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The architect

30 Jan
Probably taken in the late 1940s

Thursday marked 7 years since Dad died. I hadn’t remembered the date, perhaps to my shame. But I realise I don’t lodge death dates in my brain, except for Great Uncle Walter, who died on my birthday – I remember the phone ringing and me expecting it to be someone wishing me happy birthday! The excitement! And then the accompanying sadness, and a sense of guilt that I felt so annoyed that my birthday was ruined by this news. But Uncle Walter had been a grandfather figure to me and my siblings throughout our childhood, when our own grandparents were living in South Africa. Perhaps I will write more on him another day…

Dad was born in 1920, in Berlin. He came to the UK in 1936 to finish school somewhere he would be more able to flourish. The Nazi youth were already being pretty brutal by all accounts. Dad studied architecture, through the war, was interned in Canada for a year and on his return made Scotland his home.

In the early 1950s he had a whirlwind romance with Betty, who was travelling around the coastline of Britain on a white horse … Dad was entranced and a few weeks after they first met, they married in Fortwilliam under the moonlight. I should say that I knew nothing of this story until a few months ago when my sister, his daughter from that first marriage, came to visit.

Coming up to Christmas a few years after his divorce, Dad went to the local gift shop to buy Christmas cards to send to his family in Germany. He had a large family, but only bought one card. The next day he returned and bought another card. And again the next.

Mum was working in that gift shop, and Dad just wanted an excuse to keep returning. They married in March – I’ve never discovered if it was 3 months, or 15 months after they first met.

I inherited the ability to water divine from Dad
Dad designed and had built a ‘wee house’ at the bottom of our garden. I LOVED that wee house – here I am enjoying it with my two brothers.

Anyway, Dad was an architect. And when I come to Galloway, I see him almost everywhere I look – his thumbprint is on so many buildings here, his legacy is all around me. But he left so much more than physical buildings – he left friends who adored him and family (near and far) who loved him. And when it comes to it, what more do we need to leave behind than love?

Dad with his big sister and his Dad
Dad with his two sisters
Dad, a year before he died, at the opening of an exhibition of his student work (yes, his STUDENT work, created more than 70 years earlier)

Swooping swallows

23 Jan

It’s only 7 months since I first started embroidering Mum’s smock, and recording my progress each day with wee stories about our lives, her life. It feels like several lifetimes ago, and it’s interesting to re-live that time, and to recall how far we had already come in our journey with Mum’s dementia.

I am someone who likes to know facts, who feels better if I feel I have some knowledge and if I can put a name to things. So, having seen that Mum wasn’t quite her usual self when I started minding her in January 2021, I researched ‘early stages of dementia’. If this had been a tick box exercise, Mum seemed to tick all the boxes. A typical list of symptoms is here (this one from The Alzheimer’s Society)

  • Memory problems
  • Difficulties in thinking things through and planning
  • Language and communication, for instance struggling to find the right word
  • Poor orientation (this is perhaps the one that I never identified with Mum)
  • Visual-perceptual difficulties
  • Changes in mood or emotion

Soon afterwards I spoke to her wonderful GP, who was professional kindness itself and discussed what, if anything, we should do about this. The GP confirmed that this indeed did sound like it might be the early stages of dementia, and also confirmed that we didn’t need to do anything, or not straight away. I enquired what the advantages of a diagnosis might be, and established that they ‘might be’ easier access to some forms of support. I’m not sure I discovered precisely what that support would be, but I also wasn’t sure what further support we needed or whether anything would actually be supportive.

This was to become the constant quest – ‘what support do we need? what else would help at this stage?’

The GP had established that Mum was not in physical danger, that she was not so vulnerable that she could no longer live on her own, and had also asked after me and how I was coping, which kindness immediately set off my tears.

I cry most easily at times when I am trying to be brave and cope with stuff and people show me kindness.

