Hell Froze Over

It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that the past few days have been historically cold in the United States.  While the rainy weather tried to wash Britain away, temperatures fell dramatically on this side of the pond.  Adding to the many puns used by the newspapers was the news that Hell, a small town in Michigan, froze.  Oh what amusement!  First we had Snowpocalypse, then a load of other descriptions about the weather, and then Hell froze over.  According to my iPhone, the coldest it got here in absolute terms was -15 C, but you have to factor in the wind chill, of course. I read an article in The Globe and Mail before leaving Canada about why wind chills were developed.  Apparently it was to make sure that North Americans (yes, we’re including Canadians in this) remembered to wrap up warmly.  It seems that it is not enough to say ‘it’s cold and windy out (oot?) there’.  Well, call me old-fashioned, but when my phone is telling me it’s -15 C, I don’t need any extra figures to tell me that I need to put on hat, gloves, socks, warm coat, and yes a pair of tights under my trousers because cotton jeans are not enough to keep that cold off my legs.   Anyway for those of you who are interested in how wind chill calculations came about, here is the link to the article – Wind Chill Explained.

Even as I look at the sun dancing on the East River, I am finding it hard to think beyond warming foods.  I know you’re all probably sick of my raving about soups, and I do sometimes wonder whether I have soup rather than blood coursing in my veins, but soups are an easy and cheap way to warm up, and to use up less than perfect vegetables.  Some years ago, the Milk Marketing Board brought out a cookery book called The Dairy Book of Home Cookery.  You could order the book if you ordered enough milk from your milkman.  Remember milkmen?  This book for me is my standard, my go-to for everything.  So much so that I bought a second-hand copy from Amazon so that I could have a copy here in New York.  The Milk Marketing Board followed up the success of this book with a second one, The Dairy Book of Family Cookery, which came out when Andrew was quite small.  I wooed Dad with recipes from this book.  When we didn’t have enough money to go out, I would try and impress him with the buttery, creamy recipes developed by the Milk Marketing Board and designed of course to increase sales of dairy-related products.  We slowly worked our way through most of the recipes.  Some became favourites, some were one-offs (Avocado and Prawn Soup was only made once, I remember).  Today’s recipe became a firm favourite of ours, and then of our family’s.

Papa was not a difficult eater as an adult.  Legend is that he wouldn’t eat meat as a child, which Nana found worrying.  She took him to the doctor who said not to worry, but to mix the gravy with his vegetables so that he still got the goodness of the meat.  When Papa went to work on a farm during his university years, he was too embarrassed to tell the farmers that he didn’t like meat and that was the end of that essentially.  He was then eating such delicacies as fried Christmas Pudding with bacon on Boxing Day, something I confess I have never felt the need to try.  He told me that it was the texture of meat that he had never liked, so it was ironic really that he ended up working with Yorkshire farmers and had to eat slabs of beef at pretty much every dinner he went to!  I am sure there were other things, but the vegetable in today’s soup is the only thing I remember him saying that he disliked, so much so that I have to confess to not telling him what the main ingredient was when I made this for them.  After he had tasted it, he was surprised to find that he did in fact like the soup, forgave me for tricking him, and then said ‘Huh, all these years and I thought I didn’t like them!’  Honestly, I agree with him that boiled and mashed, these veggies don’t appeal to me either, but roasted or in this soup is a totally different kettle of fish, or pot of veggies.  So today’s recipe is Curried Parsnip Soup.

The worst thing about making this, I think, is preparing the parsnips.  I try to slice them thinly and the core of a parsnip can be hard to penetrate.  The spiciness of the soup depends, of course, on the type of curry powder you use.  In recent years, I have tended to use Sharwood’s Madras Curry Powder or Medium Curry Powder, and the quantities given here are for those powders.  Obviously if you want it hotter, add more; and milder, add less.

Curried Parsnip Soup – Ingredients

  • 500 g / 1 lb parsnips, peeled and sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 oz butter / olive oil
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 l / 2 pints (UK), water, chicken or vegetable stock
  • small tub of single cream


Melt the butter or heat the oil in a heavy-based pan.  Add the onion and cook gently until transparent.  Add the curry powder and cook for about five minutes.  Add the parsnips and cook for a couple of minutes, until thoroughly mixed in with the onions and coated with the curry powder.

Add the liquid.  In recent years, I have tended to use water or vegetable stock because I was trying to add more vegetarian recipes to our meals.  Because of the spice, I can’t tell the difference between using chicken or vegetable stock.

