Skip to content

Hummus in hurry…

September 6, 2018

When you have a sister coming to stay who is arriving post supper time but may be hungry… that.  So I’ve whipped up some hummus in a hurry, because who knows what they serve on a train from Brighton, and not all of us having time and fore thought to pack a picnic or buy proper food from the deli.  Maybe she will, maybe she won’t, but it’s good to have a little stand by snack just in case she arrives fainting from hunger, to go with the glass of sturdy wine to help her recover from the epic journey.

Brighton is a long way away, or it was in the time of yore when a cart journey would take the best part of three years.  Times were simpler then.  We only had to worry about Farmer Hessian’s harvest and whether the grain would be good for the bread for the annual feast.  We didn’t worry about America then, or what mad man was in charge.  The King was in charge and he might be mad, but he’s the King, and that was a good/bad depending on your place in the pecking order.  Pecking orders were clear, boundaries strong and we knew our place in it all.  It was great.  I wasn’t there obviously, but I bet it was great – I love the linen smocks the farmers wore anyway.

1 can/carton cooked chickpeas, drained (if you have forethought to soak and cook chickpeas then you need 230g cooked chickpeas).

2 dessert spoons of light tahini

2 cloves garlic

juice of one lemon

small handful chopped coriander or basil

pinch salt

Put all the ingredients in a food processor.  If you still live in the cart and horse era use a moulin – now they really were great, and still are), adding a small slosh of water to loosen it all if need be.  Whizz to a consistency that you like. Bob’s yer hummus.

You can add olive oil as well if you like, but you may find that it’s not really necessary – add some when you serve it instead.  A little sprinkle of pepper and paprika is nice too.  Try not to eat it before your sister arrives.

 

Advertisements

On a roll (spiral?)

August 24, 2018

Clearly I am on a roll, two posts in as many days.  You, my weary reader (are you still there Lucy?), might get tired of me rabbiting on in this over excited way, two days on the trot.  Whatever next?  Sausages for dinner?

On the subject of dinner, since I am on my own for three days, sans husband, cats, lodgers et al, I am eating slightly bizarre foods.  I am attempting, in a slightly arse backwards way, to change my eating habits, to be more conscious and careful of what I eat, partly to lose weight, not because I think I am monstrously overweight (so don’t start) but I am a bit and I want to be more healthy and more in proportion to my height. Also partly, well, for health as I said.  I am growing older and need to start taking better care of this old bod – it is the only thing I have to carry me into old age since I don’t have a pension, and I’m unlikely to win the lottery and so afford a full time carer to wheel me about at my whim.   I am not about to espouse a new diet, lifestyle, miracle solution however – I am not Gwyneth Paltry selling the answer to everything (sex comes with a teeny bit of fluffy and feminine armpit hair now – however those of you with hirsute, brunette pits still need to shave, soz), only with extra sparkle and tissue paper for a mere $60,000.00.  No, I am sensible, English and not a ridiculously self absorbed, totally deluded Hollywood fool.

Anyway – moving on.  On Tuesday night I had courgetti (it’s a word) for supper.  I bought a little spiralizer some time back and completely love it (yes it’s a stupid price for something so basic but I use it a lot).  It works for all sort of veg but courgettes are the easiest and best in my humble opinion.

This what I did.

2/3 courgette, sprialized, plus the little central tube of courgette, chopped up (waste not, want not)

1 clove garlic chopped as fine or not as you like it

2 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled (I didn’t and regretted it because I hate cooked tomato skin and had to pick it all out) and chopped roughly

Few basil leaves roughly chopped

Olive oil (not coconut, that’s poison now apparently – you’d think They would have figured that out before it became the saviour of human race really, wouldn’t you?)

In a large frying pan heat the oil, add the tomatoes and garlic and cook til softening but not mush, add the courgetti and the basil, a little salt and a splash of water if it’s sticking.  Carry on cooking and stirring for about 2-3 minutes on high heat. As soon as the courgette is soft scoop everything into a waiting bowl.  Eat.

