Posted in Cooking, Junk Shop Finds, Life and Family

Pretending to Follow a Pasta Recipe

This morning I found a pasta and peas recipe before I even got out of bed. On a whim I shared it to the family chat thread, and was stunned when my mother instantly replied that we could try it. I had thought she would object to the peas. She asked if it had sauce, and I said vegetable broth, though I could imagine using a stock cube. Would she prefer a white sauce? A mildly cheesy one, she said.

She adores cheese! You would not be able to part her from a nice sharp cheddar for all of the tea in China, though I don’t think parting people from their cheese is a good idea anyway, not in most cases.

“Is that ham in it?” she asked next, and I said pancetta… but we could use bacon or chicken if she prefers. You know, we can kid ourselves we’re making this dish, but it’s really going to be macaroni cheese with peas and a sprinkling of meat.

My sister arrived in time for coffee, carting a coat stand that I won at auction. It’s nice, if slightly rocky on its feet. It stood rather meaningfully on my toes when I was disinfecting it, so I guessed it was in a foul mood. I told it it was lucky to get a lift in my sister’s car because it would have been in an even worse mood if it had had to catch a bus by itself then walk to our house from the bus stop.

When I was dragging it upstairs, I discovered the entire top lifts off the pole. This discovery almost cost us the hall mirror, but fortunately the pole didn’t quite whack it… just flailed frighteningly about before steadying.

In the late afternoon, I ordered from the local supermarket. I said to my sister, “You’ll notice the only fruit I bought this time were bananas! They picked out terrible, languishing satsumas last time.” They don’t usually send bad fruit, but having been bitten once, it seems rational for me to be shy of being caught out a second time.

I ordered ingredients for the (hem hem) pasta and peas dish, including spring onions and the cheese in the recipe, Grana Padano. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never heard of it, but now I want to know what it’s like. What’s the point of having a life if we don’t try new things? The recipe includes extra virgin oil — Mum hates olive oil and I’m not all that keen myself. Nevertheless I got a small bottle of olive oil that claims to be mild. We’ll see!

There were other things I bought out of curiosity, just like you might browse the supermarket shelves and pick up stuff you’ve never seen before. I couldn’t leave the bag of gnocci where I found it. “What IS this stuff??” (Adds it to trolley). Jalapeno pretzels? Want!

In recent blog posts I was writing about cold feet when blogging, and today another blogger said it’s natural — we all feel that way. It takes courage, but it’s nice that the world keeps turning and we keep hitting the ‘publish’ button.

Oh, I still think we’re crazy, especially in these hair-trigger times, but I love that thought anyway.

Earlier I’d put my beautiful new coat stand at the back of the computer room upstairs, so naturally went to say goodnight before retiring. It sneered about the untidiness of the room and said it wasn’t terribly homely. I told it it will feel better when the morning sun is pouring through the windows. It might even have the odd pigeon peering in to say hello.

I know… but a little friendly humour in life goes a long way. 🙂

Posted in Cooking

When is a Pie Not a Pie?

slowpie

Monday 14th

One of the nicest things in the kitchen is the slow-cooker. It’s less frightening than the soup-maker! I got the kitchen ready for some early morning cooking tomorrow — slow-cooked steak pie. A while back I saw a Facebook discussion with people stating if you cook the pastry separately from the filling, it’s not a pie. I reckon that’s hairsplitting, myself — convenience is king.

I found my recipe in the Best-Ever Slow Cooker, One-Pot & Casserole Cookbook. It’s actually Steak and Kidney Pie with Mustard Gravy, and we don’t like kidney, so we miss that particular ingredient out!

My mother bought another one today — The Slow Cook Book by Heather Whinney. There’s something ‘no nonsense’ about it — lots of good clear recipes and none of the white space and sprawling fonts you get in some. I’ve already seen a lot of recipes I want to try, and though it’s easier to run a house if you stick to what you’re used to, it’s good to push the boundaries and try new things too. It might be fun to pick a new recipe each time, and do so regularly — perhaps once a week, working my way through the book. I could end up with a quiverful of new tricks.

If I find any good vegetarian ones, I could invite my sister for supper one of these chilly nights. She brought us tasty homemade soup — it had parsnips, other vegetables, spices and cream, but no potato. Worked very well, and we were sorry when it was finished!