A few weeks after this conversation with the GP I cried when the local postie (who I only really know to wave at through the window when he delivers the post at Mum’s) was kind, and understood when I explained that Mum may have dementia, and that really the junkmail wasn’t a good thing for her.

With hindsight, so much had already happened by early June, but so much more would happen in the coming weeks. But we will come to that.

So, on Day Two on the #100daysproject I wrote this:

Today wasn’t as chaotic and so all was a bit calmer. And I had a long meeting online at work where I could listen and participate and stab the smock at the same time.

Swallows have swooped in and around our lives every summer for as long as I can remember. They nest in the eaves of Mum’s car port, and they dive bomb us every time we come out the back door.

Embroidering this swallow feels a bit like stabbing skin for a tattoo. The back yoke of the smock will have several swooping swallows.

Spoiler alert: the back yoke only has two swallows and I think it’s unlikely I’ll add any more – if only because in general I only ever see one or two swallows swooping at a time.

I’d be forever grateful if you felt inspired to donate to Alzheimer Scotland, it doesn’t have to be much because I know that every single penny will make a difference. They have a 24 hour helpline to ensure that no-one in Scotland need go through dementia alone. This coming week, could you make a donation instead of paying for a cup of coffee (or some other small treat) one day?

If you want to start at the beginning of this story, go to Taking Smock of the Situation.

Perfecting my choux buns

24 Nov

Taking a holiday on lockdown is a strange old thing isn’t it?

I’m off all week this week, but staying at home (obviously). I feel as though I really need the ‘break’, I’m limping towards the end of the year. But what would a lockdown break look like? What would recharge me?

A series of personal challenges, that’s what. And no, not physical challenges – while that might be good for me, that is very much not my style. And not something I would look forward to.

I reveal my other challenges in a previous post, but this weekend’s was to make choux buns. I’ve made choux pastry once years ago, and all I recall is thinking that this was not something worth repeating – why have flabby, flat, soft pastry when you could have shortcrust instead?

Also, most of my memories of choux pastry aren’t that brilliant to be honest – back in the 70s they seemed like they’d be a terribly exotic dessert, but without fail they always disappointed: a bowl of slightly soggy, soft pastry shells, with questionable creamy stuff inside and a far too sweet chocolate sauce on top. No, I was a knickerbockerglory girl in the 70s.

In my quest to bake a decent choux bun I checked various recipes from my cookbook collection and they all seemed easy, and very similar, so I picked one and got going yesterday.

And it was all going so well, water and butter heated up, flour chucked in and beaten into the hot water to make a paste. Then eggs in, pre-beaten, so I could add just the right quantity of egg to get the right consistency.

But this is where it all went so badly wrong. I quickly ended up with a really liquid batter, and there was no way I could put dollops of batter on a baking tray to cook. I didn’t give up though, and dribbled some onto baking trays, on dampened baking parchment and put them in a very hot oven.

As expected, they came out as choux pancakes.

So I did what I do, and set to working out what had gone wrong and what I had to do differently to get something resembling more of a choux BUN.

(As an aside, the hens absolutely LOVED the choux pancakes, so if ever you have what appears to be a kitchen disaster, just remember that it may be the perfect snack, just not for you).

Anyway, today I made my second batch of choux pastry – and I’ll be honest, I didn’t really take much care over it, getting it half made and then stopping to enjoy a cup of coffee over the Sunday Papers before finishing it. And it appears that this is the best way to approach choux pastry, be off-hand with it, pretend you don’t really care. Ignore it for a while. It’ll come good.

Given that I’m not wild about a regular profiterole I filled my fluffy, light pastry shells with two different fillings: dark chocolate mousse for one lot and cinnamon apple cream for the second lot. I’m pretty happy with these choices, one being rich and decadent, the other tangy and fruity, but still with billowy creaminess.

