Thursday, 30 June 2016

Lots of cooking

This week, I have mostly been creating enormous piles of washing up.

I thought you'd prefer to see the clean stuff.

Occasionally something edible escaped from the mounds of mess and made it to the table.

I don't know why it turned into such a cooking week; we haven't been entertaining, and I didn't think I'd added too many new dishes to my weekly menu.  The main problem was that I made several things in advance, which spread out the cooking - and hence the washing up - across a much greater time and area.

The star of the menu was undoubtedly the barbeque ribs.  I don't believe I've ever cooked ribs before, but I followed the recipe from Jamie Oliver's Save with Jamie, and they turned out - well, just like ribs should!  Soft and tender, and coated generously with a sweet and tangy glaze.  It's not in any way a difficult recipe - but like I said, it kind of spreeeaaads, until you feel like you've been dealing with these ribs for a very long time.  Worth it though.  And the best thing?  I now have enough marinade for two more goes, stashed in the freezer.



My other problem is that I turn the oven on for two hours, for a dish like that, and start thinking, "Right!  What else can I put in it?"  So I made a boiled fruit cake, which also appreciates long slow baking (the fruit is boiled, not the cake, despite how it sounds!)



Then I thought I might as well roast the vegetables for our dinner the next night, and while I'm at it the other half of the butternut squash might as well go in, with plans to make it into squash fritters at some point (another Jamie recipe).  And I had to stop myself roasting the butternut squash seeds as well, on the basis that dirtying one more pan might just cause myself and the kitchen to actually explode.

Pasta with roasted veg and walnut pesto

Oh, and earlier in the week I rustled up a dozen chocolate cupcakes, which were entirely necessary, I assure you.  They used up the remains of some chocolate buttercream just perfectly, and I took them to a friend's house for tea.  And they went in the oven while I was roasting carrots for a rather tasty carrot and chickpea salad.  You can tell it's been rainy and dismal here all week, can't you?



Have a cake, it'll make you feel better.  And next week is July - it will be sunny.  No it will.  Won't it?  Surely?

Friday, 24 June 2016

Life goes on...

I don't usually do politics.  Occasionally I have felt like I should take an interest, as an intelligent citizen of a democratic country, but I get rapidly disheartened by all the name-calling, and my resolve quickly dissipates.  So I try to get enough information to make a reasonably informed vote, and that's that.

But on a day like today, politics is hard to ignore.  The EU referendum campaign involved at least as much name-calling and twisting of the truth as any other, and I felt even less qualified to make this decision than usual (how am I supposed to know anything about international trade agreements?  Does anyone know anything about international trade agreements?)  Being naturally inclined towards the status quo, I started off tending towards staying in, and didn't find any arguments compelling enough for me to switch sides.

So I am still slightly disbelieving that we actually decided to take the leap.  About the only thing I can think of to say is, Hopefully it won't be as bad as all that, really.  Most of the time, most of these large systems seem to self-stabilize somehow - probably because of all the actual decent politicians working away tirelessly behind the scenes - so even a large shove may prove less rocky than we think.  Or else the whole thing may capsize.

But for now, life goes on.  It's heartening to see that the sun still shines, and the flowers grow, and the birds sing in the trees despite our petty human dramas.  Out in the back garden, I have just spotted some tiny green tomatoes on my huge leafy tomato plants, and the strawberries are starting to ripen.


The two plants that I thought were courgettes suddenly shot up and revealed themselves as sunflowers - which is fine, too, but I don't know where they came from!


We have been eating rocket morning, noon and night for a while, but it's now gone irrevocably to seed.  There should be some spring onions hiding in there, so maybe they'll now get a chance to grow - the rocket went a bit more rampant than I expected.  And finally, I tried dwarf runner beans for the first time this year.  They look very pretty right now.  Hopefully they will become very tasty too.



So if you'll excuse me, I will step out of the world of politics again and go dig in a different kind of dirt.  One that was there before we all existed, and will still be there after we've gone.  In all the shouting and upheaval, I hope you find a place of peace today.


Sunday, 12 June 2016

Interesting things

Did you know you could drive an Intercity train through the centre of Derby?  Or eat breakfast under a giant chandelier?  Or even get chocolate direct from Willie Wonka's factory?

Recently I've been discovering some new aspects of Derby, and it seemed like a good time to let you know all about them.  First up was #DerbyBloggersBrunch, a new initiative organised by the enterprising Monet Brooks of Munching with Monet.  She did an excellent job, gathering fifteen local bloggers at the newly opened and gorgeously opulent Cosy Club for a Saturday morning brunch.  The group was exclusively female and many, I guessed, were in their early twenties, which suddenly made me feel extremely old!  It was energising to meet so many new people and find out a little about their interests and experiences of the strange online world that is blogging.

A few weekends later, we were back in town as a family.  Our friend Kath was running a pottery taster class at Derby Museum.  She instructed Toby and Graham in the technique of making a coil pot, and they both produced quite creditable specimens!  Some other lovely ladies were downstairs in the cafe; they introduced Toby to watercolours and he painted a cute little owl plaque.


Up the road, the children's trail was in full swing for the Derby Book Festival.  Our task was to spot and identify several dozen children's book characters in the shop windows.  Elmer, the Mr Men and Spot the Dog were familiar to the boys, and I helped them out with older characters such as Pippi Longstocking and the BFG.  We had just identified the colourful display representing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, when a man popped out of the shop and said, "Are you gentlemen doing the children's book trail?"  When Toby and Theo replied that they were, he presented them both with a bucket full of chocolate Easter eggs.  An unexpected treat!

We made one last stop that Saturday.  The Silk Mill had its model railway running, so we headed over to see the trains.  We discovered a new exhibit had arrived since we were last there; there is now a replica Intercity cab to sit in, complete with a video projection of the journey from Derby to York.  The boys loved it (I think Toby was inventing various disaster scenarios) and Graham and I found the steady motion of the rails unrolling in front of us strangely relaxing.  We decided someone should put it on Netflix, to go with those videos of crackling log fires and goldfish in tanks.



I had vaguely assumed that the large model railway setup was run automatically - press start and off it goes.  But when Toby and I were allowed to crawl through the magic hatch and underneath the landscape, we found an intent young man hiding at the back, concentrating hard as he flipped switches and adjusted the speed.  It looked almost as difficult as controlling a real live railway, and we crawled back to see the 44-car coal train chug round with a new level of appreciation.



And finally, one more Derby Book Festival event.  I thought the talk about Shakespeare and the Bible sounded interesting - and free! - so one evening I left Graham to wrangle the boys to bed and took myself off to Derby Cathedral.  The speaker was a red-bearded academic from the University of Nottingham named Jem Bloomfield, who has just written a book about these two cornerstones of the English language.  I found what he said about how people read sacred texts fascinating.  I recognised many of the examples from the point of view of Bible study, although I was less familiar with that kind of approach to Shakespeare's works.  Apparently there is even a Lectio Shakespeareana, akin to Lectio Divina!  Who knew?



I didn't pick up a copy of the book, but I did find Jem's blog, where the first paragraph I read: “We believe in one God, who’s rather interesting really, when you come to think of it…” made me laugh and finish the article.

So, God is interesting, and people are interesting, and so are model trains and squidgy pieces of clay and lots of words put together and buckets of chocolate (especially when you're two).  It seems like everything is interesting once you look a bit deeper - including the city of Derby.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Monthly Munch: May 2016

The month of two bank holidays, May is the time when everything starts happening.  The garden leaps into life, events come crowding onto the calendar, and our walk to school becomes green and flowery after months of brown.  We've seen friends old and new, cars fast and slow, motorbikes, model trains, ferret racing and art displays.  In between all that, Graham has been doing some work at a local horticultural company, and I've been ploughing on with Cafes with Kids and meeting other local writers at a Derby Bloggers' Brunch.

 

Toby


- can now get cereal and juice for himself and Theo for breakfast.  Yay!  More time in bed!

- asked, "If I do 3 jobs for you can we go to Barnardo's [charity shop] as a reward?"  So I got him sorting laundry and tidying up, and next day he got £2 to spend at Barnardo's.

Being signalmen at The Old Silk Mill
- had a mud fight at Forest School and came home plastered in mud.  (Did I really miss getting a photo of that?)

- really enjoyed making a clay pot at Derby Museum (thanks Kath!)

Adding to the mural at Willington Art Festival


Theo

High five!

- finally stayed in creche at church by himself!  Big achievement!

- says, "My do it!" (I'll do it), "What's that?" and "Mini!!" multiple times a day.

- was ridiculously proud of this painting: "I make it!  Mum, Dad, I make it!"


- enjoyed seeing Graham's parents, and kept asking after them when they left.  "Where Mam-ma?  Where Gan-dad?"

Helping Grandma wash up

- had a go at potty training but didn't quite manage it this time around.

Thankful for:


- a free pushchair to replace the one that fell to bits (Thanks Lucy!)

- seeing the Findern Flower, which apparently only grows around here.
(UPDATE: Graham tells me that the local naturalists have decided it wasn't a Findern Flower, but something else similar.  Oh well.)


- getting our car fixed just before the broken part caused a major incident

- finally watching Frozen (should I be thankful for that??)


Recipe of the Month - Asian chicken


OK, I realise that's a rather vague title.  The original recipe was a chicken rice bowl from the April Waitrose magazine.  It looked beautiful and was delicious, but rather bitty - you know those recipes where you have to do five separate things to put the final dish together?  Not good for peace of mind when you're scrambling to get dinner with small children underfoot.


But the marinade for the chicken was lovely and simple, and well worth incorporating into other meals.  I got mirin for some recipe a while ago, and find it very useful for sploshing into stirfry sauces and things.  It keeps for ages in the fridge.

About 500g of boneless chicken pieces
15g fresh root ginger, finely grated
2 tbsp mirin rice wine
2 tbsp soy sauce

Mix the chicken with the other ingredients in a large bowl, and leave to marinate for 20-30 minutes, or presumably longer in the fridge.  A couple of options for cooking:  the original recipe used halved chicken thigh fillets, and grilled them (4-5 minutes each side; rest under foil for 5 minutes).  I had mini breast fillets, and fried them in a small splash of oil.  Serve as above, with rice, pickled vegetables, and a little sriracha drizzled over, or however else takes your fancy.