Keeping A Journal

Me: [Ending a telephone conversation]: It will be so good to see you.  I thought I’d make fish pie.”

Prospective visitor: “Yes.  You made that the last time we came.”

Me: I did?

PV: Uh-huh. It was good. (vaguely) It was good.

A storage of memories

Keeping a journal will prevent YOU from having such a conversation. I never thought of doing so until good friends presented me with a “Guest Book”, padded and elegant, a ribbon bookmark, and even a diagram page for a seating plan for eighteen guests – a crowd I’d never seat at once, because I learned early in life that any number over 8 becomes a buffet dinner.  That was in 1985, and it’s fascinating to read today, revelling in the length of time we’ve been friends with some of them.  Thank you, Anne and Hugh.

Invitation.

At the point of invitation, I always encourage people to tell me what their food preferences are. From this I have learned a lot about allergies, and even what lurks in perfectly innocent foods – eg yeast in stock cubes.  I don’t care how lengthy the list of banned substances is, as long as I know in advance.   Stravinsky said that the more limited you are the more creative you can become.  Some guests are reluctant to tell me, thinking that they are being a nuisance, but with a little persuasion they will say.  This has worked well in the years we have had guests, except for….

Two notable exceptions.

Guest One watched me make a Salmon en Croute with mushroom stuffing in honour of her (absent) partner’s birthday, only to divulge at serving time that she was allergic to seafood.

Guest two. Direct Quote. “I’m quite omnivorous and easy to please.  I can eat anything.”  Apparently, “anything” did NOT include chicken, coffee, tomatoes, wheat, cow dairy, alcohol, fizzy drinks, gluten, and only a teensy smattering of beef, pork, pasta, bread, and butter.  That took some hippity-hopping of menu change, but we eventually settled on lots of vegetables, beans and fish – also a penchant for eating leftovers for breakfast.  We had a good time together.

Doesn’t Always come out as expected.

If you do keep a journal, write down how the food turned out and how it was received. I recently came across an entry from 1987 when our girls were in their early teens, and Robin (of the brownies – see November 2014 blog) and her daughter Alexandra came to visit.  Looking back, the chosen menu was ambitious, but set together well because nearly all could be prepared ahead of time. These days I wouldn’t have included three items using lemon AND tomatoes on the same menu but hey, I was young then and  had to learn.  We ate: tuna pate and crackers, Chicken Frances, French peas in a rice ring, swede (rutabaga) with lemon, baked tomatoes, and lemon meringue pie.

I will always cherish the notes from it. “A million visitors arrived just as we were serving up! Robin mentioned that the lettuce in the peas was the height of nouvelle cuisine.  Unfortunately, the effect was somewhat marred by the pink tinge on the rice ring, indicating traces of the jelly that had occupied the mould previous to the rice – an observation commented upon loudly by the rest of the family.”

 Bakewell Something

This is a magically quick do-ahead dessert served warm or, if you must, cold, but the almond flavour is rich when warm. The only difficulty is in its name.  Bakewell is a place in Derbyshire, England.  The dessert is called Bakewell Pudding there.  But others call it a tart because of its crusty bottom.  The Dairy Book of British Food reports that the original recipe is still a secret.  This one is definitely not  – see tweaks and additions.

(Reminder: in England, desserts are sometimes referred as “puddings” unless they’re talking about “Yorkshires” of course – see Sept 2016 blog. )

Roll out thawed puff pastry on a floured surface and use it to line a pie pan.

Trim and design the edges of the crust so that it doesn’t slither downwards while it bakes. Some people make a fancy frill.  Some fiercely fork the crust to the pan’s edge.

 

 

Brush the base of the pan with 4 large spoons of red jam.*

 

 

 

Now make a filling.  In a medium sized bowl, beat three eggs.  Add and beat into them 4 oz (100 grams, 1 cup packed) of ground almonds, 4 ozs (100 grams, ½ cup) of caster (fine) sugar, 2 oz (50 grams 2 fat tablespoons) soft butter, and ½ teaspoon almond essence or flavouring.

 

Pour the filling over the jam. Spread evenly. Bake on a lower shelf in the oven at 180 degrees C (350 F) for 30 minutes or until filling is set. If it wobbles in the middle, pop it into the oven for five more minutes.  Serve warm or cold with fresh cream, or if you must, custard.

