Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Give Peas A Chance

Our Harvest Weekend went really well - lots of people at Saturday's Supper & Quiz Night, the alco-free drinks went down well. Good congregations on Sunday, and lots of stuff for the foodbank. We also took some time to consider this year's Christian Aid Harvest Appeal - this is to help farmers like Frank in Malawi, encouraging them to grow pigeon peas.
Like many farmers in Malawi, Frank is pinning his hopes on a very special crop this Harvest - pigeon peas.This hardy crop is ideal for Malawi’s dry soil. Its deep roots are resistant to drought and can withstand the country’s increasing and destructive flash flooding.
But no matter how hard Frank works on his crops, he can’t escape a life of grinding poverty. Unscrupulous middlemen are exploiting farmers by using illegal buying scales to drive down prices. It’s not enough to be good at farming. To survive, you have to be good at business too. We learned about this Profit From Peas Project, and how relatively small amounts of money can make huge differences to people's lives.

£70 could buy a bicycle so that an experienced farmer can ride to hard-to reach areas and teach other farmers how to make good money from their peas
£100 could help provide a business training session, showing poor farmers how to negotiate higher, fairer prices and reach new markets for their crops
£300 could buy 15 farmers special pea varieties that have the best chance of growing well in Malawi. It could also buy them equipment like fertiliser and farming tools to get their peas off to the best start.
£500 could set up a Farmers’ Club. Farmers join these clubs to help each other out, and to support each other to get fair prices for their peas
Find out more here. Steph visited Malawi with Unicef, in 2008, so I was particularly interested in this year's appeal. I made a display for the back of the church using the Christian Aid materials - and even had bowls of pigeon peas for people to examine. There were plenty of opportunities for Bob to make bad puns during the service - he even suggested at one point that we went Anglican and 'passed the peas'. 
Harvest Prayer 
Source of all life, 
for all who have been sowing seeds, 
cultivating soil, 
and harvesting for many years, 
but still find themselves living in dire poverty, 
we pray. 
Grant wisdom and guidance for improved farming methods. 
Grant farmers ways to profit from their harvests, 
and the opportunity to move from stagnation out of poverty. 
Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen. 

Monday, 25 September 2017

Pedal Power

This quote has been attributed to Albert Einstein, but I don't know if that's accurate. But it is a good challenge at the start of another week. Unlike many people, I am busiest from Wednesday night through to Sunday evening. It is sometimes hard for me to get motivated on a Monday. 
This week I am determined to do more cycling, it definitely raises my energy levels, even just a short ride to church, the library or the Post Office. Cycling saves money, improves fitness and doesn't harm the planet. What's not to like? 

Sunday, 24 September 2017

A Very Traditional Harvest Thanksgiving

We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
By God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain.

He only is the maker
Of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower,
He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey him,
By him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, his children,
He gives our daily bread.

We thank thee then, O Father,
For all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food.
Accept the gifts we offer
For all thy love imparts,
And what thou most desirest,
Our humble, thankful hearts.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above;
Then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord,
For all his love.

The top four photos are of the lovely displays prepared at church by my friends Luise and Alison [such talented ladies]. I particularly love the smiling loaves, the huge rhubarb leaves, and the apple-tree lectern.
Most of the produce is going to The Bus Stop Club, which runs our local foodbank. I confidently expect more goods to arrive during the Morning Service. Anything they cannot take will be sold for charity.
The lower two pictures are of the wonderful autumn foliage I spotted in the Car Park in Ringwood, early on Saturday morning. Such vivid colours, they stopped me in my tracks.

