Thursday, December 16, 2010

Grandma


My grandma, a woman of considerable character, an impish provocateur, a lady of substance who knew her mind until her final days, slipped quietly away on November 24th. It took us all by surprise that she decided to go so quietly. And decide she surely had, for she had suffered several falls, two small strokes and mild heart failure already this year, yet she hadn't given up in hospital. She had waited until the time was right for her to go, simply and quickly, at the nursing home she had lived in since August.

My mum asked me to say a few words at her funeral, which was scheduled for December 3rd,but the snow in Chelsfield, near Orpington, that town where all trains break down (and all who enter abandon hope) was about 18 inches deep and the town was practically unreachable, so the event was postponed to the 15th.



'A Remembrance of Grandma' was to be my section, after the vicar's introduction and history of her life - which made for some truly incredible listening.

Born on a small island off the coast of Norway in 1913, and raised to go to 'housewife school', she won a prize at said school for her goat-milking skills (the fastest goat-milker in the west... of Norway). In the early 1930s she came to England to work as an au pair for a rich Norwegian shipping magnate's family. By 1939 she had met my grandfather, a bit of a wide boy from Bermondsey, at the Norwegian Sjømannskirken (Seaman's Church) who apparently was a favourite with all the Norwegian girls due to an unparallelled knowledge of London's bus routes, and by 1939 they had a wartime wedding. She was unable to go back to occupied Norway during wartime and had no idea of how her family were for the duration of the war.

Making a life in Orpington in the 1940s as a foreigner must have been hard. Raising 5 daughters on a very tight budget, she excelled in making do and mending, cooking from scratch and tending to fruit and vegetables in her cottage garden. She spent her life mobilised for peace, too, after having been separated from her family by war, and was a vociferous supporter of Amnesty International and the WILPF.


Here are some of my other enduring memories of the fantastic woman I got to know over 28 years.

Always in the garden when possible. I remember rows of hydrangeas, an archway of roses, and honeysuckle. Clothes were always drying on the line. Everyone remembers summers in her beautiful garden. It was her pride and joy.

-       A very snappy dresser! Liked to look good, have her hair done and always wore perfume. A true glamourpuss, and true to her star sign - a veritable Leo.

-       A firm but fair hand with children. She loved her grandchildren and her face lit up whenever there were children around. She was a stickler for good behaviour, though, telling us to eat up our ‘wegetables’ and had no problem with disciplining us if we were naughty.  She will always particularly be remembered for chasing a certain couple of my young cousins, Peter and Jonny, around the house with a wet flannel, a story which has become family legend.

-       This propensity for discipline was something that made her lack of success with her cat, Sandy, all the more astonishing – that cat weed everywhere! Oh, the smell! The other pet I can remember, Flossie the dog, was thoroughly pampered and had full run of the house as well. So we might say she was more of a softie when it came to animals...

-       A true trailblazer of the modern age, grandma championed fair trade products, shopping locally, recycling and the make-do-and-mend culture which is seeing a massive resurgence now. If you ever needed a bit of 15-year old tinfoil, or a tin of baking powder from 1987, her kitchen drawers were sure to hold your treasure.

-       Spirited and opinionated, even in her later years. She fought with nurses, argued about taking pills, told off carers and certainly didn’t mince her words when it came to a subject she felt passionate about. She championed the WILPF and Amnesty and we are a more politicised and outspoken family because of her - in the best way possible.

-       She LOVED her soaps. The Eastenders, Emmerdale Farm and Coronation Street theme tunes were forever burned into my brain after living with grandma for our first year in England. The TV was always on VERY LOUD, so in order to speak to grandma you would have to shout. The best outings/ entertainment for grandma were VERY LOUD things. An amusement for some of her great-grandchildren in her later days, was that at her house, one was not only allowed but encouraged to shout. Endless fun.

- And finally, she loved men! She always liked to meet new gentlemen and always, always enjoyed attention from a well-spoken young man. Rumours abounded of a gentleman friend in her last weeks at the nursing home and we were all glad to hear it.

Grandma, you will be remembered and missed by us all, for being a strong and inspirational woman who was ahead of her time in so many ways. We are all so proud and lucky to have known you for as long as we have.