 

 

*Tweaks and Additions. Jam has a high sugar content for some of our guests,, so we used orange and cranberry curd instead.  And – because it’s February, George Washington’s birthday, I threw in a handful of dried cherries as well.

Leftover pastry? Why not make cheese straws? ( See October 2014 blog.)

 

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Hooray for the Glorious Peanut!

In celebration of Peanut Butter Day, January 24th.

 

Even my mother’s feet showed distress as she pitti-pitti-patted down the stairs, “Poor Georgina! I’ve put her into a terrible mess and don’t know how to get her out!” she threw over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen, and retrieved – of course — her jar of peanuts.  My mother couldn’t survive without peanuts, whether she was writing a children’s story or not.  Read her sad – to- happy account of what happened on the ship taking us back home as exchange prisoners from a Japanese internment camp in China,  while she was on the brink of giving birth.   (The Chinese Ginger Jars, by Myra Scovel.  Available online new or second hand.)

I, like my mother, find solace in peanuts. I’ve always loved them. As a teenager during my school days in India when things got tough, or dreary, or (for me most frequently) the absolutely ghastly definitely end of the world and I will DIE, I would take a  walk through the bazaar hearing the scoop-scoop-scoop of husked peanuts being roasted in sand over a charcoal brazier right there on the streets.  The scent would draw me to them.   A newspaper bag would be filled with their warmth, and I would delight in the rough husk, the sound as they cracked open, revealing large red-skinned beans (they are not nuts) perfectly roasted, and ooo! so delicious! Life was almost worth living again.

 

on gloomy days, a toasted peanut butter sandwich is comforting!

 

Arriving in England as a bride, the “Jungle Fresh” peanuts were naked, damp like the weather, and held none of the exotic-ness of those in the newspaper bags in India. And why call them “Jungle” fresh?  A peanut never saw a jungle in its life, having grown underground in long rows of bushes in the heat of Georgia. Or somewhere else in the world, like China.

 

Which brings me to peanut butter – sometimes greeted with a sneer and curled lip by the non cogniscenti.  (I pity them, I really do.)  Or such a sublime love that, not trusting the natives, they would never travel from home without a jar of their favourite spread.

Iron boost — add raisins to your peanut butter cracker

But when it comes to peanut butter no one can extol its virtues like my brother Tom. He inherited so much of Mom’s peanut-loving DNA that he has to hold back on double helpings. Despite the wide varieties available in his home in California (fluffernutter – mixed with marshmallow, striped with grape jelly, mixed with honey and cream, mixed with berries etc.) he sticks to the Traditional. Here is an excerpt from one of his letters:

 

“Mankind’s two greatest creations in my humble estimation are (1) the bed and (2) peanut butter. Indeed, George Washington Carver, the agronomist who invented so many uses for the peanut should be honoured among the pantheons of great scientists.  Move over Einstein, you never gave us a single thing we could eat!  I buy the nutty type with no sugar, so you have to mix in the oil which has floated to the top of the jar with the paste of ground peanuts below.  Having just had peanut butter on my toast for breakfast, in a fastidious attempt to break my addiction, I’ll not have it on my bagel for lunch.  (I try to control my craving to one helping a day.)

“And yes, Judy, peanut oil was used to run vehicles in China since it was more available than gasoline in many areas. Naturally it produced little power but thick black smoke and a bad smell, which I remember because I couldn’t believe that something that tasted so good could stink so horribly!  Peanut oil was replaced in most areas by charcoal burners that looked like large water heaters strapped on to the back of buses and trucks whose incomplete combustion of gases was fed into the engine to make the vehicle chug along.  Ah, the experiences American kids have missed growing up nowadays!”

 

Happy Peanut Butter Day!

 

West African Groundnut Stew

“Do you ever eat peanut butter with meat?” I asked my Ghanaian dentist before he plunged equipment into my mouth. His usually-mute assistant grunted involuntarily.  “Yes,” he replied, “I make soup with peanut butter and smoked turkey and my daughters love it.  The girls are always asking me to make it for them.”

Here’s a similar taste to that soup, adapted from my crumbling Food Aid Cookbook (1986) edited by Delia Smith. It’s a dawdle to fling together into a slow cooker before you dash out to enjoy your day.  Also works well on a stove top or in a very slow oven.

