Saturday, December 31st, 2016
Ah, 2016, what a year. There are (several) parts of this year which I, and I’m sure many other people, would rather forget. However, interspersed with the earthquakes, geopolitical and otherwise; degree work; and job hunting I have read many, many books. Many of them have been, frankly, average or worse. Some have been unreadable. Others, whilst being infinitely helpful and informative, written by people far more intelligent than I am, and which have formed the basis of countless essays and my dissertation, have been so dense it took a great force of will to keep reading, and left me more than happy to return to the library (I’m looking at you, Wagstaff, and your 800+ page treatise on Italian Neorealism). That being said, I have read some truly excellent books this year. Books which have made me weep at my desk, books which have made me snort with mirth on the bus, and books which have read like a conversation with an old, clever friend. Thus, in no particular order, I present my favourites from the books I have read in 2016:
Where I’m Reading From, Tim Parks
I have enjoyed Tim Parks’ writing for a while, and highly recommend Italian Neighbours and An Italian Education, his accounts of living and raising children in Italy. I grabbed this collection of short essays in Waterstones when I was working in Leeds over the summer and read most of it on the train back home. I may not agree with everything he writes, but found myself nodding along in agreement with much of it, especially the essay on the Nobel Prize for Literature, and how compatible the Swedish Academy’s founding objective, to preserve and promote the Swedish language, is with choosing a writer whose body of work is deserving of the prize, in any language. It’s a task I wouldn’t envy if I had to choose only from writers in langauges I understand, let alone those I may not have even heard of before the book hit my desk. As Parks writes, the members of the Council ‘were well equipped for English but concerned about their strengths in such languages as Indonesian’ (56). If you want a book to dip in and out of, I would highly recommend this one. Parks’ A Literary Tour of Italy is at the top of my pile of books for 2017.
You Had Me at Hello and It’s Not Me It’s You, Mhairi McFarlane
Both of these books have made me shriek with mirth in public places. There was a point in January when I was sitting on the tube, travelling between Liverpool St. and Kings Cross St Pancras, with tears of silent laughter streaming down my face, halfway through It’s Not Me It’s You. Naturally, not one person batted an eyelid. I hesitate to describe McFarlane’s protagonists as strong women, that much overused epithet which is more often than not applied to one dimensional female characters who adopt traditionally masculine traits while abandoning the feminine. However, Rachel (You Had Me at Hello) and Delia (It’s Not Me It’s You) are truly brilliant women, with whom I would love to be friends. I cannot overstate how welcome their stories were when I was spending my days wading through literary criticism and translation theory. McFarlane’s latest book, Who’s That Girl is also in my To Be Read in 2017 pile.
The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George
A friend of mine recently described this as a very healing book, and I wholeheartedly agree. From the very first lines, I was in love with and frustrated by Jean Perdu (side note: Jean ‘Lost’ is, in my humble opinion, an excellent name for the protagonist of a novel which is so centred around feelings of loss). I spent the last half to one third of the pages weeping, both gentle sniffles and great heaving sobs, feeling as though George had ripped my heart from my chest and put it through the food processor, so of course I have recommended The Little Paris Bookshop to all of my friends. It is perfect, and captures everything I love about France in summertime and literature. I don’t know much about German, apart from asking for glasses of wine, coffee, and cakes, but Simon Pare’s translation is exquisite. Translating literature is extremely difficult and usually, annoyingly, I get a feeling that something has been translated when reading it, and start to question the translator’s choice of words. In this instance, though, Pare has done excellent work, and George’s words shone through beautifully.
First Bite, Bee Wilson
I adore Bee Wilson’s writing. Consider the Fork is one of my all time favourite books. First Bite is another exceptional read. We live in a world where competing theories and advices are thrown at us from all angles, Wilson looks at the way we eat from a different, certainly kinder, angle. She writes so soothingly about food, and how we learn to eat and doesn’t demonise or vilify anyone, regardless of their eating habits or dietary choices. I recently read her most recent book, the tiny This is Not a Diet Book, and it was equally calming.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
I read Little Women with some of my favourite women, as the first instalment of the Coven Morgana book club. I realised, when I came to the end of Part One that I had never read the full novel, apparently in the UK it is sold as Little Women and Good Wives, which necessitated the purchase of the beautiful Rifle & Co copy in the photo. Reading it as an adult I realised, more than ever, that I am just as strong willed and opinionated as Jo, and that I really never did like Beth. As an adult, though, the earnestness of the girls grated slightly. This didn’t take anything away from my enjoyment, though, it is still a wonderful book. Although, as I told Olivia multiple times, Jo is too good for the creepy Professor. One day we will write a paper centred around this and other Angry Thoughts. I’m sure you can barely contain your excitement.
