After the excesses of last week’s ingredient-fest that is gado-gado, we are down to earth. Quite literally. You can’t more down to earth than beetroot, can you? Continue reading
Those summer squashes (zucchini/courgettes) that throughout the lazy summer months were tender and thin-skinned enough for anointing with cream in delicate gratins, and ribboning raw into salads? Well, they are now lumpen beasts; their mass, weight and tough facade seemingly only useful as weapons. Perhaps light-sabres, perhaps clubs, perhaps bricks – variety depending.
And it seems to happen overnight. As any gardener will tell you, nearly all varieties in the Curcubita pepo family will bulk from 99 gram weakling into the Incredible Hulk with very little encouragement. But late summer squashes – big and lumbering though they are – come to make soup, not war.
By all rights we should be getting well and truly tired of soup. In fact I have a friend who swears off the stuff after St Patrick’s Day, opting for salads and wraps, even if the mercury is mired in single digits and sleety rain. But I’m not quite ready to give up my comfort blanket of warmed and blended vegetables, pulses and herbs just yet. Continue reading
Some folk are just too cool for words. Although not seeming to actively pursue perfection – that would be incredibly UNcool, their every move thrums with beta-test brilliance. Pile of pre-Man Booker/Pulitzer prize short-listers: check . Tickets to the next big thing in live music: check. The predicted must-paint colour: check (emerald green, apparently). All of this effortless, osmosified, probably genetic.
I was never that girl. And truthfully it doesn’t bother me. I’ve always, unfathomably, been comfortable in my own skin. Still am. I blame my parents But I secretly hate to be left sitting on the curb when it comes to food and food trends. Just not for the reasons you may think. Continue reading
You may be reading this while tucking into a sumptuous feast of cold leftover turkey, ham, goose or turducken sandwiches, and sides of cold roast potatoes, cranberry sauce and Brussels sprouts, etc. We love Boxing Day leftovers in our house – my favourite is leftover cornbread dressing, which this year I spiked with black pudding for a Scottish twist on a Southern US staple.
But this year I saved back some roast potatoes and ham to make this unbelievably easy soup. It’s no looker, at least the way I present it, which is just as I have made it, ready for serving to my family who of course don’t want to wait while I faff with styling and garnishes. The secret, I think, is the Dijon mustard, a healthy dollop of which balances the flavour of the sweet leeks and ham, and adds an extra piquancy that is often lacking in leftovers. I won’t natter on about it as I want to get back to watching rubbish telly and planning my attack on the after-Christmas sales. I am sharpening my already-pointy elbows in anticipation of the latter. Edinburgh shoppers, you have been warned.
(Leftover Roast) Potato and Ham Soup with Dijon
Beetroot. Beta vulgaris. Hmm. And borscht. Are you picturing what I am picturing? A weathered babushka – with a babushka – ladling steaming red soup into a tin bowl?
I have that image from actual memory. Not a Grimm’s fairy tale story read to me by my mother on a howling night, but a real live babushka: brown walnut face shyly smiling as she proudly served her national soup to me, a dangerous visitor from the land of Ronald Reagan and Mickey Mouse. Continue reading
After promising from the little box on the right-hand side that I would post this recipe, at last it is here. Just in the nick of time, before the British seasonal courgettes are finished. I know you haven’t been waiting with bated breath, but I can’t believe I have waited so long to post this fabby soup.
I love soup (as any right-minded person would) and this one is one of my most favourite, and easiest to make. Because it is so quick and simple it often features at my summer Maggie’s Centre nutrition workshops, where everyone seems to really enjoy it and want to make it at home. Energy and tastebuds certainly take a hit during cancer treatment so it’s great to have a bung it all together kind of recipe that tastes great, is nutritious and freezes well for another day. I am always immensely pleased when anyone says that they enjoyed their lunch at Maggie’s, but especially so by those whose appetite and taste are affected by treatment. I will be putting more of my easy, Maggie’s Centre-tried and tested recipes up for you and your family to try. In the meantime I really hope you go for this one. If you like Italian tastes but want something ultra-light, creamy-tasting but still filling, this might just do. Continue reading
This morning I realised we are experiencing an inexorable slide to ‘porridge weather’. All summer I have been vacillating between starting the day with berries and yogurt, poached egg with asparagus, and a breakfast bruschetta of chopped cherry tomatoes, olive oil & basil on sourdough. All very delicious and light. But this morning – without any thought behind it – I reached into the cupboard and pulled out a forlorn packet of Scottish porridge oats. Using a half and half mixture of soya milk and water, I simmered this companionable pairing before adding dried goji berries and a grating of apple. And it was heavenly. If that doesn’t say ‘autumn’ I’m not sure what does.
