Grow Old Along With Me, The Best Is Yet To Come

I am really rather averse to published PDAs.  In the past few years, I have noticed that many people have declared undying love on Facebook and the like only to split and fall in love with someone else shortly after.  Perhaps it’s my own sense of self-preservation and a desire not to look that stupid ‘should anything happen’ that makes me feel that such declarations are between the two people concerned.  But today is Dad’s birthday and I feel that after almost 31 years together, I can confidently state that he is my rock, that my life would be very grey without him, and (cover your eyes, boys) that I still fancy the socks off him.  Dad is the most upright person I know.  He has never said that something will happen without making it happen.  He has never said what I want to hear if he doesn’t think it is possible.  He never agrees to something without thinking it through very carefully.  He is absolutely honest and I appreciate that more than I can say.  He has loved me unconditionally through thick and thin (literally), and has never played games to make me feel insecure in any way.  He makes me laugh and and he understands me.  He accepted with love everything I brought to our marriage and I love him deeply.

PDA finished now….

Most of our dinners here at home in New York are either a piece of meat or fish, usually cooked by Dad, with a salad or vegetables, followed by a selection of cheeses.  When we are home in London, we enjoy meze style meals or roasted meat with all the accompaniments.   These are not meals we can recreate for the two of us – we need to be with as many of you as possible.  I honestly don’t know what Dad’s favourite dish that I cook is.  He’s never said and I’ve never asked.  I know he does enjoy today’s recipe a lot.  The recipe originally came from a vegetarian cook book and it’s great on a cold day – it warms you right down to your toes.  My only warning is that if you make extra to freeze, it has been known to stain the plastic containers for ever – not pretty but not really the end of the world.  So today’s recipe is Spicy Tomato Soup.  If you don’t like very spicy food, halve the quantity of harissa.  I have found that different makes of harissa have different levels of spiciness and best to err on the side of caution.

Spicy Tomato Soup

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 250 g / 8 oz onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tbsp harissa
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tins of tomatoes

IMG_1461

Method

Put the oil into a pan over a medium heat.  Add the garlic and sauté gently for a minute.  Add the onions and cook until soft.  Try not to brown either the garlic or the onions.  Add the harissa and the ground cumin and cook for a couple of minutes.  Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil.  At this point, add water so that the soup is the thickness you would like.  I usually add the same volume of water as tomatoes, i.e., I fill the empty tomato tins with water and pour into the pan.  This gets any recalcitrant bits of tomato into the soup too!  Cook for about 15 mins.  Season to taste.  Liquidise or blend and serve.

I like to put a dollop of Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche into it.  It looks pretty and will cool down the spiciness if the harissa was warmer than you wanted.  If you want to add something to the cream, put a tsp of ground coriander seed in – it is lovely and adds an extra something.

Enjoy!

Make a Wish

Today is Stir Up Sunday, a term unknown to me until an episode of The Archers some years ago.  It is, according to Wikipedia, the last Sunday before Advent and an informal Anglican term for the day when Christmas puddings were traditionally made.  Now I have many friends who would argue that puddings should be made at the end of October so that they flavours can meld properly, and who am I to argue?  I have never made a Christmas pudding.  I don’t even really eat it.  I find it rather heavy as a follow-up to everything that was eaten before in the Christmas meal.  When Grandma stopped putting coins in the puddings, I stopped eating them.  The fullness of the tummy wasn’t worth it without the possibility of financial gain!  For me, more importantly, Stir Up Sunday has become the day when Christmas cakes are made and that it what I have just been doing.  Two cakes are baking in the oven and the smell is amazing.

I have happy memories of being called down by Grandma to stir the Christmas pudding and to make a wish.  I remember screwing up my eyes and concentrating hard so that my wish would come true.  I don’t remember any of my wishes, and particularly I don’t remember the disappointment that they didn’t come true!  I know that when the Christmas pudding was being made in 1959, an almost 9-year old Suzy made her wish.  Grandma asked her what she’d wished for, and Suzy admitted that she’d asked for a baby sister.  Grandma then told her that she was pregnant and maybe it would indeed be a baby sister.  Since I was born on 11th December and Suzy hadn’t noticed Grandma’s growing girth, I think we can all agree that the end of the 50s was a much more innocent time!

I remember through the years calling you boys down to make your wishes and I don’t know how disappointed you have been with your choices.   I do know that Dad and I have both wished in these cakes and fingers crossed….

Christmas cakes are strange beasts.  You can follow the same recipe from year to year and it will turn out differently.  There are many possible variants with some of the ingredients.  Firstly, for me, you cannot simply decide to make your cake and start to do it.  For me, the dried fruit has to be weighed out and have some alcohol (brandy, rum or whisky) poured on, stirred well, covered and left for a week.  Then I can make the cake.  The recipe I used today is essentially the one that Suzy used when she was teaching, and I’ll tell you today’s particular variants.

Christmas Cake

Ingredients

  • 200 g / 8 oz self-raising flour
  • 200 g / 8 oz margarine or butter – I always use unsalted butter
  • 200 g / 8 oz soft brown sugar – I used dark brown muscovado sugar
  • 4 eggs – make sure they’re at room temperature
  • 150 g / 6 oz sultanas
  • 150 g / 6 oz raisins
  • 150 g / 6 oz currants
  • 50 g / 2 oz mixed peel
  • 100 g / 4 oz glace cherries
  • 50 g / 2 oz almonds (whole, flaked or ground) – I used chopped which over here are like batons
  • I orange or lemon – I used orange
  • 1 tbsp treacle (black treacle in England) – I used molasses
  • 1 tsp mixed spice – I used nutmeg cos I couldn’t find mixed spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Method

I washed and chopped the cherries in half and mixed with the rest of the dried fruit.  I put 4 tbsp of whisky on top, covered the bowl with cling film and left for a week.

