Tuesday, 24 August 2021


Hello! I hope you are well and enjoying the holidays. I'd say enjoying the weather, but if you're in the UK then you'll know that this August's weather has been typically unreliable - more grey days than sunny ones, and certainly not warm enough for beach days or sea swimming, But, we have been out and about and making the most of our local area. 

A few highlights from the second and third weeks of the school holidays:

Watching the hedgerows inch towards early autumn.The blackberries are later this year than last but they are coming.

Walking through our local countryside with family.

A sunny, happy afternoon on Southsea Pier with my sisters and their children. 

Give the kids some silly rides, a few goes on the 2p machines and some churros and they are very happy indeed. As am I.

A glorious weekend  staying with friends in East Sussex. We sat in their garden, chatted, drank tea, ate barbecue and drank Pimms. We also watched Banger Racing - a first for me - and generally laughed a lot and felt that it was good to get away, if only for a weekend, especially when the sun shone. 

There was a beautifully sunny walk around Bosham with the dog, children, my sister and cups of tea as we went.

For me, school holidays mean time to do all the things I never have a moment to do during term time, so I dragged all my houseplants outside and re-potted and split them. The pizza bench made a good potting table.

This is the result - lots of new plants for my classroom in September.

We had a lovely day out to Hinton Ampner last week. It was a grey day but the flowers provided lots of colour and everyone had a really nice time.

I love nothing more than a wander around a National Trust place, especially the smaller ones, and this was lovely. The kids all really enjoyed exploring the house and gardens. It was very relaxed.

Even on the greyest day with the flattest light, the dahlias were stunning. 

So much garden inspiration. Along with the agapanthus and white hydrangeas, I know what I would like in our garden.

There have been quiet home days too. I managed to injure my back a week ago and, while it is slowly improving, I am not very patient. I am an impatient patient. The combination of pain and frustration makes me grumpy and there is so much I want to do this holiday that does not include a bad back. The bathroom is currently covered in splodges of pink paint from tester pots but there is no way I can paint it in my current state....oh well, first world problems. We are all fine really. The kids have been absolutely brilliant, picking things up for me, helping me get dressed (socks are an issue) doing chores and errands and generally just being helpful. And my parents have been wonderful as always, helping with jobs and walking the dog. 

I have one more week of the holidays left. I have two more days out planned, two coffee dates with friends and one haircut and colour, plus lots of cooking. I am cramming it in (as much as the back will allow.....).


Thank you for your pot roast tips and suggestions! I think that, next time, I will add the vegetables later and reduce the amount of liquid. My friend suggested leaving out the potatoes and cooking them separately. That way, if the onions, carrots etc got to mush then it's no problem.

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Cookery Book: Magnolia Table, Volume 2

It's been just over a year since my last Cookery Calendar Challenge post, but I still love my cookery books as much as ever and use them constantly. One of my favourite things to do is sit down with a coffee, pen and paper, and write a shopping list of ingredients for things I want to cook. I do this as often as time allows. Over the last year I have acquired a few new cookery books, mostly for Christmas or birthday, and last Christmas John gave me Magnolia Table: Volume 2, knowing how much I liked and use the first volume. In fact, it was my last post about a cookery book. 

The second volume follows a similar format: recipes are divided into breakfast, soups and salads, dinner, sides and desserts, and there is a "scratch made" chapter too with recipes for staples like bread, pasta etc. As before, all recipes are in US terms, so it's cups for the ingredients and Fahrenheit for the cooking temperatures, but there is a conversion chart at the back of the book so it's pretty easy to translate into my preference for using scales and grams. Sometimes I am not sure what an ingredient is, but the internet is, as always, a great resource for explaining and finding alternatives. I like that the ingredients (and some cooking terms too) are different, it's more fun. I like that the breakfast chapter is full of meals I would eat at lunch or even dinner time (like quiche), it's interesting. I found the dinner recipes to be quite meat-focused, but many of the sides, lunches and even brunch dishes you could absolutely eat as an evening meal, and we have. 

