On doing new things

This weekend I made a Tik Tok and drank a Negroni and both of these were firsts for me, or strictly speaking the Negroni was a first time enjoying a properly made Negroni at home – surprised it has taken me so long to embrace this cocktail du jour.

These accidental firsts are not part of an active quest to do new things or me ticking off a bucket list, more a reflection of my butterfly mind and a preference to hop, skip, and jump to the new to avoid doing all the boring old stuff I need to deal with.

Wind back to a couple of weeks ago when the sun was shining in Edinburgh & inspired more by optimism than the reality I bought a couple of cute tins of ready-made Negroni – thinking to enjoy these outdoors as a pre fish supper aperitif. This story has, as many weather dependent stories do in Scotland, a rather muted conclusion when the clouds rolled in from the hills and the appeal of drinking or dining Alfresco evaporated.

Blossom watching at the Meadows

Against the plummeting temperatures and grey skies,the tiny cute tin of Negroni was a ray of sunshine- the contents were delicious straight up and made a refreshing long drink with sparkling water added.

Pocket Negroni

So this weekend with research made on the perfect serve ( Stanley Tucci food memoir – Taste My Life Through Food page 9 ) – and ingredients purchased, my husband was appointed barman /mixologist. He created a splendid Negroni even if we had a bit of an exchange of views over some of the finer details around the correct glass to use and whether it was over ice or without.

I am so late to the party on the Negroni front and is odd to have missed out on this joyous experience for so long – what was I thinking? Maybe I missed the cocktail memo or I was washing my hair or just not paying attention. Regardless of the reasons for the oversight I am now happy to raise a glass to this wonderful late discovery. ( and as a note of caution to myself and any new to this delicious cocktail – Negronis are deceptively strong ) 🥴

Cheers !

Cheers

So to the Tik Tok – my daughter was home & so on hand to provide instruction and a steady hand for filming. Dinner was to be lamb with peas, onions and vermouth, a Diana Henry recipe from her book Simple (another first, trying this recipe) and I thought it a good subject for Tik Tok.

Leg of roast lamb with peas and onions
Lamb with peas, vermouth, and onions

Now and again I make amateur recordings of the food I am cooking and post these on Instagram stories. My filming style might be generously described as ‘unpolished’ and the finished output depends on various factors including – how behind schedule I am, how many glasses of wine the cook has enjoyed ( I do channel my inner Keith Floyd ), and whether I am making the recipe for the first time. Readers – do remember to read the recipe all the way through.

Diana Henry – cookery book

I have no specialist kit to speak of other than my phone and my husband is usually watching football so it’s usually a lone effort,without tripods or flattering lighting. I tend to film in between cooking & often miss lots of steps, and navigating the fine line between verisimilitude and burning dinner is quite the balancing act.


The end result is rarely a ‘how to’ guide, more a cook along and sharing.

My daughter Ellen who is almost a millennial and naturally a digital native, is at ease with phone technology, but more than that she has a really good eye for photography and infinite patience when working with her dear old Mum.

Ellen was both art director and videographer for Tik Tok number 1 – but she did give me small tasks to complete unaided – like choosing the music and cooking the lamb.

For a first attempt using some of the easier Tik Tok functions and effects,I was quite pleased with the finished film and it may have opened up a whole new set of distractions for me from the eternal unfinished ‘to do’ list.

The finished film is here👇

Tik Tok

First run in a while

Contrary to the blog description, I have not been mostly talking about running, or to be more accurate I have not been talking about anything for quite a while- a full year since the last post.

Nor have I been running as often as I used to – so today I did both.

I went for a short run – saw an early yellow flower & thought I might as well break the writing drought.

Move over sourdough,there’s a new kid in town.

Rowie, syrup, coffee

Lockdown has brought out the baker in many of us. In the first, hopeful March lockdown banana bread was the cake of the moment.

Then came sourdough – with many sharing homely snaps of their nurturing starters and stylish crust art.

I am fond of banana bread and did make my favourite recipe a couple of times ( Nigel Slater Kitchen Diaries 2 – dark muscovado & chocolate), but when it comes to sourdough – it’s a big fat NO from me.

