Sunday, 24 October 2010
Sunday, 3 October 2010
Everyone can cook. Actually I have to take that statement back straight away, on reflection not everyone can cook, but everyone must eat. Whilst some eat just to live, most of us I think in addition to nourishment, eat for pleasure. I love to cook AND eat and it is something I do every day of course. Epicurus the Greek philosopher said along with many other wise musings, that “one must practice the things which produce happiness,” No surprise then if I tell you I spend many long and happy hours in my kitchen baking, cooking and recently experimenting with recipes. I realise that there are many people who like me love to cook and are fascinated enough by food to find nothing even faintly ridiculous about reading cookbooks in bed or thinking about ingredients or recipes in those spare idle moments. Of course it is often difficult to find any spare idle moment that can't be filled with a must do chore.
Yesterday was one of those days.
Having ownership of an apple tree that feels obliged to produce several kilos of apples each year is, believe me, a chore. How to store them, cook them or dispose of them occupies your thoughts from late August to November. I have tried every recipe going containing apples with the bid to use as many as possible just to stop myself feeling bad about composting the lot. I have attempted to give them away but no takers; everyone I know seem to be trying to force their windfall garden produce on me instead. I have apple trees, so I have to make Apple jelly, it is the simplest way of getting rid of a few kilos of apples with hardly any effort.
For this recipe you need 5lbs of cooking apples, chop them up, but check them first to be sure they have no bruises and blemishes. There is no need to peel or core. Place in a very large sauce pan and add enough water to sit level with the apples in the pan, about 3 pints. Heat up until the apples start to turn mushy. Add 6 cloves, a sprinkle or three of ground ginger and some lemon juice and a cinnamon stick ( the cloves and cinnamon stick should be removed at the potting stage).
This is the moment that occurs at this time every year when I realise I should have bought a jelly bag as I won't be able to strain the mixture over night to capture the pure apple essence. I wonder who actually has a jelly bag apart from say Delia or Gary Rhodes. I kick myself because I don't have one and driving in to town to get one from Lakeland is just not going to happen, can't see myself making that journey. And so a cheap pair of tights ( new of course) are my genius substitute. It does the job!! I tie it to the door knob of a kitchen cupboard and Robert is your father's brother!!
Early next morning, measure the juice you have strained and for every pint ( 600ml) add one lb (500g) of sugar. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved, add the chopped tarragon, grated lime and finely chopped garlic. Skim any scum off surface and boil hard to setting point. Pot in warm sterilised jars. Label and store
Sunday, 26 September 2010
Growing tomatoes is something anyone can do whatever the size of their gardens. Two tomato plants in a couple of pots will yield enough harvest to make several jars of chutney and adorn a salad or two. As I am, unlike my husband, not a big fan of chutney, this year I decided to oven dry some of the tomato harvest. Unfortunately given the unpredictable weather in England, sun drying is not always an option. Oven drying however is a good alternative and easy enough that very little skill or effort is require, except perhaps a good memory. When choosing the variety of tomatoes to grow, go for the very sweet variety for oven drying purposes, as the sweetness is intensified by this method of preserving and makes for better eating pleasure.
You will need:
A good amount of ripe tomatoes, sliced quite thinly.
Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
That’s all. This method of preserving relies solely on the flavour of the tomatoes.
Place the slice tomatoes in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet, sprinkle with salt. Place in the oven at the lowest temperature possible and leave for about 10 hours. The tricky part is not forgetting about them completely, as you may find that they are dried beyond the point of redemption. Once they are dried but still with a tiny bit of moisture and flexibility, put them in a clean sterilised jar and at this point you can add fresh torn basil. Pack them in tightly and cover with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Seal and label and store in a dark cupboard for a few months to let the flavours infuse before use.
Saturday, 25 September 2010
Cinnamon Apple Sandwich Cake
At this time of year there is always a glut of apples and over the years I have made a whole array of recipes. There is, however, only so much you can take of row upon row of apple jelly, crumbles and pies. So this year I have been looking for different ways to diminish the glut. Last night when I came home I had the urge to bake so I made up this cake, based loosely on a Victoria Sandwich.
