End of Summer asparagus

Those who prefer to eat only produce in season should ignore this suggestion - unless you live in South America. I am about to eat my words: I always say that British asparagus is the best and we should eat it during the couple of months it is picked and bundled and never buy the imported one.

But now I’m recommending asparagus from Peru. Because I’ve chosen thick spears - not the skinny ones with little flavour - they are almost as good as the English ones. Inspired by a recipe from Nigel Slater (though mine differs in everything but the two main ingredients: pasta and asparagus) I just made a luscious lunch to eat outdoors in the last of the summer sunshine.

It couldn’t be simpler: nests of tagliatelle boiled for about 9 mins and then drained; asparagus spears (twice the quantity shown in the picture) cooked in the microwave for 6 minutes, served with melting butter and grated parmesan. In the background is a small pot of runner beans - another English favourite usually served with meat.

A hint for cooking green vegetables: boil a small pot of salted water and cook beans or tenderstem broccoli for about 6 minutes. Then drain them, but don’t throw away the water. Keep it in a jar in the fridge and use it every time you cook more vegetables. The liquid will get more intense each time, so adds flavour and goodness to the next lot you cook. It will reduce in quantity, each time it boils, so you may need to add fresh water (but no more salt) to make sure the vegetables are covered.

Time is never wasted if you remember to bring along something to read.
—  Thomas Pynchon (from ‘Against The Day’)

Both the picture of michaelmoonsbookshop and the quote are reblogged from wordpainting 

Having recently spent time waiting for trains, ferries, buses and aeroplanes I can thoroughly recommend having something to read. A Kindle or e-reader really is a good idea for travel, as it’s light and can be held in one hand, while searching for tickets or passports. The pleasure of a printed page can be calming too. One word of warning: a friend took her Kindle on the Eurostar. She put it on the table to read, but the motion of the train made her doze off for a few minutes. When she woke up she found someone had stolen it.

The other essential for whiling away the time is to take something good to eat. Top of my list is some unsquashy fruit like firm peaches or plums, sandwiches filled with butter and asparagus plus a big bag of crisps.

(Reblogged from wordpainting)

Last views of Elba

These are the last of my Elba photos. The suntanned children and bright blue sea may bring back memories of your holidays. For me, my annual ‘injection’ of all things Italian has come to an end. I’m now back in London where the mild September sunshine lights up the fallen leaves on the ground.

The picture at the bottom is not candy, or anything sweet. It’s multi-coloured pasta (made with spinach, tomato etc.) but it’s the name that is amusing. They are called Lingua di Suocera - Mother in Law’s tongues, because they are sharp at the edges. As a mother-in-law myself (with four American daughters-in-law) I prefer to think that the name suggests that talking with your mother in law is bright and colourful!

Grapes

In Italy you will often find white grapes called ‘moscato’. They are sweet and fragrant, unlike those that look similar, but are crisp and bland. We were staying in a small town called Procchio where there was an Alimentari - a general store where you could buy fresh fruits and vegetables, huge balls of mozzarella cheese, pastas, meats and good quality beans and tuna in jars. We made several picnic meals from what we’d bought in this shop, taking them with us in our tiny Smart car as we drove around the island of Elba.

The lower picture also shows grapes, but these were found on the roadside, as abundant as blackberries in England.

Elba

Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, was forced to abdicate in 1814 and was exiled to the island of Elba. He lived there for several months before escaping to Corsica where he was born. Though he couldn’t wait to leave, the people of Elba remember him fondly and each year they reenact his arrival. This year there are special celebrations to commemorate 200 years since this event.

We drove from Procchio where we were staying through many small towns including Marciano Marina. The views from the road are stunning, looking down at the rocks below and the turquoise sea.

We were in time to see a marching band, with men and women dressed in clothes from the Napoleonic era - part of the year long celebrations. One of the ‘soldiers’ was taking a break - probably feeling the heat in his ceremonial uniform and boots.

Italian Pastries

We stayed the week in Elba, a small island off the coast of Tuscany. The men in my life (The Man in the Armchair Kitchen and Son No. 1) were taking part in a week-long computer workshop, giving lectures every day and spending time with the graduate students and other speakers. So they were definitely not on holiday. During the short breaks they were treated to coffee and pastries.

