November Sampler


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

I'm particularly pleased with this month's sampler. In fact to be truthful I'm in love with all my monthly samplers. I love looking at them and seeing how they document the turning wheel of the year; its colours, flavours and special days. Until I started blogging and photographing my daily life I hadn't realised quite how season-driven it was. I like that, a lot :o)

My samplers have their own special page - here.

Random Deliciousness


Monday, 29 November 2010

Just a few delicious things  which we have eaten over the weekend and today.
First a lovely banana and walnut cake with cream cheese caramel icing.

Next the dish of pork, parsnips and apples I mentioned yesterday. I had some pork  and some cider and had vaguely thought of adding apples and maybe a splash of cream. I had a few parsnips that needed using up. I decided that the pork, parsnips and apples would marry very well together when cooked in cider. The cream would be too much I felt but I added a little sage from my herb patch.
To make it I dried the pieces of pork before browning them in some butter and olive oil. The drying is important, the meat won't brown otherwise. Don't overcrowd the pan either or the meat will just steam. I had to do it in two batches. Once the pork had a good brown sticky crust I put it on a plate and tossed the parsnip chunks into the remaining fat to brown them too.
In a flame-proof casserole I cooked a sliced onion until soft then added the browned pork, the browned parsnips and some peeled sliced apples. Over all this I poured a 500ml bottle of dry cider and added some salt and pepper. Then into a low oven it went for about one and a half hours.

 It was very good. We ate it with some creamy mashed potato. And followed it with brownies.

This was our supper this evening. A brilliant cold weather dish. Sausage and barley stew. I sometimes make it with lentils instead of sausages. You can find the recipe here it is adapted from one in Rose Prince's The New English Table. Teenage boys need bread with it.

The Advent of Winter


Sunday, 28 November 2010

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipt and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who; a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who; a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

From Love's Labours Lost by William Shakespeare

My blood was certainly nipt as I put food out for the birds this morning. I had to blow my nail and my nose was quite as red and raw as Marian's. I have no roasted crabapples to add to a bowl of spiced ale- how welcome that would be, but I do have a pot of pork, apple, parsnips and cider to eat with mashed potato. And some brownies :o)
 I imagine quite a few sermons (saws) were drowned out by coughing this morning and in case you were wondering greasy Joan is cooling or skimming the pot and not scrubbing it as I always imagined.
It has been bitterly cold this weekend. We haven't had heavy snow, just a dusting but enough for my daughter to make this tiny snowman.

Today is Advent Sunday. As I mentioned the other day Advent does not begin on 1st December, or at least not always. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. This can be as early as 27th November and as late as 3rd December. To find out more about Advent do have a look at the excellent Woodlands Junior School site which has information on all kinds of British traditions.
All those calendars with 24 windows to open should be called 'count down to Christmas' calendars or something. Today we have opened the first window on our Advent calendar.

The sun- reminding us in this cold, dark Advent season that we are waiting for the coming of the sun/Son.

This year I have not made an Advent wreath. I find dealing with prickly vegetation leaves me with itchy and scratchy hands. My candles never stand up straight. They crack and break when I try and put them on the spikes. And I get cross.
Instead we have one large white candle to light on each Sunday in Advent, and again on Christmas Day and each day of Christmastide after. 

Advent Sunday is the day I gather together my favourite Christmas music.

I found some beautiful Advent music for you to enjoy as well.

Wishing you a peaceful Advent filled with quiet joy and anticipation.

The Quince Tree in November


Thursday, 25 November 2010

Thank you so much for your comments about my Advent calendar and of course for all your comments. They are very much appreciated :o)

Pretty drab isn't she? Still clinging on to some leaves though. It's hard to believe that from this little tree came all those quinces.

A tangle of branches in need of  pruning. With a bit of luck there won't be quite as many quinces next year!

I put the finishing touches to my Christmas shopping today and while I was at Calendar Club (RAF calendar for eldest, Muse calendar for middle, Hello Kitty for youngest) I bought myself a Matthew Rice calendar. I've had these before and I love them.