 

Make this in a heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid. I used a slow cooker,  The meat needs to cook in its own juices.  Saute  2 chopped onions until tender.  Place in the casserole/slow cooker.  De-seed 3 mild chillis and chop finely.  Mix with 6 tablespoons smooth peanut butter  1 inch (2.5 cm) grated fresh ginger or 1 heaped teaspoon dried ginger, a pinch of mixed herbs, 1 lb sliced carrots, and a 14 oz tin (can) of chopped tomatoes.  Mix well.  Place 1 lb (450 gms) cubed beef in the pot.  Add the tomato-carrot-peanut butter mixture.  Once again, mix well.  Cover, and cook very slowly for 1 ½ hours (4 – 6 hours in lowest setting of a slow cooker).  If you don’t peek and release steam, there will be enough moisture to keep everything well juicy and the flavours will “hold hands”.

Serve with rice steamed with a drained can of black-eyed peas. (I think we used coconut rice in these photos.)

 

 

 

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Meeting the new community

“Hello, how are you? I’ve seen you out walking.  Are you new?

Yes. My name is Judy.  We have just moved here to be near our daughter. I try walk each day.”

This is the conversation I practised on my early walks in the countryside around our new home. I didn’t use it often because around here there is a lot of land between any individual I meet.  I’ve also learned to respect the fact that the long term residents are reluctant to share their name,.  Using the normal New Yorker’s phrase, “Hi! I’m Judy — where are you from?” would, I think, seem rudely invasive.  I’ve lived here in the UK so long that even when people ask me that question I find it startling.  The Brits, I notice,  are just as eager to know where I’m from, but their questioning slides in sideways, with a faint turn of the head as if they’re aiming their good ear at me, and their eyes go into an  upwards corner as they ask: “Er do I detect a slight mid Atlantic accent?”  or, even more courageously, “you’re not originally from these parts, are you?”  It takes longer to get the answer they’re looking for, far longer than a New Yorker would be able to bear. A name takes even longer.

“The people are there, and they do care.  But you won’t see them,” says Maggie, a relative newcomer herself (only been here 20 years).

That is why, as I puffed up to the summit of a hill, gasping for air in my overworked lungs, I was surprised to see an old Landrover rattle towards me and stop.

“I’m putting the cows in the field up therr.” “You should be all right, though,” he added.  The voice came from a half opened mud-splattered window, and belonged, obviously, to the farmer whose land I was trespassing over – middle aged, any ounce of fat on him had been worked off years ago in the tough tough life of sheep and cattle farming.

“Oh, I didn’t know cows were dangerous.”

“The mums are, from April to August – I’ve been kicked down more than once – and I’m the one feeding them!”

The conversation continued as he talked through the many public rights of way across his territory. “Want to see it from the top? Get in and I’ll show you.

[I thought I WAS at the top having panted up a mountain so steep I could only take steps half a hiking boot long.] The ride in his beat-up seatbelt-less vehicle lurched over roadless fields, hurtled full speed at a fence (his sister’s boundary) and braked in time, as the running commentary never stopped:  “yer not allowed on this road, but there’s a road marker down this hill – see him?  Follow the furry trees to the bottom and you’ll end up at the fire station.”  He continued showing paths where there were no paths – “straight ahead therr and go down into the forest on steps cut into the earth or……” he jerked the car around and sped to a gate lurching to stop just in time.  “There are two ways down from yerr” he said.  But I wasn’t listening.  I was just gasping at the breath-taking view all around me, every direction.  When he noticed, he rolled the car forward more precariously than ever so that I could see an even wider view.  “We’re on top of the world yerr,” he said.  Thirty seconds later he was off again, and as he talked I learned more about what a farmer needs to know to run singlehandedly the acres of land criss-crossed with public rights of way.  Farming and animal husbandry, yes, but also a midwife, plumber, builder, chemist, soil expert, market awareness, electrician, mechanic, environmentalist, legally alert to whatever the National Farmers’ Union commanded, crime prevention, and much more, as well as reacting to all at the whims of the weather (last winter one of his barns collapsed under six feet of snow, followed by a drought in the spring.) Nursery songs about “High Ho the derry oh” farmers had nothing to do with Reality Farmers.    So by the time he left me on the path exactly where he’d picked me up, I thanked him warmly in jaw-dropping awe, overwhelmed by his generosity of spirit.  “My name is Judy”, I said.  “Urrrr” he replied and dashed off down the hill in a scurry of dust and leaves.

