Friday, 21 April 2017

Visions of Delight

As homework for the writing group I've joined, we each drew three cards from an envelope: a person, a place and a thing.  Our task then was to link these three randomly chosen items together to form a short story.

I picked an angel, a guard's van and a whip.  What would you have made of that? 
This is where my creative juices took me...

[For those of you who didn't grow up in the UK in the late 20th century, you may need to know that the names mentioned in the final paragraph are brands of instant pudding mix.]


Visions of Delight

In the guard’s van, Ted relaxed back in his chair.  His duties done for the evening, there was nothing more to worry about until the train reached Carlisle in two hours’ time.  Usually he’d pick up a newspaper to pass the time.  Tonight, though, he was tired.  His eyes settled on the dark night swishing past the window, as his mind vaguely toyed with the options for his midnight snack.  The train wheels rumbled rhythmically, and the black world went flying by…

…And the reflected lights in the window shifted and moved.  Ted blinked, peered, blinked again.  As if they were walking towards him out of the night, two figures appeared.  One was as upright as a flame, a cloak of shining white covering a dazzling suit of chain mail.  He held a long sword poised, its deadly point glittering.  The other person was hidden in shadow.  Only a few features showed redly, as if reflecting the light of an invisible fire.  Hooded and gaunt, he seemed more absent than present.  Then a glowing line bit through the air, and Ted realised this figure was armed with a whip.

The white-cloaked soldier retaliated instantly, with a mighty sweep of his sword.  It seemed as if the shadow must have been sliced in two, yet somehow he was still standing, recoiling his whip for its next vicious slash.  On his head, an odd shape caught the light for an instant: a horn? A pair of of horns?  He whirled, and it was gone, lost in the darkness behind the fiery whip.

Yet Ted was not altogether surprised when the soldier turned for a moment, revealing on his back a sheaf of snowy feathers.  He knew now who was fighting, and watched in vivid fascination as the battle unfolded.  The slashes and jabs carried a fierceness he had never before seen; yet the fight continued in utter silence, as if more than a pane of glass separated him from the contenders.

The whip was suddenly everywhere at once.  Bright slashes blazed criss-cross over Ted’s vision, like a swarm of angry bees surrounding a shadowy hive.  Squinting, he could just see the hooded figure with its tell-tale horns, skinny arms lashing, back hunched with determination.  Every blow drove the soldier back a step. His sword looked frail, his cloak shredded at the hem.  But his eyes were intent, watching for his chance.  There it was.  The whip caught, for no more than an instant.  And in that instant, the sword was driving forward, and the shadow writhed on its point, and the soldier’s great white wings spread wide, wider…

…And with a great rush and a clatter, the lights of a station splashed across the window, and then there was nothing but the dark outside.  Ted stretched, and rubbed his eyes.  His glance fell on a couple of packets, laid on the table.  He chuckled.  “Guess it’s Angel Delight for tonight, then,” he murmured to himself.  He reached over, put the packet of Instant Whip back in his bag, and started to pour milk into a bowl.

Image result for wikimedia angel delight

Friday, 7 April 2017

Blessed are the Cheesemakers

Sometimes it seems frivolous to write about recipes and the small events of my own life, when in other parts of the world, awful things are happening and other people's families are being ripped apart.  Sometimes the knowing seems to demand a response, or even a responsibility, to look up from my own affairs for a moment, to say yes, I see this, however powerless I feel to do anything about it.

And I wrote that paragraph yesterday, thinking of the chemical attacks in Syria.  But now there's Stockholm.  And whichever day you read this, there will be something else.  The task of making peace seems too enormous to contemplate.


Maybe we should make cheese instead.  Many years ago, I stayed with a family in Romania who became my friends.  I spoke very little Romanian, though some of them spoke English, and many things in their house were very different to mine.  Welcoming as they were, it was hard to feel at home until the evening we made a cake.  Sitting together, passing a bowl of thickening cream around as we took turns beating it with a hand whisk, simply melted away language barriers and cultural differences.  It's hard to be a foreigner to someone you have cooked with.

