Sunday, 25 October 2009

Dalek Snail Cake?

It was my birthday last Saturday, which was four days before Traci left the country on Wednesday - so we had an enormous seemed the least we could do.  We borrowed some bits and pieces from the ADC (we love John, and knowing all the management there) - like the festooooon (You Must Say It So) above, and a UV tube to make our glow-in-the-dark-gin-and-tonic-jelly glow.  About half past ten, though, Hugh sat on that.  *rolls eyes*.  And then left in a hurry to catch the last train back to London. *rolls eyes*.  The festoon made the garden look fantastic and I'm annoyed I failed at pictures for it - we trailed it out of our bedroom window, along the perspex roof above the grape vine and then into the trees in the garden - so everything was pink and orange.

It was a great night, and a wonderful climax to our time in Argyle Street.  I like this house and it's location.  I hate trying to park round here, but that's another story.  I have loved living with Traci and Carl.  It's a family of a house, and I like that.  We eat together, stare at TV together, have parties together.  One of the things I'm least looking forward to is living on my own without even the ratties for company.

It hasn't really sunk in yet that Traci won't be back from the US in 'just a few weeks', which is what I sort of think my head has been believing.  Have to get used to the idea that I'm not going to see a great deal of her face to face for the next 18 months or so.  She doesn't really believe, I think, that how happy I have been in the last year is down to her presence in my life.  Even far away, she's still part of my existence and that is unbelievably important to me.  Expect many pointless pieces of post, Traci...

I mostly wanted to share with you the following.


Bet nobody ELSE, chef's girlfriend or not, has EVER had a Dalek Snail made out of chocolate and glued together with seas of caramel icing crafted in their honour.


Sunday, 18 October 2009


She was a privilege to know.  One of those people who makes things better by their presence.  Fascinated by everyone and everything around her.  Glamorous and beautiful and funny yet still approachable.  She has left us poorer by her going, but immeasurably richer by the time she spent with us.

I want that life.  I want to be 90, adored and adoring and living life at 2000 miles an hour - all there in the mind, and virtually all there in body until the last moment.  If she wasn't an advert for living as hard as possible, then there isn't one.  She had incredible energy.

When I first heard, last weekend, it didn't sink in.  My first thoughts were about thinking that, for Dorie, this wasn't such a bad end.  There is no tragedy here.  It was a life full to bursting from end to end.  This wasn't someone torn away by illness or accident, or a mixed up kid in their 20s - like too many funerals I've been to in the last few years.  This was an opportunity to celebrate somebody who had been all they could be.  It took the really beautiful funeral for me to really register I'd lost.  It's strange like that, that it takes so long to notice something's gone.

I met Dorie at a vulnerable point in my teens, when I needed sound and sane advice and a rock of stability - and there she was.  82, I think, when I met her - to my 17.  65 years between us and I would still count her a close friend, to be trusted with any secrets I had.  She was directing a play I was in - the best play by a considerable distance I have ever been in, thanks in no small part to her and the company she assembled and manoeuvred with consummate ease and glee.  The cast was made up of some of the best actors I've met anywhere, nearly all women.  I was playing a Jewish child shipped out of Germany on the Kindertransport, who grows up in England.  The people around me played my mother, my foster mother and my grown-up self.  Acting an intense and emotional script with a close cast is strange, particularly when you're all women - you begin to blur the lines of character and reality.  I ended up with a lot of older women who were used to thinking themselves into my mothers, and that spread into the real world.  I'm still grateful for the friends I made doing that show.  And in the middle of this was Dorie - in control, mothering all of us.  I remember sitting at her feet and listening in awe to her tell us stories of the reality of the war - because she had been there and was old enough to remember it already an adult.  She lived in London during the Blitz, and worked across Europe during and after - and she had the ability to convey some of that to us.  I loved the link to the past, from someone so definitely caught up in the now.

I saw a lot of her in the two or three years or so I was in St Albans after that show.  We did another show together, a less intense but still great one one.  I had begun to slide into the worst of the depression patches that I had and it was harder, but she was still there and caring about me.  I might have been no relation and young enough to be her grandchild.  I remember her coming to a rehearsal still with a curler in her hair and being mortified when she noticed.  It was very funny, in a way - but it worried me that she might actually become old.  She never did though.  She gave me pieces of advice that I'll never forget.  Or not even advice.  We'd be talking about something and she'd say something starting, 'but of course...' and I'd have a new way of understanding things.

She touched a lot of lives.  The crematorium (she never did believe in God, though I know she envied those who did) was packed - people standing.  That was tribute enough.  There were tears from nearly everyone around me, including me.  Not for Dorie.  How could you cry for her?  She'd hate that.  But for our loss.  For a figure at our centres that just made life better.