Borghild Margit Cooke (née Nielsen) 17.8.1913 - 24.11.2010


Friday, November 19, 2010

All Change, Please


"This country's seen better days," says the old lady on the bus again, as she steps past us all to alight, tutting to herself. She is wearing a fluorescent shell suit and plenty of gold jewellery. We're speeding up Brixton Hill towards Streatham.

She's just witnessed the same altercation we all have: it's between an overweight, ruddy lady in her forties who clearly needs to cool off, and the small crowd of people (two Spanish dudes in their 20s, chatting away animatedly, an older Rasta man, and the aforementioned old lady) sitting on the back seats behind her who have been getting a chill every time she opens the window. 

Whoosh.
The window opens. We all feel a blast of icy air. It's well after the Friday evening rush hour and the bus driver is going like the clappers, so it feels breezier than it is. It's open maybe a minute and a half before one of the young Spaniards sitting behind the ruddy lady closes it.

THWACK. 
It shuts loudly. (Is there any other way of closing a bus window?)

The ruddy lady looks back in annoyance, but her neck is a bit fat and she can't really see who has closed it. The Spaniards stare back in open defiance. You can hear silent cheers from the others on the back seats. 

She opens it again, but no less than five seconds pass and -WHUMP- it has been shut again. The window is cleverly positioned so that both she and the young Spaniard sitting behind her can control its opening and closing. This little pantomime happens maybe three or four times. You can almost hear the audience joining in.

"OH YES it is open!"

"OH NO it isn't!"


"Can you STOP closing the window, PLEASE?" The fat lady says, in a schoolmarmish way. The Spaniards look at each other for support. 

"No," says one of them, in his singsongy Spanish way. "Eees cold." They look like they might have been a team at school, as well.

Fat lady huffs audibly. She reaches to open it again. She gets halfway and the other Spaniard reaches over and shuts it, fast. WHUMP. He can move faster than her. They are enjoying the game now. They can sense they have the support of the Rasta as well. 

"ER ...EXCUSE me", she says, stressing the Errr. "I would LIKE it open!"

"Weeell too bad," sings the Spaniard, we would LIKE it closed!" 

The Rasta chimes in. "Yeah, it's freezin' back 'ere, man."

One more time, the last time, the fat lady pulls the window open. A gust of wind blows into the old lady's face. The window is slammed shut by the hand of the young Spaniard, this time with no hesitation whatsoever. He looks ready to stand up and face her down.

"You're VERY rude," says the ruddy lady.

"There are three of us back here who would like the weeendow closed. ONE, TOOO, THRRREE," says the first Spaniard, counting his allies with his finger extended and finally pointing to his chest. Have some reespect for us."

The fat lady has given up. It's her stop anyway. She gathers herself and her things up and bustles past her neighbour to get off the bus, breathing heavily. The Spaniards look triumphant.

Their victory smiles are broken by a sudden outburst from the old lady. She tuts as she moves one seat away from the crowd. "This country's seen better days," she says. "Bloody got to get home." She stands, falteringly, to get off at the next stop, before repeating herself. 

I look over to the lady sitting opposite me, on the other side of the back of the bus. She's stifling a giggle behind her copy of the Evening Standard.

"Is it a full moon?" I ask her.

"Must be," comes her incredulous reply.

Then comes the familiar announcement, in that strange faceless woman's voice, which is so incongruous in Brixton. 

"This bus terminates here. Please remember to take all your belongs with you. This bus terminates here. All change please."

We all decamp to the very cold bus stop to await the next one.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Octobre/Ottobre

What a bleeding crazy month. I'm so behind, at everything. I'm behind on this blog, on my StreathamPulse reviews, on my life's general meaning.

What the heck have I been doing? Well, here's how the beginning /middle of October went.








It seems like a long time ago, but it was wonderful to be back in Paris. It was for work, but I took a weekend there and enjoyed the sunshine. It was unseasonably warm and sunny for October.

Did I mention I'd quite like to live in France?

At the end of the month I went to Milan, also for work, and took a weekend off to stay with my friend Thea. Instead of staying in Milan all weekend, I asked her if she would come with me to Lugano (where I had a school visit) and then on to Lake Como. We stayed in a lovely little hotel up on the hillside, 1000m above sea-level, in a hilltop town called Brunate overlooking the lake.

Here was how we got there:


Here was what it looked like from the top of the hill.