My top tips for anyone attempting choux pastry for the first time:

  1. Do it!
  2. Use the 2:1:1:2 ratio, but add a wee bit extra flour (this will make sense soon)
  3. Don’t use an enormous pan
  4. Beat the flour, water, butter paste over the heat for a minute or so, till it’s glossy
  5. Let this paste cool for a while before even thinking about beating in the eggs
  6. Make them on the day you want to eat them, they become soggy and flabby if you keep them in an airtight container overnight
  7. Just do it!

Choux Pastry

  • 100ml water
  • 50g butter
  • 50g flour
  • 100g eggs (2 eggs)

Before you start doing anything, look at the ratios of the different ingredients. This is the 2:1:1:2 ratio. Twice as much (by weight) of each of water and eggs as there is of butter and flour.

Now we’ve got that sorted, here’s how to make your perfect choux buns.

  1. Put the water in a wee heavy based saucepan, and cut the chunks of butter into it, and place on a medium heat
  2. Weigh the flour out, and then add just a wee bit more (I think the choux pastry works better with the 2112 ratio just slightly out of kilter, with a smidgin extra flour)
  3. When the butter has melted and the water is just simmering, skoosh all the flour into the pan on top of the hot water-butter and BEAT with a wooden spoon (some people suggest you should place the flour on a folded piece of paper, to make a chute so the flour skooshes nice and fast into the water-butter, but I don’t think this is really necessary)
  4. Now, keep beating for about a minute, still over the heat though turned down a wee bit, till the dough seems glossy and is all coming together in the pan.
  5. Leave the pan to one side and make yourself a cup of tea or coffee now
  6. Pootle about on social media, or pick up a project you’re half way through (for me it’s that amazing mustard coloured cardigan with ALL the cables), or just read a book, or the paper. Whatever distract yourself for 20 minutes or so. You probably want to turn your oven on sometime during this wee break, so it’s hot enough when you come to cook your buns.
  7. Now go back to the kitchen and beat 2 eggs. Don’t bother weighing them, because you are going to do the rest of this by using your senses…
  8. Pour a wee bit of the beaten egg into the dough, and BEAT with your wooden spoon till it’s nicely incorporated; then add another dollop of egg and BEAT again. You’re going to keep doing this till you’ve got the right consistency. You might need all the egg, or you might have a wee bit left over at the end.
  9. You know you’ve got the right consistency when you pick your wooden spoon up, straight, out of the batter, and a sort of V-shaped bit of batter sticks to the bottom of the spoon, without dropping off. If it all drops off, ooopsie, you’ve added too much egg. Another way to check is to poke and stroke the batter – you want to see a wee trough where your finger made a trench in the batter. Basically it needs to hold its own, but kinda only just.
  10. Prepare your baking sheet: line it with a piece of baking parchment, then put it under the tap to get all wet. Pour of the actual water, just leaving a few droplets and a sort of sense of wetness. This helps provide the steamy heat the choux pastry loves in the oven.
  11. Now you can either spoon dollops of batter onto the baking sheet, or you can go all fancy and put it in a piping bag. Whichever you do, if you see wee sticky out pointy bits press them down with a wet finger (otherwise they will burn before the rest is cooked).
  12. Pop them in the oven, for about 15-20 minutes. Some suggest you should take them out a couple of minutes before they are ready (but once they are firm) and use a skewer or a sharp knife to make a wee hole in each bun, to allow the steam out, and to ensure they cook nicely inside. I’d say this is optional, so don’t stress if you forget to do it.
  13. Once they are out, move them to a wire rack to cool. If you haven’t poked a wee hole in them already, do it now so the steam can escape.

