Friday, 25 November 2011

Foodie Friday

There were six of us around the table today for lunch.Snowy white tablecloth, crisp linen napkins, delicious food and lots of noise.We giggled through the starter , mains, pudding and coffee .

The other diners (three tables of two) were probably slightly stunned by our rising voices, but what a lovely lunch.

The girls as I think of them (we'd all be prosecuted under the trades descriptions act if we were being advertised as such and I'm the youngest!)and I meet up once every few months or so. We're a disparate group, but Gill, Jill, Alanda, Kim, Lorna and I all got together years as ago through being on a fund raising committee for the British Red Cross. There's usually ten of us , so we may have been a smaller group today but we certainly weren't any quieter.

We were at Paul Leary, The Woodhouse in Woodhouse Eaves. A stylish restaurant decked out in shades of grey. Kim decided that she would only have two courses, I agreed ,but the others weren't so sure.

But when we saw the menu , we all pretty much decided there and then that three courses would be necessary. Having the will power of a gnat myself, I wasn't surprised.

Alanda and I had the mushroom risotto.I love risotto but am sometimes wary of ordering it as like Forest Gump says in the film about a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.
What we did get was ....cue heavy flavours, great texture and a saucy richness which made me sigh.

I chose chicory tarte tatin,with polenta chips.choux farci and cointreau and orange reduction.

A pretty looking plate, perhaps the tarte tatin was a little too well done,but the polenta chips packed a punch and the orange and cointreau reduction added a welcome sweetness.I wish there had been more of it though.It may have been a reduction, but I just wished they hadn't reduced it by so much. Less may be more but for me, when it comes to sauces and gravy, more is more .

Then came the pudding.Alanda and I had both chosen the mango and passionfruit mousse with the coconut .It came in a glass.We looked at each other, tried a teaspoonful and then looked at each other and grinned.Like Monica does with Gregg Wallace on Masterchef on BBC 2,and then you know the chef is doing ok.

Ok, imagine intense fruit flavours...mangoes and passionfruit...clean, zingy flavours that make you wake you up plus the unctous coconutty richness... with a hint of coriander.That's the sort of flavour that says Hello! I'm here...

At that point I was prepared to kidnap the chef. Abduct him and order him at gunpoint to bring all the ingredients for the risotto and pudding into my car and I would drive off into the sunset.Then make him cook for private.

Unfortunately that wasn't an option, so I settled for a coffee,with accompanying chocolate and hazenuts pralines and turkish delight, said goodbye to the girls and drove off .

The track for today is what I listened to on the way home to darkening skies at just before 4pm. Angus and Julia Stone...who I saw live in Freo ,Western Australia two years ago.The title..."Mango tree" Damn, I knew I should have kidnapped the chef.....

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

days of signs....

Have you ever felt that you were being pushed into something? I don't mean physically and I don't mean being bullied into anything.No, I'm talking about signs, portents,indications of something important about to occur.

I feel like that at the moment...that I'm being pushed towards fate. Oh, doesn't that sound melodramatic? Like an old film when the plot is going to go into overdrive, the violins start screeching away.- signalling madly THAT SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN!

Don't worry, i'm not hearing things, but I've got a feeling.....

Once upon a time, there was a journalist who wrote a novel for young adults. When I say once upon a time, it was a while back. She finished the novel...with lots of encouragement from lots of writer friends....but never did anything with it.She merely put it away in a box...and carried on with her busy life.

That was me, but out of the blue, a few months ago my writer friend Liz suggested that I get out the novel, have another look at it and perhaps send it off somewhere.

I said I would. I found the old hard copy, had a quick look ,but in the intervening years, with changes of computers etc, I'd lost my digital copy.I did nothing.

Last month, another friend , children's author Ros suggested that I meet up with some other children's writers. I did, and listening to them talking about their latest books , I felt a stirring. I wanted to do this...I wanted to write again.

Last week, Ros couldn't go to the Society of Children's book writers and illustrators conference in Winchester.She asked me if I would like to go in her place. I did.

