Eating Cherries

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I absolutely love that summertime feeling.  You know the one?  When the sun is shining and it feels warm enough to heat your bones. The sky glows with hope, and everyone you meet has a spring in their step, and a smile on their face.  Well, almost everyone.

The thing is, where I live you can never bank on this sensation in the summer months.  We spend weeks prior to the official start of summer, full of expectation. Then the topic of conversation, which starts around mid April, begins to swerve slightly to the possibility of it being a ‘good summer’.  Of course someone, somewhere will inevitably make a reference to a bygone year, when it truly was a hot one.  Usually the summer of ’76, which just happens to be the first year our family had a summer holiday abroad.

And with this expectation, comes the delight of summer fruits.  All through the winter, and even into spring, we sashay around the fruits on offer, and as enjoyable as they are, by the time strawberries start to show their faces it’s a blessed relief. Not that I have anything against apples, pears, oranges and the like, but the rosy red berries, when they begin to make an appearance, are always an indication that we have officially strolled into summer.  Even when it’s pouring with rain.

So today, in honour of the sunshine and all things summer, we indulged in one of my favourite fruits for the first time.  Cherries.  Plump, deep red, sweet succulent spheres of juicy fabulousness that insist on staining your fingers, face and clothes with absolute gay abandon.

Therefore, it is in honour of this glorious fruit that I have dedicated todays post. Thank-you cherries, you’ve made my day.  And to all those birds that eat our own cherries from the cherry tree at the bottom of the garden before we even get a look in, enjoy.

Generous to a fault, me.

*polishes halo*

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Rice Pudding

 

 

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I woke up this morning and had just one thought.  Rice pudding.

I know some of you may say, ‘What on earth is she thinking, it’s summer’, and I partially agree with this thought.  Rice pudding conjurs up warm cozy fires, hand knitted jumpers and dark evenings.  The only thing I can think is that yesterday was cold, and today, although brighter and not full of that rain that is hardly rain at all but makes you very wet, I have had the thought, so now need to fulfil it.

I’m not too sure when my love of rice pudding started, but I have very fond memories of eating it with my Scottish grandparents, and then at home, when foods out of a tin were ‘the thing’, we would have Ambrosia Creamed Rice and prunes, which also emerged out of a tin.

However, as I ventured into adulthood, rice pudding slipped very low down the list of foods to eat or cook and has only really crawled back into the top one hundred in recent years.  It may be something to do with having children.

So, this is how I make it.  Grease a dish with butter and sprinkle on 120g of pudding rice.  On top of that sprinkle 60g of sugar.  Today I have used soft brown sugar as we still haven’t bought any castor sugar since last Sunday when we made the chocolate cake.  Now I’m not making excuses, but I really do love the taste of soft brown sugar, which more than likely means someone, somewhere has, or will prove soon, that soft brown sugar is two steps away from the devil himself, and unless you want to dance the light fandango very soon you should ‘step away from the soft brown’ now.  However, until that all comes to my attention I am going to remain blissfully ignorant.

Back to the rice pudding.  On top of the sugar I drip approximately one teaspoon of vanilla extract, then add 1 litre of full fat milk before adding 90g of butter and sprinkling with nutmeg.  It is then baked in a low oven, actually, the oven can be as low or as high as you like, what I mean is, it’s baked in an oven which is on a low heat, gas mark 2 for me, and left to do its thing for approximately 2.5 hours.

When you take it out of the oven, give it five minutes or so to get itself together, and serve.

We had it topped with strawberries as a nod to summer, which is delicious, but to be honest, nothing beats jam.  However, our 4 year old had a very astute observation to make about the rice pudding and strawberry combo.

4yo: Mummy, guess what happens to my strawberries when they have rice pudding on them?

Me: What?

4yo: They make the strawberries go warm

I think I see signs of genius emerging.

 

 

Fitting it all in

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When watching television cooks create a wonderful something in a very short time, there is an underlying message that this is always possible.  Not only possible, but an absolute delight to prepare, and so much better for you than anything else.  As and when I have time to watch these pieces of wonder emerge in fifteen to thirty minutes, I nod approvingly and make a pact with myself to go down that route, when said situation arises, glass of wine in hand, nonchalantly throwing together something delicious.

What they don’t ever seem to mention is that you may have spent the whole day on your feet, running around, merrily accomplishing your daily life and all that this entails.  So by the time you are home, bags unpacked, minimal household jobs facilitated, you have lost any inkling of culinary desire, and the very thought of throwing anything together seems enormous.  Except for, perhaps, tea and toast. Not only that, but any idea of foodstuffs which may go together, vanishes from consciousness completely.