Have you been involved in any sort of Harvest Thanksgiving event - and was it modern or trad? [I am looking forward to next Sunday too, when I shall celebrate Harvest in Norfolk]

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Call My Bluff

This long running TV panel show was a great favourite in our family, and we learned many fascinating new words. A panellist would read out a word, and there would be three possible definitions - the other team had to guess which of the three was the right definition. I have learned three interesting new words recently - but I am just going to tell you the real meanings , not attempt to bluff you.
Oobleck - this is a Non-Newtonian liquid. I knew about NNLs - these are substances which don't follow the usual rules about liquid, as they become solid under pressure. You can fill a swimming pool with custard and run across it. Yes, you can. Watch this ancient kids programme introduced by Richard Hammond.
What I only recrently discovered is that the popular name for these NNLs is oobleck. The name comes from a Dr Seuss book where a musterious substance is made

My second word is cockaigne - not to be confused with cocaine, the drug, nor yet Elgar's Overture, Cockaigne (in London Town) This is an old English method of preserving fruits in alcohol, usually brandy, similar to the German Rumtopf. I found the recipe in Beryl Wood's book. It is made through the summer, and the jar is sealed at the end of September, not to be opened till Christmas Day. Beryl says the drained liquid is served as a liqueur, and the drained fruit should be served with ice cream, meringues and cream. She adds "This is not a nursery sweet"
My third word is equilux. I knew about equinox - when there are exactly twelve hours between sunrise and sunset, but not equilux. This is when there are 12 hours of light, and twelve of dark [obviously, it starts to get light before the sun rises, and some light remains even after sunset for a while] The days on which the length of day and night are exactly equal, called the equilux, occur a few days before the spring equinox and a few days after the autumn equinox. This date will vary depending on where on Earth you are, and indeed equiluxes do not occur at all close to the equator, whereas the equinox is a fixed instant in time. For us, in the UK, the equilux is early next week.
So there you are- three new words learned this term- but where and when I will get the chance to use them[other than here], I have no idea!

Friday, 22 September 2017

When Life Gives You Marrows...

...make Lemon Curd
Yes, I know that is an unexpected response. But we were given a large marrow last week and I wanted to use it up promptly. I'd picked up Beryl Wood's "Let's Preserve It" in the Library when I went to get my replacement ticket. It is a treasure of a book - nearly 600 recipes for jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys, curds and 'cheeses'.
And to my surprise, there was a recipe to make Marrow Lemon Curd I imagine this may have started out as thrift cookery in the years of WW2 and Food Rationing.
I peeled, seeded and roughly cut up 400g of marrow, into 2cm chunks. Then I simmered it slowly for 15 minutes till it was soft [the recipe said "Without water" - but I put 1tbsp of cold water in my pan first which helped prevent sticking] Then I liquidised this, along with 100g melted butter, and the grated rind and juice of 2 lemons. This then went into a double boiler with 400g sugar, and I cooked this slowly till everything was melted and well blended. Then I slowly stirred in 3 well beaten eggs, and cooked for a further 15 minutes, till the mixture was thickened. This was then poured into prepared jars - and topped with wax discs and cellophane, before I screwed on the lids. Once cool, the jars went into the fridge. These should be kept there, and consumed within one month.
The three little jars have gone to friends [including the marrow-donor] with careful instructions about storage and use.
I have already enjoyed lemon curd on toast, and used some, plus buttercream, to fill a Genoese sponge. The taste is smooth and very lemony. 

I used some of the remaining marrow to make Saturday's Supper - using Nigel Slater's recipe from a recent weekend Guardian. Her says "The key to a crisp exterior and a juicy inside is to cut the marrow no thicker than 2cm, otherwise the heat will take too long to penetrate and the outside will overcook. The sauce adds substance, making this a light supper dish." I halved the quantities- and as I had one large home-made beefburger left in the freezer, I rolled that into 6 meatballs, which I cooked in a separate pan, and 'stuffed' my marrow rings. I didn't have any fennel seeds - but did have coriander and mustard in the spice rack. It is not particularly hot, but it is flavoursome. 
Serves 4
  • onions 2, medium 
  • olive oil 5 tbsp
  • celery 2 sticks
  • garlic cloves 3
  • plum tomatoes 500g
  • fennel seeds 2 tsp
  • brown mustard seeds 2 tsp
  • coriander seeds 2 tsp
  • parsley (a handful)
  • marrow 600g
  • plain flour 6 tbsp