It’s truly delicious  and pretty filling too – the juice from the vegetables is good for a slurp at the end too.  I cannot lie, I also ate some of those tiny Dr Karg crackers with hummus as well.  Plus glass of red wine.  Hey, I never promised you a rose garden.

Betty out.

Forgot to give this a title.

August 23, 2018

So, what’s been going on people?  I’ve been jolly busy since my last post in June.  To whit and in no particular order –

  • Had a birthday.
  • Had a birthday shout out on local radio by husband who was touting his gig.  He has a voice for radio.  Somebody give that man a show.
  • Pitched for another cafe.
  • Failed pitch.
  • Didn’t want it anyway.
  • Got dripping loo fixed finally (only took 3 years)
  • Hosted endless numbers of airb&b guests (my coffers thank them)
  • Celebrated a friend’s 60th.
  • Celebrated a sister’s 50th.
  • Celebrated old school friend’s wedding on a boat.
  • Went to Edinburgh to visit fam-a-lam (only saw one half as other ended up having emergency back surgery, which was a little inconsiderate but what can you do?).
  • Saw fab show at the Fringe by Ad Infinitum.
  • Got hair cut (short)
  • Lost staff.
  • Gained staff.
  • Lost weight (didn’t really).
  • Visited my old Ma and Nancy in Yorkshire.
  • Went to Hull.
  • Got garden steps fixed (only taken 5 years – top step held together by chicken wire).
  • Took Socks to the vet for a sore paw (£65).
  • Didn’t take Spooky to the vet for a chunk of missing fur and a nasty wound (£0 – am using antiseptic spray which she hates but it seems to be working) inflicted by the evil that is Bubbles the cat next door.
  • Came to Wales.

And here I am.  And just to clarify, all those times when not on jollies up north or being fancy at weddings I was working, running my miniscule empire, being chamber maid to the airb&b’ers,  hoovering cat hair etc.  Don’t want to you all thinking I sat around on my jacksy pondering what to write on here for 3 months.

Hull.

Hull was a bit of a revelation which I’ll get to in a minute.  Me and the husband first visited the Olds in Heptonstall, booking ourselves in a teeny weeny studio apartment in the village where Russell’s (admittedly very long) feet touched the sloped ceiling in bed.  The village is on a steep hill, all cobbled.  We arrived on Friday night just in time for last orders at the pub, after a five plus hour journey most of which which was at 50 mph due to the smartening of the motorways or something.  A cold pint was as more welcome than a shower after a weekend at Boomtown.   It was still warm then – remember the summer?

IMG_4130

We spent Saturday with the ladies, taking them to lunch at Hollingworth Lake to a pub we had spotted on the way over.  It was raining by then because it had remembered it was Yorkshire not Andalucia.  The pub was lovely and very accommodating to our wind and rain swept party, Nancy gamely navigating the way with her flower power walking sticks, dodging a small child who was occupied in tearing up every single paper napkin  in the place, Rosemary and Russell following, ignoring the shrieks of said child.  I went to park the car in a car park some way from the pub.  It was in a pretty area with lots of flowers and stuff.  Turns out there was a car park right behind the pub but I wouldn’t have missed those flowers for anything.  Lunch was huge, Desperate Dan huge.  We all needed to have a short coma afterwards so repaired to our respective lying down places, to prepare our tummies for Nancy’s heavenly fish chowder that evening (yet another reason I haven’t lost weight).

As always with visits to those two time goes too fast.  I could go on here about stuff that comes up for me when visiting my ageing Mum (she is now 91), how much I love her and dread her dying, but that is a subject for another day.   Anyway, I mentioned that I was going to start an oil painting course in September, which I am really excited and rather nervous about.  Mum then decided to bequeath me her oil paints and box, along with her painting smock which she has had for longer than I have been alive, and I can remember her using for various craft sessions throughout my childhood. It was given to her by a nun she knew, so god knows how old it actually is.  It’s almost floor length, pale blue and white check, covered in years of paint spatters.  Russell said it felt like the passing of the mantle.  Mum would probably say stuff and nonsense.  I say I think it might be magic and make a me into a brilliant artist.  I’ll keep you posted.