And it is at this precise moment when all you can think of is something pre-prepared by someone else, to put into the oven.  Which is what happened today.

So, after a day doing, I manage to rustle up pizza and wedges.  I say I, they were bought from the shop and stuffed into our oven which doesn’t really have enough shelves to accommodate more than one pizza and a tray of wedges, so I ended up doing some fancy moves with baking trays, oven gloves and a near miss disaster of dropping the whole lot whilst rearranging three things on two shelves. Which is another thing the television cooks never have.  A small oven.

However, we see it as a treat.  Obviously not a special treat.  That entails eating the same meal, but on our laps in the living room.

Oh yes, we know how to live.

 

Rose Tinted Glasses

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I’ve had a busy week, one which has found me running behind myself, pushing myself forward to try and catch up with myself.  It has also been a week where I have inadvertently seen myself in either camera or film shots, more times than I’m comfortable with.  Not because I am under any illusion that I’m of celebrity star posing quality, oh no.  It’s more to do with the image I have in my head verses the reality of what is before me.

For instance, I am convinced, every morning, that my hair looks presentable, slightly wild, but ‘interesting’.  In reality, there is a great deal wrong with my perception.  What I see in no way reflects what I feel.  The same as my sense of style.  I am convinced that I have a groovy look going on, but in reality, this flat bottomed, overweight bird is looking at me, and honestly, I hardly recognise her.

However, both of these things are sortable.  I really do need to address the issues of my hair, and start working out a wardrobe that actually suits me rather than one filled with clothes that are a good bargain.  I suppose I could while away the hours at a gym, or run around a park, but I prefer to garden, go swimming and walk dogs.  I just need to do these things more regularly.  Also, it would really help if we actually had a dog.  It’s on the list.

But the thing that probably freaks me out most of all, one that I never thought would, is the ridiculous battle I have in my mind’s eye between looking youthful, and the ageing process.  I didn’t expect to age this way.  I’m not too sure what I expected, if I’m honest.  But it wasn’t this.  There are bits of me, in images I catch of myself, that resemble teachers I had at school.  And they were OLD.

I do notice, that although not a celebrity watcher per se, every now and again a front page catches my eye of someone ‘known’ looking like a bag of spanners.  Just like me.  But it is of little or no comfort whatsoever.  I just think to myself, ‘Know how you feel, love’.  You see the thing is, I was positive that I used to wake up as a Rubens painting, then I thought perhaps Picasso, and now, I promise you, I am veering closer each day to Old Father Time himself.  We could be twins some mornings.  And, if I’m honest, it unnerves me much more than I ever thought it would.

Obviously these thoughts are not all consuming, and seldom reach the surface above all the other much more interesting thoughts and ideas which occupy my mind, but when they do, I am taken aback.  Every time.

Which is one of the many reasons why I wear rose tinted glasses.

Making Bread

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Every so often, I make bread.  Now don’t get too giddy just yet, because, I don’t do the whole ‘mother earth’ thing and knead until I’m coming out in a small sweat, no, no, no, I have my outfit to think of.  Although I was given the loveliest of aprons as part of a Christmas present from my big sister a couple of years ago, but I digress.

My favourite recipe is as follows: 14 fl oz of warm water taken from a kettle which has boiled recently, but not too recently.  My rule of thumb is, if you could make a cup of tea with it and it doesn’t taste like dishwater, the water is too hot.  Next I add two tablespoons of butter, although I have used olive oil and it is just as delicious and great for those who are lactose intolerant.  The way I add my flour may seem a little kookie to you, but I tried doing it all in one go and it just didn’t taste the same.  So, I add 10.5oz of strong plain white flour followed by another 10.5oz of the very same strong plain white flour.  And here I must write about the flour.

I always use ‘Bradshaws, ORION high quality strong white flour which is grown, ground and bagged within a mile of where Big Dave lives.  Big Dave is my dad.  Every so often he will call me up and we arrange to rendezvous, him with a bag of flour, me with a bag of buns.  I promise you it is the most loveliest of flours you will ever bake bread with.  And, I believe, the secret ingredient.

On top of all that I put two teaspoons of sugar, two teaspoons of salt and two teaspoons of dried yeast.

It is all then put into the bread maker, popped onto the dough setting, and left to do its thing.  I leave it for another ten minutes or so when the bread maker has finished, before putting onto a floured surface, kneading for moments, cutting into small circles and placing onto floured baking trays.