  1. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Warm 2 tbsp of the oil in a deep pan, then add the onions and cook until soft and pale gold, stirring regularly. Slice the celery and add to the onions, then flatten the garlic cloves with a heavy knife and add them.
  2. Chop the tomatoes and stir them in to the onions. Add the fennel, mustard and coriander seeds and a generous seasoning of salt and black pepper. Let the tomatoes cook down to a soft, stew-like consistency. This should take a good 20 minutes. Remove half of the mixture and process it in a blender to a rough, soupy texture, then return to the pan. Chop the parsley and stir into the sauce.
  3. Slice the marrow in half and remove the seeds and fibres. PEEL IT [NS doesn't say this, and perhaps he should have done] Cut into 1cm thick pieces. Tip the flour on to a plate and season with salt and black pepper. Warm the remaining oil in a shallow pan. Dip the slices of marrow into the flour then fry for 5-6 minutes on each side, until the outside is lightly golden. Drain for a couple of seconds on kitchen paper and serve with the sauce. 
The marrow tasted pretty good,once we had cut off the peel!
One of my relatives would not eat marrow, claiming 'he did not like the feel of it in his mouth'. I imagine it can end up bland and watery sometimes- but these two recipes really make good use of this massive autumnal vegetable.
I wonder how many marrows will be in evidence at our Harvest Festival on Sunday?

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Things Hot And Not-So-Hot

I saw this advert on the tube on Tuesday evening, for Bach's Rescue Remedy. Here is an enlarged version of a similar one 

 The thing is, I am a very fast reader. If I follow this advice, I'd be panting away in a most indecorous fashion, not 'calming down' at all. Hot Pants are out of fashion.
I saw lots of other amusing signs on my travels round the metropolis. I pass this sign on my route to and from the station. 
It is for a small establishment offering beauty treatments. He may feel sexy - but I am not sure he looks it! Not 'hot' at all.

My stay with Rosie and Co has been fun. She is walking and talking very well. "No!" being a favourite word. Liz asked for three Where's Wally hats for a fancy dress event with her NCT friends. 
I used this simple pattern chart to make two adult and one toddler-sized warm woolly Wally hats. But I only did a small amount of ribbing, the main part is in stocking stitch. Knitted in DK on 5cm needles, they took less than 3 evenings to make.   It's all stash busting stuff, which is why the stripes are different widths. The hats will probably go to a CS after the party. I am back to sorting out the green Christmas Tree Squares now... 
And I came home with the world's biggest jar of Maille Dijon Originale, which I think Liz found in a Poundshop! This certainly cuts the mustard!


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Still Roadworthy

I have written about Hobbies of Dereham before, and our late friend Ivan Stroulger who kept this wonderful company. One toy Dad built for the girls in 1986 was the Landrover and Caravan set. The roofs came off both pieces, so toys could be put inside.
We had a lot of fun with these, but over the years, they got rather battered and the caravan got lost somewhere along the way. 
Bob decided to refurbish the Landrover for Rosie.
He began by cleaning it up, and making a new roof. The chassis was stripped down, wheels removed - and everything given a new coat of paint, this time in green.

Finally he labelled the base
Made by S.W. Hall 1986
Remade by R.H. Almond 2017

I think my Dad would be so pleased - we're hoping Rosie gets lots of enjoyment with the Landrover too!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Happy Silver Anniversary

...to my brother Adrian, and his wife Marion - two great people whom I love very much!
Here they are in Southampton exactly two years ago, looking surprisingly serious.
I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to locate a picture of their wedding day - in Dereham Baptist Church, on 19th September 1992 [Liz and Steph were bridesmaids, cousin Julian was pageboy]
Back in 1992, we weren't using digital cameras and 
saving everything to the PC.
Here is a serious looking couple from 1922 - I really think we need a caption competition for this one!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Birds in Flocks, Words About Locks

There are lots of birthdays and anniversaries coming up in the next few weeks. I have been making some cards in readiness. Here are just some of them...