I respect those who are evangelical about the yeast free bread’s qualities and I have made sourdough in the past – with varying degrees of success – but I can’t say it was a joyful experience.

The starter palaver and multiple cosseting stages was a bit too ‘needy’ for me 😉and as much fun as following flatpack instructions.

And I have never found that the reward is worth the effort, but I appreciate I may be in the minority with this thinking.

While sourdough perfection is not my thing, I am not immune to a lockdown project and this weekend I decided to try and make Aberdeen rowies .

For those who may not be familiar with the Aberdeen rowie or buttery, it might be unkindly described as a leaden croissant, but not by those of us in thrall to its crispy, fatty, salty loveliness. For those of us who have sampled the aptly named buttery, it is a thing of joy unmatched. They are a sublime taste sensation or as film director Duncan Jones once described them ‘evil bricks of tasty’ .

Frosty scene

The rowie / buttery/roll (names vary), has the same flaky, buttery taste of a croissant but with more substance and heft and has a salty flavour . The saltiness means it is delicious served warm with even more butter and golden syrup – or it provides the perfect vehicle for jam or marmalade.

It is a true regional delicacy – and aficionados from the the North East of Scotland whether shire or toon agree it is a baked good of the highest quality and one that is hard to beat. Even if they debate fiercely whether it should be called a buttery, a rowie or a roll.

Whatever name you prefer, the Aberdeen roll gets its golden buttery taste by the addition of generous quantities of fat – the purists say 100% lard – but the recipe I opted for was a 50/50 mix of lard and butter.

To get the flaky texture involves a process similar to that used when making croissants or puff pastry – folding and rolling the fat into the dough several times to achieve lamination.

The fat is distributed and trapped between layers of dough and when heated by some alchemy or magic it creates the flaky texture.

I had read lots of guides on how to do this, and diagrams a plenty, but I only fully understood the method by watching a demo and attempting it with guidance, when I attended a one day bread and croissant making course a few years ago.

Back to my own rowie experiment. I was mostly following a recipe from the newspaper clipping below and testing my weights and measures skills to convert ounces to grams & work out the right ratio of fast acting yeast instead of bakers yeast.I reduced the quantity of yeast from 30 g to 11 g of fast acting yeast.

The recipe is quite straightforward & probably the hardest part is whipping the lard / butter combo to the correct consistency.

The initial dough is made with strong flour, salt, sugar, yeast and water.

Dough before proving

The recipe did not suggest kneading at this first stage but I did give the very sticky dough a short knead before leaving it to prove covered in a bowl with a damp tea towel for about an hour. The dough should double in size.

In the meantime – I creamed the lard and butter together – I did this by hand but reckon it could be done with a food mixer. It has to be creamed up a really soft spreadable consistency.

You then divide the lardy/ buttery mixture into 3 and roll out the risen dough to a rectangle shape 4 inches wide and an inch thick.

Lardy/ butter mixture divided into 3

The first third of fat is added – by dabbing small dots of fat to the dough then folded over . I did go a bit free range here because the instructions were to treat as for pastry so I may have rolled and folded more than intended.

You do this process 3 times until all the fat is used up chilling the dough each time.

I put the dough in the fridge for about 10 minutes between each butter and folding session then subsequently discovered in another recipe that this should be 30 minutes, but as is the way with real life – I was doing this while also wanting to do other stuff – ( get out for a walk before dark ) so I did not chill it for 30 minutes.

I then divided the dough into 14 pieces – I cut them and made a token attempt to shape them but they were quite square and not very rowie like. I think this is the bit I would do differently next time.

Cut into rolls before final prove

I left the rolls to prove for a further 30 minutes and they do rise a bit more – then I put them into a hot oven ( 200 C ). I added some boiling water to a tray below to create steam – no idea if this makes a difference but in other bread making it can help make a crust.

They take between 20-25 minutes to cook and should be nicely browned. When you take them out, there is what looks like an alarming amount of fat in the tray, so I took them out and let them cool on a wire tray with kitchen roll beneath to absorb the fat.

