Monday, 15 January 2018

Emil of Lönneberga by Astrid Lindgren

I grew up with Astrid Lindgren's books, which are well-known and much loved in Russia. Here, in the UK, for some unfathomable reason, she is less popular. Quite a few times when I mentioned Astrid Lindgren to my British friends who have young children, they hardly recognised the name or even never heard of this brilliant Swedish writer. Some might recollect Pippi Longstocking, but that's about it.
There are so many books for young readers these days, which can only be described as dumbing down. They might be mildly amusing, but they lack in sensitivity, compassion, intelligence and learning.

Eddie and I spend every evening reading together before bedtime. I have been revisiting my childhood favourites including Karlson on the roof trilogy and recently - Emil of Lönneberga.
There are three volumes published by OUP - Emil and the Great Escape (translated by Lilian Seaton), Emil and the Sneaky Rat (translated by Susan Beard) and Emil's Clever Pig (translated by Michael Heron).
All three books are illustrated by Tony Ross. And while they are quite engaging, they lack the authentic flavour of the original Swedish illustrations by Björn Berg.

best children's books

I was disappointed with the OUP's translation of Karlson on the roof, but they did a good job with Emil's trilogy.

If you're not familiar with Emil, he is a 5-year-old boy (in the first book) who lives with his parents, younger sister Ida, farmhand Alfred and maid Lina at Katthult farm.
He "got up to more mischief than there were days in the year".

All the books are written with kind humour and compassion. Emil is truly mischievous but he's never nasty. He has a great talent of getting into trouble. To escape his father's wrath, Emil's Mum often takes him to the tool shed, where he locks the door on the inside. To pass the time, he carves wooden figures, and has acquired quite a collection.

He is smart and creative, resourceful and brave.
In one of the stories he saves Alfred by taking him in the sleigh through the snowstorm, when the adults refuse to act and say that there was nothing they could do, leaving Alfred to die of blood poisoning.
Alfred is very fond of Emil, he is like a big brother to him, and teaches him to swim and look after animals. Emil has a great affinity with animals.

For being a farmer's son, he accepts the brutal facts of life, but he also shows love and compassion to animals, like buying a lame hen that nobody wanted at the auction, or rescuing a piglet and raising it as a pet, and forbidding his father to slaughter it for Christmas.
The story about Piggy Beast - as the piglet is known in the family - is charming and endearing, and would warm the cockles of your heart.

Emil's parents have a big farm. Father Anton, is a church warden, who is portrayed as being stingy with money. He admonishes his wife Alma for wanting new shoes too often (once every ten years).
Alma, Emil's mother, is an inspirational lady, she is a fantastic cook, famous for her cooking throughout the region. She adores her children, and wouldn't hear any criticism of her darling Emil. She keeps writing journals about Emil's tricks, and always finds an explanation for his behaviour.

Then there is little Ida, who is mostly well-behaved. And there is a grumpy maid Lina who wants to marry Alfred and keeps pestering him about when they should get married She detests Emil (and the feeling is mutual). You feel sorry for her as well. Uneducated, she spends her days, working hard on the farm, getting up at 4.30am to milk the cows, and not even having a room of her own (she sleeps in the kitchen).

Reading Emil from Lönneberga trilogy is like stepping back in time, when life was moving at a slower pace, with the seasons. It has an old-fashioned feel to it.
Sharing these books with Eddie brought back fond memories. I was talking with my Mum on the phone and mentioned that I'm reading these books to Eddie, and she asked me Did you read about Lina's toothache and how they tried to help her?

These books stood the test of time, they are entertaining but also have serious themes which could be discussed with children (master-servants' relationship; poorhouses; lack of medical treatment).

Eddie loved these books, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. We were sad to say good bye to Emil, and wished there were more books in the series.

Have you read any of Emil's adventures?

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Wild rocket, pear and cheese soup

vegetarian soup recipe

This term Eddie is studying ancient Rome at school. We talked about foods they ate in the Roman empire, and I mentioned that rocket was one of the edible leaves they favoured.
While checking out the Sunday bargains at Waitrose earlier today, I've spotted a bag of wild rocket reduced to 25p and decided to cook soup for dinner. It is by no means a Roman recipe, especially that I use a potato in this soup, which obviously wasn't known in Europe until the 16th century.
But wild rocket would have been widely used by the Romans in salads, soups and stews.

