Archive | May, 2012

The Forgotten Waltz

19 May

A colleague has lent her kindle to a mutual friend who is in hospital. As a result she is buying REAL books and lending out ones she loves. So, on a recent trip to London and Brighton she bought The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, and by the time she’d returned to Edinburgh she had finished it and was desperate for me to read it so we could talk about it.

And I’m SO pleased she lent it to me to read; it’s a great book. I’m not giving anything away by telling you it’s about an Irish woman who is having an affair with a married man. And yes, it absolutely is about that. It’s about the course of the relationship, from the moment she first sees him at the bottom of her sister’s garden at a barbecue…. I won’t say where it goes, as I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Except that in many ways, the story isn’t what I found so remarkable about this book. Gina, who is having the affair, is the narrator. She is an IT professional in her mid 30s. Her husband is a like-able bear of a man. Her lover has ‘too beautiful’ eyes and a daughter who is captivating and strange.  The writer captures the detail of the emotional roller-coaster the adulterer goes through. But more than that she captures the minutiae of daily life, down to the noise made by the rubber strip as you pull open the fridge door.

By the end of the novel the economic boom has bust. But has the same happened to the relationship? Read it and find out.

The Forgotten Waltz has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction; it’s the second of this year’s shorltist that I’ve read, so watch this space for the remaining books. They are on my wishlist.

Making things

14 May

Some weather is designed for making things. Today is a blustery May day, with the wind blowing around the house, and the rain battering at the windows. And then 10 minutes later the rain stops, until the wind blows some more in. So, it’s not a day for gardening, although the garden would love me to spend some more time in it, getting rid of some of those pesky weeds.

It’s a day for making things.

So, my man is in the shed doing joinery. Every few minutes I hear the whine of the saw, and so I know something is being created.

I like power tools. I have a bit of power tool envy really, I like the way they are good and solid in your hand and can make short work of heavy jobs.

I guess I have a few power tool equivalents in the kitchen: my electric beaters, my zizzer, my liquidiser, a food processor, and my vintage Kenwood Chef mixer. How I love that mixer, and wish I could move it to my place in the country instead of my wee flat in the city.

But today I’m using an altogether different power tool: my Bernina sewing machine. It’s a beautiful thing: solid and heavy, but graceful and elegant. And with the loveliest wee hummm you ever did hear. It’s almost as relaxing as the purrrr of my purrdy cat, when she lies on me in bed.

Bernina and I are making a skirt, in dark brown tweed with a turquoise lining. I’d never done the lining thing till I went to dressmaking classes for a season and was persuaded of the sense (and beauty) of a quality lining. Now I love that swishy sound of a good lining, and the slinky ease of pulling on a lined skirt. But I just can’t seem to do a matching lining, and so everything I make ends up with a serious clash.

My next skirt is probably a dark turquoise/teal  wool crepe … and the only lining I have in my stash is what I like to call greige – a deliciously minky sort of grey beige. It feels slightly too dowdy for this fabric though, and I feel I might have to nip up to Edinburgh Fabrics this week and get something in lime green, or a jewel purple or hot pink.

OK, the sun has come back out and the garden room (which doubles as my sewing room) is flooded with light, so time to do the hems and get this skirt finished. I might even wear it tomorrow.

Gin and tonic muffins

12 May

It was bound to happen one day. I have a bottle of Caorunn Gin on the counter in my kitchen. And it was inevitable that one day while I was baking, the urge would become too great and I would end up with gin and tonic flavoured baked goods.

Yesterday was that day. But first of all let me tell you a wee bit about Caorunn Gin. It’s Scottish, and it’s delicious. That’s almost all you need to know, but not quite. It’s a small batch gin, and infused with the most deliciously delicate array of botanicals: rowanberry, heather, bog myrtle, dandelion and coul blush apple. And you drink it with a slice of apple, not lime or cucumber or even lemon. And preferably Fentiman’s tonic. It’s my gin of choice these days, although I’m sure I could be persuaded to drink almost any other brand if necessary.

But back to the baking. I’d decided on muffins. And then I had narrowed it down to lemon muffins. With poppy seeds. Well, I thought I’d narrowed it down to that, but clearly I hadn’t… my baking muse was still playing with me. As I grated the lemon zest into the mix it dawned on me that gin and tonic was what these wee muffins really needed (I had already decided they were going to be mini muffins).