So, Hull.  Why Hull?  It’s at the end of the M62 and we had never been before.  Russell and I had two extra days so we used them thusly.  Booked into a a groovy apartment block, all digital and sleek lines, posh magazines artfully placed on window sills etc., bang next to the cathedral, or Minster as it is now known.

It was 2017 city of culture and you can see a lot of money has been spent on the place, to good effect as far as I could tell.  Lovely indoor food market where we had breakfast (see my instagram account for endless pictures of food, including said breakfast, and cats), fantastic harbour area with re-vamped Fruit Market full of restaurants, bars, design agencies and the like.

The wind off the North Sea is enough to revive even the claggiest of souls and as we leaned into it we talked of moving there (to be fair, we do that where ever we go).  There was lots about Hull to make me want to go back, not least the Ferens Art Gallery , although I’d stay somewhere else because it turns out that picturesque as it is being next to the minster what they don’t tell you is that the bells ring on the hour every hour, with a little ding every quarter just for good measure.  I did wonder why the complementary ear plugs were on the side table.

IMG_4159 2

We came home via a time warp (Cleethorpes), and past fields of gold through the Lincolnshire flat lands.  Stopped briefly in Lincoln to see the cathedral which looked epic from afar and bit crumbly and sad close up.  The end.

That’s enough from Betty today.  I’m going to do some yoga now because that’s what middle aged women do to kid themselves they are doing exercise (or is just me?).  Then I’m going to master the art of Adobe Illustrator.  Yes I am.

Apron Strings

June 5, 2018

Apron =  /ˈeɪpr(ə)n/ (does anyone know what these symbols actually mean?)noun – a protective garment worn over the front of one’s clothes and tied at the back.

Traditionally children who wouldn’t leave home were talked of as ‘tied to their mother’s apron strings’.  I suspect that is why some aprons have removable strings.

When I put on an apron it is a sign that I am about to focus on cooking, or perhaps some other sort of work that involves getting grubby or splashed, but mostly it’s for cooking.  I’ve been wearing aprons for years, more since owning my own catering business where putting on my apron is a reflex action and signals to my brain to get ready for a day’s cooking, shift focus, put on that hat.

When I was a waitress, back in the olden days, I wore a black waist apron and red lipstick.  Both of these together were my ‘uniform’, and with them my day to day persona was masked and my front of house, flirty, cheeky character flourished.  Youth helped of course but my point is that the putting on of any kind of uniform (and make up can be a part of that) can help you transform into the person you need to be at any one time.

Waitresses have always worn aprons, possibly the most famous style being that of the Nippy from the Lyons Corner Houses that were country wide at one point, even having a brand of cigarettes named after them.  The aprons were not very practical, being little pleated organza things attached their alpaca (!) dresses, but were part of a uniform designed to be easy to identify and they presented a brilliant image for the company.

Nippies with adapted dresses for cycling (note no aprons here but i just love this image!)

Aprons are cover-alls, just like overalls that mechanics wear, or dungarees (overalls as they call them in the US, dungarees are just jeans over there) that old timey men wear while chewing straws and strumming banjos on their front porches, while Grandma rocks in the chair wearing her own cover-all of a traditional apron of the faded floral pinafore variety, shelling black eye peas and smoking her corncob pipe.  I digress.

Over time they have been used for all sorts of things including ceremonial purposes, bejewelled for Egyptian pharaohs or Masonic initiates.  In early Crete they were worn by fertility goddesses.  I struggle slightly to see how that could be related to to today’s version, especially as with bosoms akimbo they certainly wouldn’t protect the wearer from spitting fat from the frying pan but things were different in them days.

Aprons have mostly been worn by women over the last century or so, for work and for domestic use, although chefs, fishmongers, butchers and other burly tradespeople of the male kind also still wear them.  They have varied from the full you-will-not-get-past-me pinafore, or pinny, to the frilly little waist thing that the good housewife would change into from her workaday one in order to greet her hard working husband at the door, gimlet in hand and puckered lips at the ready.