Unfortunately, I had no one new to share my first experience of making cheese with.  But it was a cheese from a different culture, if that counts.  Theo gave his baby bottle away and unexpectedly decided that this meant his milk intake should fall to zero.  So I had 8 pints of whole milk to use up in a hurry.  My Indian cookbooks assured me that paneer is very easy to make, so what did I have to lose?  I boiled the milk for the requisite five minutes, added a few spoonfuls of lemon juice - slightly sceptically, I have to admit - and to my surprise, it separated neatly into lumpy curds swimming in a yellowish liquid.  I drained it in a net that I usually use for making jelly, squeezed it flat with a saucepan, and I had my very own paneer!  I felt like the pressing could have been improved on, as it was a bit crumbly, but it tasted fine.



Blessed are the peacemakers.  They need all the help they can get.  But when making peace seems far too difficult, maybe we can be a blessing by making cheese together instead.

Dove image: By Darolu Dove siluette from Vervexca Peace Dove.svg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Monthly Munch: March 2017

We've had some lovely warm sunny days (interspersed with hail and rain!) and the clocks have changed, so it's feeling like spring.  We seized the chance to attempt a "proper" walk on a beautiful cloudless Sunday, and successfully ascended Win Hill in the Peak District.  It was a lovely climb up through woods by a little stream.  We had a grand panorama to eat our lunch by, and a ramble along little lanes and through fields to return to the car.




Toby



- lost his first two teeth!  Actually he went to the dentist and she said, "get those wobbly ones out", so they weren't so much lost as well and truly yanked.


 - finally got Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from the library, and devoured it.

- bounded up Win Hill ahead of us all.  He still had energy left at the end!



- was proud of his rocket booster for a "Bling a Bottle" project at school.


- has had a story he wrote at school highly commended.  His teacher showed it to the headteacher and the Year 6 class!

Theo



- got the chickenpox.  It seems like every kid in the village has had it, so it was hardly a surprise.  Fortunately he only had a couple of days of being properly miserable.



- loves a book called Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose, and can recite it (complete with funny voices).

- made it round the whole of the Win Hill walk with no complaints.  Fortunately the last bit was muddy which got him excited again (although you should have seen both boys' shoes...)


- now that the weather's warmer, is rocking the hat, mittens and T-shirt look.


Thankful for:


- our boiler managing to break on the warmest days of the year so far!  It was an issue we've had before, so a quick fix - for now, anyway.



- lovely cards and presents from my boys on Mother's Day.


Recipe of the Month: Fish in tomato sauce



I'm rather enjoying Alex Mackay's Cookbook for Everybody Everyday - a library find that I may have to pay actual money for at some point.  This is a much-simplified version of a recipe which you are supposed to make with a home-made tomato compote.  That'll be a jar of pasta sauce then.  Plus, when I assured the boys that yes, it was exactly the same stuff which I put on their pasta, they were much more motivated to eat it.  It's a doddle to make and you can even leave the breadcrumbs off if you want to make it easier (or gluten-free).

500g jar of chunky pasta sauce
4 frozen (or fresh) white fish fillets (pollock, cod or similar)
20-30g butter
breadcrumbs from a slice of bread (roughly)

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Get a baking dish big enough to hold all your fish fillets in a layer.  Tip the jar of pasta sauce into it, and spread it out evenly.  Put the fish on top.

In a small frying pan, melt the butter and then stir in the breadcrumbs.  Keep stirring till they're just golden.  Spoon them on top of the fish, trying to keep them mostly out of the sauce (that just makes them go soggy).  Put the dish in the oven for about 30-35 minutes for frozen fish, maybe 15 for fresh.

We ate ours with mashed potato and peas.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Red Nose Day Maltesers Cake

When I saw that Maltesers was donating £5 to Comic Relief for every cake made in their #bakeamillion challenge, it seemed like a better than usual reason to make a chocolate cake!  The devil's food cake I'd tried for Theo's birthday was so good that I didn't need much persuasion to bake it again.  The original recipe made a BIG cake.  So in the interests of all our waistlines, I halved the quantities this time.  And of course, adorned it with Maltesers.