I had a good rummage in the fridge to see which other greens and other veg I can find, and got half an onion from the day before when I fried potatoes with mushrooms, a few celery stalks, half a bag of spinach, and a handful of baby courgettes which were slightly past their best.
I also had a small chunk of cheese (Petite Basque, I think).

It reminded me of Three men in a boat and how they cooked an Irish stew, when they were putting all kinds of odds and ends together. This used to be one of my favourite books in early teens, though I haven't re-read it since then.

vegetarian soup

Wild rocket, pear and cheese soup
1/2 medium white onion
2tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1 long celery stalk, chopped
about 80g of courgette
1 pear, peeled and chopped (I used a Conference pear)
1 bag of wild rocket (90g)
1/2 bag of baby spinach (about 60g)
a small chunk of cheese (about 50g)
1 cube of vegetable stock
sea salt

Finely chop half an onion, and fry it with olive oil for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Add a finely chopped garlic and fry for another minute. Peel and chop one potato, and put in a pan with a stock cube, add the celery, courgette and pear, as well as onions and garlic, and pour enough water to cover all the vegetables. Cook for about 20 minutes, add rocket and spinach and grated cheese and cook for another 5 minutes. You might want to add more water if the soup is too thick.
Once cooked, blitz the soup with a hand blender and serve hot, with a spoonful of single cream, Greek style yogurt or soured cream (optional).
This is a tasty vegetarian soup.
For a vegan version, skip the cheese and any other dairy.

vegetarian meals, vegetarian soup

Adding this recipe to #KitchenClearout linky hosted by Cheryl at Madhouse Family Reviews, since like George from Three men in a boat I've added all sorts of odds and ends to this soup.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Photo diary: weeks 1 & 2 (project 365)

I stopped writing photo diary posts last year for several reasons, one of them being considerably less popular than recipe and review posts traffic-wise. But I missed taking part and looking at what the other bloggers where up to, so albeit later than I should have, I'm joining in again this year with Project 365.
With school holidays last week, I had no chance to do my first post, so here is a glimpse of our two weeks of taking photos, or not taking much, as in my case. I realised that most of my photos are food-related, and I must work on making an effort and taking different photos.

On the 1st of January I was pondering on my non-resolutions for the coming year, and doing some scribbles in a Moleskine journal, which was one of my Christmas gifts.

In the last couple of weeks Eddie got it into his head that he needs to wear a scarf at home. In fact, there is no need, the heating is on most of the day. But apparently it is more fun. OK then.

On the 3rd we baked nutty oat cookies and mostly moaned about going back to school on the coming Monday. Nobody was enthusiastic about the school.

easy cookies

I have several orchids in the kitchen, all of them gifts from different friends. Despite the kitchen being the coldest room in the house (it's the only one that doesn't have a double glazing), most of the orchids started to bloom. As I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, these blooms cheer me up and make me think of my lovely friends.

home plants, exotic plants

I am addicted to buying books set in Cornwall. Christmas in the Cornish cafe by Phillipa Ashley was one of recent purchases. It is a classic chick lit, with some darker undertones. It also has some recipes at the back of the book.
Macarons in the photo are, alas, not baked by me, but are there courtesy of M&S. I rarely buy them, as they cost an arm and a leg, but these were discounted. I have never made macarons in my life.

I don't often bother with porridge for breakfast, but I do sometimes fancy it for lunch or even dinner. Quaker Oats are running a creative competition these couple of months, and I have joined in with this photo. Porridge with sour cherries and pine nuts was as delicious as it looks.

Monday the 8th started early. Back to school and all that. Nobody was happy to get up early and get ready for school. Coming home, I had a morning all to myself, and I was trying to catch up on some of Christmas TV programmes which I missed, and started working on a new puzzle. Bliss.

Our garden looks quite bleak at the moment, there is no much to see, everything seems to be dormant, and waiting for spring, apart from a few brave blossoms.

Wednesday happened to be a sunny day, and Eddie and I came home from school, he went upstairs to change and then ran down excitedly to tell me about the disco room. The sun shone through the window opposite our bedroom, and reflected on the wall via the sparkly sequins on my Christmas jumper. It was pretty, and did look a bit like a disco party.

