Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Fish and Food Fables at River Cottage

 How perfect that Tuesday was Fish day at River Cottage .

The Sea is the theme for the Tuesday exchange with Marji, do check out her great aquatic photographic inspiration.
I just hope you are ready for some gruesome goings on here ...
                                               excluding the first photograph of course!

Beautiful fresh crabs you think, yes ... but how would you feel knowing your first task of the day was to kill, cook and dress a crab?
I was not first in line with the instruments of death ( rolling pin and large nail), but let's face it if you are wanting to cook the crab and you can assure it will dispatched quickly and 'painlessly', then this is better than the crab being boiled alive. I do understand if you decide that you would never eat crab again if it meant you had to kill it yourself - but I honoured the crab by making the best dish I could from him. (I can assure you I do not plan to go higher up the food chain in killing what I eat, but it was a rite of passage for me as a cook.)

How about our mid morning snack of scallops, lightly seared with chorizo (homemade, of course) and wild garlic? I can honestly say that there is a lot of eating involved in this course - but all in the line of work, and very delicious work it is!

 I have to confess that I took the photo and thereby avoided having to remove the innards from the cuttlefish. Thanks Sue, you have been an amazing partner on this cooking odyssey.
But I did scrape the tentacles. Cuttlefish, brushed with olive oil and then sprinkled with chopped fresh chilli before being  grilled very quickly over the barbecue are so delicious.
If you then add a dipping sauce consisting of fresh red chills, olive oil, fresh crushed garlic and lemon juice, you have a sauce fit for the gods - I just hope you will give them a try. (Try asking the fishmonger to do the inky disembowelling  work for you)

Finally you catch Sue and I savouring our scallops and enjoying a few minutes relaxation before returning to gut a gurnard or two.

I promise more recipes from this incredible four day cooking extravaganza, but I need to get to bed now to gather strength for another day at the kitchens of River Cottage.

Monday, 26 March 2012

River Cottage Taster

Just a quick delight to share with you from River Cottage, the cooking base of Hugh (as in Fearnley-Whittingstall).
This was dessert and we wiped our slates clean, it was so delicious!
Orange polenta cake with salted caramel sauce and Chantilly cream

I can only get you started tonight with the salted caramel sauce...

Take Demerara sugar in your fry pan and heat. (It should be enough to cover the base).
Stir it as it melts and turns to caramel.
Add a pinch of sea salt and stir in.
Add a touch of cream, the more you add the paler and more liquid it becomes.

Now for the Chantilly cream
Whip cream in a bowl till it is stiff(but not butter).
Add golden icing sugar (Billington's or similar) and fold in.
Finally fold in full milk yoghurt- again it depends on your preferences. If you want to form stylish quenelles as in my photo, you need it stiffer-ie go easy on the yoghurt.

You can add these two sauces to your favourite polenta cake recipe or wait for me to come back with it later in the week.

Let me know if you try it. It was absolutely divine.

Hope to be back on my iPhone tomorrow with the latest from River Cottage... Maybe even a visit from Hugh!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Off to River Cottage...

Just wanted to share a loaf of bread with you
Image: Ingrid
before I head south for five days.

This is Hugh's soda bread with seeds, slightly adapted. I love baking soda bread - so tasty and so easy.
If you want to have a go, here is the recipe I used:

Irish Soda bread with seeds

500g wholemeal flour
350-400ml of buttermilk
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1-2 Tablespoons of each : poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, fennel seeds and sesame seeds
1 tsp salt

Mix flour together with all the other dry ingredients.
Add half the buttermilk and mix in with a knife
Add the rest of the buttermilk and gather together with your hands. It should not be too wet or too dry. Adjust with flour or liquid accordingly. Try to do this quickly without overworking the dough.
Form into a nice rounded ball shape.
Cut a cross into the top - don't pussyfoot around here, a deep slash is called for. It is essential to help the loaf cook through.
Brush top with a little buttermilk  and sprinkle a few more seeds on.
Set the loaf on a baking tray, lined with baking paper and add to centre of a nice hot oven, approx 200-220C for 30 -35 mins.
Keep an eye on the loaf as it bakes - it is easy for the loaf to get too brown before it is cooked through.
Enjoy this sliced with a nice strong slice of cheddar cheese or toast it tomorrow with marmalade.
Soda bread tastes best eaten fresh, so if you don't want to eat it all on the day it is made, I suggest you slice and freeze it. The loaf comes out perfectly fresh and ready to join a bowl of soup when you need a nice nutty flavoured bread.

