Monday, 3 August 2015

Mixed red onion and lemon pickle

We have finished the pickled fennel I did recently, and I fancied some different pickles. Having a good look around the kitchen, I picked two fat red onions and a lemon.

Mixed red onion and lemon pickles
2 medium to big-sized red onions
1 medium lemon
1/2tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/3tsp ground turmeric
1 bay leaf
200ml cyder vinegar
150ml water
125g caster sugar
3tbsp sea salt

Slice everything thinly. If you have a mandoline slicer, it will take you a couple of minutes. I love my OXO Good Grips mandoline slicer, I have already mentioned it more than once, but it's certainly doing its job very well, and I have been using it a lot this summer for salads and pickles. The slices are all uniformly thin, you can vary the thickness, and it takes a very short time to slice a big hill of veggies.

In a small saucepan heat up the mixture of cyder vinegar (I love Aspall for its clean flavour) with water, fennel seeds, ground cloves, turmeric (not just for flavour but for a hint of colour too), bay leaf, caster sugar and sea salt, simmer on low until the sugar and salt dissolve.
Pack the red onion and lemon slices in a big sterilised jar, by alternating the layers (a few slices of lemon followed by a handful of onion slices, etc). Pack them well in, you might need to squash them a bit. Then pour the brine while still hot. Close the jar with the lid, and let to pickle for 24 hours before eating.
These pickles will keep in the fridge for up to a week, but not longer, that's why I don't make a huge amount. Just enough to have with sandwiches or cold meats, or in salads for several days.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Photo diary: week 31, 365

After a week of holidays in Cornwall I missed my baking, and on Sunday when my little man asked me to bake some cookies, I was happy to oblige. These were the eggless cookies with chopped chocolate, and very good they were too.

Apple trees in our garden are groaning under the weight of apples, getting rid of the excess and bombing any unsuspecting victims who happen to stand under the trees. We'll have lots of apples this coming autumn.

While we were grocery shopping with Eddie, I felt like having a cup of coffee. Instead of my usual Costa, Eddie asked to go to Nero, and reluctantly I followed him. I knew in the past that is was a hit and miss with Nero, depending on who makes the coffee on that day. That wasn't my lucky day obviously as the latte was so bad, I couldn't finish it. I was tempted to leave a note on the napkin, but in the end just scrunched it and didn't leave it open to read. Never again, Cafe Nero.

On Wednesday our friend Jen offered to take my boys and me by car to the Burford garden centre. I didn't need any plants or garden supplies, but knowing that my guys enjoy going there, agreed with Thanks. Eddie always has to stop by in the toy shop, and every time I have to disappoint him by not buying anything in that overpriced shop. He still couldn't resist a hug with the toy giraffe, almost strangling it with enthusiasm.

On Thursday lucky little man received a surprise in the mail. It was a prize from Beano magazine. He was ecstatic, as he loves ninja turtles.

On Friday I cooked a raspberry ripple and pistachio parfait as featured in July issue of Delicious magazine. I even cooked a honeycomb to make crumbs, but forgot to sprinkle them over the parfait for the photo.

Saturday: after being closed for more than two years, a newly rebuilt playground in The Leys was opened earlier in July. We were in Cornwall at that time, but I saw photos which friends posted on Facebook, and knew my boys would love it. It was very busy, but Eddie didn't want to go back home after trying most of the climbing frames, tunnels, slides and zip wire. I could only convince him that we really had to go under the promise that we'd go back in a couple of days.

The Boy and the Sea

Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think. (Robert Henri)

Sasha loves the sea, he is at his happiest, running in the waves. He cannot stop grinning, the sea makes him that happy.
He flaps his arms in excitement, like auties tend to do. He hums and laughs aloud.
But the sea is wise, it doesn't judge.
The sea could be a harsh and cruel entity, but Sasha does not fear it. Danger doesn't cross his mind. That's why we have to watch him closely, so that he doesn't wade in the sea too far. He can swim, but you can never trust the undercurrents. But that is our worry, not Sasha's. He feels in his element in the sea waves.

He feels an affinity with the powerful tides.
He even likes the taste of the sea.