Weighing your eggs is a tip I stole from the Hairy Biker’s cookbook. You weigh the eggs and simply use the same weigh of butter, flour and sugar. My four eggs came to 9 ozs so the recipe is based on that.
4 free range eggs
9oz butter, at room temperature
9oz caster sugar
90z self raising flour, sifted
1tsp baking powder
2 cooking apples: one diced and one thinly sliced.
4 tbsp crème fraiche
A pinch or two of cinnamon to taste
A few drops of vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
½ oz melted butter
2 tbsp caster sugar
5 oz soften butter
½ tsp cinnamon
Jar of home-made Apricot jam
1. Heat the oven to 180c (160c fan) 350F, gas mark 4.
2. Grease and line two sandwich tins
3. Beat the butter and caster sugar together until light and creamy. Then gradually add the beaten eggs and crème fraiche. Add a small amount of flour to avoid curdling.
4. Gently stir in the vanilla extract, sifted flour, baking powder and cinnamon until it is a smooth, soft dropping consistency. Stir in the chopped apples.
5. Divide the mixture between the two tins. Arrange the thinly slice apples on top of one cake.
6. Mix the melted butter with the caster sugar and cinnamon and brush over the top of the cake.
7. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the cakes have risen, is golden and firm to touch. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.
8. Mean while beat the butter until light and fluffy, incorporate the icing sugar and cinnamon. When the cakes are cool sandwich them together with the butter icing and apricot jam. Sift caster sugar on top.
Monday, 13 September 2010
How to make your own Eco Friendly Householder Cleaner..There is really no need to use harsh chemicals, fact is with a few basic ingredients you can make your own household soap cleaner. All you need is about 50g of pure soap flakes, 1/2 a cup of soda crystals, the same of white vinegar, a few drops of tea tree oil and lemon essential oils , have ready five litres of cold water and four and a half litres of hot water. It is simple. First you place the soap flakes and two litres of the cold water in a sauce pan and bring to the boil, then add the soda crystals. Stir it until completely dissolved, stir in the essential oils and white vinegar. Pour into a bucket and add the hot water and the remaining cold water. When cool transfer to smaller containers and label. The is basic cleaner is good for soaking heavily soiled items before washing and then add 2 cups to the washing machine per load for fresh clean laundry. Give it a go.
Strawberry JamYou will need about 3lbs of strawberries and the same of sugar and the juice of half a lemon. That's it...3 simple ingredients. Wash the strawberries and hull them (that's taking the green stem of the top) and mash a few of them. Warm the sugar in a bowl in a low oven about 120 Celsius, 250 Fahrenheit or Gas Mark 1/2. If I'm in a rush, I tend to miss this step out, it doesn't seem to harm the process or the end result. Put the mashed and whole strawberries in a big preserving pan with the lemon juice and bring to a gentle simmer. Then add the warmed sugar and let it all slowly dissolve over a really gentle heat. Then let the jam boil rapidly for about 10 to 15 minutes or until setting point is reached. Remove from heat. Leave to stand for a few moments, then stir until the strawberries are well distributed throughout the jam. Pour into warmed, sterilized jars, seal immediately, label and date, sit back and feel like a true domestic goddess. (It is a fleeting but wonderful feeling). NB: To sterilize jars see the Finer Details above. Seal jams with a circle of wax paper and a screw top lid. Store your jams in a cool dark place for up to a year, but depending on your family they won't last that long!!
Thursday, 2 September 2010
Having inherited a garden crammed with fruit trees, I find at the end of every summer I am overwhelmed with the bounty of fruits from plums to figs to pears. Of course I tend to give most of it away as I find I hardly have time to make jams and pies and chutneys. I feel incredibly guilty of course being a self proclaimed domestic goddess, that I have not got row upon row of gleaming jars of apple butter, plum jam, preserved pears and fig and tomato chutneys. However, I like to make a jar or two of jam and five or six pies to tide the household over the winter months.