On Thursday Sash stayed overnight at a respite centre. He's only been there a few times before. We were offered two nights per month for him to stay there, so that we could all recharge batteries and potentially have a better sleep. He seems to enjoy staying there, as they have lovely facilities including a jacuzzi and an indoor hammock.
My husband was abroad, so it was just Eddie and me at home, which felt very strange. We decided to have a film night. I bought a big bag of popcorn, and we watched The Addams Family Values. It is very non-PC, but still funny.
That day I spotted this creepy doll in the local vintage shop. She does look like a Bride of Chucky.
Can't see many takers who would want to have such a cutie at home?!

Friday morning was misty and foggy, we walked to school and admired the flood fields by the river Windrush.

Nothing much happened today, we stayed at home. I cooked fried potatoes with wild mushrooms for dinner. We had a lazy day, and I was watching Victoria series 1 on Netflix, and that's my excitement for the day.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Sea bream with stir fried vegetables

Thai-inspired recipes, easy dinner recipes

I've been trying to be good, and keeping up with some of my non-resolutions. So far, I took one bag of clothes and books to the charity shop. I did buy one book, but it was for Eddie (so that doesn't count, does it?!). We finished reading Astrid Lindgren's Karlson on the Roof trilogy - Eddie loved them - and decided to continue reading this author's books. I thought he might like adventures of Emil (Emil's Great Escape) which I loved so much as a child.
I also started browsing through some of the cook books with an aim of decluttering. I haven't yet found a single cook book, with which I am ready to part.

Browsing Healthy Speedy Suppers by Katriona MacGregor which I reviewed back in 2016, I came across a recipe for Sea Bass with Thai vegetables.
I did a list of ingredients on my mobile, and off we went grocery shopping. I couldn't find sesame seeds anywhere, and rather than buying sea bass, I got two sea bream fillets just because they were on offer.
I have adapted Katriona's recipe, but was definitely inspired by it. The variation of her recipe also appears online - see Sea bass with Thai vegetables (serving 2 rather than 4 people).

Sea bream with stir fried vegetables (serves 2)
2 sea bream fillets
4tbsp olive oil (1 for fish, 3 for the vegetable stir fry)
1/3 lemon
sea salt with seaweed

1 medium carrot, chopped finely
1/2 sweet pepper (red)
1 clove of garlic
1tsp chopped chilli
5 big leaves of Chinese cabbage
100g courgettes
fresh ginger (about 1 finger digit in length)
1tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp mirin
1tsp fish sauce (optional)
a squeeze of lemon juice

Cook the sea bream in foil in the oven. Place the fish fillets in the foil, which has been lightly oiled. Squeeze some lemon juice over fish, and season with sea salt with seaweed. Make a pocket of foil over the fish, so that it steams inside the oven. Cook for about 10-15 minutes at 180C.

steamed fish

In the meantime cook the vegetables. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan, add the chopped carrots and pepper. Finely chop a clove of garlic as well as chilli and stir into the veg. Finally add the Chinese cabbage and courgettes, and grate some fresh ginger.
Drizzle soy sauce, mirin, fish sauce and lemon juice over the vegetables. Cook stirring for about 10 minutes.

Serve fish with vegetables.

Adding fish sauce is optional. I have a bottle of fish sauce, and try to convince myself to use it more often, as it does indeed add a depth of flavour, But the smell, oh my goodness. It stinks to heaven.

Do you use fish sauce in cooking? I'd dearly love some tips on how to keep the stink to a minimum.

quick easy meals

Christmas at the Cornish Cafe by Phillipa Ashley

Christmas books, books set in Cornwall, books set in cafe

Christmas at the Cornish Cafe by Phillipa Ashley caught my eye for two reasons - it mentioned Cornwall and there was a picture of a cozy cottage on the cover. It also belonged to a super popular genre where chick lit meets cook books. Have a look at the shelves of your local bookshop, there will be dozens of titles along the lines of The beach cafe, The canal boat cafe, The cafe by the sea, The lemon tree cafe, Meet me at the Cupcake cafe etc etc). There is clearly a big demand and supply for this genre. I got my copy in Sainsbury's for £2.99 to take with me on holidays to Italy. And it also had recipes in the back.
I haven't read the first book in the series, in fact I didn't even know that there was a series.