I then let the little plump circles of potential heaven, (a nod to Nigella there) rise for around fifteen minutes in a warm space with a tea towel over them and finally pop them into a warmed oven, gas mark 6, for around ten minutes.  Remembering, of course, to remove the tea towel.  You may think it would be impossible to forget, but trust me, in my ‘looks to camera’ moments, I almost have.

There is nothing quite like the smell of home cooked bread wafting around the kitchen.  Except for perhaps, the taste of just cooked bread, buttered, with a glorious cup of tea.  And sometimes, just sometimes, I add honey… delicious.

One goddess point for me I think, no?

Fish and Chips

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There are two things which are an absolute must when you’re at the seaside.  One, you just have to paddle in the sea, and two, it is imperative that you eat fish and chips.

Really?  Yes.  And I’ll tell you why.  

Although we are often all consumed by our daily habits, what we wear, where we must be and when we must be there, when you arrive at the seaside you are drawn to the vast sky which is all around you, and the water that gently beckons, come hither.  And so, you start the sometimes quite long walk to the waters edge, take off your often inappropriate footwear, and release your feet into the gloriously cool liquid which immediately surrounds them and then draws away.  There is nothing like feeling the salt water splashing around your ankles.  It always evokes, for me, childhood.  There is a sense of freedom, which only a light foot dip can provide.

Secondly, whilst at the seaside, there is the ever present aroma of salt water, doughnut sugar, seaweed and fish and chips.  This wafts around as a constant, until you realise you’re absolutely ‘Hank Marvin’ (starvin’) and only fish and chips will do.  The fish tastes succulent and meaty, the chips, crisp and plump.  Salt and vinegar just enhance the already mouth watering explosion happening inside, and seaside perfection is reached.

The seagulls can be a little bit of a problem though, as they do seem to feel that it is their God given right to swoop and steal at any given opportunity.  But it’s worth it and quite frankly, all part of the experience, in my view.  Not everyone shares this view however. 

Kirsty:  “I hate pigeons”

Me:  “That’s a seagull”

Kirsty: “I still hate them”

 

 

 

Spaghetti Bolognese

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Spaghetti Bolognese is one of our family favourites and it genuinely takes hardly any time at all to make.  That is if you make it the easy way, which I do most of the time.  Occasionally, I do the whole chopping of carrots, celery, onions and garlic, slow frying in olive oil before adding the tomato puree, tinned tomatoes, salt and oregano, allowing it to cool then putting it in the fridge to use as a base for all thing pasta.  I then sit back, glowing in my domestic goddess prowess, feeling, if I’m honest, slightly smug.  Occasionally.

Most of the time though, I am not that organised, and end up chopping an onion and garlic, slowly frying in olive oil, adding the mince, browning, then adding a tin of chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano, salt and a couple of cheekie ingredients, that may make the professional cook squirm with horror.  A splash of red wine vinegar, and a teaspoon of sugar.

Having admitted this culinary dirty secret, now may by the moment to share with you memories of a meal we had in Venice a few years ago.

Before that though, I feel I must add a context.  As a child we were brought up by a mum who loved to try out new things, so when spaghetti bolognese was introduced onto the scene, she decided to make it part of her menu.  We lived in a small place where these foreign foods were seen as something avant garde.  Thankfully, her desire to experiment with the ‘new’ far outweighed her desire to follow the chosen culinary path.  Aided, of course, by the then fresh face of Delia Smith.  And to this end, spaghetti bolognese was presented on the television as a food to be eaten with both a spoon and fork, which is what we did.

Forward to our trip to Venice many years later.  Whilst wandering around the beautiful alleys and bridges of a city which seems frozen in time, we came across what we imagined to be, a little gem of a cafe hidden away off the beaten track.  In all honesty, it’s probably frequented by all and sundry, but to us, it was a perfect ‘found’ secret.  As there was hardly anyone else in, we sat down and ordered.  I chose spaghetti bolognese and began to eat it, instinctively, with a spoon and fork.

The restauranteur of this tiny cafe looked on with a mixture of disgust and ratification of belief, before smiling in a condescending manner, and getting on with his day.  Initially, I was confused as to his reaction, then crestfallen to realise that I had confirmed all his preconceived suspicions.  As British people, we had no culinary cultural understanding whatsoever.

And so it is with the spaghetti bolognese I make now.  It may seem to others that I am making a complete culinary faux pas, but I promise you, it does taste delicious.

And by the way, I have upped my game and now only use a fork.