Bring to the boil, cover and turn down to a simmer.  Cook until the vegetables are soft.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.  Liquidise or blend with hand blender.  Add the cream.  Season to your taste with salt and pepper.  I very rarely add salt, but do it to your taste.  Serve hot with paprika sprinkled on top.


O Canada

I know I have mentioned before that the combination of mountains and water gives me a feeling of peace.   There is something about soaring heights with lakes, sea or river that forces me to breath deeply, regard the landscape and have a sense of well-being.  I have never been particularly keen on woods or forests.  Maybe it’s because I was brought up between the Moors and the Dales and I enjoyed the bleakness of those landscapes; or maybe I simply read one too many fairy tale involving kids lost in forests being hunted by wolves/evil stepmother/witch (delete as applicable).  Anyway, today is our last full day in Lake Louise.  We had a large snowfall last night – about 20 cm / 8″.  This is nothing compared to the snowstorm that has brought several north-eastern US states and Canadian provinces to a halt, but it was enough to make last night’s drive from Banff hairy in the extreme, and to potentially stop my activity this morning, a hike through Johnston Canyon.

I had read about the canyon, but had never been tempted to sign up because I incorrectly thought that the suspended walks were like rope bridges, which I cannot walk on because of vertigo.  Luckily, in conversation with someone earlier this week, I found out that the catwalks are solid, not very high and don’t wobble.  So putting aside my prejudice against forests, at 8.15 am a group of us set off from the hotel, still at that point unsure whether the necessary side road would be passable or not.  Thankfully, it was.  The hike was only about 4 miles in total and although it did go up and down, it wasn’t taxing, and it was glorious.  We were the first people into the canyon and it was a delight to have the various tracks explained – pine marten (sable), red squirrel and mice – and to smell the freshness and listen to the silence.  The sight of waterfalls flowing behind the frozen ice was one I will never forget, and although I took photos they don’t do the walk justice.


ImageTrees and ice

ImageThe lower canyon

The whole experience was breath-taking (literally, on a couple of occasions, given that we were over a mile high in altitude), walking on crisp snow through soaring evergreens, and listening to the creek below.  I was, of course, in my normal state of fear about falling over, but I stayed upright.  I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to ignore my hip surgeon’s last sentence of ‘Don’t fall over’ but honestly I also don’t think I’m going to deliberately fall over anyway!  Our guide was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and funny – for me, the perfect guide.  He also had hot herbal tea and home-made granola bars, so at the moment he is in the running for my favourite person of 2014.

I always enjoyed snow as a child.  I didn’t like the ice slides that were made in our school playgrounds – that fear of falling maybe started before the hip operations?  We built snow forts and defended them against all comers.  At the Grammar School we had epic snowball fights on the hockey pitch.  Snow for many people in our school meant leaving early so that the school buses would still be able to take them home.  Most of my happiest memories with snow though are when you boys were little.  In the winter of 1986, sledging down Primrose Hill with Andrew was wonderful until Dad and I went over a stone and broke his wooden sledge.  Andrew wasn’t happy (the replacement sledge is in the garage).  Snowmen were always built in the back garden of 197, and even as we speak the parsnip nose of Eric the Snowman from about 2002 is still in our freezer, still with some snow attached.  I know it should be thrown out but somehow I can’t bring myself to do it.  I feel that when it does go to become compost, it should be Tom or George (Eric’s builders) who throw it away.  George and Tom still build with snow in the back garden though not always snowmen.

Cold weather of course makes me think of warming foods – we’ve covered hot chocolate, the ultimate hand warmer; also porridge, the best tummy warmer in winter; and then of course we’re back to soup.  Jen told me that Matt doesn’t believe that soup is a meal.  Matt, mate, you’re a numpty.  Soup can be one of the quickest, most nourishing and most warming meals there is.  Today’s recipe is a Greek or Greek Cypriot soup which I used to make quite a lot and which I enjoy with warm bread, olives and cheese.   It is Revythia, Greek chick pea soup.  I have read many recipes for Revythia and some include rosemary as well as the bay leaf.  I suspect that everyone makes it the way their mother did, and then alters to their own taste!  Revythia used to be baked in the baker’s oven overnight and probably wasn’t described as a soup as it is often eaten during Orthodox Lent when many Greeks become vegetarian.