The story is told by two main protagonists - Demi and her boyfriend Cal. For some strange reason they are hiding their relationship from the others, though both are adults and have no families.
Demi ran away from home years ago, after her Mum died and father started drinking, trying to drown his sorrows in alcohol and self-pity, without noticing that his daughter needs him.
Cal's parents are dead too, so there is nobody to prevent them from seeing each other.
It was not clear why they had to sneak into each others' homes to have sex.
And there is plenty of that, if not actually doing it, then thinking about it. All the time.

I don't know what it is about modern fiction set in Cornwall, but there is always a dark, brooding male character with a hot bum. I mean, who in real life even notices bums?!
There is not much of a relationship between the two, just sneaky sex encounters and coupling in the kitchen or broom cupboard (or was it a supplies room?!). No foreplay either. Let's just say, I was not impressed with the sex scenes in the book.

Demi is opening her cafe, Demelza's, named after her granny. She lives in a small cottage, with her silly dog Mitch, who tries to escape at any given opportunity.
Cal runs a holiday park, with cottages and yurts to rent. His backstory of serving in Syria as an aid worker is poignant and adds an extra dimension to his character.

Once the holiday park is open, their first guest arrives on a stormy evening.

The first encounter between Demi and Kit Brannan reminded me a bit of the first meeting between Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, when he appears out of the darkness and shows his grumpy side. Like Mr Rochester, Kit has his own skeletons in the attic (albeit not a mad wife). He claims he came to spend a few weeks in Cornwall to write his novel in peace, but he has a different agenda on his mind.

Is it going to be a love triangle?

The story is a classic chick lit, easy-going and slow-paced. There are moving scenes of the devastating floods in Cornwall which happened a few years ago.

My favourite bits were descriptions of Cornwall, they are atmospheric and evocative, and made me miss the seaside. And the recipe for mince pie cookies sounds lovely, I must try it.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

December Degustabox

The latest Degustabox arrived, as I was packing suitcases for our trip to Italy the next morning. I haven't even opened it until we came back home from holidays. It was a lovely surprise to come home to.
We are always looking forward to our Degustabox delivery, which arrives every month and is full of foodie surprises. This monthly food and drink subscription box is an excellent way to discover products which have only just appeared in the shops or those which might have been around for while, but you haven't had a chance to try them yet.
Thanks to Degustabox, I have found new favourites to add to our shopping list, including some products which I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

Each time the box arrives, it's a total surprise. You get a good selection of foods and drinks.
If you haven't tried Degustabox subscription box yet and would like to have a go, I have a whopping £7 off discount from your first box (and you can unsubscribe any time) - just use a code 8EVI8 when you place an order.
What did we receive in December Degustabox? Let's have a look.

food box

We love nuts in this house. Planters snacks are delicious. We got two varieties of Planters (60g) bags:
Planters Nut-rition Protein mix (peanuts, redskin peanuts, cashew nuts and almonds) as well as Energy Mix (chocolate covered honeycomb, Brazil nuts, walnuts and peanuts).
I used one bag of nuts to make lovely nutty oat cookies.
Energy mix contained very tasty chocolate covered honeycomb, but we couldn't find any walnuts inside.

Popchips Galactic Puffs is my sons' recent favourite snack. We have discovered them recently in Waitrose. I usually buy the BBQ flavour, and was pleased to see the other flavour - Sour cream and onions in the box. I only managed to snap one general photo of the contents of the box, and then the pack of Popchips disappeared so fast, I had no chance to take an individual photo.
Popchips contain no added preservatives, artificial flavours, synthetic colours, cholesterol, 0 grams trans fat, and they are gluten free as well.
Galactic Puffs are a fun snack for all Star Wars fans.

Image credit: Popchips

Taking the Pea is the UK's first Great Taste Award winning grab and go range of savoury pea snacks, and very tasty they are too. With more protein than crisps and less fat than nuts, these peas are the perfect healthy snacking product. They come in several flavours, and are great for when you're feeling peckish.

healthy snacks

Ryvita Lightly Salted Rye Cakes are made with popped wholegrain rye. They are naturally high in fibre and low in fat. If one of your new year's resolutions was to lose a bit of weight, this wholesome snack might be your new friend. Eat them with a variety of healthy toppings and feel virtuous.

healthy snacks

If you are not counting calories, there is an indulgent box of Willies Cacao Black Pearls, made with single estate chocolate and sea salt caramel. Very moreish chocolate balls are individually wrapped.
You will receive one of two flavours (the second one is Passion Fruit Caramel, which sounds equally delightful).

