Tuesday, 23 January 2018

That's Shallot

I had some banana shallots, and there are always apples in the fruit bowl. I made this tart for our meal last Friday [and kept the remaining 66% for another day]. This is NS's picture- by the time I came to turn mine out  it was raining heavily and I didn't want to go outside in the high winds to pick thyme sprigs to festoon the top of my tart! I omitted the Parmesan, but gave Bob a bowl of grated mature Cheddar cheese to sprinkle over his slice, which worked equally well. It was very quick and easy, I would make this one again I think. 

Nigel Slater's Shallot and Apple Tart
Serves 6
plain flour 225g
butter 120g
egg yolk 1
thyme leaves 2 tsp
Parmesan 4 tbsp, finely grated
apples 2
banana shallots 4, medium
butter 30g
olive oil 2 tbsp
You will need a tarte tatin tin or a metal-handled frying pan measuring 24cm in diameter.
Put the flour into the bowl of food processor, add the butter in small pieces and process to the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, thyme leaves and 3 tbsp grated Parmesan, process briefly, then transfer to a lightly floured board and bring together into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm or greaseproof paper and leave to rest.

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Peel the shallots, then halve each lengthways. Melt the butter with the oil in the tatin tin or frying pan over a moderate heat, then add the shallots, cut side down. Let the shallots brown lightly then turn them to let the other side colour. Meanwhile, halve, core and slice each apple into 8 segments. Remove the shallots from the pan, then add the apples, letting them soften and turn lightly gold. Scatter a heaped tablespoon of grated Parmesan over the pan, then return the shallots.

Roll the pastry out to a good 3cm larger than the tin or frying pan. Lay the pastry over the shallots and apples, tucking in the overhanging dough. Bake for 25 minutes until the pastry is pale biscuit-coloured and the butter is bubbling round the edges. Remove from the oven, leave to settle for 10 minutes then turn out on to a serving plate.

This was from last week's Guardian where NS was extolling the joys of apples. His food writing really does make my mouth water. The shallots which Bob's Dad grew were quite different in shape - it seems that banana shallots have only been around in the UK for just over 10 years [details here] I do like their mild taste though...

Monday, 22 January 2018

Plenty Of Stuffed Birds - But This Is Definitely No Turkey!

"I think you'll enjoy this one" said Bob, and he was right. This is a well written story - most of the action takes place over just three days in April 1912. It centres around 17 year old Connie Gifford- the TD of the title. It is set in a village in Sussex, not far from Chichester.
It is beautifully crafted, with a helpful map at the front, and between chapters, lovely illustrations of birds and feathers, and quotes from Mrs R Lee's "Bible" of Taxidermy, first printed in 1820.
Did you know that the word 'taxidermy' comes from two Greek words, taxis and derma, meaning to move skin ? No, me neither 
Or that Shakespeare makes reference to taxidermy in Romeo and Juliet?
I do remember an apothecary— and hereabouts he dwells…Meagre were his looks, sharp misery had worn him to the bones, and in his needy shop a tortoise hung, an alligator stuffed, and other skins of ill-shaped fishes. [R&J Act 5]
I really enjoy books that not only tell a good story, but also feed me with lots of wonderful trivia.
Here's the plot - the TD lives with Dad and a servant girl fro the village comes in daily. Connie has had a sad life- her Mum died giving birth, and aged 12, Connie fell downstairs and injured her head badly. She survived [just] but now suffers from petit mal, and has no memory of the time 'before' . Her father went bankrupt, and had to sell his amazing museum of stuffed animals. At the beginning of the story, late at night, Connie is lurking in the churchyard. Her Dad drinks heavily, and so she often has to go out at night to ensure he stumbles home safely after his regular jaunt to the pub, and does not end up in the creek, or drowned out on the marsh. 
On this night, there are many men outside - and a woman ends up murdered...
The plot is very clever, with interesting twists and turns. There is amazing detail about the craft of the 'stuffers' [as taxidermists were formerly called]. In Victorian times, they felt the word 'taxidermist' sounded more professional. 
Connie has a vague memory of visiting a Museum of Curiosities in Sussex as a child, and seeing many stuffed animals, including a tableau of The Death and Burial of Cock Robin

Kate Mosse knew about Steyning Museum and the eccentric stuffer, Walter Potter, and has cleverly woven her plot round this. Do check him out!
I was impressed to discover that KM actually studied taxidermy to make sure she wrote about it accurately.
I love crafting, and also miniature things [doll's clothes, doll's house, tiny pieces of stitching] but I am not sure I would be as diligent as to learn how to slice, scrape,stuff and sew a dead jackdaw
There's a murder, and gruesome bits, and unanswered questions - finally resolved. There are amusing, perceptive passages. There is love, and commitment, and doubt. There is a lot of weather. I read this over a old, damp, very windy weekend - which certainly added to the atmosphere. There is sadness, and also surprising moments of joy.
Definitely ***** - but I warn you, you may not handle a packet of Paxo 'Sage and Onion' in the same way ever again!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

1,2,3, Wheeee!

