Saturday, 28 February 2015

I think we're getting there springwise, don't you? It certainly was a beautiful day yesterday allowing me to rush around with my camera taking pictures for February's sampler.

Number of books read from my reading list - 2 halves
I finished the second half of Housebound by Winifred Peck and found it to be about far more than housework. Well worth reading but if I'm honest I would have preferred it to have been all about housework.
I am now half way through Bird in the Tree the first of Elizabeth Goudge's trilogy The Eliots of Damerosehay which I am enjoying. I have cast Tom Hiddleston and Judi Dench as the main characters. Does anyone else do that? I expect I watch too much tv and have lost the ability to use my imagination.

Number of decent tv programmes watched  -2
Speaking of tv, Wolf Hall is still the best thing I have watched for a long time. I watched the first episode of Indian Summers which I quite liked but then found I couldn't be bothered to watch the second episode but I am enjoying Dr Janina Ramirez' programme about monasticism on BBC4 Saints and Sinners. I like a good history programme. Of all the current historians on tv she is the least irritating and doesn't talk about historical events in the present tense, at least not too much. Why do they do that? It drives me mad.

Number of special dates - 2
Tom celebrated his 18th birthday by going to the pub and Charlie and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary by visiting this.

Number of sporting events enjoyed - 1
I am greatly enjoying the Rugby Six Nations as always. Such a good idea to have something like this to cheer up February.
I was hoping to be able to enjoy the cricket world cup too but as England are playing so badly I am not. But if you are from New Zealand feel free to enjoy it as much as possible.

Number of books donated to Oxfam -more than can be counted.

My Essential Cookbooks


Thursday, 26 February 2015

Despite my love of a good clear-out I am in no way a minimalist. My home is not a sterile, comfortless place, it simply contains only the things its inhabitants want, use and need. Following my book clear-out I am left with only the cookbooks I really use whether it's to cook from or more often just to read and be inspired. Just three shelves. 


I used to have a lot more. A lot more. Some I have mentioned on this blog but are no longer on my shelves, not because they were bad books but because after the initial fun of reading through them I hardly, if ever opened them again. This is good example. Rereading that post makes me shrivel with embarrassment and despite the fact I gushed that there were dozens of recipes I couldn't wait to try I actually only made one. 

The cookbooks I bought when I began to cook for myself and Charlie are the ones I use most. I think if I were starting to cook today I'd choose new publications but for the stage I am at in my cooking life there is little the current trendy cookbooks can offer, unless I want to know how to cook without gluten or what to do with chia seeds and quinoa*,which I don't.

The thing is I don't need recipes any more. I don't say that to show off and I'm not saying I can cook everything, but I can cook all the things I want to cook. For example tonight I have some smoked haddock fillets for our supper. I'm going to poach them in milk and then use the milk to make a thick sauce. I shall flake the fish into a shallow dish and cover with the sauce and some grated cheese (gruy√®re or cheddar I haven't decided yet). I will put it under a hot grill to brown and we will eat it with crusty bread and spinach salad. If I were cooking for less fussy people (myself for instance) I would include cooked spinach with the fish. One could make a similar dish with large flat mushrooms instead of fish, they'd be delicious with blue cheese in the sauce. There are recipes for similar dishes in books but I won't be checking my books for one. It is a very rewarding stage to have reached in one's cooking life and very empowering. Learning to cook without a recipe is such a valuable skill. Luckily there are cookery books which can help develop this skill and the ones in the next picture are my favourites. 

The Art of Simple Food - Alice Waters
Appetite - Nigel Slater
The Modern Cook's Manual - Lynda Brown (out of print but there are bound to be second hand copies available)
An Everlasting Meal - Tamar Adler
The Thrifty Cookbook - Kate Colquhoun

Of the above Nigel Slater's Appetite is the one I have found most useful and pleasurable to read. As an experienced cook I find these books very inspiring but I do think a beginner needs something more prescriptive at least at first. I have a recommendation for such a book at the end of this post.

The two books above are my favourite and most often consulted baking books. Mary Berry needs no introduction and I have frequently mentioned her cake book. It's not just cakes, there are biscuits, cheesecakes and scones too. Susan Reimer's little book of muffin recipes has been my companion for many years. I haven't made every muffin in it but her basic muffin recipe at the beginning is so useful and the yogurt-oatmeal muffins are delicious and a good way of using up the homemade yogurt I always seem to have too much of.

