Goodbye January


Monday, 31 January 2011

I had a bit of a splurge this morning.
  I am told some husbands buy their wives flowers every week. C can't understand why anyone would spend money on something that sits in a jug for a few days and then dies. The only time he buys me flowers is when I've just had a baby. That's three bunches then, last one nearly eleven years ago. I buy my own. I don't care about them dying, they give me such joy.

The sun was shining this morning, perfect photography conditions. 

As well as flowers I bought this little box planted with bulbs which will cheer up a corner of my kitchen.

I bought some food too. Among other less colourful things I bagged a bargain bag of small peppers -all red and orange, no nasty green ones :o)

I'm always glad when January is over, especially this January dominated as it was by my burnt foot.
February is still Winter, but Winter with the scent of Spring. For us, February is a month of celebrations which fortuitously fall once a week  keeping our spirits up until March arrives.

Use It Up Close Up


Saturday, 29 January 2011

As a result of my food de-cluttering I have half a shelf of food that needs using up. I threw away the lime juice -there was no way I was going to use it before its use-by date, the green peppercorns -after trying one and discovering it tasted like spicy disinfectant and the tahini which was very old.

I tackled my dried fruit mountain first.

Figs, prunes and dates. Mixed with marmalade to make a chunky fruit cake adapted from a recipe in River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I was also able to use up the last bit of wholemeal flour.

Next, the many half-full bags of nuts I seem to have collected.

 Roasted  for 20 mins at 180°c/160°c fan ( mine were a bit overdone) and doused with soy sauce as soon as they came out of the oven. Very moreish.

I shall be using up the jar of wholegrain mustard tomorrow in a creamy chicken dish. I finished the coconut cream in a curry on Wednesday. I'm getting through it.


The other day I mentioned that I was thinking about buying a macro lens. Well I've stopped thinking about it and done it. I took all the photos for this post with it. I'm not sure I'm using it properly yet but I'm having fun.

By the way, in answer to James who asked me what kind of light I use for my photos, I use natural light and if they turn out too dark, something that often happens on a winter's evening, I lighten them using the photo editing software which came with my camera. I never use the flash and I have the camera set on aperture priority. As for styling I just put the food in a bowl or on a plate and get in close.

Old Mother Hubbard


Friday, 28 January 2011

My cupboard isn't quite bare but it is a lot less cluttered.
Here is my list. My bare bones store cupboard.
 I've really pared it down but there is still quite a lot there.
 These are the things I never want to be without. They are by no means the only foods I will be buying. I shall buy fresh, seasonal fruit and veg every week and a couple of different meats (sausages and braising steak this week) plus some fresh fish. If I want to make coconut and carrot soup or pineapple pudding then a tin of coconut milk or a tin of pineapple will go in my trolley. I expect the odd chunk of cheese will go in too.
 This may sound blindingly obvious to some, you might be thinking isn't that what everyone does? But I have got into the habit of routinely stocking every ingredient I might possibly need. My new system should allow me to plan for a few meals and ad lib the rest.

Baking Supplies
Strong white flour, strong wholemeal flour, plain flour, self-raising flour
Rolled oats
Caster sugar, demerara sugar, soft brown sugar 
Golden syrup, black treacle
Yeast, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda
Cocoa, 200g dark chocolate 
Desiccated coconut, almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts
Sunflower seeds I put them in granola and flapjacks and toast them for salads
Sultanas, dried apricots

Dry Goods
Basmati rice
Red lentils, green or grey lentils
Dried beans 
Dried milk -I use this when I make yogurt
Tea, coffee

Tins, jars and cartons
Chopped tomatoes, passata, tomato purée
Tuna, sardines
Black olives
Baked beans - essential emergency lunch
Homemade jam, marmalade, jelly and chutney
Dijon mustard
Marmite - vital and good as an emergency stock.
Sunflower seed butter - brilliant peanut butter substitute
Spices, sea salt, black peppercorns

Olive oil, sunflower oil
White wine vinegar
Soy sauce
Ketchup I could definitely do without this but the children would complain
Vermouth, dry sherry, brandy

Frozen peas - I would never want to be without the wondrous frozen pea
Frozen sweetcorn - Nor this
Minced beef
Chicken -whole and breasts
Salmon fillets
Homemade stock
Homemade veg hash
Homemade bread and breadcrumbs
Homegrown and foraged fruit

Cheddar, Parmesan
Homemade yoghurt
Bacon or chorizo 
Ham or salami -for sandwiches
Cream -at weekends


Even without buying fresh meat or special cheeses  I can make many meals from my list without having to buy anything else.