It’s January, the start of a new year. People like to bring some appropriate words to this season. Perhaps remind you of the King’s Christmas Broadcast of 1939, where he famously quoted that passage by Minnie Louise Hastings “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year ‘give me a light’... But he told me ‘put your hand in the hand of God’ etc..” But whilst that was an apposite and well chosen piece as our nation stood trembling on the brink of WW2, it didn’t feel quite what I want to say now. 
One of my delights over Christmas was time with all my family. We enjoyed a whole week with our darling Rosie, and on New Year’s Day, we all drove up to the Norfolk coast and walked along the beach. We took lots of photos!

For part of the walk, Liz and Jon played the game which our family call “1,2,3,wheee!” You know it I’m sure. The child walks along between her parents, holding hands, and then they count and start to run, lift her up and swing her in the air, then let her down again, and the walk continues. Rosie adores this activity.It struck me that if I am honest about the year ahead of me, I don’t really think my journey will be like that of Miss Haskins, tentatively stepping forward into the darkness, hanging on bravely. It will be more like Rosie's walk on the sand at Holkham – sometimes walking, sometimes running, sometimes my feet will leave the ground, but always with my loving Father beside me.
I watched Rosie, she was happy, and confident, then anxious, screaming with excitement, exhilarated... Overcome with joy, giggling with happiness. But above all, confident and secure in the knowledge that Mum and Dad would keep her safe.

If you visit Spurgeons College, where Bob trained, you will see, above the main staircase, a lovely stained glass window bearing the college’s Latin motto “Teneo et Teneor” – I both hold and am held. 
Like Rosie, we can be sure that as we enter this new year, with its ups and downs, uneventful days, or scary nights, joyful times, unexpected blessings or disappointments, and those moments of breathless excitement when our feet don’t touch the ground... Whatever 2018 brings, we can be confident that just as we hold the hand of our Loving Father, so He has us firmly in his grasp. And Scripture promises that none shall pluck us from His Hand. 
So let’s move on, confident that He is beside us, let us be faithful and fearless. As Rosie says, 1,2,3... Wheeee ! 

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Vive Le Français!

Since I posted about my French soap, I keep noticing other French stuff. I hope to be among those lining up to gawp at the Bayeux Tapestry when it finally gets here. This French Embroidery has fascinated me since childhood.
Then yesterday, Liz alerted me to the work of French Canadian artist Elise Gravel. She has produced a great poster celebrating women scientists.
To my shame, I have to admit that I can only tell you things about half of them. More research needed there...
Liz said she'd like to put up EG's posters 'boys can be' and 'girls can be' in Rosie's bedroom. So I went onto the Net to find this, and found the French ones.

 My French isn't that good, so I was glad to discover that there are English versions available.
Who knew that in Quebec, the word is Prout

I love the sentiment of these posters- and if I was a class teacher, I would love to pin them on the wall of my classroom [probably in French, for added educational benefit!] 

My final bit of Français came with the delivery of my latest Marie Claire Idées magazine [thanks Steph!] 
Lots in here to get excited about... once I have translated it.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Clock... Not Working, Otherwise OK

About 30 years ago, an elderly gentleman in his 90s died. He belonged to my Dad's church in Norfolk, I remember him as a happy, determined chap, bright and alert till the end. He had left instructions for my father to take his funeral, and for my parents to clear his rented home, and distribute his possessions among his friends. His tiny one bedroomed place was very tidy, and spotlessly clean, but there was a lot of stuff in there.

One dear lady used to call each week and collect his pension book. He'd put it in an envelope with his shopping list on the front. J would collect the pension, buy the food, then write the amount spent on the envelope, and put all the remaining money inside. She did this for years. 

