Saturday, 1 November 2014

days with an abundance of apples part 1

I'm not one to waste food. OK, but let's qualify that. I have got previous (as they say in English cop series) in that I've let some items lurk at the back of the fridge before now and then found they're past their sell by date. And yes, they may have been the odd, old manky courgette or carrot decaying at the bottom of the vegetable basket. But generally speaking, I like to find a use and a tasty recipe for everything that I pick, dig up or buy .

This year, the apples have just kept coming....for the last two months, I've been eating them raw, in Dorset apple cakes, apple crumbles, and there are pounds and pounds of slightly stewed apples in the freezer ready for more warming crumbles to come throughout the rest of autumn and winter.

I find the best way to preserve the apples for the freezer is to slice them and put into an earthenware bowl, dredge with lemon juice and perhaps two tablespoons of sugar, then add four tablespoons of water.

Stir and cover tautly with cling film

Stab the cling film twice, ( a task I always relish, especially when  I'm in  a bad mood) then bung the bowl in the microwave for three minutes.  Remove the cling film , then as soon as the apples have cooled properly put in freezer bags. They will keep for about 9 months.

 But still the apples keep a I've made six or seven pounds of apple and mint jelly. Now this is something I've been making for years, and in good years when the apples are in abundance, I make shedloads. It lasts for a good two years. I think I may have to make another batch pretty soon....if the mint in the courtyard keeps going that is.

Now this is a jelly which goes extremely well with lamb and my lot vastly prefer it to mint sauce. It's also good with roast or poached chicken. So would you like the recipe?

You will need

5 pounds of cooking apples
about 5 large sprigs of mint
2 pints of distilled white vinegar
 another 8 -10 tablespoons of mint; chopped finely
(should make about six pounds of jelly)


1.Roughly chop the apples, cut out the bruised bits , but the good news is you don't have to peel them all!
2. Put the apples in a preserving pan with the sprigs of mint and about 2 pints of water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for about 40 minutes. Don't let the mixture catch - no sticky bottoms here thank you very much.
3.Add the vinegar and bring to the boil for a further 5 minutes. No longer, because the smell is so intense, I don't want you becoming overcome and falling face first into the preserving pan.
4. Make sure you open the kitchen windows...I hate the smell of boiling vinegar.

5. Spoon the hot apple pulp into a jelly bag which is suspended over a big bowl and leave overnight . When you wake up in the morning , you will have lots of fluid in the bowl..
6. For each pint of extract you have in the bowl, use a pound of sugar, and put everything in a preserving pan.
7.Stir while you heat it gently and make sure all the sugar is dissolved and then boil until setting point is reached...about 15 minutes for me.
8. Don't forget to remove the scum which forms on top .

7.Stir while you heat it gently and make sure all the sugar is dissolved and then boil until setting point is reached...about 15 minutes for me.
8. Don't forget to remove the scum which forms on top .
9.Now throw in the finely chopped mint  and cool.
After 15 minutes put the jelly in to sterilised  jam jars and cover.

I've just got to work out now what I'm going to do with the next batch of apples.....

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Puppy Days

Well, the last three weeks have passed in a blur...a blur in which our tiny new puppies

have grown and changed beyond recognition.

The two boys and one girl , who haven't been formally named yet, are lighting up my life as they learn new skills everyday.

Now their eyes are open and they can hear, they're discovering the world around them and their voices.....

Our little girl ,who is staying with us,  was a dainty little thing compared to her brothers

We don't know what her name is as yet. It's not that we haven't got any ideas....let's just say there's on going discussions and negotiations. I loved the idea of calling her "Tickety" ...well with a mum called Boo, it would have worked. Mr Thinking of the Days isn't convinced  and said so in no certain terms. Mind you, I'm not taken with his suggestion which is Fig. Yes, you read that correctly. I couldn't give a fig about that name to be honest. So, she will remain "Little girl" until a unilateral agreement can be reached....but she's beautiful , whatever her name will eventually be.

The boys are adorable too...

One will be named Rudi, but which one is yet to be determined. My daughter Lucy and her husband Harry are having one, but couldn't decide which one at only one week old. I think they were can you choose which one is the right one for you when they're deaf, blind, and can't move well?  Anyway , a visit is imminent to choose the right dog.

This one will be an escape artist....he' already trying to get out of the whelping  box....and very nearly made it.

Here's the other boy...

He's gorgeous too, and has the most delicious little growl.....

I love them all to bits....they are such snuggly puppies who love to be picked up and cuddled, and so far they have very placid natures. They are a real credit to Boo....

They are difficult to photograph though, and they don't look like their mother and father at all.....see for yourself...