  • Heat oven to 140 C / Gas mark 2 / 270 F
  • Grease and double line tins
  • Wash orange/lemon and finely grate the rind.  Squeeze the juice.
  • Add the flour and spices to the dried fruit mixture.  Mix well.  Stir in the nuts.
  • Break the eggs into a bowl and beat.
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Don’t rush this – make sure they really are creamed together well.  If you’re using a mixture, stop the machine and use a spatula to push the mixture down from the sides.
  • Add the eggs gradually.
  • Add the grated rind and juice.  The mixture will look as though it has curdled.  Don’t worry.
  • Fold in the flour and fruit mixture.  Stir in the treacle.  Mix well and wish!
  • Spoon mixture into the tins.  Make sure that the mixture is level with a slight dip in the middle.
  • Double wrap with brown paper and tie with string.
  • Bake in the oven for approximately two hours.

Enjoy!

Quick note – it took 3 hrs 20 mins for the cakes to cook last night.  This is the first time I have used the oven in the new apartment so it could be that.  Halfway through I did check my celsius to fahrenheit conversion and it was right, so I think this oven is just very cool.

Warming

We now live in what is currently Manhattan’s tallest residential building.  We have killer views over the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, and we’re unlikely to lose that view because between us and the East river is relatively low-rise low cost housing.  The downside of this is that we’re very exposed to the wind.  I was woken up at about 5 this morning by the wind, whistling and creaking around the building.  I eventually decided to get out of bed, and couldn’t see the bridges!  It was snowing!  It’s stopped snowing now and it hasn’t lain so apart from some wet drops on the window it could have all been a dream.  Except it wasn’t.  Just before we moved here, New York City was visited by Hurricane Irene.  Two months later it snowed before Halloween, the first time this had happened since the American Civil War.  Last year, of course, we had Sandy, and today people are talking about the rarity of snow on 12th November.  Now it could just be that Dad and I have been spectacularly unlucky with the time period that we’ve been here, but I am tiring of hearing that weather has changed, and it isn’t normal.  Without wishing to upset those who don’t believe in global warming, perhaps there is an explanation and it’s staring us in the face?  It wouldn’t be the first time the earth has experienced such a phenomenon so maybe we need to be a bit more aware of what is happening around us?

Anyway, with weather like this I don’t think it’s surprising that my thoughts have turned to warming food.  Being of essentially Scots heritage, I am firmly of the belief that anything can be cured by a slug of whisky.  In 2000, Andrew and I went to see Scotland beat England at rugby at Murrayfield (19-13 since you ask).  The weather was horrendous and it was raining horizontally – a distinct advantage for the Scots.  As we walked back to the station, using our flags as protection, we began to feel the cold reaching our bones.  Once we reached the relative warmth of Waverley, we bought a bottle of whisky and two hot chocolates, supped enough hot chocolate to make room for whisky and aaaaaah…..   toes, fingers, noses and bones were almost immediately warmed up again.  We drank at least another one each, and then drank a great deal more of the whisky on the train home, sharing it with sad England supporters.

Grandma used to make cocoa for us.  This involved mixing cocoa powder with sugar and a wee bit of cold milk to make a paste.  Add the paste to a pan of milk and stir while bringing to the boil.  What a fecht this seemed when Cadbury’s brought out its Hot Chocolate – add hot milk to powder and there you go!  Even easier when all you had to do was add boiled water.  As with many things, there has been a return in recent times to real hot chocolate, where grated chocolate is added to warming milk and stirred.  The taste outweighs any stirring effort.  Earlier this year in France, there was a chocolate shop which sold lumps of chocolate on sticks which you stirred into hot milk.  There were many different flavours and every one that I tasted was yummy.  In Whistler the year before Baileys was added to hot chocolate.  Although there was a warmth because of the alcohol, the actual flavour of the Baileys was lost in the mix.  Purely for research purposes, Daisy and I tried several just to make sure!  So here for anyone who is tired of comments about changing weather and simply wants to embrace the fun side of winter is my recipe for Hot Chocolate with Whisky.

Hot Chocolate with Whisky

(Serves one)

Measure one cup of milk.  This isn’t the Imperial or Metric cup measure, but the cup that you are going to drink from.  Should probably hold about 200 ml / 8 fl oz at least.  It doesn’t really matter which fat content of milk you use but I prefer full fat or semi-skimmed.  I have never made it with anything other than cow’s milk.  Put the milk in a small sauce pan.  Grate 50 g / 2 oz of chocolate into the milk.  I like dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) – I have never used anything else when making it myself.  One of my favourites is Dark Chocolate with Chilli – it makes a superb hot chocolate.  Some of the ones we tried in France were milk chocolate or even white chocolate but they had a tendency to have fat globules on top which isn’t pretty!  Stir as you bring to the boil.   Pour into cup/mug and add a slug of whisky.  I do not add whipped cream because I like to taste the hot chocolate – feel free to disagree.  You can sprinkle powdered cinnamon on top.  Sit down.  Drink.  Repeat.  Sigh.  Feel all is well with the world.

Enjoy!