The top picture shows puffy sweet yeast pastries dusted with sugar. Below is a tray of biscuits. This was just to keep them going before lunch served in a cafe overlooking the beach and later on, a five-course dinner in a larger restaurant. The dessert table there was stunning. Each evening there was an array of about 20 different desserts: profiteroles, tiramisu, cream topped cakes, almond flans, trays of chocolate cakes and fruit filled pastries.

Where was I?

I’ve been away for a week to one of my absolute favourite countries. I’d like you to guess which city this is. It might surprise you. Some of you will think…. Venice, or……. Florence? You’d be right that it’s Italy.

We flew in and out of Pisa where these photos were taken. Avoiding the crowds at the famous Leaning Tower, we decided instead to wander the streets. Walking through the city we came to the river Arno and the roads either side of it (Lungarno). The buildings seem very like those in Florence, the umber and terracotta colours and architecture unchanged for hundreds of years.

sandflake:

I dearly wish that people would view their bodies as they view flowers…

Veins everywhere?

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gorgeous~

Skin patches? Birthmarks?

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hella rad~

Scars? Stretch marks?

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beautiful~

Freckles? Moles? Acne scars?

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heckie yeah~

Large? Curvy?

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lovely~

Small? Thin?

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charming~

Missing a few pieces?

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handsome as ever~

Feel like you just look weird?

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you’re fantastic looking~

(Reblogged from sandflake)

Tomorrow is Sunday so it’s not about food

I often devote these weekly posts to what goes on in our minds - thoughts about books, authors and writing. So just for today, it’s about our bodies. But of course the mind and the body are connected.

Coming up is something that has been reblogged many times. It’s a pictorial meditation on how we see ourselves - compelled by the media, or simply peer pressure, to reject anything that’s less than perfect.

See it tomorrow, Sunday

Sugar and spice chicken

The inspiration for this dish came from an old Waitrose Magazine. To make the chicken cook quicker you need to flatten the bird.This is done by removing the backbone, opening it out, and pressing down hard so the flesh is touching the baking pan. (If you want to know details, google ‘butterflied chicken’ which is similar to ‘spatchcock chicken’ both of which refer to birds with the bones removed.) A little tip: I line the tin with baking paper, as marinades containing sugar tend to make the juices stick to the pan.

First marinade the chicken in a mixture of:

3 tbsp olive oil, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 2 flat tsp smoked paprika, 2 tbsp sweet paprika, 2 tbsp light brown muscovado sugar and 50ml apple juice. Leave it for a few hours or all night in the fridge. Heat the oven to 190C/380F and roast the chicken for at least an hour till it is cooked through. To test if it is done, prick the leg parts and the juices should run clear. Rest the chicken for about ten minutes before serving.

It goes well with curried cole slaw, which I’ll tell you about in another post. Alternatively serve it with boiled new potatoes or large ones, baked.

Fruity chocolates

If you’re invited out to dinner and want to take a gift, it’s easy to pick up a good box of chocolates - Belgian are probably my first choice. But if you’re feeling really generous, you can make something yourself. So here is an idea that is not too time consuming and looks much more complicated than it is.

All you need is good quality dark chocolate (and milk chocolate for drizzling over the top) and some interesting dried fruits. I used cranberries, slices of mango and soft apricots, raisins and a few almonds.

I always melt chocolate in the microwave - no faffing around with bowls over a pan of steaming water. Just break up the chocolate and put in in a shallow bowl and cook it on high for a few minutes until it softens, then stir very well so there are no lumps. Now you’re ready.

Arrange some baking parchment in a shallow tin. Spoon in the melted chocolate and spread it out so it’s about 1/8” thick. Arrange the fruits on top, leaving a space to cut them into squares. Put the tin in the fridge and when it’s firm, cut the chocs into cubes or oblongs. Then melt some milk chocolate and drizzle this over the top. Keep them in the fridge or freezer till just before you serve them - they tend to melt quickly, specially if they are really thin.

Voilà. So easy. Really impressive, no?

Garlic

A BBC food website says that garlic (part of the lily or alium family) is one of the most indispensible ingredients around. That’s strange, because my mother, a truly excellent cook, managed to produce fabulous meals with hardly a clove of garlic in sight. This was probably because of her childhood. Growing up in a family with an older brother and sister, she had to put up with the food foibles of her older siblings. Her sister couldn’t stand onions so nothing her mother cooked contained onions. Fortunately my Mum rebelled against this and as she grew up, she used onions lavishly in soups, stews etc.