As a first attempt I was quite pleased although many of them did look more like square edge croissants than Rowies – so maybe I have invented an Auld alliance breakfast delight – the Crowie !

Next time I would tear the dough at the final stage and make them smaller – maybe even flatten them before the final prove. I thought only a few had the distinctive flat fatty brick appearance of a rowie.

Side section

The proof of the pudding being in the eating – they tasted like an Aberdeen roll, had a great texture and were both crispy and just salty enough.

My Aberdonian husband pronounced them a success and my mother in law was impressed by my effort so that’s good enough for me.

New year, same me and the search for jam perfection.

I do see the start of a new year as a time to review and reflect. I don’t make resolutions as such but I usually think of a few ‘goals’ or things the old me might like to achieve in the next 12 months.
This loose collection of paths to self-improvement might include some new activities to try in the coming year and will always include an optimistic commitment to trying to get better at some of the things I do already.

Practice makes perfect and all that.

Getting back into writing regularly is on my list, having pretty much kicked this blog into the long grass in the past year. I have got out of the habit, and now my writing is reduced to social media posts, work emails, and the odd business report.

Union canal Edinburgh in afternoon light

Aside from an intention to keep writing, following on from a recent batch of marmalade making – next on my list is a quest to get better at making jam- not with a view to becoming a professional preserver, but more to crack the elusive nut of getting my jam to set.

On paper, making jam and marmalade is an easy process – you combine the right ratio of fruit, sugar and sometimes water, heat it to the temperature of jam setting point then Ta Da! It sounds simple, but while my jams and marmalade usually taste good, they are often very runny and the process of knowing when it has reached setting point is a bit of a mystery. 

sunset through the trees

Some of this is a fear of the pan boiling over – and so to avoid this, I  don’t have the temperature high enough – or when it is boiling a fear of letting it boil too long in case it overcooks,( having once made blackberry jam that was like industrial strength glue).

Recipe books offer instructions and guidance, but rarely give much detail around timings. I suppose it is because as with most cooking, there are unknown variables relating to your own kitchen and equipment so success comes through trial and error and accumulated knowledge.

Apparently, there is a magical knack of knowing when the bubbles in the pan have changed – and recognising this I imagine only comes with practice.
As I only tend to make jam or marmalade once or twice a year – reading the jam bubble runes is a skill not yet mastered. This year I had to reboil marmalade when after cooling it still looked more like orange soup than a breakfast conserve. So after that near disaster, I bought myself a jam pan and a thermometer.

Today I gave my new pan and thermometer combo a test drive – making scarlet chilli and red pepper jam, a recipe from Diana Henry’s book Salt, Sugar Smoke.  Intrigued by the prospect of making the evocatively named scarlet jam, I set forth on a new path in my preserving journey – as I have never made jam with peppers or attempted any kind of savoury relish before.


It was an easy recipe to follow, with only a few ingredients and it looked beautiful bubbling in the pan as the peppers and chilli transformed from raw ingredients to jam.
As always it took longer than I expected for it to reach setting point, but this time I persevered, even letting it rise above the mystical 104.5 C.  Using both my thermometer and the wrinkle test as guidance I studied the bubbles, stared into the glossy pot and followed my instinct 😉 


I don’t imagine I will ever win any jam making contests – but it tastes good and looks like it will set.
Bravo to me !

oatcake , cheese and chilli jam

Accidental Edinburgh Fringe ‘Greek’ yogurt

Last week I took a notion to make yogurt.

I was prompted in part by reading Tom Hunt’s Waste not column in Feast in the Saturday Guardian.

Each week in the Feast food supplement, Tom Hunt highlights various ways to reduce waste in the kitchen focusing on a different ingredient each week. This week it was chillies.

To make the most of chilli waste, you can save discarded seeds and dry them to season other dishes, and in something of a revelation to me, it turns out that the green stalks of chillies contain the beneficial bacteria lactobacillus and can be used instead of a starter to make yogurt.

I had chillies that I was using to make Menemen ( Turkish egg dish) for brunch and lots of milk – so was looking forward to trying out this eco tip.