It’s Ok, I’m Wearing Really Big Knickers; Knocked Out by My Nunga Nungas; and And That’s When it Fell Off in My Hand, Louise Rennison
There is a certain demographic of British teenagers who spent years 9 to 13 quoting these books, and the rest of the Georgia Nicholson diaries, at each other. I was so obsessed that, during the summer between years 9 and 10, my Mum rationed them. I could read one for every book I read from the list recommended by my English teacher. When I read the news of Rennison’s death in February, I was heartbroken and immediately went to Waterstones to replace the books I had, for some forgotten reason, given to the charity shop years beforehand. Rhiannon Lucy Coslett captured why these books were so brilliant better than I ever could, so I’ll just leave this here, and say that rereading them took me right back to being an awkward teenager, crying with laughter under the covers at night.
The Improbability of Love, Hannah Rothschild
I adored this book. There is no other word to describe how I feel when I see it on my shelves. One of the central characters longs for his homeland with such intensity that I forgave him his sins and yearned to give him a hug. It is, like the back cover comment from the Independent says, utterly beguiling. From the first lines I was enraptured with the painting and the story. Any narrator which utters the lines ‘We are not encouraging old corduroy. Non.’ has my undying affection, whether it wants it or not, and I suspect the latter is correct. Rothschild’s prose is enchanting and the story twists and turns, throwing up unexpected surprises and moments so heartbreaking I wept into my tea and toast.
The Muse, Jessie Burton
I adored Burton’s debut, The Miniaturist, and The Muse is, if possible, even better. I read it in 36 hours, pausing only to sleep and eat. I’m hesitant to say much, for fear of giving anything away, but suffice to say it left me breathless. Burton has captured the her settings so beautifully that I could feel the heat of the southernmost tip of Spain, even when hiding my pale English skin from the sun, and the London rain, despite reading it in the height of what was a sweltering summer. I was instantly drawn in to both Olive and Odelle’s stories, and wanted to know more even as the plot twisted and turned and I grew to loathe characters I had previously loved, and feel something close to affection for those I had loathed. The iMessage stream between me and my friend Olivia, who had read The Muse before me was just a stream of the ‘😮 ‘ emoji, sprinkled with several ‘OMG’s. I cannot wait for her next book The Palace and the Pilot (2018), and for the BBC adaptation of The Miniaturist. Incidentally, Burton is an absolute gem on Instagram.
What were your favourite books of 2016? What are the books I absolutely have to read in 2017?
Thursday, October 13th, 2016
‘I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.’ (Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery)
I have always loved autumn. I start getting excited at the end of August, dreaming up soups and casseroles, longingly staring at my coat, and buying opaque tights in bulk. Perhaps, in part, this love is fuelled by my birthday, which falls at the end of September, right on the cusp when the leaves are just starting to turn gold and there’s a definite chill in the air in the mornings, urging you to stay under the duvet, in the warmth, for just a little bit longer. But I think this love runs deeper than that. When autumn finally arrives, with gusto, at the beginning of October, and the cold nips at my cheeks and fingers, my already brisk gait gains an extra hop. I wouldn’t go as far to say I go skipping through the forest, but it’s close.
I baked this apple cake at the beginning of September, still wearing summer dresses, kidding myself that the nights were really closing in, that we’d have a fire on Sunday afternoon, while feeling slightly, uncomfortably, hot while drying my hair. It’s truly perfect for autumn. Dark brown sugar, apples, cinnamon and gloriously sharp brambly apples that soften, beautifully, in the oven.
Not only is it beautiful, it’s also deceptively easy to bake, and goes equally well warm with custard and cold with cream.
To make one 23cm cake:
(Adapted from this Rick Stein recipe)
1 or 2 brambly apples, depending on size
125g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
140g soft, dark brown sugar, plus extra for topping
3 large, free range eggs
225g plain flour
2 level tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
5 tbsp milk
1tsp ground cinnanmon
Start by preheating the oven to 170c/150c(Fan)/Gas Mark 3 and greasing and lining your tin. Put a baking tray in the oven to warm up.
