Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Carrot and Hazelnut Roast

Something for our continued series of Using Up Carrots.  Following on from the Carrot & Lentil Soup I made last month, one of the dishes I  planned to make with our mutants was the Carrot & Hazelnut Roast from Rose Elliott’s Cheap and Easy vegetarian cookbook.  Sadly, Lidl aren’t stocking hazelnuts, so I tried it with cashews and, you know what? It tastes even better.  This recipe doubles up well and copes if you need to vary the size/number of carrots or can’t get a large enough packet of nuts.  Serve with roast potatoes and peas or, in hot weather like today, cold with a green salad.  It’s delicious either way.

Price-wise, this should work out at less than £2 for one loaf.

Carrot & Nut Roast - serves 4

Ingredients
2 large carrots, sliced
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 slices bread, torn into strips
100g-200g hazelnuts or Cashew Nuts
2 teaspooons mixed herbs
2 eggs
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Place the hazelnuts, carrots, onion and bread into the food processor, hold it securely and process until chopped.  (It’ll bounce around a bit.) 
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and process until combined.  You want a grainy texture, not completely smooth.
  4. Spoon into a lined loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the middle feels firm to touch and it is browned on top.  
  5. Turn out of the pan, peel off the lining and cut into 4 to serve.

Note:  If you’re making roast potatoes to accompany this, parboil them for 15 minutes, baste with oil and put them in the oven at the same time as the roast.



Enjoy!

Pam

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Not Quite Gingerbread

It feels as if I have baked a cake every weekend recently.   Sometimes it’s my Banana Bread, sometimes it’s been Lemon Drizzle Cake and when we were overloaded with carrots, it was Carrot Cake.  (I’ll share those two recipes later - I’m still working to perfect my carrot cake, having lost my original, reliable recipe.) 

Today, I baked the closest recipe I’ve got to gingerbread.  This is inspired by a war time recipe for Fat Free Gingerbread that was posted on MSE.  I made the original and found it very tough and chewy.  Of course, it may have been different if I’d used it for gingerbread men, but in a loaf cake, it didn’t work.  The spicing, however, was amazing.  I’ve experimented a bit and this is the result.  While I’ve always made it using my food processor, uou can use a stand mixer, a hand held electric mixer or mix by hand in a large bowl with a whisk or wooden spoon. The recipe doubles up well.  (I normally bake two at a time and and freeze the second.)





Not Quite Gingerbread - makes 1 loaf cake or 12 muffins

Ingredients

1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon white wine or cider vinegar
1 egg
1 cup soft, dark, muscovardo sugar
1/2 cup rapeseed oil
1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons mixed spice

Method

  1. In the food processor, combine the milk with the vinegar.  It should curdle.  Leave it to rest for 5 minutes while you measure out the rest of your ingredients.  Put the flour and oats in one container, the sugar in another and the baking powder, bicarb soda, salt and spices in a third.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line a loaf pan or muffin tins with paper liners.
  3. After 5 minutes, combine the sugar, oil and egg with the milk.  Whiz for at least 10 seconds.
  4. Add the baking powder/spice mixture and whiz until there are no visible lumps.
  5. Finally, pour in the flour and oats.  Process until all is combined.  The mixture will appear a bit grainy from the oats and that is perfectly OK.  The mixture will be runny.
  6. If making a loaf cake, pour your mixture into your lined loaf pan and bake at 180C for 55 minutes.
  7. If making muffins, use a quarter cup measure to ladle the mixture into individual muffin cases and bake 180C for 20-25 minutes.  One muffin case should equal one filled quarter cup measure.  If you have any mixture left over, distribute it evenly between the cases.
  8. Once cooked, remove your  cake or muffins from their tin and cool on a rack.  Don’t put in a cake tin until cold.
  9. If you are going to freeze the cake, ensure it is cold, keep the liner on and place in a bag or wrap in cling film before freezing.   Once defrosted, remove the paper liner before placing in your cake tin.  The liner will be soggy and a damp cake goes mouldy faster.
Enjoy!

- Pip

Sunday, 24 May 2020

SitRep: May update


Hello.  How are you doing in these strange times?  As you will have gathered from a certain car’s post, below, we’ve been on Leave this week.  While I wish we could have travelled, I must say that it has been nice to have a break and a change to the rhythm of our days.  Highlights have been a visit to Costco, a visit to the butcher and walking 2 miles to go to the bank.   Oh, and we ordered a takeaway one evening.  

Prior to the break, it felt like every day was the same!  DH and I are both working from home, so that’s 8 hours of the day taken care of.  It feels like a lot more Worktime is spent in calls and meetings than would normally happen in the office.  Most evenings after work we go for a half-hour walk, cook dinner then watch telly.  I’ll knit and sew, while watching.  (Not much change there.).  