But the garlic? My grandmother was widowed and left Portugal (where they were living) when my mother was two years old. I expect it was hard to find garlic in 1920s England. Anyway, my mother had no memory of the southern affection for the little cloves that can be pungently sharp - she would never have tasted raw garlic in gazpacho or aioli. Later she might have encountered it on Italian holidays where the flavour of cooked garlic blends into a delicious savouryness, with the individual components hardly recognizable.

The English used to be wary of garlic - I’m talking about fifty years ago. Recipes then would have the instruction: 'rub the salad bowl with a clove of garlic before putting in the lettuce'. The idea of adding a crushed clove or two to a vinaigrette was then unthinkable. Luckily we have become far more adventurous, adopting the cuisines of India and Thailand as our favourites - and with that, using garlic has become the norm in British kitchens.

(The garlic in the picture was photographed in a market in Majorca - not by me but by a friend who happily lives there for part of the year.)

Home made crisps

You can open a packet of crisps (US translation ‘pack of chips’ !) or you can make your own. Why would you think of doing that? If you’re watching your weight, the home made, microwaved version are low-fat, or actually no fat. Potatoes sliced wafer thin with a gadget called a mandoline are cooked in the microwave for about 5 minutes and they end up looking like this….. and tasting, well, not quite right. Perhaps I didn’t dry the potatoes enough before cooking them. Or maybe it’s my oven (when in doubt always blame the equipment!) The makers of the mastrad TopChips maker promise - from their pictures - a bowl of perfect curly crisps, but they do warn that the cooking time might be affected by age - not mine, but apparently the age of the microwave.

Enough griping - it’s a fun activity to do with children, as you can prepare another tray as you are cooking the first. One potato makes enough slices to fill about six trays. There probably won’t be any left by the time you’ve cooked the last ones, as once they have cooled they are fun to eat.

Click on the photo if you want to know more. Some sets come with the slicer included.

What’s coming up
One of the pleasures of writing a blog is that I get sent books for review. Food books are best read when you are hungry and thinking of what to cook, so that rules out the many evenings when I collapse on the sofa after dinner. It also rules out mornings when I am busy writing, and afternoons when I walk or make idle attempts at catching up on other things in life.
To whet your appetite, here is a list of the books I will be reviewing in the coming weeks:
The Debt to Pleasure - prize winning novel by John Lanchester A commentary on art, appetite, jealousy and failure.“dazzling clever and delicious” New York Times.
EAT - the little book of fast food by Nigel Slater “straightforward delicious cooking. For the times we just want to eat”
Nina - St. Tropez - recipes from the South of France by Nina Parker
The Gefiltefest Cookbook - recipes from the world’s best loved Jewish cooks
Gaia’s Feasts - new vegetarian recipes for family and community by Julia Ponsonby
Man made meals by Steven Raichlen - the essential cookbook for guys

What’s coming up

One of the pleasures of writing a blog is that I get sent books for review. Food books are best read when you are hungry and thinking of what to cook, so that rules out the many evenings when I collapse on the sofa after dinner. It also rules out mornings when I am busy writing, and afternoons when I walk or make idle attempts at catching up on other things in life.

To whet your appetite, here is a list of the books I will be reviewing in the coming weeks:

The Debt to Pleasure - prize winning novel by John Lanchester A commentary on art, appetite, jealousy and failure.“dazzling clever and delicious” New York Times.

EAT - the little book of fast food by Nigel Slater “straightforward delicious cooking. For the times we just want to eat”

Nina - St. Tropez - recipes from the South of France by Nina Parker

The Gefiltefest Cookbook - recipes from the world’s best loved Jewish cooks

Gaia’s Feasts - new vegetarian recipes for family and community by Julia Ponsonby

Man made meals by Steven Raichlen - the essential cookbook for guys

(Reblogged from paperbackgirl)

What you carry with you

The pictures are reblogged (I’m sorry I’ve mislaid the source) but I was intrigued that it’s not only designer bags that say something about the owner.

Here are a few thoughts about what you carry with you:

If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.” Tom Stoppard

Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.” Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn