Tuesday, 30 October 2012

C* Begins Here

Every year I intend to bake our Christmas cake in the October half term holiday - and every year I end up leaving it until the week before the big day (which doesn't allow nearly enough time for 'irrigation'!).

So today marks a remarkable achievement in our household.

I usually follow my trusty Good Housekeeping recipe for a traditional cake (not the 'economical' one - what a ridiculous proposition!) but this year I've opted for Nigel's version from his first volume of The Kitchen Diaries. And, rather than go straight out and buy all the ingredients without any reference to my larder, this year I rummaged around the back of my shelves and unearthed quite a few lurkers.  I also managed to buy quite a few items with Bristol pounds.

I leave you, not with a image of the finished cake (which is still in the oven!) but of my favourite step in the process, the chopping and mixing of the dried fruit, which always puts me in mind of strings of lights in the hallway, baubles on the tree ...  Enough!

Ta Da! Moment - (Gryffindor?) Bunting

When my elder daughter moved into a new flat I promised her some bunting to cheer the place up.  I used a very simple knitted design in red and gold 4 ply acryllic yarn from my stash, which I knew would at least go with her curtains.

I finished the bunting (all 250+ cm of it) in time for her sister to take it up with her on her half term visit.  It has apparently met with her approval.  Her flatmate has dubbed it her 'Gryffindor' bunting, which I am assured is a compliment!  


I've been meaning to post this photo of the sushi take away I ate in the coach home after the TUC march.  Ever since I spotted a branch of Wasabi opposite Harrods on an earlier visit to London, I'd fancied trying it out.  So when I chanced upon the Victoria branch on my walk back to the New Covent Garden Market car park I just had to pop in for a snack.

I love sushi.  They say you eat with your eyes as well as your mouth and this is undoubtedly true with these delicate bite sized morsels that resemble brightly coloured beads neatly laid out on their trays.  I spent some time considering the various options before deciding on salmon nigiri, omelette nigiri, crabmeat and avocado hosomaki and fried prawn and spicy salmon futomaki, which I carefully arranged on my cute cardboard tray.  I added a sachet each of soy sauce and wasabi paste, and a set of chopsticks.

I was characteristically early arriving back to the coach which was just as well, as removing the sushi from their individual wrappers was best attempted in a stationary vehicle. The amount of unrecyclable waste is an issue  but I had no quibbles over the quality of the food, which was a far cry from any of the packs I've bought from a supermarket.  The rice was moist and delicately flavoured and the fillings were fresh and clean.  Absolutely delicious!

It's fortunate there isn't, as yet, a branch of Wasabi in Bristol, as I fear I might be tempted to visit it more than I could afford.

(Apologies for the quality of the photograph which does not do justice to the beauty of my feast.)

Friday, 26 October 2012

Green Tomato Chutney

Earlier this week a friend gave me a carrier bagful of green tomatoes.
I used Riverford's recipe to make 6 jars of chutney.
It took me two gos to get the correct consistency.
The Riverford recipe failed to specify that the fruit and vinegar mixture should be simmered uncovered!
However my trusty Good Housekeeping book came to the rescue and my second attempt succeeded.
I now have to wait 6 weeks for it to mature but an initial tasting was promising.
I am obliged to my talented art student daughter for the labels.
My only disappointment is that the finished chutney bears no resemblance to the vibrant green raw fruit.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Half Term Projects

I found that drawing up a list helped me to make the best use of my summer holidays, so I have decided to repeat the experiment for the October half term holiday.

So here it is:
  1. Turn 1.5 kg of green tomatoes into chutney
  2. Discover more traders who accept Bristol pounds
  3. Release a few more books
  4. Tidy the back bedroom
  5. Bake our Christmas cake
  6. Read Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  7. Bake this loaf of bread
  8. Visit Cheltenham for the day
  9. Finish knitting bunting for my elder daughter
  10. Make our Christmas pudding
  11. Catch up with a few old friends
I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

March for a Future that Works

Yesterday I took part in the TUC March for a Future that Works in London.  (My elder daughter was marching in Glasgow!).  I'm a member of UNISON and have taken part in a couple of smaller marches in Bristol, but this was the first time I'd joined in with other unions in London.