Weekends, we garden a bit, watch more telly, listen to podcasts together... The Kermode & Mayo Film Review podcast is a regular “date”.  It comes out on a Friday evening and we’ll try to listen to it together by Monday.  (Before Lockdown, we’d both listen on our separate drives to work and then discuss it.). I have a lot of podcasts in my queue and will listen when pottering around the kitchen/cooking dinner/doing housework/gardening/doing a very boring, brainless task “at work” (literally something that doesn’t require thought or my ears would shut off). 

One evening on the weekend, DH will play a video game online with his mates and I’ll read or phone my friends.  I love to read and have far more books in my queue than I have time to read them.  In our borough, you can sign up on line to borrow e-books from the “library”, but there’s also the Bookbub mailing list which sends a daily email of free or cheap e-books to match your preferences (Kindles, Apple Books, etc).  The Kindle app is free and I read them on my phone/iPad.  Re the library service, you can also borrow audiobooks for free.

Human contact is important.  We have a couple of regular Skype calls set up, e.g. normally on a Tuesday we’d do a pub quiz, now our quiz team Skype at “quiz time”.  Every couple of weeks, I have a call with the girls from Head Office Finance (where I worked 20 years ago).   My department at work have “Virtual Pub” on a Friday, where we chat and play games.  My project team are now doing the same on a Thursday.   And my choir are having Zoom calls instead of rehearsals.  (You only need to set up a Zoom account if you are hosting the meeting.)

Here is my update on my 20:20’s:-
  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 15/20 - I finished the jumper I was knitting (5 balls), started the next one (currently 9 balls down) and have still only clocked up one pair of socks this year (ending a ball of yarn in the process).   
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. Not started yet.  Modified to 20 weeks.
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks. 5 weeks.
  4. Read 20 books. 3/20.  These are listed In the sidebar on the right.  I have two books on the go right now and am 70% through both of them.
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes.  1/20.  I am a cook!  How can this be so difficult to achieve?
  6. 20 gardening sessions.   4 proper ones so far plus a couple of minutes mucking around with seeds.
  7. Explore 20 new places 1/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux.
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum.
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 29/66 coupons used.  These are listed in the sidebar on the right.
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 8/20.
  11. Lose 20lbs.  6/20.  (To be honest, I’m just glad I haven’t put any weight on given the “Covid Calories” everyone is eating.)
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 3/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.  Repaired the pockets on DH’s shorts.
  13. Declutter 20 items.
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once)
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400) £100/£400
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  29/20.  
  17. Write 20 blog posts.  15/20 
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds).  9/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps, 21.4.20 10524 steps, 3.5.20 11,196 steps, 4.5.20 13,956 steps, 17.5.20 14,066 steps, 18.5.20 15,046 steps, 19.5.20 11,567 steps.  
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  9/20.

- Pam

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Recipe Tuesday: Corn Pone (or what to do with leftover chilli)

Sunday, we had beef chilli for dinner.  When I cooked it, I followed the chilli variant of my recipe post from May 2007,  Minced Beef & Other Possibilities, adding grated carrots and a quarter cup of split red lentils to ensure we had leftovers.  There was enough chilli for dinner for two, two lunch boxes and to form the basis of dinner tonight.  

The idea behind this recipe comes from The Tightwad Gazette, where Amy Dacycyn talks about adding a tin of baked beans and a cornbread top to leftover chilli, in order to make Corn Pone.  Sadly, Amy doesn’t give more details. Maybe Americans are taught to make cornbread at school.  I certainly wasn’t.  The top is a Cornmeal Spoon Bread.  I haven’t priced up the leftover chilli but the additions come to 62p.

Corn Pone - Serves 4

Ingredients

2-4 portions of beef chilli
1x 420g can baked beans (22p)
150g/1 cup fine cornmeal (15p)
1 teaspoon baking powder (5p)
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional) (5p)
1 teaspoon lazy chilli (optional) (5p)
1 egg, beaten (10p)
250ml/1 cup water
Pinch of salt
5 grounds black pepper

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 220C.
  2. Combine the chilli and the baked beans and pour into a deep ovenproof dish.  Smooth over the top.
  3. In a bowl, combine the other ingredients and beat until smooth.  (This is the spoon bread top.)
  4. Pour the spoon bread over the over the chilli, carefully covering the top of the chilli.  (It will be runny and won’t pour out smoothly.)
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until browned and crisp on top.

Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to look pretty on the plate, but it was yummy!



Enjoy.

- Pam

I Got Driven!!!