Most of my experiments from this book have been of the dinner variety as, despite my love of cooking, that is so often the meal I need a bit of a nudge with. Bella chose our first: Orecciette Pancetta, although we had rigatoni in the cupboard so used that. It is simply a variation on the classic pancetta and pea in a creamy sauce with pasta, one of Bella's favourite meals in fact, although the addition of lemon to the sauce was delicious. 


This was an easy, clean bowls all round, family dinner.

Next we tried Chicken Street Tacos: shredded chicken with a sweetcorn salsa, pickled red onions and soft corn tacos. 

It was light and fresh tasting, with the right amount of flavour without being too overpowering. Leftovers made for good lunch the following day. 

By far my favourite element though was the picked red onion, which are finely sliced then left to rest in a brine of water, vinegar, sugar and salt for an hour or two. They lose their eye-watering fieriness and become sweet and crunchy and also turn the most vibrant pink. I have made this a lot this summer to serve with barbecues and other dishes.

We tried Cacio a Pepe, which is spaghetti in a cheese and pepper sauce. I am not really sure why the chicken was added to the recipe - we all agreed that is would have been better shredded and mixed in, or left out - and felt it was ok. The brocolli was me despairing at the lack of green on the plate. 

Our next dish, Seafood Gumbo, was a resounding success and one I have made many times since I first cooked this recipe back whenever it was. Before the clocks went forward I think, as it was still dark in the evening. 

I believe that Gumbo is a southern American stew or soup, thickened with flour and usually using peppers, onions and celery as well as okra, along with meat or seafood. This recipe called for Creole seasoning which I could not find, but the Cajun spice mix I bought in Waitrose looked pretty similar.  I followed the recipe to the letter apart from the okra, which is not easily available here, and substituted the andouille sausage for chorizo, It is a kind of delicious, spicy prawn and chorizo stew with lots of vegetables, and we eat it with rice. A family favourite.

Philly Cheesesteaks were another hit, a proof that my family will happily eat any kind of protein and carb combination, especially when it's topped with cheese and served with curly fries. The leftover steak and peppers were good the next day in a salad, too.

Less successful was Sunday Pot Roast. I wanted to love this, as it seemed like a cosy cross between a roast dinner and a slow cooker stew, and I love meals that cook slowly during the day.

Once you've seared the meat, you add the vegetables and stock and leave it to cook slowly until the vegetables are cooked and meat falls apart. Mine seemed to be a mushy mess, and not especially flavoursome either, leaving me wishing I'd just done either a roast or a stew. 

Having said all that, I would like to try it again, because the words "pot roast" give me all the autumn feels, and I think that, if cracked, it could be an easy and successful dinner.

From the Desserts chapter we tried Crew's Cookies, which are just what I know as Sugar Cookies, with a creamy icing. Very sweet, very nice, but the icing never really set into a hardened glaze which meant they all stuck together in the tin, although that didn't stop anyone eating them.

I made oatmeal cream pies, which are like two oatmeal and raisin cookies (but without the raisin) sandwiched together with buttercream frosting. Apparently they are a popular shop bought biscuit (cookie) in the US and I can see why.

They keep really well. I like the fact that they are a little soft to begin with, rather than crunchy, and loved the cinnamon flavour.

Last Sunday we ate peach cobbler for dessert and John and I both loved it, even though it was a bit overdone. Not blessed with good (or cheap) fresh peaches in the UK, I used half tinned peaches and half fresh nectarines which worked well. You melt butter in the oven, the pour into that the batter of sugar, flour and milk, then dollop the peaches on top. It looks horrendous but, in the oven, all the batter rises around the fruit and it emerges golden with juices bubbling. We ate it with vanilla ice cream.

It's a really good book with versatile recipes, and I could happily cook from it a lot, and I do. This autumn I am looking forward to trying Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bread (which I think is more of a cake, like banana bread) Cinnamon Swirl Bread and French Lentil Soup among other things, and I will crack that pot roast...