Thursday, 26 May 2016

Cool Tips For Hot Days

It is ages since I did a Top Tips post. But as we recently changed our refrigeration at home, I have been reorganising my chilled and frozen foodstuffs. We've replaced our original fridge [with inbuilt icebox] with a new fridge freezer. The fridge has gone to Liz and Jon's new place, and the old freezer is now in the garage. This gives us more fridge space, and more freezer space. So here are a few ideas 
1; be ruthless about storage containers. I have got rid of any split, lidless and otherwise damaged plastic boxes - including a few Lock'n'lock types which have mysteriously lost one or more tabs. I do like L&L - but they are expensive, and they do not stack well when empty. This range  suits me, it is economical, fits neatly in my freezer drawers and is widely available [The Range is a particularly good source - lots of sizes and best prices]

2; label everything you freeze. I know I keep banging on about leftovers - but if you do chill and freeze a spare portion of something for another day, you may find yourself wondering 'is this pork casserole, or chicken curry?'  as you look at the cold hard contents of the box. That might not be too serious - but confusing gravy and chocolate sauce could cause disasters. I did serve Bob with apple pie once, thinking it was a chicken pie. [he nobly ate his veg and gravy separately - then the pie - then I had to confess I had done baked apples for dessert!] Put the date on too[including the year]

3; repack wisely. I always decant opened packs of frozen peas into 2 or 3 smaller boxes. Much easier to manage, less risk of split packs spilling their contents in the floor [peas on earth] If I do buy a bag of salad leaves [usually when yellow-stickered] I follow Sainsbury's advice - pop a sheet of kitchen towel in the opened bag, then roll the top over loosely and replace in the fridge, This is supposed to absorb moisture and discourage the leaves from going soggy.

4; keep a bottle of water chilling. We went out for a meal recently, and Bob had a bottle of spring water [this stuff - all the way from Norway, as drunk by top golfers at Wentworth this week!] We brought the 800mlbottle home as it fits beautifully in the fridge door. I dropped a few slices of lime and sprigs of mint in to infuse, and it is very refreshing. HFW's Leftovers book suggests strips of cucumber peel make a good addition too.

5; mark the date on dairy pots. So often the use by date is stamped on the foil lid. Fine for individual yogurts, but hopeless for things like cream, fromage frais and large pots of yogurt, where you might only use half of it and put the rest back. The opened foil lids can be messy, so you peel them right off - but then later cannot remember when you got the stuff.
 I mark mine with a Sharpie before I even open them.

6; make some ice cream. I seemed to have a glut of cans of condensed milk in the cupboard - so decided to try out HFW's recipe for 'Granny's Ice Cream' I can report that it was ridiculously easy to make. It only has 4 ingredients and it tastes good. It is rich and creamy - but not soft scoop. you need to get it out 20 minutes before you serve it to allow it to soften slightly.

Ingredients in granny's jam ; cream, condensed milk [milk, sugar] vanilla extract, jam [fruit, sugar, lemon juice], sugar COMPARED TO essentials' raspberry ripple; partially reconstituted skimmed milk concentrate, sugar, raspberry ripple sauce (10%) (sugar, water, wheat glucose syrup, raspberry puree, cornflour, acidity regulators citric acid and trisodium citrate, colour anthocyanins, gelling agent pectin, flavouring), coconut oil, wheat glucose syrup, milk whey powder, emulsifier mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, stabilisers locust bean gum and guar gum, flavouring, colours beta-carotene and beetroot red.

The home-made one is cheaper - and probably better for you. I got a bit carried away - divided my mix between 2 1-litre boxes. The first was swirled with jam [six heaped teaspoonsful swirled in] and the second I used Camp Coffee Essence [about 1½ tablespoons] The narrow handle of my jam spoon made an excellent swirling tool!
And I followed my own advice and labelled carefully


Find some of my older cool tips on this topic here, here and hereWhat are your best fridge and freezer tips? 



Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A Very Peculiar Character

Wandering round Spitalfields last week we saw quite a few blue plaques, including this one. But who was Mark Gertler? Should I have heard of him?  I came home and checked him out.
He hung about with lots of painters at the Slade School Of Fine Art [part if University College London] in the early part if the twentieth century. He had an affair with Dora Carrington, the avant garde female artist who was on the fringe of the Bloomsbury Group.
Through Dora, Mark came into contact with Virginia Woolf and others in the group. VW clearly found the young man quite insufferable. She said What an egoist! We have been talking about Gertler to Gertler for some 30 hours; it is like putting a microscope to your eye. One molehill is wonderfully clear; the surrounding world ceases to exist. But he is a forcible young man; as hard as a cricket ball; and as tightly rounded and stuffed in at the edges. We discussed — well, it always came back to Gertler. “I have a very peculiar character ... I am not like any other artist ... My picture would not have those blank spaces ... I don’t see that, because in my case I have a sense which other people don’t have  ...” and so on. And if you do slip a little away, he ...somehow tricks you back again. He hoards an insatiable vanity... However this is honestly outspoken, he will, one sees, paint good interesting pictures, though some rupture of the brain would have to take place before he could be a painter.”
 D H Lawrence used him as the basis for the artist Loerke, in 'Women in Love'. Aldous Huxley, similarly, in 'Crome Yellow' used him as the model for Gombauld, and Gilbert Cannan's novel 'Mendel' used as its foundation, the relationship between Mark and Dora C.