For the crumble
- 300g/10½oz plain flour, sieved pinch of salt
- 175g/6oz unrefined brown sugar
- 200g/7oz unsalted butter, cubed at room temperature
- Knob of butter for greasing
For the filling
- 450g/1lb apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1cm/½in pieces
- 50g/2oz unrefined brown sugar
- 1 tbsp plain flo
- 1 pinch of ground cinnamon
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2. Place the flour and sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Taking a few cubes of butter at a time rub into the flour mixture. Keep rubbing until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
3. Place the fruit in a large bowl and sprinkle over the sugar, flour and cinnamon. Stir well being careful not to break up the fruit.
4. Butter a 24cm/9in ovenproof dish. Spoon the fruit mixture into the bottom, then sprinkle the crumble mixture on top.
5. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until the crumble is browned and the fruit mixture bubbling.
6. Serve with thick cream or custard.
One further recipe using the figs I have in abundance:
Roast figs with honey and yoghurt
· 2 figs
· 2 tbsp honey
· 1 pinch cinnamon
· 50g/1¾oz Greek yoghurt
· 1 orange, segmented
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
1. Cut into the figs to make a cross on the top. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with the honey.
2. Place into the preheated oven and cook for five minutes.
3. To serve place the figs on a plate with the Greek yogurt and garnish with the orange segments.
Tuesday, 24 August 2010
It can start with one simple and beautiful object: that is where the inspiration can come from. Or a view; the way sun shine caresses and sparkles on moving water; or the pureness of a blue clear sky or anything really, anything unexpected can be the jump point for a decorating idea. A favourite inspiration for me has always be looking at other designer's homes.
Monday, 23 August 2010
When I was a child, I would often spend the afternoon in the kitchen with my mum and sisters baking. Mum would make currant buns, heavy rich fruit cakes, pasties and fragrant lemon cakes speckle with poppy seeds. In fact my mother was a superb all rounder, she made ginger beer, lemonade and frizzy strawberry cordial and then to top it all she made all our clothes and still worked a full time job. She basically did it all. At the time I didn't think about the mountain of chores my mother went through every day, I just enjoyed being in the cosy, steamy kitchen with my sisters, stirring the cake mixture or kneading dough.
Thursday, 12 August 2010
Sunday, 11 July 2010
There is always the day when you find your list of chores are too mind numbingly dreary to complete. Today was such a day. The first a simple task was to complete a job I had started about a month ago: replacing a nasty plastic doorbell with a chrome one. This was of course turned out to be not as simple as I wish. The drill bit was the wrong size, the screw driver had stripped the thread of the screw and a wasp nest was disrupted apparently by my attempts at D.I.Y and a flurry of furious wasps made short work of my desire to continue. Okay I thought, I'll wire the walls for the wisteria which was flopping all over the patio. This job went fine until I discovered the wire was too light weight to support the bulk of the wisteria. A list began to form: Larger drill bit, stronger wire and wasp powder, clearly a trip would be necessary to the hardware store.
Sunday, 4 July 2010
Thursday, 10 June 2010
Taking Ruby, the energetic cockerapoo pup, for her daily walks has been a revelation in many ways. She is full of curiosity, and has a nose set to seek out mischief. Her doggy being simple requires walking and there is no debate. So I have at last been disciplined into taking regular exercise by a dog; simply the best personal trainer anyone could ask for. It is impossible to make excuses for avoiding a brisk walk when your doggy looks so dejected and disappointment sitting by the door, or to resist the keen enthusiasm of a dog straining on the lead, desperate to get out into the big wide world.
Friday, 4 June 2010
Monday, 31 May 2010
This year my gravel path has proved to be the perfect place for self-set hardy geraniums, a sweet variety called Walter's Gift. Potting up this crop of seedlings was an easy and enjoyable task.
Ease each one from the ground with a gentle tug and the help of a plant label or garden fork, and into a waiting pot of compost. Water well and place in a shady spot for a couple of days, until the plantlet has had time to recover. Keep watered and wait. Before long your efforts will be rewarded.
I’ve been lucky with some other plants this year. Jacob’s Ladder has happily set seed, along with Verbena Bonariensis and the delightful everlasting sweet pea. Any takers?