Hope to be back blogging next week from deepest Devon with some ideas from the River Cottage cooking course I am heading off to join. Have a great week till we meet again.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Delicious books

It was a liberating moment when I read that Nigella Lawson had over 2000 cook books - now I really have a figure to aim for!

So you can imagine my delight at receiving a new title for my birthday last week - Scandilicious, a feast of Nordic cuisine.

  • Scandilicious by Signe Johansen is the perfect book to help me reconnect with my scandi family tree - even down to my blond roots. 
I liked the sound of this rye bread sandwich of the sea. This morning I was off to the Bungay Co-op to catch me a smoked scottish mackerel. Unfortunately fennel bulbs have not reached the Co-op yet, but mandolined celery made a good substitute.

Mackerel, fennel and horseradish open sandwich

2 slices dark rye bread or pumpernickel, buttered
2 tsp horseradish cream
1 large fillet cooked mackerel, bones out
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
fennel fronds, wood sorrel, chervil or parsley to garnish
 ~ Spread a thin layer of horseradish on the buttered rye bread slices
 ~ Gently flake the mackerel onto the bread and shave very thin slices of fennel bulb on top
 ~ Garnish with fennel, chervil or whatever greenness you have handy

Enjoy a delicious taste of Scandinavian cuisine, knowing you are feeding your brain with omega-3's.
Recipe from Scandilicious by Signe Johansen

Small world: the author studied The Anthropology of Food at SOAS, same university as Alice who gave me the book!

My other birthday books related to food included these two:
  • A Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester is part cookbook, part thriller, part hard to put your finger on what it is. But I loved this description of it: "Rest assured that the book you think you are reading at the start is not the book you turn out to be reading at the end...".

  • Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lancaster Brisley - just pure nostalgia and it is really the illustrations rather than the stories that I love. Here is a little taster... of potatoes like "muvver used to make"
Small world: well it was a small world MMM lived in.

One day, when all the boxes are finally unpacked, I will tally up my cookbook total, I'm guessing more than fifty but less than one hundred titles... so far

Any suggestions for cook books you think I need in my edible library? I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tide lines ... Tuesday Exchange

"A tide line refers to where two currents converge. Driftwood, floating seaweed, foam and other debris may accumulate, forming sinuous lines called tidelines." Wikipedia

 Last week Marji and I started to explore the Sea and ways to interpret it in our respective art forms. Tide lines seems to describe us too - in that we are two artists converging on a Tuesday!

I started here with some stitching and finished the mat without needing to cut off the wording (sorry Chantal to shock you with my impetuous suggestion last time).
The material I used was some inexpensive raw blue Thai silk I had bought several years ago. The silk has a rough yet rich feel to it and just seemed to work well for my current watery workflow. (It is a bit of a pain to sew though, as it likes to unravel with abundance)
Lying amongst the silk yardage were a multitude of small strips that I had begun to piece a couple of years ago. They were abandoned when new ideas sidelined them to be buried under piles of fabrics.
Stitching these stripes together at the weekend seemed to fit perfectly with my words for this week - Tide lines.
I see the striplets coming together as a long stripy runner for our table - see below for how they are coming along... seems like low tide at the moment!
Lines of stitching are now needed to quilt and add character... sinuous describes perfectly what I want to achieve.

Any suggestions for what the tide could wash up onto this runner by way of stitching?
I'm open to all seaworthy suggestions.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

For Mothers Everywhere

Image: Jenni
Today is Mothering Sunday in the Uk.