But what of his pictures? Here is "Gilbert Cannan at his Mill"  - not really my cup of tea. The only thing I found interesting was that J M Barrie used the black and white St Bernard 'Porthos' as the model for Nana in Peter Pan. [Helpful notes from the Ashmolean here]
I did quite like 'Merry Go Round' - I thought it was bright and cheerful. But only on a postcard or teatowel - I couldn't cope with it full size hanging on the living room wall! This is really the only painting he did which became famous. 









Sadly he suffered very poor health, including contracting tuberculosis, forcing him to spend time in a sanatorium. His relationships with women were not lasting - although he did marry and have a son. But depression was a constant problem for him. In 1939, after his wife left him, and Dora had committed suicide, fearful of the imminent outbreak of war, Gertler gassed himself. 14 years ago, a studious biography was written by Sarah McDougall - but as the review in the Observer says - even she struggles to render him a likeable fellow!

Oh well, he did at least get his blue plaque above a tailor's atelier in Spitalfields. And his son Luke became a great collector of cartoons  . I think he enjoyed life more than his father - and I am glad about that.




Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Why Do I Bother Watching?

I suspect I am not alone in watching many TV programmes on 'catch-up' - either I remember to record them, or I rely on the i-player. I have finally managed to see the final episodes of Hinterland, Undercover, and Home Fires. [And I have recently discovered another film channel.] But I am left with a number of unanswered questions about these three series.
Hinterland - the amazingly bi-lingual Welsh police series. Which has three stars - DC Tom Mathias [Richard Harrington] Mared Rhys [Mali Harries] and a red parka. No kidding, her red jacket has a massive following! I read this here and mentioned it to Bob as we watched the last episode together. Then we saw her in the car wearing a red jacket without a furry hood. Is it the same jacket? we wondered. 'Maybe it is like my M&S one, and you can remove the hood and the fur' I suggested. We kept watching and a subsequent shot showed the coat with the hood [and the badge on the left arm proved it was the same coat] But why did the continuity person not notice that in two later scenes, Mared walked out of the door in the coat without the hood- but turned the corner, and there it was again, in all its furry glory. What's with that coat?


I found Undercover enjoyable - and thought some of the characters and relationships were cleverly written. Until the last episode. I can only say that if felt like the ending was just a set-up for a second series. All sorts of unanswered questions and implausible plotlines. I won't give any spoilers here - but this Guardian review [which does give things away] echoes my feelings. How did they get away with those impossible bits - eg a DPP with epilepsy who drives her own car?
Home Fires - ended abruptly, and with altogether too many loose ends- rapidly followed by an announcement from ITV that there will not be any more series. This has greatly angered the WI, who have bombarded the television company with jars of jam in protest! I quite enjoyed this from lots of points of view - watching +actors like Francesca Annis and Samantha Bond who have been around for years, playing more mature roles. And Claire Price [who was the perfect Siobhan to Ken Stott's Rebus] But what did the ITV do with all the jam? [please tell me they passed it on to a Foodbank]
But for sheer nostalgia, and an old film to watch whilst you are tackling the Ironing Mountain, nothing beats Talking Pictures TV [freeview channel 81] These are all films from the 30's through to the 70's - most in black and white. The actors either speak with clipped Terribly British Accents [think Celia Johnson, Brief Encounter]  or they are Cheerful Cockneys [Eliza Doolittle, My Fair Lady] or suspicious foreigners. Enormous fun - especially as the film finishes, when the continuity announcer always says "Thank you for watching Talking Pictures!"  






Monday, 23 May 2016

A Worthy Effort

I do like Rachel Allen Cookbooks - and often use her 'Bake' one [great sponge recipe here] Recently I picked up three books for a pound in a CS sale and one of them was this
I have borrowed this from the library before. To get a £20- book marked down to £6 - and then finally 33.33 pence seemed a real bargain. As I am still trying to use up leftover resources, and follow HFW's shining example, I decided to make some bread. There was some fancy flour [Matthews Cotswold Crunch] in the Breadmaking Ingredients Bin. It was a bit old
A long way past its 'best before' date, to be quite truthful. Bob bought it, I think, on holiday in Norfolk, some time ago. But he had not done any breadmaking for ages, so I decided I would use it up.

