Friday, 28 February 2014

More about Wales



Welsh cakes

Mixing the dough

March brings breezes loud and shrill
Stirs the dancing daffodil.

Tomorrow is the first of March. Happy birthday to everyone born on 29 th February.
It is also St David's day. A friend of mine reminded me this morning. We used to celebrate at school in England. St David is the Patron Saint of Wales.
 
When I think of Wales all sorts of wonderful things come to mind. The beautiful Pembrokeshire coastline, islands populated by puffins, my nephew who described his weekends in Wales going up Snowdon, having a beer, and coming down again, in such a delightful, appealing way I'd like to do it too.
 
When I read "How green is my valley" as a young girl, I became Welsh in my head,I lived and breathed that book. I keep a bottle of brandy just to slosh in a minestrone on a cold night to relive the warm family atmosphere that the author created.
 
Of course there is also singing and Rugby, Gavin and Stacey, The Brecon Beacons, Llandudno - my first ever seaside holiday.
 
My friend Linda's mum was Welsh and she used to make us delicious Welsh cakes, a sort of cross between a scone and a pancake.
This afternoon I tried to make them in honour of Wales and St David.

Welsh cakes

225 g flour
Half a teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
75g. Butter
75g sugar
50g sultanas
Tsp mixed spice- optional
1 egg
Milk to bind

Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sultanas, sugar and mixed spice if using.
Mix in the egg and enough milk to bind.
Turn out onto a floured board and roll out to a thickness of 1-2 cms. Cut intoabout 10 rounds using a glass or pastry cutter.
Cook on a hot griddle or frying pan for about 5 minutes each side, being careful not to let them get too brown.
I haven't got a griddle so ended up putting them in the oven !!


A cup of tea to drink while baking


Welsh cakes for St.David's day



Welsh cakes

Mixing the dough

March brings breezes loud and shrill
Stirs the dancing daffodil.

Tomorrow is the first of March. Happy birthday to everyone born on 29 th February.
It is also St David's day. A friend of mine reminded me this morning. We used to celebrate at school in England. St David is the Patron Saint of Wales.
 
When I think of Wales all sorts of wonderful things come to mind. The beautiful Pembrokeshire coastline, islands populated by puffins, my nephew who described his weekends in Wales going up Snowdon, having a beer, and coming down again, in such a delightful, appealing way I'd like to do it too.
 
When I read "How green is my valley" as a young girl, I became Welsh in my head,I lived and breathed that book. I keep a bottle of brandy just to slosh in a minestrone on a cold night to relive the warm family atmosphere that the author created.
 
Of course there is also singing and Rugby, Gavin and Stacey, The Brecon Beacons, Llandudno - my first ever seaside holiday.
 
My friend Linda's mum was Welsh and she used to make us delicious Welsh cakes, a sort of cross between a scone and a pancake.
This afternoon I tried to make them in honour of Wales and St David.

Welsh cakes

225 g flour
Half a teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
75g. Butter
75g sugar
50g sultanas
Tsp mixed spice- optional
1 egg
Milk to bind

Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sultanas, sugar and mixed spice if using.
Mix in the egg and enough milk to bind.
Turn out onto a floured board and roll out to a thickness of 1-2 cms. Cut intoabout 10 rounds using a glass or pastry cutter.
Cook on a hot griddle or frying pan for about 5 minutes each side, being careful not to let them get too brown.
I haven't got a griddle so ended up putting them in the oven !!


A cup of tea to drink while baking


Angie s coffee break

The South of France
As I have mentioned in other posts my blog is just meant to be long enough for a quick cup of coffee or tea and a chance to sit down for a few minutes.
Tidying up this morning - a bit like the lopping and chopping going on - I found one last Christmas cracker joke, a postcard from a friend on a winter holiday in the sunshine, and a piece of paper with something Buddha said that my friend from Thailand gave me.

Now may every living thing, young or old, weak or strong, living near or far, known or unknown, living or yet unborn, may every living thing be full of bliss.  The Buddha.




Very appropriate for the last day of the month.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Lopping and chopping and pruning

The gardeners and tree choppers are very busy here. There are lots of whirring noises, crashes and thuds along the tree-lined avenues of the town. Friends who have large vegetable plots are early to bed with back ache. There is a lot of pruning and lopping all around. Even I have gingerly snipped off a few twigs and old leaves from my plants on the balcony. I always feel that pruning gives plants a better shape as well as getting rid of dried out and rotten bits. The lopping of the branches gives the trees a surprised look against the spring sky. They look a bit like teenagers who have had their straggly hair cut against their will.