If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.

Joyce Grenfell

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Hot Chocolate, but this time with PICTURES.

It's cold. This is official. The rats have been afforded a bed inside beside the radiator a few nights this week after I took pity on them in their semi-outdoor cage. It's that annoying time of the year when the temperatures have dropped but Great St Mary's haven't yet deemed it time to turn on the I have to wear MANY layers for choir practice, and dig out all the jumpers I possess that don't have hoods so that I can keep them on under my cassock. So far, I have only worn my boots for church and not for anything else. Gah. Cold.

So today, in between two hefty services at GSM, I decided it was time for the first mug of hot chocolate of the autumn.

Hot chocolate is not a good thing to be drinking if one sings as much as I am going to be this week (BIG service this evening, rehearsals on Tuesday and Wednesday for a concert on Thursday, practice on Friday and then Evensong next Sunday as well - with lots of drinking on Saturday for age-related reasons), especially if your throat is already gunky. But I always WANT it when I have a bit of a cold. Something wrong there.

My hot chocolate is not very sweet, and it's spicy with chilli, cinnamon and nutmeg - so it's not the cloying sickly drink that many think it is. If it's sweet I'm after, I just up the quantity of honey...  I never measure things for it - it's all about finding the best personal combination.  And making sure that what you're drinking looks like hot chocolate not insipid mud in water.

I like Willie's Cacao.  It's amazing.  No sugar, so you can regulate the sweetness properly, and the chocolate itself is incredibly flavourful - some of the 100% stuff you buy just tastes of cardboard.  I have a few bars, because at present they aren't stocked at all that many places I visit very often and I only use them for hot chocolate because it's the best way I've found to really appreciate the flavour.  Tescos do a really nice 85% Ecuadorian fairtrade that I intend to start using for hot chocolate when I've run out of Willie's...but that doesn't last as long in the cupboard because I tend to just eat that neat. I supplement the really expensive chocolate with a spoonful of good cocoa powder, too. You can have it as chocolatey as you like without feeling as guilty that it's costing a fortune...

The spices I have vary. If I'm in a real hurry, it's just cayenne and mixed spice. Usually though, I add cayenne, cinnamon and nutmeg. Sometimes I switch some raisiny ancho chilli powder for some of the cayenne, but I'm nearly out of that so I'm saving it for brownies. I think it works out at around a quarter of a teaspoon of cayenne (more of ancho, it's not that hot), half a teaspoon of cinnamon and some grated fresh nutmeg, but I always taste and then add more. I like it to be really spicy.

I sweeten it with honey. It feels wrong to add sugar, though there's not any reason that it should. I only ever have honey for cooking with, so I see no reason to hoard it for toast or anything. I find I use more than I think I ought to need to sweeten something.  But I guess it goes to show how MUCH sugar there is in commercial hot chocolate when I see how much I have to add to this to take it away from the edge of bitter in comparison.  I nearly only ever use green (semi-skimmed) milk, because there's never anything else in the house and I'm not usually after a really heavy creamy thing.

After finding all the bits, it's all about whisking. Whisking makes it frothy. And watching it, so that it doesn't boil. It needs to get to the edge of boiling, but not ACTUALLY boiling, or it stains the stove brown. Whisking makes it frothy. Most things look better over the top of a chocolate moustache.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Two weeks.

It's creeping up behind me. Three weeks seems a long time. The three weeks left before I finish at work seem to stretch into eternity. That's partly because I've got MASSES of work to do and the mental piles are tottering around my ears...and mass clearly equates to length.

Two weeks is tomorrow.

I'll be doing something else - sales analysis for a theatre. Working out a glitzy bit of number crunching on a new piece of software. Walking to work. Drifting around the supermarket. Planning a party. And then...

Two weeks.

My birthday is less far away than that. I hate my birthday, it reminds me of all the things I haven't done yet. I discovered yesterday that someone I sat through classes with at uni has not only founded a reasonably well known and certainly very outspoken climate change activists group - but has written a book about it. I am in awe. And support what she's doing, definitely. She keeps inviting me to events on Facebook, though I suspect she doesn't know who I am or where I came from in her life. But I am a little jealous.

Two weeks.

I hate deadlines. At least the ones that are to do with life and not to do with work. With work, they're ok. I like to plan, and generally make sure the decks are cleared down enough that I finish things well in advance to leave time for things to go wrong. Even if that actually isn't a very efficient use of time. But in life? I never have strong enough plans to work out what I should have done when far enough in advance, so when New Year and my birthday go whizzing by I'm always left with a nebulous guilt for Things Not Done. It's too late for me to write a book before my birthday (still an ambition - maybe I will have written one before ONE of my birthdays?), and I think it's probably too late for me to do a ton of the things with Traci I wanted to do before she goes...we don't have time, and what time we have we need to fill with packing and admin.

