I then broke and so I wrote to Chanel. And they were lovely. They offered to replace it, but they were no longer producing that particular colour way. And I didn’t want another colour way, I wanted that colour way, that beautiful Fervent Blue with a tiny shimmer of sparkly silver in it, its exquisite.

And if I’m really, really careful, I can just about use it. But I know it will break and it really will be just for Christmas and New Year.

So I then started to explain my predicament to hubby, in context of the no buy year. I think at one stage he murmured ‘it must be difficult to be a Mandy’. But I brushed that aside, as I explained about having found that John Lewis still sell them and that they are no longer being produced, so they won’t be receiving any more and how very attached I am to this particular eye liner. But at the same time balancing my argument with how things like that happen all the time, mainly because of the marketing men and short shelf life of all things fashion and it will just give me another excuse to find a beautiful blue and sparkly eyeliner, but at the same time explaining that it simply takes years to find one that one truly loves.

I also explained that it takes 21 days to start a new habit and how important the no buy year is to me, as I simply have enough of nearly everything, apart from one blue eyeliner!

And then half an hour later I resurfaced from all of this self imposed anxiety and made a decision that I wasn’t going to repurchase, that this was exactly the sort of pain in the trial that I will undoubtedly experience many times, and is part of the process of the one year no buy.

The next day, hubby says, let’s go to Birmingham and we will buy that eyeliner for you. My heart leapt with joy, of course it did. And then a little while later, I thought, No, if I go into the store then it will reinforce all of my previous behaviours and before you know it I’ll be running amok in the aisles of Chanel and YSL, sniffing and poking and touching whilst having a lovely time!

And he left it, and then he said half an hour later, ‘Why don’t you go online, I want to buy you this, it will cheer you up’. (I’ve been a bit blue in other areas of my life of late) And I looked at him and I thought what can I do with a hubby like you! He knows what I’m doing so he is giving me a way out, with him buying it, not me. Then proceeds to tell me about his new found wealth from winning the lottery, all £134.00 of it and he wants me to spend it on makeup!

Apart from thinking ‘oh bless you’, I realised that I hadn’t stocked up on my essential (for me!) life affirming ingredients, and if it makes me happy and it will be going out of stock maybe I should. I popped in an eye shadow for good measure that I’ve been looking at for ages and I’m good to go.

I think he’s right, sometimes it is difficult being a Mandy.


At last I’ve sorted out my sewing room (aka spare bedroom) and can get back into it to do a spot of sewing. I’ve been twitching to make a quilt for ages and when I decided to do my no buy year, I came up with the idea that all Christmas presents had to be handmade from stash by me. I am finding the urge to knit and sew again quite strongly, which is pleasing.

I think I can safely show you what I am up to, it is a Christmas present for son no.1 and I am pretty sure that he never reads my blog. He also knows I am making a quilt for him, but just in case there will be other items that won’t be mentioned until after Christmas.

I made 12 squares of a log cabin design from a jelly roll from Moda called Gratitude that I had bought over two years ago. Actually I bought three jelly rolls at the same time as it was my intention to make a superking quilt, which is a good thing I did as when I asked Son no.1 what size he would like he wanted the superking size. So I am doing 36 squares and it will measure approx 6ft 9″ square. There are twenty strips left which will provide plenty for binding. I may have enough wadding, if I patchwork the wadding and I think I may have enough backing… I might have to patchwork that as well. And I have enough thread, so at the moment I am winning on my no spend.

It is coming together quite quickly at the moment as I decided that I would chain piece it, meaning that I am adding the same rectangle to each square and whizzing through it.

I haven’t decided on my layout but you can see how it works with the lights and darks.

The pattern came from Jordan Fabrics, I am really enjoying her tutorials on youtube at the moment.

One Year No Buy, week 1

1st week completed. It was quite an interesting week. I noticed I definitely have the urge to shop, or just wander around the shops when I want distraction therapy and I don’t consider myself that much of a shopper, but I clearly use it to self soothe.