So far so good – except I had not read to the end of the recipe – where I noticed it asks for 10-15 chilli stalks.

While I do like my Turkish style eggs spicy – 10 chillies is a bit too spicy !

Having decided to make yogurt I did a quick trawl of the internet for yogurt recipes – more by way of a reminder of quantities, as I have made yogurt in the past.

In my teenage years, I went through a phase of making soft cheese ( crowdie) and yogurt. I would like to say I was ahead of the artisan foodie curve but probably closer to the truth is that I lived on a farm in a small Highland village & was just a bit of an oddball.

Making yogurt is not complicated – and sometimes can happen by accident as I found out when I left a carton of milk on the windowsill of a Premier Inn hotel room on a business trip a while back. Reader – I ate it.

So back to my yogurt making – having gleaned the essential facts from the internet and reminded myself of the steps and quantities – this is what I did.

1. Gently heated up a pint of full-fat milk.

2. Left milk to cool to the temperature of a hot bath ( 45 degrees C )

3. I then took a couple of tablespoonfuls of Greek yogurt – from an existing tub, to use as the starter.

4. To warm the starter, I mixed a couple of tablespoons of the warmed milk into the Greek yogurt to make it runny and less cold before adding it back into the rest of the warmed milk.

5. I used my slow cooker to heat up the stoneware container so that the mixture went into something warm. If you don’t have a slow cooker – the important thing is to put the mixture into something that can retain heat – a thermos or just a sealed container than will keep the temperature even.

6. Having warmed the container – I put the yogurt ( that I had warmed a bit) into the warm milk then put the starter + milk mixture into the warmed slow cooker pot.

7. I switched the slow cooker off and took the stoneware container up to a warm room where I covered it in a thick blanket and left it for a few hours.

About 5 hours later it was well on the way to becoming yogurt but I decided to leave it overnight.

The next morning TA DA !

Yogurt

It tasted ok – quite mild, but I thought it was a bit runny and as I eat a lot of Greek yogurt I thought I would try straining it to see how it turned out.

I put the yogurt into a muslin lined sieve over a bowl and left it to drip in its own time.

I was heading out to a show at the Edinburgh book festival so I just left it dripping.

We ended up staying out later than planned and going to some more stuff at the Fringe so the yogurt had been doing its dripping thing for about 9 hours by the time we got back.

The result was a small ball of thick yogurt – maybe closer to fromage blanc than Greek yogurt in texture – but with a lovely mild flavour.

As I don’t have any pigs I drank the leftover whey – the strained liquid. No idea if it’s good for you but it was a refreshing slightly tart drink.

To make the yogurt a bit creamier I added back in a couple of spoons of full fat milk and the end result was quite close to the shop bought varieties.

It’s a fairly easy thing to do. I don’t think it gives any better result than buying a tub, but it’s quite satisfying making your own.

I might experiment with different types of milk ( e.g. Jersey or unhomogenised ) and also the length of time I strain it to see if that makes a difference to the end result.

Meanwhile, I have started saving my chilli tops in the freezer ( which I hope does not destroy the lactobacillus) and when I reach 15 I will give the chilli yogurt a whirl.

Getting lost south of the river

Map

My London dwelling daughters have settled south of the river in Camberwell & Tooting respectively. Last weekend was a first proper foray into South London.

For someone who is both a fairly frequent traveller and a geography graduate – I am embarrassed to admit to a dreadful sense of direction. Or more accurately, I never quite succeed in making the connection between reality on the ground & maps. Whether they are of the paper or Google variety – I struggle to join the dots.

It’s a conundrum because I love maps – reading them and pouring over the detail of the symbols, the cartography and notation. Have even been known to choose an OS map as bedtime reading.

Unfortunately, when walking or running I need more obvious visual references to stop me getting lost and am much more likely to arrive at my destination by following simple instructions like take a left at the big red sign or right at the Wheatsheaf pub.

A perfect example of this disconnect was when arriving at Balham underground station I failed to locate the Balham Travelodge – even though the hotel is pretty much on top of Balham station!

As is often the way – opting for the wrong underground exit and surfacing I saw the hotel entrance beaming out at me from the other side of the road.