Just incredible. The air was clean and fresh, my lungs were stronger and my mind was less full. It felt nice to shake off the city for a while. A year ago, I would *never* have said that.

This is a simple post to just look back at these photos, really. Just writing this has calmed my city-frazzled nerves and slowed my heart rate.

And to say that a lot of the time these days, I wish I was somewhere else.

I am really going to have to fix that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Just Desserts

I've been making a concerted effort to diversify my efforts, beyond the realm of one-pot cooking - soups, stews, stir-fries, tagines, ragus, curries - you'd be surprised how many variations on a theme there can be.


So I've started tackling the thing I'm really frightened of. Desserts. They're just so...exacting. I hate all the science-y bits. The measuring and the possibility of errors - mixing something in too early, or too late; the chance that the temperature might be too high or low. Oh, ok. It's just that I'm terrifically lazy and would much prefer the 'throw in a bit of this, bit of that' school of cookery.


Still. "Everyone can bake if they put their mind to it," says my mum. I should be able to stretch beyond chocolate-chip cookies (Thanks, Betty Crocker. It's because of you that I will nab myself that handsome husband someday).


Of course, she's right. Take brownies, for instance. What kind of doofus can't even follow a brownie recipe? Here's a foolproof one, that I adapted with my favourite Spanish product EVER



Cola Cao Brownies
(adapted from the original Betty Crocker recipe)


Ingredients:
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup chocolate squares - a mixture of dark and milk is best
2 eggs
2/3 cup plain flour
1/4 cup Cola Cao (with this ingredient, they're officially good for you)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Method:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 4. Melt the chocolate pieces and butter together in a bain-marie until velvety and gorgeous. Mix with the sugar, flour, Cola Cao powder and eggs. Stir in remaining ingredients until you have a fudgey chocolatey sticky bowl of pure joy. Spread out in a greased square pan. Lick mixing spoon. Bake until a toothpick pushed into the middle comes out clean 25 to 30 minutes. Cool and cut into squares. 


Oh, and share with everyone you know. Sharing is good.






NB: Thanks to Lo-Sal for the Cola-Cao, which you can source here, or here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Thing



We have this great local fishmonger, Fish Tale, in Streatham Hill and the family who run it are friendly, chatty, and helpful. They're always busy now, which is a heartening sign of the well-deserved welcome they are getting from the local community. We don't visit as often as I'd like, but have been in there maybe four or five times and have always been greeted with a smile and a genuine hello.

Last Sunday we went in at around 5.30pm and they were almost sold out of the fish on their ice counter, but the proprietress assured me they had more in the chiller. In the end we bought some gorgeous cod and haddock fillets marinated in chilli and herbs (which were delicious, but we'll have to get to that another time).

As we were paying up, by way of conversation, the nice lady mentioned that they would soon be getting a lobster tank in store. Excited by this, I asked her how much a lobster would be (she didn't actually say, but looking at their website I can see they're normally £9.99) - and she said they would have live crabs, too. At this point, I exclaimed, "I love crab!" Quick as a flash, she was on her way out the back again."Wait there," she said. "I'll give you one." Catching our uncertain glances to one another, she added to the Mister and I, "for free!"

The Mister gave me a look that said, BONUS. I didn't argue, and before we knew it she was handing us a weighty carrier bag with a huge orange crustacean staring up at us with beady, dead eyes.

"I had a customer who ordered it," said the diminutive shopkeeper, "but she couldn't cook it live, so she asked me to do it, and said she would collect it on Friday. That was two days ago, and I can't sell it, so have it. Tell me how it is," she winked, "but don't eat it if it smells funny," she added, with a look of warning.

"But how do we get into it?" I asked. "And aren't there some bits we can't eat?" I was vaguely remembering something about dead man's fingers.

"Naaah, darleeen," came the reply. "Just put a sharp knife into it (she mimed a straight-down, stabbing motion) and it will be lovely."

Well. One hour later, we were staring at our new Cornish friend in the kitchen sink.

"I feel sorry for it," I said.



The Mister started to try to split it in half as per the instructions given, but succeeded only in dulling our sharpest kitchen knife. So we did what any pansy-assed, lily-livered city slickers who didn't know our crab's ass from its elbow would do:

We youtubed it. (You have to watch this. It's the least enthusiastic instruction video ever.)