Wednesday 16th

Well I made the pie the next day using our black CrockPot. It was good, but though I only made half the amount in the recipe and we ate steadily through it for two nights, there’s still some left over for a third. I started cooking with a plaster on my index finger, but by the time the food was bubbling in the pot, there was a plaster on the other as well! The first was where I broke a nail on a car door; the second was where I nicked myself with my brand new supersharp knife. I was cutting a superround, superglossy and superlarge onion, and the knife slipped right down its steep curve. Ow. A bigger knife might have been better… on the other hand, a bigger knife might have left a bigger nick!

On the whole, the broken nail was worse… that was brutal, and I had to wait till we got home before I could apply first aid. Now I have to wait till it grows out, meaning the plaster could be there a while — annoying.

We can’t let the little things put us off though, and I’ve already picked out a pumpkin and ginger soup recipe for next time, from the Heather Whinney book… looks good!

Posted in Cooking, Dreams and Nightmares

Steamy Dream

When steaming vegetables, sugarsnap peas and baby corn are my favourites, though I also like carrots, sprouts, beans, asparagus, corn cobs — you name it.

A couple of nights ago, in a dream, someone pointed out a tall, bushy weed that was very nice steamed. You pick them in the wild and they cost nothing, so as advised, I cooked and ate a couple of these, found on the hill near my home.

“Mm, very nice, I’d have more.”

But wait! “Where did the bugs go? There are normally ants and things walking around on these things, aren’t there?”

Took a closer look at a plant I hadn’t yet cooked, and there was a large hairy spider nesting under one of the leaves, complete with thick ball of cobweb. I threw it down and thought “that’s it! I’m not eating another of these, ever!”

I could almost taste those plants in the dream — it’s enough to put you off steaming things in real life. Peeling, chopping, washing that colander over and over, and now dreaming about steamed spider. I’m getting tired of eating…

Posted in Cooking, Lost in Thought

Song Ghosts and Baked Potatoes

I haven’t written in my private diary for a few months. Was wondering if I might kickstart it again by writing descriptions of my surroundings rather than keeping a record of what’s going on. That’s something better done during the day: an attempt at written snapshots instead of photographic! Right now there’s nothing I feel like describing.

Well OK, just a short paragraph…

The only light comes from a single spotlight bulb. The lamp is a white twin spotlight, so I could have both, but that seems wasteful! It’s nicer with both on… I’m trying it out. The second bulb is shining straight at the goblin print, which makes me nervous, because too much light on pictures isn’t good for them. Goblins don’t like sunlight, I’ve heard, though I don’t know what they make of too-bright artificial lighting.

Considerately switching back to one bulb now. It was giving me a headache, so goblin blood must run in my veins.

Enola Gay (OMD) has been in my head for a few days, though I’ve not listened to music since my mother returned from the hospital. I found this old Daily Mail piece about earworms here.

Someone in the comments section prefers the term ‘song wedgie’, claiming ‘earworm’ is too unpleasant. I don’t like ‘earworm’ either, but ‘song wedgie’ is worse! I don’t know if earworms affect my mood or result from something already affecting my mood… sometimes one; sometimes the other? At any rate, I feel earworms deserve a better label; something more dignified. They can be quite haunting… would ‘ghost tune’ do? Or ‘song ghost’?

On to food…

The other day I was trying to eat raw celery and it was bitter, so I left it till supper time and roasted it using the mixture described here: Maple Dijon Roasted Winter Vegetables.

I liked it. It would have been better if I’d added onions and carrots rather than use the celery on its own. Still, it slipped down more easily than when I was trying to eat it raw. 🙂 A friend said she mixed celery with carrots in a soup, and found the celery gave it an extra kick… I might try that some time.

A few days back I wrote a recipe for a baked potato filling. Tonight we had baked potatoes again, but this time I opted for plain butter, cheese, steamed vegetables and a dab of mayonnaise.

Usually we microwave our baked potatoes but I always felt uneasy about it. I liked a tip I read recently, and have done our potatoes that way twice:

Wash the spuds well. Prick with a fork so they do not burst when cooking. Microwave for about five minutes. Put on a baking tray, lightly drizzle with oil and season with salt / pepper, and bake in the oven for about 35 to 40 minutes. Foil not needed, though a bit of greaseproof paper under mine kept the baking tray clean.

The texture of the potato is better this way… mine positively melted in the mouth. I grated a small amount of cheddar cheese using the fine bit of the grater… it comes out like a light fluffy cloud.

Hope I’m not setting a bunch of blogging tummies rumbling! 😈

Posted in Cooking, Life and Family, Lost in Thought, Observations

Today I’ll Create Something Beautiful

I was scrolling through my WordPress feed and glimpsed the following blog post: Today Isn’t Just Another Day — Today I’ll Create Something Beautiful.

