28 Dec

Christmas Musings

I have failed spectacularly in adding to this blog, for what turns out to be, several years.  My early 2018 resolution is to post more often (after all it couldn’t be less often) and when things are fresh in my mind.

I’m writing this Christmas 2017.  We’re nearly at the end of another year.  Time certainly seems to fly by these days.  I do wonder if it’s a function of being busy at work as it’s often hard to get out of the sleep, work, eat, sleep cycle and put more “quality” into one’s life.  Not that working doesn’t bring a quality of its own, I think it’s just that it really can feel like a treadmill when one is busy.  I do find that I become subsumed by my work and identified by what I do, and so find it hard to find the real “me”.  So just like the proverbial school report, I “must try harder”!

As the theme of this blog is celebration of the good things in life, today’s thought concerns having time to relax and do what I want to do, not what I have to do.  Having this time off over Christmas through to the new year, I can catch up on some sleep, manage some serious relaxing and at the same time fit in many of those tasks that just seem to take a backseat.  Here’s to some quality time away from the job!

17 Sep

A New Kitchen Gadget

In order to support the new “Eating Plan”(EP) I have acquired a new kitchen gadget.  I am now the proud owner of … a yogurt maker!

I tend to take my breakfast in to work with me as I get up early and don’t want to eat immediately.  One cup of black tea (gave up milk in it at the age of 19) and I’m on my way.  So breakfast needs not only to fit the EP but be portable and office friendly too.  Yogurt and fruit neatly fit these criteria and as I have a fridge in the office, I have somewhere to park it until I’m ready.

Lately I have been buying Rachel’s Organic Greek Style Yogurt which is beautifully creamy and has a great, set texture.  However, when you need a good several spoonfuls each day, the costs do mount up so I wondered about making my own as it’s rumoured to be pretty straightforward.

So on a recent trip to the Lake District, a certain kitchenware store was visited (yes, you’re right, it was Lakeland Ltd) and their own brand yogurt maker purchased.  Another, branded, type of yogurt maker was being promoted in store but from reading the blurb on the back, it appears that you have to buy their own “starter” sachets which means the yogurt works out at “no more than £3 per litre”, so not really a great saving.

According to the maker instruction leaflet, yogurt can be made from various types of milk including full fat, skimmed or semi-skimmed cow’s milk, UHT milk, sheep’s, goat’s or even tinned evaporated milk.  The disadvantage of using standard pasteurized cow’s milk is that it has to be heated to almost boiling point, then cooled down to a specific temperature before being put in the maker.  Anyway, the first attempt by my co-conspirator used full cream, pasteurized milk.  Which was allowed to boil over, necessitating a major clean of the hob.  Still, that’s one way of getting the housework moving.  Results-wise the end product was OK, although a bit thin and grainy.  But as we fancied greek style yoghurt, we strained it through a J-cloth (muslin being absent) and crystal clear whey drained off really quickly.  The final yogurt was perfectly acceptable if not quite as creamy and silkily textured as commercial products but, hey, it was only the first attempt.

Next time we plan to try it with some UHT milk which means not having to pre-heat it first.  Sounds quicker and easier but how will the results pan out?  Report to follow.

13 Sep

Post operative post

Well, I’ve now had the operation on my knee and am sitting here writing this blog with an ice pack on my leg.  It all seems to have gone well and my mobility is increasing.  I have to see Mr Consultant in 6 weeks by which time he’ll have the lab results from the tissue samples taken.  It would be nice to know why my knee has been swollen, misshapen and misbehaving for a while now.

It seems weird to be at home on a working day but yet not be on holiday.  Not sure I can get my head round this sickness absence lark!

I really hope I can get back to normal – whatever that may be – as I’m getting bored with having a pair of crutches as a fashion accessory.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

12 Sep

Introducing the Eating Plan

As I mentioned in the last post, the household is moving towards a new “Eating Plan” which incorporates a low (or mainly low) carbohydrate approach into a gluten free (GF) diet.  There is a hint of “Paleo” about it but not completely as we’re continuing to eat dairy, especially yogurt and cheese.  We are also continuing to eat grains but these are being reduced – oats (GF) in moderation are extremely useful so will stay in while we see how it goes.

Potato will still be allowed but will be reduced to occasional inclusion rather than being a staple at most evening meals.  After all we have a crop of home-grown blue potatoes (no ordinary tatties for us!) and don’t want them to go to waste.

Vegetables will feature highly as they are excellent sources of nutrients, are gluten free and low in carbohydrate and help to fill up the plate and the tummy.  Protein in various forms will also feature highly although we want to try to limit the intake of processed meats such as ham or bacon.

In an attempt to keep my tummy comfy, I’m taking probiotics in the form of small, specialist yogurt drinks and so far, have managed to remember to take them daily.  Even if one day the memory only kicked in once I was tucked up in bed!

And, of course, I’m hopeful that my waistline and other areas will benefit from the new plan.  In a reduced kind of way, that is.

8 Sep

Turning Gluten Free – the new Eating Plan (not a diet!)

I have had a bad knee now for going on 3 months and the MRI scans haven’t shown anything to account for it other than a lot of fluid around the joint.  Which, apparently, suggests inflammation, which in turns suggests an autoimmune disease.  Anyway, investigative surgery is scheduled for this week but meanwhile we’ve decided to cut out gluten as research has shown that this can be a major cause of inflammation.  I already suffer from diverticular disease so I’m hoping that cutting out the gluten will help my tummy feel more comfortable for more of the time.

