Sunday, 30 September 2012

The sea, the sea.......

 I went to Dorset and saw the sea.
 When I was a kid we went on holiday to Dorset every year, Weymouth, for two weeks to stay with my father's relatives. As kids we loved it. I can understand now, why my Mum was less enamoured. For us it was all about  buckets and spades, donkey rides and running to see the man who made sculptures out of sand, pockets full of pennies to play the machines in Alexandra Gardens, ice-cream and crab sandwiches, collecting seaweed and searching rock pools with the bamboo handle of my shrimping net, collecting eggs from my Uncle's chickens, beetroot fresh from the garden turning the salad cream pink and zig-zag cut tomatoes which we never had at home.
For my Mum it was cooking on someone else's stove, washing up in someone else's sink and finding things for us to do when it rained. Which of course it did quite a lot. Coming from Sussex, we had to get up when it was still dark in order to 'beat the traffic', and eat a picnic breakfast of food we never normally ate for breakfast: scotch eggs and cold sausages and tea from a flask which we would spill in the back of the car, while my Dad shouted at either my Mum for telling him to take the wrong turning off the Stonehenge roundabout or us in the back for fighting. And then there was always, at some point, the endless hours waiting for the man from the AA to come and fix the car.
This time I went by train, in daylight, it only took a couple of hours. I went to the Watch House Cafe and drank good coffee, we shared a dish of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon and Eggs Florentine. I walked by the sea at West Bay and the sun shone.
Top tip: go to the sea, the sea and blow away the cobwebs, the cobwebs.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Cherry and Seed Madeira Cake for the menopausal.......

Regular readers might have noticed my enjoyment of baked goods in general, cake in particular. I find cooking quite relaxing too, all the chopping and  mixing and stuff. So, with winter looming and a particularly lovely picture of a Cherry and Seed Madeira Cake in one of the Sundays, it was on with the pinny.

This recipe comes from Lily VaniIli who has a bakery off Columbia Road flower market at 6 The Courtyard, Ezra  St. London E2 7RG. I think it was the word Madeira that caught my eye. That and cherry. I like cherries and believe there a few greater pleasures than a brown paper bag filled with fat, ripe cherries. I think I thought there might be Madeira wine in the cake. There isn’t. Or perhaps I planned to take a glass while making it, who knows. I don’t know enough about baking to know the difference between Madeira or Victoria or Pound cake. I just know I like eating cake. My son likes baked goods too and at times like this, when I have weight-gaining food lurking about, I can rely on him to eat most of it in one sitting, thus removing any temptation from me. So, I set to. However, I did not have poppy seeds as recommended in the recipe, along with pumpkin and sesame. 

But being a menopausal woman I do have bags and bags of omega 3 packed mixes of pumpkin, sesame, linseed, flax and sunflower seeds. So, I decided to combine cake with healthy eating and make a menopausal-mixed-seed-and-cherry-Maderia cake. It worked a treat and was utterly delicious. And I ate half the cake before the son even came home.

Top tip: there are few problems that are not better ruminated over with cake, get baking.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

A shoe in...........

September will for me always feel like a new beginning. More so than January 1st. It’s because of the back-to-school syndrome. Even though I’m not at school and I no longer have to get anyone to school, September is a fresh start. It’s a new class, a different teacher, a new bag without a broken strap, clean pages in virgin exercise books un-curled by the abuse of pupil or scared by the red-raw pen of teacher, weary from late-night marking and bored by excuses. And new shoes. Back-to-school shoes came from Clarks when I was a child. And they were horrid. Laced or buckled, they came in thousands of width fittings and only two colours: black or brown. They were fitted by frumpy women or spotty youths who were still growing. Going shopping for back-to-school shoes took hours and hours and was the most boring thing in the whole world. Ever. Being told to sit still and wait while 48 other children had their feet clamped and measured by tape and rule that would denote the only two styles that fitted that particular ratio of length and width: ugly or really ugly. There would be much shouting and distress from my young mother as she tried to wrangle me and my brother into the shop and make us both sit down and stop fighting, which was never going to happen. Fighting was what we did best and my mother was no Kofi Annan. And then after all the waiting and shouting and threatening we would leave with bright green boxes of dark, sombre, sensible shoes that looked like they were only missing the calliper, and would never wear out. All I could do was pray my feet would never stop growing so there might be a chance we would next time go to Dolcis or Freeman Hardy and Willis, anywhere but Clarks.
But that was then and this is now. Now Clarks has changed. Clarks does shoes of fashion. The change came some time ago and this year they seemed to have excelled themselves. They have brought out a fab selection of Mary-Janes …. in a range of width fittings…… snakeskin, suede, patent, I was spoilt for choice. Growing up used to mean not having to get you shoes from Clarks. Not anymore.
Top tip: Hunderby........Julia Davis's hilarious period piece on Sky Atlantic........Autumn telly starts now book the sofa.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Ca va?

It’s always unexpectedly brilliant to make a new friend. I made a new friend when I was in Greece. She comes from Dublin but has lived in France for almost 20 years, teaching English Language and Literature, most of that time in Lille so she knows the place well and lives in a beautiful 16th century apartment over-looking the Grand Place.

She invited me to come visit so I went. I took the Eurostar from St. Pancras Station and an hour and half later I had arrived for the Braderie de Lille, a sort of giant brocante, that takes place every year over a weekend. The streets around the centre ville effectively become the largest flea market in Europe and every restaurant, cafĂ©, bar serves moules frits.
And it’s fabulous. Cobbled streets, good wine, baked goods and bargains……. What’s not to like? And it was all so French: people reading wine labels, women smoking and bread with everything. I did much mais nonmais oui, ca va and d’accord-ing unlike my usual trips to stay with another friend who lives in the depths of the French countryside, where we sort of live in a bubble ….. albeit a very beautiful-pink-wine-filled bubble. 

And oh the shopping! I only had a small valise with me because, due to my recent economic downturn, I had no intention in buying anything except a tube of Avibon which I learnt about from the utterly brilliant A Femme d'Un Certain Age  (fab for top tips) it's just like 8 Hour Cream...... However, I bought, amongst other things, a fist full of beautiful silk scarves including Nina Ricci, Armani and Carven for a fist full of Euros, a brand new, pink, angora sweater, sparkled with bugle-beads from a store masquerading as a mock Zadig & Voltaire, for a tenner, a huge, old, school map of Afrique du Nord et Sahara for a song and a bunch of saucisson enhanced with herb, nut, olive and fig …. a voila!! Had I had a much larger valise I might have brought back a gold framed mirror, ancient wooden trunks, a ton of French linen, bowls, plates, platters, a couple of decanters, a silver cocktail shaker, some farm implements, a milk churn and a couple of day beds. Who knows.

Top tip: the Eurostar …. quicker and more comfortable to get to Lille than Dorset…..