Fillings

You can fill these with anything soft and moussy really. The traditional (and possibly slightly old-fashioned) filling is plain whipped cream. And nice as that is, I think we can do better, don’t you. Some suggestions are:

  • Just before serving, pop a spoonful of your favourite ice cream inside each bun and sprinkle with something scrunchy, like chopped toasted nuts or sesame seeds
  • Lightly whip some cream with mascarpone and then fold through some stewed berries, or a fruit coulis
  • Make a quick chocolate mousse. OK, unlikely to be quick because you’ll have to melt the chocolate and then cool in the fridge (but you have time to make this while you’re taking that ‘break’ from the choux pastry-making). For an easy mousse: melt 6oz dark chocolate, cool slightly and then beat in 3 eggs yolks. Whip the 3 egg whites to soft peaks, and stir a big dollop of them into the choc mix. Now carefully fold the rest of the egg white in and leave to set in the fridge. Eat it by the spoonful, or spoon great big dollops of it into each bun. And if you want to go BIG, drizzle melted chocolate over the tops
  • Spread a wee bit of apple cinnamon jelly inside each bun, then fill with cream/mascarpone
  • Fold salted caramel sauce through whipped cream. I don’t have a recipe for salted caramel sauce to hand, but I’m sure you can find one.
  • Fold lemon curd through whipped cream, or a cream/mascarpone mix. That zingy zestiness will be so good. And I happen to have a recipe for lemon curd.
  • Or if you want to go decidedly grown up, check out what liqueurs you’ve got stashed at the back of your drinks cabinet… fold some through your whipped cream. And then think what would go with it… some fresh raspberries with chambord; with frangelico cream dip the tops in chocolate and sprinkle over chopped toasted hazelnuts… but over to you. Now you can make choux buns, you can fill them whatever takes your fancy.

Not in the mood for choux buns? That’s ok, there’s lots of other things you could try your had at here.

Challenges

24 Nov

I have a week off work and have set myself some challenges to complete before I go back to work next Monday, in the hope that this will make my lockdown holiday a bit more inspiring and I will go back to work feeling refreshed and invigorated and as though I’ve achieved something.

Some are quite mundane and because they need to be done, others are because I want to learn a new technique, some are because I think I’ll enjoy them.

  1. Make choux buns DONE!
  2. Make suet crust pastry I’ve decided to postpone this challenge (because it conflicts with my weightloss plan)
  3. Make puff pastry (not rough puff, REAL puff). I’m half way through this… using my Aunt Joyce’s recipe. Will share if it works okDONE! And then I made some sausage rolls
  4. Make hot water crust pastry (and the raised pie!) I may postpone this one too, for the same reason
  5. Make a more interesting bread than my usual
  6. Make creme patissiere
  7. Make some biscuits to post to people I’ve made another batch of ginger nuts, which might be my current favourite biscuit. Will pack some up this afternoon. DONE
  8. Finish knitting the baby jumper for Liz’s wee man
  9. Make the knitting swatches for my Knitting Retreat on Sunday ALMOST DONE. I’ve finished the first one, and half way through the second one. I need to block one now as per instructions
  10. Finish the latest bonnet
  11. Get sorted to be able to start my Advent Knitting Project I’ve got the pattern and wool ready… I just need to make sure I’ve got the right needles.
  12. Organise my knitting / sewing / crochet patterns (real life and online) Online ones DONE. Still need to do the paper ones, but I now have a plan
  13. Organise my room (ie give it a big tidy/declutter!) STARTED, but nowhere near finished.
  14. Organise my WARDROBE (ditto)
  15. Give Puck a BATH
  16. Plant hyacinths, garlic, broad beans
  17. Make a plan for Christmas (and start making gifts)
  18. Post a blog post or two DONE! If I include this one. And I feel back in the groove, so will post more regularly again
  19. Make mincemeat DONE!
  20. Make mincemeat frangipane tarts
  21. Make some more face masks, including ones for the Captain out of his metrosexual shirt DONE!

I’ll update this list as I make progress.

Crunchy, tasty, sweet and salty.

3 Mar

I’m one of those people who likes their sweets to be slightly salty.

Tasty homemade snack bars

Tasty homemade snack bars

I don’t cook with a lot of salt, preferring to use herbs and spices. I’ve bought into the ‘fact’ that too much salt is bad for you. However, there was a credible article in the Sunday Times the other week, highlighting new evidence which showed that the low sodium diet was as damaging as the high sodium one. My father has always just tipped the salt pot upside down and sprinkled it liberally over his plate, often then creating a small salt mountain on the side of the plate to dip forkfuls of food into. He’ll be 95 in a couple of months, so his super-high salt diet hasn’t exactly limited his life too much.