 My Favourite Cookies

Basically from Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book, well over 50 years old. 

Have seen these called Mexican Wedding Cakes, or Russian Teacakes, and my friend from Czech Republic sent these to me one Christmas, so call them anything you’d like. I tried “Snow Cookies” but that wouldn’t be very appropriate for Blog Readers south of the Equator, in blazing hot drought. I gave some to Nick the Postman.  Some will go to the garage when I take the car in for a check up.  And of course, a box of them will go to the farmer at the top of the hill.

In your favourite mixer, add 8 ozs ( 230 gms, 1 cup) butter, 4 tablespoons ( 50 gms, 1/2 cup) icing (confectioners’) sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 9 ¼  oz ( 270 gms. 2 ½ cups) plain flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 4 ozs  105 gms (3/4 cups) finely chopped nuts.  [If you don’t feel like chopping them, just put them in your food processor before adding other ingredients.]

Chill dough, even for 20 minutes. Roll in balls about the size of a large grape.  [This is a good time to open freeze them if you don’t have time for baking.]

Moderately hot oven  (200 C, or 400F ).  Bake 10 minutes or so.  They don’t spread, but are very delicate when hot.  You may have to eat the broken ones (what a shame!).

Tip gently into a roasting tin full of icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar) and roll them until completely covered.  Carefully place them on a rack to cool.

 

Then roll them again in the sugar when they are completely cold.  .

 

Makes about 4 dozen one-inch cookies. [Note: photos are of a double recipe.] 

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American Thanksgiving in a Non American Country

Well, we had roast turkey, sausages, gravy, apple-celery-bacon cornbread stuffing with cashews and cranberries, Amish sweet potatoes with apple and mace, mashed potatoes, squash with crystallised ginger, green beans almondine, broccoli, cranberry-orange relish, the obligatory creamed onions (which, I understand, is an Upstate New York addition), and mince-peach pie, apple-cherry pie, and of course, pumpkin pie.  The sweet corn, nestled in a glass casserole dish in the microwave never got heated, never got served. Corn, anyone?

This of course is not the whole menu.  I should have put baby marshmallows in the sweet potatoes, crushed lemon boiled sweets [candies] in the squash, condensed mushroom soup and French fried onion rings with the beans.  I should have served a “salad” of cottage cheese, mayonnaise and crushed pineapple fixated in a mold of lime gelatin.  But I didn’t want to scare the foreigners any more than was necessary.

I tend to feel a bit weird at this time of year. Yes, I’ve lived in many countries, and, yes, I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in all of them.  But it has always been with other Americans.  When it was just me, it felt weird to say to people, “Er, uh, I’m having a Thanksgiving dinner, [mutter] national thanksgiving in USA, [mutter mutter] wondering if you …….”  I felt so exposed, so Other, to the people I was trying to understand and be part of.  I don’t know why I felt so strongly that the tradition should be celebrated.  It seemed stupid to make such a case for it. It was only me, after all. I tried NOT celebrating it, saying “oh hang it, let our children be brought up British and be done with it.”  But the niggling empty loneliness persisted.  Perhaps it was important because it was the only day in the year that I had a right to declare my American-ness.  Of course my Yorkshire husband was naturally supportive of the event, not only for the food, but for my sake.

But I’m glad I persevered. This year, the weird feeling was brief.  Daughter Number One married an American and celebrates Thanksgiving in California.  And now I have another daughter’s family nearby – a half American and two quarter Americans, which make up to one more whole American, doesn’t it?  And, after deep reflection about selective additional guests, and with heart in mouth, I phoned.  They probably do not know the joyful relief they gave me by saying yes to the invitation.

The evening began with the two quarter Americans, aged 9 and 11, playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on their newly acquired trumpet and saxophone. I gave my little introductory speech, that Thanksgiving was one of the few national (cross-religion) days of thanks in the world, that it commemorated the Puritans who sailed from Europe, on The Mayflower headed for Jamestown, but blown off course and landed in autumn in what is now Massachusetts; how the Wampanoag Indians helped them survive that winter, and the first Thanksgiving with Indians and Puritans together.  And how the composer of the performed piece, Sarah Josepha Hale, wrote an open letter to President Lincoln requesting that he declare a national day of thanks.  Which he did.