And so the gin and tonic muffin was born. I really do fear that this could start a whole load of crazy cocktail themed baking. Ah well…

Gin and Tonic Muffins

Prepare muffin tins (I used teeny weeny ones, and regular ones, and this batter made 24 wee ones plus 6 regular) and preheat oven to 375-400F / 190-200C / Gas 5-6

  • 9oz plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of Maldon sea salt
  • 3oz caster sugar
  • 2-3 TBsp poppy seeds
  • 1 egg
  • 1tsp grated lemon zest
  • 3 fl oz sunflower oil
  • 4 fl oz cloudy apple juice
  • 4 fl oz gin and tonic (mostly tonic, but a good slug of gin)
  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar into a large bowl. 
  2. Stir in the poppy seeds
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg
  4. Add in the lemon zest, oil, apple juice and gin and tonic, and beat together
  5. Pour the wet mix into the dry stuff and mix all together – you don’t want to beat it, but just bring it together, making sure there are no pockets of flour
  6. Spoon into tins and bake for 20 – 25 mins (slightly less for the mini ones)
These would work well with a wee cream cheese icing (with some gin and tonic in it) or with an icing glaze, made with icing sugar and apple juice and a hint of gin. They seemed to rise more than usual almost like a souffle which I think must be down to the fizzy tonic.
And if you’re not using Caorunn, you might want to use a different fruit juice, such as orange or perhaps grapefruit. Mind you, the grapefruit might do weird things to the raising agent? I’ve not tried it, so don’t blame me if it goes wrong!
You might want to look at some of my other recipes, there’s lots of homebaking, and a bit of preserving, and various main courses. Anyway, have a browse here and if you have any questions, just get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.

Making your own granola

6 May

Is life too short for making your own granola? Apparently not, for I have some gently baking in the oven right now.

I’m not quite sure why I became obsessed recently with the idea of making my own granola. I don’t even eat shop bought granola, so why suddenly crave making some?  Perhaps my brain is trying to tell me that my body needs some of those nutty nutrients? Or perhaps I’ve missed that crunchy oaty goodness? Does it matter why I had this craving, this obsession? Not really, all that matters is whether or not the final outcome is a success.

And by the oaty, nutty, honey smell I suspect it might be.

This is hardly cooking. Or not as I know it. It is combining some ingredients and leaving them be for a while. Really, that is all it is. I’d say a monkey could do it, but I suspect a monkey would be distracted and would eat some of the ingredients before combining them. Then you’d have one fat monkey and a bowl with some porridge oats in it. And everyone knows you can’t sprinkle a fat monkey on yoghurt. Not without making a real mess anyway.

Granola

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 1 or 2, about 150C … 

  • 2 cups porridge oats
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2-3 TBsps sesame seeds
  • 3/4 cup roughly chopped mixed nuts – I used almonds and pecans, but hazelnuts would be nice, as would macadamias, or brazils… oh, whatever nuts you like best, but preferably not salted ones (although that salty-sweet combo might be JUST what I want in my granola?)
  • a pinch Maldon sea salt
  • 1 TBsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 large TBsp honey
  • about 100ml apple juice
  • optional extras: sultanas or dried cranberries, or chopped dried apricots, or really any dried fruit you like or happen to have in the cupboard
  1. Put the oil, honey and apple juice in a pan and bring to the boil
  2. Boil gently for 5 – 10 minutes, with no lid on as you want some of the liquid to boil off
  3. Put all the dry ingredients in a big bowl and mix together. Add more porridge oats if you think it’s too nutty
  4. Pour the appley liquid into the bowl and mix all together
  5. Spread out on a baking tray, and put in a low oven for an hour or so.  
  6. Let it cool (without nibbling too much of it) and then mix in any dried fruit you want and put it in an airtight container. A kilner jar would look pretty, but a plastic tub would be just as good, and probably more practical.
Enjoy sprinkled on yoghurt, or with cold milk. Or use it as a sprinkle on ice cream. Or just as a scrummy tasty snack.
Oh, and don’t think of this as a recipe, please.  Think of it more as loose guidance on making granola.  Mix up those nuts and oats. Add some bran or wheatgerm. Use coconut oil instead of rapeseed, or get rid of the oil altogether.  Try pineapple juice, or throw in some muscovado sugar.
Have fun, and eat well.