Following our nasal young instructor's method step-by-step, we (well, I say we)  dissected the primeval, alien creature, bit by bit. We had to keep stopping to rinse it, because it was pretty horrible and all covered in brown goop.



I documented the Mister's disgust, mild nausea, and sheer incredulity with great interest.

Eventually we got the hang of getting the meat out, using our ill-equipped kitchen implements such as chopsticks, knives, and our garlic crushers. After an hour of hard toil, we ended up with this much meat.



What a crock.

It did make a lovely crab linguine, though. But your bin doesn't half stink the next day.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Can Totally Manage Another Year Older...etc, etc. Part 2 of 2.




Image credit: Arno@www.eatwithyoureyes.net


So. Where were we? Oh yes. It was rainy and far too cold to be the end of August, and I'd worn silly shoes and my feet were wet. We'd just been to see Le Refuge at the Renoir, and were in the Marquis of Cornwallis having a drink to warm up before the damp journey home. I was wondering why we were in the pub and not just on our way home already, but it seemed important that we killed some time in the pub. The Mister was being twinkly-eyed and mysterious in that cute mischievous way he does so well.

Me: It's been a lovely day, but my feet are a bit wet now. (Cursing stupid sandals.) Shall we go home?
Mister: No, let's just stay here a bit longer.
Me: Why? The weather's not very nice. Let's go home and get cosy.
Mister: Are you getting hungry?
Me: Not really. Well, a bit. But I can wait until we get home. (Not wanting to appear to expect any other treats, like a restaurant dinner. Although of course, not wanting the day to just end there, all soggy and emotionally pummelled by enjoyable, but strange, French cinema).
Mister: Oh good. Because I'm afraid we're not going to a restaurant.
Me: Oh.
Mister: Sorry.
Me: That's OK! (A little too brightly.) It's been a lovely day. Thank you.
Mister: Let's give it ten more minutes here and then we'll go.
Me: O..kay. (Still expecting that he's pulling my leg and that we're going for dim sum or something. He knows I love dim sum.)
Mister: We've just got to call in on a mate of mine before we go home.
Me: What? Who? (mildly incensed)
Mister: Just a guy I know, called Arno. In Brixton.
Me: Really? I don't know any mate of yours called Arno...(smiling knowingly - thinking I've cottoned on to an alternative plan)
Mister: Yep. Sorry. (completely po-faced). I've got to pick up some weed for my friend Lila. Arno's a mate of a mate, if you know what I mean. I promised I'd stop by this week.
Me: Can we not go see Arno some other day? Surely Lila can wait?! It's bleeding horrible outside. In case you hadn't noticed, I wore terribly inappropriate footwear and I'm a bit cold and soaking wet all over. And I don't really want to visit some dealer! And... (bottom lip trembles a bit at this stage)...it's my birthday!
Mister: It's on our way home. I promise it won't take long. Just a quick 10 minute detour and we'll get warmed up with something lovely at home, I promise (flashes his winning smile).

And so we were on our way, deep underground until we got out at Brixton in the rush hour home, rain still streaming down,making the high street look like a watercolour canvas. We stopped at a cash point and I saw the Mister take out a small wedge that made me begin to question just how much weed we might be buying. And why on earth Lila couldn't buy her own. The twinkly-eyed thing had definitely worn off. By the time we were past the Ritzy, I was raging.

We turned the corner onto Saltoun Road and stopped somewhere near the middle. The Mister rang the doorbell. I muttered something bad-tempered about it looking like a drug-dealer's house. Gosh, I'm petulant. How would I know? Of course it didn't. Then the door was opened by a very salubrious-looking young man in an apron. He was all groomed in that East London kind of way - you know, brylcreemed and retro-cool. I had to admit I still had no idea what was going on, until he beamed and invited us in. "I'm Will," he said. "I'm filling in tonight. Do follow me upstairs." It was then that I began to twig (yes, I'm pretty slow) that this probably wasn't a drug dealer's house at all. Part of me did wonder if we were entering a den of meditation or some kind of new-age therapy; and given that I was being so mare-ish, I wouldn't have been surprised if it was a couples-counseling session we'd walked into. But the Mister's face told me everything I needed to know - that it was going to be fun.