We travelled up to London by coach and were transferred to Blackfriars by boat which was an unexpected treat.  The boat dropped us off at the end of the march so we had to make our way up the outside of the marchers to join the UNISON contingent at the front.  As we hurried up the line I was moved both by the numbers and the variety of unions represented.  There were teachers, firefighters, musicians, students, actors, civil servants and all manner of public service workers.  There were adults, children, babies in buggies and people in wheelchairs.  There were choirs, drummers and a pipe band.  There were balloons, inflatables, placards, banners and effigies.  People were chanting, singing, and blowing whistle and vuvuzelas.  In fact, if you hadn't known that this was a protest against the government's austerity policies you could have been forgiven for thinking that you were in the midst of a carnival.

The march proceeded peacefully, if not quietly, along the Embankment, past Westminster, up Whitehall, skirted Trafalgar Square, up Regent Street, and along Piccadilly to Hyde Park.  There was a strong police presence, particularly outside Fortnum and Mason and the Ritz, but the officers were relaxed and friendly and obviously not expecting any real trouble.

We were among the first to arrive at the rally and were in a good position at the front to hear the speeches which, I am relieved to say, were of a higher calibre than I've experience at other rallies.  I was particularly impressed by Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace who spoke of the impact government policy is having on the environment.  The crowd listened politely, clapping and cheering enthusiastically, but were not altogether impressed with Ed Milliband or Brendan Barber, both of whom were booed and heckled by sections of the audience.  I am disappointed that the Labour leadership do not have any real hope to offer us in this crisis.  In fact it sometimes feels that, rather than us all being in this together, we're very much on our own.

I'd travelled up without any family or friends and had second thoughts about whether I should go, but I'm so glad I did.  I took comfort from the visible demonstration that I am not alone in my real concern at the effect this coalition government is having on our society, and reassurance that there are hundreds and thousands of ordinary people out there who are prepared to do something about it.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Food Challenge: Weeks 2&3

The challenge to spend no more than £52 per week on food continues.  Last week I overshot my budget by £8.70, almost entirely due to lack of planning.  This week I've fared much better coming in at £42.26.

My shelves are looking barer but although I've removed a few items from the freezer it's still pretty full.

The trick is to devise menus that don't involve buying something extra to go with what I'm trying to get rid of! 

Blog Action Day: The Power of We

Today's Food Programme was about food waste.  15 million tonnes of food is thrown away in the UK every year.  Tristram Stuart interviewed a variety of people involved in trying either to reduce this mountain of waste or at least divert it to people who need it.

There are a number of reasons why food is wasted.  Some of it remains unharvested, some is rejected because it does not meet quality or aesthetic standards, some is damaged in transport or storage, some is surplus to requirements, some exceeds its best before date ... The list goes on.

But there are also a variety of organisations dedicated to rescuing waste food before it is dumped in a landfill site.  Volunteers harvest unwanted crops, collect rejected food from the back doors of supermarkets, pass it on to vulnerable people, use it to prepare meals for the homeless, make it into jams and chutneys ...

It was fascinating listening but the bit that caught my attention was right at the end, when Tristram Stuart observed that the most effective food related campaigns in recent years (ie GM, sustainable fishing, free range poultry) have been largely consumer led, and suggested that if we, the customers, were to ask supermarkets to stock knobbly fruit and vegetables and make more of their food waste available to charities, then they would more than likely do so.

So, if you are concerned about the amount of food being dumped in landfill then exercise 'the power of we'.

PS  It is worth noting that almost 50% of food waste is in our homes, and 60% of this is avoidable. So 'we' could launch our campaign in our own trolleys, kitchens and dining rooms. For tips on how to do this log in to Love Food Hate Waste

Sunday, 14 October 2012

This Weekend ...

This weekend ...

  • I attended Reading Group where we discussed Aldous Huxley's Crome Yellow.  Listening to other readers' observations is always enlightening but I remain of the opinion that this is a very boring book.  Apologies to all Huxley admirers.
  • I worked my way through an enormous pile of ironing.  I had planned to to do more in the way of preparation for the arrival of my sister on a visit next week but, as usual, I found other activities to 'distract' me from the housekeeping.
  • I made Spicy Moroccan Chick Pea Soup from a recipe in the Waitrose newspaper.  In truth it was red kidney beans rather than chick peas as I had none of the latter but a stockpile of the former.  I love it when I come across a recipe that I can make straight away.
  • I tried out one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Three Good Things.  It was a salad of roasted beetroot, boiled eggs and anchovies, all from stock, and it was delicious.
  • A and I followed part of the West Bristol Art Trail.  The venues are considerably more dispersed than its Southbank equivalent but the views from the houses and gardens are superb.  I met Susan Taylor who designed the Glasgow print I bought for my elder daughter, and a singing friend who turns out to be an accomplished card maker.
  • I had dinner with a couple of friends in a local pub to celebrate two of their birthdays.  

