Archive for November, 2010

Broccoli Mini-Muffins

November 30, 2010

So dinner time comes around and I recall that I have around 100g of cooked broccoli in the pan, left over from lunch time.I turn to the lovefoodhatewaste site and search for a recipe. I am in luck: broccoli mini-muffins:
This is a simple recipe. I mash the broccoli, add some self-raising flour, seasoning, a little grated Cheddar cheese, an egg, a little oil and some English mustard powder. I stir the ingredients into a gunge and then spoon it into a backing tray that I use for small Yorkshire puddings. I slide this into my pre-heated oven for 25 minutes.

Broccoli mini-muffins with fried chicken and onion gravy

Meanwhile, I cut a plump chicken breast into chunks, chop an onion, and get everything frying in a lightly oiled pan. Once the chicken is browned I add some water together with about half a veggy stock cube. Then I simmer until it is time to thicken with a shake of  flour. Out come the mini-muffins and onto the plate with the fried chicken and source. This time I do watch the news. I look out the window to check the accuracy of the weather report. Yes, they have got it right: the snow is falling. More is to come; the temperature is set to plummet overnight. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Broccoli and poached egg on toast for lunch

November 30, 2010

I drift down from my music studio and mooch about the kitchen. I see a big clump of broccoli, beckoning to be cooked. It is no longer vibrantly verdant; another couple of days and it will be rattling down to the city refuse tip with the bin men. I take pity on it, boil some water, chop it into fragments and hoy it in the pan. I cut a couple of slices of wholemeal bread and bang them in the toaster. More boiling water is sloshed hastily into a small pan; I crack in an egg and wait for whiteness to appear, as if by magic. I plate up, putting the broccoli upon one slice of toast and the poached egg on the other.

I take my tray to the sitting room and switch on BBC News24. I have never eaten broccoli on toast before and I have to admit that I am not optimistic. I put fork and knife to work: in goes the first mouthful… very nice. It is simple but the texture of the cooked broccoli goes very well with the crunchy toasted bread. The poached egg proves to be a pleasant complement to the veg, too.

The colours of lunch

I think the colours are wonderful. The primary yellow (which in the eating comes through with a hint of red to yield a more orange yoke than is suggested in my photograph) is showcased in the white of the egg. The secondary green colour of the broccoli has a lot of yellow in it, too, although there are some parts that could qualify as Winsor Green. The toast ranges from Burnt Umber to Raw Sienna. The napkin sports lovely circles of a light Cerulean Blue; in theory this blue could be one of Broccoli’s parents. I was so absorbed in tasting and looking at my lunch that I paid scant attention to the news. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Getting hooked by Twitter

November 30, 2010

I have started to ease into Twitter. Writing a tweet presents an interesting challenge: to express oneself in 140 characters. A blog entry to a tweet is rather like a large can of tomatoes to a tube of concentrate. Whereas a diuretic mugful of Americano might be appropriate for penning the blog, only the petite strength of the esspresso can beef up the mixed metaphors embedded in one’s tweet.

The weather has not deteriorated to the extent that our TV forecasters led us to believe. Still, my car remains snowed in and I have no intention of going out today. I contemplate a light lunch, followed by a spot of Jane Austen on the Kindle. I have already completed the more routine aspects of my piano practice; later I might play around with some arrangements and noodle on the guitar. My next show in Second Life is tomorrow, Wednesday at midday PST, at my Terra Fyrmusica venue. Speak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Soup, snow, and vol-au-vent

November 28, 2010

Yesterday, I finished the pumpkin by making a soup for lunch. I put plenty of garlic in and fried a chopped apple with the onion, before boiling up the pumpkin in the stock. I pureed prior to finishing the soup. I have to say, it was a very pleasant soup, although it could have done with a little more apple in the mixture, IMHO.

Pumpkin and apple soup

At last the snow has stopped, but the forecast is that the bad weather will last another couple of weeks. After dark, I took a pic of the picnic table on my patio in order to provide you with an idea of the extent of the snow fall.

Snow on the patio table

Today, I used up some puff pastry we had left over; I made a square shaped vol-au-vent and filled it with stir fried mushrooms and vegetables (including some bean sprouts). I used some toasted sesame oil in the wok and that seemed to impart a very nice flavour to it.