I needed a birthday card as well. A colour boost for a bitterly cold November day.
While I was in town I had my hair cut. I'm not very interested in hair to be honest but when you're at the hairdresser's you have to show a bit of enthusiasm because they are so very enthusiastic.
 'I just want it out of my face' I say.
 The hairdresser, sorry, stylist, shows me pictures of Carey Mulligan and Emma Watson. 'I like them' I say' but I was thinking more Judi Dench'.
 I lie back in one of the new reclining chairs to have my hair washed. 'Do you want the massager on?' says the stylist, 'massager?' say I, 'Yes, go on pamper yourself'. My idea of pampering involves alcohol and chocolate not a chair that throbs. I make do with a coffee (good) and one of those little wrapped biscuits (disappointing).
 The stylist cuts a good six inches off and reinstates my fringe which I had  rather hopelessly been trying to grow out. As she blow-dries my hair she shows me how I can get more volume into it. I say 'but I don't use a hairdryer'- stunned silence 'you mean you just let it dry naturally?', 'well it always does' I say.
Next she's showing me the 'product', a white paste in a dinky purple sphere. 'I won't use it you know' I tell her, 'Well maybe for a night out?' she says 'A night out??' 
Somehow I end up buying the 'product', all £13.10 of it. I must say it does look rather attractive on my bathroom shelf. I won't use it you know.
Later, when C gets home he says 'Have you had your hair cut?
'No I've just retracted it into my head. Didn't I tell you I could do that?'

Getting Ready


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I'm not a very religious person.
But I like to observe the Christian festivals as well as the old pagan festivals. I pick and mix my religion. 
Advent as I understand it is a time of waiting. Waiting for Christ's birth. It isn't supposed to be a time of celebration. Churches are not decorated for Christmas until Christmas, at least not the ones I infrequently visit. Advent is a penitential season not one of feasting and indulgence. I try (not very hard it has to be said) to remember this and to keep our meals relatively simple and frugal at least up until a week before Christmas.
We don't put our tree up until a week before Christmas either, and it's down on New Year's Day.
I also avoid shopping as much as I can during Advent. Truthfully this is because I hate the Christmas madness and junk that fills shops at this time of year but also because I think conspicuous consumption sits  uncomfortably with what Advent is meant to be for. But mainly the first reason.
And this is why I can smugly say 'I have finished my Christmas shopping'. Yep, all done bar a few bits and pieces which I will do tomorrow. Nearly all done online from the comfort of my sofa.
The goose is ordered, the pudding, cake and mincemeat are made. I think I'll put my feet up until Christmas Eve :o)

Today I have been renovating our Advent calendar. I made this about five years ago in a fit of creativity and craftiness. It is from a pattern in a book and not from my own brain. The lovely thing about this calendar is that it can be used from the beginning of Advent and not just the beginning of December. The two things are not the same. This year Advent is quite long -27 days because Christmas falls on a Saturday. The longest it can be is 28 days. This coming Sunday is the first day of Advent so I needed to overhaul the calendar this week.

Close up you can see the glue smears and blu-tak smudges, the rips and creases.

Some of the windows needed re-glazing.

This is the back.

And this is the front with all the shutters blu-takked on. They can be opened in any order but we always start with the top centre one and of course finish with the Nativity scene in the middle. The children take turns to open them. They seem to like it despite its lack of chocolate. When did it become mandatory for there to be a payment of chocolate for each window opened? 

We stand it on our fireplace (the place where we could plug in an electric fire if we had one) with a lamp behind it.

This is a photo from last Christmas. I shall try and get a better one this year.

 This is the book from which I got the pattern. Making the calendar was something of a labour of love.
You can find All Year Round here.

If you are wondering what the gnomes are doing there they are representing the mineral kingdom which is one of the four kingdoms of nature (the human, the animal, the plant and the mineral) according to Waldorf-Steiner philosophy. The kings are not there because they were not present at the Nativity.

The Flavour Thesaurus


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

My new favourite book.

Niki Segnit wanted a book which would tell her what foods tasted good with each other. She was searching for something that would free her from over-dependence on recipes. But no such book existed and so she decided to write it herself.
She made a very good job of it.

She selected 99 foods (impossible to include every food) and divided them into categories on a wheel.  Each category subtly blends into the next.
Niki Segnit has explored 4,851 flavour combinations in her book. Some are familiar; coffee and walnut, bacon and eggs, horseradish and beef, apple and blackberry, chocolate and cherry. Some are rather more unfamiliar; cauliflower and chocolate, strawberry and tomato, mushroom and mint, smoked fish and cherry.