Is Pam looking?  No?  Good.  Hello, it’s Lucky Car here.  I’m borrowing the Blog.  I have to tell someone.  I am so excited!  I went for a DRIVE!!!  Yes!  Frank, the Boy’s car, doesn’t want to talk to me anymore because, in the last two days, I’ve been for two drives!  (Frank is sulking.  He’s jealous.). I haven’t been driven for ages.  Pam hasn’t been to the office in over 2 months.  I know she’s working - I can see her sitting at a computer most days - but we haven’t gone anywhere for a long time.  They say it’s because of Lockdown and the virus.

Yesterday, I went all the way to Costco.  Their car park was busy - I haven’t seen so many moving cars in ages!  The humans were queuing all the way down the side of the warehouse.  There were marks on the ground two metres apart.  Most people seemed to observe “Social Distancing” (whatever that means) but many don’t realise that the 2-metre-rule is in every direction, not just in front of them.  Unlike the time Pam took me to Tesco in April - she queued for over 45 minutes - it didn’t take Pam and the Boy long to get into Costco.   They were out again within 30 minutes. 

The Boy drove me today.   I had a bit of a workout.  We went to the butcher’s shop near the station, then drove the long way round the back of the RAF base to get home. A whole extra 2 miles!  It was lovely to feel the road under my tyres and to hear the radio playing.  (I haven’t listened to anything for ages.  There’s no cricket or football on the radio and Pam hasn’t played a podcast in me for months!)

I miss long drives.  We were meant to be in Normandy this week but nobody can travel.  I sit parked at the front of the house, dreaming of the day that Pam and the Boy throw a suitcase in my boot and we drive off, and keep driving until there is no road left.  I want to go through the Channel Tunnel and head for places we’ve never been together, maybe even as far as the Czech Republic where I was born.  I just want to experience the open road again.

- Lucky.

PS:  Don’t tell Frank but I get to go on holidays because I’m more fuel efficient.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Carrot & Red Lentil Soup

Last year, we grew a small bed of carrots.  Beyond unearthing a couple, which were decidedly green  - the green bits are safe to eat but taste like eating carrot tops - we didn’t get around to unearthing more until earlier this month.  OMG, I have never seen so many deformed carrots!





They’re multi-coloured, which surprised us, until we found the label.  Turned out that we planted a rainbow packet of purple, yellow and white carrots as well as the traditional orange.   How anybody grows straight carrots is beyond me.  These were planted in a new, raised bed, which was filled with fresh compost, and they still turned out looking like mutants!  Seriously, this one looks like he’s got a lizard’s head.




Today, I turned some of the larger mutants into soup for lunch.  Four of them, including the beast above   This is inspired by a recipe from Leites Culinaria., (I just utilised their spicing.)


Ingredients

1-2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon grated ginger
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup/200g split red lentils
2 litres boiling water
2 chicken stock cubes
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste


Method
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion, garlic and ginger until the onion is soft.
  2. Stir in the coriander and cumin and fry until the aroma rises.
  3. Pour over the boiling water.  Add all the remaining ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes or until the carrot and lentils are soft.
  4. Blend in the saucepan with an electric stick blender. 
  5. Check the seasoning and serve with fresh bread.
Enjoy!




- Pam (As you can see from the photo above, I like my soups to have a bit of texture.)  

Friday, 24 April 2020

SitRep: April update

Hello.  How are you?  As you can see from the posts with the tag “Lockdown Diary”, I’ve been posting fairly regularly since my last Sit-Rep.  Admittedly, most posts are recipes but that is what I promised to you when I wrote this post on Monday 23rd March, setting out my worries for people’s finances during/after the Covid-19 induced economic crisis.  All the relevant recipes are tagged <£2Dinners.

We’re both still working from home.  I usually start work before 8am and finish around 4.30pm.  Lunch is timed to coincide with the auction stage of Bargain Hunt on BBC1, which DH and I watch together.  Most evenings, we go for a walk around the neighbourhood, before coming home to cook dinner and settle down with my knitting/the TV.  Every Tuesday evening, we have a SKYPE call with the other members of our pub quiz team.  (Tuesday was Quiz Night.).  I try to call friends on the weekend, because I’m spending half of every working day on the phone at present.

So many things that we were planning to do this year have been cancelled or postponed.  Did I tell you that I got lucky in this year’s draw for Wimbledon tickets?  Well, that’s been cancelled.  Rather than rolling the tickets over to 2021, Wimbledon are refunding everyone their ticket money.  < pout >. Hopefully, I’ll get lucky again next year.  We also had tickets for a recording of the Now Show at the BBC but that, too, was cancelled.  (The show was recorded without an audience and is available as a podcast.). 