I had some of those which I bought in a job lot of old linen, and while these fantasies can be fun to consider for a nanno second, the reality is they were ridiculous items and a badge of subservience which women sensibly no longer subscribe to (also barely made it round my waist but that’s not why I gave them away, obviously).  They have a variety of names from the butcher’s or bib apron, to hostess, pinny, cobbler, smock or even, bizarrely, bungalow (what we would more easily recognise as a ‘house coat’ of the kind that was worn by depressed housewives as they polished their ornaments, usually made of bri-nylon sparking all the way, or as worn with such style by the fabulous Mrs. Overall).

Of course aprons have a very practical point, and that is to protect the clothing underneath from whatever you are doing, in my case more often than not wiping floury hands, or sticky knives on them.  The add a layer of security and bust rustling efficiency to any domestic scene, even if worn by a man.

When I put on my apron I feel encased, supported and ready for anything.  It’s a bit like wearing big pants for security on a bad day.  I think everyone should have at least four.  Aprons that is.  I think one should have as many pairs of big pants as your drawers (haha – pun fun) can contain.

 

 

 

Desk lunch

April 26, 2018

As an optimist I would say I’m half way through cleaning up and organising my desk and study, so I decided it was time to stop for a little lunch of the fridge forage variety.   Having roasted a lovely chicken on Monday for supper, had chorizo & chicken casserole last night I am now down to the left over meat and the yummy stock from that one generous bird.

Would it be chicken salad or chicken and miso broth?  The broth would require me removing the bones from the stock and frankly I couldn’t be bothered, even though that is about one of my favourite soups with a few rice noodles and some seaweed (yes, I know…); so chicken salad it is.

Chicken & couscous salad – tarnished silver spoon was a charity shop find just in case anyone is about to explode at the middle class heirloom statement cutlery audacity. #getthelook https://www.stpetershospice.org.uk

Use as much or as little as you like of any ingredient, it really doesn’t matter much.

Spring onion, chopped

A few cherry tomatoes, chopped

Some cucumber chopped

Some left over chicken bits, chopped

Handful of frozen peas, defrosted (I put peas in everything)

A tablespoon or two of wild garlic pesto, of you have it (I have tons of the stuff, getting a bit bored of it now), if not some pungent herb like basil or fresh oregano would be nice.

Mix together in a big with a dollop of plain yoghurt and a squeeze or two of a lemon

To stretch and add carbs mix with some couscous – if you decide to do this, like I did, I suggest omitting the yoghurt, like I didn’t, because it makes it a bit claggy.

Add a load of freshly ground black pepper and salt if wanted and maybe a bit more lemon to lift it a bit.  Pretty yummy if a bit claggy and loads left over for the hunter and gatherer’s lunch tomorrow.  PLUS big bonus of a bit more chicken meat still left and that fabulous stock which will last for ages and make a good soup or risotto soon.  So, five meals out of one chicken.  Yes, organic chickens cost considerably more than the tragic, miserably pumped up excuses for fowl that are the at the budget end but used wisely they go a long way.   Middle class, first world, over privileged?  Tick, tick, tick.  Also, with organic chickens from some shops you still get the giblets which you can add to the stock or gravy, plus fry the little liver in butter and eat from the pan as an hors d’oeuvre, innit?

Anyway – there it is, or was.  All gone now, half into my newly fitted brace on my upper teeth.  So after a thorough excavation of teeth and metal I shall return to the sorting and tidying, and by the end of the day I will have a space for thought and creativity, where I will start thinking and creating, hopefully.

 

 

Cake.

February 8, 2018
tags:

This is orange season, and particularly gorgeous are these juicy little blood oranges you can pick up in most green grocers or supermarkets.  Marmalade is next on my list but in the meantime it being one of my brother’s birthdays last week, and he coming over for a little weekday supper last night to celebrate in a Wednesday-ish sort of way, I thought I’d make a Persian orange cake.   Cake is the perfect way to celebrate pretty much anything, and also the answer to most of life’s problems I think, except perhaps if you are on a diet. Luckily none of us last night were on a diet.  This is such a lovely, fragrant cake (also gluten and fat free – yes, it is), and such an easy recipe I then thought I’d put it our there for you, gentle reader.

