Monday, September 24, 2007

Tangerine clouds and (pink grapefruit) marmalade skies

The veggie box doesn't just throw up challenges like beets, kohl rabi, or bag upon bag of spinach. This week's fruit/veggie box contained grapefruit and plums, neither of which we particularly like. Once again, it was time to get creative. Many of my favorite blogs have recently been extolling the joys of canning and preserves, it being that time of year. While I often watched my mother make jams when I was younger, it's nothing something I've tackled on my own; pots of boiling sugar make me nervous. However, I came across a simple recipe for pink grapefruit marmalade, I bought a kilo bag of sugar, and started boiling away like a latter-day Willy Wonka.

The result? Two jars of some lovely marmalade, the overly tart nature of the grapefruit beaten into submission by the refined white sugar. It's probably a little too stiff to be perfect, but we weren't sure how much the jam was meant to wrinkle on the plate, so boiled it for an additional 5 minutes. We'll know better next time.

Up next was a Delia recipe for plum crumble slices -- a simple oaty mix with sliced, spiced plums in the center. What a revelation! The plums become jam-like and intensely fruity, with an oaty, squidgy wrapping. I've devoured several slabs on this already today, and am resisting the temptation to buy some double cream to slather on top of some more.

The more traditional elements of the veggie box are also proving invaluable. We're eating lots of salads, a much wider variety of vegetables and dishes than ever before, and I'm reading through my vast collection of cookbooks to find interesting recipes in which to showcase their flavors. I can't recommend this scheme highly enough. We're off to the main farm in a couple of weeks time to do a farm tour and have an apparently excellent lunch (according to The Guardian). I can't wait!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Wolves 2: Norwich 0

This, on top of a 2-0 defeat to Charlton midweek (TWO penalties in the last 5 minutes!), leave Norwich 19th in the Championship and should leave me in a state of despair. However, I've just had a couple of Southern Comfort and lemonades at The Old Vine and am feeling very little, other than shame at being such a lightweight. The full horror will no doubt hit later on.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The end of the season

Despite the rapidly dropping temperatures and the grey skies, I set off for tennis this evening -- in a tracksuit, not a tennis skirt, mind. I got to the club to find it was deserted. Mix-in evenings are clearly over for the year, but how did everyone else know? There was no email, no general announcement. Is instinctively knowing the end of the season something that comes once you've played there for 20 years, along with how many balls there should be on the court at all times (four), when to stay at the net (haven't a clue -- and it shows), and who's really in charge (Margaret)?

However, the end of the tennis season signals the start of my favorite season -- autumn. And what better way to kick it off than with a bowl of autumnal-colored soup. This one is beetroot and carrot, with a hefty helping of fresh coriander and some lime juice to cut through the earthiness. Glorious.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

For Beth

I just spent 5 days in Amsterdam -- and a further 5 hours in Schiphol, waiting for my Flybe -- or Maybe, as a fellow passenger called it -- flight home. Amsterdam was fun; it was lovely to see nearly all our friends, hit up Simon Levelt for our favorite ground coffee, and get sushi from Sushime. But, my irritation levels soon started to rise: endless queues in Albert Heijn and Etos; it kept raining when I was on my bike; and my God, the Dutch really can't cycle well at all! Within 24 hours, I was freely cursing the muppets who wobbled across cycle paths, and pulled over without indicating. Grrr!

Most of all, however, I missed the countryside. The previous weekend, we'd cycled out to Easton -- no more than 5 km from our house. If you cycle for 5 km -- or even 50 -- around Amsterdam, you're still in an urban landscape. Beth came over all nostalgic for the Swiss vistas they enjoyed on holiday. Well, these aren't mountains, but these views sure are purty.

1. The River Itchen, on its way to the watermeadows.

2. The view from Kingsgate Tennis Club, at 9.30 this morning. Perfection.

3. Twyford, while house-hunting.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Subliminal messaging works (read my blog)

Since we returned to the UK, our TV screens have been filled with countryside porn. Coast, Mountain, The UK's Favourite View -- BBC and ITV have been extolling the glories of the UK with lingering shots of stunning vistas, bathed in sunshine. I don't know whether this was all planned last year, during the heat wave and the airport security upheaval, resulting in us all being exhorted to stay at home rather than flying abroad; all I know is that it worked. Two weekends ago, I found myself in Millets buying a pair of mountain boots -- my first pair since I was a wee 11-year-old, heading off on a miserably cold and wet school trip to Snowdonia. My new pair are surprisingly comfortable, ready-waterproofed, and thus not needing hours of softening with dubbin. They are a rather fetching grey and, after breaking them in on a trip to Subway at lunchtime, I now feel ready to tackle Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, or work on an IT help desk. Their first real use will come in about a month's time, when we head off to Cornwall for a week -- our first proper holiday this year. Told you the constant pro-UK messaging worked.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Foraging for food

A half-decent Sunday, so we decided to set off on a bike ride. Out along the busy streets of Winchester, through Kings Worthy, and on to the pretty (and expensive) village of Easton; a place where former Post Office and dairy buildings cost upwards of 600k (pounds) and Aston Martin Vanquishes are parked on the verges.

After a refreshing pint at The Cricketers Inn, we made our way along deserted and uphill roads -- and stopped for a spot of impromptu blackberrying, using an old blue plastic bag that I carry around to protect my saddle from the rain. Now, if the people round the corner put out some more of their windfall apples, I will have the ingredients for a free blackberry and apple crumble. Bliss!

Norwich 1: Cardiff 2

A stupid last-minute winner from the Welsh boys; given my heritage, I could choose to support them instead -- and may well do if Norwich don't pull their socks up.

Let them eat cake ... or bread

There's a certain satisfaction to be gained from using the right tools for a job. On Friday, I finally found the 9", solid-based cake tin of my dreams and was finally able to make a cake that was the right size. I've been using a 10" one till now, resulting in large, thin cakes that just didn't look right. This chocolate and courgette cake is a winner, though.

On the same note, I've had a couple of attempts at baking breads without using a tin -- according to the recipe, this rye and apricot bread should have been shaped into a sausage and placed on a baking sheet, but the first attempt resulted in an inch-high, mile wide loaf -- not very aesthetically pleasing. Confining it in an 8" tin forced it up high, helping to develop a more open texture. It's a doddle to make, tastes fantastic, and keeps really well for several days -- if you can stop people from eating it in the middle of late-night video-gaming sessions.

Separation anxiety

Poor Emmy. Bereft, waiting for her master to return.