Here is my update on my 20:20’s:-
  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 7/20 - I finished the jumper I was knitting (5 balls), started the next one (currently 2 balls down) and have still only clocked up one pair of socks this year (ending a ball of yarn in the process).   
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. Not started yet.  Modified to 20 weeks.
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks. 1 week.
  4. Read 20 books. 3/20.  These are listed In the sidebar on the right.  
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes
  6. 20 gardening sessions.  2 proper ones so far plus a couple of minutes mucking around with seeds.
  7. Explore 20 new places 1/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux.
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum.
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 27/66 coupons used.  These are listed in the sidebar on the right.
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 5/20.
  11. Lose 20lbs.  2/20.  (To be honest, I’m just glad I haven’t put any weight on.)
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 3/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.  Repaired the pockets on DH’s shorts.
  13. Declutter 20 items.
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once)
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400)
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  29/20.  
  17. Write 20 blog posts.  11/20 
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds). 4/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps, 21.4.20 10524 steps. 
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  6/20.

- Pam

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Sophie Dahl’s Dhal

I am so going to reek of garlic tomorrow!  Dinner tonight was a sweet potato dhal that involved an awful lot of sliced garlic fried in garum marsala.  The first time I made it, the garlic turned out surprisingly nutty; tonight, not so much.  Oops!

This recipe comes from the BBC television series, The Delicious Miss Dahl, broadcast in 2010.  I think I only caught one episode and, in it, Sophie Dahl talked about working in Bollywood and then went on to make this recipe as an example of the food she lived on while in India.  When it was published on the BBC website, it was called “Sophie’s dhal with lemon and saffron spiced rice” and included instructions to make your own garum marsala. The BBC only had rights to publish the recipe for a year, or I’d link to it here.  This is my version.  I have never actually made the lemon and saffron spiced rice; I usually just serve it with plain rice, made using the rice trick.  Tonight, I made it with bulgar wheat instead of rice, using the same quantities and method.

This was costed on the cheapest versions of the ingredients that I could find on the Tesco website.  I have allowed 10p for the oil and 10p for ground spices and bay leaves.  It works out at £2.94 for 8 generous servings, which is cheap enough that I’m going to tag it with <£2Dinners.

Sophie Dahl’s Dhal - serves 8

Ingredients

Sweet potato
500g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into rough wedges (55p)
3 tablespoons oil

Tarka
2 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, sliced (20p)
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (5p)
1 red chilli, sliced (10p)
2 teaspoons garum marsala
2 inch piece fresh root ginger, peeled & chopped/grated (19p)

Dhal
500g split red lentils (90p)
1.5 litres boiling water
1/8 teaspoon ground asafoetida
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 bay leaves
2 large handfuls spinach (30p)

Rice
2 cups Basmati rice (30p)
4 cups boiling water

Method

  1. Place the oil for the sweet potato into a roasting dish.  Place in the oven and preheat the oven to 200C.
  2. Place your chopped sweet potatoes in a saucepan, cover with boiling water, bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes or until soft.
  3. When the sweet potato has finished simmering, drain well.  Remove the baking dish from the oven and carefully toss the sweet potato in the hot oil, until as much as possible is coated.  Try to get each wedge of sweet potato standing separately in the baking dish.  Grind over salt and pepper.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until crispy.
  4. Meanwhile, place your lentils in a larger pot, cover with 1.5 litres of boiling water, add the asafoetida, turmeric and bay leaves.  Bring back to the boil, turn down to a simmer and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until almost all the water is absorbed and the dhal is soft.
  5. Once you have put your sweet potato in the oven, do your rice, reusing the saucepan.  Combine your rice with double the quantity of boiling water, cover, bring back to the boil and boil for 2 minutes.  Turn off and let sit for at least 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed and the rice cooked.  
  6. At the same time, make your tarka.  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onion until soft.  Stir in the garlic, ginger, chilli and garum marsala and fry for another 3-5 minutes or until soft, stirring continuously or your spices may burn.  Remove from heat and leave until the lentils and sweet potato are cooked.
  7. When everything is cooked, stir the spinach, tarka, and sweet potato into the lentils and serve with the rice.

 



- Pam

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Warm French Lentil Salad

Today’s recipe is a frugal favourite that I discovered on a trip to Paris in July 2007.  DH’s cousin lived near the Trocadero and had organised a surprise birthday party for her mum  at a restaurant near the Jardin Du Palais Royal.  I wish I could remember its name.  The restaurant was beautiful inside, very Belle Époque, and the food was delicious.  The service was lovely, too (they treated DH’s mum and aunt like queens).  My choice for starter was a warm lentil salad, which they made with small, black, Puy lentils and the type of anchovy that is marinated in vinegar or lemon juice not salted.   