Anyway, although I like my sweets salty, I’m less keen on my savoury dishes being too sweet. I’m not a big fan of putting fruit into a stew or casserole. My exception is good redcurrant or rowan jelly with a roast meat. Or a not-too-sweet apple sauce with roast pork.

But back to the salty sweetness. When I was in the US last year, with a work colleague, we discovered Nature Valley’s Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bars. It was love at first bite for me. They aren’t available here in the UK, although there’s a huge variety of similar products. But I can’t be trusted in a sweet shop, so have to confess I haven’t tried terribly hard to find a suitable substitute.

I hadn’t thought of making my own. Why hadn’t I? I must be entirely mad.

Anyway, once the thought came to me, I flicked through all my recipe books and scoured the internet for the perfect sweet and salty crunchy nutty bars. And then I adapted. This isn’t entirely true. I can’t lie. What really happened is that I came across a recipe on Half Baked Harvest’s blog and decided it was time to get experimenting. This recipe is adapted from hers. It is the perfect crunchy, sweet, salty, nutty snack. But it’s not as healthy as eating an apple, so although they are addictive, try to ration them.

Crunchtastic sweet and salty nutty bars

  • 250g / 3 cups porridge oats
  • 35g / 1 cup rice krispies (or any puffed rice cereal)
  • 40g / 1/4 cup roasted salted nuts (peanuts is fine, but mixed nuts would work just as well)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 125g honey
  • 130g peanut butter
  • 30g butter or coconut oil (I prefer to use coconut oil these days)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F or GM4. Line a 9″ x 13″ baking tray with greaseproof paper. Leave an overhang of paper over one long side of the tin (to make it easier to remove the bars later)

  1. Mix porridge oats, krispies, nuts, salt, and bicarb of soda in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre
  2. Put the honey, peanut butter and butter (or coconut oil) in a small pan and warm gently till all the ingredients are melted
  3. Add the vanilla
  4. Stir the melted ingredients till they are all combined into a sweet and goopy sauce
  5. Pour all this melted mixture into the well in the centre of the dry ingreds.
  6. Stir well to combine it all together. Try to make sure there are no dry bits left in the bowl
  7. Pour this into the prepared tin. Get a big metal spoon (or a metal measuring cup) and lightly oil the back of it, then use this to press all the mixture down into the tin
  8. Put in the oven and bake for about 20 mins, or until golden brown. Watch out, it can go from perfect to ‘slightly burnt’ quite quickly.
  9. When you take it out of the oven, try to slide the whole lot out of the tray onto a heatproof surface, and then walk away from it for at least half an hour. (I’m only telling you to do this so that you don’t end up trying to cut the bars when they are still in your baking tray, and you end up ruining your tray, with knife scores across it)
  10. Once it is cool, try to cut it into pieces. You’ll need a sharp knife, and some of it might crumble a bit. Any extra crumbs left, pour into an airtight pot and use for sprinkling over yoghurt, or ice cream or in a crumble.
  11. Keep the bars in an airtight tin, for as long as possible. You may need to put them on a very high shelf, out of your reach. Or to give them to friends.

Suggested adaptations – you could add dark chocolate chips, or dried fruit (cranberries, chopped up apricots, raisins). Or desiccated coconut. Or, cinnamon would be nice, Or chopped dried apples, with some cinnamon, a pinch of cloves and some ginger. You could probably replace the honey with agave syrup, or golden syrup, although I’m not sure why you’d want to do that.

And apologies if you don’t have digital weighing scales. I was old-school for YEARS, but bought a digital set recently (so I could weigh out my 7g of yeast to make home made bread) and it has entirely changed how I bake. Just pop the bowl on the scales and add the next ingredient. Easy peasy. They’re not expensive and take up hardly any room in your cupboard. Isn’t it time to treat yourself?