Traditionally this is a day to honour mothers and mother figures. In centuries past, it was a holiday when young people working as servants could visit their own mothers and often took a gift of food to share. As this day always occurred during Lent, a period of fasting, the fast was lifted on Mothering Sunday and a delicious Simnel cake was baked.
If you want to try making a Simnel Cake here are two recipe suggestions: I shall either use Delia's or Waitrose's -depending on which ingredients I can rustle up.

I'm thinking of my Mum, who died last summer, and the joy she had in our garden. Here she is collecting apples. What pleasure it gave her. I think I'll add an apple to the cake when I mix it.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Sea, The Sea ...

I am starting on a new creative collaboration with my good friend Marji, and just thought I would share a little about what we are getting up to. 
Although we live a few thousand miles apart, Marji in Seattle and me in Suffolk, we both want to stay connected - as though we could just drop in for a chat and some inspiration with each other. 

  • Idea: take a theme for a month and share ideas and influences, to just see where it gets us. It may just help get me doing something regularly - I'm a bit like a rusty wheel which takes a bit of effort to get moving again. Our first month is "The Sea".
Pins from my Pinboard
  • Where to start?
~ Jotting ideas down on paper.
~ Searching on Pinterest and then creating a pinboard. See here for my 'Sea' pinboard.
~ If you always click on Google as a first port of call, maybe it's time to look to Pinterest. 
   Just compare my search for seascape:

Having got started on writing and pinning, I couldn't wait to get sewing. Just had to decide what to sew!
I always bring back sea-ephemera from the beach visits, an arty way of describing old bricks and driftwood! At the moment it sits around looking lost, needing an anchor to place it in our home. 
Cue: sea-sewing project to create a fabric cloth for some sea glass to gather on.
I love trying to machine stitch words at the moment, so with wave patterns seen on Pinterest and Hokusai's "Great Wave" in my mind, I got started.

"Oh dear," you say, looking at my stitching. Yes - a lot of practice is needed before my writing will pass the legibility test. But there is always the thread unpicker, or even quicker I may just cut it off!
But that's ok - it's all part of the creative process.

If you are interested in following Marji and my creative process come back again soon. We plan to meet every Tuesday on our blogs to share what we've been up to.

Fact file:
To see Marji's seascape thoughts go here
If you need help on using Pinterest start here
If you need an invite to join Pinterest email me here

Monday, 12 March 2012

Table setting for Spring

Spring has sprung onto my table top...

The sun streaming through the windows was the incentive to finally make a change to the look of our dining table
(and friends and family were coming for lunch).

Starting with a few daffodils from the garden,
      I added a silvery theme with IKEA candlesticks,
                a crown from Copenhagen,
                         a clock from China
                                  and a feather from the meadow.

Hold everything together on a tray (mine is a big old green one from a large pile we have brought  back from China)
add some calming colour with folded tablecloths - white and green linen in my case.

Keep to these basics and just refresh flowers over the next few weeks, to have a springtime table.

Easter is just a month away - it would be easy to add eggs, bunnies or chicks to this simple collection.

Join me at Mosaic Monday for more photo inspiration.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Guest Post: What is your Refuge?

Image: Our garden
Today I am very lucky to have a guest writer sharing this space ... my sister Jenni. 
Hearing about a recent women's workshop she attended I was so happy when she agreed to share these ideas on this blog. 

A refuge is something we all need to have - and like any insurance policy, it's only useful if you have it sorted before a storm.

Over to Jenni: 
  • Where do you go to find some peace when the mind’s in turmoil?

  • Who do you turn to in a crisis when there’s no one else around?

  • What do you do when you need to recharge your emotional and/or spiritual batteries when times get tough?

  • How do you connect with that still space, deep within you?

These were some of the intriguing queries raised by a group of women who had come together for the day, to reflect and share their insights on the topic: What is your refuge?
Together with our two facilitators, we pondered those outer and inner places of refuge and sanctuary; precious resources that are so important in our search for balance and peace.