He is free from restraints of convention, he can run and run and run, splashing in the waves, not minding if it is cold. For him nothing else matters at that moment: just the sea and him, and freedom.

Over 8 years ago, when I was in a habit of scrapbooking, I did a page of Sasha by the sea, and wrote:
"Sasha loves the sea, he treats it like a live creature, smiling to it and laughing at the sea's tricks. To him the sea plays with him personally. We have that mental image of Sasha thinking there's someone in there who rolls the waves for him".
I also wrote a text on the tag: "You're so in tune with nature, in perfect harmony with the waves and the sun, enthralled by the physical properties of nature, in intimate relationship with the elements, so much in love with the balance of the sea, the sun and the sand".
It is still the same, that love of sea.

If Sasha would have read Faust, I imagine he would exclaim like Goethe's hero "Verweile doch, du bist so schon, - Linger a while, you are so beautiful" while standing amidst the rolling waves.

Old netting on the shore

High tide

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Prawn salad with mango chutney dressing

Our summer resolution of eating more salads continues. To make it more fun, I try various ingredients and flavours. I love seafood, in all its variety (I confess that I even enjoy the crab sticks which are of course just a processed biomass flavoured to resemble seafood. This is a major food crime, and I don't buy them often nowadays, but crab sticks take me back to my Uni days of cheap food and jolly dinners).

Seafood makes an excellent ingredient in all kinds of salads, hot or cold. In this salad I used crumbed prawns from Whitby Seafoods. They are already crumbed, and just need baking in the oven.

Prawn salad (serves 2)
1 pack of Whitby Seafoods Prawns in Garlic & Ginger
mixed salad leaves with fennel tops
1 medium potato, cooked and cubed
1/3 big cucumber, peeled and sliced
a handful of baby tomatoes, halved
2 heaped tbsp of Geeta's mango chutney
2tbsp lemon juice
3tbsp olive oil

Cook a quartered potato in boiling salted water until done. Bake the crumbed prawns in the oven for 14 minutes. Assemble the salad - first the mixed salad leaves with fennel tops, then cubed potato, sliced cucumber and halved tomatoes. For the dressing mix Geeta's mango chutney with 2tbsp of lemon juice and 3tbsp of olive oil. Spoon the dressing over the warm prawns and serve the salad.

Whitby Seafoods Prawns in Garlic & Ginger are whole, South-East Asian prawns coated in crisp, golden crumbs. One pack of 215g makes two portions, or three if you add the other ingredients to a dish like a salad. You need to oven bake them for about 14 minutes at 200C. These juicy prawns, coated in crispy crumbs, will be also lovely with an Asian-style dip made with the soy sauce and grated ginger.

I have used Geeta's Premium Mango Chutney in the dressing, but you can use any other good quality sweet mango chutney. I have already talked about this delicious chutney on my blog (see my post Getting Creative with Geeta's Premium Mango Chutney). It has a perfect balance of sweetness and spiciness. You can find Geeta's Premium mango chutney in the latest Degustabox delivery (as well as in all major supermarkets).

Disclosure: I received a voucher to cover the cost of Whitby's Seafoods prawns for the purposes of testing and reviewing. Geeta's mango chutney is part of a Degustabox monthly food box, which I also received for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are mine.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Church Barn, Perranuthnoe

It's already a week since we returned home from Cornwall. A week ago at this time we were stuck in the slowly crawling traffic jam, still in Cornwall. The trip was horrendous. And it was bucketing all day long. We have recovered from our ordeal and are already planning a trip for next summer.
We were late last year to book a stay at our favourite cottage in Perranuthnoe, and the choice of where to stay was very limited. Either a villa for almost two thousand per week or a smaller size cottage by the church. We didn't want to change the village (I'm sure there are lots of other splendid places to stay in Cornwall), as we love the location. My older son sleeps with an old battered Holidays in Cornwall brochure, which features Perranuthnoe among other places. Every night as he settles to sleep, I come in his bedroom to tuck him in and whisper in his ear, wishing him sweet dreams of our holiday by the sea.
We've been staying in Perranuthnoe for one week in summer for the last five years
As it happens, the Church Barn is the third cottage in the village where we chose to stay.