Want to find more of my recipes? Take a look here: Shewolffe’s Recipes. If you like this, you’ll probably like my salty nut brittle, but go see what else is in there.

Sweet and salty nut brittle

18 Jan

Is salted caramel still on trend? A couple of years ago it seemed to be everywhere. And I was happy. I love that combination of sweetness and saltiness. I adore peanut butter, adore it even more on hot buttered toast with marmite. Or incorporated into a sweet with chocolate and a biscuit base.

So, a simple salty, nutty caramel brittle is pretty much the perfect sweet to make. And it turns out it was pretty much the perfect home-made Christmas present to give to nephews too! (Although obviously not for you, if your nephews have nut allergies).

Salty nut brittle 

  • 340g mixed nuts, preferably not salted. The type of nuts doesn’t really matter, but why not buy a bag of peanuts, of brazil nuts and pecans. Or hazelnuts, and macadamia and almonds. Whatever you prefer.
  • 400g sugar. Ordinary granulated sugar is fine, or you could use caster, or golden caster
  • 120mls water
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g golden syrup
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Maldon sea salt (there are other brands, but please use a good quality salt in flakes, not ordinary table salt)
  1. Preheat oven to 350F / 180C / GM 4
  2. Spread the nuts onto a big baking tray, as big as you’ve got – you’re aiming to get them into a single layer, if possible
  3. Roast the nuts in the oven for about 8 minutes, give or take. You’re looking for a golden browniness, not burnt.. and there’s a relatively short window of opportunity between the two. To make it easier in a minute or two, pour the nuts onto a large sheet of greaseproof paper or kitchen foil, or a bowl (this is so that you can QUICKLY pour them from whatever receptacle they are in, into a pan of hot hot hot caramel later on). While you’re at it, get another sheet of greaseproof paper, and line the baking tray with it, and leave to one side. You’ll need it soon.
  4. Now put the sugar, water, butter and golden syrup into a heavy based saucepan, and gently heat, stirring till the butter is melted and the sugar has all dissolved.
  5. Pop a sugar thermometer into the pan, and leave it in there while the mixture heats up to the boil. Keep it boiling, and stir occasionally if you can’t stop yourself
  6. Keep an eye on that sugar thermometer, and as soon as it reaches 150C (which incidentally is between ‘soft crack’ and ‘crack’ on my thermometer) take it off the heat, and quickly stir in the bicarbonate of soda.
  7. It should all swoosh up a wee bit which is exactly what you want it to do. Work quickly – pour in the nuts and stir them in. And then pour the whole lot out onto a baking sheet, with a piece of greaseproof paper on it
  8. Use the back of a spoon to spread the mixture nice and thinly … but not TOO thin
  9. Sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes
  10. And now walk away for a while. Leave it be. Come back when it’s cool
  11. Break it up with your hands and store in an airtight container. Then hide it somewhere you can’t reach, just to save yourself from eating more than you really should

I popped great big shards of this into kilner jars as Christmas present this year, and they went down a treat. If the shards had been smaller, I might have considered dipping them in chocolate to add to the sugar-salt-nut treatiness. It wasn’t required, but just imagine it enrobed with lush dark chocolate. Mmm.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

 

Desert Island Bites

3 Jan

I love Radio 4. I can’t remember what age I was when I first realised that it was what I wanted as the soundtrack to my life, but now it’s on whenever I’m cooking. And I cook a lot.

Weekends nearly always include Desert Island Discs, while I’m baking or making soup, or stew or something that’s caught my eye in a cookbook. I’ve never quite worked out what my eight discs would be, but it would probably include more 80s hits than I’d like to admit. And maybe some early Genesis. Years ago I decided my luxury would be a pack of cards, and my book would be a compendium of games of solitaire. But I think I’ve grown up since then, and doubt that I would want to while away my hours (days? weeks? months?) on my desert island perfecting game after game of solitaire. Or not. Because how many of the games would actually be all about chance and not about my skill level? How frustrating would that be?

