Friday, 31 July 2015

The right way to serve a cream tea...

Occasionally I get emails from companies or organisations requesting a collaboration of some description here on the blog. I don't get them often enough to have a formal advertising policy so I treat each one on an individual basis. If it's something that interests me, or that is relevant to my eco/frugal/simple blog theme, then I'll go with it. The quirkier the request the more interested I am, although I did once turn down a writer who wanted to guest blog on the topic of "How to look after your books".  On the other hand, however, I have blogged in return for knobs. (You can read that blog post here - the knobs feature at the end). If it's a sofa company wanting me to link up with them, it's a big yawn and I'm definitely not interested.

When Fabrizio from got in touch and asked if he could send me a set of natural products that I could taste and use to cook a 'delicious dish', it was unusual enough to get me interested. I do blog about food a lot and I always like a natural product. Having visited the Cistercian monastery on Caldey Island last year and sampled the fudge they produce there, the part of Fabrizio's email that talked about helping some Monasteries to promote their natural products by blogging about them, appealed to me.

I was excited to see what the natural products would be...When a jar of jam and a bar of beautifully packaged chocolate arrived, I was surprised, but I am a jam lover and a chocolate lover, in moderation, so I could work with that!

This blog post will deal with the jam. (I couldn't come up with a recipe that could incorporate jam and chocolate, so the chocolate will get its own blog post later).

At this time of year there's only really one thing to do with jam and that is to eat it on top* of cream on a scone**. Perhaps I could have done something more elaborate with it but in my opinion there is no better way to show a jam off to its best than as part of a cream tea. Especially if you're from Devon, like me.

The cream tea using the Holyart jam was very special in that the jam had been sent by Fabrizio, all the way from Italy - it is Uva flavour. From the look and taste of the jam I thought that Uva must be plum, but the word for plum is in fact Prugna. Uva is grape/raisin/sultana/gooseberry. The jam is probably gooseberry jam. A cream tea generally utilises red jam, but a Wiltshire cream tea using Italian jam and Cornish clotted cream, is definitely allowed to bend the rules.

A big thank you Fabrizio and Holyart for enabling us to enjoy a cream tea on a rainy English summer's day!

* I am here referring here to the proper way to eat a cream tea, cream first, jam on top - the Devon way, of course.

** I always use Delia Smith's scone recipe which can be found here.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Messing about on the river...

Or rather, messing about on the canal...Son's been an only child for ten days while Daughter has been on her World Challenge expedition to Iceland. On  one of his last days of being an 'only', we said we'd treat him to something special. "Kayaking at Bradford-on-Avon", he said without hesitation. We've done this a couple of times there before, but not for ages.

Sunday came round and it was gloomy and raining, but we'd said we would, so we did; armed with wellies and waterproof trousers. Actually, it wasn't as bad outside as it looked from inside. Now there's a useful lesson if you live in England. Don't let rain stop play. We didn't get at all wet and drippy whilst we were rowing, but afterwards Son decided to wade into the River Avon (which runs close to the canal) deeper than his wellies and squelched his way back to the car.

It was all happening on the Kennet and Avon canal on Sunday.We arrived to find a narrow boat unhitched from its mooring and blocking the canal. Fortunately it had been re-secured by the time we had launched our canoe and paddled that far. Then we found some people dangling a magnet into the canal to try and retrieve their keys...We felt as if we were in an episode of Rosie and Jim*. Well worth the £10 canoe hire, for entertainment value alone.

*For non-UK readers, Rosie and Jim was one of our favourite childrens' TV programmes back when the kids were small. The eponymous Rosie and Jim were puppets who lived on a narrow boat, the Ragdoll and got up to all sorts of mischief. Plenty of episodes to be found on Youtube.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Welcome to the newest member of the family!

No, not a baby or anything, but Victor - Victor the Third. Almost as hard work to keep alive as a real baby.

For his birthday back in April, the only thing that Son wanted, was a Venus Fly Trap plant. Who wouldn't?