Devil's Food Cake
Recipe adapted from Green and Black's Chocolate Recipes.  Apart from halving it, I reduced the amount of sugar and avoided mixing the cocoa with the cold water.  In my experience, all this does is give you a brown sludge which is hard to get out of the measuring jug.  I don't see how that improves the quality of the cake.

175g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
50g cocoa powder
200ml cold water
125g margarine or shortening
200g sugar
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 180°C.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and cocoa.

Cream the margarine and sugar together until light and very soft.  Whisk the eggs, then add to the creamed mixture a little at a time, beating well.  Add the flour mixture alternately with the cold water to give a light airy batter.  

Scoop into a greased and base-lined 8-inch round tin, and bake for 30-35 minutes.  Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then on a wire rack. Decorate as desired.


Saturday, 11 March 2017

Lake District photo dump

Day 1:

We stopped at Rufford Old Hall for a lunch break on the drive up.  We enjoyed the drifts of snowdrops, the very friendly volunteers, and the binoculars!  When we arrived at Grange-over-Sands, we went for an evening walk along the promenade.





Day 2:

We went on the Windermere Lake Cruise, starting off on the top deck and retreating to underneath the seats, and ultimately the covered lower deck when it began to rain.





Day 3:

We spent the morning at the very well-stocked Lakeland Motor Museum, packed with cars, bikes, motorbikes, toy cars and much more.  Then we drove up to Skelwith Bridge for lunch (the cafe we had hoped to go to was packed out, so we had a picnic instead) and walked along the River Brathay.  There was a small but fierce waterfall, and the boys enthusiastically dissected a rotting tree. It took so long to drive back down the M6 that we were forced to stop at McDonalds for tea.









Thursday, 2 March 2017

Monthly Munch: February 2017

Most of the photos this month were either of Theo's birthday or our short break in the Lake District, which I will tell you about soon, I promise.  We also went for a walk up Streatley Hill with my parents (last time we did that, Toby was in a baby sling!) and ate both British and American pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.  And finally, the spring flowers are starting to appear!  My favourite time of year.



Toby


- has become very interested in big numbers, especially googolplex.  He wanted to know whether googolplex was larger than infinity.

- is getting quite good at an app called Cute Munchies, a logic puzzle where you navigate small creatures round a kind of maze.

- enjoyed looking at VERY EXPENSIVE cars with Graham, on a recent visit to my parents'.  (No, we haven't suddenly got rich.)


- can ride one-handed on his bike.

- found the biggest tyre ever at Lakeland Motor Museum.


Theo


- is getting going on his balance bike pretty well

- calls fried eggs "Friday eggs".  He used to call boiled eggs "eggshell eggs" and still prefers them to any other kind.

Where's my eggs?

- visited a friend's house and wore her child-size oven mitts the whole time.  Do you think naming him after a chef has had an effect?

- loves wearing the Batman mask he got in a McDonalds meal - although he usually refers to it as Super Spy Chase from Paw Patrol.



Thankful for:

- being able to join a new Christian writers' group - it was fascinating to meet so many people writing in so many different ways.

- getting to play a National Trust grand piano at Rufford Old Hall.

Glad I don't have to wear one of these, though!
- help and advice from several people as I'm trying to kickstart my career again.

Recipe of the Month: Chocolate Cherry Trifle


I'd had some chocolate cake offcuts in the freezer for so long I couldn't even remember which cake they came from.  So I thought it was about time to use them for something delicious.  Here is my very precise and elegant trifle recipe.

Bits of chocolate cake
1 packet black cherry jelly (Jello)
Custard powder, sugar and milk (or ready-made custard, or vanilla pudding mix)
Sugar sprinkles
Squirty cream

Make the custard first so it has more time to cool.  Follow the packet instructions to make 1 pint, going generous on the custard powder to make it nice and thick.  Set aside to cool.