We knew it would be smaller in size compared to the cottage where we stayed for three years in a row, but as my Mum didn't travel with us this time, this cottage was just right for the four of us. There are two bedrooms on the ground floor, and a big dining/sitting room with an open plan kitchen and a big open veranda.
As it's a converted church barn, the cottage is literally bordering the church cemetery with rows upon rows of old graves. They surely make quiet neighbours, but I did find it a bit disquieting, especially that one day they were digging a new grave in the new part of the cemetery, and the next day the funeral took place as we were sitting on the veranda, having cream tea.

Church Barn, Perranuthnoe, view from outside the shed and from the cemetery by the church
This is a view of the graveyard, the church and the sea. Quite something. We particularly enjoyed watching how the sea changed its colour through the day, from lazure blue to grey slate, depending on the weather and the time of the day.

Every cottage we stayed in the village offers a welcome foodie gift, usually a plate of scones, with the clotted cream and jam in the fridge, a bottle of milk as well as teabags. After a long journey by car I was looking forward to having a cream tea.
Imagine my surprise and delight, when we were greeted by a welcome hamper in the cottage which included tea, a jar of jam, a bottle of Prosecco and homemade scones (the clotted cream and milk were safely in the fridge). There was also a greetings card with our names, such a lovely touch.

The sitting-dining room with an open plan kitchen is a big airy room with a high vaulted ceiling and sky windows. There is a wood burning stove, which we haven't used, but I guess it would make the house warm and cozy in damp and cold weather. The owners clearly enjoyed decorating the room, with the work of the local artists and photographers. There is a beautiful watercolour of Perranuthnoe village, and some modern art too.

I wasn't sure about the painting of a woman sitting in the loo with a glass of wine which is displayed in the toilet at the entrance. Eddie was left in stitches though, he thought it was very funny.

During that week we surely made good use of the veranda, where you can find a big round table with a glass top and four chairs. The breeze from the sea is lovely, and so are the views of the garden around the cottage.

We had numerous cups of tea and coffee, both indoors and outdoors. I brought my favourite Russian Caravan tea with me, and also bought a pack of Cornish tea to try. We had some excellent jam and of course incomparable Rodda's clotted cream on scones.

Drinking tea from splendid Cornishware mugs made it even more pleasurable. I love Cornishware, and have a few mugs in my collection. Whenever I look at them, I think of Cornwall. It's very strange, that we, as a mixed nationality family, have such an affinity with Cornwall, but we are in love with it. If ever I won a lottery, I'd buy a house there (fat chance, I know, especially that I don't even play lottery these days).

We spent hours on the beach, then had leisurely lunches and dinners on the veranda, weather permitting (we did have a couple of rainy days, when we had to have meals indoors).

We had naps on the sofa in the sitting room, and reclined on the sun loungers in the garden (not more than a few minutes though, as there was too much to explore around).

The views were beautiful in the day time...

Panorama view of the garden from veranda
and atmospheric in the approaching evening hours...

We admired the beautiful terraced garden, with its rows of agapanthus and most glorious rosemary bushes.

There were white strawberries and some interesting flowers (don't ask me what they are called, my knowledge of botany is quite basic).

Bedrooms on the ground floor were small and in need of airing daily, but the beds were comfortable enough. I just wish there was some spare bedding in the closets, like it happens to be in the other cottages. It so happened that both of my boys caught a stomach bug, and were poorly in the night. We had to do all the washing and drying through the night, and the washing machine takes ages to go through even a so called cycle. I am comparing it to our eco-friendly washing machine at home which offers shorter cycles.
Rather than that, I cannot find any faults.
Church Barn suits perfectly a small family of three or four, perhaps five at a stretch if one of the kids won't mind sleeping in the sitting room (the sofa is not big enough for an adult).
Aspects Holidays also sells it as a place suitable for two couples, but mind you, the walls are very thin there, and you can hear everything. I could hear the fridge in the room above very well in the night, so I presume if you are in the amorous mood, you'll have to be very quiet so as not to disturb your friends or kids.
Overall, the cottage proved to be much better than I expected. Visit the link above if you want to see the images of the bedrooms, prices etc. But if you want to book it, don't delay, the properties in this village get snapped pretty much in advance, as we found out.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Pickled fennel