And thus the move to the new “eating plan”.  We’re trying really hard not to call it a diet as that sounds too much like deprivation and the plan combines several approaches of which high protein/low carbohydrate and gluten free are the major contributors.

It’s definitely going to be tough for me as I’m rather fond of my bread (you’d never guess from the website title would you?) and there are so many easy and quick snacks or meals which come under the heading of “something on toast”.  So the challenge is to find meals which cut out the gluten, reduce the carbohydrate content and yet, at the same time, don’t leave you feeling hungry or hard done by and which don’t take all day to prepare.

So watch this space to see how I get on with giving up my beloved bread and bread related products (pain au raisin anyone?) and I’ll share my experiences with you.

28 Mar

Seasoning – Too Much of a Good Thing?

It’s a generally accepted view that for food to taste really fantastic good seasoning is vital.  And that correct seasoning is the mark of a great cook.  Any avid viewer of MasterChef will attest to this.

My gripe though, is the overuse of pepper, whether it be white pepper or the ground black stuff beloved of waiters in Italian restaurants.  These days, there seems to be a misconception that piling on the pepper compensates for reducing the salt content of the food.  I know that we’re all supposed to reduce our intake of salt as too much isn’t good for your health but I don’t see that as a good reason to whop in the pepper.  Pepper doesn’t just enhance the existing flavour of the ingredients in the way salt does, it adds heat.  There are people out there – me for one – who don’t actually like their food hot.  For me, excessive use of pepper quite simply kills any flavour the dish originally had and all I can make out is a burning mouth!  For instance, the other day I had lunch at one of our catering outlets on campus and my steak pie just tasted of pepper.  Although I was assured it was steak in the pie, quite honestly it could have been anything as pepper was the dominant flavour.  I have also noticed that larger quantities of pepper are creeping into sausages, again, I assume to compensate for salt reduction.

Perhaps chefs/cooks who are used to eating highly spiced foods need to be aware that their palates are not necessarily indicative of the general consumer and have to rein back the urge to add that extra grind or two of pepper.

What do you think about this?  Does anyone else find that pepper is being overused or is it just me?

23 Mar

Naughty – but nice!

It’s March, it’s been snowing and so it’s still definitely winter outside.  Which means that a soul’s thoughts turn towards comfort food.

So today I’m having a bit of an irregular treat: a lardy cake.  Sitting in front of the open fire, naturally.  It’s quite an old-fashioned kind of cake these days.  It doesn’t have a swirly icing topping like a cupcake, it isn’t full of chocolate chips and there’s nothing of the patisserie about it.  Just a good helping of dried fruit and plenty of sticky goo.  Always choose one with plenty of goo.

I remember having the odd slice of lardy cake as a child, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really noticed them as an adult. It was when I started shopping at the Reading Farmers’ Market that the Old Farmhouse Bakery came to my attention.  A regular attendee, the Bakery has a fabulous range of bread and other bakery products available and the lardy cake is the star of the show.  As their own website says “so deliciously addictive it’s surprising they don’t come with a government health warning!”.  Chatting to the ladies serving one morning, I was advised that the lardy is not only a favourite back at the Bakery with the staff, but is often eaten warm smothered in butter!  I’m not sure I could go that far myself which is saying something for a butter addict but it is definitely on the gluttonous side of moreish.

So here I am with my feet up in front of the fire with a freshly brewed pot of tea and a slice of lardy.  All in all not a bad way to spend a weekend winter afternoon.


15 Feb

Friday Evening Supper

So it’s Friday evening.  Home from a long day at work and the lure of the simple, quick and potentially TV friendly supper is getting stronger.  What’s a girl to do?  Well, there are several possibilities but today, the answer is pizza!

It’s on days like this when I’m really glad the freezer holds an emergency pizza.  But it’s not one of those branded, stuffed crust or topped with fancy ingredients type pizza, it’s a supermarket, budget, plain cheese and tomato pizza.

The beaty of such a treasure secreted away in the freezer is that it has the potential to be any flavour you want.  And really it is only the time taken to choose and prepare your topping that causes any delay as the whole thing can be put in to the oven still frozen.

The downside of using a basic type of pizza is that there simply isn’t enough cheese, so whatever topping I load on to the pizza, I will always end up with a good layer of cheese on top.  Usually cheddar as I love the salty tang but anything in the fridge will do: a little left over Boursin adds a garlic hit, mozzarella is of course extremely traditional but dots of blue cheese over the surface give the whole thing a different twist.

You can choose your own range of additions to the base.  It’s a really good way of using up odds and ends of left overs in the fridge: a little cold cooked chicken, a slice or two of salami or even a cold breakfast sausage cut up into satisfying chunks.  And vegetables.  Lots of vegetables.  For me, a good layer of sliced mushrooms, some onion, sweetcorn kernels (from the freezer or tinned), a sprinkling of petit pois and some wedges of sweet pepper.  Oh, and the whole thing finished off with a good drizzle of balsamic before placing in the oven.  Set the timer, then relax with a well-topped pizza and a glass of chilled rosé.