Tricky Times


Monday, 31 October 2011

Left to right: Tom's ninja pumpkin, George's traditional pumpkin and Katie's happy pumpkin.

Making toffee apples has become something of a Halloween tradition.

So has hanging up my witch decoration but I seem to have lost it. I know I put it somewhere obvious.
Obviously not.

You may remember last Halloween when I proclaimed my dislike of trick or treating and said that I did not allow it. At all. Well, it turns out that I dislike constant whinging about not being able to go trick or treating even less.
 Katie has ground me down with continual cries of 'so and so's allowed to' and 'you never let me do anything'  and 'everyone in the road will be doing it except me' . 
 The force was strong in me to begin with but it has ebbed away and I'm afraid the dark side has won. It wasn't that I thought she had a point, I'm her mother not her best friend. It's not part of my job description to give her everything she wants but sometimes I just want to close my eyes and say 'fine, whatever'. 

There are rules:
Stay together -there are about six of them, the eldest is 14.
Only go to houses in our road  and only go to ones which have some kind of halloween display.
Don't eat it all tonight.
Be back by eight -it is a school night after all.
Get your homework done first.

Maybe it will rain.

Raking Over Old Leaves


Saturday, 29 October 2011

There's a pleasant, if self-indulgent game of blogtag going around. Find it here and here.
I thought I'd join in and rake over some of my old posts. Old is stretching it a bit as none of my posts are older than 21 months.

 What is your most beautiful post?
 I'm proud of most of the photos I post but I think this post pleased me most aesthetically
I love the first picture particularly.

What is your most popular post?
My stats tell me that the post I wrote about Milly Molly Mandy has had 2,628 views, 1557 more views than the next most popular post. I imagine the success of this post is simply down to people googling for Milly Molly Mandy. 

What is your most controversial post?
This was undoubtedly School Fees which I wrote in exasperation after a week of financial demands from my daughter's school. It was written with my tongue firmly in my cheek and thankfully most readers got the joke and shared my exasperation but some took exception to my humour and got even more cross than I had been. Some even went as far as to say they were going to stop reading my blog. My stats told a different story and visitor numbers continued and continue to climb.

What is your most helpful post?
I think this has to be my How To Make Bread post which many readers have told me has inspired them to make bread.

Which post's success surprised you most?
According to the Blogger's stats Redcurrant Cordial is my fourth most visited post with 544 views.
Why this particular post should be more popular than others I have written about homemade drinks was puzzling until I googled 'redcurrant cordial' and discovered my post to be the second hit. This has brought home to me how a simple, descriptive post title can direct readers to my blog. Maybe I should stop trying to think up clever titles and keep it simple. 
If you are interested in homemade drinks then click on drinks in the category list on my sidebar.

Which of your post do you feel didn't get the attention it deserved?
Wartime Housewife said it was a top quality post but nobody else seemed very interested in my telly preferences. You're all watching Downton Abbey aren't you? 

Which post are you proudest of?
I am inordinately proud of my monthly samplers. So proud of them that I had them made into a calendar one of which will be the subject of a giveaway next month. I was especially pleased with August's sampler.

Quince and Mince


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Although we have dined on mince unlike the owl and the pussycat we did not have slices of quince to accompany it, nor did we have a runcible spoon.
I did, however, eat quince milles feuilles at our favourite pub for lunch today. A cold dessert of layers of puff pastry, whipped cream and quince purée. It was nice but I have to (modestly) say, not as nice as any of the desserts I have made with my quinces.

Yesterday was the 25th, the day I photograph the Quince Tree.
Although you can't see them there are still quite a lot of quinces on the tree.

Some are rotting on the tree.


My Mince

I'm sure everyone knows how to make a tasty pot of mince. I expect we all do it slightly differently. This is how I make mine. I like it rich and tomatoey. I use passata rather than tinned tomatoes as I like the smoothness it gives to the sauce. I also include some smoked bacon which adds flavour and smokiness as well as salt. This is one of the rare times when I use a stock cube. I don't often make beef stock.  Kallo make good stock cubes free from junk. The stock cube also adds salt so I am careful to only add extra salt at the end of cooking if necessary. Sun-dried tomatoes are another of my special touches -again adding saltiness as well as flavour.

Ingredients for a big pot of mince to feed at least five depending how many teenaged boys you have.