Anyway, I took this video five days ago, when they were taking their first, drunken steps......and in  years to come, I will watch this, marvelling at how tiny they were, how absolutely gorgeous they were, and remembering these very special days with a box of puppies in the house.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

A day of saying goodbye to the summer


I can pinpoint exactly when we said goodbye to the summer this year. That last day of brilliant sunshine, heat and sheer joy to be sitting out on a Sunday and seeing friends and neighbours. It was four weeks ago today, and the weather has really changed since then.
It was the day of our village meet up...a new addition to the annual rhythm of village events. Apart from church services, normally there's four starting off with the Pancake Party, the Barn Dance in high summer, Harvest Supper and Carol Singing. Being a small village in the middle of the English countryside, we like to keep to the old traditions.
But this year Kate suggested a late September meet up , to be held on the village green. Nothing too fancy, a small marquee on the teeny green, everybody was to bring a picnic lunch, there would be a barrel of real manly ale for all the men in  the village and the women would bring their own wine. Oh, and Willie's band would be playing, and we would hire in a couple who serve gorgeous cream teas from their vintage Citroen van.
Well that was the plan, which so very nearly went according to plan, but there was a hiccup. The weather. Possible heavy rain was forecast, so we all decamped to Willie and Kate's courtyard. And what an inspired idea that was the perfect venue for a magical afternoon....


Most brought a picnic

But the cream tea van still did a roaring trade....

And there were so many quiet places to escape to and have a natter and a cup of tea...

There were games for the children, but most of them just wanted to run around the gardens,

or sit and watch the band.

Now Willie has a band, he plays guitar and harmonica, and sings, and that was one of the reasons the venue for the get together was changed. The band were going to play on the back of a cart and plug into  Barbara's house on the green. But no one wanted the band to be electrocuted during a heavy downpour...

Especially not when Greg Pearle, Willie's friend was singing. That's not to say we would have sacrificed the rest of the band you understand . But Greg....ah,  he's special.He was staying in the village  for a few weeks , he'd entranced us and had made us cry in church the week before with the gravelly passion and pathos of his voice . And he melted my heart again, that afternoon in the sunshine as he sang some of his own material and some covers..

And as the afternoon went into early evening, no one wanted to the afternoon to end....

besides there was still time to catch those last few golden moments

before it really was time to leave

So, the last day of summer....and it's only as I write this, I realise there's no photo of Kate, whose idea sparked off such a magical afternoon. Mind you, she was hither and thither and didn't stand still for a minute. I only hope she enjoyed it as much as we did.

Today's track has to be, must be,  from the wonderful Greg Pearle, .featured here with the amazing John Illsley from Dire Straits  -it's from the album they made together back in 2008. Sit back, and just enjoy "Shine".....I love it.


Monday, 13 October 2014

The day I went to a supper club

 If you happened to be in the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough on Thursday, you may have come across a woman pushing a wooden table on castors plus a couple of chairs on top down a hill. It wasn't a fundraising stunt come push for charity. No, it was Katie, one half of the Secret Supper Club, taking one of her tables to the venue for Friday's secret supper event.

It's been a while since Lauren and Katie have held such an event, and the Mexican themed night was a complete sell out.

I'm not surprised, what's there not to like about going somewhere completely different to a  secret supper or pop up restaurant ? You get a chance to have a really good meal with a different menu, you can take your own booze and as an added bonus, you get to have a good nosey at someone else's home .

I took three friends along, Laura, Suzie and Fiona...Fiona was the saint who drove us home. Arriving promptly , there was a warm welcome into Lauren's Victorian, possibly Edwardian newly and beautifully renovated home.

There was a "Wow"and instant kitchen envy from Laura and I as we entered the huge kitchen. When I say huge...there's not many kitchens where 25 people can be easily seated. And it's gorgeous....

There were home made nachos, sour cream, guacamole and a tomato salsa on the table to tuck into while other arrivals piled in...and our booze was put into a old tin trough full of ice.
The main course was served buffet style and queuing up gave those people on different tables a chance to chat, and get an eyeful of what we were about to receive and be truly grateful for.

I've never tasted grilled corn like this - topped off with chilli oil, salt, lime juice and Lancashire cheese, I had to have a second piece .There was pulled pork with almond mole, green rice, mixed bean chilli, spicy chicken wings and big, fat sweet potato wedges plus featherweight soft tortillas and a tomato salad.

And what's more , there was plenty more for those who had already polished off everything on their piled high plates.

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By now, the booze was flowing and the decibel levels in the kitchen were rising as everyone sat chatting

And then Lauren arrived with some tequila

I 've never tried tequila slammers before. I've watched others knock them back many times, but not done it myself after seeing the havoc caused afterwards. Most notably at my friend Karen's hen do about ten years ago. Everyone except me had several rounds of them.(I was driving) with great merriment as they licked the salt off their hand, slammed the tequila down their neck, and then sucked a quarter of lime.

Within minutes they were all uproariously drunk , dancing outrageously and inappropriately and I ended up having to virtually carry one of the group (Hello Helen) through the streets of Leicester while trying to hail a taxi without success at 2.30am. In the end I had to drive  about 15 miles out of my way to get Helen home, with the window wide open so she could throw up out of the window. I propped her up her outside her front door, rang the bell, got into my car, watched her husband open the door, giggled at his expression and drove away into the early hours .

So there was no way I was going to have a tequila.....

As you can see , I really enjoyed it....

At least I can say I've had one, but it's not something I shall do again. But one thing I will do, is book straight in for the very next supper club held here. Did I mention the rum and lime cake after the tequila?