I went with two other children's writers Pippa and Alex for two packed days of workshops and discussions about children's publishing today.There were lots of laughs and so much talent about.....and I came away absolutely inspired. Both by the conference and the genuine camaradie there...and by Pippa and Alex on the road trip there and back.

I still can't believe what happened today though.Cue the sound of violins - very loud violins.

Sitting in my jammies with a cup of coffee at the computer before going to work, I was having a chat on facebook with another friend Lesley who lives in Somerset.

After the usual catching up natter, I mentioned that I went to Winchester (Lesley is another writer friend who also happens to make rather gorgeous jewellry)and she immediately asked me about my book, even though we haven't spoken of it for years.She urged me to send it off....and then comes the killer moment for me ... said...completely out of the blue....I've got a copy of that on my hard drive.

Flummoxed and flabbergasted, I watched the copy arrive in my inbox moments later. Now if that isn't a bloody sign,I'd like to know what is. I'm not fanciful, but this has got to be more than coincidence.
So to Liz, Ros, Pippa , Alex and Lesley - thank you...all of you.Guess what I'll be doing this weekend?

Watch this space.....

tonight's track is "Every day I write the book." A fab song that I haven't heard for ages...I like this slow pared down version...I also like the 1983 version too but watching the old videos of it are excruciating.So here for you...elvis is making an appearance on my blog .At least, Elvis Costello is...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A foody friday

(but a little early)

Close your eyes.. Imagine you're in the kitchen. A warm , wintery, fuggy kitchen .Inhale. The sweetness of roasted tomato, the pungency of garlic, the sheer summery tang of basil, and the seductive plummy whoosh of red wine.

That's my kitchen as I come to the end of the tomato season.As I've said on an earlier post, the tomatoes were late to ripen, and most of them have had to turn red on the windowsills.The first ones basked in the sun rather smugly I thought, but within days, more were jostling for pole position in direct sunlight.

I'm sure they were breeding, they seemed to multipy - there wasn't one single windowsill in the cottage free of them and an alarming amount decided to ripen all at once.

Lycopene is supposed to be very good for I 'm feeling very virtuous at the moment. And versatile..At least when it comes to cooking tomatoes.....

Two of the simplest ways to use lots of them up have been the tastiest according to the gang of four (the rest of my family)

Roasted tomato with basil...

Place sliced tomatoes in a ceramic dish, overlapping each other.
Tuck some fresh basil leaves in between them.
Throw a glug of exra virgin olive oil over them, add salt and black pepper and grate some parmesan cheese over the top.Wang in the oven at 190 degrees fahrenheit or gas mark 5 for about 20 - 25 minutes.

As the meerkats would say - SIMPLES! (It's an ad campaign in the UK , fronted by meerkats who talk , for those of you who are wondering what the hell I'm talking about.)

I've also been making quite alot of pasta sauce to put in the freezer...again , so simple to make, and it's a firm family favourite.

A gutsy tomato sauce

First of all line a roasting pan or baking sheet with aluminium foil. Cut about 10- 12 tomatoes in half , put on the foil cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil.

Wrap a small bulb of garlic (do not skin) in aluminium foil and place in the middle of the tomatoes.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes.Throw the tomatoes into a liquidiser, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins , add them to the food processor and then add a third of a glass of red wine, and about 6 or 7 basil leaves..Whizz into a thick sauce.

Job done. That's it. As the children used to say easy peasy, lemon squeezy!
And you will have the gutsiest, garlicky sauce which you can simply pair with your favourite pasta and top with parmesan.

Or, sometimes I saute courgettes , mushrooms and peppers and add to the sauce, or add mince.

There are just a couple of caveats when making this sauce.

The first is , don't add too much red wine. Difficult I know.But with this sauce if you do add too much wine, and I have in the past, it makes the sauce too thin and looks unappetising. Unless you're a vampire that is....

Secondly, do remember to make sure the lid of the liquidiser is firmly on. I didn't (only once mind you, and it was the first time I made it) and the kitchen looked like a crime scene. A little tomatoey pasta sauce , like blood, goes a long way!

And the the last not eat this sauce if you 're going out on the pull. You will have liked eating this sauce, but those you may kiss at the end of the night won't.Especially if they are vampires...