Friday, 28 May 2010
Living in a small village puts a self imposed restriction on ones choice of paint colour. If I could have indulged my taste for the outré and the unusual I would have gone for purple, a deep sensual purple. But imagine the gossip in the village store...it doesn't bear consideration..walking the dog would have been impossible as I would have been given the evil eye by everyone and be known as "that woman with the purple fence..ruins the looks of the village that fence does". So the fence is being painted non offensive dark 'rich oak' and predictably gets approving nods from all dog walkers passing by. I also get some helpful hints ..." you might get it done quicker if you use a bigger brush.." ...."you'd be better off spraying, rather than using a brush.." ..."you've missed a bit..". All this I can put up with, after all the fence is a step closer to a bit more privacy, I think of witty and cutting responses in my head as I paint, ignoring the growing ache in my painting arm after two hours or so. I am just considering stopping for a tea break when the neighbour from across the street, comes over.
Of all our neighbours which number just five, these are the neighbours: Mary and Malcolm, I like the most. This is because they always say a cheery hello, don't get involved in village gossip and basically mind their own business whilst being open and friendly. So it was with some trepidation that I greeted Mary, added to which I looked like a dog's dinner and sweaty to boot.
"I've been meaning to come over to have a word for a while..." she starts..."like your fence by the way, you're doing a good job" Mary smiles, I smile back and wait for the blow from the blunt instrument of other people's opinion. "You may have notice that we've not been out and about with Marcus lately..." Marcus is their very friendly black Labrador retriever. Strangely enough I spend no time at all wondering what my neighbours are up to, but I do not say this, I just nod and put the appropriate concern expression on my face. "Unfortunately Marcus had to be put down last month..spinal problems." "Oh dear," I say genuinely upset...dogs are often the best neighbours to have, they can't be held responsible for their owners. "Well.." says Mary bravely "we've got a new dog, a puppy. I wasn't really ready, but Malcolm was adamant we replace Marcus right away..he's called Magnus...the new puppy....would you like to see him?" I can see her bottom lip quivering and sense tears are hovering. I put down my paint brush and agree. It is only when I'm in their house, which is the top end of posh, that I become aware of my scruffy clothes, sweating armpits and paint splattered arms. I immediately feel like a teenager, gauche and awkward. My body betrays me by sweating more and I wipe my face on my T-shirt, which I realise immediately after doing it, that it was the wrong thing to do, as Mary's face crinkles slightly with disapproval.
"Would you mind taking your shoes off" Mary asks politely, with horror I look down at my muddy wellies and the mucky foot prints I have left on her pale green hall carpets. I apologise profusely and feel a blush of menopausal hot flush proportions. "Follow me.." Mary instructs. I do as I am told.
I can't help but cast a sneaky eye at my surroundings. I am caught doing that too. "Would you like a tour?" Mary asks with a hint of sarcasm. I decline and place my interest back on the fat wriggly black lab puppy squirming in my arms. He's beautiful I tell her and he is. I make my standard comments one makes for moments like this and gratefully leave. As I resume painting the fence, I can't help thinking that the impression I made on Mary will probably result in her avoiding me forever. Its not fair, I was just minding my own business and painting the bloody fence!!
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
On Planage Middenlaan, just off Muiderstratten is a 2 arce plot that plays host to Amsterdam's Botanical Gardens. It is an intriguing place, sort of a mini Kew Gardens, with an Orangery built 1875, the Palm House for palm trees and cactus constructed in 1912, an miniature rainforest in the big Three-Climate Greenhouse dating from 1993, the Hugo de Vries building was built in 1915 to honour Professor de Vries was a famous genetics scholar and a director at de Hortus from 1896 to 1918. There is also a pond and potager. It was a beautiful hot day, so wandering around was a delight and a pleasure.
The Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the world. There are apparently over 4,000 plant species from all over the world. The Hortus started out as a medicinal herb garden in 1638 by the Amsterdam City Council. I can't imagine any other city in any other country doing the same. Although it was in part due to an plague epidemic that the medicinal garden was formed to allow doctors and pharmacists to train in the preparation of prescriptions.
Find out more on www.dehortus.nl
A little time spent away from home and nosing about in another country is always interesting and an opportunity to be inspired. Luckily for me I hitched a ride on my husband's business trip to the Netherlands and had a sunny weekend in Amsterdam. I came back with a few treasures and lots of fantastic experiences finding vintage shops with unusual and quirky stuff. I was very inspired and captured some brilliant ideas for Beardog and Joolz.