This is a book for anyone interested in food and especially anyone who lacks the confidence to cook without recipes. I am sure The Flavour Thesaurus will be a valuable aid to more deliciousness in my kitchen .
This is also a book for anyone who likes good writing. Niki Segnit has an engaging and entertaining style. Her description of the currently popular beetroot and chocolate cake as tasting like 'a cheap chocolate cake that's been dropped in a flower bed' made me laugh with agreement. I wish I could write as well. 
I will be taking it to bed with me tonight but not before trying a few dried apricots stuffed with lumps of goat's cheese. Apparently 'the sweet perfumed fruitiness of apricot emphasises the savouriness of the cheese, and the whole somehow recalls lamb.' Sounds good to me.

Saturday Kitchen


Saturday, 20 November 2010

I do love making a cake.
 It's the mixing that I like, adding each ingredient, the feel of the beaters as they move through the batter, watching the new ingredient change the colour of the mixture. And licking the beaters of course.
This is Nigel Slater's chocolate chip espresso cake. I used walnuts instead of hazelnuts.

I poured a little coffee over it as it cooled. Moist and delicious.

I made another batch of mincemeat. I didn't forget the booze this time. A little Calvados.

Lunch today. Another Nigel Slater idea, pittas stuffed with feta, hummus and fried onions. It's in The 30 Minute Cook

Completely delicious.

And to finish off the day's noshing a lovely spicy chilli. I followed Nigella's advice and put a bit of chorizo in. A good idea.



Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The ingredients for mincemeat are more or less the same as those for Christmas pud without the egg or flour.

A little chopping and then it is simply a matter of mixing it altogether. I use my hands.

I use Delia's recipe , replacing the currants with dried apricots and adding some glacĂ© cherries. Mincemeat is a very flexible thing. If there is something you don't like then leave it out and add something you do.
Delia warms her mincemeat in a low oven to melt the suet thus coating each piece with fat. This stops it fermenting.

I made five jars. Not nearly enough.
 I use it in pies, crumbles, on vanilla ice cream, to fill pancakes and dolloped on porridge.
 I will have to make some more.

Do you know what? I have just realised that I forgot to add the brandy. I will have to tip it all out of the jars, add the brandy and repot.

The Daily Grind


Monday, 15 November 2010

Up and dressed, porridge on the stove, first load of washing in the machine. C makes me some coffee, I sip it, read my comments and see who's updated their blog.
 Husband to work, sons to school, daughter to chivvy along.
Finally ready, we walk to school.

The lady four doors down from us drives her child every day to the same school.
 So many treasures missed.

Back in my warm kitchen, slipper socks on my feet, washing hung and Stephen Fry reading me stories I begin work.
 Lunchbox fodder is needed.
 If all my children and C take sandwiches they use up around 14 slices of bread a day. That's a whole loaf of my homemade bread so I like to alternate sandwich lunches with something else. Pasties, pitta pizzas and pasta salad are frequent lunchbox fillers. The latest favourite is Spanish omelette. Nothing fancy just potato, a little onion and eggs. A big solid cake of an omelette. It keeps for a couple of days in the fridge and because I make a huge one in my huge frying pan it will do for two days of lunches plus, with  luck, a bit left for me.

A little sweet something is welcome in the lunchbox. They love these gingernuts -another recipe from Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book.

A lunch of leftover soup is followed by some armchair Christmas shopping. The only way to do it.
I scribble some meal ideas for the coming week in my notebook
The children return home bringing stories of naughty boys who tramped mud all over the new carpet in the new library, of forgotten drum lessons and of annoying classmates who are 'complete ****heads with **** for brains and no *****s' Okaay.

Time to start dinner.
Vegetable cake

Some elderly root veg and half an onion.

I added a couple of spuds and threw the lot into the Magimix.

A little salt and pepper and into some hot fat it goes. Press it all down firmly to make a substantial cake.

With the help of a large plate, oven gloves and  some daring flip the cake over and slide it back into the pan so that the other side can cook. The secret of this sort of frying is to keep the temperature fairly low and to leave it alone. If you keep stirring and prodding you won't get that delicious brown crust.

And now the children have all gone to bed. Not all asleep by a long way, but all upstairs, which by this time of the day is how I like them.

I rather like my daily grind too.

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