So what have I done with the rest of the tomatoes that I simply can't eat this week?


Today's track.....nothing to do with tomatoes whatsoever! Just one of my favourite songs,from an amazing album...and as I sit in the kitchen ., on my favourite wicker chair with a glass of wine, this is playing.....

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

days when what goes around comes around...

What goes around comes's a phrase you hear quite often. I've been thinking about this saying quite alot recently.In both a good way and a bad way....

Shall we concentrate on the positive first? Last week, a bag of apples was at my desk...a present from Herdle, one of the presenters at work. A lovely tasty present that I made into an apple crumble.

At work yesterday I was told there was a certain something waiting for me in a pigeon hole. Now that interested me...something I wasn't expecting...and the very phrase "a certain something" was laden with promise.It conjured up visions of something serendipitous. Well, the very wasn't going to be something horrible was it?
It wasn't...a rather lovely bottle of merlot from a gardening expert and friend of mine.Why the wine? I couldn't honestly think....but then I realised why.

I had a ticket to go and see the wonderful Kasabian the other week...ah kasabian, I've followed them for years....

Well in the end , it was rather hectic at work.Should I go to the gig and return to work and work into the wee hours ? That was the plan until I heard Ady really wanted to go, so no contest. I've seen the band many times.Since before their first single soared into the charts.So this evening I've been drinking a glass or two of red wine...and yes, you've guessed, I'm listening to Kasabian.

They say everything , like buses, come in threes.So last night I had an email from my dear friend Ros.She'd booked to go to a writers conference this weekend in Winchester. She couldn't now make it, would I like her weekend ticket? Gratis. Would I? Do bears poo in the woods?

Now that's what I call what comes around goes around.I'm absolutely overwhelmed by Ros's generosity...and I just know that something wonderful will wing its way out of the ether to her very soon.

Now before you reach for the sick bag at such a luvvy post, I also firmly believe that similarly , vicious, spiteful people will also be on the receiving end of what goes around comes around....

I'm thinking of the certain rugby player who played against my elder son two weeks ago. The player, who with only five minutes left in the game, kicked my son on the knee with such force his anterior cruciate ligament has been damaged, possibly beyond repair. (My son had already passed the ball.)
He's already had one operation on the same we don't know whether he will ever be able to play again.He's hobbling around on crutches until the swelling goes down and an operation can be performed.

As I said, I firmly believe what goes around comes around...and I think it will for that player....someday.

But the track for today? Let's get back to the positive shall we? Another beautiful blast from the past...for Ros....

Friday, 11 November 2011

A day of remembrance

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

Such a sad day for so many...when millions of us think about the sacrifices made by so many in wars past and present. When we remember those who lie in a foreign land...

I always feel very emotional on this day every year.....and today the day is as depressingly dark and grey as I feel.

This is the view from my kitchen window at 2 o clock in the afternoon. 2pm- talk about matching my mood

My grandmother Annie was one of three children,the baby of the family, born years after her two older brothers.They both fought in the First World War. Percy, the youngest brother was a young lance corporal when he died in 1915 - he was 19 years old.

I know in which foreign field he lies, I have photos of his grave in France.There is also just one precious solitary photo of him shyly smiling into the camera, standing in uniform outside a military tent ,so heartbreakingly boyish.

Albert, her older brother died during the Second World War.He was a Major by now, wore a much smarter uniform, but it wasn't enough to save him.

Annie went on to have a girl and two boys too.One of them was my father Freddie who continued the family tradition - I have two brothers. One of them was only a teenager when he got caught up in the Falklands War.He was in the Royal Navy - he signed on to see the world for three years.He was coming back home across the Atlantic from the USA on his final trip when his ship was redirected down to the Falklands.

Instead of bringing out the bunting and hugging my brother...I didn't see him for nearly a year.A year of avidly listening to the news every day, waiting for his letters,and praying that I wouldn't have to face what Annie went through .Luckily I didn't....

But like my great grandmother, grandmother and father ....yes, you've guessed ..I have a girl and two boys.

And I hope with all my heart that they will never have to make the sacrifices that Annie, Percy and Albert made all those years ago.