Granola, pancakes, toast with jam/jelly/marmalade/sunflower butter/marmite, porridge, beans on toast, eggs, bacon sandwiches, potato cakes

Toast and quince jelly

loaves, rolls, filled bread,pizza, foccacia, fruit bread, cinnamon rolls, naan bread, pittas, scones, soda bread

Cakes and biscuits
muffins, flapjacks, gingernuts, shortbread, fork biscuits, anzac biscuits, sponge cakes, fruit cakes, cocoa brownies, jam tarts, welsh cakes, gingerbread, banana cake and many more


lentil, minestrone, bean and tomato, vegetable and barley, tuna-cheddar chowder, carrot, pea, potato, tomato, onion

Light meals and salads
toasted cheese sandwiches, omelettes, lentil and egg salad, lentil and pea salad, carrot salad, orange and black olive salad, tuna and bean salad, baked potatoes with cheese, beans on toast, bean dip, hummus, all sorts of sandwiches

Mushroom omelette

Main Meals
Cheese soufflé, onion tart, pissaladière, bacon and egg tart, curried eggs, kushery (lentils and rice topped with fried onions), dahl, felafel, meatballs and spaghetti, chilli con carne, cottage pie, burgers, chicken curry, chicken escalopes in breadcrumbs, lemon and garlic chicken, chicken with mustard and cream, chicken cacciatore/chasseur, salmon with lentils, honey-soy glazed salmon, spiced chicken or salmon, potato gratin, pasta and cheese gratin, pasta puttanesca, beans and bacon or chorizo in a pot, bean chilli, pasta with oil and garlic, pasta with fried breadcrumbs, garlic and herbs, fried eggs and potato wedges, spaghetti carbonara, orzotto (barley risotto), lentil and barley stew, keema curry, meat and potato pie, pasties, pilaff, beans and rice, pan haggerty, mince and tatties

Salmon with puy lentils (or as C calls them 'those little beady things')

Carrot salad -carrot, parsley, toasted sunflower seeds in a dressing of orange juice, olive oil, salt and pepper

 mayonnaise, salsa verde, tapenade, herb butter, garlic butter, croutons, vinaigrette, tomato sauce, hollandaise sauce, béarnaise sauce

Chocolate fudge pudding, crème au chocolat, coconut creams, meringues, pancakes, bananas and cream, crumbles, pies, yoghurt and fruit, syllabub, bread and butter pudding, steamed puds, treacle tart, hollygog, vanilla ice cream, crème brulée, chocolate mousse, fruit salad, orange sorbet

Bananas and cream. My mum used to make this often when I was little. Whipped cream, sliced bananas (particularly good for brown bananas), sultanas and a little brown sugar.



Wednesday, 26 January 2011

'Why on earth have we got nine kinds of cheese?' I enquired, head in fridge, of no one in particular.
'I like cheese' said elder son, 'cheese is good'.
'Yes but nine kinds is ridiculous' I replied.
There was a chunk of Cheddar, an unwrapped block of Red Leicester, a wedge of disappointing Cornish Brie, a sliver of Jervaulx Blue, a slab of feta, a lump of Parmesan, half a tub of cream cheese, a bag of grated Gruyère and half a bag of grated mozzarella.
'I still like cheese' said elder son.
'OK' I said, ' but we only really need the Cheddar and maybe the Parmesan. We can use Cheddar in sandwiches and for cooking. Who says we have to put mozzarella on our pizzas?'
'Italian people' said elder son.

My point was that we had too much. There was too much of everything, the cheese, after all, only took up the top shelf of what is very large fridge.
It wasn't just the fridge either. Six kinds of vinegar, various bottles of alcohol, three types of mustard, four kinds of rice, five kinds of pasta, seven kinds of nuts, eight kinds of dried pulses, several kinds of sugar and assorted jars of posh preserved vegetables (sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, roast peppers etc) were crammed in my cupboards. Nothing wrong with any of those foods at all. Simply too many.

Just some of my food clutter. Nothing wrong with any of it, but I can manage without the lot.

I felt uneasy. This abundance, this variety, this limitless choice available to me, to us, it isn't right. It isn't good for us either. It isn't just the variety of food I have in my cupboards but the quantity that is troubling. It is so much easier to overeat when there is plenty there, plenty of variety makes it even easier. We can always make room for a new taste, always make room for pudding.

It is time to shorten the shopping list. Time to stop baking treats every day. Nigella Lawson may call her brownies Everyday Brownies, but that doesn't mean we can eat brownies everyday. Have you seen her storecupboard by the way? Every ingredient under the sun in there. Time for some restraint, some moderation. Time to reread Elizabeth David's essay Fast and Fresh (written for the Spectator in 1960) in which she describes a limited but versatile store cupboard.