Fleetingly I had a moment of regret, thinking, “but I can’t!” To me, to create would be to take the day off and paint a digital picture, create fractal art, put some effort into photography (strangely exhausting, which is why mostly I just take snapshots). Or I might take time to come up with a haiku I’m proud of, or write a long and thoughtful blog post.

Today I don’t have time to do any of these, so today I can’t create anything… and probably not tomorrow either, or the day after, or any day for a long while.

Then I realized, “but I did create something nice… I made potato and leek soup.”

There’s a small story behind that. I was trying to use up our vegetables, so they were bubbling away in the soupmaker. A rare bird came into the kitchen… my mother, wobbling slightly. She paused just inside the doorway and stared at the soup with popping eyes.

“What is it?” I said, worried I had damaged the soupmaker and hadn’t realized it yet.

“Nothing,” she said, snapping out of her rictus. “I would just have put an extra potato in… that’s all.”

“Oh. I meant to, but forgot. I guess if the leek is too strong, you can always add milk.”

Fortunately it wasn’t too leeky. When we were having it for lunch, my mother made a point of saying sincerely, “It’s very nice!”

That’s not all I created today. Two different soups, scrambled egg and steamed vegetables… that’s what I made of today! The other soup is carrot and sweet potato, and that’s to go in the freezer for a day when I’m too tired to cook.

For some reason the carrot soup frightened me more than the leek soup. It’s a ‘heavy’ soup (probably because of the iron-hard sweet potato) and would barely move inside the soupmaker jug when I hit the ‘stir’ button. Even when I blended it at the end, it swirled round reluctantly as though a great weight was bearing down on the blades. When I stopped pulsing it, would stop, then spit out a ‘glop!’ as though pretending to be volcanic mud.

The leek soup behaved beautifully all the way through, but the carrot soup wanted to hurl itself out of the jug, despite the fact that it had just the right amount of fluid and no more. Last year I had an accident with this same soupmaker… I put a little too much fluid in, and it boiled over. The hot soup gushed over the electric controls and I leapt forward and turned it off at the mains!

That experience really scared me. The carrot soup seemed to be doing its damnedest to do the same thing today, and I couldn’t go away and rest for even two minutes… I didn’t trust it.

Anyway, the carrot soup won’t be able to do much to anyone when I put it in the freezer tomorrow.

Of course, the blog post that inspired these ruminations isn’t about anything material at all. When talking about creating something beautiful, it doesn’t refer to art, cooking, sewing, flower displays or even a neat home. It’s more abstract than that — it’s about doing something kind for someone or taking time to consider your life and be grateful… it’s about making the day itself beautiful.

Maybe it’s working, because here I am thinking about my day and what I made of it. Coffee, tea, two soups, scrambled egg, steamed vegetables, and now a blog post. I’m happy because I feel I made a good job of the food. My mother could have eaten more, I felt, but she was alert, talkative and in a good mood.

I don’t blog unless I feel inspired, and it’s odd that I felt inspired when all I had to talk about was that one fleeting moment when I thought “but I can’t create anything any more.”

This is what I like about writing though… in the murky soup of our lives, things swirl round sluggishly or rise to the top with an enormous, sullen ‘glop!’ Writing about a fleeting moment or thought, a dream, a funny sight, or a short conversation might seem like nothing at the time… but what you have done is save one moment in a million. When you read it later, you will say “I don’t remember that!”… but that’s the point. All those other funny moments and silly dreams will have gone forever, because you did not write about them… but you did write about this.

We can’t save everything; we can’t write about every single moment of our lives, though I swear there are times I’ve really tried! It’s hard to say why you might save one thing but not another… that makes it better, somehow; the sheer randomness of it.

If today is to be as beautiful as I can make it, what else in it was worth the saving?

It was a bright and sunny day, but we got very cold in the afternoon and thought the heating had gone off yet again, and that we were in for another icy night. Fortunately it did come on eventually. I was grateful to be cosy again, and remembered how the chill crept up on us so stealthily that I was surprised to find all of a sudden that the skin on my arms was cold to the touch, and even my nose was cold! I must have been getting steadily chillier but hadn’t been paying attention.

Before the heat really kicked in, I made tea and brought a mug to my mother, and she immediately put her hands on it and held it without drinking. A little bit of warmth in an icy house… that was another good thing I made today.

Posted in Cooking, Injury and Mishap, Life and Family

A Few Changes

Yesterday when my sister came for coffee, my mother made a few suggestions for change.