Beat together the butter and sugar, for at least 5 minutes, until soft and fluffy and all of the sugar has dissolved into the fat.
Next, add the eggs, one by one, beating well between each addition, and then sift in the dry ingredients. Fold these in, followed by the milk.
Pour into your pan and set to one side, while you peel, core, and slice the apples. Arrange these on top of the cake mixture and sprinkle over the cinnamon and some brown sugar.
Put your cake in the oven, on the warmed up baking tray, and bake for 45minutes to an hour, testing with a piece of dry spaghetti.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool, in the tin for 15minutes or so and them on a rack.
Serve warm, with custard or ice cream, or cold, with cream.
Monday, April 11th, 2016
I have not made a cake it a very long time. In fact, the last cake I remember making was a birthday cake in November. November. That’s five months ago. For someone who claims cooking as part of her soul this is appalling. Thus I present: The Chocolate Beer Cake.
I bumped into a friend the other day who asked if I’d done any baking recently, he’s a fan of my cakes, and I had to say no. In my book, stress baking brownies to eat straight out of of the tin between bouts of dissertation writing doesn’t count. It was almost shameful.
And thus, here is what I came up with on the train home on Friday whilst scribbling ideas for ‘giant fuck off recipes’ to make over the next few days while I determinedly don’t think about University, applications for Master’s degrees, my looming dissertation deadline and the 10 000 words I need to write, or my inevitable graduation into the adult world (ha) in July.
I admit, it’s not the most extravagant of giant fuck off cakes, but it’s been a long term and I am very tired. Chocolate and laced with booze is the best that can be hoped for.
I first started making this when I was probably about 14, and clearly couldn’t buy any alcohol, which meant I had to ask my Dad to buy it for me and ended up making it with some very strange combinations. I think once I even used Aspalls cyder, which sort of worked.
(Note: this works best with stout, but I forgot my ID when I went to the supermarket and couldn’t buy Guinness because I have the face of a child, the village shop only stocks Adnams or Scrumpy Jacks)
To make one cake:
(Loosely based on this Delia recipe)
200g soft dark brown sugar
75g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
175g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the icing:
2 tbsp beer
165g dark chocolate (the darker the better)
165g icing sugar
You can also add walnuts, 25g chopped for the icing in the middle of the cake and 8 halves to decorate, but as I have an allergy I don’t.
Start by preheating your oven to 180C/170C fan/gas mark 4, grease and line 2 cake tins
Cream together the butter and sugar until fairly light and fluffy, I lack the upper body strength to do this by hand so use a mixer. Then, gently beat in your eggs, one at a time. By this point you’re mixture should be a light brown.
In a separate bowl, mix together your beer and cocoa powder, it doesn’t matter if there are still a few lumps.
Add the rest of your dry ingredients to the egg mix and gently fold in the cocoa and beer. It will start to look like a bit of a hot mess at this point, but don’t worry!
Once all of the beer/cocoa mix has been incorporated give it one more stir for luck and pour into your tins.
Level off and pop them in the oven for about 30mins, they’ll be level and springy when cooked.
Take your cakes out of the oven, and turn onto a cooling rack to completely cool.
For the icing, melt the chocolate and beer together in a bain-marie.
Once the chocolate is melted take it off the heat to cool a little and cream the butter and icing sugar together. When light and fluffy, mix in the chocolate and beer.
Start by taking your least pretty cake and smoothing 1/4ish of icing over the top before sandwiching on the second cake.
Now take the rest of your icing and divide into 3. Take the first 1/3 and spread it over the top of your cake. Take the remaining 2/3 and spread them around the sides, you might not use it all so spread the rest on the top of the cake.
Thursday, December 31st, 2015
I started this year intending to record every book I read on Instagram. I used a hashtag (#Readin2015) and everything. It lasted a while, until a re-read of Persuasion in September. After that I just, sort of, forgot all about it. That’s not to say I forgot about reading at the beginning of September, just that the books I was reading suddenly became very niche and academic, some of which even I didn’t find interesting. And I forgot, a little bit. And so, at the end of the year, as I type there are six hours left of 2015, I thought I’d go through some of my favourite reads of the year. The ones that were on my shelves and not at uni or with the poor souls I’d almost thrown them at with excitement saying, “OMG you HAVE to read this book right this second it is FABULOUS!” Every one of these books is fabulous, even if some of them did leave me sobbing so much my nose bled.
So, find a pen and some paper and settle down. In no particular order, here is a selection of my favourite books from 2015:
The Secret History, Donna Tartt: I can thank my friend Olivia for introducing my to this. I’ve written about it before, here, so in the interests of brevity I’ll just say this: while I think most people I know read this for the *aesthetic* over plot, it sucks you right in. Classics students in Vermont go too far and the fall out is spectacular. You’ll read the last page and stare at the wall, mouth open, for a considerable amount of time before you can pull yourself together and back into the real world.
A Room With a View, E.M. Forster: This is one of my all time favourite books. I read it multiple times while I was in Italy this year. In fact, I bought an extra copy when I went to Florence, where the novel’s protagonist Lucy Honeychurch and assorted characters are introduced, for a day trip in March and my flatmate Valentine bought her own copy when we went on a sweltering June day. I can’t put my finger on exactly why this book is so perfect but it’s something to do with the characters and their flaws. No matter what they are, snobbishness; indecision; indiscretion, Forster treats them with kindness. His other novels may be better written, they may be more complex, but none are as compelling as A Room With a View and it’s flawed, wonderfully human characters.
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doeer: Of all the (probably) hundreds of books stacked precariously on shelves as I glance around my room, this is one of the most compelling, by far. I am someone who will make a valiant effort to get through any reading material put in front of me, and I could not put this book down. In fact I stayed up until 4am, way past my bedtime, so I could keep reading and find out what would become of Werner Pfennig, Marie-Laure Leblanc, and her father’s small act of resistance, which has far reaching consequences, during the German Occupation of France in the Second World War.
The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton: This is one of those debut novels that gets talked about for months. It was also one of my first reads of the year, started as I was on the train back to university, and it’s stil seared onto my mind. The 18 year old protagonist, Nella, is married off to a man old enough to be her father and shipped off to 1686 Amsterdam. She’s given a dolls house replica of her new home by her husband and a ‘miniaturist’ begins to send her prophetic miniatures of household objects. I was gripped and ploughed through all 434 pages in a day and a half.
Pride & Prejudice and Persuasion, Jane Austen: I have read both of these books so often that my original copies are now held together with more sellotape and marmite than binding glue. Persuasion, in particular, has been my favourite for longer than I can remember. There’s little I can say that hasn’t been said before, except that regardless of what others may say their wit, humour, and warmth are eternally appealing even to the most cynical of readers.
Bridget Jones’ Diary, Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason, and Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, Helen Fielding: Oh Bridget. Dearest Bridget. I first picked up these when I was about 12. My copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary was stolen from my mother’s shelves after my first encounter with the lovable, clumsy, oh so relatable Bridget in the film at a sleep over when I was in year 7. I fell in love and haven’t looked back since. It’s become even more a guide book and a life line as I’ve aged into my mid twenties and people in my Facebook feed are getting married (?!) and having children by choice not accident (?!?!) This year, over the last four days, I’ve read all three books once more. Bridget takes on adulthood, Smug-Marrieds, Singletondom and dating with such pizzazz that I dare anyone to not lover, even just a little bit. Who wouldn’t want to handle life like Bridget Jones?
Death Comes to Pemberley, P.D. James: This was an assigned, for class read which morphed into a pleasure read. I was skeptical at first as my experiences wth Austen inspired fan fiction haven’t exactly been great, *cough* Pride and Promiscuity *cough*. Most people just can’t capture the spirit of the stories they’re trying to emulate. James, however, does it perfectly. Ten years after Lizzie and Darcy got married and rode into the sunset their plans are put on hold by a murder in the woods of Pemberley. Not only has James captured a more mature, self confident Elizabeth but she’s captured a Darcy softened by marriage. It’s fascinating to read about two of my most beloved literary figures from a different, competent, perspective and in the end I couldn’t put the book down until a conclusion was reached. I wont give you any clues though, you’ll have to read it yourself.
What were your favourite books from 2015?
Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
Way back in May, when my flatmate Valentine’s friend Christel came to visit Bologna, we went to Verona for a day.
We hopped on the train from Bologna and an hour and a half later we’d arrived and headed straight for lunch under some rather ominous clouds in the main square.
After a rather uninspiring pizza, we headed off in search of some pudding and found these pots for sale in the market.
All that fruit for 3€!
We wandered around the square for a while, trying to find the tackiest souvenir before heading down to Juliet’s Balcony. Remarkably, I managed to avoid all Shakespeare based puns throughout the day. It was a real effort.
People flock to Juliet’s House, where the lovelorn and heartbroken leave letters to Juliet, see the 2010 film with Vanessa Redgrave and Amanda Seyfried. My personal favourite read ‘I want a puppy.’
Keen to escape the tourist throngs and heat for a while we went for a wander. Down past shops and ruins, through the streets, and down to the river.
After spending a while leaning on the banks, enjoying the peace and quiet, and every so often marvelling ‘flowing water!’ (virtually non existent in Bologna) we wandered back into the centre of the city and across to the castle, where I failed to take any photos that weren’t of my own hand.
After a swift gelato stop we walked back through the city to visit two Cathedrals, getting caught in a torrential downpour along the way.
After basking in the late afternoon sun for a while we realised the time and hot footed it back to the train station to head back to Bologna.
Thursday, June 11th, 2015
Bologna is fantastic. Italy is lovely. Living abroad is brilliant. It’s a wonderful experience. Everyone should try it at least once in their life. Believe it or not though, sometimes you just want to spend time with someone who understands exactly what you’re saying and brings you bags of Dairy Milk Giant Buttons.
In mid-May, Hannah, possibly my oldest friend, came out to visit in Bologna. We spent a pasta, pizza, and prosecco fuelled three days playing tourist in my new(ish) city. It was wonderful.
We started every day with orange juice (far too hot, and late, for cappuccinos) and apple cake at my favourite bar, Caffè del Mercato. Apparently, it’s one of the best in Bologna. All I know is that the staff are the friendliest waiters I have ever come across, that their torta di mela is delicious, and that they sell glasses of perfect prosecco for 5€.
We wandered around for half an hour or so before heading straight for lunch at Eataly (the website is in Italian).
Determined that Hannah should try as many of Bologna’s traditional dishes as possible while she was here, I ordered two giant bowls of tagliatielli al ragù and two glasses of San Giovese.
Ragù is spag bol’s sexier, sultrier older sister. Apparently after the Second World War, the Allied troops who’d helped liberate Italy arrived in Bologna and loved ragù so much that when they got home they asked their wives and chefs in Italian restaurants to make them ‘spaghetti alla Bolognese.’ Unfortunately, it’s so good I doubt I’ll ever look at spag bol in the same way again.
Just look at it:
After lunch we wandered down to my favourite church in Bologna, the Sette Chiese or Basilica Santuario Santo Stefano.
According to legend the first of the seven churches began in the 4th century AD, which was rebuilt in the 12th century, and the oldest parts standing today were built on top of a temple to the goddess Isis in the 5th century AD.
Over the centuries, chapels and churches have been added or taken down. Today the two courtyards and the chapels that lead off from them are one of the most peaceful places in the city.
Blouse: Zara, Jeans: Gap, Bag: Furla
Just out of shot were some schoolgirls arranging the pot plants for a more aesthetically pleasing Instagram shot. Girls after my own heart.
We sat in the second courtyard for a while, soaking the warmth into our bones, before we decided it was about cool enough to climb the 498 steps of the Torre Asinelli.
“I’m going to try going down this bit backwards. Oh no, I think this may actually be worse!”
We then rewarded ourselves with gelato (crema and raspberry here) before heading home for a nap and takeaway pizza for dinner.
Day 2 started even later and with aching legs. After a very slow breakfast we headed back into the centre of town and wandered around for a bit, including heading back past Sette Chiese. Then we headed to another of Bologna’s churches, the Basilica San Domenico, where I failed to take any photos. I’m a terrible blogger, I know, here’s another photo of gelato (almond and crema) to make up for it:
Suitably peckish we headed to lunch where, again, I failed to take any photos except of Hannah’s chocolate and hazelnut pudding.
After lunch we walked through the University Quarter to the Museo Palazzo Poggi and passed the afternoon feeling a little sick after wandering through the anatomy and obstetrics galleries, where I didn’t take any pictures that wouldn’t make even the most hardened surgeon feel a bit queasy.
Exhausted after another day of walking we headed home, stopping to get food and wine for dinner on the way.
Sunday, June 7th, 2015
Isn’t Paris wonderful in springtime? It’s warm enough to flirt with going jacketless and eating ice cream, the throngs of tourists have yet to arrive en masse, and everywhere you walk summer seems to be slowly waking up.
At the very end of April, I hopped on a plane and spent two glorious days in the City of Light.
I think I may prefer the Louvre at night, now how does a girl get invited to their after hours events?
We had Brunch at Marcel, which I highly recommend. Scroll back up and just stare at that French toast. The thought of it is making me hungry!
After brunch we strolled to the metro and headed to the Lanvin exhibition at the Palais Galleria. I didn’t take any photos as I was too busy taking in all of the incredibly beautiful clothes, but if you’re in Paris before the 23rd August you should add it to your list. If you want a sneak preview, Rose at The Londoner did a post which inspired us to go.
The next day I woke up and headed straight to Orly after breakfast to catch my flight.
What are your favourite things to do in Paris?
Sunday, April 12th, 2015
There’s just something about crumble. Perhaps it’s because I live abroad now, and home comforts are few and far between (I found Heinz beans last week and bought four tins!) but I find myself hankering after the most comforting foods from childhood.
I was cleaning out the files on my laptop the other day and came across the photos of this rhubarb crumble that I made last summer, when I was still living in the rural UK. Struck by a sudden wave of nostalgia I was suddenly racing through memories of being six years old and taking a little tupperware of leftover crumble and custard to school on Monday.
Unable to resist until lunchtime, during morning break I would grab the little pot from my coat pocket and, while the other children were racing around playing kiss chase and stuck in the mud, I would dig in with sticky fingers. Even now, sat typing at my desk, I can taste the tartness of the cold compote of fruit mingling with the sweetness and oats of the crumble topping. Unlike pizza, crumble is always twice as good cold, isn’t it?
Crumble isn’t just an easy, fast, filling and nutritious pudding. It’s the taste of childhood. Nothing will send me into a fit of nostalgia more than the heady smell of horses; the perfume of a leather shop; a whiff of boot polish; or crumble. It is the taste of family and friends coming together. The very thought of a crumble conjures feelings of warmth and love.
It doesn’t matter what the season is, if there are apples on the trees or raspberries on bushes, you can make a crumble. Passion fruit in spring; berries in summer; plums in autumn; and pear in winter. There is always something around you can use in a crumble, that’s their beauty. Comforting pudding is always in season.
Once you have your fruit all you need add is the comforting, wholesome, slightly stodgy (isn’t that what makes it all the more comforting?) topping. This is where, I’ll admit, I depart from what my mum made on Sundays. I add a handful of oats, something I originally did just so that I could call this an ‘original recipe’ in my GCSE Food Technology class and save myself potentially minutes of homework. It turned out to be such a success that I’ve added a handful of oats to every crumble I’ve made since.
Another seconds saving adjustment made for class purposes was substituting caster sugar for soft dark brown sugar to fulfil the requirement that we made the pudding ‘healthier.’ In my, humble, opinion this was a waste of time. ‘Pudding is pudding, leave it be!’ cried 15 year old me. Alas, the OCR exam board and the Department of Health probably disagreed. Though I still vehemently disagree with the idea of messing with puddings to make them a ‘healthy option’* (a rant which could, and probably will, make up another whole post) unless you have a serious health problem which a doctor has told you needs a modified diet, I now always use soft, dark brown sugar because it tastes about a million times more grown up.
There are at least another 5000 words I could write about the manna from heaven that is crumble, but I feel like almost 600 words is probably enough.
So, here is my family’s, ever so slightly adapted, recipe for Sunday afternoon joy.
Crumble is all about ratios, it’s not a lie when I say that this is how I revised fractions when I still had to study maths at school! I made enough for four people here, using the little glass pots that Gu puddings come in, so sizing the recipe up or down (ha) should be relatively easy. If you don’t have a mild addiction to Gu chocolate puddings then a mediumish sized pie tin (without a loose bottom) will do just as well.
To make your fruit base you can either make a compote, which is ideal for rhubarb and other fruits which are unlikely to soften when the crumble is in the oven, or you can just chop them and sprinkle with a little bit of sugar. Go with about a handful of fruit per person.
If you aren’t making a compote preheat your oven to 200c. If you are making a compote, take your fruit and cut it into chunks. Then pop it in a sauce pan over a low heat with sprinkling of water and a pinch of sugar. You’ll need to keep half an eye on it, but let is simmer for about 10-20 minutes, giving the occasional stir. Once done, pop into your pot(s) and put to one side and preheat your oven (200c.)
