Candles lighted this afternoon. I know I’ve said I don’t like candles as I consider them a fire risk and only use them when there is a power cut, but I was tempted to light these, and I have to admit they do look very pretty.
I thought it might be fun to have a bumper edition of my post, longer than the usual post, not only to make up for five days with no posts but also to embrace midwinter with some of the things I enjoy – homemaking, flowers, cooking, and reading. You will notice that going for walks or visiting places of interest hasn’t been mentioned; this is simply because the weather has been awful, or rather Very January. We’ve hardly stepped outside, apart from the usual visits to the supermarket (and husband has been busy making some gadget or other in our garage, hardly ‘going outside’ as it’s part of the house.)
Where to begin? I think with a request from Pam in Texas who has asked for some of my soup recipes. I hope those of you who have already seen this recipe before will forgive me, and I will make it as brief as possible as it’s a very easy soup to make, but for Pam and others who haven’t seen the recipe, here is my version of Pea & Mint soup. It will warm us all up on a cold January day (sorry if in, Australia and New Zealand, you are sweltering right now!)
I have to admit it doesn’t look a very appetizing colour but, believe me, it’s a delicious soup. You need four main ingredients – onions, potatoes, fresh mint or mint concentrate (I use concentrate in winter) and a packet of frozen peas. The quantity will obviously vary according to how much of each of these ingredients you have and how much soup you wish to make. I used two medium onions, two medium potatoes and the best part of a packet of 907g pack of peas (less two portions which I’d taken out for a meal a few days ago). Why 907g on the pack I do not know, why not 900g? I mean, 7g over? Why? Very odd. But that’s manufacturers’ for you! No rhyme nor reason to it, is there? Anyway, this gives us sufficient for a good helping and sufficient for at least another helping each on another day. It freezes well.
You need a little oil. I use rapeseed oil. Splash some into a large saucepan. While that is heating peel and chop the onions and potatoes, and they saute them in the heated oil.
Now add the frozen peas followed by sufficient boiling water to cover the whole lot. Now add the chopped mint, a good tablespoon or more if fresh mint, a dessert spoon or a little more if using concentrate Go easy on the liquid at this stage, you can always add more later if the soup is too thick. Now add 3 or 4 Oxo vegetable cubes (crumbled, of course) or your own favourite veggie stock powder. I find this soup doesn’t need extra salt as stock cubes are already salty.
Pop the lid on and simmer for 15 minutes. Once simmered, add a splash of milk, not too much, and then blitz, either in a liquidizer or a hand held blender. You could, if you prefer, add a dollop of crème fraiche or cream and then blitz, but I use milk. Once blitzed, serve with a dollop of crème fraiche on top, and perhaps some chopped mint (if you have some) or parsley.
You will notice that on the table there are also cheese scones. I made these before I made the soup – they are a lovely accompaniment to this soup (well, to any soup!)
I cannot claim this to be my own recipe, it comes from the book Afternoon Tea by Susannah Blake, and in the book Susanna uses a much smaller pastry cutter to make ‘baby’ scones, more suited to an afternoon tea than my scones which are to have with soup for lunch.
But it’s all very easy. Set your oven to a temp of 220C (I set mine at 201C as I’ve a fan oven and you reduce the temp slightly for fan ovens.)
225g plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
a pinch of salt
50g unsalted butter (I use soft margarine instead)
75g of mature Cheddar cheese, grated
100ml of milk
Susannah uses a food processor but I don’t possess one, I use my hands (what do they say? Fingers before forks?) Your hands are one of the most important cooking tools, believe me. So sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl and then rub in the fat with your finger tips, lifting the flour as you do so, to get as much air into the mixture as possible. Now add the grated cheddar cheese and mix into the flour and fat, which now resembles breadcrumbs, reserving a little grated cheese for the tops of the scones before baking.
Make a slight well in the mixture and pour in the milk into which you have mixed the egg, reserving just a little for the tops of the scones. Draw the flour and fat mixture together into a dough.
On a floured surface roll the dough out so that it’s approximately 2 cm thick, certainly no less than 2cm, and cut out your scones using a 5.5cm cutter. A smaller one will result (obviously!) in more scones, a larger one in fewer scones. For me the mixture made nine scones. Place them onto a baking tray (I use baking parchment on the tray) and then brush over the egg/milk wash that you have reserved, not allowing it to go down the sides as this prevents the scones from rising, and then sprinkle on the remainder of the grated cheese. Pop into the hot oven, middle shelf, and set your timer for 10 minutes, by which time they should be risen and golden. But you know your oven, so you might need to check the scones before 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
We enjoyed them with the mint & pea soup for our lunch …
My next item in this bumper issue post concerns Peter Mayle whose book A Year in Provence was a best-seller in 1989. It was so popular that it was made into a drama series for television starring John Thaw and Lindsey Duncan, and was the inspiration for the Russell Crowe film, A Good Year (which, incidentally, I have on DVD and enjoyed very much. It is only recently that I mentioned Peter Mayle’s book and also the earlier book by Lady Fortescue, Perfume from Provence. Indeed, Mayle’s book spawned a whole lot of books about people enjoying life in France so I was sad to learn in yesterday’s paper that he had recently died; but how coincidental that we were only talking about these books so very recently.
