Saturday, 30 July 2016

The first week of the holidays

So far, so good, I would say. No dramas, no big days out, just gentle pottering around the house one day alternated with short trips to places nearby the next. We've seen friends and family, visited parks, had some nice walks, eaten a cream tea. My diary and days are full.

The cream tea was enjoyed with my sister and her girls at a local farm which is opposite my maternal grandparents' old house. It was a place we used to visit with them every time we stayed when we were little; we used to take apples and carrots for the horses and would be allowed to look around the farm - even watching the birth of a calf once. We looked at their old house as we walked down the lane, talked about them. Happy, happy memories, made sweeter by time and nostalgia, and a growing realisation as I get older of how precious childhood it, and how lucky I am to have had the childhood that I did. Anyway, it's still a working farm and now has it's own tea shop and line of homemade ice cream. The milk in the jug had an actual film of cream on the top. It was all delicious. 

Bella and Angus are settling down into the longer, freer days of the school holidays and are getting better at amusing themselves. And when they're not, and I really need to get on with something, there is the iPad or tv. It's all fine. It's all about balance.

Last Sunday we had a lovely walk around Bosham, a favourite place of mine, and a picnic lunch.

I remember it as sunnier than these pictures suggest, but even on overcast days, when the tide is out and the mud flats exposed, it has so much charm. I love this place, all these villages around Chichester harbour, with their flint buildings and old cottages.

Plus the houses and gardens are so pretty here, especially right now.

Our own hollyhocks are looking sensational, I have to say.

They are about 7 feet tall and I've had to tie them to canes to stop them leaning, but they look wonderful in their position at the back of a deep border, against the fence. I wish I had more.

The other main activity in our garden right now is this. The net has been angled so that stray balls - and there are many - hit the walls and windows at the back of the house, not the hollyhocks (can you imagine?!). My windows are covered in the marks left by a muddy football, but watching Angus play from the kitchen window makes me very happy indeed. 

Our home days have been spent doing housework, cooking and completing little jobs here and there. I found some felt balls I used to have strung up in our old house in Leeds, and re-threaded them to hang on the mantel. I like the colour they bring to the room. 

The dining room end of the kitchen/diner is now finished and I've had fun arranging books, pictures and hanging planters. I will show it all to you soon. 

I made pesto yesterday. I bought three basil plants from Aldi about a month ago and left them in pots on the kitchen windowsill, watering them every couple of days.

They went crazy and grew like mad, resulting in a lot of fresh pesto. We had some last night with tagliatelle and it was delicious. Plus, that green! 

The weather has turned cooler and overcast over the last few days. I hope that's not summer over with. I was just starting to get used to the warm days. We have house guests arriving today for a couple of nights, and when they go, more come. I will just have time to change the sheets on the spare bed! Then the kids and I will go to London to a few days to stay with my friend Abigail. It's all go, but in a nice way.

I hope you are all well and enjoying the holidays. Thank you so much for your comments, they do mean a great deal to me. I am looking forward to some quiet time at home again soon to catch up with all your summer goings-on. 

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

In My Kitchen

It's been so good to have some unhurried time in the kitchen over these last few days. It's not something I get during term time and I am really appreciating all the time there is to linger over breakfast, to make myself a really nice lunch (I miss this so much when I am working), to cook something for tea which takes a little longer or a little more planning, to bake cakes and cookies. I'm enjoying hanging out in my kitchen.

The fruit bushes in the garden have been yielding so much fruit, it's just wonderful. I have done nothing to these bushes, not even watered them, yet I have been picking handfuls of the berries every few days over the last three weeks, adding them to the bags in the freezer which contain around 400 grams of redcurrants and 700 grams of blackcurrants. The redcurrants are over now but I still have blackcurrants ready to ripen. 

In my haste to beat the birds to the crop, I think I've picked some slightly underripe blackcurrants there, but I don't think that matters much, they'll just be a little sharper, but since I will sweeten them slightly anyway I am not bothered.

I recently tried these meringues, which call for a quick blackcurrant compote to be made which is then swirled through the meringue mixture before baking. 

I like compote - less faff than jam, but still delicious. I think I will make it more. These meringues were good (and so pretty!) and you could taste the currants through the egg white mixture. We ate them with whipped cream and some of the compote poured over the top.

There was a lot of the blackcurrant compote left over and it was delicious drizzled over porridge for breakfast.

My other breakfast obsession is nutella on toast topped with sliced strawberries. Don't mock it till you've tried it. You need a substantial bread, something like sourdough, that doesn't go soggy under the weight of all that topping. 