To make enough topping for 4 people, you need:
150g plain flour
50-75g soft, dark brown sugar
A handful of oats
Now, all you have to do is rub the butter and flour together until it looks like bread crumbs. A food processor can do this in about 30 seconds flat, but it isn’t nearly as relaxing as the soothing, repetitive motions that come with 5 minutes spent rubbing fat into flour.
Next, stir in your oats and sugar. Here you could add some chopped up almonds, or any nuts really though almonds are the only ones which won’t send me into an allergic reaction.
Sprinkle a little sugar or cinnamon onto your compote and spoon on your topping.
Pop your crumble(s) in the oven for 20-40minutes, this depends on how big they are. Once the topping in golden brown serve with pouring cream (grown ups) or custard (grown ups who are pretending not to be.)
*The term ‘healthy option’ sets my teeth on edge and raises my hackles. To me it reeks of condescension and smug, self righteous saintliness, and the exclusion of wonderful, nutritious, and, most importantly, tasty foods which can and should form a part of a balanced diet where everything is in moderation.
Monday, March 23rd, 2015
The more I try to remember my immediate reaction to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History the more I realise it was pure shock. Ten minutes of being struck dumb followed by “Oh. My. God. I need a drink.” on repeat. Incidentally, the first draft of this post, which I wrote an hour or so after finishing the book, was “Oh. My. God. I need a drink. Oh. My. God. I need a drink. Oh. My. God. I need a drink.” over and over again about 200 times, which Olivia pointed out was at least appropriate for The Secret History‘s subject matter.
It’s hard to know how to describe this book. Traumatic would be one word. Really, really traumatic. Intense would be another. Terrifying, certainly.
Tartt explores the depths of human behaviour in a way most people wouldn’t even begin to contemplate. Six students at the elite Hampden College in Vermont, under the considerable influence of their enigmatic Classics professor, push the boundaries of academia further than even the most dedicated of students would consider rational. This leads to mystery, intrigue, and even murder.
Despite the traumatic roller coaster of emotions it caused I still find myself recommending The Secret History to every other person I meet, which has to mean it was one of the best books I’ve read.
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my Mum has made a ham for Boxing Day. It sits in the fridge for the week before Christmas and I have to exercise enormous self control to stop myself from picking a piece off every time I walk past. We finally get to eat it on Boxing Day in front of the fire, sat in our pyjamas, watching Christmas telly, accompanied by jacket potatoes filled with salty butter; Mum’s chutneys, surely I’m not the only one incapable of saying chutney with out channeling Schmidt from New Girl; more cheese than any human should really be capable of eating; and wine. Lots and lots of wine.
If my mother were the kind of woman to have a catchphrase, it would be “If in doubt, Delia.” She follows this recipe from Delia’s Christmas book, which I’ve paraphrased here. I think the only change she makes is adding even more English mustard, because we really, really love mustard.
1 joint of ham, how much depends on how many people you want to feed; for how long; and how big their appetites are.
Once the ham is home and out of its wrappings it’s put in the utility room sink and covered with water to soak, this lets the salt used for preserving the joint seep out into the water so you don’t end up with something too salty to eat. If you aren’t sure how long you need to soak your ham for ask the butcher you bought it from or have a quick google.
Preheat your oven to 160C (Gas mark 3) and line your roasting tin with two sheets of foil, one length ways and one width ways. Take the ham from the sink and put it on the foil. You want to make a little tent for your ham from the foil and cook it for 20mins per pound (450g) of ham. So, if you have a 6lb ham, that’s 2 hours.
Half an hour before the cooking time is up take your ham out of the oven and turn it up to 220C (gas mark 7). Very, very carefully, using a tea towel to protect your hands, unwrap the foil tent and gently peel the skin from the ham. Seriously, be careful to not burn your hands, I can tell you from experience that it really, really hurts and will leave some impressive scars. Leave as much of the fat behind as possible. (Delia explains this bit far better than I ever could.)
Score the fat diagonally, making diamond shapes and then stud each diamond with a clove. Smear the top of the ham with mustard, for a 6lb ham you’ll need around 1 1/2 very heaped tablespoons, but it’s up to your own taste. Sprinkle with an equal amount of soft brown or Demerara sugar and press it into the ham, it’s best to use your hands here.
Pop it back into the oven, uncovered for the last half hour of cooking.
When cooked, it will need at least 45mins of cooling time before serving, or you can let it cool completely before covering and putting in the fridge to wait. After all, who really wants to spend Boxing Day cooking?
What are your Boxing Day Traditions?