Scotch bonnet peppers
Brixton Scotch bonnet peppers

Brixton market butchers
Boiling fowl 3 for £5

Brixton road crossing

Brixton sign
Brixton ‘Stay in Peace’

This lack of map reading ability does mean that I often make interesting discoveries unintentionally, and as long as I am getting lost in daylight hours, I see this failing as a good thing- and a serendipitous way to get to know a new place.

Vegetables at Brixton market

When venturing out later in the day and in darkness, fortunately Transport for London do keep you informed via electronic bus displays.

On Saturday & after a most excellent evening of pizza & wine – I was dispatched safely by my daughter onto a number 45 bus. And with tables turned, I was given detailed instructions of where to get off, & advice to use Google as back up.

South London wining and dining
Pigeon pub, Blackbird cafè, legendary Theo’s pizza

With tables turned, on arrival above ground – my girls have texted to see I have arrived safely & I must update via WhatsApp that I am back in the hotel in one piece.

Parakeet spotting

River Thames
River Thames

Ruskin Park London
Ruskin Park

Brixton, London Tooting Common London

Tooting Common

Cloud and blue sky

Happy to report that regardless of being directionally challenged & inclined to a wee snooze on the tube – I survived my first time south of the river & by Monday was slowly feeling I had the measure of another slice of London.

London weekend, art and protest

It had been a while since I had last visited London after a spell of working there last year.

This weekend was a time to visit my daughters and see an exhibition or two and the date turned out to coincide with the People’s Vote march – an event that had passed me by in the blur and Groundhog Day noise that Brexit has become.

I did not join the march, but witnessed some excellent placards and did enjoy a good conversation and an expression of solidarity on the topic with a marcher I met on the tube.

Last year my spell of working in London was brief, but during that time I felt I had, like millions of others before me, been welcomed as a temporary Londoner.

Now back home working in Edinburgh, I do sometimes miss the vibrancy of London, and the diversity of people and experiences that were an everyday occurrence.

London is ‘always on’ and can be a hard place to work & live – keeping up with the energy and pace can drive you to weariness, but that energy is also exhilarating and challenging in a good way mostly.

This weekend trip was not about challenge but more about family and a chance to discover new places. With my grown up children living away from home, I was looking forward to spending time with them in their new neighbourhoods.

We had art on our agenda but also time for chatting and wandering, eating & drinking and catching up on news.

In between and by accident almost, I visited three different art exhibitions and as is often the way, the best one was unplanned.

Despite being a fan of pop art, I had not heard of Corita Kent – Sister Corita – and my visit to the House of Illustration was prompted more by wanting to see an exhibition of drawings by Ludwig Bemelmans – from the Madeline books.

The ticket included entry to 2 other exhibitions – Journeys Drawn – illustrations from the Refugee crisis and Corita Kent Power Up. A trio of very contrasting exhibitions.

Journey’s Drawn was a powerful and moving testament to the experiences of refugees seen both by observers and drawn from experience.

Moving on to the Ludwig Bemelmans exhibition felt like a more innocent interlude after the reality of Journey’s Drawn – a brief glimpse into how the stories and characters evolved and a window into his approach and style of Illustration.

Carita Kent was a revelation for me – I had not heard of this pop art nun – whose art combined messages from Holy scriptures with advertising slogans. A mash up of Los Angeles billboards and mass media, creating motivational and uplifting messages screen printed in day glo.

She talked about her art being like the original books of illumination – where Illustration ‘throws light’ onto a message.

Was a joyous, colourful exhibition and a new discovery for me.

On Sunday – we all visited Pierre Bonnard – The Colour of Memory exhibition – at Tate Modern. His was a different use of colour and his ability to recreate landscapes from memory created beautiful paintings and his skilful way and modern composition of painting nudes and landscapes was very evocative.

I liked the paintings but whether because I was overfilled on art or my expectations were on the high side, it did not have the same impact as any of the exhibitions I had seen the day before at the House of Illustration.

Before visiting either of these exhibitions my first exhibition visit was to see Dorothea Tanning also at Tate Modern.