The soda bread (all the way from Ireland) isn’t right. The only one that will do is the big round one from the cheese shop in town. More urgently, Fairy washing powder simply won’t do. I washed her clothes with it, and she leapt up in the middle of the night to change. She couldn’t stand the airy aroma, so my sister must bring the washing powder she prefers.

I will carry on with Fairy myself, as I like the fresh scent, but must redo my mother’s washing. Meant to wash her bed sheets yesterday but am absolutely not allowed to touch them till the Persil arrives.

Well, I washed the bath mat instead. A single day can’t be allowed to go by without washing something, otherwise you feel you’re falling behind. I decided Fairy would be OK for bath mat, as it’s nowhere near your nose unless you slip and fall… and bath mats are good at stopping you from doing that.

It’s good, though, to be told off and asked for things — food especially. The worst is when she’s so tired or ill that she just doesn’t care.

I’m beginning to feel my life revolves around supper… “When should I start making tonight’s? What are we having tomorrow? Do we have all the ingredients we need? Is there anything I need to defrost? Are there enough clean bowls for the soup, or do I need to put the dishwasher on now?”

I also spend a lot of time worrying what the food contains. There were three or four different cartons of breadcrumbs in the supermarket, and I picked the one with the lowest amount of salt — criteria I wouldn’t have employed just six weeks ago. Did you know commercial breadcrumbs only last about six to nine months? The carton I bought the other day is stamped ‘Best Before Sept 2018’. I checked the others on the shelf and they said the same. That’s a lot of dipping we must do!

In the supermarket a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a tiny tub of dessert (previously a favourite of my mother’s). Checked the salt content and thought, “You’re kidding!” Only realized I’d said it out loud when someone standing near me swung round and looked over.

Anyhow we’re no longer buying that particular product, and, just to be on the safe side, I threw away the old crumbs to replace with new.

Crumbs? Trivia, I know…

Over a year ago there was another change, small but significant. I grew up using a straight potato peeler and never thought anything of it. Around Christmas 2016 our old one broke, so I was using a strange black one a lot over one period of a few days. I realized it was cutting into my skin because of its poor design. There was too long a gap between the sharp bit and the handle, so I was gripping the metal above the handle and below the blade… sort of…

I hate plasters on my fingers, so decided I had to buy a new peeler. As I couldn’t leave the house, I was ordering food from Tesco, to be brought by home delivery, so added a straight peeler to the order. I marked a lot of food ‘don’t swap’, but it didn’t cross my mind to do the same with the utensil. When the goodies arrived, I was surprised to be presented with a Y peeler!

Hrmm.

I’d never used this Y peeler design before, and was both intimidated and intrigued. My mother would probably have sent it straight back, but after reading up on it on the internet, I wanted to give it a go. Typically I handle it gingerly, as though it might bite (which it definitely could), but I love it. It’s particularly good on long, thin vegetables like carrots, parsnips and cucumbers. I just set the vegetable on end and spin it round, then flip it to do the other end.

Like with my sea-salt grinder, I’m possessive… in theory it’s there for everyone to use, but I think of it as mine. I wash it by hand, then carefully dry the blade by pushing the dishtowel into the corners. I never stroke the towel along the blade… just press gently. I’ve had no accidents with it since I bought it… fingers crossed that’s how it will stay!

I never used to baby the old peelers that way.

There have been a lot of changes lately, both big and small. The above-mentioned are only a few, with some corrections back to baseline by Mum — but only some! 😈

Posted in Cooking

Baked Potato with Cheese and Sweetcorn

We all have our own favourite fillings for baked potatoes. Ultimately we go for what’s most convenient and familiar, even if it’s just baked beans or butter and salt.

If you are looking for ideas, however, this is what I came up with tonight:

Serves one.

Ingredients for baked potato filling:

  • One shallot, peeled and chopped
  • One clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • Tinned sweetcorn
  • Tinned garden peas
  • Butter
  • Mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • Coconut oil or fat

Gently heat the coconut oil in a small saucepan. Cook the shallot and garlic. Add as much sweetcorn as you think you will eat (I used four dessertspoonfuls). Heat the mixture through.

Heat garden peas in a separate pan.

When potato is baked and split, put butter in to melt, then add grated cheese. Heap corn mixture on top. Serve with garden peas at the side.

I grated sea salt on mine, and my mother had hers with a prawn filling (she doesn’t like sweetcorn). They were tasty enough for us to want to do the same again tomorrow.

Have you a favourite filling for jacket potatoes?

BBC Good Food has more tips here. I’m going along to see what they said about coleslaw…