A few days ago, when I saw some fennel at a reduced price in Waitrose, I grabbed a couple of bulbs. I had a "cunning plan" in mind of making a jar of fresh pickled fennel. Having a good googling around, I came across a really nice recipe on Strawberryplum blog - Quick pickled fennel. Her recipe became my starting point. I have adapted it a bit and changed some ingredients. I recommend reading Sarah's blog post as apart from the recipe, she has some great suggestions on the ways of using the pickled fennel.
Me, I just eat it straight from the jar, picking it out with a fork. It's cold, crunchy, fresh, aromatic and just plain tasty.

Pickled fennel
2 bulbs of fennel (about 375g)
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4tsp mustard seeds
1/2tsp pickling spice (coriander seeds, allspice, peppercorn, bay leaf etc)
1 bay leaf
300ml vinegar (malt and cyder vinegar half-half)
230ml water
125g granulated sugar
3tsp sea salt
a handful of fresh dill
a handful of baby tomatoes (optional)

Slice your fennel very thinly, if you have a mandolin slicer, now it's a good time to take it out of the hiding place. In a small pan quickly toast a scattering of fennel and mustard seeds. Add the pickling spice too.
In a medium bowl heat up vinegar, all the spices and water, bring to boil and simmer until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
Place a handful of fresh dill at the bottom of a medium sized jar, then pack in the sliced fennel tightly. The jar should be pasteurized in advance. Pour the pickling liquid in a jar through a sieve. You might have some liquid left. I had about half a mug of brine left, and used it to pickle a big onion bulb. I have also added a handful of baby tomatoes at the very top, just because we have a glut of tomatoes in the greenhouse.
Let the sealed/closed jar cool down before placing it in the fridge. The pickles will be ready in 24 hours.

And now we're talking business. Add to any salads, or as a side dish to roast meat or fish. I will definitely be pickling more fennel, a jar at a time, so that I can enjoy it freshly pickled.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Furchester Hotel Magazine

Give a warm welcome to a brand new magazine for children - The Furchester Hotel. I don't know about you, but we spend a small fortune on magazines for kids. I'm quite embarrassed to say just how many of the kids' magazines we buy regularly.

There are so many different magazines available, catering for any tastes and preferences. Many of CBeebies shows have their own magazine - like Peppa Pig, Ben and Holly, Dora the Explorer, Postman Pat etc etc.
Today a new CBeebies magazine has been launched - for fans of Elmo, the Cookie Monster, Phoebe and other furry creatures.
The Furchester Hotel Magazine will be on sale every four weeks priced at £2.75, quite reasonably priced in comparison to some children's magazines which retail at £3.99-4.99. It is aimed at children aged 3-6 years, with the core audience of 4-year-olds.
This magazine is based on a TV series about a half-star hotel run by the cute monsters - the Furchester-Fuzz family. Your children might know some of the characters from the much loved series Sesame Street as well as from The Furchester Hotel show itself.
You will find adorable Elmo and Cookie Monster, full of mischief and ready for adventures.
The magazine follows the problem-solving aspect of the show by introducing its audience to lots of fun activities, from stories to puzzles, from colouring to counting.
This is a light reading magazine, which has been created to support the Early Years Curriculum, thus adding an educational twist to a fun interactive magazine.

Eddie immediately spotted a crafting set on the cover, and was very enthusiastic about creating mini-portraits of the Furchester Hotel furry monsters. The little set had lots of paper and fabric cut-outs, frames for portraits, stickers and double-sided pads.

Like all CBeebies magazines, it comes with stickers and activity book tasks for little people.

It has amusing colouring pages.

And of course, there are stories to be read together and enjoyed.

There is a mask to cut out on the back cover of the magazine. We love making masks, though Eddie reasonably suggested that we needed to cut out the holes for eyes first.
We enjoyed the new magazine, and are looking forward to new issues.

To find out more about this magazine, check out their Facebook page The Furchester Hotel Magazine.

Disclosure: we received a copy of the new magazine for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine. We will also receive a year's subscription to the new magazine.