We walked upstairs, past a few bicycles hanging up, past a few arty knick-knacks including a Gilbert & George swear box, a fluorescent Virgin Mary in the bathroom, and lots of books. And then we arrived in the kitchen/diner, which was absolutely gorgeous.
The room was impeccably turned out - romantic lighting, laid out for dinner with four tables, two seating two, one seating four and the largest seating seven. There were things to look at wherever you turned your head - woven baskets on some of the walls, butterflies and bits of fishing tackle on others, vases, flowers, just lots of bits of somebody's life who obviously likes to collect. Will offered to take our coats and I was still looking around,open-mouthed, taking it all in. The Mister explained that it was my birthday, it was a surprise visit for me, and that it was our first time here. Will saw the need to elaborate. "It's a supper club," he explained. "Twice a week we can seat up to 16 guests. Let me introduce you to the chef, Arno." Sure enough, there was Arno - stylish, moustachioed, nothing like a drug dealer - busy in the kitchen. He took time out to shake our hands and greet us before turning back to his work.

It was at that point that the Mister realised he had forgotten to pick up a bottle of wine (which would have given the game away), so he nipped out and I was left to explore the sensory feast that is the Saltoun Supper Club. We were the first to arrive, so I was free to explore the 'smoking room' upstairs, a large loft conversion that houses many of Arno's history books (there's a theme: if you visit, see if you can spot it). As guests began to arrive, and the Mister arrived with our wine, we chatted a bit to our fellow diners, asking them how they had heard about the place (one diner was Arno's downstairs neighbour, who had family visiting from Australia and wanted to show them his nearest great local restaurant - they hadn't realised just quite how near it would be, another had just google-searched 'supper clubs'). The atmosphere was quite different to that of any other ordinary restaurant, with everyone making a concerted effort to chat, much like at any dinner party - you could almost imagine everyone playing a game of cards or scrabble in between courses. I immediately fell in love with the idea of holding one: although I'm sure it would be much more stressful than Arno made it look.

Soon, the first of five courses was served - a fresh summer vegetable salad with blanched julienned courgettes, romanesco cauliflower and feta, served with a drizzle of lemon, olive oil and black sesame seeds. Everything was fresh, with the vegetables sourced locally from the market in Brixton. It was a great start to the meal and cleansed the palate nicely with fresh, summery, zingy flavours that made us forget the biblical rain outside. We were given a basket of fresh bread which helped us mop up the last of the dressing. Yummy.

The next course was duck rillettes served with cornichons, pickled onions and more of the lovely bread. We chatted and relaxed, with Will keeping us topped up with wine, and enjoyed the atmosphere. I apologised profusely to the Mister, who had outdone himself. I'd forgotten all about the rain, my shoes, the proposed drug deal, and was slipping nicely into an overindulgent cordon-bleu coma. He'd enjoyed the whole thing immensely and maintains that I'm just too much of a control freak to really enjoy surprises. He may be right. Anyway, that's beside the point.

The next course was the main: whole sea bass stuffed with herbs and served with sugar snap peas, potatoes and a creamy saffron sauce. I didn't get a very good picture of this, but you get the idea: charming and delicious. Arno's presentation is first-class. I learned by reading Jay Rayner's review of the supper club that he is also a food photographer/stylist, which makes a lot of sense.



The evening lazed by, with breaks upstairs in the smoking room to chat with others, browse the books, or actually have a smoke. How very civilised. The rain pounding the smoking room's velux windows actually began to sound terribly romantic and Parisian, that's how cosy (and tipsy) I was. Before we knew it, we were already at dessert. By then I was completely stuffed, and so I did my level best with the delicious homemade chocolate brownie with fresh raspberries, but just couldn't finish the homemade chocolate slabs with ganache. A shame, because patisserie and desserts are clearly Arno's forté.

Arno, bless him, came around to the tables once everyone had finished and was having their coffee or mint tea and petits fours with fresh fruit, to check on our enjoyment of the evening. Not in a militaristic way, but in a way that said, 'I love food, and I've enjoyed cooking for you tonight, so I hope you've loved my food this evening'. When he came to our table, Will had presented me with a tiny plate of square miniature sponge birthday cakes decorated with fruit and fresh cream, which I had to ask if I could take home in a box, just because my cake-intake levels that day were off the scale -see my previous post. They were delicious - we enjoyed them for an indulgent breakfast treat the next day.