Outer sanctuaries include ...
~ being in nature, 
~ sitting in a quiet country churchyard, 
~ walking on a favourite beach, 
~ visiting a temple, 
~ activities such as swimming, cycling, sewing and painting.
Image: Temple in Laos
People can act as a refuge in our lives: look for inspirational teachers and guides who have helped. 

Objects such as special books, favourite pictures, photos, and statues that inspire.
Inner refuges are all about cultivating awareness and consciousness; 
This awareness can help us to develop a sense of balance and a peaceful heart, and even a feeling of being connected with everything.
Image: Postcard of Jim Dine's masterpiece

Finding this still, steadying space within each of us can be as simple as taking three deep breaths, saying a prayer or memorising a mantra.

Image: Our garden
For many, it’s all about cultivating the regular habit of just sitting quietly, and simply observing the breath as it passes in and out through the nose.

So what brings you peace?

Thanks Jenni for sharing.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Table Talk - Sarah Raven style

Just wanted to share a couple of photos from the wonderful day I had yesterday in Sussex with Sarah Raven.

Not only did we learn how to make our vegetable garden work for us all year round, but we also were inspired by the wonderful interior styling at her 'school'.

I totally recommend you trying out a course with Sarah, it is one of the best day courses I have been on. Can't wait to go back again.

I am trying this on the train to London using an untried app Blogpress , so if it all goes pear shaped please forgive me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Train in Essex somewhere

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Watched Pan Never Sets

Marmalade making was meant to be easy....

the recipe in the magazine promised me "The best marmalade ever"- so why was my marmalade refusing to set.

What could go have gone wrong?
I bought organic seville oranges in Waitrose
I had the recipe which guaranteed "The best marmalade ever".
I could make bread - surely making the marmalade for spreading on top could not be more difficult.

Twenty- four hours later - I have pots of semi-set orange jam.
Is that allowed as a new genus of the species formerly known as 'marmalade'?

First mistake:
I had grand ideas and used 2 kilos of oranges. I should have started small and expanded.
I bought a jam thermometer, thinking if I went technical I couldn't go wrong. "The best marmalade ever" told me once the mix reached a boiling temperature of 105 C I was guaranteed a set.  Dear readers - never think there is a quick fix.
I had to resort to freezing small plates with dribbles of marmalade and hoping for a wrinkly skin (on the marmalade of course). I never achieved a wrinkle, but thankfully, 18 hours later, the amber liquid has semi-solidified and no longer needs to be poured from a jug.
Followed by:
I poured my mix into 18 jam jars, believing that the tasty yet thin and watery liquid marmalade would magically turn into seriously set marmalade when cool. My sister wisely counselled me that "hell would freeze over first" and "I best pour it back in the pan and get boiling". Sadly I poured the seven litres of orange water with bits in back into my pan whilst she bravely searched the internet for solutions to the "My marmalade won't set" search engine.

First discovery:
Oranges and lemons do not have a lot of pectin and don't set well. News to me and as I had just added the juice of two more lemons, possibly increasing my problems.
Adding a Bramley cooking apple (rich in pectin) could set the amber liquid. This did seem to help - combined with another hour of boiling and at 8:30pm I officially called a truce with the Spanish oranges and poured them into jars.

Happy accident:
Not only was I marmalade making but also pancake tossing. We discovered the liquid marmalade makes the most delicious sauce for pancakes - a la Crepe Suzette. So I do have the option of a lifetime's worth of sauce for crepes if the darned marmalade remains loose and liquid in my jars.

Apologies, no recipe today - I would not wish to inflict on you the many hours of slaving over a hot stove for very loose marmalade. The saving grace is it tastes delicious even in its fluid state.

All genuine recipes for fool proof marmalade gratefully received because I have another four kilos of oranges awaiting me in my freezer. (After 9 years in China, I did get a little over excited at the prospect of making marmalade again!)

Monday, 20 February 2012

Mosaic Monday - Bare Trees

Still playing amongst the trees. 

Images: Ingrid's iPhone

A mosaic for a Monday composed of some of my favourite trees from our garden and the Waveney River Valley where we live.