But it wasn’t just the instinctively pre-hibernation breakfast that signaled summer’s end. Although it doesn’t yet feel too chilly, the other omens are abundantly clear: more than the odd brown leaf on the lawn, mystery mushrooms colonising under the oak tree, a lower, moodier sky. But my most accurate harbinger is the two extra bodies on the bed. Today Mr A and I awoke to find our cats nestled and immovable among the folds of the the duvet.
Over the years we have realised that as soon as Max and Mimi pad up from the cool and serene downstairs to warm and cosy upstairs, summer is well and truly behind us. So, barring a freak heat wave (highly unlikely) it won’t be long until we fire up the central heating and start moaning about the cost of it. Until then it is an extra layer and the comfort of cat-warmed feet. Continue reading
Pittenweem, the picture-postcard fishing village where we are staying the weekend, is gearing up for its week in the British cultural spotlight hosting the Pittenweem Arts Festival (6-14 August). This dinky village, so tiny that it doesn’t have a cash machine, or even the ubiquitous Tesco Metro, hosts one of the best, most accessible art shows to be found anywhere. By accessible I mean that the art displayed is wide-ranging enough to please the culture-vultures (my in-laws) and Philistines (that will be me) alike. Gorgeous, colour-soaked abstract canvases jostle with simple pen and ink studies, blowsy floral whimsies and beautiful sea-inspired tapestries in this most egalitarian of art festivals.
Although Pittenweem boosts an unusually high number of galleries for such a bijou place, the ever-increasing number of artists who exhibit over the week means that the ground floors and gardens of many houses are co-opted and hung with paintings, dotted with sculptures and draped with textiles and decorative baubles. The village is always eye-achingly gorgeous, especially the Shore area, with its pastel tied fishermen’s cottages, tumbling gardens and step-gabled roofs, but it really comes alive in August. If you are anywhere near the east coast of Scotland come and have a browse around this uniquely homey art festival.
Even if nothing catches your eye art-wise there are always the home-baking stalls spilling out onto the pavement to tempt you. And the Cocoa Tree, where I use coffee-purchased wi-fi for the occasional blog post, has dangerously addictive chilli cocoa to sup while enjoying homemade crepes and other goodies. Great chocolate shop too. The fish and chip shop a few doors down is also a good find. Anstruther, the next village up, has a famous fish and chip shop (it boasts photos of celebs noshing with the plebes from cardboard trays). But Pittenweem Fish Bar is just as good at two-thirds of the price, with efficient staff to keep everyone in their place as they queue down the street for their portions of crisp-golden fish. And no cardboard tray-plates, just good old paper to unwrap while sitting on the harbour wall watching the fishing boats go out for the night.
As I am writing this I am also keeping an amused eye on the antics at my bird feeders. The gnarly, old apple tree on which the feeders hang is suddenly alive with over a dozen balls of downy cerulean fluff, cheeping and and chasing as if battery powered. The extra life in the tree is due to a second set of blue tits having just today fledged and joined their older, bolder siblings. I would love to show you a picture of these hyperactive blue bullets but they are too darn fast, flitting from limb to limb with the ease of practised trapeze artists.
Because we have two cats it is with a certain amount of guilt that we hang and maintain bird feeders. One cat is too rotund to prove much of a risk to the visiting bird population, and is taunted by raucous crows who occasionally swoop low and rocket off, cawing loudly. The other cat, a slinky tabby, is another story altogether. Let’s just say that at this time of year it is not a complete surprise to be given a ‘present’. He watches and waits with infinite patience for any clumsy, or distracted, chick upon which to pounce. A large recently fallen oak tree branch is proving a perfect eyrie to espy little ground-based birds as they scavenge for anything knocked from the overhanging feeders. Our cats are well-fed and of relatively advanced years (somewhat like myself) so are not as active in this respect as once they were, but it is still a source of guilt at this time of year. But right now, with the deft acrobatics I am witnessing before me, it’s all good. And both cats are doing as cats do and sleeping. On the master bed of course.
What in the world does this have to do with minestrone? Well, not much (my ramblings rarely dovetail with the accompanying recipe) except they are both delights of late spring. Root-based soups are sustaining and warming in winter, but a fresh-tasting, pesto-infused minestrone makes a wonderful light lunch as spring eases into summer. And even better if accompanied by a pillowy hunk of green stratified focaccia. Continue reading