29 September 2010

Time out of the office

Off to Mile End this morning - OK, so it's only one step further on the tube than usual, and surely it's all built-up, grimy inner city blocks? Well, no - just beyond the 'Banana ' Bridge (yes, it has a curved yellow underside) on Mile End Road, is an extensive park with fountains and some rather large iris, as in the photos. (Admittedly I'm cheating a bit here, as they were taken a couple of months ago - it was not good photography weather for most of this morning!)

Mind you, there's no limit to the excitement, really - on Monday afternoon I had to visit a learning charity on the Embankment, and couldn't help but admire Victoria Embankment Gardens, especially the rather flamboyant Buckingham Gate, built in 1626 (pictures later). It's a pity that most people know only the big royal parks, like Green Park, but I do love these smaller ones - so much more character, and often quite unexpected detours on the way through crowded areas that have little or no greenery visible.

27 September 2010

The weekend's nosh

The weekend's nosh had a distinctively Italian theme, at least in the evenings - hot cross buns, mince pies, and ham and cheese and pickled walnuts with bread the rest of the time being about as English as you can get, after all.

Sunday evening's effort was a mere bacon risotto (and delicious, but quite usual), but Saturday evening's was the piece of resistance, as it were. When last we were in Waitrose, we spotted some pig shins treated in the same way as Osso Bucco, and decided to give them a try. We no longer eat veal, so I refreshed my memory of cooking this dish by consulting the blessed Jane Grigson, whose method I had used in the days of my yoof. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that I couldn't find the recipe under 'O' for Ossi or Osso, but had to look under 'veal' instead...Anyway, it was much as I'd thought, and dead simple: season and brown the slices of shin in olive oil, add a large glass of white wine, cook for a bit, and add a pint of tomato sauce (or a tin of tomatoes and some sliced onion if you're a lazy cook like me). Cook slowly in the oven until done (and scoff with red cabbage and garlic potatoes in this instance). The meat was almost meltingly tender, and we didn't neglect the marrow in the bones, either - I have eaten a great deal worse (and for far more money) in restaurants.

What I did not do was to serve it with chopped parsley and lemon rind on top, as recommended - some of us know when to leave well alone.

25 September 2010

A former needlewoman writes...

It's a favourite saying of mine that you never know what you've got till you look, but even I was taken aback to realise how much fabric, ribbons, wool etc I've got stashed away. My fit of domestic virtue last week end took me as far as looking at the contents of the wardrobe in the spare room, and I couldn't fail to notice that lot - especially as a cascade of printed cottons, needlecord, silks, dress patterns and a tin of buttons (ouch) fell out onto my head! Fortunately I was sitting on the floor at the time...

Back in my twenties and thirties I made a lot of my own clothes and had time to spare for other hobbies: I spent quite a lot of time on train journeys, didn't have a computer, and hadn't got seriously stuck into the unknown bits of my family history. If I'm realistic, the best thing I can do with most of this stuff is offer it to my colleagues who do craft activities with the families who visit the museum, and any that they don't want can go to the wondrously named Scrap Project - they really do seem able to use most things of this sort, and even come to collect it if we let them know there's a consignment. I'll be keeping the patchwork stuff - oh, and that dress length of Thai silk, though...

19 September 2010

Oh, virtue...but only temporarily

Yesterday Keith and I and our friend Tom (who does our garden maintenance) set out for Norwich to do a bit of maintenance at Keith's mother's bungalow. It's on the market, so hopefully our work may encourage buyers.

The main effort was with the garden (nine sacks of hedge prunings, dead leaves, dying-off grasses etc) and for good measure I also hoovered the floors inside and wiped down a few surfaces. Mercifully Tom tackled the lawns and hedge - which last is the developer's original planting, and is a densely set mix of privet and cotoneaster, now enthusiastically interwoven. To say that it's resistant would be an understatement - frankly nothing short of a rhinocerous could get through it, and one of the neighbours told us that he'd only been able to remove his with the aid of a mechanical digger!
NB We were clearly not meant to notice how many of the neighbours suddenly found pressing maintenance work of their own at the front of their properties, thus getting themselves a good view of what was going on. Meanwhile Keith went off to visit Dora at her new home, taking the things on her shopping list (all fun stuff to buy, majoring in jam, jelly babies, mango chutney etc).

We picknicked on sandwiches from M&S - it's actually little more expensive than buying the ingredients and saves a whole heap of time - and rewarded ourselves for the day's efforts with an excellent pub dinner at the White Lodge on the road into Attleborough. I felt I'd earned my chips, so to speak, but it's amazing how easy it is to clean a house with no furniture in it, and this surge of housework and gardening maintenance will probably not be translated into a similar effort with our own dez rez...

12 September 2010

Walnut and Honey Scones

One of my favourite cookery books is 'Farmhouse Cooking' by Mary Norwak and Babs Honey (paperbacked by Sphere Books in 1973). This is sadly (but perhaps unsurprisingly, given the plethora of cookery books published in the last decade or two) out of print.

It's a two-volume set with so many recipes it would probably take some years to work through all of them, but the recipe I've probably used more often than any other is the one for walnut and honey scones:
1 pound of self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon of salt
4 ounces of butter (or margerine, but I prefer butter)
2 level tablespoons of caster sugar
2 ounces of finely chopped walnuts (I usually use 4 ounces!)
2 tablespoons of clear honey
10 tablespoons of cold milk
Sift flour and salt into a basin and rub in the butter. Add the sugar and walnuts and mix to a soft but not sticky dough with the honey and milk. Turn onto a lightly floured surface, knead quickly and roll out to half-inch thickness. Cut into rounds and put on greased baking sheet. Brush tops with milk or beaten egg and bake at 425 degrees F or Gas Mark 7 for 10 minutes.

To my way of thinking this is all easiest done in a food processor: same ingredients and method, but put sugar in with flour, salt and fat, and run for a short time on 5/ medium speed until blended. Add honey, then trickle milk in while running machine on 2/ slow speed until mixed into a ball, and add nuts by hand during the kneading. These are also very good made with four ounces of mixed chopped almonds and glace cherries, with a little almond essence in the milk.

06 September 2010

All is safely gathered in...

We came back from our short holiday in Rye on Friday still talking about what a good time we'd had with our friends Katy, Tilly, Tallulah and Oscar. It was one of the best visits we've had, and that's saying something.

No sooner were we back than the harvest had to be got in. We've already had the gooseberries, but here are the apples (variety James Grieve) picked by our friend Tom. I gathered what are probably the last of the blackberries, and our neighbours gave us some of their Victoria plums. All very skrumshus, to be Daisy Ashford about it, and free into the bargain! I must try to cook the windfalls soon - my favourite way with cooking apples is to butter them: to a pan of chopped and peeled apples, add a glass of white wine and two good thick slices of salted butter, plus a couple of tablespoons of sugar if known to be wanted for sweet purposes, and cook until softly chunky - for me the butter rounds out the taste of the apple.