Taking multiple photos on my iPhone helps serve as inspiration for my stitching trees project.

The gnarled old tree on the top row, right corner, is at least 200 years old. It is all that remains of an ancient hedgerow in the meadow. What scenes it must have witnessed over the years?

Do take a look at the incredible paintings David Hockney has made capturing some of the trees in Yorkshire. His work got me all fired up on trees!

We have only a few weeks left in the UK to enjoy the beautiful bare tree shapes - before they burst forth with green springness.
Hope you can find some bare branches to photograph and enjoy today.
Many more mosaics here at the Dear Little Red House.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A thousand trees

I've got trees on the brain this month...
 ever since I went to see the exhibition, "A Bigger Picture". 

David Hockney's latest exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London must have nearly one thousand trees in it. I loved them.

I also happen to love "One Thousand Trees" by the Stereophonics.

So maybe it's no surprise that I have an idea of stitching one thousand trees.

Starting today:
Image: Ingrid

You don't need to be a tree hugger to appreciate the role trees play in our lives.

Postcards from "A Bigger Picture", David Hockney

If you have time this week take a look at the fabulous trees of the Yorkshire Wolds here.

Or listen to The Stereophonics here

Or just go lean against a tree, the bigger the better, to gain some strength through its bark.

Or take a photograph of a favourite tree and keep it with you.

I'd best be off now, only 999 trees left to stitch.

PS: If you want to know how I printed a photograph onto fabric read this post

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Stitching a blackbird

It started with a grainy photo of a blackbird feeding in our garden...

First step was to try printing the photo on some fine white linen.
This is much easier than you would think- see below for my method.

Next, layer the fabric image on contrasting linens with a little batting in between.
I kept the edges raw and simply overlapped to create a frame for the small square of linen imprinted with my blackbird.

The stitching served several purposes. Not only did it hold the fabric layers together, it also gave the fine linen some body... which in turn added depth and a third dimension to the little picture.
Finally I took a needle in hand and stitched a beady yellow eye, some snowy texture to the pot and a little red heart for Valentine's day.

The result combined three of my loves: photography, fabric and stitching.


  • Iron your fabric to be nicely smooth, choose a finer fabric if you want more detail in your print.
  • To help the fabric through a bog standard ink jet printer you will need to stiffen it. The easiest way is to iron the chosen fabric onto waxed freezer paper. (You can buy freezer paper via Amazon if it's hard to find). Trim the fabric/paper combo to A4 size, ready to feed into the printer. Be sure to print on the fabric side! I squeezed 5 small images onto a page in Pages, but you can use Word etc.
  • Peel off the freezer paper and you are left with the fabric print. (Being an inkjet printer it is not a waterproof image)
  • Now you are ready to start stitching.
Love to hear if you have a try.
The trees are printed ready for working on next week.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Mosaic Monday: Twitching in the snow

Image: Ingrid

Thirty eight birds in one day ... the result of a visit to the RSPB reserve at Minsmere in Suffolk last week.

Love birds, but never been a twitcher (a type of birder who seeks to add as many species as possible to their bird list).

Think I may just start my own twitching list this year, aiming high - a hundred species in 2012.

Mosaic Monday at The Little Red House is always a great incentive to start blogging on a Monday morning, as well as an inspiring place to browse over a cup of something hot.
Mmmm can you smell the coffee?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

What a difference two days make!

Last week was a week of contrasts here in the East of England...

Either we were bathed in sunshine for our visits to Southwold and Cambridge with Marji a good friend from Seattle, (see her inspiring blog here)


We were up to our noses in snow (well Rufus was anyway).

Whatever the weather there's always a dog to be walked in this house!

Back again soon with new stitching ... 
actually every time I write that on my blog I never seem to do it, so let's see if I can surprise myself, and you, this time.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

You've done well

Image:Ingrid's iPad. Words: Mike Dooley
These are great words to remind us to keep looking for the positive. 
Whether it is trusting that the sun will come up again tomorrow 
or that there will be time to make the marmalade.
Have a wonderful weekend wherever you are.

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