It takes longer to write about it than it actually took on the night. The whole talk only lasted half a glass of prosecco and a couple of cheese straws. One of the guests had seen the replica  of the Mayflower in Bristol, and another had even done a painting of it, which brought great delight to me.

It was a glorious evening. So convivial was the gathering, in fact, that I forgot to take pictures for the blog.  I also forgot another tradition – that each person had the opportunity to say what they’d been thankful for this year.  But the positivity did come out in the evening’s bubbling conversations.  One was relieved gratitude that we had a National Health Service (after hearing about crowd-funding pleas to finance chemo therapy for a sick woman in the States).  Another, unlike my Puritan ancestors, was the freedom to worship – or not to – as we chose.  We are blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

 

What do YOU do with left-over turkey?

Mole Poblana Guajolote

A sort of Turkey casserole

Here’s a recipe adapted from my Better Homes and Gardens Mexican cookbook (1977).  It’s great for all the tiny scraps that come with a Roast Turkey dinner. …. I served it the night the Bits of Americans and their English Dad came for supper.  [The two quarter Americans had fish fingers.]  Out of the four adults: one ate the casserole as served, one added salt, one found it too spicy, and one lavished the serving liberally with tabasco sauce.  So, take your pick.

Grease a casserole dish (mine was 13” x 9”) and fill it with turkey, bits of bacon,  and cooked sausage left over from the Big Meal.  I didn’t try it, but cooked  vegetables could be thrown in, too.

Many different ingredients make an amazing blend of flavours. People, each different make an amazing community together

Chop a medium onion and a clove of garlic and saute them gently in 1 tablespooon oil.  Then, in a liquidiser/food processor, whizz together: 2 medium tomatoes or a can of chopped tomatoes, the cooked onion-garlic, 2 canned chopped jalepeno peppers, rinsed, seeded, ½ cup blanched almonds, OR 2 tablespoons ground almonds, 1/3 cup raisins, 1 six inch tortilla cut up, 2 tablespoons sesame seeds,  ¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper, ½  teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon crushed or ground fennel seed, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon ground coriander.  Cover and process until smooth. Add about 4 cups turkey or chicken stock and 1 square unsweetened chocolate, melted.  Pour sauce over the turkey, ensuring all pieces are well coated

uncooked, checking all scraps are well covered

 

Bake uncovered in moderate oven until bubbly, about 44 minutes.

 

The mole may be fine as a VEGAN or VEGETARIAN dish. If you try it, just tap a note onto this website so that others can try.

Baked — doesn’t look much different, does it?

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Apple County Apple Country

They say that if a medieval Greek man wanted to propose marriage, all he had to do was to toss his Intended an apple. If she caught it, or even tried to catch it (let’s keep her options open as wide as possible here) she agreed to the union.  A powerful thing is the apple.  Can change a life forever.

I know I’ve written about apples before, but I just can’t help it this time.  Here I am in the middle of apple growing country right smack at harvest time, where there are veritable orchards of apples trundling down the narrow high-hedged lanes on their way to make Bulmers’ cider in Hereford. .

“But before Bulmers,” said new friend David, “every farm had its own orchard of cider apples.”  I had puffed my way to the top of his hill and was now sitting gratefully in the comfort of his kitchen.  David, the fourth of ten children, went out to work when he was very young and has worked on the land all his life .  “Before Bulmers”, he repeated, “each farm took their apples to the cider press.  Oh, that was a big day.  It took all day.  Near the press you have to have water to get the juices going.  This one was near a duck pond.  The horse would walk round, turning the huge stone that crushed the apples, and the juice would run into a trough to be caught and poured into their wooden barrels.  (That trough – it took some making because it was carved out of stone.)  They’d take the cider home and put it in the cellar, the coldest part of the house, where it would work [ferment]. All the bad was worked out in froth that would come out the top of the barrel as it was working.

drawing a picture of the barrel getting a tap

It made a little bubbling noise, nothing serious, and a little smell, nothing stinky though.  While it was working you couldn’t drink it – I don’t know what would happen to your insides if you did!  When it was working, all the bad was worked out too.  When it was ready to drink, they would turn the barrel on its end and bang in a tap.  The cider was a little foggy, not as clear as you get nowadays.” Farm workers would take a small gallon barrel to the fields. Lunch would be bread and cheese and cider.  That meant they could stay working on the land all day, “from morn til night” until their big meal in the evening.

