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Trying to find balance.

January 23, 2019
kitchen counter 20bvc 23:1:19

Form and function – a place for everything and everything all over the place.

This is a picture of my kitchen counter.  It drives many people crazy, particularly those with a need for order and those wishing to find things or make a cup of tea without playing a game of jenga first.  To the question ‘why do you need so many cups?’ (and this is only about a third of what I actually have), I answer, ‘it’s not about need, stupid’ (I don’t say ‘stupid’ because I am not that rude, but I do think it).  Every cup, mug, container, thing on that counter has significance.  Well, perhaps not the peanut butter jar.

Top left, 50s vase from a boot sale in Surrey with best old mucker Maire.  Old cherry painted flour sifter from Tennessee bric-a-brac store on my honey moon.  Saffron from Iranian friend’s sister.  Fantastic pan (from a set) birthday present from son and his father. Blue and white plate on shelf from a friend in Wales which reminds me of my Mum and her passion for blue and white china.  Cup with pink stripe from my son and his lovely girlfriend. White oil bottle Christmas present from my Dad.  Baby coffee pot, found on wall on my street (it’s what we do here when we don’t want stuff anymore) and taken to replace one I had bought when holiday on Rome with my son, the handle of which I had melted off.  Tiny cups with blue flowers from my husband (he who can’t cope with how many cups I have but understands me this well and is big enough to add to them because I love Scandi china).  Fish given to my son by his baby brother.  Flag in wooden utensil jar adorned my wedding cake made by Benet, one of my brothers (the cake was made by Kaaren, my sister in law, the icing models of me and Russell in a boat complete with said flag/sail which sat on the cake by Benet).  Utensil jar came from Lothorien, where I partially grew up.  20 rupee note with picture of Ghandi from dear friends just back from Indian honey moon.  American walnut counter top made my my brother Luke, burns and other marks by various people over the years.  Large notch in the wood, bottom right, made by angry son (long since forgiven).

I could go on but I suspect it’s boring if you aren’t me.

It’s about balance.  Life is about balance isn’t it?  People rattle on about life/work balance but it’s all one really.  I have come through a pretty bumpy few months with work, ridden out with the support of my family and friends and one or two particularly loyal members of staff.  I am on the other side now,  not quite out of the woods but on a good path.  The business has taken a new trajectory and it’s all looking very interesting.  But that’s for another post, another day.

So I balance my cluttered counter with the joy it brings me when I look at it.  It makes my heart sing because of the colour, the jumble, the memories, the function and beauty of everything there.  I also balance it with a clear counter area in front.  That is a fairly new thing, egged on my brother Barny, who is the one who likes order, and which I am thoroughly enjoying (thanks Barny!).  It was made clear by the introduction of new set of shelves into the kitchen.

shelves

Completed shelves. Note lots of room for more stuff.

These shelves were ordered online, in the January sales because I’m being thrifty, and arrived flat packed with hieroglyphic instructions and a couple of allen keys.

It was a Friday evening and my tired and long suffering husband arrived home to be faced with the jigsaw puzzle of the shelves and a bottle of wine.  Obviously I didn’t leave it to just him, we did it together, with mindfulness and a little help from the fruits of the vine.  No fingers were crushed, very little cursing occurred, half time was marked by a meal of chilli fried prawns, time and successful completion of Project Shelf Make marked by microwaved Camembert (surprisingly nice), crackers from my Chinese cracker barrel (a present from beloved friend for Christmas, another item to treasure – who doesn’t love a cracker barrel anyway?), Dr Karg pumpkin seesd and emmental mini crackers, which remind me of G&T time with my Dad,  and remains of vine fruits.

success feast

Success feast.

That’s what I call balance and a damn fine Friday night.  Apologies if you were expecting something meaningful in this post.  Sometimes I think they may come out that way, but they rarely do.

 

 

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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.

 

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?

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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
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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…