4-5 rashers of smoked streaky bacon.
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stick of celery (optional)
Half a red pepper (optional)
1-2 cloves of garlic
5-6 sun-dried tomato halves
1 kilo of beef mince
500ml passata
big pinch of dried herbs - I use a blend labelled Italian herbs, something with oregano is good.
1 beef stock cube

Put the first seven ingredients in a food processor and process until  finely chopped.

Heat some olive oil (or some of the oil from the sun-dried tomato jar) in a roomy pan and gently fry the chopped mixture.

Add the mince, stir well and let it cook for until the redness has gone from the meat.
Add the stock cube directly to the pan and prod it around to dissolve it. 
Add the herbs and passata and stir well.

Let it cook covered for at least 30 mins over a low heat. Longer is better and it improves if reheated.

We ate it with potato wedges and a sprinkling of grated cheddar.
I also ladle it over spaghetti and call it bolognese.

Leftovers are good.


Following Katie's energy drink experience I spoke to the manager of our Tesco Express. He said that as far as he knew Tesco had no policy regarding the sale of these drinks to children. I suggested they get one.

Cautionary Tale


Monday, 24 October 2011

Yesterday I let Katie walk to the corner shop (Tesco Express) with a friend. She asked if she could buy a drink. She had been a pain in the bum all morning whinging about going into town to buy stuff. She had worn us both down, so instead of trotting out my usual litany of 'if you are thirsty there is water in the tap' and 'those things are such a waste of money and natural resources' I sighed and said 'woteva'.

It wasn't until about 3 am this morning that I realised I should have looked at the bottle she bought more closely. Katie had been unable to get to sleep and rather than switching on a torch and reading a book until she felt sleepy she opted to keep the rest of us awake too. Moaning, whining, switching lights on and off and dropping books on the floor. Poor Charlie had to be up at 6.45.

When I got up (thank goodness it's half term and I could sleep in) I found the empty drinks bottle and discovered what I had begun to suspect in the wee small hours. I emailed the details to Charlie so that he could buy himself a bottle and keep awake at work.

I'm not very savvy about what soft drinks are available having never really bought them. It is something of a 
shock to me to discover that the simple choice of coke, lemonade or fizzy orange has long been a thing of the past.
 It seems to me that more choice equals more junk.

Some Things For the Weekend


Friday, 21 October 2011

1) Something to read.

Persephone's latest  Dorothy Whipple.
 I am so looking forward to getting into a freshly laundered bed with this one tonight.
It dropped through my letterbox this morning -actually it was rather roughly shoved through my letterbox by our surly postman resulting in a slightly bent cover.
I have all the others. I loved them all, but I think High Wages has been my favourite so far.
Dorothy Whipple is the perfect antidote to 'too clever by half modern fiction'. If you want plot, characterisation and readability, she's your woman. And see what Jane has to say about readability here.

2) Something to drink.

Cider in wine bottles. Lower in alcohol than wine, lower in price, and made in Somerset.
Also delicious. An excellent drink to accompany an autumn  lunch with friends.
My daughter, Katie Rose likes the name.

3) Something to eat. Of course.

 I like to bake something a bit special for the children to come home to on Fridays.
The fork biscuit recipe in Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book is my favourite and easiest biscuit. Three ingredients, no rolling, lovely crunchy texture and adaptable.
Today I fiddled about with it to make these autumnal hazelnut and coffee biscuits (I added hazelnuts and coffee).

4) Something to look forward to.
The last ever episode of Spooks on Sunday.
Actually I'm not looking forward to it. 
I'm dreadfully afraid that Harry going to be killed off.

5) Something to enjoy.
 Forgive Sharleen Spiteri for looking like the cat that got the cream; you know you would too.

Beneath the Quince Tree


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Beneath the bench beneath the Quince Tree there are fallen quinces.

The wind has brought most of my quinces down. 
Few are without damage.
What looks like a perfect specimen turns out to be brown and rotten where it has lain on the ground.
There are still more than enough though.

Beneath the Quince Tree I spread one of my crochet works-in-progress.

My Ravilious blanket is making very slow progress.

 Not that it matters how quickly it is done.

Nine squares completed.
Probably another fifteen to go.