'So long as I have a supply of elementary fresh things like eggs, onions, parsley, lemons, oranges and bread and tomatoes - and I keep tinned tomatoes too - I find that my store cupboard will always provide the main part of an improvised meal. If this has to be made quickly it may be just a salad of anchovy fillets and black olives, hard-boiled eggs and olive oil, with bread and a bottle of wine. If it is a question of not being able to leave the house to go shopping, or of being too otherwise occupied to stand over the cooking pots, then there are white beans or brown lentils for slow cooking, and usually a piece of cured sausage or bacon to add to them, with onions and oil and possibly tomato. Apricots or other dried fruit can be baked in the oven at the same time, or I may have oranges for a fruit salad, and if it comes to the worst there'll at least be bread and butter and honey and jam. Or if I am given, say, forty-five  minutes to get an unplanned meal ready - well, I have Italian and Patna rice and Parmesan, spices, herbs, currants, almonds, walnuts to make a risotto or pilaff. And perhaps tunny, with eggs to make mayonnaise, for an easy first dish. The countless permutations to be devised is part of the entertainment.'

You can find the rest of this essay in An Omelette and a Glass of Wine and in  At Elizabeth David's Table.

Some of Elizabeth David's necessities.

So, I'm having a think, I'm making a plan. A pantry plan. What do I absolutely need in my fridge, store cupboard and freezer in order to make delicious, nutritious but simple meals? I'll be back with my list in due course.



Tuesday, 25 January 2011

No, not Scottish, but any excuse for a feast. 
Today is Burns Night so time to eat a haggis or two. I love haggis. It is the only ready-made meal I will buy. Macsweens of Edinburgh are the ones to go for. Mind you I've never seen any other brand in England. The ingredient list is short and simple and refreshingly free from junk. Lamb offal, beef fat, oatmeal, water, pepper, salt and spices.
Haggis is stuffed with nutrients -fibre, wholegrains, iron, protein and B vitamins.

Easy to prepare. Simply wrap in foil and put in a baking dish with a little water for an hour.

My favourite part is plunging the knife in and watching the haggis burst out.

We ate it with neeps and tatties -mashed swede (rutabaga) and mashed potatoes. And some gravy leftover from Sunday. Mmmm..mmm. Pity we didn't have any Scotch.

The 25th is the day I show you a picture of The Quince Tree. She's not very interesting in January. But be assured she will improve. Here she is through the year.

When I Was One I Had Just Begun*


Monday, 24 January 2011

One year ago today I sat at the computer ready to begin a blog.
One year on I find that writing this blog has been quite possibly the most satisfying and rewarding thing I have done in my life. Even more than having children, and considerably less painful. I really can't imagine not blogging now. In fact just thinking about not being able to blog is making me panic. I'd rather give up alcohol than give up blogging. And that's saying something.

Things I Love About Blogging

1) I can talk about quinces, baking bread and making jam to people who are actually interested.
No one I know in real life, with the exception of some family is at all interested in this stuff.

2) My blog allows me to be creative.
I find composing a blog post really rewarding and I just love hitting the 'publish post' button.
 I bought my first camera in December 2009 having never been particularly interested in photography and was enchanted with how easy and immediate digital photography was. I recently upgraded to a DSLR and am enjoying playing around with it. I love being able to post really big pictures on the blog.
I am surprised to find that I enjoy the writing part of blogging as well.

3) I have 'met' so many lovely people who have been kind enough to comment on my posts. 
Friends who don't read blogs often ask me if I make money out of my blog as if that is the only reason for doing a thing. Well, of course you can make money but I don't want the blog cluttered up with advertising. I don't make money but I do get paid - in kind and appreciative comments.

4) I really love the way my blog has become a record of my everyday life. I often read through my old posts and marvel at how much there is to celebrate in the ordinariness of life. Thinking about what the next year will bring makes me so excited. I really have only just begun. I have a little blog notebook in which I jot down ideas for posts. It is getting pretty full.

Well, a birthday isn't a birthday without a cake is it?
So here is the Quince Tree Birthday Cake.

It is a cherry cake recipe with cubes of quince cheese standing in for the cherries and a glaze made of icing sugar and a little quince syrup that was lurking in my freezer.

