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.)


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

  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.

- 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


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

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)

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)

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


  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)


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)


  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.


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


  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.


- Pip