Vol-au-vent with mushroom stir-fry

Time is slipping by and I must get in some piano practice. Talk to you later, my dear blogophiles.

A White Thanksgiving

November 27, 2010

I seem to have been too busy to blog this past week, although I have started to tweet. You can get to my Twitter pages by clicking on the link on my Lewis Music homepage. By the way, I have now posted 100 blogs here.

Thanksgiving came and went, marked on this occasion by a very tasty piece of home-made pumpkin pie. This was cooked not by me, but by She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Mentioned. There was some pumpkin left over and I shall make a very simple soup for lunch today, in order not to waste it.

Home-made pumpkin pie

We are having what for us English folk amounts to a lot of snow. I realise that our snow fall would appear to be miniscule to Canadians and others who spend half the year living in a two metre snow drift, but generally speaking the Brits tend to be poorly prepared for it. Last year it went on and on for far too long. My car is absolutely pathetic in this weather and it is just not worth using it. My friend Patrick has one of the old Landrovers; it is built like a tank and will go more or less anywhere.

Street morphs to a christmas card

Before the snow descended, I did manage to get across to Newcastle earlier in the week. I went to change my library books at the Lit & Phil. I’ve just finished J.I.M. Stewart’s third novel in the quintet A Staircase in Surrey (this one was A Memorial Service). I have not got into any of the other novels I borrowed. While I was in the city, I got a coffee at Costa  and was impressed by the view out of the window I was sitting by. There are some very fine buildings in Newcastle.

View out of Costa Coffee in Newcastle

Apart from the printed page, I have been reading Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle electronic reader. Last weekend I showed it to a friend who came over for Sunday lunch and she said she needed to feel a paper book. I don’t have any trouble with that side of reading on a Kindle; it now feels perfectly natural. It is a much more pleasant experience than reading from a backlit computer screen, for example.

I continue to play my internet shows, although one of my regular weekly gigs has finished, which is a bit of a nuisance. I am trying to find another venue to replace that slot. Progress on the piano continues at a snail’s pace but I keep tinkling the ivories on a daily basis. I changed my guitar strings yesterday and so must get them played in today before my show tomorrow. I think that is about all I have to say, for now. Talk to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Straying into Brobdingnag

November 10, 2010

I am seated in the back of my friend Terry’s car, travelling towards Newcastle on the motorway. I glance out of the window and am convinced that he has taken a wrong turning and that we have strayed into the outer reaches of the Brobdingnagian empire.


The Brobdingnagian lorry


In order to take my mind off the panic that seems to be developing in the pit of my stomach, I think about how I might go about playing the Brobdingnagian steel strung acoustic guitar when I arrive at our destination. If I could find a bow of suitable size, perhaps I could play it as if it were a fretted double bass. Just as I am getting comfortable with this, another thought strikes me. What about the Brobdingnagian voice range? When I started this journey I was a bass; when I get out of the car, will I have become a soprano, in relative terms? Damn! I really should have slipped the little black dress into my gig bag. Squeak to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Bath towelling

November 9, 2010

The English bathroom, apart from being the center of ablution for the members of a household, provides the opportunity to give off clues as to regional pronunciation and class origin. Cath, a Yorkshire lass, might choose bath as a neat rhyme for one of her autobiographical limerics:
There once was a girl called Cath
Who lathered herself in the bath… etc.

Garth, an officer in the British army, might muse:
There once was a major called Garth
Who found a grenade in his bath… etc

One of Garth’s corporals, noted for his habit of larking around whenever the occasion arose, might say:
The corp’ral fell in the barf
‘E did it just for a larf.. etc.

Major Garth dries himself with a tahl, on which there is a picture of the Taj Mahal. His corporal, while looking for his a towel, finds instead a garden trowel.

Be that as it may, what is the best way to get dry? Do you rub the towel across the surface of your skin briskly in a Chubby-Checkeresque attempt to twist the night away? Do you merely wrap and gently press the soft fluffy material to your skin until the surplus water robs the towel of its spring? I think that vigourous towelling must have  arisen sometime in the early part of the 20th century when baths began to be plumbed into separate rooms dedicated to the function of bodily cleansing. In the days when a tub was filled with hot water in the kitchen close to the log fire or boiler, the experience must have been altogether more cosy. Fixed baths would typically be located in a room, often upstairs,  some distance from the nearest coal fire, and this at a time when central heating was as rare as an honest politician.