The men on their machines at the top of the trees look very skilled, they must have a good head for heights.

Greens are good for you

Broccoli soup with mascarpone and toasted almonds
My mum, probably like most mums, wanted us to eat our greens. She was convinced they were as essential as the air you breathe. We were  a generation that watched 'Popeye the sailor man', and every time he ate spinach he became magically super strong and got his girl, Olive Oil.

I'm Popeye the sailor man
And I live in a caravan
I'm strong to the finish
Cos I eat my spinach
I'm Popeye the sailor man.
My children, like me, were more keen on peas, tomatoes and carrots. I managed to disguise most vegetables in risottos with lots of parmesan cheese, or in Torte Salate.
I have two favourite recipes for broccoli, one with pasta and one that is a soup. This evening we had Broccoli soup. This is a recipe that works just as well with carrots or courgettes.

Broccoli Soup
 
1 onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic- optional
700 g broccoli florets or carrots peeled and chopped or courgettes washed and sliced
2 potatoes peeled and chopped
400g cannelini beans - optional-
Almonds - toasted - optional
Dollop of creme fraiche to garnish - optional
900ml stock or water
Salt and pepper

Melt a knob of butter in a large saucepan
Add the prepared vegetables , put the lid on and cook gently for a few minutes so the flavours develop.
Add the stock and bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer gently until the vegetables are cooked.
Add the beans if using, they go well with the broccoli.
Puree with a hand held blender.
Serve in bowls and garnish to taste.
This evening I used  mascarpone and toasted almonds.
 
Some of the ingredients for Broccoli soup

The one about the daffodils


 
 One of William Wordsworth's most well-loved poems is the one about the daffodils. Anyone who has ever been to the English Lake District or seen the film about Beatrix Potter can easily imagine how he got the inspiration to write such a lovely poem. One of the wonders of the human imagination is the ability to recall wonderful scenes at will. Just close your eyes and picture yourself walking across the beautiful green hills and vales, coming across the daffodils and maybe a nice welcoming pub with a roaring log fire. Involve all your senses while doing so. You will feel quite revived just after a few minutes, even on a busy work day.

I took a photo of some lovely Italian daffodils growing by a stream. You can tell they are Italian by the palm trees in the background.

 
I wandered lonely as a cloud, by William Wordsworth (1804-07)
 
I wandered lonely as a cloud,
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of golden daffodils,
Beside the lake beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
 
Then the last verse:-
 
For oft, when on my couch I lie,
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Two for tea




 
 
 

"Two for tea and tea for two" my mum used to sing.
My little 2 year old grandson feels more secure when he has two of everything. He likes to have one in each hand or one for him and one for his sister. We spent a very happy morning putting things in twos. He also loves families of things, Daddy horse Mummy horse two children. It is his world of course. He thinks it is wonderful. It is.

Meals in minutes



 

My husband likes to have fresh salad and seasonal fruit with every meal he has. It is something he grew up with.
We only used to have salad on Sunday evenings with tinned salmon and fruit was either eaten between meals or made into a pudding like Apple crumble or banana split.

I try to always have freshly washed salad in a big tupperware container in the fridge and a full fruit bowl.
Today I saw some lovely mushrooms. There is something about mushrooms fried in butter that is almost magical for me. We used to go mushrooming in the fields behind our house. It had to be early in the morning before the bugs had a chance to eat them, so we didn't do it very often.
Lunch today was mushroom omelette and the ever present salad and fruit. All on the table in 10 minutes start to finish. Almost.
 

Angie's Mushroom Omelette
 
1 box of  champignons mushrooms washed and dried and sliced
2 eggs each beaten with a splash of water
Grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt a knob of butter and a small amount of oil in a large omelette pan. Add the mushrooms and cook quite briskly for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Put another knob of butter in the pan and when sizzling tip in the egg mixture. Using a rubber spatula carefully lift the sides and draw in the egg until cooked underneath. Sprinkle over some grated cheese and the mushrooms. Flip half the omelette over and let cook gently so the cheese melts.
Buon apetito!
 


desert

Friendship







One of the first friendship books I received.
My little grandson is going through a phase when he has discovered the joy of having friends. He locks them in a half- Nelson and announces to all around " This is my friend".  He's already learning that friends can have other friends. It isn 't like a family, when you stick together and that's that. Friends pick and choose. They like doing the same things and tend to have things in common, and hopefully like you and being with you. My granddaughter is learning that if you tell secrets to your best friend you risk having them blurted out to other friends. She has decided to be careful with her secrets.
I have got a box where I keep all the cards and  letters from friends. It is wonderful to look through and read the nice things written there. It's not always easy to make friends and that is where clubs and organized groups with common interests can be a great comfort. Sport, art, music, knitting, gliding, all sorts of things bring people together and can help loneliness.