I will be writing other blogs in the very near future about my extra long four day weekend in Amsterdam, but for now, here are a few tantalising images:
The simple beauty of every day things:
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
The invitations have gone out, the menu has been planned, the shopping has been done and everything is in place for a dinner party bar the actual cooking. Dinner parties always seem like a good idea at the time. You get to thinking, 'gosh I haven't seen so and so for ages, lets' invite them over for a meal...' or you exchange invites one drunken night after a session in the pub and only remember the promise of a meal when they turn up on your doorstep expecting to be fed a week later. Or your husband hands out invites to dinner to all and sundry like smarties and every weekend you feel as if you're running a five star restaurant but with no tidy profit at the end to make it feel worthwhile. Things that are a good idea at the time are only ever good at the time, the brilliance of it fades with every passing second. The closest I want to get to a dinner party these days is watching 'Come Dine With Me'.
But sometimes there is no avoiding it: you either 'owe' a dinner to someone who fed you 6 months ago and has been hinting ever since that they "haven't seen you for ages not since you came over to ours for a meal" or circumstances mean you can't ditch the kids and take some worthy friends out to share an Indian and are force to cook instead. I use to make a right meal of a dinner party (ha ha) and by the time I dished up I would be completely exhausted and unable to enjoy the food and unwilling to engaged in dinner party chat. These day I am very laid back and these are my handy tips to put the fun and conviviality back into providing food for friends.
1. Are your friends coming to inspect your house or have a meal? Don't give yourself more to do or put pressure on your hubby to re-wire the house. There is really no need to repaper the downstairs loos or sparkle clean inside the under-stair cupboard. As long as your house is reasonably clean and hasn't been condemned by Health and Safety, all is well.
2.Keep it simple. Don't start planning an elaborate menu with a 6 bird roast or a Heston Blumenthal feast, don't even think about cooking something you've never cooked before. This is when you revisit your own perfected repertoire of dishes that you have mastered and made your own. I always make a Lemon Meringue Pie as pud because I can make it with my eyes close and one hand tied behind my back. Yes..it is boring to keep churning out the same dishes, but if you have perfected more than a dozen recipes you can mix and match for ages before anyone notices.
3. Get someone else to do the cooking: the other guests for example. It is quite charming for guests to be asked to be responsible for preparing one of the courses; clearly not the main course; but the starter or dessert can be palmed off on others. This gives you more time to focus on making the main course fantastic. You do have to share the glory but you are sharing the work, so its all good.
4. Don't reward the cook with a glass or two of wine whilst preparing the food. You'll end up a very sweaty drunken mess with a potentially uneatable meal on the table. Take it easy. Wait until the dishes are prepared and you've got a relaxing half an hour before your guests arrive: pour a drink then, you will have earned it.
5. Reward your kids with treats if they agree to set the table, walk the dog or keep their toys off the stairs. Every one in the household should be drawn into helping. There is always something you've forgotten to buy or do.
Follow these tips and dinner parties may end up being fun. Or like me you can simply get a family size bag of crisps and a bottle or two of pinot and amuse yourself watching other people sweat on Come Dine With Me.
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Some pleasures come round year after year. We mark the seasons by some and renew our acquaintance with others which we have quite forgotten about and then are pleasantly surprised by, every single year! These perennial pleasures are as individual to us as our birthdays. For me, the year is not punctuated by commercial holidays like Easter and Christmas, but by the changing styles of the seasons and the delight each one gives. The seasons for me are marked by simple things, like the first journey home from work without having to put your car lights on. That is when I note that Spring is definitely on the way. Hearing bird song first thing in the morning is another.
The first smell and sound of a lawn being mown reminds me of the
rhythm of grass cutting, marking out the start of a love affair which by mid- summer has become an arduous chore. However mowing the lawn for the first time after a long bleak winter, gives a certain pleasure that is not easy to explain. Encapsulate in that moment is the very definition of the start of summer, a promise of hot, lazy days and passionate sultry nights to come.
Similarly having an excuse to light the fire and illuminate the room with candles always invokes a singular feeling of comfort and being secure at home. It is the only part of winter that soothes; the rest is a battle against the weather and the commercial hype of Christmas.