I also celebrated with a tot of quince vodka :o)

: :

Thank you for all your responses to my last post. I just want to emphasise that blog awards are nice things. People pass them on in a spirit of goodwill as a way of saying 'I like what you're doing'. But apart from not wanting extraneous graphics on my blog I want to decide what I blog about and not have to write a post in response to an award.
: :

* A.A Milne

Blog Awards


Friday, 21 January 2011

 I took my camera into the garden yesterday morning to see if my hellebores were in flower. 
They had managed to escape the frost but there are no flowers yet.
So I took some pictures of the frost and thought about buying a macro lens.
When I went back indoors I was so glad I'd left my slippersocks wedged behind the radiator.

Right, here goes..... I may be about to offend some people I'm afraid. 
Blog awards.
I don't like them. There, I've said it.
I think they're bloggy chain letters. There, said it again.
The appearance of my blog is extremely important to me. All the images are my own photos. I hate clutter. Blog award buttons just don't fit in with the look of my blog.

So, to everyone who has been kind enough to pass on a blog award to me, may I say thank you so much for thinking my blog is worthy of note. I am touched that someone thinks I am versatile/stylish/lovely but really the only award I need is a friendly comment :o)

Now I quite understand if you think I'm being an ungrateful, stuck-up old bag who has only been blogging for a year but I just felt I ought to explain my position on blog awards before I have to politely decline any more.

And here, for all you lovely people who read and enjoy The Quince Tree are some daffs :o)



Wednesday, 19 January 2011

'I'm making marmalade tomorrow' I informed C yesterday evening.
'What, you're messing around with pans of boiling sugar?'
'Well be careful you don't burn yourself'
Why does everyone keep telling me that? Sheesh, you have one accident in twenty odd years of culinary endeavour and suddenly everyone thinks you're not safe to be left alone in a kitchen.
But thank you all for your concern :o)

Despite the fact that I still have four jars left from last year's marmalade making I couldn't pass up this most welcome of preserving opportunities.
 Just when everything is flat and grey, and Christmas already a distant memory the Seville oranges arrive to cheer everything up. Filling the house with the smell of sweet, orangey boiling is my idea of a good time.

I use Delia Smith's recipe as a starting point. I slice the peel in the food processor cutting up any bits that escape the blade with a knife. The pith disappears as the marmalade cooks.

You need a mountain of sugar.

Before Christmas I bought a jar of preserved ginger with whiskey. It was a mistake, I hadn't realised it had whiskey in it until I checked my receipt and discovered it had cost £5. Ouch. Never mind I thought, I expect I'll find a use for it. I did. In the marmalade it went. I chopped the ginger and threw it in the pan of cooked oranges with its whiskey-sodden syrup and the sugar.

Boil it up. Be careful it is very hot. Don't burn yourself ;o)

Testing for a set is always a testing time. I hardly ever manage to get it to the stage where it wrinkles on a cold saucer. I boiled this batch of marm for 25 mins and still no wrinkles. Pot it anyway. Put it somewhere cool and it will set as it cools. It always does.

Ladle carefully into sterilised jars. A jam funnel makes life easier.

I got ten jars of Ginger-Whiskey Marmalade. 
I am satisfied, sticky and unscathed :o)



Tuesday, 18 January 2011

After starting the new year on the wrong foot I am very happy to say that the foot is healed.

Look two socks!

And shoes! How I've missed shoes. 

On Saturday I noticed that it was no longer tender to the touch, that I could sit on a chair with my foot on the floor without feeling like someone was standing on it and that I could walk around the kitchen for as long as I needed to.
'Hurrah!' I said to C, 'when I see the nurse on Monday she's going to sign me off I know it'
 'Don't count your chickens' he replied, 'these things take a long time to heal'
'Pah! what do you know?' I retorted.
Nothing it seems, because I was right. The nurse said it was all better but that the skin was still tender and would need copious amounts of aqueous cream massaged in to it. Best of all she said I could get it wet- at last a shower! No more sitting in the bath with one foot hanging over the edge and no more dressings, just a bit of stockinette to protect it for a while longer.

So today I have been hither and thither Getting Things Done at last. I walked my daughter to school  (I had to give up last week as it was too painful), I went to town to buy my daughter a present to give to her BFF*
They're earrings ;o)

I also bought a big tub of aqueous cream and a new frying pan :o)
 Then I went to Waitrose to buy treats for my lunch ....

 and these.

 Sevilles. It's marmalade time. Coming soon to a blog near you.

Now that I can get out of the house I have a spring in my step -so much better than a limp I can tell you. The sun is shining here today making me feel like my year has finally begun. As if to emphasise the point I found something to gladden my heart even more.

Growing under the cherry tree in my front garden.

*BFF - Best Friend Forever

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