On Friday evening after a long and tiring day travelling – I took advantage of late opening at Tate Modern and decided to visit the Dorothea Tanning exhibition.

I think as a canny Scot and with my annual membership of the Tate coming to an end, I was trying to use it to the max by seeing as many exhibitions as possible!

I can’t say I really enjoyed the exhibition save for a few pieces, ( e.g. her sketch of tango below ) maybe I was just too tired. I whizzed round the galleries desperate to get beyond the Surrealist paintings and fur fabric sculptures so I could sit down and have a cup of tea.

Although I like visiting exhibitions, I am not a true art aficionado and sometimes whether through tiredness or just sensory overload, I find it overwhelming to process the visuals and grasp what the artist is trying to convey.

Walking out of the Tate onto the riverside picture of night time London, hearing birds singing in the midst of the city was perhaps the best painting for me.

art on a Monday

 

Unusually for a Monday morning at 9am, I was queueing to get into BBC’s big tent in Edinburgh to watch the recording of Janice Forsyth’s Radio Scotland show. Was a last minute thing to do when a friend asked me to join her.

Each day the magazine showcases a tiny but eclectic mix of what’s on at Edinburgh Festival and Fringe,  and I had no idea who we might see. As it turned out – this ‘chaos of delights’ as described by Janice had a loose theme around ‘finding your voice’ featuring – impressionist Jon Culshaw, a Capella singer Kate Dimbleby, all-round Renaissance man and ball of energy Robin Ince, each providing small snapshot of their shows with a  light touch and laughter to start the week.

While I knew both Jon Culshaw and Robin Ince – the beauty of this format is discovering something unheard of. Today for me from the official festival Geoff Sobelle’s theatre piece – Home- described as ‘a spectacle and illusion, choreography, storytelling and music’.  Geoff and his musical partner Elvis Perkins talked us through the idea behind Home and shared short musical taster.

More music came from the contrasting styles of Super Furry Animals lead singer Gruff Rhys, and blues band ensemble Blueswater – providing toe-tapping playing, stellar singing and a  harmonica virtuoso.

A smorgasbord, an amuse bouche, a carefully portioned taster of just a few of the shows on in  Edinburgh at the moment.

Janice Forsyth holds it all together with an easy grace and humour. Would be nice if all Mondays could start this way.

 

 

grace and gratitude

cloud and sky

Went out running this morning –  earlyish. I could say it was with a spring in my step and vim in my vigour but that would be fake news.

The grey mist and drizzly gloom of yesterday had lifted and the air was fresh ( funny how quickly we wish the hot, hot temperatures would return after only a few days of rain). I was listening to a good podcast – an episode of the Food Programme featuring chef Marcus Samuelsson*  The story of his life through food is full of twists and turns and distracted me from my niggly knee and cranky outlook.

As I reached the turning point in this 3-mile run – it’s beyond half way and feels like the home straight- I saw a favourite tree against a background of watery sunlight and blue and white sky. On a summer evening, this is a good place to watch the swifts and house martins swoop and glide.

Today as I ran past the tree, I saw a small feather flutter slowly down from the branches above and running, caught it mid-flight and mid-stride in a rare elegant move.

Graceful even.

feather

*BBC R4 Food Programme – Episode with Dan Saladino featuring Marcus Samuelsson  ‘Keep it Sticky’

 

 

Londoning around

IMG_4181

Last week there was a brief Spring sunshine interlude, sandwiched between bouts of wind chill and snow ( in London at least ), so after six months of observing and contemplating – not to mention working out the run/ shower/ workwear logistics – I attempted my first run commute.

It’s not the full commute – as ‘door to door’ the eight-mile distance is a mile or four too far for me to cover before work, even if my understanding of London geography was street perfect which it is not.

Instead, I ran to the station, jumped on an early train then from Paddington, ran through Hyde Park, skirted Green Park gave a nod to Buckingham Palace, through St James’s  Park and over and back across the Thames – arriving at Somerset House full of early morning joie de vivre and a just a tiny bit of a smug glow.

IMG_4499
Somerset House