I’ve already noticed that my favourite Chanel eyeliner in Fervent blue is perilously short, I have others of course, but that one is my favourite colour, it is gorgeous bright blue with a little bit of sparkle in it, which makes my eyes light up. I shall save it for going out, out. I have a plan to put my favourite items that run out in a little box as an aid memoir so as to be able to replace them in 12 months. It will be interesting as to what I do replace and what I decide is no longer deemed vital.

I will of course replace vital items for instance my moisturiser from Lancome contains a sun block and being fair of face and blue eyed, I need that and have nothing else that could do. So that will be replaced when it needs to be, although there is Christmas coming up, so I might ask for some from Santa.

So apart from the mental anguish on finding something else to self soothe, it has all gone really well. I must find some Autumn pursuits, I think chestnut hunting will be on my list to do very soon.

One year no buy.

I counted my lipsticks last night, just for fun. 35 of them. That wasn’t including the odd lipstick that will be found in a handbag or two. I’ve always loved make up, so when I lost my hair about thirteen years ago, I took to picking up the odd lipstick as a quick pick me up. I could justify it easily, in the past a trip to the hairdressers might give me a new me, but nowadays a swipe of colour on the lips is all that I can do to change my image and give me an instant lift.

Well, the lipstick habit has progressed, it now includes…expensive eye palettes, foundations, blushers, eye pencils, lip pencils, cleaners, toners, serums, face masks, moisturisers, hand creams, body creams, bath bombs, etc, etc, etc. Enough I should think to last me a year, or even two.

When I look at my wardrobe, I think I’ve got enough shoes/slippers/sandals/walking boots to last me for at least ten years.. Clothes of course deteriorate, but I’m pretty well equipped for a good while yet. I have more than enough bags and coats to last me.

And as for wool and fabrics and books, I have more than enough.

So as from yesterday, but I’ll count it from the 1st September (just for ease of memory) I start my one year no buy. Hubby is joining in but I’m not keeping him accountable, he can dip in and out as he wishes, he’s not a shopper anyway, so he probably won’t even notice he’s doing it.

My rules of engagement are thus.

Firstly I am allowing myself a treat a month for the next four months. My magazine subscription to Simple Things will continue, I love receiving it and get so much pleasure from it that it will continue for the next four months, Autumn is my favourite time of the year and the magazine simply comes into its own with ideas for Autumn/winter/Christmas. I’ll then have a bit of a think.

Expenditure on travel and exhibitions is freely allowed, as is pet health care, our own health care and replacements deemed vital for household items.

Eating out is for days out or special occasions only and then there must have been thought into what we are proposing to do and if we can supplement that with items from home.

The Sunday Times is allowed. No negotiation required.

Along with good food and wine.

And time with friends in the pub is always allowed.

It is going to be an interesting year.

Son no.1’s Birthday bash.

Just a quick picture to remind me what a great lunch we had, altogether just us 5. Son no.1 is 30 now, Gosh, Wow, I’m definitely middle aged, fast moving towards old age.. I don’t feel like that, I feel like I am still a child, continuing to grow and mature. Son no.1 often helps with that though, challenging my ideas, making me see my flaws, practically every conversation I have with him, he’ll pick flies with my internal thought process. I wonder if that ever changes, I wonder if children ‘Ever’ think, ‘oh wow Mum you have some wisdom, I just couldn’t see it,’ I doubt it. It’s good, I like it, I’m proud of him for being such a keen thinker of the political/sexist/racist/environmental situations that exist in the world today. Things often pass me by and he brings things into sharp focus for me. Love that boy.

First pickings

A medley of tiny vegetables and edible flowers straight of the allotment. They were delicious and gave us a taste of the treats to come. In the basket today was courgettes, peas, broccoli, spring onions, new potatoes, little gem and iceberg lettuce and nasturtiums. A bountiful basket of goodies that were delicately cooked, anointed with butter and savoured, almost reverently, definitely mindfully, each and every mouthful.

The allotment in June.