This based on a Claudia Roden recipe I have used for years.  She is a remarkable women and worth a diversion away from here should you be curious to know more.

Persian Orange Cake

2 large, or 3 small/medium oranges.  (Blood oranges are lovely for this but to be honest don’t make a lot of difference to the colour unless they are very dark red.  Any nice ripe oranges will do.)

6 eggs

250g ground almonds

200g sugar

1 tsp baking powder

Method.

In Advance

Put the oranges in pan of boiling water – enough so they bounce around a bit, not touching the bottom.  These need to simmer away for an hour or so, until really soft, so the water will need to be topped up every now and then.

When soft drain the water and let the oranges cool.

When cooled down cut them cross ways and scoop out any pips.  Then put the oranges, peel and all, into a food processor to whizz into a pulp.  If you don’t have one they will need thorough mashing with a potato masher, or chopped finely on a board (this could get messy).  You need to end up wth a lovely sloppy pulp.  Then put this to one side.

Ready to bake.

Pre heat the oven to about 200 degrees or gas 6.

Line a baking tin with baking parchment. I use a round one because that’s what I have and I think round looks nice, but use what you like, just make sure you line it.  My tin is approx 10″ diameter which works well for these quantities.

Whisk the eggs throughly in a large bowl.  Add the almond, sugar & baking powder and combine well.  Add the pulp and stir vigorously.  If you like you can add a few drops of orange water here to give it a more perfumed aroma.

Scrape entire mix into the tin and put into the oven, middle shelf, for approximately one and half hours.  It needs to spring back very gently to the touch when it is ready, and not wobble.  Use a toothpick or skewer to double check if you’re not sure.  It won’t come out squeaky clean because of the way the cake is formed, but it should come out without raw sticky bits on it.

Options:

Sprinkle with icing sugar or drizzle with a marmalade syrup to serve.  Marmalade syrup is easy  – add a few tablespoons of water and one of sugar to one large one of marmalade and boil for 5 mins or so, until the sugar is dissolved.  The thicker you want it the longer you boil it.  You can leave the bits in or remove them, up to you, but it adds a lovely sharp extra marmaladey taste to the cake.

Serve warm or room temp with crème frâiche.  Stored in a sealed container this will last a week.  It won’t, because it tastes so good, but theoretically…

 

It’s a living?

January 4, 2018

I read an article recently about the mental state of chefs in restaurant kitchens.  It highlighted some really important issues and problems with the way restaurants are run in this country, particularly the high end, Michelin star chasing variety.

The writer of this article is Jay Rayner, he of the large opinions and and enormous appetite, and it is quite good, sympathetic and no doubt has been fact checked etc.  However, it struck me forcibly that this article would not pass the Bechdel test, if that test was tweaked and applied to this kind of writing.  Jeremy King is “softening up the atmosphere by introducing older cooks and by employing more women”, as though old people and women are new types of aromatherapy oils.  I wasn’t aware until now that this was apparently the point of women in the catering industry.

So I began to think about all the women I had worked with and for over the years, and how many of them are still running successful kitchens and catering businesses without recourse to employing men to beef up the soft atmosphere, but perhaps employing them along side women as equals – now there’s a thought.

When I first started in the catering industry in 1980 I was a whipper snapper waitressing for vodka and lime money while at college, working for a woman called Tessa.  On leaving college, having ‘studied’ photography, I realised that since I was no Ansel Adams photography wasn’t for me and so I wandered into full time catering, as so many do.  Smiths Restaurant in Covent Garden was one of my first London jobs, as a cashier then waitress, alongside another job at the Covent Garden General Store, basket department (did you note that I had two jobs? good.).

Smith’s was owned by the redoubtable Christina Smith who owned half of Covent Garden at that time, with the Flower Smith, Smith’s Gallery, The Tea House & Neal Street East as her commercial outlets.  Ok, she wasn’t a chef, but she saved Covent Garden from demolition, had an incredible eye for art and beauty, great taste in food and awoke a love in me for seriously stylish restaurants, so a worthy female role model.