Today's track? Not from the First or Second World War - it's an anti war song that defined a different generation from theirs...From 1970...Edwin Starr

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Days on death row

I love gardening in the sunshine. I was at the allotment this morning wearing sunglasses and weeding away around the leeks as the church bells started their Sunday song .

I'd planned to do much more but although it was a beautifully sunny day, it was a bit nippy and the soil felt cold against my fingers. I'd forgotten my gardening gloves , so instead I took down the canes supporting this year's borlotti beans.

I came back home and after a quick cup of coffee, I brought in these

some herb cuttings I potted up a few months back. Applemint, spearmint and rosemary just in case this really cold winter we've been promised kills off the rest in the herb patch.

I'm nervous of bringing them though...usually bringing in a potted herb plant,house plants or anything similar to put on the window sill is like condemning them to death row .
It's as if I give them the bloody kiss of death just bringing them in through the kitchen door It shouldn't be - they're looked after, fed , watered but do they appreciate such good treatment? Obviously not.....

There's been one exception this year..and that's a Waitrose basil plant.I bought him in March for £1.79 , have cut and snipped away ever since,and he's only just given up the ghost.I can't believe it - usually any supermarket herb I buy dies within days.

So why has this one lived way past the sell by date? Who knows- but he's been the best value basil plant ever. Yes the plant is a he...he had to be.Sharing my kitchen for so many months ,I named him - BB (for Best Basil)

But now,BB has gone to that great compost heap in the sky ,I've been back to the same supermarket and bought a replacement.

I'm hoping that this new plant will be as long lived as BB as there's lots of tomatoes which have ripened and need eating up.Basil and tomatoes - an award winning combination,and I've got a few delicious standbys I want to make .

Let's just hope the basil doesn't die first.....

And this post's track has to be Eric Clapton -Let it grow. You can all join in singing the chorus.....go on, you know you want to -for Basil.


Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A day of anticipation

I can't help this feeling I got....I've been like it for a few days.I'm fidgety,or antsy as they say in America.
I like that saying...I really do feel as if I've got I've ants in my pants -i can't settle or concentrate.

But there's also the most delicious sense of youngest son is coming home. I've not seen him for a year.That's twelve long months..and I can't wait to see him. Last year he was at he's coming home from Australia.

He's been working in Freemantle for nine months and three months on various farms in Mildura near Melbourne.He's learnt how to prune citrus and olive trees, drive a minibus, he's developed pecs and muscles, and he's changed, grown up.

I can't wait to see this new incarnation of my youngest.He's flying in tomorrow to Heathrow Airport
Of course we've phoned, facebooked, and skyped...but it's been hard to say goodbye after skyping sessions, blowing kisses at a face on a screen .Tomorrow he's going to get the biggest, longest hug and kiss from me.I have warned him ...and I may cry...but hey, I'm his mother.

My daughter and eldest son are coming home later this weekend it's going to be great having us all around the kitchen table once again.The youngest has asked for one of his favourite meals to be cooked....lamb cooked in red wine, with mushrooms, peppers,snd carrots.Roast potatoes and peas on the side, followed by apple crumble.He shall have it!

With all of them back home it's going to be noisy, there'll be music blaring out from every room,lots of their friends will pop in, I'll trip over all the huge boat like trainers on the kitchen floor. My husband and the boys will be talking sport, sport and more sport and my daughter and I will escape somewhere for a girly chat .

I can't wait.It's less than 24 hours away,I've waited a why is now time dragging so slowly?

On the other hand , it doesn't seem long since I took him to one of his first gigs....just the two of us.Razorlight (remember them?) were appearing, it was an over eighteens gig - he was eleven.I was reviewing the band so he was let in. A small place with just room for about three hundred people , it was, sweaty, packed and atmospheric. It was too loud at the front for my son,but being so small he couldn't see a thing at the back.The next thing the roadies picked him up and stood him on the merchansise table.He had the best view in the house and loved it.

That was nine years ago. It seems like I'm just waiting for tomorrow.

This post's soundtrack has to be Razorlight- I can't stop this feeling I've got.