Saturday, 29 April 2017

Monthly Munch: April 2017

Looking back, it seems like lots of nice things have happened this month.  My diary records sunny afternoons with friends; discussions about 'what is poetry?' and 'what if Jesus hadn't been raised to life?'; visits to and from parents; a stop-off at Stratford-upon-Avon (nice town, even if you don't do anything Shakespearean); Easter bonnets, Easter biscuits, Easter church; parks, plants, parties; and my first attempt at ten-pin bowling in a long time.  (Since you ask: No.  I was awful.  But we had fun.)
Helping with a lock gate on the Stratford Canal

In the interests of keeping it real, this month has also included tantrums, whinging, fights, bleeding from the head, food on the floor, a screw in a car tyre, and me failing to get a job I interviewed for.  You didn't really think we had it that easy, did you?

Life goes up and down...


Toby



- got his silver award for achieving 600 Dojo [award] points.

- learned to do Sudoku puzzles with Grandpop.

They liked 'bouncing bubbles' from Grandma & Grandad

- is practising A and B on the recorder.

- wants us to time how fast he can do everything.

"Time me to run across the aqueduct and back!"

- carefully counts his money.  He's saving for more Lego.


Theo



- started going to preschool three mornings a week, and goes in without a backward glance.

- rarely needs the pushchair now, except for the 'double dash' where I have to cover the mile between school and preschool in 15 minutes.

Still likes sweets - and barbeques

- always has to help stir the dinner.  Doesn't mean he eats it, mind you!

Adding pepper to bean chilli


Thankful for:

 - Graham finding a garage to fit a new tyre half an hour before they shut for Easter weekend - and they gave us free Easter eggs!

- finding a beautiful new place to walk: Blithfield Reservoir, near Uttoxeter.

photo of a woodpecker from the bird hide at Blithfield


- a new net for our old trampoline (finally fitted after I ordered the wrong size and had to return it...)

Recipe of the Month: Orange and Ginger Cake with Marmalade Glaze



I adapted a recipe for marmalade cake, to try and use up a jar of chopped ginger in sugar syrup that has been sitting in my fridge for ages.  The result is not too orangey, not too gingery, just a light and delicate mix of both.

6 oz butter, softened
3 oz sugar
2 eggs
2 oz chopped ginger in syrup
5 oz marmalade, plus extra to glaze
10 oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
zest and juice of one orange

Preheat oven to 180°C.  Grease and base line a loaf tin.

Cream together the butter and sugar, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix well, adding more orange juice (or milk) if needed to give a soft consistency.

Scoop into the loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes or until firm.  Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then put a couple of teaspoons of marmalade on top of the warm cake, and smear it around so that it melts to form a glaze.  Remove the cake from the tin and let it cool on a wire rack.

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.