In My Kitchen


Sunday, 16 October 2011

In my kitchen this weekend there have been quinces (naturally).

Poached in sugar syrup until rosy.
To be eaten with thick yogurt for breakfast. The extras are stashed in the freezer.

There has also been a lunchtime salad.

Roast chickpeas with feta, peas and mint. 
I tossed the chickpeas in some of the oil from a jar of sun-dried tomatoes and a clove of crushed garlic, sprinkled them with sea salt and roasted them for 15 mins at 190°c (170°c fan).
When they had cooled a little I mixed them with cooked peas, chopped mint and crumbled feta. A good squeeze of lemon juice finished it off.
Delicious with flatbreads and a tomato salad.

Another lunch was eggy crumpets.

A little oil or butter in a pan. Crumpets in holey side up, beaten, seasoned eggs poured over and cooked until set -a matter of seconds. Sprinkle some cheese on top, cover the pan and let it cook gently for a few mins until the cheese has meted.

And finally, a sandwich filling for the lunchboxes.

Hard-boiled,  mashed eggs with crumbled crisp-cooked bacon, chives and a spoonful of mayonnaise.

I hope there'll be some left for me.

Getting My Veg


Thursday, 13 October 2011

Soy Roasted Almonds

These deeply savoury nuts are loved by everyone in my house.
Other nuts can be used, as can seeds, but I think almonds are the best.*

Throw almonds on a baking sheet, as many as you like.
Roast the nuts for 15 -20 mins at 180°c (160°c for a fan oven).

As soon as they come out of the oven splash over some soy sauce. Use a good one like Kikkoman which is naturally brewed and contains no additives.
You don't want to drench the nuts but you do need to splash on enough soy to give them a decent coating.
Stir the nuts around, the hot nuts will absorb the soy sauce.
Leave them to cool.
If they still seem wet use paper towels to mop up the excess sauce.

Store in an airtight container.

*I buy my nuts in bulk from Goodness Direct because they are considerably cheaper that way and I use them regularly in my granola recipe. You can store them in the freezer to keep them fresh if you don't get through them quickly.

Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheese Soup

This unappetising bowl of leftovers is cheese sauce with broccoli and bacon which we ate as a baked potato filling a couple of days ago.
The cauliflower I bought this week was destined to become soup for me. No one else likes it.
I put the two together to make cauliflower and broccoli cheese soup.
Simply done - an onion chopped and cooked gently in butter, a small cauliflower, chopped and added to the pan. About half a pint of chicken stock (water would do) was added along with the leftover broccoli cheese.
Simmered until the cauli was soft, blended, a little milk added to loosen it a touch and my  lunch was ready.
I followed it with a piece of cake.

Carrot-Apple-Walnut Cake

I am pleased with this cake; it has turned out exactly as I had hoped. I wanted one of those moist wholesome cakes. The kind you kid yourself into believing are healthy. You did know that carrot cake is one of your five a day didn't you? Well this cake has carrots, apples and nuts. Three of your five a day. Eat two pieces and you're done. 

10 oz self-raising flour*
12 oz demerara sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
4 oz chopped walnuts
1 large cooking apple or 2 eating apples
3 medium carrots (about 10 oz in weight)
10 oz butter (I like salted)
4 eggs

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, spice and nuts in a mixing bowl.

Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat.

While that is happening peel and grate the apple and carrots
Add these to the bowl.
Use your hands to mix all the dry ingredients with the apple and carrot.

Beat the eggs in a small bowl and add them to the mixing bowl.
Mix well  before adding the melted butter.

Make sure everything is well mixed before pouring it all into a greased and lined  tray-bake tin about 12'' x 9''.
Bake for 50-60 mins at 180°c (160°c for a fan oven).
When cool cut into 16 or 20 pieces depending how big you want them.

*Next time I will try wholemeal self-raising. I think it will suit the wholesome character of the cake. 

Almonds, walnuts, broccoli, cauliflower, onion, carrot and apple, oh and damson yogurt for breakfast. I'm doing really well on the fruit and veg front today and it's only quarter past three.

Vodka, a Jelly Swap, Terror and some Ladybirds


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The quince vodka is made.
It may look like a jar of manky* fruit at the moment but by Christmas it will have become a beautiful, golden nectar.