She has a recipe for her Dad's brown bread which I modified



Rachel's Dad's Brown Bread

Sunflower oil, for greasing
12oz plain flour
12oz wholemeal flour
3oz bran
2oz wheat germ
2oz pinhead oatmeal or oats
2oz brown sugar
1½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs
1¾ pints buttermilk

* Preheat the oven to 200ºC [180º fan]
* Grease two 2lb loaf tins with sunflower oil or line with parchment or nonstick paper.
* Place the flours, bran, wheat germ, oatmeal, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl.
* Sift in the baking powder and baking soda. Mix thoroughly.
* Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl and add the buttermilk.
* Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the eggs and buttermilk.
* Using one hand with your fingers open and stiff, mix in a full circle, bringing the flour and liquid together. The dough should be soft and sloppy.[oh it definitely was!]
* Divide the dough between the prepared tins and place in the centre of the oven.
* Bake 1 hour, then remove the bread from the tin and place back in the oven without the tins for 10 to 15 minutes until the loaves sound hollow when you tap them on the bottom.

Makes 2 vegetarian loaves.

Modifications; I added up the flours, bran and wheatgerm [29oz] and used 15oz plain flour, 15oz 'fancy' stuff. I did not have any buttermilk, so I used half and half milk and natural yogurt, and added 1tbsp to the milk to increase its acidity, And I sprinkled some porridge oats on top for a rustic appearance. It did rise slightly more than I expected in the tins, but smelt delicious. 
Both loaves refused to come out of the tins- but with the help of my friend Jenny, we got them out - however, the oats on top went all over the kitchen as we struggled! Thanks Jenny for the assistance.  
The first loaf sliced well, and also toasted well - but the second is still in the freezer. I was quite pleased with it - specially as it didn't have a "soda" taste, which often happens with quick breads like this. Bob described it as "worthy". That usually means 'it tastes OK, and I am sure it is doing me good, but I have tasted better in the past' 

35p for a book of great recipes, and using up my stocks ticks all the boxes for me, anyway. 














Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Mother Of Methodism

Having spotted the birthplace of Susanna Wesley on Wednesday, I felt I ought to find out a bit more about this woman, often called 'the Mother of Methodism'. 
Susanna's father, Dr Samuel Annesley, was one of the Anglican priests ejected from the C of E for his nonconformist teachings. The youngest of 25 children [not all survived infancy!] she grew up listening to her father's teachings. In contemporary terms, Susanna would be considered a liberated woman. This mostly because her father gained the freedoms found in Scripture. These not only enlightened Susanna, but these revolutionary ideals eventually became the teachings of her own home.
She married Samuel Wesley - whose father [Rev John Westley-Samuel] had also been thrown out of the Anglican fold. Despite his heritage, Samuel became an Anglican vicar, and they settled in Whitchurch, Dorset [more local history for me to explore!] They had 19 children - ten of whom died in infancy. 
Her husband, bless him, has been described as a 'poor pastor, and worse preacher' [he was no good with family finances either and often fell into debt] They moved to Epworth in Lincolnshire. Susanna was an amazing mother, managing the family [and the parish during her husband's frequent absences] She told her children that she needed to pray regularly - and when she threw her voluminous apron up over her face and head, the family knew she was in prayer, and would be quiet and well behaved until her 'Amen'. I suspect fear of severe punishment rather than deep spirituality was what was keeping the Wesley brood silent.[I never dared try this technique on my girls when they were younger]

In 1709, the Epworth Rectory caught fire - everyone escaped, except young John. Convinced he'd died in the flames, his father started praying for his son's soul- then a cry was heard from an upper window. The boy was rescued, alive and unharmed.
Susanna described him as 'a brand plucked from the burning' and impressed on the child that God had saved him for a great purpose.
John Wesley grew up, and founded Methodism, and his brother Charles wrote thousands of hymns - many of which are still sung every week in churches across the world. Both men spoke often of the profound influence their mother's faith had upon their lives. Susanna Wesley is the forerunner of women preachers in John Wesley’s Methodist movement. At the time of her death, John acknowledged that she was a preacher and a priest in the family. Even to those outside of the immediate family, her preaching was e well known. She was born in 1669 in London - and died there in 1742. She was buried in Bunhill Fields, the great nonconformist burial ground. [Thankyou FreebornG for this interesting link which you sent me on Friday]

Her tombstone reads
In sure and certain hope to rise
And claim her mansion in the skies
A Christian here, her flesh laid down
The cross exchanging for a crown