I used to swim in the cold North sea when I was a boy; the shock to the system on submersion was severe. A good survival strategy was to swim very fast and energetically for the first few minutes in order to warm yourself up. I think rapid towel movement serves a similar function.

Cooking Sunday lunch

November 7, 2010

Today it is my turn to cook our Sunday lunch. Yesterday I chose a few of Gail Duff’s recipes from a book on seasonal cooking that was first published in 1976. It has become one of my favourites. I also did my shopping then, so I am able to make an early start this morning; I sling a quartered onion, a carot and a bit of celery into a pint and a half (don’t you just love old money) of water, along with a bay leaf and a sprig of rosemary from my herb garden. This simmers while I fry off and sweat some chopped carrot and onion in my big saucepan. Quick cup of coffee, then I strain and pour my vegetable stock onto the sweated carrots, bring it to the boil and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.


Soup ingredients


Meanwhile I lug my big Le Creusset pot onto the top of the stove. I get hold of the chicken and rub a mix of powdered nutmeg and cinnamon over the breast and thigh skin. I chop some small leeks and a few sticks of celery into one inch bits and stuff them around the bird which now resides in the pot. I pour in enough water to cover the thighs, bung a bit of parsley in and bring it to the boil. Then I turn down the gas and put the lid on. It can simmer away for an hour.


Chicken ready to cook


Next I prick a baking potato and put it in the oven. This is mildly inconvenient because the oven door doesn’t close very tightly, so we have to lean our steel waste bin up against it to keep it closed. I have a few other things to be getting on with: I squeeze a couple of oranges; I chop some parsley; I pick a sprig of fuschia that is flowering in the garden and put it on the table in a wine glass. I turn off the soup to cool a little and then put it through the blender. At this point I add in the orange juice together with a little zest, and check the seasoning. It will be finished later with a little double cream.


Rubbish bin used to keep door closed


When the chicken is done, I turn off the heat and leave it to cool in the stock liquid. Meanwhile, the baked potato is ready and I take that out, halve it, scoop out the skin and mash the flesh with some butter and the chopped parsley. That gets spooned back into the potato skins. I then peel a cooking apple and cut some thin slices to place them like the sails of an ancient barge across the boat and return to the oven for more cooking. When the chicken has cooled down, I drain it and carve off all the meat, cutting it into cubes where possible. I also reserve the leek and celery from the pan and sieve about a pint of the liquid for my sauce; I shall make that after we have eaten our soup. I also remember to grate about a couple of ounces of Cheddar cheese.


Fuschia from the garden


So, time is getting on. I add some cream to the carrot and orange soup and heat it through. Before I plate up, I slip in a couple of drops of Tabasco sauce just to give it a tiny lift, and then I bring it to table. This soup tastes divine. I have some croutons to go with it, although I would have preferred fresh bread rolls.


Cream of carrot and orange soup


Back in the kitchen, having eaten the soup, I cook a roux in my large saucepan and then make a sauce with the liquid, from the chicken pot, that I have previously reserved. Once I have reduced the sauce a little, I remove it from the flame and beat in the grated cheese. Finally, I add the chicken meat and the vegetables, making sure that everything becomes well-coated in the sauce. I plate up the main course with the apple and parsley baked potatoes from the oven, and take it to table. I have to say that this meal has been a huge success.


Main course


I am the sort of cook who washes up and tidies up as I go, whenever possible. The consequence of this was that within about 30 minutes of finishing the meal, I had my kitchen in pretty good order (and that is without the use of a dishwasher). A meal like this needs to be planned in advance. I can improvise in the kitchen and sometimes do that with good results, but today’s meal was not that kind of cooking for me. The question arises as to whether it is worth the effort. I think the answer to this is fairly straightforward. Firstly, if you can’t be bothered to do this sort of thing, then just go get a burger or have a pizza delivered; there is no moral imperative to cook well. Secondly, if you like the idea of doing something like this, then break things down into manageable chunks and enjoy each phase. I find looking through recipe books and planning a meal to be good fun. So that amounts to a pleasant hour in the evening, earlier in the week. Because I planned the meal in advance, I was able to make a shopping list with ease and sort that out the day before. I find shopping for a special meal is more interesting than ordinary domestic household supermarket shopping, so there again that is not too bad. I like to make an early start, and if necessary I will complete some things the day before. You won’t enjoy it if you become stressed. You will become stressed if you do not manage your time properly. I like a few quiet breaks as things progress. Ideally, I will go have a cup of coffee and read my current whodunnit or page-turner for 20 minutes. Once again, it breaks down what can seem a huge task into something more manageable.