Jelly swap!
Mrs Thrifty Household very kindly offered to send me a jar of her Japanese quince jelly. I immediately said yes and promised her a jar of my tree quince jelly in return.
Japanese quinces or japonicas grow on a small shrub called chaenomeles. I thought that they were unrelated to my tree quinces which have a quite different name -cydonia oblonga, but I was wrong. They are related, a fact that becomes obvious when you taste jelly made from both fruit. Mrs Thrifty Household's jelly was much tarter than mine but the flavour was the same and as you can see the colour is identical.
Both are delicious.

Top shelf from left to right : pumpkin and quince chutney, chelly, real mincemeat (last year's), damson jelly, cherry plum jam, damson chutney
Bottom shelf from left to right: crab apple jelly, damson jelly, quince jelly, redcurrant and raspberry jam, whiskey and ginger rmarmalade

Do you know what I am most afraid of?
I am terrified that the next jar I add to my preserves shelf which is screwed to our garage wall, will be the one which causes it to fall crashing to the floor.
I am, therefore, going to remove my jars from the shelf and put them in the cupboard below. This means I will have to forgo the daily pleasure of seeing my lovely jars all lined up ready and waiting to be eaten.

Remember the Puffin postcards in this post (scroll down a bit) ?
These are a recent acquisition -Ladybird Postcards. I remember many of these Ladybird covers, but many are new to me. A lovely bit of nostalgia.

* The spell checker thingy tells me that manky is not a word and suggests I use panky instead.

Those Pesky American Cup Measurements


Monday, 10 October 2011

I know many of us in the British Isles find the whole cup thing confusing, annoying, or downright scary.
Although I find weighing to be much a more accurate method of measuring, I don't find cup measures at all difficult to use.

Having a set of US cup measures helps. I bought these in my local cookware shop. Supermarkets have them, M&S has them, Amazon has them.
There's a quarter cup measure, a third of a cup, half a cup and a whole cup.

A cup is 8 fluid ounces (approx 240 ml)
Half a cup is 4 fluid ounces (approx 120 ml)
A third of a cup is 2⅔  fluid ounces (approx 80 ml)
A quarter of a cup is 2 fluid ounces (approx 60 ml)

It is worth remembering that in the US a pint is not 20 fl oz, but 16 fl oz. This was also the case in Britain up until the nineteenth century. If an American recipe calls for a quart (2 pints) of something it means 32 fl oz which is 4 cups or as near-as-damn-it 1 litre.

The reason it is difficult to give simple conversions for US cup measures is simple. It all depends on what you are measuring.

One cup of oats weighs just over 4 oz.

But one cup of demerara sugar weighs just over 8 oz.

How to Make Your Own Cup Measure in 10 Minutes

If you don't have a set of cup measures I am sure you will have a measuring jug which has imperial and metric measurements on it somewhere. If you have, then it is easy to make your own measuring cup or cups.

You need a plastic container which you can cut easily with scissors. It must be able to hold more than 8 fl oz of liquid. Something like a water bottle, a cream carton or milk carton. I used a large yogurt pot, the transparent kind with a removable card sleeve. This was for the sake of clarity in my pictures but I'm sure a  white pot would work just as well.

You also need a permanent marker and your measuring jug.

Pour 2 fl oz  (60 ml) of water into the jug. This is your quarter cup measure.

Pour the 2 fl oz water into your container, wait for the water to settle and carefully mark on the pot where the water level comes to. Do it on the other side of the pot too to make measuring easier. Or, if you have a steady hand mark all the way round. If you are using an opaque container you may need to set it somewhere level with the light behind in order to do mark it accurately.

Tip the 2 fl oz of water out before you add the next measurement (or you will get into a right old muddle).
Continue until you have marked all four cup measures on your container.

Trim the container down so that it can be used to measure one level cup.
NB trim really carefully, my yogurt pot split as I was cutting.

If you can be bothered it would be worth making individual cups for the smaller measures. I would use small yogurt pots for these.

Some American recipes call for butter measured in sticks. A US stick is a quarter of a pound or 4 oz. So, if, for example, the recipe calls for 1½ sticks it means 6 oz.

As for teaspoons and tablespoons, apparently there is a slight difference between UK and US spoons but  I've always used UK spoon measures with no problems.

I hope that helps someone, but honestly it is easier to just buy some measuring cups.

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