Revythia – Ingredients

  • 3 cans chickpeas or 250 g / 8 oz dried chick peas soaked overnight, then cooked in boiling water with baking soda for about 30 mins.
  • 1.1 l / 40 fl oz / 5 cups water, vegetable stock or chicken stock
  • 150 ml olive oil
  • 2-3 onions chopped
  • Bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh lemon, cut


Bring water or stock and chickpeas to the boil in a pan.  Remove any scum.   Add the oil, onions, salt and pepper to the mixture, and cover with lid.  Bring back to the boil.  Turn down and simmer until the chick peas become mushy.

Serve in warm bowls sprinkled with fresh lemon juice.


Happy New Year

I’m not making any resolutions today.  The decision I took last February to eat considerably less and move more has changed my life more than anything I can think of for 2014.  I have already decided that I will continue with my exercise regime – oddly I have found that I enjoy the buzz that working out brings.  I think I would like to move away from purely gym-based exercise and so will be looking at Pilates or yoga classes.  This doesn’t count as a resolution though because I first thought about it in October!  I did read on Facebook about Gratitude Jars.  Apparently when something wonderful happens you write a note about it and put it in the jar.  At the end of the year, you take out all your notes and re-read them and remember all the things you were grateful for during the year.  I have decided, and I have challenged Dad to do the same, that every day  in 2014 I will make a note on a computer document of the highlight of that day.  At the end of the year, we will look over the past year together.  Now I know it isn’t as pretty as an actual jar with handwritten notes, but for me and Dad it is way more practical.

I don’t remember much about New Year’s Days gone by.  The very late nights/early mornings didn’t lend themselves to much activity.  I suppose the level of activity was directly proportionate to the amount of alcohol drunk during the previous 24 hours!  I was often designated driver (which I really didn’t mind) and so was usually the least tired the next day.  I remember going for walks on the North Yorkshire Moors ‘to blow away the cobwebs’ and the smiles on Grandma’s face when I returned with rosy cheeks.  For Grandma, rosy cheeks were to be aspired to and a sign of good health, and for some reason she never managed to get them.  I suppose it was her skin tone, but she saw it as a personal triumph when Suzy and I returned from our yomp with glowing cheeks.

Suzy’s memories of New Year’s Day will, I expect, include the dinner.  Grandma almost always served pheasant with game chips for the evening meal, a lovely meal and the game chips (like thick potato chips) were always home-made, except that Suzy didn’t and still doesn’t eat pheasant. She would have a couple of poached eggs while the rest of us tucked in.  I still don’t understand why Grandma insisted on serving a meal that she knew one of us yucked mightily!

My plans for today don’t include pheasant or poached eggs.  I am going to the gym and then meeting Dad, Tom and George on the mountain for lunch.  I haven’t been up to the mountain yet, but I have no doubt that being there will be remind me of all four of you boys skiing towards me, as I waited to collect you from ski school, then you turned sharply and sprayed me with snow….  for you guys, it never lost its amusement; for me, honestly, I was a bit meh about the whole thing! I have no idea what I will have for lunch – I know I will not partake of the French-Canadian dish of poutine, chips (french fries) smothered in brown gravy and cheese curds.  It just doesn’t look that appetising.  Tonight we are going to have a fondue in the Walliser Stube restaurant in the hotel.  They serve a wide selection of fondues, from the traditional cheese and bread to pork, beef and/or seafood.  With all this lined up, you can see why I’m going to the gym.

Well, I started this post with no idea as to what today’s recipe should be.  I knew it wouldn’t be roast pheasant or poached eggs, and I wanted it to be something that reminded me of my childhood.  So, today’s recipe is traditionally Scottish – easy as anything – quick and tasty.  It’s what Grandma called Herrings in Oatmeal, and what my Scots cookbook calls Fried Herring (Scots Fashion).

Herrings in Oatmeal – Ingredients

  • 2 filletted herrings per person
  • Oatmeal – you can use rolled oats or pinhead oatmeal or a mixture.  Pinhead oatmeal adds a lovely nuttiness.
  • Milk
  • Oil to fry – traditionally this was dripping or lard, you may prefer a neutral vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper


Allow about 1 oz / 25g of oatmeal per fillet.  Put oatmeal onto a plate.  Pour milk into a bowl.  Heat the oil in a frying pan till hot.  Submerge the herring fillet in the milk, and then put the fillet onto the oatmeal.  Cover both sides.  Fry for a couple of mins each side.  Serve immediately.