I love the stillness of summer’s afternoon, when the sky is aglow with heat, the blueness as perfect a colour of blue that no painter could match; the sounds of bees, of birds chattering and the distant drone of a lawn being shorn somewhere; the clink of ice in a glass and the gentle creak of a deck chair as you settle into the moment; this for me is the very definition of high summer.
These perennial pleasures are perfect markers for my year, each loved and exclaimed over when they are here and mourned and fondly remembered when they have gone.
A Few of my Perennial Pleasures:
The longest day.
Summer rain (as long as it is infrequent and comes after a really muggy hot day).
Smell of freshly picked tomatoes. The perfume of blushing plums.
Foggy autumn day and the smell of a bonfire.
Finding beautiful and unique things for my home and for Beardog and Joolz.
Fireworks in the night sky.
The feel and smell of sheets after a day on the washing line in the sun.
The smell of the sea and warm sand between ones toes.
A cup of tea and a bun enjoyed after an autumnal walk. .
Email us at Beardog.firstname.lastname@example.org and share your perennial pleasures and the most evocative will win a 10% discount voucher to spend with Beardog and Joolz Ltd.
Sunday, 28 March 2010
Monday, 1 February 2010
Once a year it pays dividends to take the time to review how you manage your home.
MOT your central heating boiler, water tank, and other regularly used household appliances like the dish washer. These simple checks will ensure that you avoid unexpected breakdowns.
Check your standing orders/direct debits for utility bills are accurate, ensure your meter has been read recently and your have no outstanding credits/debits.
Check guarantees for household appliances like toasters, vacuum cleaners are up to date, if not check out if further household insurance for appliance failures are available.
Sit down with a notebook and list the bare minimum needed to keep household systems flowing on a weekly basis. The usual tedious chores: washing up, the kitchen tidied fairly regularly, food shopping, laundry washed and ironed and put away, vacuuming, dusting, changing bedding and cleaning bathrooms and toilets. This is a list of the bare minimum health and safety standards for your home.
Divide your list into daily jobs and weekly ones. It is for example not necessary to change your bedding every day, but washing the dishes or filling the dishwasher is a daily task.
Next draw up another list for: Spring-Cleaning Tasks.
This should include some of the following:
clean interior windows - remove curtains/blinds (have those dry-cleaned).
Open windows (silly as it sounds people usually keep their windows shut all winter) air the whole house thoroughly. Keeping a house ventilated is very important to avoid the growth of mould. A damp house is essentially an unhealthy house.
Take all your rugs (if you have any) outside and take your aggression out on them by beating them thoroughly. (It is good exercises too). Carpet beaters are still available at old- fashioned hardware stores.
Move beds, vacuum underneath, also vacuum the mattress and turn it over to ensure even wear.
Empty out and clean all cupboards in the house: this is an ideal time to de-clutter and get rid of things you never use. Charity shops, car boot sales and ebay are just a few options of recycling your unwanted belongings.
Employ an Oven cleaner, but get a reputable company. They can deep clean your cooker so it looks like new.
Hire a carpet cleaner: choose a day when it is dry and you can leave all the windows open. Clean carpets in high traffic areas thoroughly. If you don’t have carpets, you can also hire a floor polisher to give your wooden floors a boost.
Use these lists to divide up chores between your household members and get started.
Wednesday, 6 January 2010
It is so strange when you look up from reading a intriguing book to find yourself back in your comfy armchair with the fire blazing merrily when seconds before you had been lost on the forbidding Kilimanjaro volcanic mountain range, or fighting off a murderous assailant in a dark city ally way. I love those books that have the power to chill your bones and make you shiver just from the prose describing the snow, to make your heart race with fear or your eyes swell with tears.
I suppose that writing blogs is a way that we have to set down our emotions, to describe our lives, make observations on the world around us and engage with a wider audience, people we will never meet in real life. Yet so many of our authors feel like close friends, like people we know and love. That is the power of the written word. I have started writing blogs before and certainly kept on doing it even when I knew that no one was actually reading anything I wrote. Essentially I write for myself, for the cathartic value and to capture a snapshot of my life that I can reflect upon years later and assess how much or little I have changed.