Such a lovely relaxed yet buzzy atmosphere, as much food as we could eat at a very decent price, with lots of smiles all round, from the organisers to the very satisfied punters.

And apart from a raft of "thank you's and "goodnights"...the only question  on everyone's lips as we sailed off happily down the street was "When is the next one?"


Friday, 10 October 2014

The day of the food fair


Another year, another Melton Food's an annual tradition eagerly awaited by many in these here parts. There's a chance to taste something new, talk to local producers and those from further afield, have a drink with friends and perhaps at some stage sit down and watch one of the cookery demonstrations.
I've been going for a number of years...including those festivals which were held at nearby Brooksby Hall in huge marquees.
But again this year's fair was held at the busy and thriving Cattle market in the heart of the town itself.

 Obviously the cattle, sheep and hens weren't there for the food festival, and as visitors walked past the empty pens to the entrance they immediately started to feel hungry. You could hear the sizzle of sausages and burgers frying and smell the distinctive bison burgers, as well as detecting the rich smell of chocolate which was accompanying fried churros.

 I managed to slide past the street food stalls without stuffing myself full of food. After all there were 150 stalls, all piled high with produce to look at, taste, try and buy.

Alistair Mattinson was manning his Hedgerow Products stand. Everything he makes is sourced from Leicestershire, collecting bullaces and damsons, medlars and rowanberries as well as crab apples. I tested them all, well nearly all, and I have to say they were full of flavour. I only  wish my blackberry jam tasted like his.

And it would have been rude not to test more from the hedgerows near Melton, this time infused with alcohol. Ooh, Sloeberry Spirits do a really mean vodka and blackberry ....they make about 5,000 bottles a year of that plus whisky and damson and sloe gin. Quite a few people buying bottles for Christmas presents....or so they said....

Another Leicestershire producer which caught my eye  was Greyfriars Fine Foods....yes, the clue is the name....Richard III has inspired Rosie Clark to make contemporary foods with mediaeval flavours. And her products were different made with mead, marigolds and rose petals...beautifully labelled.

I think Riverford Organics have been to every local food fair I've been to over the past few years, and it was at Melton a few years ago, I met Diana who was whizzing up the most delicious sweetcorn fritters while she chatted away.

I must have eaten two or three, and promptly bought the lovely Riverford Cookbook which I use often. No sweetcorn fritters this time alas, but some very tasty kale with garlic.

Of course there wasn't just local produce at this food fair...exhibitors came from far and wide and I couldn't resist buying the most delicious hazelnut salami from French Flavour

Honestly, I put the salami in the fridge as soon I returned home, and the next minute, half of it was gone...and not by me I might add. One purchase that did stay in the fridge until I was ready to cook them were the 3 pounds of excellent fennel and chilli sausages from Saporito in Market Harborough.

By now my basket and bags were full of food...and I was so tempted by this stall....

It would have so easy to buy another take stuff home in of course....but unlike Oscar Wilde I resisted temptation. Until next year's Food Festival of course....


Thursday, 2 October 2014

The day Boo gave birth

It all happened yesterday, three days before due date.

Boo refused breakfast before I went to work, and she 'd not eaten her supper either the day before. Mr Thinking of the days whose nose has not been out of the excellent "Book of the Bitch " for weeks,

said this could be of significance. She was also shivering, so I wrapped Boo up in her blanket and Mr Thinking of the Days nodded, saying this also could be significant.

I went off to work leaving him with a strict reminder that he was to call the moment anything happened. No call by mid morning so I rang quickly...he said he 'd taken Boo for a walk and she was fine. Nothing to worry about at all.

I was half way through eating a jacket potato at lunchtime when my mobile rang. An agitated man was on the other end...."Oh my God" he shouted...she's amazing, I can't believe it!"
Holding the phone slightly further away from my ear as it was hurting from the volume.....he went on "There's two of them, a girl and a boy......they're brilliant", and before I could ask any questions there was a strangled cry and in an extremely loud voice "The third is coming...I'm putting the phone down now!"

I waited ten to fifteen minutes , but no more phone calls. By now I was so excited, yet worried that something had gone wrong. I rang back....the third, another boy, had been delivered was safe and sound according the shouty assistant midwife .

 A fuzzy photo was sent by e mail, I gasped and oohed and aahed and showed the photo to any of my colleagues who would look. One of them, who I shan't name, (oh go on then, it was Giles) shouted out across the newsroom "Bridget wants to show you her puppies" ...and I assure you he will pay for that at some stage.

As soon as I arrived home , Boo came racing to the door, as always, to welcome me. I gave her lots of fuss as usual, and she ran to her whelping box to show me her little darlings. Three perfect little puppies, who are all showing signs of  their dual border terrier and patterdale terrier heritage.

So here they are today.....24 hours old.....

The little girl is the smallest with the browny, Border tinge. I'm absolutely besotted with them, and have spent a couple of hours just watching and admiring them, plus giving lots of praise and fuss to their gorgeous Mum Boo....who is looking extremely proud and perky.