Cuttings from this weekend’s papers, The Daily Telegraph on Saturday and The Sunday Telegraph today.
My other reading is Rosamunde Pilcher’s long novel, Coming Home.
I read this book when it was first published 20 years ago. I thought I’d remembered the story but, surprisingly, I could remember very little of it and, as I’ve been reading, I have been both surprised and delighted all over again by the quality of the writing, the plotting, the characters, indeed everything about this book, but most importantly the fine details of life during the years leading up to World War 2 and which form the first part of the book.
It is the story of Judith Dunbar who, at the beginning of the story is a 14-year-old returning to the UK (in 1935) after an idyllic childhood in Ceylon (now, of course, Sri Lanka) and for this Mrs Pilcher draws on her own experience in Ceylon as a Wren, submarine spotting in Trincomalee, and it was there that Mrs Pilcher told me in the interview she granted me in 2000 that she sold her first story, the news of which reached her on VE Day. “I felt wonderful! I got a cable which said that Miss Johnson had bought the story for 15 guineas [£15.15.0d in old money, i.e. fifteen pounds and fifteen shillings, £15.75p in decimal currency]. It meant I’d got the end of the wedge in the door.” But, she said, Coming Home wasn’t autobiographical: “Judith Dunbar isn’t me, even though everything which happens to her happened to me.” It is a story of a group of young people whose lives are splintered by war, and how different things might have been if there hadn’t been a war.
Another book which arrived recently is …
Obviously, our love-affair with everything French continues!
I have also recently enjoyed the DVD of …
I bought it, not because it was close to Christmas – indeed, Christmas had been over for more than three weeks – but because it stars Diane Keaton, and surely she can’t make a bad film? Husband and I watched this, it’s great fun with some laugh-out-loud moments. Perhaps not a keeper, but fun for a once-only watch.
Right. Back with food. On our trolley dash around Waitrose a couple of week’s ago I was unable to find our favourite Devon Rose Olde English sausages. No great deal, but these make the best sausage casseroles I’ve tasted and so I looked them up online and, sure enough, I could buy them direct from the family farm business in Devon. OK, I had to shell out on the delivery fee, but to have them sent from the farm to my door, cutting out the middle-man of the supermarket pleased me somewhat, even though in this instance the supermarket wasn’t stocking them!
To make the delivery fee worthwhile, I bought two packs of Old English sausages and one pack of pork and leek sausages which I think will be lovely with mashed potatoes and gravy. They arrived in a polystyrene box with a chiller pack, beautifully fresh.
The next item concerns the many bloggers who are endeavouring to have a ‘no spend’ January. I haven’t joined them because we only spend what we need to spend and/or what we can afford. Also, I think that while this is a good idea (i.e. the ‘no spend’ January) as it focuses our minds on our spending habits and those habits we might change (if we need to change them.) However, if we drastically deplete our fridges, freezers and larders (and other stocks of household goods) we only have to replace them in February. We are simply deferring the spending.
What I find at this time of the year though, while we’re indoors much of the time, is that I take stock of some household items that need replacing. Therefore, I have ordered a couple of new oven gloves, nothing fancy, the old-fashioned plain off-white cotton style like a scarf with a pocket for your hands at either end, which are sold by a company called Woods Fine Linen.
I have also purchased three new mop pads for the steam cleaner (for the kitchen, shower room and bathroom floors). After a couple of years of washing them after each use, they need replacing.
Furthermore, I’ve ordered a radiator brush, and this has yet to arrive. You would think, would you not, that by now one of the vacuum companies (Hey, James Dyson, are you listening?) would have an attachment that could suck out the dust from between the slats and the back of radiators, wouldn’t you? Each time the radiators come on I can sniff the dust and yet I can’t GET AT IT to remove it! I’ve read the reviews and I’m expecting magical results from this brush!
I have also ordered two new room sprays. I dislike the ones in aerosols from the supermarket and buy ones which look more like bottles of perfume (it’s now OK, apparently, to refer to scent as “perfume”) and the fragrances I have chosen are Jasmine and Sandalwood. I will report back on these when they have arrived and I’ve sprayed our rooms with them.
And finally, for this section of my Midwinter Special, I bought a new dustpan and brush in B&Q yesterday. Husband, wondering why I’d bought one as he thought the old one was perfectly OK (Men! Had be used it recently? Even though I wash both the pan and the brush, the brush had seen better days). He asked how much I’d paid for it? I replied 97p. “That much!” was his reply.
Not a glamorous item but essential in the kitchen
And so, to this afternoon. After I had cleared up the lunch things I arranged the flowers I bought yesterday. Well, not really “arranged”, simply put them in jugs and placed them in the sitting room.
These alstromeria will look better once they are fully open
Tulips waiting to go into the sitting room
Daffodils on the kitchen table, along with two Red William pears in a dish designed for pears (by Fieldings, Crown Devon ware)
And finally, a cup of tea and some macarons this afternoon, while reading the paper
Until next time.