This is my version.  On occasion, I’ve added smoked mackerel instead of anchovies but it also works well with shavings of a strongly flavoured, air-cured ham.   In the version in the photograph, I used leftover roast duck.  The fish (or meat) just adds an extra flavour dimension but isn’t essential - ou can leave it out completely and I have excluded it in my costings.   The red pepper adds crunch and sweetness;  you could use a yellow one instead.   (I have seen a version of this recipe that uses thinly sliced radish.)   It goes well when served on a bed of baby spinach leaves or watercress.

Quantities given feed four as a main course.

Warm French Lentil Salad. (£1.50 excluding optional fish/meat)

Ingredients

2 cups small black lentils. (50p)
3 spring onions, sliced. (30p)
1 sweet red pepper, sliced into 1-2 inch strips. (32p)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil  (20p)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar or white balsamic vinegar). (10p)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard  (10p)

Optional:  125g (approximately) marinated anchovies, drained, or smoked mackerel or shavings of air-dried ham (e.g. pancetta)

Method

  1. If you have time, soak your lentils for an hour first.  Then drain well and deposit in a mid-sized saucepan.  Cover with boiling water, bring back to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes until soft.  (If you forget or don’t have time to soak the lentils, you will need to simmer for 30-40 minutes.)
  2. Meanwhile make your vinaigrette, combine the olive oil and the white wine vinegar in a blender, add the Dijon mustard and process until smooth.
  3. When the lentils are cooked, drain them well and decant them into your salad bowl.
  4. While still hot, pour over the vinaigrette.
  5. Now prepare your vegetables and grill your mackerel (if using), shredding it into lumps once cooked and crispy.
  6. Stir the pepper, spring onions and fish into the warm lentils, then serve.





Enjoy!  We had it for dinner last weekend.

- Pam

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Thirteen plus years in the making

Once upon a time, in 2005-6, I worked in central Reading.  Our office was a short walk from the Reading branch of John Lewis, which is the only major British department store chain to continue selling fabric and yarn*.   My lunchtime “treat” was to wander down Castle Street into John Lewis to browse the knitting yarns.  Sometimes, I’d buy something - the yarn for this jumper, for example - other times I’d just window shop.





At some point, I was drawn to an expensive, shiny, silk yarn, Debbie Bliss Pure Silk DK.  The colours just glowed.  I don’t remember the exact price, although £15/skein springs to mind.  There was a green that just kept catching my eye.  I waited patiently hopefully for it to go on sale.  I was disappointed.  When the John Lewis biannual clearance sale came around, there was none of that green to be seen.  I kicked myself that I didn’t make note of the colourway, while I had had the chance.  They didn’t get any more in stock afterwards, either, and soon after that my office moved out of town.  But still the colour haunted me.  Eventually, I caved in and ordered 10 skeins from, Bunty’s.  It was not something he usually carried, so I had to order out of the catalogue and hope from a tiny sample that I’d picked the right shade of green (there were two).  When it arrived, I paid over my £79.99 and tried to hide my disappointment.  The shade was much more blue than I remembered.  Pride prevented me ordering other green colourway from Bunty, I didn’t want him to feel obliged to take the first order back.  (I couldn’t inflict the loss on Bunty - it wasn’t his regular stock.  He’d only acquired it for me.).   Eventually, I ordered it from John Lewis in Brent Cross and, again, I was disappointed.  This time, it turned out too yellow.  

    


Neither were the exact colour I wanted but, having paid good money, I dutifully put them away in the stash and waited for inspiration to strike.

Fast forward to last year.  I was looking through the stash, wondering what to knit next, when my eye fell on the yarn on the bottom.  In the intervening  years, it seems to have changed colour and is far more like the yarn on the top.  If I couldn’t see the shade number, 27006, in the photo on the bottom, I wouldn’t believe it was the yellow-green one.  Anyway, it “spoke” to me and told me that it would like to be a Blanche Too by Susan Crawford.  I finished it last weekend and wore it for the first time on Wednesday.





See what I mean about the colour?  DH took this photo on our regular afternoon walk, our daily permitted “Lockdown Exercise”.  And this one, in the garden, afterwards.





After so long a wait, what do I think of the yarn?  The comments on Ravelry are full of complaints about the way it was spun:  slubby in places; tightly overspun in others.  I have to agree.  Every hank was an absolute beyotch to wind, having felted against itself in places. After the second skein, I gave up with the ball winder and wound them by hand.  They were unevenly spun, too, so I was surprised that it knitted up as evenly as it did.  

What will I do with the rest of it?  No idea, at this stage.  I may give it to a friend who is allergic to wool and alpaca, but has been bitten by the knitting bug.