Another sweet treat - Candy Kittens Gourmet Sweets. These are trendy gluten free gourmet sweets for a discerning palate. Sour Watermelon sweets will make you pucker, they are truly sour.

gourmet sweets

Mary Berry's Foods - Lemon & Mustard Seed Vinaigrette is a zesty condiment, which will jazz up many salads, and will be lovely with salmon, either steamed or smoked.
I used it, while frying potatoes with wild mushrooms, and it gave a lovely lemony hint to the overall flavours.

Image credits: Mary Berry's Foods

Lift Matcha Green Tea is a matcha flavoured green tea which comes in sachets. The tea is light and refreshing.

Sleep Well is a new concept milk drink, made with Jersey milk and honey as well as valerian, a herb which has been used as a sleeping aid for thousands of years. Drink it warm or cold for a better sleep.

Coldpress is a range of delicious juice, which are made only using coldpressure HPP (HIgh Pressure Processing), which doesn't damage the vitamins or nutrients. Coldpress is tasty and healthy.

New Robinsons Fruit Creations contains twice the fruit and more juicier and fruitier flavours. Peach & raspberry is a lovely refreshing sweet drink. You only need a little bit of the syrup to make a glass of tasty squash.

And finally, there is a bottle of San Miguel 0.0% alcohol-free beer. It still has the same flavour and quality of beer, but with none of the alcohol.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Nutty oat cookies

easy cookies recipe

This is the last week of winter holidays, next week it's back to school and all the getting-up-early-and-hating-it routine. We've been taking it easy, having leisurely morn'sings and relaxed afternoons.
It being so grey and miserable today, Eddie and I didn't fancy going out, even if we're running short of bread. I suggested baking cookies for tea (and by tea I mean a teatime, not dinner).
This is a variation of cookies I bake quite often, with oats and chocolate chips, or muesli mix.

easy cookies recipes

Nutty oat cookies
60g mixed nuts, ground
100g caster sugar
100g margarine
100g oats
140g self-raising flour
1 small egg

Blitz the nuts until you get coarse crumbs.
Cream the margarine with sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the nuts, oats, flour and the beaten egg, mix well, forming the dough.
Pinch a big walnut-sized piece of dough and roll it into a ball, then flatten and place them on trays lined with parchment paper and bake for about 15 minutes until golden at 180C. Don't overcook, they are still very soft when you take them out.

In this recipe I used a pack of Planters Nut-rition protein mix (peanuts, redskin peanuts, cashew nuts and almonds) which was part of the latest Degustabox.

mixed nuts, baking with nuts, easy cookies recipe

If you don't have this particular mix, then any selection of your favourite nuts will do. You can also use any ready-ground nuts of your choice.

easy cookies recipe

Monday, 1 January 2018

Gluten free potato blini and salmon cured in gin

best gluten free blini recipe, new year's eve appetiser

Jay Rayner always makes me chuckle. Christmas edition of Observer Food Monthly had another funny editorial written by him. In it he gives us 10 Christmas food commandments.

Commandment no.1 from Jay says "Thou shalt not mistake Nigella, Mary and Jamie for the Lord, thy God. Those Christmas specials are only TV programmes. They're entertainment, not a blueprint for how your Christmas is meant to be. Yours won't be anything like that because you don't have battalions of home economists to knock up the food and set designers to decorate the house. Even Nigella's won't be like that".
And how true is that. This rule should apply to all dinners we host. And if the only paper napkins I could find at Easter are Christmas-themed because I bought five packs on offer after Christmas, kind friends won't judge me on that (or if they do, they won't tell me).

We had a wonderful dinner last night with our close friends, two of their children go to school with Sash, and one of their boys is in the same school as Eddie, only a year older.
Cooking is one of pleasures of life for me, a creative outlet and more than a hobby. I would say a vocation, though an unpaid one.

I considered preparing a different starter for our new year's eve, as I tend serving blini with home-cured salmon as a starter frequently, but then I thought that this is one of my favourite starters. It looks festive and tastes great. I did tweak both recipes though.