We’ve been busy at the plot of late and are starting to find our groove in the vegetable and fruit year. Every year is different, depending on time allowable at the plot, health and strength, heat or cold, rain and sunshine and pests. One really never knows how it is going to go, but fingers crossed there comes a point where one sees the weight of ones endeavours tip the balance of favourability towards it being a good year and I think we have just reached that point.

Before I start I will tell you about our failures, the carrot or parsnips didn’t take, the onions didn’t do any good, the beetroot was patchy. We’ve resown the parsnips and carrots, its not too late, we should get something. I have a few onions left, nothing worth mentioning, but enough to flavour a dish or two. This week I have sown leeks, a little late but they should catch up, enough peas for another row, some more mange tout, spring onions, lettuce and an all year around cauliflower for continuity and some more sweetcorn for the autumn. I’ve also sown swedes and coriander along with a little extra rainbow chard. Flower seeds have been popped in the ground, sunflowers finally put into their final place and nasturtiums nestle under the hazelnut tree.

Garlic has been lifted and is now drying for a couple of weeks, I might even have a go at plaiting some.

Lettuces are starting to do well, I should start to crop them in a week or two.

The Crown Prince pumpkins are telling me they would rather it was a little warmer, but they should do fine once it warms up and nestled in is some spring onions for salads.

Our mint is doing well, for the first year it is outstripping our notoriously high demand. Flowering thyme behind that and some rosemary. In another bed we have the most tasteless strawberries you ever did meet, I’m looking for a new variety for next year, if anyone has got any hints and tips on that I’d appreciate it.

The fruit patch which has goosberries, red currants, black currants, blueberries, two apples and one pear tree.

Apples are doing well,

And the pears look magnificent.

The blackcurrants are just starting to ripen, this rain we are having today will be wonderful for them.

The patchy beetroot, such is the trouble that happens when one is battling against the cold and racing for an early crop, but there are a couple of rows like this, so its not all lost and there will be some more for autumn.

The sweetcorn looks to be doing well. ‘licks lips and prepares big pats of butter’

I love these golden courgettes, they are just so pretty.

And soon I will be awash with them as I always grow too many, but there are always happy faces when I appear at our local pub with a few to give away.

Spuds are doing well. International Kidney, aka Jersey Royals to you and me, along with some Charlottes which are 2nd earlies. I don’t grow main crop because they take too much space up and I would rather grow more expensive items and buy a sack of spuds from a local farm. But the sweetness of a new potato straight from the ground is one of life’s simple pleasures.

The brassica’s. Oh so much here. Cabbages both winter and summer and cauliflowers, kale and brussel sprouts, chard and broccoli and purple sprouting. It will thin out as the summer goes along as we eat the summer cabbages and the early cauliflowers.

Peas, mangetout and broad beans.

Some of the peas are nearly ready to pick. Hubby had left the cover off so I think they have had a bit of a pecking from the local wood pigeons, but the covers back on now, so they should recover nicely.

Broad beans are starting to flower.

And the mange tout look very healthy, but have yet to flower.

We have runner beans and french beans, which I have to say are not enjoying the cold.

And then we have the greenhouse which is hubby’s piece de resistance this year. A two tier greenhouse no less. He has dug the borders out and replaced with compost and then planted the tomatoes in tubs with the bottom cut out, which allows the roots to find the dampness below. The tomatoes are grafted onto a strong root stock so they will climb and climb, covering the roof by the end of the season, enabled by a heath robinson structure of bamboo canes. Underneath we have a veritable smorgasbord of tasty treats.

Starting with marigolds, not for us, but for the tomatoes to help keep the whitefly at bay. It seems to work because we never have whitefly.

Followed with tasty lettuces, I think these are little gems.

Chilli’s dot between the plants.

Cucumbers are in the corners. One in a pot one in the border, it will be interesting to see which does best.

And last but not least clumps of spring onions.

I hope you have enjoyed your little walk around my allotment, it is our second year on this new plot. Although there are still a few big jobs to do, I feel that we are really starting to make it our own and enjoy its hidden charms.