- Pip






* In the 1990s, I watched as one-by-one department stores such as House of Fraser, Selfridges and Liberty closed their fabric and yarn departments.  By 1995, John Lewis were the only ones left.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Mexican Pilchard Pudding

Hi.  How are you?  Are you well?  It’s amazing how many emails I have sent or received that include “I hope you are well” in either the opening paragraph or in the sign off.  “We’re fine”, I respond, “Still healthy.”  So far, I know a handful of people who have had Covid-19, including a couple of colleagues on my project, who had been working together in the south-west, just before their symptoms started nearly three weeks ago.  They’re recovering well.

Are you able to work?  DH has been working from home (“WFH”) for four weeks now, while I’d been going into the office to work with a visiting Australian colleague (aka “the Stray Australian”) until Boris announced the Lockdown on Monday 16th March, at which point the office officially closed.  The Stray Australian flew back to Oz on March 19th and is now working in his evenings, while I'm starting an hour earlier than usual so that our days overlap.  The only other difference is that, instead of sharing one big screen and sitting on opposite sides of a 2 metre wide boardroom table for 8 hours a day, we’re spending half the day talking and screen sharing via MS Teams.  He signs off at about noon, UK time, leaving me with a list of tasks to complete in the afternoon. Most days, that’s fine but I think I hit a low point yesterday afternoon, when I completely lost my mojo after trying - and failing - to make a report work for me.

The weather changed last weekend.  We went from bitterly cold and rather damp to hot and sunny, in the space of 24 hours.  Until that point, going for a daily walk was an unwelcome necessity to burn off calories and expand the lungs.  “I wish we had a dog,” I grumbled to DH one day, “then at least somebody in this household would be enthusiastic about going out for a walk!”  Today, we walked for an hour and saw, maybe, 20 people doing the same thing.  There’s an odd dance that people do now when you encounter them walking, “Are you going to cross to the other side of the road, or shall I?”, before one or the other crosses over.

Today’s recipe is brought to you via the back garden, where we are sitting in the sun while listening to the radio.  It originated in a Mexican cookbook published by Sainsbury’s, 30-odd years ago.  I have no idea where my copy is - I just went looking for it - so I can’t tell you the author.  Anyway, this is a store-cupboard recipe, that I made the other night for the first time in years, having internalised the recipe back in the 1990’s.  Coatings are based on the prices in Lidl.  If you don’t have pilchards, you can used a can of mackerel in tomato sauce instead. 

Mexican Pilchard Pudding - serves 4 - cost £1.50

Use an 8-10 inch (20-25cm) oven proof casserole or soufflé dish, something that is at least 4 inches/10cm deep.

Ingredients

500g potatoes, mashed (see step 1 below). - 25p
1x450g can Pilchards in Tomato Sauce - £1.10
1 egg, beaten - 10p
1 teaspoon baking powder - 5p

Method

  1. If you don’t have mashed potatoes to hand, boil the kettle.  Meanwhile, peel, wash and trim 500-600g potatoes.  Cut into 5mm thick slices and layer into a saucepan.  Cover with boiling water, place the pan onto a high heat and bring back to the boil.  Turn down to a simmer, add a pinch of salt and then simmer for 15-20 minutes or until soft.  Place a jug in the sink and pour the potato water into that as you drain the potatoes.  Mash the potatoes, adding the potato water as necessary until you have a light but dry mash.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  3. Meanwhile, tip the tin of pilchards into your baking dish and mash with a fork.
  4. Sprinkle over the baking powder and beat in the egg.
  5. Finally, fold in the mashed potatoes.  Smooth over the top and bake for 45 minutes.
  6. Serve with a green vegetable for contrast, either broccoli or garden peas.



Enjoy!

- Pip

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Pizza!

Over the years, I think that I may have mentioned our annual attempt at growing tomatoes.  We don’t grow a lot, just two or three plants.  Last year, we had a bumper crop so I made several tubs of tomato sauce and shoved them in the freezer.  We used one tub last weekend over pasta, and it was lush!  It was so tasty that I immediately started planning to make pizza for dinner on Friday night.  Since my pizza recipe is straightforward, I thought I’d share it with you.

At it’s most basic, this recipe produces two “Neapolitan Pizzas” of dough + sauce + mozzarella for £1.80 and feeds 4.  It takes 3 hours.

Start with the dough.  This comes from an edition of Self magazine, that I purchased in (probably) 1992.   It is so simple that it didn’t take me long to internalise the recipe.  I have made this hundreds of times.   Please read the notes at the bottom before proceeding.