I prefer to keep my cards fairly simple, and not over embellished. Too much stuck on and they become too thick for a regular stamp.
I usually write a simple message inside - maybe a bible text, or apposite book quote.  On the subject of quotes, my friend [also called Angela] has been telling me about a family wedding where she was asked to read during the ceremony.
I hadn't come across this piece before. It is from The Bridge across Forever by Richard Bach. He wrote the best-selling Jonathan Livingstone Seagull in 1970 - and many students had it on their bookshelf at Uni [myself included] TBAF came out in 1984 - but obviously passed me by back then. It seems that a new edition of JLS came out in 2014, with extra sections, and this has led to renewed interest in this author. 
Here's the passage Angela read. Have you ever come across any of Richard Bach's work - or heard it read at a wedding ?

Sunday, 17 September 2017


My new job is exciting and rewarding, but also challenging and incredibly demanding. The children thrill me when they grasp a new concept, amuse me with their anecdotes- and often sadden me when they share their feelings about their lives. 
My body-clock is still struggling with being awake and alert by 6.30am and out of the house inside 45 minutes, with a 10 mile commute on very busy roads, a long working day, and back home in the rush hour, getting in around 6pm. Fortunately it is only two days a week -but I am not as young as I used to be. Thursday and Friday nights I am utterly drained! Bob has been so supportive, and has the evening meal underway when I get home.  
We try to have a slower start on Saturdays, but often there are things to prepare for church, and usually a few domestic chores. I feel more relaxed if I know that by Saturday night I am prepared for Monday and the week ahead. Even though Sunday has its busy moments, with two church services, I still like to make sure there is time and space for peace and relaxation. As a child, my parents had a 'no schoolwork on a Sunday' rule - and I have endeavoured to keep to that all my life, even when doing 5 days a week in the classroom.
In "The Songlines", Bruce Chatwin, the travel writer, tells of “a white explorer in Africa, who, anxious to press ahead with his journey, paid his porters for a series of forced marches. But they, almost within reach of their destination, set down their bundles and refused to budge. No amount of extra payment would convince them otherwise. They said they had to wait for their souls to catch up."
Whether or not you are a person of faith, whether or not you attend church - I still believe that a Sabbath, a rest day, is essential to the well-being of every person on the planet. Sunday may not be the day for you [Bob usually takes most of his Sabbath rest on a Tuesday] but I hope that you are able to find time and space each week to enable your body to rest, and your soul to catch up.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Appeeling Ideas From Sicily

Sicily is very 'on trend' right now - Inspector Montelbano has been back on TV on a Saturday night [sadly it was a very brief series, only 4 episodes] and no end of newspapers and magazines have featured arancini recipes lately.
It is almost a year ago that Bob and I had our wonderful holiday on this beautiful island- and we have often talked since about perhaps making another visit one day.

Our San Pellegrino drinks on Tuesday were flavoured with Sicilian oranges. Sicily produces hundreds of thousands of tonnes of citrus fruits every year - lemons, oranges, blood oranges... There are groves of fruit trees nestling at the base of Mount Etna - and their crops go around the world, as fruits, but mostly the fruit is juiced before it leaves the island.
But that juicing leaves huge amounts of waste - tonnes and tonnes of peel and pith.
For years, local farmers have made use of some of it as animal feed or fertiliser - but most of the waste, the rind and seeds known as 'pastazzo' used to be just discarded. I was thrilled to discover that in recent years, enterprising people have come up with some brilliant - and very diverse -ideas for using this peel. 
For instance "Orange Fiber" is a company which transforms the cellulose from the peel into a beautiful silky fibre. Salvatore Ferragamo, the fashion house has used the fabric to make high end scarves and other garments
The Coca Cola Corporation has financed a plant which converts pastazzo into biogas- a useful fuel which provides energy all across the island.
Some scientists at the University of Catania have developed a way of turning the pastazzo into flour. It is fat-free and healthy, and the local bakers in Catania have been very pleased at the results obtained when used in cooking and breadmaking. It is also very cheap to produce.
I think it is wonderfully inventive, and very eco-friendly, that all these products are being created from what would otherwise be waste. 
These sunny Sicilian fruits give fuel, flour, and fashion - as well as all that delicious juice!
Learning all this makes me feel I really do want to go back to the island again...