Anyway, I’m no longer sure what my luxury would be – perhaps some endless supplies of glorious perfumes, so I could make my own hand and body lotions, with whatever I can forage (I’m imagining coconuts here) and then I could perfume them as I wished. Or I could just spritz myself with something delicious in times of need. One of my claims is that all situations can be improved with a spritz of perfume, and an application of lipstick. Many’s the time I’ve been seen to do this ‘double’ at my desk.

There’s a chocolate bar in the UK called a Bounty Bar. It’s a lovely soft coconutty thing, smothered in chocolate, either dark or milk. In the 80s the Bounty advert was set on a desert island, with beautiful people in cropped tops (it was the 80s remember) having a hedonistic time and eating Bounty bars. Well you would, wouldn’t you?

So, here is my recipe for my version of a Bounty Bar. It’s not really the same, but it is delicious. And very easy to make. And your friends will be very impressed when you give them a wee bag of your home made desert island bites.

Desert Island Bites

  • 3 cups desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • a very large bar of good quality chocolate – milk or dark, whatever you prefer
  1. Mix coconut and icing sugar in a large bowl
  2. Add in the condensed milk and melted coconut oil
  3. Mix well together (using your hands is the easiest way to do this, perhaps the stickiest as well)
  4. Take about a teaspoon sized bit of the mixture and roll it in the palms of your hand to create a wee ball
  5. Place the ball of coconut truffle on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper
  6. Do this again and again and again until all the mixture is used up
  7. Pop the balls in the fridge or freezer for about half an hour
  8. Meanwhile, melt your chocolate in a double boiler
  9. Now comes the messy bit. Drop the balls, one by one, into the melted chocolate and then rescue them out again with a couple of forks. They might need a sort of a shoogle to shake of excess chocolate.
  10. Pop the chocolate coated truffles onto another baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and when you’ve done them all, pop them in the fridge. Unless your kitchen is as cold as mine ,in which case you won’t need to.

Serve with an espresso after you’ve had a lovely relaxing supper. Or put them in a nice wee box with some tissue paper, to make them look a bit chi-chi, and give them to a friend who needs a wee treat. Or head off to your desert island and be a hedonist.

For more recipes, go to my index here.

Memories, remembering, remembrance

9 Nov
The War Memorial
Gatehouse of Fleet

It is nearly 11am, on Remembrance Sunday, a time for reflection.

In my childhood I took part in the Remembrance parade at Gatehouse, the small town where I was brought up. Most of the town took part in some way – I consider standing watching this parade as participating. Some years we had bright shiny sun and a blue sky, other years were less kind, and there were years of grey clouds, of smirry rain and one or two of proper big rain. But still the town turned out to remember. Mum nearly always wore her Astrakhan coat. I never really knew what an Astrakhan coat was, except that it was an inherited, enormously heavy black fur, with a curly coat, like a big black lamb. We all wrapped up warm. We were all freezing cold by lunchtime.

We would march up the town, past the clock tower to the War Memorial, a simple granite cross. The traffic through the town was stopped, and this, perhaps more than anything was what first told me that this was important. Mum told me about her Uncle Bobby who had died in the war, but when I was young I don’t think I really understood. I felt I should think of real people during that 2 minute silence, but I didn’t feel emotionally connected to anyone who had died in a war. I didn’t actually know any of them. I am lucky in that I still have no direct connection to anyone who has died in any war. But I do feel a real connection with this act of remembrance. I feel it is an honour and a duty for me to recognise it in some way each year.

When I first lived in London in the early 1980s I attended the ceremony at the Cenotaph each year, probably for about 8 – 10 years. It felt like the right thing to do, to show my respect, my thanks for those who had given their lives so that we could live in freedom. I thank them. And thank them again. I suspect that attending the Cenotaph is a different experience these days; there will be more security, and just more people there. The crowds were much smaller in the 80s and early 90s, despite the recent war in the Falklands. Most years, I had a direct line of sight to the Queen, who was only 30 or 40 feet away from me.