I have got a close friend who cannot bear being kept waiting, and she has encouraged me to be careful about punctuality. I thought of her while reading this:

How not to treat a friend
Few things tend more to alienate friendship than a want of punctuality in our engagements. I have known the breach of a promise to dine or sup to break up more than one intimacy.
(William Hazlitt essayist, 1778-1830)
Way back in the Roman times,first century AD, Phaedrus wrote:
Give up time to your friends, be at leisure to your wife, relax your mind, give rest to your body, so that you may the better fulfil your accustomed occupation.

A hedge between, keeps friendship green.
This proverb seems to me to imply not only physical boundaries, but a respectful distance with regard to all things, opinions, behaviour, anything personal.

The effect of social networking is talked about a lot, it is ten years since Facebook started and it seems to be a life line for those with friends and relations spread around the world.
James Howe 15931666, would probably approve of it. He wrote:
Friendship is the great chain of human society and writing letters is one of the chiefest links of that chain.

When I was at school we had pen-friends. We would write letters to people the same age, who we never met. I had pen-friends in America, Australia and France, and looked forward to their letters telling me all about their lives, quite different from mine.

For the moment though, my grandchildren are happiest running round the park with their friends.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

What goes 99 clunk?

Watching this  furry little fellow make his way across this manhole cover brought back some silly jokes from my childhood. My brother and I would roll  around in hysterical laughter, we thought everything  was so funny.

What goes 99 clunk? A centipede with a wooden leg.
What is green and goes up and down? A gooseberry in a lift.
What is yellow and highly dangerous? Shark infested custard.
What is black and white and read all over? A newspaper.
 
We loved shaggy dog stories. These were long drawn-out tales that ended with a corny punchline. My brother's favourite one was about a little cornflake that always wanted to be on the top of the pile. Of course he got eaten first, but after ten minutes of telling the story. My mum's favourite was about a guru going on a long spiritual journey looking for the secret of the Poy. After a long time he arrives at a hut on top of the Himalayas . There he finds an old bearded man. At last he'll discover the elisir of life. "Yes" says the old man,"we've got Poy, apple poy, shepherds poy, pecan poy."


Monday, 24 February 2014

Occhi della Madonna flowers for all


 
These pretty little blue flowers grow everywhere in Italy. From the begining of February they can be seen everywhere. They grow spontaneously around beautiful villas and petrol stations alike. They happily grace any grassy verge or bank anywhere. They are very like the celandine that Wordsworth dedicate a poem to.

Long as there's a sun that sets,
Primroses will have their glory,
Long as there are violets,
They will have a place in story:
There's a flower that shall be mine
'Tis the little celandine.
Comfort have thou of thy merit,
Kindly, unassuming spirit1
Careless of thy neighbourhood,
thou dost show thy pleasant face
On the moor and in the wood,
In the lane,-there's not a place
Howsoever mean it be,
But 'tis good enough for thee.
 
William Wordsworth
 

Dressed in pink to make the boys wink

,Pasta with smoked salmon tomatoes and cream.

This morning at the greengrocers I met a woman I often see in her wheelchair with her carer. She looked beautifully turned out and I thought of how much it meant to me to see my mum well groomed in her wheelchair. I complimented the carer on how lovely it was to see them together. She carefully unbuttoned the elderly lady's jacket and proudly showed me the pretty pink jumper underneath."Look how well the pink jumper goes with the pink scarf" she said. I held her hand and told her she looked lovely.
When I got home I decide to make something pink for lunch.


Pink is the colour of this window display, showing dress material for a special dress.