And now here I sit surrounded by the gift of apples. I see them everywhere.  How can I resist the cardboard boxes and wooden crates along the wayside, begging to be taken home for free?  Or the loving gifts of apple juice left at our door from people’s own mini orchards?  Even the county symbol is an apple, for Heavens’ sake, and the very air is apple-scented.  There are tiny juicy Coxes, and voluptuously rounded Bramley cookers, shiny red eating apples with a blushing pink inside.   And when I think that these are only a few of the world’s 7500 varieties, just as lovely as the ones I now hold, I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden.  It was probably the apple itself.  A powerful thing is the apple.  It can change history forever.  .

Apple Griddlecakes (Pancakes)

These are usually eaten for breakfast, but they made a good participatory lunch the other day. Guests have to be willing to hover around your kitchen, with a hot drink.  The pancakes must be eaten as soon as they’re done, otherwise they go rubbery.  Waiting nearby for them to slide off the spatula means that you get them hot and fresh.    To make the meal more substantial, pop a tray of sausages into the oven, to cook by themselves as you see to the pancakes. There are a few tricks to making pancakes even more successful.

In a largish bowl, mix together 4 ozs (115 grams, 1 cup) white flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 tablespoon sugar, and ½ teaspoon salt.

In another small bowl, peel, core, and dice/chop 1 tart apple. In a third bowl mix 8 – 12 tablespoons milk (I started with 8 but needed two more),  2 tablespoons melted butter or oil, and 1 egg. Beat these together well.

Heat your frying pan, or griddle. As it is heating, put the chopped apples into the flour mixture, coating the pieces well.  Then dump all the liquid into the dry ingredients in one great gollup.  Stir gently just until mostly moistened.  Do NOT beat.  Lumps are fine. 

The griddle is hot when you shake water onto it and the droplets bounce off in little balls. You might want to add a little oil to your skillet.  Then spoon the mixture into three or four puddles.  When bubbles come up, turn and cook them for a minute or so longer on the other side.  Eat immediately with butter, maple syrup or honey or jam.  (Note: in our family the best pancakes usually come out at the end – gloriously perfect, just when everyone is too full to eat any more.)

2 sides to the pancake

 

 

Roman apple cake, ready for apple-givers. See February 2017 for recipe

 

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Living in Limbo

I can find the Christmas plates, but not the base to the kettle.

I can find my Grandmother’s jewellery, but not my socks.

I can find 36 boxes of books, but two slow cookers have gone missing.

Taking the paper off cherished and almost-thrown-out possessions – an unknown packer treated all items of equal importance.. .

 

Long forgotten things tucked away out of sight for 40+ years offer new opportunities to think about them and their stories, even in our coffee-less, sock-less state. [Daughter Joy, now a blissful two doors away, rescued us with a working coffee pot…whew!] Random and completely out of order and out of place – because nothing has a place yet – each item demanding to be given a permanent resting home. A lot of decisions in a short time.

Looking at warmly familiar things in an unfamiliar environment, I’m startled at how old and worn my cookbooks have become, almost as if they had gone through a sped-up time machine I knew nothing of, and aged in the move from Bedfordshire to Herefordshire. Well, some of them are fifty years old. I just never noticed before.

This is a new experience, moving house after 4 decades living in another community, another county, another culture. The heart sinks. However can we build community when we know nothing of the life, the wants, the delights of the inhabitants around us? 

We’ve been warmly welcomed – Joy has made us a handbook with times of library, café, garbage collection, the names of everyone in the street, and much more. Biscuits, flowers, and cards have flowed in from beloved long standing friends as well as new neighbours in the street.  The living room decorator knew a heating specialist, and an expert on pond fish (a new experience), and a TV aerial expert.  But our house is not a home yet.  We haven’t yet arrived, and we haven’t yet left.  The learning curve is steep…..and exhilarating!