Since then I have mostly listened to it on Radio 4, or watched the BBC coverage of the ceremony. I don’t remember in what year it was that a silent tear first fell down my cheek, but now it never fails. So, here I sit considering those familiar words:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them

In my mind I feel the weight of the flag, as I lowered it, that one year. The determination not to let it wobble as it lowered, or as I raised it again. It may only have been the Girl Guide flag, but it mattered. It still does.

Memories are important.

Remembering matters.

Remembrance shows we care.

St Paul’s Cathedral
London
The Garden of Remembrance
Edinburgh

Perfect salad for when you have the best tomatoes

28 May

You already know that I love buying and cooking and eating local food. So when Clyde Valley Tomatoes were back at my local farmer’s market earlier this month, I knew we’d be eating tomatoes all week!

I wanted to make a salad which would showcase the varieties of tomatoes.

Spring haul from farmer's market

Spring haul from farmer’s market

On the drive home I thought of a salad I used to make many years ago: fattoush. And then another tomato and stale bread salad: panzanella. I hadn’t made either for years, and started hankering for that melding of flavours and textures. Yes, these tomatoes were destined to become one big dish of delicious salad. Served with cold meats for lunch.

Panzanella

  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced and left in a bowl of ice cold salted water for an hour
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • a punnet or two of ripe tomatoes from Clyde Valley Tomatoes. Or perhaps about 8 medium tomatoes – if you’re using wee ones, feel free to double the quantities
  • 200g stale(ish) sourdough bread
  • 4 TBsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 TBsp capers
  • 2 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 6 TBsp extra virgin olive oil
  • small bunch of fresh basil
  1. Cut the peppers into big flattish pieces and pop them under a grill skin side up so the skin blackens. Alternatively use a toasting fork (who has such a thing these days?) and burn the skin over a gas hob, or chuck them in a hot oven. Or use a blow torch. You’ll know how you like to do it. Once the skin is black, put the pieces of pepper into a bowl and cover with cling film for 20 minutes or so.
  2. Cut the tomatoes into large chunks and place in a colander over a bowl. Sprinkle some salt over them and leave to drain while you prepare everything else
  3. Cut (or tear) the bread into chunks, about the same size as your tomato chunks and put them into a salad bowl and drizzle with vinegar
  4. Drain the onion and add it to the salad bowl
  5. Add the capers
  6. By now your peppers might be ready for peeling, so peel off the black skin, or as much of it as you can and cut the pieces of naked pepper into strips. Put them in the bowl
  7. Press down on the tomatoes and squeeze out lots of juice, then put the tomato flesh into the salad bowl
  8. Add the chopped anchovies and olive oil to the tomato juice and whisk
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste
  10. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss. Pick off some basil leaves and tear them onto the salad
  11. Leave for 15 minutes or so at room temperature – or outside in the sunshine
  12. Serve as one of those lunches where the table is covered with bowls and plates and ashets of this and that tasty treats.

Of course you could skimp some of the steps or tweak the recipe as you go:

  • If you don’t soak the onion right at the beginning, it will taste too harsh (for my taste buds). You might prefer to use red onion, or spring onions
  • Don’t bother pouring the vinegar over the bread. I think you’ll regret missing out that step though!
  • Add garlic. In fact most recipes include garlic. I just forgot to add is when I made it and enjoyed the garlic-free breath, and how the other flavours all sung out at me
  • Add cucumber, celery, chilli, crisp lettuce
  • Omit the anchovies if you’re feeding vegetarians. Obviously!

Basically make this your own panzanella – so long as you have the very best tomatoes and some good quality bread, you’ll make something delicious.

No pictures though, we ate it too quickly!

 

2013 in review

5 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog and I thought I’d share it with you… read on, if you’re interested.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,200 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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