Bready things

6 May

Some of you might know that I’ve been trying a low carb diet for the past few months. While I’ve been generally feeling less lethargic and slightly healthier, I haven’t continued to lose weight after the first month, so I’ve changed tack and am now trying weightwatchers again.

But that’s all dull. Diets are dull. People who talk about diets (as opposed to food) are dull. OK, they’re not all dull, but it’s the food that is inherently interesting, not the way my body or your body metabolises it.  Isn’t it?

Anyway, the low carb thing had meant that I’d stopped buying or making bread. I thought this would be really hard; I love bread. I love hot toast with butter. I love bread and honey. I love bread and butter pudding. I love toasted cheese on toast. I love croutons. I love fingers of toast with butter and marmite. And peanut butter. It’s really no wonder I’m overweight, is it?

However, I found giving up bread much easier than I imagined. It’s nice to have an egg for breakfast. Two is better.  Scrambled with a bit of butter and a teeny wee pinch of Maldon sea salt is divine, especially with a good grinding of black pepper once it’s served. And really, it doesn’t need toast to make it a superlative breakfast. Lightly boiled eggs for breakfast are also a winning start to the morning. And genuinely, since I started having eggs instead of toast or porridge for breakfast, I’ve found I don’t get hungry and want a snack mid morning. And that’s a good thing, as when I WANT a snack, I tend to have a snack.

But… all this is dull diet stuff.  The important thing is that I decided to quit this low carb regime, which meant a renewed interest in bready goods again. Now, if I’m going to eat bread, I’m going to eat the nicest bread I can have. And that, for me, means making it myself. It could also mean going to Strathaven and buying bread from Alexander Taylor‘s but I’m not sure I can justify the food miles every week. They were at the local farmers’ market yesterday, but I’d completely forgotten it was the first weekend of the month and forgot to go. Ah well, next month.

For a while I’ve been thinking about flour. I want artisanal flour. Yeah, I know how middle class that sounds. What I mean is that I want great quality flour which will make superb loaves almost without thinking. And, here’s the romantic in me, I want it to come from a proper mill. A watermill, or a windmill, I don’t mind. I want the wheat to be organic, and GM free.  I want to know that the millers are using time honoured traditional methods to mill my flour. Is that too much to ask?

Clearly it’s not. I researched a few places online and kept coming back to a Welsh mill, Bacheldre Mill. Take a look, I think you’ll like the cut of their jib.  They are artisanal millers of exceptional flours, so they say. And I would tend to agree.

So, this week we took delivery of 16kg of stoneground unbleached white flour and 4 x 1.5kg bags of their malted 5 seed flour. And oooh la la, I’m a happy baker. OK, I’ve only used the bread machine so far. Yup, I said it. I use a bread machine. And I am not ashamed of that. It is easy, it is quick (in terms of my time input) and it produces delicious bread with great texture. Most of the time.

So, on Friday night I made a 5 seed loaf. I’d forgotten there was fennel in it, which gives it that lovely almost aniseedy kick.  Great with smoked cheddar (from The Galloway Smokehouse at Carsluith) and home made apple chutney. Also great with home made blackcurrant jelly, allegedly.  I suspect it will add a new dimension to home made pizza too.

Anyway, such is my love for this proper flour that I am moved to make a new sourdough starter. I had a sourdough starter last year and loved it… but one fateful weekend I made a loaf and forgot to keep back any of the starter and that was the end of it. So, it is definitely time to make some more. I love sourdough. It doesn’t have the easy nature of the machine bread, but it rewards you with great flavour and texture. And in the end doesn’t really take up too much time, if you’re organised (which contrary to popular belief, I am).

Anyway, here is my bread machine recipe for Bacheldre Mill’s 5 Seed Loaf.

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp milk powder
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (I used half olive, half sunflower oil)
  • 2 heaped Tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups Bacheldre Mill’s malted 5 seed flour
  • 1 cup strong white flour
  • 1 tsp fast action yeast
  1. Add the ingredients, in the order they are listed, to the tin in your bread machine
  2. Cook on 1 1/2lb wholemeal setting
Voila! You have delicious tasty bread.
I think it’s steak sandwiches later. That’s if I can resist making some pizza.