Pasta with smoked salmon

Serves 4
320g pasta, penne or pipe
200 g smoked salmon chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
200g passata
3 tbsp. fresh cream
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
dill
salt and pepper to taste

Put the prepared tomatoes and the Passat in a non stick pan with the olive oil and cook gently foe about 15 minutes. Put aside. Melt the butter in the same pan and gently fry the smoked salmon for a couple of minutes. Add the cream and return the tomatoes to the pan and mix together.
Boil the pasta according to the instructions on the packet , then drain and return to the saucepan adding the tomato and salmon sauce, mix gently and sprinkle with dill.


La Ribollita,Tuscan Reverie

My sister-in-law and her husband are coming to stay. We are very close. On my birthday she wrote that I was her sister not in-law. My mother- in-law came from Tuscany and my husband and his sister spent a month there every Summer with their grandmother and cousins while they were growing up. Every time we visit Tuscany one of the culinary highlights is la Ribollita. I'm going to try and make it today because it is much better made in advance. One of the essential ingredients is cavolo nero, black cabbage which is really very dark green. It is not easy to find outside Tuscany but by chance I saw some in a sort of Farmers Market.
Here is the recipe , the list of ingredients is very long.I shall enjoy making it and then ai will enjoy seeing my husband and his sister revert to the mischievous happy children they were and remember their lovely Tuscan summer holidays.
La Ribollita
Serves 6
Half kilo beans, cannelini I think..
Half green cabbage
150g cavolo nero
Half kilo of ripe tomatoes or passata
4 sticks celery
4 bietole leaves
4 carrots
4 courgettes
Parsley and basil
1 potato
1 onion
2 small peperoncini - optional
1 leek
2 littes hot water
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Half kilo day old Tuscan style bread

Wash all the vegetables and cut into smallish pieces. Put everything except the beans,passata and bread into a large saucepan and let it simmer on a low heat until soft, use enough olive oil so it doesn't stick. Add the beans , passata and the hot water and simmer for about 2 hours , stirring occasionally.check the seasoning. 
When cold store in the fridge for 2-3 days or freeze. 
When ready to serve, bring to the boil again - hence Ribollita- simmer for  about 15 minutes. Slice the bread thinly and place in the bowls. Ladle over the soup and let it rest for a few
Minutes. Add more oil and fresh ground black pepper if liked.
These are only some of the ingredients for La RibollitaAdd caption

My father-in-law was not from Tuscany and he was always a bit suspicious about this Tuscan soup. He thought it was very indigestible. Whenever we planned to go and visit the Tuscan relatives he liked to use me as an accomplice to get something else on the menu. He would ring them up and say that I had a different sort of digestive system, being foreign, so could they please make some simple pasta for me, and he would  have it too, so I didn't feel left out.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Things I bought at the craft fair


At the craft fair I bought a note book to write down plans and appointments . This one caught my eye . The bicycle with flowers in the basket reminds me of my mum- you might remember Jacqueline-  and it says in Italian Lunario dei giorni sereni-  something about serene days. As I started to ask the stall holder if I could have it, she stopped me in mid track ." Oh where was I from? Wasnt my Italian good!! But wait !! There was a girl who could speak English, she was studying it at university!!"So there I was engaged in conversation with a very charming young girl , in English , learning alll about her trips to Windsor castle and Harrods. My friends had melted away.Then the ever- embarassing moment - where did I learn my Italian . "Well it's not very good really", I mumbled, " your English is much better," and it was !
In this notebook there are little snippets of poems in very small writing , this one caught my spirit of heralding the Spring, in Italian, by Giovanni Pascoli '1855-1912' to start me on my road to improved fluency. 

C 'e qualcosa di nuovo oggi nel sole,
Anzi d'antico: io vivo d'altrove,
 
E sento che sono intorno nate le viole.I  also bought a note book for some special people I know who are getting married. This allso has quote on each page. The one I liked best was by Oscar Wilde. Happiness is not having what you desire but desiring what you have . Felicit√† non √® avere quello che si desidera ma desiderare quello che si ha .This seemed very appropriate for a husband and wife.


How to get a husband for your daughter

Coffee and walnut sponge sandwich with a bunch of Pussy willow
The moment I saw my  son- in - law with my daughter I felt they were just made for each other. I know you 're not meant to poke your nose in such matters.  So I just gently sort of nudged them together every so often .. I like to think I worked a bit of magic with this walnut and coffee cake . He really likes it and so as he is coming for lunch tomorrow  I have made it for him. It is the Torta Paradiso recipe with the addition of a couple of tablespoons of instant coffee dissolved  in a small amount of water and some broken up walnuts. It is sandwiched together and iced with coffee butter icing.I make this by beating together250g icing sugar,75 g softened butter and some more instant coffee dissolved in a small amount of hot water. My dad often used to talk about the icing on the cake. He was referring to the light- hearted , happy moments, the treats in life,not the basics and essentials, the little extras that give a lift to the heart and the spirit. He said it is what helps to keep couples together.