She goes in two weeks, and we have no idea when she might come home.

I'm going to miss her like crazy.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Green Tomato Pickle

Hmm.  I just looked at the last date stamp.  I guess it's partly to do with making the most of Traci not working and being home briefly before she heads back to the States at the end of the month.  The blog comes second to real life sometimes.

I finally came to the conclusion that tomato season was Over.  It's been going on a while, but it's definitely past now.  Chilli season hasn't gone yet - they're still ripening on the plants.  It's probably time they made it down off the roof though.  There were MANY tomatoes still green - next time, I shall endeavor not to be moving house in June and hence able to plant them out in mid May, which would mean they'd have a few more weeks growing time than this year.  My San Marzanos didn't really ripen at all, which was a shame.  They did grow huge great tomatoes though, too good to miss, so I picked The Lot.  Everything I could find that was still on the plants.

...this resulted in three kilos of under ripe fruit.  THREE KILOS!  That's masses.  Handily, green tomatoes are useful things.  I've made them into the base for chilli before, and when there are fewer I've made fried green tomatoes (remember folks: this is what happens when you live with someone from the American South...).  This time, 1kg became half of a green tomato and split pea curry.  It had the texture of mashed potato but it tasted good.  Copious quantities of garam masala, chillies, garlic, ginger, curry leaves and coconut milk make ANYTHING taste ace.  Slightly sour, slightly sweet green tomatoes are great for currying.

1kg made enough for two of us to stuff ourselves AND put two more meals worth in the freezer.  I wasn't making the rest of these into curry, nor could I face eating nothing but sour green tomatoes for two weeks.  So.  An experiment in preserving has ensued.  I don't really eat the kind of chutney you have with cheese sandwiches.  Less that I don't like it, more that its space in my life is very nicely filled with Marmite" (mmmm marmite). I do, though, love to have pickle with my curries - pre-made ones from the supermarket start to taste closer to real when you have pickle with them. Home-made ones that miss the mark slightly come alive with a bit of pickle. So that was my choice.

The internet wasn't particularly good on pickle recipes. We found this one, but if you read it you'll see that the ingredients in the list don't actually match what's going on in the directions. I sort of figured something out when we got to it, anyway - it's mostly just useful for approximate quantities of vinegar and oil. It would have been good for salt, too, except I was left guessing at that... I also had a guess at the correct method for sterilising and sealing kilner jars - it seems to have worked, but there may well be better ways and it's not like I've kept anything in them for very long yet...

Green Tomato Pickle

I made this in 1kg batches, it was simpler that way. For 2kg of fruit I used 3 3inch tall kilner jars and 4 little 250ml (ish) jam jars. I'd probably just use whatever empty jars with metal lids I had to hand doing this again though - screw top jars are fine.

1 kg green tomatoes, diced. I'm pretty sure it would work with regular tomatoes, too, but it would obviously be sweeter.
2 tsp very finely chopped garlic
2 tsp very finely chopped ginger
1 tsp ground fenugreek
1 tbsp mustard seeds (I used a mix of black and yellow because that's what I had...)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 cup (235ml) sunflower/vegetable oil
1 cup white vinegar (I used malt, because it's what was in the cupboard...)
A handful of curry leaves - ask any Indian grocer, they really make a difference.
12 inch long hot green chillies, stems cut off but otherwise left whole
1 tsp hot chilli powder
Salt - around 1 and a half tsp? You'll have to taste. It's a condiment, salty is ok.

Boil your jars and lids for the time it takes to do everything else.

Heat the oil and add the whole spices. Fry for a few minutes then add the ginger and garlic and fry for a few more minutes. Add the tomatoes and chillies and stir to coat, making sure the seeds are well distributed. Cook for about ten minutes until the fruit has begun to soften and the oil is floating on the top. Add the ground spices and stir again, then add the vinegar, salt and curry leaves. Stir to combine and turn off the heat. Remove the jars from their water bath using tongs and drain out enough water to fill every jar that fitted in the pot. Fill them, and then return them to the water bath with their lids closed but not tightly - the point of the subsequent boiling is to evacuate the air still inside the jars so the lid has to open a crack to let the air move. Boil them for 10 minutes, then carefully remove and tighten the lids. When they cool, they'll suck the lids tightly closed and hopefully seal nicely for 3-6 months. The high acid content should help keep them good for a while.

By the way? The drips from this tasted ACE. Not that spicy yet, but they should pack a punch after a week or two I think. YUM.