Friday, 15 September 2017

Sowing Seeds Of Kindness

One of the delights of visiting the John Rylands Library last month was being able to look at the digitised version of "A Forme of Cury" - the 14th century cookbook, from the kitchens of King Richard II. Caraway is one spice which crops up frequently. Called seeds, actually they're split and dried fruit. 
They are brown, long, narrow, slightly curved, ridged, and pointed at both ends. They are aromatic and have a distinctive bitter, sharp, nutty taste, with warm, sweet undertones.
Caraway is associated with fidelity and was often used in love potions. And it was believed that possessions couldn't be lost, stolen or mislaid if they contained a few seeds, and country folk fed caraway to their geese to ensure they always returned. It was a tradition in East Anglia to eat cakes or biscuits made with caraway seeds to mark the end of the wheat-sowing season. 
My Mum never had a vast collection of herbs and spices - but she always had a little jar of caraway seeds in the pantry for making the occasional Seed Cake. "Because my Mum did too" she once told me. I wonder how many generations of Essex girls in our family said the same thing?
At the weekend, I decided I needed to make a cake. The last two weeks had been really intense [stolen purse, cards to replace, stained carpet, busy at school and church, a drowned phone and then a temporarily lost phone] ...a session in the kitchen, with the radio making a special weekend treat seemed a great idea. I haven't made a Seed Cake for years.
Seed cake was first mentioned in 1570 by Thomas Tusser in an new edition of A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie
"Wife, some time this weeke if that all thing go cleare,
an ende of wheat sowing we make for this yeare.
Remember you therefore, though I do it not,
the Seede Cake, the Pasties, and Furmentie pot."
Since then, authors throughout history have mentioned seed cakes...here's a few
Bronte; Jane Eyre [1847] - Taking from a parcel wrapped in paper, she disclosed presently to our eyes a good-sized seed-cake. "I meant to give each of you some of this to take with you," said she, "but as there is so little toast, you must have it now," and she proceeded to cut slices with a generous hand.
Dickens; David Copperfield [1850] - I cut and handed the sweet seed-cake—the little sisters had a bird-like fondness for picking up seeds and pecking at sugar; Miss Lavinia looked on with benignant patronage
Tolkien; The Hobbit [1937] - "But I don't mind some cake - seed-cake if you have any." "Lots!" Bilbo found himself answering, to his own surprise; and he found himself scuttling off… to the pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.
Christie; At Bertram’s Hotel [1965] - "We endeavour to give people anything they ask for." "Including seed cake and muffins – yes, I see. To each according to his need – I see... Quite Marxian."

I checked out my cookbooks for a seed cake recipe - HFW's "Love your Leftovers" had a slightly different take on Delia's more traditional version. Hugh says "Based on a traditional seed cake, this is quick to make and is a sweet way to use up leftover roots, especially beetroot, which gives it a cheery colour"
  • 100g cooked beetroot [or *carrots or parsnips - boiled, roasted or mashed]
  • 2–4 tbsp milk**
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 11⁄2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 150g butter, softened, plus extra to grease the tin
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten 150g self raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tbsp pearl or demerara sugar, to finish 
1 Preheat the oven to 160°C/Fan 140°. Lightly grease a 1.5-litre loaf tin and line with baking parchment, then butter the parchment.
2 In a bowl, mash the beetroot with some of the milk until smooth. [I used *carrots, and **replaced 1tbsp of the milk with orange juice.] Mix in the ground almonds and caraway seeds.
3 Using a hand-held  mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition.
4 Gently fold in the flour, followed by the beetroot mixture, until just combined.
5 Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and gently smooth the surface. Sprinkle the
 sugar over the top and bake for 55–60 mins, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
6 Leave in the tin for 10 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. This cake keeps well; if anything, it’s better after a couple of days stored in an airtight tin.
Hugh's Beetroot Cake is very pink. I like the little flecks of orange carrot and black seeds in my version. I don't have any pearl sugar- but used just one tbsp demerara.
The flavour was lovely - and yes, it did improve with keeping