Craft fairs and crafty ideas















My friends and I went to a Craft Fair yesterday. We were quite overwhelmed by the variety and high quality of the goods on display. There were  huge wall tapestries of the Eiffel Tower ,New York and St Marks Square, replicas of old masters, all made by hand using oddments of material. There were stands demonstrating how to crochet, knit, make jewellery, cakes,home improvements, handbags. Something for everyone to try.I have always admired people's creative talents and amazed by the variety of ideas. We are all brimming with ideas , we just need to be able to express them. If you tell a class of children to draw a picture or write a story , they will all do something different. Many of the stands at the Craft Fair had notices up saying. No foto but one man had Si foto and I liked that. We need to be inspired by each other. My daughter had just been telling me about an artist who said there are plenty of ideas to go round, no-one needs to be afraid of someone copying them. Picasso said that a good artist copies but a great artist steals. I think it is good for everyone to pass on their ideas and talents, to copy out a favourite recipe or recommend a nice place to visit or a good film or book. The Craft Fair of course was about making things. No- one was in danger of me copying their masterpieces, photos or no photos, I can hardly mend a sock . One area where there was no notice forbidding photos was the creative cake stand. These were incredible, more like sculptures than cakes. We  all merrily clicked away, I warmed to the people who had created these cakes and were willing to share them with us . I ' m sure I won't be copying them .

 

Friday, 21 February 2014

Practising for pancake day

 This year Pancake day is on Tuesday 9th February  otherwise known asShrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Martedi grasso, L'ultimo di Carnevale, or Pancake Day.
For us it was above all Pancake Day. It was the only day of the year that our Mum made us pancakes. We never thought to have them any other time. They were absolutely delicious. I have never tasted pancakes like hers. We would sit at the kitchen table with our knives and forks poised, on red alert to tuck in to our pancakes. She would make them one by one, carefully and expertly. We would watch in wonder as she deftly tossed them up in the air. We had them with lemon juice and sugar.
In Italy Carnevale starts as soon as the Three Wise Men have left their gifts. the enticing aromas of fritelle and crostole, put paid to any hope of losing the pounds that Christmas, New Year and the Befana  have brought. So all through Carnevale in Italy there are many opportunities to enjoy these special treats and it all comes to a grand finale on Shrove Tuesday. Then, on that day we have our pancakes, English style. This weekend we will have a practise run. It is very important to have the right pan, non stick and with the sides not too steep. My husband  is in charge of the tossing. We have a variety of fillings,like nutella, jam and cream, but nothing can compete with lemon juice and sugar. There are lots of recipes for pancakes, this is a simple basic one for practising.
 
4 rounded tablespoons of plain flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
250 ml milk
butter for frying
sugar and lemon juice for serving.
 
Find a bowl for mixing, a wooden spoon, a sieve and a small frying pan or omelette pan. Choose a plate for serving and put it to warm. Cut a square of greaseproof paper or foil, sprinkle it with sugar ready for the pancakes and put it near the place where you will be working.
Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and make a hollow in the centre. Crack the egg into the well and add about one third of the milk. Using , a wooden spoon stir gently starting in the centre of the bowl and mixing first the egg and milk and then gradually drawing in the flour from around the sides of the bowl. as you mix, gradually add a little more milk until about half has been added. Beat the batter very thoroughly and then add the remaining milk. Stir well and then pour into a jug.
Place the frying pan over a moderate heat and add a small piece of butter. when hot, pour in about 2 tablespoons of the batter and tip the pan so that the batter runs al over the base of the pan to make a thin pancake. Fry until the underside is brown, then turn with a knife or toss and cook the second side for a moment. Make sure they don't get too brown, just golden.
Tip the pancake out flat on to the sugared paper. Add a little more butter to the hot pan and cook the next pancake. Continue until all the batter is used up- you should get 12 small pancakes, depending on the size of your pan.
As each pancake is prepared, sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice or jam and roll up. Arrange on a hot plate and keep warm.
Serve with wedges of lemon.