The books above are my favourite budget/thrifty/frugal cookbooks. They are possibly my favourites of all my favourites. Simple, unpretentious and useful. 
More-With-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre
The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn -not a cookbook but containing a number of recipes and brilliant advice about running an economical kitchen. Full of creative solutions to living on less.
Feed Your Family For £5 a Day by Bernadine Lawrence. There is a newer edition of this but I like this one. The recipes are basic and maybe a little dull but as a framework for feeding a family on very little it can't be beat. 
The Pauper's Cookbook by Jocasta Innes. I have the original 70s edition plus the most recent one. You probably don't need both. This has some excellent thrifty recipes from various cultures.
Frugal Food by Delia Smith. Good old fashioned recipes. The new hardback edition has quite unnecessarily in my opinion expunged all references to lard and dripping and replaced them with more expensive oils. 
The Good Scots Diet by Maisie Steven. Not a cookbook but a comforting and reassuring reminder that a diet of simple home produced foods such as oatmeal, oily fish, fresh veg, berries and whole dairy is not only one of the healthiest in the world but much cheaper than flax seeds, coocnut oil and goji berries.

As for the best all round cookbook on my shelves, one that has recipes for everything the average Brit is likely to want to make, is great for beginners and experienced cooks alike, well, it's this one.

Delia, you can't go wrong with her. Not the best for encouraging experimentation perhaps, but that will come with experience.

*Buy a nice bit of steak instead.

Less Is More


Monday, 23 February 2015

90p a bunch from the farmshop. I bought them on Thursday but by Saturday evening they were going brown and crispy. They were surprisingly noisy. All Thursday afternoon as they opened their papery buds they made sudden and loud cracking noises.

It seems like every blogger I read is Kondoing. I haven't read the book but I am also Kondoing albeit accidentally. I've long been a disciple of the less is more creed. I abhor the idea of being burdened with stuff - useless stuff, unnecessary stuff, ugly stuff, forgotten-about stuff. I find purging my house of the unnecessary immensely satisfying and therapeutic.

 I am pleased to say that Katie, formerly known as The Child Least Likely to Get Rid of Useless Old Junk, has become a convert. She voluntarily turned out five binliners full of stuff for recycling/donating/landfill and felt very much better for it.

Yesterday I tackled the books in our front room and reduced two Billy bookcases of books to one Billy bookcase of books. Charlie joined in with enthusiasm which was wonderful as I was fed up of dusting his unread books. We have also whittled our dvd and cd collections down and chucked out the old video tapes which have now become obsolete.

As for clothes, well, there is little I can do to simplify my wardrobe. I read an article about reducing one's wardrobe to 33 pieces (not including underwear) and full of enthusiasm set to only to find I had 21 pieces. I have 4 pairs of shoes, 5 if we include my flip flops. I have one handbag.

Even my yarn stash is paltry -a couple of skeins of sock yarn is about it.

There were four photos of daffodils but I decided less was more.

In other news I fixed my washing machine all by myself for free. The filter needed cleaning. Now it works perfectly.

In Case You Were Wondering......


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

My laptop died. The hard drive to be precise. All 6000 odd photos gone. Not to worry though, none were precious and the best ones are all here on this blog. My new laptop arrived today. It's very quiet and feels very different as if I have new hands.

So, what have I been doing this February? Not taking enough photos that's what. The ones that follow are all I have to show for February so far. Must make an effort.

Tom turned 18, I made a humming bird cake which was far too big, far too sweet and had far too much icing. Lesson not learned from three years ago.

 Other than the birthday cake I have done very little baking or pudding making (apart from a little rhubarbing- see below). Finally I seem to be kicking the habit of always having something sweet around. Nobody seems to mind so clearly I was only doing it for myself. That said I couldn't let today go without making a few pancakes. Which I forgot to photograph.

And now my washing machine seems about to go the same way as my laptop. Bugger.

Grilled halloumi on lentil and roast pepper salad. Was yum.

The farm shop had this year's first forced rhubarb. I roasted it with ginger and sugar and ate it with yogurt.

February Fair Maids aka snowdrops. I spy a few crocuses making an appearance here and there too. Not long now.

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