Springtime apple cake

5 May

Yes, I know apples aren’t a very springtime fruit, but I don’t seem to have anything local and seasonal in the fruit department yet. No rhubarb, no Scottish berries, not even a British apple to be had in my local supermarket today. Yes, I know, I should have shopped at the farmers’ market – but I needed to do one of those monster shops, with all sorts of store cupboard and cleaning staples, so the supermarket got my custom today.

It’s a glorious sunny day today here in the Clyde valley. Glorious and sunny in that peculiarly Scottish way of also being what you might call ‘a bit fresh’. I call it chilly. So I pootled about for a few minutes in the garden, just to check that everything was doing as it should, then watered everything in the deliciously warm greenhouse, and then decided it was time to bake a cake.

I’d thought of a hazelnut sort of a cake, but had no hazelnuts in the cupboard so that wasn’t going to happen. Then I’d thought of something with some lemon for springtime zestiness, some ground almonds for moistness, and perhaps an apple or two just for fun.

So, here we have it Springtime Apple Cake

Preheat your oven to 160C / Gas 4

Grease a 23cm deep cake tin

  • 3 apples – I used braeburns, and it will need something with a bit of crunch to it, and a slight sharpness. Cooking apples would be fine too
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 225g softened butter
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 200g SR flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  1. Peel and dice the apples, into wee chunks, about 1cm max. Drop them in a bowl with the lemon juice and stir them up a wee bit to coat them all in juice – this will stop them going brown while you do the rest of the cake making. It’ll give a nice zesty flavour too
  2. Beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest together till you get a good light fluff of a mixture
  3. Add the eggs one at a time. Add a wee bit of flour after each egg if the mixture is showing signs of splitting
  4. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients
  5. Stir in the apple chunks
  6. Dollop the mixture into the cake tin, and level the mixture.
  7. Cook for about an hour. If it smells too burny burny, then put it onto a lower shelf, or cover it with greaseproof paper to stop the top burning.
  8. To test if it’s ready, insert a skewer into the middle of the cake and pull it out again. If it’s covered in soft cake batter it’s not ready, if it’s clean it’s ready. Yay!
  9. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.
  10. Dredge with caster sugar, and serve warm with creme fraiche. Or on its own.

You may be interested to know that if you are counting weightwatcher points (as I am currently) then if you slice this cake into 10 pieces (which I think is easily do-able) each slice has 9 points. That’s without your dollop of creme fraiche. An apple with no cake wrapped round it would be 0 points. But where would the fun be in that?

Enjoy!

My Lover’s Lover

2 May

I went to a World Book Night event last week (or possibly the week before) with Maggie O’Farrell and Jenny Brown.

I read Esme Lennox years ago, and didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I didn’t hate it either so I read Maggie O’Farrell’s latest book before I went to the live event. I was glad I had: I loved the book and I felt that I got more out of the event having read it.

Anyway, that’s all some background to say that after the event I decided I really wanted to read another, and so I picked My Lover’s Lover off my shelf, where it had been languishing for some years and started it.

I feel somewhat disappointed now, but also cheered by the thought that the author is probably getting better with each book she has written.

My Lover’s Lover is a Rebecca-like tale of Lily and her new lover, Marcus. And Lily’s obsession with Sinead, who is ‘no longer with us’ … but was very much with Marcus until recently. Lily narrates the first part of the novel, and like the new Mrs de Winter seems to be a bit of a mouse of a creature, who ends up in bed with the glamorous,older architect, Marcus, living in the warehouse apartment he designed himself. She starts seeing Sinead everywhere, and believes her ghost has come back to tell her something.

For me, the warehouse apartment is almost the strongest character in the book (more echoes of Rebecca with Manderley?).

Image

I wonder if my disappointment in this book was related to the fact I’d loved the live event so much? Or that I had just read both Rebecca and Rebecca’s Tale? It certainly drew from Rebecca, with the two lovers even watching Hitchcock’s Rebecca in an early scene in the book.

I’m now reading Oliver Twist for book group, but think that the next book should be Ewan Morrison’s Menage. I like reading books that feel as though they have some link with what you’ve just read, and this seems perfect.

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