Saturday, 13 October 2012


Yesterday revolved around food.

I left work on the stroke of midday and hared up the road to Bristol University's Great Hall to listen to one of my heroes, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  The talk was part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas and Hugh was using it to promote his new book Three Good Things.  He shared his observation that some of the best dishes he cooked at home or enjoyed eating out were 'little more,and little less than three good things on a plate'.  He cited fish and chips and mushy peas; scones, jam and clotted cream; rhubarb, crumble and custard ...  I have come up with a few of my own: the classic French steak, frites et salade; rice, dal and pickle; haggis, neeps and tatties ...  Feel free to share your own personal favourites.

I admire Hugh not just for his culinary skills, but for his passion, his language and his efforts to persuade us to  consider where the food on our plates comes from.  And I'm not alone.  The Great Hall was packed to capacity.

Then it was back down the hill to so some cooking of my own.

For some time now I have been cooking for our local church's Messy Church, which is best described as an extended Sunday School on Friday afternoon with tea attached!  Parents bring their children along after school for a carousel of crafty activities, followed by singing, a story and a simple meal.  Which is where I come in.  I arrive shortly before the children, offer a welcome cuppa to the mums and dads and set about preparing tea.

Yesterday I abandonned the relative safety of supermarket convenience food to cook from scratch.  I was rather nervous at having to produce two plates of food for up to 30 children, so I decided to keep it simple.  The menu consisted of pasta with tomato sauce and grated cheese followed by  pear and apple crumble with ice cream (from a tub!).  (Coincidentally three good things each!)  The sauce and crumble topping were prepared the evening before so all I needed to do was to cook the pasta and prepare the fruit.

Despite a few moments of panic when I leaned that there were in fact 44 children to feed I managed (with the help of a willing parent) to get the food on the table in time.  What's more, it went down a treat, with children - and adults - coming back for seconds.

I've now got a month to come up with another suitably versatile menu.  Any suggestions?

Sunday, 7 October 2012


I accompanied my daughter to Cardiff School of Art & Design's Open Day yesterday.  Here are my observations:

  • that the people of Cardiff are the friendliest and kindest people I have met in a long time
  • that, although I cannot understand it, I am pleased that the Welsh have held on to their language
  • that, delivered by someone with a sense of humour, a talk on student finance can be the highlight of the day
  • that there is a lot more to illustration than meets the eye
  • that, despite their ensuite facilities, modern student residences are completely soulless
  • that Victorian/Edwardian shopping arcades are infinitely superior to the ones we are building today
  • that people will pay good money for hideous nylon hats as worn by my great aunts 
  • that I wish the day had been longer
  • that I will be back
Image courtesy of the University of Cardiff

Monday, 1 October 2012

Food Challenge: Week 1

Following the examples of Sue over at The Quince Tree and Thrifty Household, I have set myself the challenge of living on a food and drink budget of £52 per week.  This is apparently the equivalent to the value of  food stamps the US government pays to people on a low income.  My figure is calculated by multiplying the daily rate of £2.50 by 3 (the number in our household) and then again by 7 to reach the weekly figure.

Now I'm not on a low income and can afford to spend more that £52 per week on food but, like many others it appears, I have developed the habit of buying more and more food when my fridge/freezer and cupboards are already stocked with more than enough to feed us for some time.

Yesterday I reached the end of my first week and calculate that I spent £51.11, just short of my my target.  I was greatly helped by the donation of almost half a chicken and a huge bowlful of boiled new potatoes, left over from the church's harvest supper and dinner with friends one evening.  They provided one dinner and a couple of packed lunches.

Apart from that I raided the freezer for tortillas when bread ran low, we ate our way through our organic vegetable box and made inroads into our stockpile of beans and pasta.

In addition to the vegetable box I did buy mince and chicken and bacon, and added on what we spend on our milk delivery.  I even included the money I spent on a pot of tea and a cold drink after our walk through the woods on Sunday.  I could have done it for less if we'd gone veggie or delved deeper into the freezer but   the constraints of time and a carnivorous daughter precluded any further savings this week.

I love a challenge and this one has been such fun that I'm going to carry on with it for at least another week and, who knows, possibly even longer.