He would take the envelope, remove the book, and the banknotes- and place the envelope containing a few coins back in the drawer. There were hundreds of these envelopes, neatly lined up!
In another drawer were lots of little boxes, beautifully labelled - including one full of cogs and screws - "Clock- two parts missing, not working, otherwise OK"
His niece's husband owned a department store in Sussex, and they sent household linen each year for his Christmas gift. There were stacks of sheets and towels, still in their wrappers. Mum gave me a white bath towel ["for Bob to use at Baptismal Services"] I still have it!
The whole process of clearing took quite a while - Mum and Dad took it all home, and then distributed things among his friends, and sent the money to his chosen good causes. "I am not going to get like this" said Mum "Why keep those clock parts- it was never, ever going to work again..." Sadly, Mum herself died within a few years, aged 66 - she never reached her 90s, and Dad and I sorted out what few 'personal' items she had - but of course, Dad continued to live in their home, so much of their possessions were shared. He later downsized, and was pretty ruthless with 'stuff' - but left his tools to my brother and his books to Bob.
This week I listened to a Womans Hour Podcast about 'dostadning' - a Swedish word meaning 'death cleaning'. Margareta Magnusson, a Swedish lady 'somewhere between 80 and 100' has written it to help us declutter now, to save our loved ones the task after we've gone. One of her daughters is a journalist and suggested Mum put her principles into print [the cynic in me says 'jumping on the current Kondo/lagom bandwagon - and ensuring Mum's eventual legacy is more cash than clutter']
"Start the process somewhere between 60 and 65", advises Margareta. I am 62-and-a-bit, so approximately half way through that age bracket. Long time blog followers will know that I have struggled with decluttering for years. I hope that within a few years, we will retire to Norfolk [assuming I don't die first] But Cornerstones already has beds, a cooker, bedlinen and crockery. I cannot fit all the stuff in the Dorset Manse into that bungalow, but will need much of it up right until I move. How do I decide what things should be discarded now
Please don't mention my haberdashery and the Great Stash - whilst I am still fit and able to sew and craft, those items are constantly in use and being turned into other things. 
Any helpful suggestions as to where to start?
[I have already thrown away the broken, cheap watch from my jewelry box, and a faulty alarm clock which wouldn't reliably wake anyone. "Clock... not working, otherwise OK" is a ridiculous label!]

Thursday, 18 January 2018

I Am Speechless!

When I began this blog I didn't think I'd keep it up. Now nearly 10 years later, I've passed 2 million hits. 
This picture is one I found online, but it seemed appropriate. Diverse fabrics stitched together by an elderly machine, to make a useful, beautiful quilt. I try to take the random things that occur in my life and put them together, redeeming things which others have discarded, making and mending... and by God's good grace, trying to make my corner of the world a better place.
Thanks for all your comment. I've made so many new friends here, and learned so much. While folk seem to enjoy my scribblings, I shall go on writing! 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Better Than Soap On A Rope!

Here's James Martin in his kitchen making pastry. Yes, that is his home. unlike other cooks, who film in a TV set on a West London Industrial Estate and pretend it is their kitchen and their table etc, JM is actually in his own house.
Notice behind his right elbow, a bowl of lemons - but what is that behind his left elbow? It looks like a lemon on a stick!
Well, it is, sort of. It is a ProVenDi soap. In 1950, on the shores of Lake Geneva, a French, family-run soap business invented these novel soaps. The owners, expert 'savoniers' realised that bars of soap left by the sink can easily become slimy and slippery - and slide out of wet hands onto the floor. Why not drill a hole through the middle of the soap to make a bar that rotates on a shaft?
It was a stroke of genius- schools and public washrooms across France loved the idea. Just rub damp hands round the moisturising Marseilles soap to create a creamy lather. And teachers and janitors do not have to fish disintegrating bars of soap from the floor, or out of basins of water. For almost 70 years they have been in French schools. I have no idea why we didn't have them in British schools [my school had those horrid dribbly liquid soap dispenser, which were always empty anyway] I love Marseilles Soap, it is a real treat when friends and family return from holiday with a little bar for me. 
My Futility Room Plans included dreams of French Style...so my Christmas Present from Bob was this - a lovely lemon soap on its own stem. You have no idea how excited I was when I opened my gift on Christmas Day! He's mounted it behind the FR sink [although I know it will have to come off temporarily when we eventually do get round to painting] Thank you Bob.
I am not sure that having soap like JM will improve my cooking though...