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Mad About Saffron

Older readers of this blog may remember Donovan- he's been around on the pop/folk scene for over fifty years - and his signature song was 'Mellow Yellow' - which begins "I'm just mad about Saffron"
I think I have only ever purchased saffron once, for a special recipe [I cannot even remember what or when that was now!] occasionally when a savoury recipe requires yellow colouring I cheat and use a bit of turmeric. Not for nothing is this spice called 'red gold'. It is so expensive and labour intensive to produce.
The stigmas have to be hand plucked from every flower - and that takes a long time. 

This spice has been prized throughout history. Cleopatra put it in her bathwater, believing it would improve lovemaking, Alexander the Great drank saffron tea, and bathed his wounds with saffron water, convinced it had healing properties. And the Romans ...well they were just mad about saffron. Although it grows better in warmer climes round the Mediterranean, they tried to grow it in every corner of their empire, even the cooler places like Britain. Hence the Essex village named Saffron Walden, a popular centre for cultivating this treasured ingredient in days gone by. 
Saffron gives Spanish Paella its golden colour, and adds a sunny aspect to French bouillabaisse and Indian Biryani. In the UK, the Cornish Saffron Buns are made from a centuries old recipe [Cornish miners used to trade their tin for this precious spice - I must watch out for that in Poldark!]
The problem now is that it is becoming more popular- but as the most expensive spice in the world, the market is being flooded with adulterated products. The genuine article should be strands which are red in colour and frayed at one end, smelling fruity and floral. Fake saffron has no smell. Real saffron, if submerged, will turn the water golden yellow. Put a little saffron on your tongue, and you should taste both sweet and bitter. 
Pure saffron costs up to £25 a gram. £25000  a kilo - which represents 85,000 stigmas. The cheaper stuff may cost less, but may include other tasteless parts of the flower, other 'floral waste' and even synthetic yellow dyes. I am not sure I want to risk my money on something which may not be pure!
An American Soldier, Keith Alaniz, has set up a company, Rumi Spices, in Afghanistan. Along with two colleagues, he felt that the people there would benefit from cultivating a crop which paid more than illegal opium. things are generally going well - but his saffron sells at 'high end' prices.
Nearer to home, we have some saffron cultivation in Britain again. Grown in Wales, English Saffron [grown in Essex and Devon] and Norfolk Saffron are three producers I know about. Sally Francis who produces Norfolk Saffron has been fascinated by these crocus corms for 20 years.

Graduating from Oxford, where she studied botany, she returned to the family home in North Norfolk, and asked her mother for a bag of the corms for her 25th birthday in 1997. She grew them in the garden, then took over one of the family fields which had been lying fallow. It took time and determination, but eventually she was able to set up a company producing all sorts of saffron products.
Now this award winning company produces all sorts of saffron goods - jars of the saffron threads- plain and smoked, saffron flour, and more...
Maybe I should put a jar of golden Norfolk threads on my Christmas list, so I can have a go at making saffron buns. 

Either the Cornish ones, or perhaps Bronte Aurell's Swedish Lucia Buns [I note that her Scandikitchen recipe uses ground saffron, which they sell in little sachets]
Do you use this mellow yellow ingredient in your cooking? and if so, in which recipes?