As one of our friends is a coeliac, I cook all dishes gluten free when they come for dinner. Last year I also cooked gluten free blini, but this time I added some mashed potatoes to the recipe, and the little pancakes turned out to be very fluffy and thick. Everyone seemed to enjoy them, including my fussy boys.

gluten free pancakes, best gluten free blini

Gluten free potato blini (makes 18+ blini)
1 potato (100g)
2 medium eggs
125ml milk
125ml water
250g gluten free flour (I used Doves Farm gluten free flour)
1tsp baking powder
2tbsp melted butter + more butter for frying
sea salt
First cook a potato in skin in salted boiling water. Once cooked, let it cool, peel off the skin and mash the potato with a fork. Beat in two eggs, add milk and water, and mix well. Sift in the flour and baking powder, add melted butter and season with sea salt until you get thick smooth batter.

Place the pancake pan (with four cups) over medium heat, add a small amount of butter or cooking spray. The pan should be hot but not smoking, or the blini will be quickly burnt.
Pour a tablespoon of pancake batter in each cup. Cook for about 3 minutes on one side, then carefully flip over each pancake with a knife, and cook for another minute or two, until golden.

Christmas appetisers, New year's eve appetisers

These blini make a great base for all sorts of toppings. Smoked salmon is wonderful on blini. Serve with a ready-made smoked salmon or make your own a day in advance, pickles, lemon slices, soured cream with dill, or whatever topping you fancy.

Salmon cured in gin
340g salmon fillet
100g sea salt, flakes
100g caster sugar
1/2tsp caraway seeds
1tbsp juniper berries, crushed
100ml gin, unflavoured (or vodka)

1. Lay the salmon in a deep baking dish lined with a big piece of cling film.
2. Add the salt, sugar, caraway seeds and crushed juniper to a small bowl and mix well.
3. Press the salt and seeds mix evenly all over both sides of the salmon. Pour gin or vodka over it.
4. Wrap the salmon in cling film carefully, trying to contain all liquid inside the film. Place another smaller dish on top and weigh down with some heavy tins.
Place in the fridge for 24+ hours.
5. To serve, unwrap the cling film and rinse off the salt in cold water. Pat dry with kitchen paper. Slice the salmon thinly and place on a serving plate with crayfish tails (optional).

I use two heavy ceramic baking dishes for preparing the fish, one smaller size goes on top.

If you want to add colour, grate a raw peeled beetroot into the salt mix.
You will surely wow your guests with such a delicious starter.

best Christmas starters

Non-resolutions for 2018

It's the new year, and every possible newsletter and social media platform is full of lists of resolutions. I don't tend to do resolutions. But how about non-resolutions and just contemplations on what I would like to achieve?

- Going on a diet from the 1st of January? Totally unrealistic. We have so much chocolate and cakey stuff left from Christmas. Surely letting it go stale is a crime. We celebrated new year's eve yesterday night, and the fridge is full of leftover ham, turkey, veggies and cheese. Oh, that cheese is so good. I bought a big Wookey Hole cave aged Cheddar, and it is gloriously mellow. After all, not eating this moreish cheese would be an insult to the generations of cheese makers who worked hard on that cheese, perfecting it for centuries. So, basically a diet is out of question so far.

- Declutter. I really need to declutter, and be quite merciless - if I haven't worn that dress since before my last pregnancy, just recycle it.
Toys are taking over this house. And while I can't force myself to get rid of LEGO, there are other toys that could be parted with easily. But not the soft dogs little Sasha loved so much when he was a toddler, and not a funny stuffed monkey my brother gave to me when I left Russia to do an MA in Canterbury...

- Books. Yes, I do need a pep talk with myself. Books multiply in this house in a geometric progression. There is no more space on the book shelves in any room, they are just piled everywhere. In boxes, on the window sills, simply on the floor... And while the situation is not as dramatic as at my in-laws' house (which can rival any good book shop), our house is smaller and books need a serious cull, sorry, but they do.

Moleskine notebook

- Cook books... It is an enormous task, but ideally I need to look through my cook books and try to bookmark some of the recipes, and actually use them, If the book just takes space, perhaps it is more sensible to take it to the charity shop and let someone else enjoy it. There are some cook books which I bought when we still lived in the States (14 years ago) and which I haven't opened for many years. The verdict: I don't need them, do I?!