It was all so lovely, and Arno and Will (or whoever usually helps Arno out) deserve as much great publicity as possible. I know that there's a birthday sheen on this review, but I'm definitely going back with 6 friends to fill up that big table.

You can read some other great reviews of the Saltoun Supper Club here, here and here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I can totally manage another year older (if it comes with cake and Jennifer Love Hewitt's blessing). Part 1 of 2.


Birthdays are strange things. It seems that people want them less, the more of them they have. Like socks. Or jobs. Or reality TV shows.

I'm still within the commonly acceptable age range which is allowed to welcome birthdays, but I think I'll have to give up the right to annually self-worship in approximately 730 days. Unless, of course, I take some well-thought-out, cogent advice from the Femail section of the Daily Mail, which quotes that veritable woman-mountain of inspiration, Jennifer Love Hewitt :

Last year when Jennifer Love Hewitt was 29 she was quoted as saying: ‘I'm so excited! It's my dream age. I don't know why but, literally, since my 12th birthday I've wanted to turn 30. There's nothing more graceful or elegant than the beauty of a female when she has figured out who she is.’


So until then, when I've figured out who I am (?@!&$*) Love Hewitt, I've decided to go all out.

This year was all organised as a series of little surprises by the Mister, who deserves an enormous medal for not bowing to the continual pressure I subjected him to whilst trying to find out what we'd be doing on the day, and for managing to involve my mum as well, whilst keeping everything a delicious secret from me. Our conversations the week beforehand went mostly like this:

Me: Tell me.

Mister: No.

Me: Oh, go on.

Mister: Do you really want to know?

Me: No.

Silence.

Me: Oh, go on.

(repeat ad nauseum).

So in the end, the day went like this.

We met my mum at a secret Piccadilly location at 11am which turned out to be Fortnum & Mason. She and I had a treatment each - me, manicure, she, pedicure - in their Beauty a la carte rooms. It was heavenly. My nails have never looked so spiffing.


The Mister went and had a pint and read his book nearby. We reconvened in an hour, then we all went up two flights of stairs to the St.James's Restaurant for proper afternoon tea.

I know. I'm a fiendishly lucky woman. Look at the cakes!


We ate a lot of cake. And sandwiches. Delicious little sandwiches for rich people with tiny little hands that couldn't hold a real-sized sandwich. It was really quite illuminating. And lovely. Did I say lovely already? I think I'm still having sugar highs.

After lunch we went to Oxford Street. That was a bad idea. By then it had started to rain. But we persevered, for my mum's birthday promise to me was a new pair of shoes. I know! It's like I had died and gone to some kind of Femail-sponsored heaven. It almost made me want to buy something fashionable. Eventually the rain reminded me that nothing is worth Oxford Street in the rain, not even new shoes. Yes, I'm cancelling my subscription to Grazia as I type.

So then mum called it a day, because we were going to see a film, and because, in her words, 'the evening is for lovers'. Aw. Don't you love mums?

The film we went to see was called 'Le Refuge' and it was on at the Renoir, which is another brilliant move from the Mister because he knows I'm a sucker for those Frenchies and their art-house sexy addiction films about drugs and babies. Anyway, more about that another time. You can read a review of the film here.

Then, suddenly, it was nearing dusk and I thought the day was over. But oh no. There was more to come.

For that, you're going to have to wait, because it deserves a sparkling post full of joy and now it's a Monday night at 11.43pm a few weeks later and I'll have to remember every detail to do it justice because it was a lovely evening. Ok, so it rained. A lot. But that didn't spoil a thing. It was lovely and warm and sunny inside. Oh, did I mention it was lovely*?

*All, right, I'm aware this sunniness may be getting annoying. Just one more post and then it's back to food and grumps.



Thursday, September 9, 2010

Last of the summer cake


Its been bloody ages since my last post. But, just to prove I haven't slipped into a late-summer-early-autumn-birthday-cake-induced sugar coma, I present to you: my second restaurant review for streathampulse. Enjoy.

I shall be back with a self-indulgent dose of post-birthday loveliness as soon as I can move again for all that cake.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chocolate Chip Heaven

I made chocolate chip cookies the weekend before last. They are SO easy, and coming from someone who never bakes and has admittedly passed off Betty Crocker brownie mix brownies as her own work (sorry to my future mother-in-law), you know that means they're a cinch.