She had a really difficult life, but her strong faith sustained her, and her influence on her sons helped form their characters. I genuinely believe that because England had John Wesley and Methodism, we did not have the bloody revolutions which were sweeping across Europe. Susanna said - and lived -these words..
There are two things to do about the Gospel
...Believe it and behave it



Saturday, 21 May 2016

Making A Hash Of Things

I have learned two new words recently. The first, courtesy of Steph, is octothorpe. Which is what you probably know as the hashtag. I researched this new word and discovered the following information.
The # symbol is commonly called the pound sign, number sign or the hashtag. It is called the pound sign because the symbol comes from the abbreviation for weight, or “libra pondo” in Latin. When writing lb, it was not uncommon for scribes to cross the letters across the top with a line across the top, like a t. The phrase “number sign” arose in Britain because “pound sign” could easily be confused with the British currency. The # symbol is sometimes spoken as the word “number” as in the word “number two pencil.”
But the octothorpe? It’s a made-up word, invented in the 1960s by scientists at Bell Laboratories. They modified the telephone keypad and added the # symbol to send instructions to the telephone operating system. Since their # symbol didn’t have a name, the technicians made one up. They knew it should be called “octo-something"because it has eight ends around the edge. What happened next is not entirely clear. According to one employee, they named it after US Olympian Jim Thorpe. Another claims it was a jokey nonsense word. Another unverifiable report is much more etymologically satisfying. The Old Norse word “thorpe” meant “farm or field”, so octothorpe literally means “eight fields.”[bizarre, when you count the nine sections!]

The word hash predates this, chopped food back in the 1600s, and stripes on military jackets in 1910. In the 1980s, it came to refer to the # symbol. Since the ascent of social media, hashtag has become the usual name for the # symbol. Similar symbols appear in many other places. Musicians, like Kezzie, recognize # as the sharp symbol, denoting a note one half step higher. Copy editors see a symbol meaning “space,” as in “add a space between two sentences.” In computer code, the # symbol means that everything that follows is only comment, not instructions. Nobody is really sure about Octothorpe, and there are other even weirder stories [here] I think I shall just use hashtag, and keep octothorpe for Quiz Nights.

My other newly learned word is Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists. For instance, images of animals, faces, or objects perceived in cloud formations. The word is derived from the Greek words para (παρά, "beside, instead [of]") and the noun eidōlonδωλον "shape). I learned this whilst listened to a brilliant programme about the weather on Radio 4. Kezzie frequently posts cloud formations and asks for our interpretations.
She is not alone. Can I mention Hamlet here?
“Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius: By the mass, and ‘tis like a camel, indeed.
Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
Hamlet: Or like a whale?
Polonius: Very like a whale.”

Or maybe one of my favourite Peanuts cartoons...I think I am more like Charlie Brown than Polonius!





Friday, 20 May 2016

Spitalfields Life

This is one of my favourite blogs, and when Liz asked where I would like to go on Wednesday morning, I suggested we went off to Leon in Spitalfields, used up some of my free breakfast vouchers, then had a wander round a lovely part of old London. Particularly Norton Folgate, before the friends of Boris destroy that part of our heritage [please, please, don't let the developers win!]  It is six years since Liz arranged our visit to Dennis Severs House - home of a Spitalfields Weaver. Do check that out here. Anyway, back to this week. We began by Liz giving Rosie a hearty breakfast at home, then we boarded the bus, with the buggy, in the rain, and set off...
Porridge of the Gods [with chocolate and banana] for me, and Egg and Bean Pot for Liz - and Carrot, apple and Ginger drink for both of us.

Spitalfields is a hotbed of non-conformity - Hanbury House has belonged to almost everybody down the years - but currently owned by the lively C of E 'Christchurch Spitalfields' and run as a coffee shop and meeting place

The roundel in the pavement shows that this is where Annie Besant [plus Eleanor, daughterof Karl Marx] helped the match girls form a trade union to protect themselves from their exploitative employers who cared nothing for their health and safety.

We also saw the house where John Wesley's mother was born





Great architecture- both ordinary and elaborate








I bought fresh bagels to take home to Bob - plain ones. I couldn't face a technicolor torus - they look too much like swirled up lumps of Plasticine! 



 

Liz took me to The Cross Keyes for coffee - built on the site of an old coaching inn. In Tudor times, the inn was licenced for the production of plays, and James Burbage, the Elizabethan actor and entrepreneur [involved in building The Globe came here] The inn was demolished 100 years ago and rebuilt as the HQ of the HSBC and is now a rather opulent Wetherspoons - with glorious marble pillars, beautiful polished wooden bar, and very swish mirrors in the Ladies Washroom!

And then back on the bus to Elephant and Castle, and few more hugs with Rosie who had woken up for her lunch. Just about time for a quick cuppa, and down the Motorway to Dorset