It is often the case that the closing stages are sometimes fraught, but there has to be a little excitement in it too. I have to say that I rather like the Keith Floyd approach wherebye it becomes absolutely necessary to pop a thimbleful of white or red wine into the stock pot to give it that authentic je ne sais quoi and then, well, once the bottle is open it seems a shame not to have a glass whilst stirring the pot and chopping the carrots. Anyway, I think it is time for an afternoon nap. Talk to you later, my dear blogophiles.

Family, friends, and Lord Byron

November 4, 2010

My nonagenarian aunt who lives in Australia recently had a fall; she is thus languishing in hospital while physiotherapists attempt to work wonders on her temporarily malfunctioning shoulder. My brother had learned of this from our cousin, my aunt’s daughter, and suggested that I might like to drop her a line. This I did. My letter was well-received since I believe it helped to ameliorate the tedium of enforced idleness that inevitably results from an extended period of hospital quietude.

My aunt left England for Australia at the end of WW2 and I have seen her only a handful of times since then. Yet writing to her now, some 60 years later, seemed an entirely natural thing for me to do. I have puzzled over why that might be the case and I have come to the conclusion that it is because my mother spoke with such fondness, warmth and love for her while I was growing up. I was fortunate to have an excellent mother and I certainly paid close attention to what she told me.

Friendships, if not properly maintained, tend to atrophy over time and may be examined, almost from an empirical standpoint, to see whether or not they may still qualify as such. Do the parties meet or correspond frequently? Do they seem to enjoy themselves on these occasions? Do, indeed, they regard themselves as friends? Were Sherlock Holmes to examine the facts and find the evidence lacking in this regard, he might be scathing in his dismissal of any hypothesis of friendship put forward by the very wonderful Dr Watson.

Blood relations are an altogether different kettle of fish. I am biologically related to my aunt because she is the biological sister of my mother and we therefore have genetic material in common coming to us from her mother who is, of course, my grandmother and that is true even though my grandmother and my mother are both now dead. So this woman in Australia is my aunt whether she likes it or not; she cannot stop being my aunt merely because we have seldom been in the same room together.

One sometimes hears of horrible family feuds between brothers, for example, that go on for years and years. I think the reason for this is the fact that neither party can escape the relationship since they are brothers by definition and not by the facts of their behaviour or affective inclination. Of course, an angry father might say to his errant offspring “You are no son of mine. Be gone” (or, more colloquially, “Fuck off”), but that is mere wish-fulfilment. Where a serious family relationship has been defined culturally there is usually a way out, even though the exodus may involve lots of talk, money, and heartache; divorce is the classic example.

So it is that, two cups of coffee later, I have accounted for why I wrote to my Australian aunt with such pleasure. Some of you, my dear blogophiles, may feel that I have been rambling a tad too much but, then, you would not be reading this if you were not partial to the occasional guided tour around the sunken canyons of my ageing and fragmented mental space.

When my cousin emailed to thank me for the letter I sent to her mother, my aunt, she mentioned that her son was about to be married at Byron Bay. I have never met her son and I feel that it is at this point that the blood link does become a bit thin. For it to have any meaning, it is perhaps necessary for the sorts of frequent meetings that support active friendships in order for it to be felt  to be ongoing. Although I know nothing of my cousin’s son, the location of his wedding did catch my eye.


The lighthouse at Byron Bay, Australia


Only a 10 minute drive from where I am typing this blog there is a lane, now surfaced with tarmac, called Lord Byron’s Walk. I turn to Wikepedia and find that Byron Bay was a place where Captain Cook found a safe anchorage. He named the bay after John Byron who had previously circumnavigated the world, and who was grandfather of the English poet Lord Byron. Lord Byron’s Walk winds through some picturesque woods atop the cliff by Seaham harbour, and from there he would have been able to gaze out onto the cold North sea. I do wonder if it was this that inspired the verse in Canto IV:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

I think that is enough for the time being, my dear blogophiles. Talk to you later.