Greek yogurt with cherries, toasted almonds and a drizzle of honey, thrown together after lunch one day and it all worked really well. Cherries with almonds, you can't go wrong. 

I have rediscovered a love of oatmeal and raisin cookies lately and have been baking them regularly. These are probably my favourite kind and I would choose them over chocolate chip any day. 

The recipe is from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and if you look online you will find many published versions of this recipe. (Incidentally, this is a really good baking book, one of my most used, and I've never had a recipe fail from this one.)

Victoria sandwich cake. This always seems like a summer cake to me, and I've baked two this week already. 

It's not all breakfasts, puddings and cakes, we are eating actual proper food here as well. John made a rather good kedgeree a few days ago. 

Recipe from here.

I feel like I should be having a panic about going on holiday and squeezing into my swimsuit in a couple of weeks, but I don't really care. I'll just carry on enjoying what I cook and eat, and have a nice time on holiday. That sounds like a good plan. 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Fresh Mint Choc Chip Ice Cream

The holidays have started. I officially finished work on Wednesday but went back in on Friday to finish some things off, so it's taken a few days to for it to sink in. I spent yesterday thinking "the holidays have begun, yay!" one minute and then " the holidays have started, oh my goodness, six long weeks, send help" the next, depending on the children's behaviour and my mood. Angus especially has forgotten how to entertain himself and flops from house to garden, never really settling on anything for long. It won't last and we all just need to get used to each other, get used to being in the house together during the day. Today was lovely. We've been out and about, baked, pottered. I've got so much to show you and share with you, but today it's ice cream (which we've eaten rather a lot of this last week in the hot weather.)

I should start by saying that I don't actually like mint choc chip ice cream, so why I've devoted a whole blog post to it is anyone's guess. It tastes so synthetic, like sweet toothpaste, and the chocolate is so squeaky, not to mention the weird blue-green colour which puts me off. Everyone else in my house disagrees and they love it and always choose it over any other flavour. So when John decided to try this recipe for mint choc chip ice cream from the Waitrose magazine last weekend, I was a bit indifferent. 

It's made with fresh mint, rather than peppermint extract, and I have to confess that I became marginally more interested when I smelled John chopping the mint. Fresh mint smells like Pimms, mojitos, buttered Jersey Royal potatoes and summer, and has one of the most delicious and evocative scents of all the herbs. I tasted the minty custardy mixture and started to reassess my feelings about green ice cream. 

This recipe is a faff. You make a custard, cool it (2 hours), churn it in an ice cream maker, freeze it (four hours), churn it again, melt the dark chocolate, and then layer it over the ice cream in a tub, freeze again (4 hours). This becomes a two day affair if you're not very organised, start it in the afternoon and haven't frozen the bowl for the ice cream maker properly before starting, like us.

But oh my goodness it is glorious. The freshness of the mint is almost grassy, and goes strangely well with the sweet vanilla custard base, and the dark chocolate is of course perfect with both. I think I am converted, but also ruined, because now I'll definitely never like shop-bought mint choc chip ice cream, not now I've tasted the good stuff.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Hot Day

Yesterday was dramatically hot, or hot for the UK anyway. As I sweltered all day at work I became more and more obsessed with going to the beach, with dipping my hot tired feet in the cold water. It was all I could think about. I texted John at work in the afternoon. Did he fancy going to the beach? He did, and a hurried plan was formed involving picnics and my nieces, who I'd previously arranged to have after school yesterday. We set off late and the traffic was awful, as predicted. There is only one road to this beach and everyone has to use it. By the time we arrived at the beach hut it was after 6 but we still had a couple of hours, bedtimes being later and relaxed since today is the last day of term. The children ate their picnic and went off to play. Angus and I went down to the water and paddled. I had wanted to swim but there was such a breeze on the shore that it really didn't feel so warm once I was down there (only in the UK could it be 34°C but feel too cool to swim!), so I contented myself with standing with my feet in the sea for about a hour. It was bliss. Angus and my niece, Jennifer, "surfed" in the shallows. The tide was coming in, covering the sand and reaching the pebbles. It was time to go home, back to our hot house, to shower the kids and make ourselves some dinner. John cooked some rigatoni with a really fresh tomato and basil sauce and we had a beer. Then I fell asleep on the sofa. It must've been the sea air. I asked myself if it was worth it, all the rushing and traffic for a couple of hours on the beach. Yes, without a doubt.