Pizza Dough - makes 2, 12-inch pizzas (approximate cost 20p)

Ingredients

2.5 cups of flour (yes, two and a half measuring cups)
1 cup tap water
1 sachet or two teaspoons of easy bake yeast
1 teaspoon olive oil (can be left out)
2 pizza trays (or see note 5 below)

Method

  1. Hand method:  Take off your rings.  Place your flour into a large bowl.  Scatter over the yeast, then make a well in the centre and pour in the water.  Coat your hands with the olive oil, allowing the excess to drip into the mixture.  Using your fingers, fold the flour into the water.  Continue until you have a smooth dough.
  2. Food processor method:  combine all the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and process until a ball of dough is formed.  Turn the dough out into a large bowl.
  3. Both methods:  if the dough is too sticky at this point, kneed in a little extra flour.  If too dry, kneed in a tablespoon or two more water.
  4. Drape a clean tea towel over the bowl, and place it somewhere warm to rise for an hour.  While waiting, make your tomato sauce.
  5. Take off your rings.  Using your hands, knock back the dough.  (Give it a good thump, then kneed for a minute or two.). Cover and leave in a warm place for another hour.
  6. Knock back your dough again then divide it into two halves.  Form each half into a ball. 
  7. Scatter flour over your work surface and rub into your rolling pin.  Place the first ball of dough into the centre of your work surface and roll it out until it is a) circular, and b) fits your pizza tray.  Carefully lift it onto your pizza tray.  Repeat with the other ball.
  8. At this point, put your oven on to preheat at 240C.  Allow the dough to rise for a further 20 minutes, before covering with toppings.  Meanwhile, prepare your toppings.
  9.  Top your pizzas and bake at 240C for 10-12 minutes.  Serve.

Notes:-

  1. You might have noticed, that I keep telling you to take off your rings.  Yeast dough can be incredibly sticky and hard to remove from your hands.  You don’t want it caught up in your rings.  If you do get coated in dough, soak your hands in water and wash well until the damn stuff comes off.  Don’t be tempted to wipe if off on a towel, because it’ll harden to cement.  (I learnt this the hard way.)
  2. To help stop the dough sticking to you hands, drizzle a small amount of olive oil into the palm of one hand and rub over both palms and your fingers.  They will be greasy.
  3. Only baking for one or two?  The dough freezes well.  At the end of step 6, lightly grease the inside of a freezer bag, drop in one of the balls of dough and freeze.  Remember to label the bag first.
  4. No rolling pin?  Use an empty wine bottle or any similar shaped, tall, round, glass bottle.  Remove the label first.
  5. No pizza tray?  Or only one?  You could use a flat cookie tray and form a lip around the edge of your pizza, to keep the toppings inside.  Alternatively, if you only have one tray, you could leave the second half to rise again as a ball of dough, while the first one is cooking, but that will mean a two-part meal.
Now for the sauce.  This is based on one from Delia Smith (aka St Delia of the Kitchen) but it’s not in the book that I thought it came from.  The flour is to stop it separating and to help thicken it.  (Tomato sauces have a tendency to separate and split.). It freezes well.

Tomato Sauce (approximate cost 65p)

Ingredients

1 onion, finely chopped (10p)
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed (5p)
2x400g cans chopped tomatoes (or the equivalent of home grown). (50p)
1 heaped teaspoon of flour
1 teaspoon dried basil
I-2 teaspoons muscovardo sugar
Possible splash lemon juice or vinegar
1 tablespoon oil

Method

  1. In a decent sized saucepan, heat the oil over a low heat and gently fry the onion until it turns clear and glassy.  Stir in the garlic and fry for a minute or two longer.
  2. Scatter over the flour.  Stir well to ensure everything is covered.
  3. Pour in both tins of tomatoes, stirring continuously and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and stir in the basil and one teaspoon of sugar.  
  4. Simmer until very thick. (This may take 20-30 minutes.) 
  5. Taste the sauce.  Is it too sweet?  Or too sour?  If too sweet, stir in a splash of lemon juice (from a bottle).  If too sour, stir in the second teaspoon of sugar.
  6. Allow to cool before spreading thinly on your pizza base.
Note: you may have sauce left over.  Don’t be tempted to pour it onto the pizzas - it will make for a watery, soggy pizza and your toppings will slide off.







Suggested Toppings

Scatter any combination of the following over your pizza:-

2 x Mozzarella balls, grated  (90p)
100g cheddar, grated (34p) - add to the mozzarella
1 can anchovies, drained (70p)
Sliced pepperoni or salami or chorizo or ham
Thinly sliced mushrooms and/or peppers
Thinly sliced olives
Leftover oven roasted sliced veg (peppers, mushrooms, onions)

Once, baked, the results should look like this.  




Yum!!

- Pam

Monday, 23 March 2020

On with the Motley

Today is a special anniversary.  20 years ago, today, I joined the discussion boards of The Motley Fool.  The Fool has played quite a big part in making me who I am today: tech savvy; an investor; a knitter again (I’d given up in the ‘90’s).  I’ve made friends through it; discovered new places; learned how other people live and how other countries operate (tax, politics, etc).  The members of the Fool taught me to budget and how to put the “living” into Living Below Your Means (aka LBYM).  Their posts gave me a window into their lives, before Blogs became a thing and long before Facebook.  For all of that, I say “thank you”.  Yes, I am a Fool and so are they.

All of the above brings me to what I want to say today.  I think that we’re witnessing the start of the next Great Depression and we will need the wise counsel of the Fools more than ever.  No, it’s not because the stock market has crashed (the FTSE100 is down over 2,000 points).   It will be the unintentional consequence of The Big Shutdown that we’re experiencing in Europe:  everyone working from home who can;  flights cancelled;  schools closed;  hotels, pubs, clubs and restaurants shut;  shops closing their doors and hoping that their online business will keep them afloat.  All concerts and live performances have been cancelled.  So many lives are already disrupted and it will just get worse.  The British Government has stepped up for regular employees - if you are furloughed, you will get 80% of your regular salary*, paid for by a government grant - but if you are a zero hours employee or self-employed, as I write you are only entitled to the most basic of benefits (£92/week).

In all this, my thoughts turn to what we can do to help. I worry about how bad it will get and how many people will suffer.  I’ve already fundraised for the local soup kitchen and the food bank**, but I want to do more.   Since I am a Fool and a cook, I have decided that I will create a collection of recipes of really cheap meals, based on four principles:-

  1. Tasty
  2. Filling
  3. Nutritious
  4. Less than £2 for an entire meal

They will be posted here on the Blog, since it’s free to access, and possibly compiled into a PDF.  That will be my big task for 2020. 

- Pam




* There is an upper limit in the £2,500/month.

** How is it that, in the 21st century, people are relying on soup kitchens and food banks, institutions which disappeared during the majority of the 20th century.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

March update

Good morning.  How are you?  How are you coping with the Covid-19 “plague” driven madness?  I am gobsmacked by the things that people are panic buying - why bottled water? (Covid-19 is not a waterborne disease.)  Why toilet paper? (Nor does it cause diarrhoea.)  I have ventured into the supermarket a couple of times over the last month and they are chaos!

We’re well.  Haven’t been struck by a cold since before Christmas.  I’m a little worried about my choir’s concert being called off next weekend, but it’s wait-and-see at the moment.  (The committee sent out an email yesterday.). Oh and having got fed up of chanting “Happy Birthday to Me!” when washing my hands, I’ve swapped to chorus of “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of my Hair” from South Pacific.

Here is my update on my 20 20’s:-

1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 4/20 - This hasn’t moved much because I had to rip out and reknit the jumper that I’m creating, since I screwed up the above-waist increases.  (Only ripped down to the waist.  Am now, finally, on the shoulders). The fourth ball used up was on a pair of socks.   
2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. Not started yet.  Modified to 20 weeks.
3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks.
4. Read 20 books. 2/20.  False Value, by Ben Arronovich (the latest in the Rivers of London series).  People Like Us: Margaret Thatcher and Me, by Caroline Slocock (a memoir of Caroline’s time as a civil servant in Downing Street.  Fascinating.).
5. Try 20 new dinner recipes
6. 20 gardening sessions
7. Explore 20 new places 1/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux
8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum.
9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 17/66 coupons used.  (Bought a trouser suit.)
10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 2/20
11. Lose 20lbs
12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 2/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.
13. Declutter 20 items
14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once)
15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400)
16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  28/20.  I have one more week of my commitment in the Huntingdon office - I’m handing over the job to the new starter -  then it’s back to normal and no claimable mileage.
17. Write 20 blog posts.  5/20 
18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds). 3/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps 
19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends
20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  0/20

- Pam

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Update on my goals



Hi!  How are things with you?  I’m working too hard - I’m covering a full time role on one of the Highways contracts we have at work, while still trying to do parts of my real job and live my life.  It’s not fun and it involves a lot of mileage.  Here’s the update on my goals for 2020:-

1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 3/20
2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards)
3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks.
4. Read 20 books. Still on my first book, “People like us” by Caroline Slocock.
5. Try 20 new dinner recipes
6. 20 gardening sessions
7. Explore 20 new places 1/20 - We were in France over New Year and toured the cathedral at Bayeux
8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings) 2/20 - Frank Skinner and, yesterday, the recording of BBC’s News Quiz
9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count 0/60
10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone)
11. Lose 20lbs
12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems)
13. Declutter 20 items
14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once)
15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400)
16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  13/20
17. Write 20 blog posts (in 2019, I haven't managed one yet)  4/20 - including this one
18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds). 1/20
19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends
20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018
21. Post on TMF at least 20 times.  5/20

As you can see, I’ve made a start.  Wonder how I’ll do in February??


- Pam