My last shift at Smith’s restaurant – hence irreverent pose on the piano and glass of bubbly (behind me are some of the art works that are being sold for charity by Christina).

Some of my colleagues at lunch, post shift at Smith’s – we were a serious and thoughtful lot.

Smith’s Restaurant was in the basement of the gallery, painted white throughout with large booths in between the enormous pillars and stunning art on the walls (it is now a Belgos, dark and dungeon like and smelling of stale mussels).  I didn’t have much to do with the kitchen in those days, apart from flirting occasionally over the pass in order to get an order out quicker, discovering the joys of celeriac match sticks in salads and learning how to fillet a dover sole.  While there I worked with David Eyre and Mike Belben who went on to start the Eagle, the world’s first* gastro pub, and also worked and lived with Graham Walker (now Norton) who was just as funny then as he is now, just with much cheaper clothes.  Anyway, I digress as usual.

*probably

Moving on – I worked at the Groucho Club where the full force of macho kitchen bollocks was on display quite a lot of the time, and it wasn’t just staff hoovering up the cocaine.  Despite the male dominated line up in the kitchen, my manager was Mary-Lou Sturridge, a force to be reckoned with and good laugh to boot.  Next was 192, a sister restaurant to the Groucho, mostly managed by women and where the head chef was Maddalena Bonino, who seems to have fallen of the face of google – a brilliant cook, sharp, with flaming red hair and scarlet lipstick.

Then on to the place where I really learned about food; presentation, aesthetics and ethics, the feel of working in good a team – the glamour of the clientele aside it was a very down to earth place.  It was, of course, run by women.  It still is.  Rose sadly died in 2010, and while she is clearly missed Ruth keeps the stoves lit and the line up of staff a good mix of the sexes.  Rose & Ruth were an education in themselves.  Rose tall, very English, slightly sardonic and pithy (and occasionally pissy) with a love of art and Patsy Kline that allowed me to finally admit my own secret love of country music.  Ruth was breathy, generous and flamboyant.  When you worked for her you were hers, lock stock.

Rose & Ruth

Most people who know about the River Cafe always comment on the staggeringly expensive menu.  And it is, and was, no question.  But I would like to suggest that perhaps this is what it is actually worth.  I don’t know what staff there are paid these days but I know that I was paid well and fairly back in 1991, more indeed, literally, than I earn now.  We were also fed extremely well, after service, all together.

The catering business is totally unbalanced.  As we all eat out more, as  matter of course now, and choose our eateries based on price, quality of the food, atmosphere and ethics (in that order – I did a survey) we push more and more places to compromise their standards or close.   We are not willing to pay what the food actually costs if you take into account decent wages, overheads, tax (don’t even get me started on the deep unfairness of the vat system in the industry), rising ingredient costs etc.  If we did, we probably wouldn’t be able to eat out so often.

It is telling that the most successful restaurants are those that are either chains or small, owner operated.  Anything in between is up against enormous odds, especially somewhere like Bristol where saturation point for coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and bars was hit a long time ago, and yet still they come (and go).

It is exciting to go and find the newest place, cast your vote and then move on to the next.  But sometimes I wish that the little neighbourhood bistro could exist in peace and just carry on doing what it does well, without having to instagram every meal or watch their neighbourhood get all up and coming, get eclipsed by the hipster cereal cafe next door and whither away, only for that to be eclipsed by a coffee emporium where you can make your own coffee at your table (I can do that in my kitchen surely?) or yet another incarnation of the burger joint selling, ooh let me think, burgers.

What to do about it all?  I have ideas.  I do feel that the world has reached a tipping point regarding it’s attitude to women, and the power that we hold but don’t exercise, yet – our time approaches I am sure of it.  It’s how we handle it that will count.  And the catering industry?  Perhaps as more women feel able to step up and take control we won’t be used simply as fragrant soft furnishings by men.  I think it may have started…   What do you think?