- My biggest challenge for January will be not to buy any more paperbacks. I'm aiming to read a book a week, and taking it to the charity shop.
- And not even peeking at the book sales online. What did I do this morning? I was browsing the new year's sales at The Folio Society. I didn't buy anything, but was very tempted.

- I also need to cut down on Mumsnet bedtime reading, and go back to reading more books on my Kindle. It is a bit like a black hole, it sucks you in, and you don't even notice how an hour is wasted on AIBU etc.

- I do need to cut down on caffeine and chocolate. Is it realistic? Every year I start with good intentions, but don't last very long. I am drinking lots of herbal and green teas, but recently succumbed to having strong black tea in the late afternoon or even evening to perk myself up, which in turn makes it more difficult to fall asleep.

- Sometimes I think it is such a shame I don't do art or crafts any longer. I don't have much free time or energy for anything serious, but perhaps some creative scribbles in a Moleskine would do? My husband gave me a lovely Moleskine notebook for Christmas, so I am hoping to make use of it.

- We are a family of omnivores, but recently my husband is asking for meat-free meals more and more often. And while he is still a long way away from being a vegetarian, I plan to be more creative with meat-free meals. This is definitely a do-able plan.

- Blogging-wise, I'd love to be more consistent. There are days when I don't post anything, and I hardly ever schedule posts in advance. I have no plans to work on increasing my traffic or making the blog a business which pays. Every time I see a blog post on how they intend to increase the amount of followers on Pinterest or Twitter or any other platform by a certain amount each month, I think: good luck buy what is the purpose of this stats race? life is too short to obsess about numbers.

What other little changes could I introduce this year?

New year's resolutions or non-resolutions: are you aiming for the stars or taking minimal steps?

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Cranberry sauce with Chianti and Aperol

cranberry sauce for Christmas

Our kitchen smells wonderfully festive - of cinnamon, cloves and  orange zest - as the cranberry sauce is cooling in a jar for tomorrow's dinner. We have invited friends over to celebrate the new year's eve with us.

In Italy we had a traditional local Christmas meal, with a pasta dish for starter, and the main which included lentils as one of the side dishes for good luck... It was a lovely meal, but later in the evening as I was looking at the photos of Christmas meals posted on Instagram, I was moaning to myself (an ungrateful creature that I am) that I wanted all those delicious roast potatoes, pigs in blankets, cranberry sauce, red cabbage and even brussels sprouts. I didn't miss a Christmas pudding or cake, I think the Italian cakes are superior.
We brought Christmas crackers with us though, as Eddie loves paper crowns and silly jokes.

So, tomorrow I am cooking the whole caboodle, with a turkey crown, a ham in marmalade, roast potatoes, carrots with parsnips, brussels sprouts with chestnuts, pigs in blankets, stuffing etc. Our guests will bring the dessert.
I don't know if Italians eat cranberry sauce. In over 20 years of visiting Italy, I have never come across any cranberry sauce there. Typically we have a mostarda di frutta with a roast or cold meats, which is a beautiful condiment of jewel-like preserved fruit in mustard. It looks gorgeous but has an acquired taste. I can only ever manage a little bit, as it is pretty hot.

I love cranberry sauce, it is fab to jazz up a cheese sandwich, or cold meat cuts.

I have tried cooking it with different types of alcohol - port, white wine and red wine (see my old post for cranberry sauce with white wine). This time I fancied trying a little bit different, and used both Chianti and Aperol.

best cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce with Chianti and Aperol
300g fresh cranberries
juice (100ml) and zest of 1 large orange
a 1/3tsp ground cloves
a cinnamon stick
50ml Chianti
50ml Aperol

Place the cranberries in a pan with red wine wine, caster sugar, orange juice and zest, ground cloves (on a tip of a knife) and a cinnamon stick, bring to the boil. Lower the heat, add Aperol. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, remove from the heat and spoon in a sterilised Kilner jar. Once cooled, put the jar in the fridge.
This sauce will keep in the fridge for a week.

If you don't have Chianti or Aperol, use port, or white wine. I think sloe gin might be a lovely alternative too.

best cranberry sauce

There is a big variety of ready-made cranberry preserves of all kinds on the run to Christmas, but making your own cranberry sauce is easy-peasy and the aroma wafting from the kitchen is delightful.
If you make your own cranberry sauce, do you add any alcohol (and which one)?

best cranberry sauce, festive spices, Christmas menu