I have to pay homage here to the Betty Crocker website (and cool retro cookbook my mother bought me three Christmases ago) for the foolproof recipe it provides. With super-easy American cup measurements. Why, oh why, doesn't the UK use cups? Anyway, if you don't have a measuring cup with cups, use a normal sized coffee mug. With this recipe, you can't really go far wrong.

Chocolate-chip cookies (adapted from the Betty Crocker website)

Ingredients:

3/4

cup granulated sugar

3/4

cup packed brown sugar

1

cup butter or margarine, softened

1

egg

2 1/4

cups self-raising flour

1

teaspoon baking powder (only if using plain flour)

1/2

teaspoon salt, and 1 tsp almond essence

Method:

1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5, or 375 degrees F.

2. Make sure butter is soft (I microwave mine for 10 seconds if it’s just come out of the fridge. Otherwise, use a sunny windowsill for half an hour). Mix sugars with butter in a large bowl and add the egg.

3. Mix in flour slowly until consistency of the mixture is doughy (if using plain flour add baking powder too). Add salt and the dash of almond essence. The mixture should be greasy enough to coat your hands with a glossy sheen, but stiff enough to roll into balls.

4. Cut up a chocolate bar (none of those pansy-ass readymade chips for me, I like to use a Cadbury's Bourneville bar or some fairtrade Co-op dark chocolate) into little chips, about half a centimetre squared usually does it. Add to the dough and mix well. At this point you can also add other things to personalise your cookies if you like; hazelnuts, pecans, or Reese's pieces have all been used in the past in my kitchen.

5. Roll into individual 2cm wide balls and flatten as you place them on baking sheets. Cook in the oven for about 7 or 8 minutes if you like them slightly soft and gooey, like I do.

6. Serve to anyone you'd like to make friends with. It honestly works. People go mental for freshly baked things. I now believe that thing about having bread baking if you're trying to sell your house...




Thursday, August 5, 2010

Keen on Quinoa


This week, I had been catching up on the blogs I follow and was reading a great post about bulgar wheat on Little Bit in London, a great foodie/London life blog I've been following for a while. In this post, Emm wrote about how she craved some quinoa (which I always have in my sundries cupboard, and I commented on where you can find it in London. It's really pretty common, and I get mine either online when I do an Ocado order, or in my personal favourite, Greensmiths in SE1 - a wonderful little independent supermarket I've blogged about on numerous occasions. You can also find it in some larger branches of Sainsbury's - they stock it in their 'free-from' aisle, plus it's usually stocked in health food stores.

Anyway, after reading Emm's post I decided to honour the wonderous Peruvian super-seed and make it the main feature of a crunchy, fluffy, deliciusly healthy salad. Usually I make my own version of a yummy cashew nut, sunflower seeds, pea and tofu quinoa salad with toasted sesame oil, a la the Crussh super healthy lunch chain's own healthpot, but I was looking for something a bit different - fresh and summery. Trawling the interweb I typed in 'quinoa salad' and hey presto, I found this amazing little recipe. I've adapted a bit, but I bet the original recipe's yummy, too.

Quinoa, Avocado, Cucumber & Radish Summer Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup quinoa

2 avocados, peeled and diced

a healthy squeeze of lime juice

1/2 low-salt vegetable stock cube, dissolved in 2 cups water

10-12 chopped radishes (diced)

1/2 cucumber, diced

3 spring onions, finely chopped

Dressing:

3 tsp. lime juice

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

salt and pepper

1 tsp. dried chilli flakes

handful fresh coriander, chopped

Directions:

Put the rinsed quinoa on the hob on a medium-high heat and bring to the boil with enough water to just cover the grains. Add all the other ingredients to a bowl and mix gently, so as not to break up the avocado too much.

Once the quinoa has absorbed all of the stock, turn off the heat and fluff up with a fork. Leave to cool for a few minutes and add the toasted sesame oil to help separate the grains. Add the chilli, salt, pepper and toss in with the other salad ingredients. Mix gently, and add the olive oil and lime juice one spoonful at a time until you get the desired dressing. Garnish with the coriander and serve with some grilled or pan-fried chicken breast for a very tasty and healthy lunch or dinner.