It’s my birthday. One of the ancient cookbooks uncovered was that of Mrs. Beaton’s Everyday Cookery.  Now faded blue, its hard cover bowed and edged in grey, the front decorated in red Vs by a toddler — the same daughter who now lives two doors away with her family.  I asked her to make Mrs. Beaton’s orange cake for the celebration..  The last time I tasted it was when I was heavily pregnant with the one who was now making it for me.  I placed it in a tin so that I could smuggle it into the Oxford hospital when I had the baby.  I didn’t want anyone to know of my cache; that would mean I’d have to share it, wouldn’t I? I used to get it out at strange hours of the night when sleep evaded, and revel in its simple flavour-bursting orangeness.  Joy made the cake a bit fancier by piercing the hot cake and pouring sweetened orange juice into it.  Served with pouring cream.  “Beautiful”, as the Brits say.  They are the only people I know who use visual adjectives to describe gustatory delights. [Cake photos by Joy Rickwood]

 

Orange Drizzle Cake

Line a 7 inch baking pan with baking parchment. Grease the sides.

In a mixer/food processor combing 6 ozs (175 gms ¾ cup) butter, 6 ozs (175 gms ¾ cup) sugar, 3 eggs, 8 ozs (220 gms 2 cups) plain flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, and the grated rind of 1 orange and mix well.  When well combined, add the juice of one orange. Spread in prepared pan and bake in low moderate oven (around 350 degrees) for an hour.  The 7 inch cake pan will produce a cake two inches high.  If you are using a wider based pan, check for doneness earlier.   Pierce the hot cake all over and pour orange juice sweetened with icing sugar. If the juice slides off the sides, let the cake sit in it until all juice is absorbed.  When cool you can glaze with icing sugar mixed with a little milk or OJ.  Decorate with more grated orange rind.  My birthday cake came with rice paper flowers as well.

 

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A Community Farewell

 

Well, it had to happen eventually, didn’t it — time to leave this community. people who have welded themselves into our hearts, who know us well, have seen us in pajamas and no make up hanging up clothes, have lived through our tragedies and us theirs.

Friends who have shared the ghoulish parts of our lives, in confidence, who supported us through. Friends whom we awakened at 2 a.m. because our frozen water tank was about to flood the house, and had the knowledge to fix it – or anything else we couldn’t fix, day or night.  Friends who unwittingly bolstered our confidence on bad days, just by a greeting on the street.  Friends whom we knew were just there that anchored our souls.

 

Neighbours who’d sneak over to cut our hedge, weed our garden, or plant beautiful flowers in our borders while we were away.  Friends who were part of a larger community, and by knowing them we too were welcomed by their friends.  Neighbours who made our own street a special place to live, a community in itself.  Friends who prayed with us, stayed with us, and gave us confidence, comfort and a home.

Real human beings with their own loves– the butcher who won medals in ballroom dancing, the guy in the shop who was also a magician, the plasterer who could identify every bird song in our district, the nurse who cared for her husband all the way through his death, in their own home, the ex policewoman whose saxophone jazz melts the heart, the (probably) 12 year old who works from a shed in a redundant orchard and can fix any terrifying computer glitch I brought him.  All of them woven into a tapestry of love around us.

We arrived here 43 years ago, raw with fear from living in the fomenting revolution of Iran, not knowing a soul, not understanding the Bedfordshire accent nor its culture, penniless, with a three year old and a two week old baby. It has been a wonderful, wonderful adventure.  With deep, gut-wrenching sadness we say good by.

And hello to What’s Next?

 

Courgettes and Marrows

skin or unskinned?

August is the month when you lock your car for fear of being the recipient of yet another home grown courgette (zucchini) or marrow sneaked in on your back seat.

Here’s a totally Vegan dish that perks up the courgette considerably and probably a rather dull meal as well. I served this to a courgette-repellent family and they still love me. [Note: I seemed to have lost the photos of the end product, but it takes little imagination to visualise a cooked courgette!]

Heat oil in a frying pan. Add ½ teaspoon cumin seeds for a few seconds, until they start popping.  Add one chopped onion and a clove of chopped garlic.  When tender add a teaspoon of curry powder ½ teaspoon of coriander powder, ½ teaspoon  of ground turmeric powder, ½ teaspoon chilli powder or less) and saute until they smell cooked (just a few seconds).  Then add one courgette (zucchini) in cubes.  I did half with skin on, half without, but with skin on it keeps its shape better.  When tender, stir in about one tablespoon creamed coconut.  Season to taste. Nice with rice.

chuckling away in olive oil

 

 

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