Not being an expert in such matters, where else was I to turn but eBay? I was seduced by what I thought was a verdant, bushy (as much as Venus Fly Trap plants can be bushy) Venus Fly Trap plant, for the princely sum of £14.99. I know, but it was the only thing that Son wanted, after all, so no stinting. Really - a relatively modest, frugal desire, compared to the things that a twenty-first century 12 year old boy might crave for his birthday.

It arrived in a tiny plastic bag nestling in some damp kitchen roll, all four leaves of it. You might still be thinking I was ripped off, but you haven't seen the encyclopaedic VFT handbook to download, included with the purchase. This was when we realised it wasn't as simple as leaving it on a window sill to catch a few flies. Oh no. 

They are bog plants requiring rain water to drink and special compost. And they are difficult to keep alive. Or so it seems to us.

Victor the First survived a month, until we went on holiday in May, and then despite copious instructions for our cat/chicken/Victor sitters, we returned to him looking brown and sulky. All his leaves dropped off.

Not to worry, Victor the Second began growing from this miraculous compost, and he looked very healthy, until someone accidentally knocked him and he also turned brown and died.

Third time round, we are being extra careful. Regular feeding. Paranoia about running out of rainwater. (It has been an unpredictable summer after all). A paper clip to support his one feeble leaf in order to prevent it from drooping onto the compost and rotting. And now, just when he's starting to flourish, the dilemma of whether to leave him on his own at home, to possibly suffer the fate of Victor the First, or whether to take him on holiday with us...

Friday, 24 July 2015

Frittering it all away...

It's the school summer holidays and after a very busy few months for the grown-ups here, I've got a bit more time to fritter.

Literally. I've been making fritters.

Pea, mint and feta fritters.

When a neighbour asked if I'd like to come with her to a cookery demo at a local farm shop by vegetarian cook Rachel Demuth (of Demuth's Cookery School in Bath), it seemed the ideal treat for a few months of hard slog. I'm a lapsed vegetarian (read more of that here) who's still really a vegetarian at heart. I cook a lot of veggie stuff, but my repertoire dates from my conversion to vegetarianism in the 1980s - it was good to get more with it at the cookery evening.

The demo didn't disappoint. Rachel and her partner cooked up a veritable veggie feast: basil and pesto bruschetta, followed by pea, mint and feta fritters with tzatziki and local asparagus and toasted almond salad. For dessert we were served stawberries in mint and elderflower syrup. Not only that, but they also dished up lots of sensible advice about veggie cooking and eating - I really liked the pragmatic approach that took into account the benefits of using quality ingredients whilst also accepting that not many people can afford to use expensive ingredients all the time - lots of ideas were given for maximising flavours and saving costs. Rachel's partner is an expert forager so there was also much discussion about the use of foraged ingredients.

I haven't made the pesto yet, although I'm hoping for a more successful attempt than my last one here, but I have made the fritters twice (see recipe below) - they're scrummy, and gluten free as well as vegetarian.

I told a veggie friend about the evening and he recommended Rachel's cookery books - he has one from a few years ago and still uses it often - that's the sign of a good cookery book.

Pea, Mint and Feta fritters

100g fine yellow cornmeal (I could only find a quick cook polenta which seemed to do the trick)
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs separated
250g peas, podded weight
75g feta crumbled
2 spring onions, finely chopped

Handful of fresh mint
100 ml milk
Salt and black pepper 
Oil for frying (Rachel's a big fan of rapeseed oil)

Blanch the peas and mash them. Mix the cornmeal, baking powder, egg yolks and mashed peas, crumbled feta, spring onion and fresh mint. Add the milk and stir until it's a smooth paste. Season well.

Whisk the egg whites until fluffy and fold into the corn batter.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and drop balls of the batter into the pan - you can make any size. Fry until golden and set. (In fact my mixture was firm enough to roll into balls and flatten into fritters and fry.)

What not to do - Despite Rachel's mantra of doing things by hand, in the interests of speed I still went ahead and whizzed it up in a food blender the first time. Bad idea because everything becomes homogenised and you can't taste the feta!

Note: This is not a sponsored post. My neighbour and I went along of our own free will and paid with our own hard earned cash! All views are my own. I'd definitely go to another of Rachel's demos - the twenty minute suppers course would be right up my street.