Break or chop the cake into chunks and put in the bottom of a large bowl.  You don't want it too packed in - mine came out a bit solid because I was trying to use the cake up, but if I'd had some canned cherries I would have used less cake and added the fruit.

Make the jelly following the packet instructions.  Pour over the cake and put in the fridge to set.  If the cake was frozen this obviously speeds up the setting process.

When the jelly is set and the custard is at least lukewarm, if not completely cold, remove any skin from the custard and pour it over the jelly layer.  Press clingfilm over the custard to prevent any more skin forming.  Refrigerate until cold.

If everyone likes cream, you can put proper whipped cream all over the top.  Half the people in my house won't eat it, so I put sprinkles over the custard and let the boys add squirty cream as they wished (a great treat!).

Monday, 13 February 2017

Three-oh!


It's hard to believe our littlest one is now a chunky three-year-old who comes up to his brother's shoulder!  Yes, Theo's celebrated another birthday and is still as cute as ever (bed-hair and all).


He will leap into your lap for a hug, is perpetually jumping up and down, and always wants to know what's cooking.  He loves to copy whatever Toby does.  He proudly proclaims himself "all dressed up" when he's put his own hat, coat and gloves on, and can operate the remote to turn his beloved "Paw Taprol" programme on.  He plays with toy hammers, playdough, cars and food.



Theo's one stipulation for his birthday was that it involved "sprinkles and candles".  So we dispensed with any idea of a party, and put our energy into homemade pizza and chocolate cake instead.  I'd say that was a success.

I have to eat the whole thing???
He also opened a generous array of presents in the morning, which kept him pretty busy for the rest of the day.



Happy birthday, gorgeous boy!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Monthly Munch: January 2017

We celebrated New Year's Day with a party, and my birthday with a visit to the Mug Tug, a paint-a-pot place on a canal boat.  We had about two hours of snow (It fell.  It settled.  It melted.) and some very cold days.  And we made another trip to the children's emergency department.


Toby


- has really got into the latest bedtime book, The Secret Garden.  He drew pictures of it and discussed what might happen next.

 
- thankfully seems to have pretty much recovered from his sickness bug.

though he did feel a little sick after this!

- notices which year every car licence plate belongs to, and which ones are personalised.

- started being allowed to wear slippers at school, which inexplicably made the national press.

- painted a tank at the Mug Tug.



Theo


- fell down the stairs and broke his finger.  OUCH.  Two-year-olds recover remarkably quickly; he still has it strapped to the next finger, but it hardly seems to bother him.

- gave his dummies (pacifiers) away to a friend's baby, with surprisingly few negative consequences.

- calls Scalextric "Scalelec", pajamas "jamamas" and trousers "trow-yers".

- wears his Gruffalo hat everywhere and gets so many admiring comments.


- painted a fire engine at the Mug Tug.



Thankful for:

- a Bible study group I've just joined - we have some great discussions while a lovely lady takes care of our kids!

- a quick trip to the A&E and a Hand Clinic which is apparently the best in the country.

- new bedding and a new tablecloth (I know.  But the old ones were getting so shabby.)

And it'll improve my geography!

Recipe of the Month - Roasted plums with ricotta and honey



There must be a glut of plums somewhere, because they're really cheap at the moment.  I had a tub of ricotta to use up, so this made an easy dessert.

6-8 plums, halved and stoned
Spoonful of brown sugar
150g or so of ricotta
Few spoonfuls of honey
Orange or lemon zest

Arrange the plum halves in an ovenproof dish, cut side up.  Sprinkle the brown sugar over, and put just a splash of water in the bottom.  Roast at 180C for 15-20 minutes or until they're soft.

Meanwhile, put the ricotta in a bowl and add honey and orange or lemon zest to taste.  Beat well.

Put the hot plums in bowls and top each serving with a dollop of ricotta mixture.  Eat straight away.