Time of Introspection

I have just had a lovely Skype conversation with George.  Whilst I love being able to speak to you and see you, I find these conversations can make me feel even further away.  Today was one of those occasions so it’s just as well that I will be in London this weekend and can get some hugs to see me through for a while.  Amongst other topics, George and I discussed Lent, which starts next Wednesday.   Coincidentally Dad and I had been discussing Lent last night.  I had thought of giving up alcohol but as always our wedding anniversary falls during Lent and, as it’s a significant anniversary this year and we’re going away to celebrate it, it seemed a bit silly to say ‘I’m giving up alcohol except for….’.  I also thought about giving up chocolate, but honestly I don’t eat that much any more.  I am therefore giving up cheese which will be incredibly hard for me.  I really enjoy cheese and always choose it instead of dessert when we go out.  Plus, there is always cheese in the fridge (and there still will be because Dad will still be there).  I know, First World problems.  Anyway, since I am not a member of a church here, at the end of Lent, I will give a donation to one of the homeless shelters, of which there are many.  So having told George this, I now can only think about cheese and inevitably today’s recipe will contain it.

The Second World War had a huge influence on my parents’ lives.  I don’t think that a day went past without the War being mentioned for some reason, usually to do with things that were unavailable during that time.  Both families were very lucky in that personal losses were few.  One of grandma’s second cousins was killed during the Normandy landings, and the husband of one of her cousins was captured by the Japanese.  He was a tall man and weighed very little when he returned to Scotland.  Sadly he was unable to cope with what he had seen and shot himself some time later.   Papa was a member of the Home Guard in Edinburgh during the War.  Initially he was too young to be called up into the forces, and then when he went to university, his subject, Agriculture, was regarded as a Reserved Occupation and so long as he passed his exams, he wouldn’t be called up.  Quite an incentive, I would have thought.  Ironically Papa had wanted to join the regular army and had had a discussion with my Papa about joining the Indian Army.  My Papa told him that he didn’t believe that India would be British much longer, and that anyway without a private income he would inevitably have one of the less lovely postings, like the North West Frontier.  Hence the degree in Agriculture.  Papa however was always fascinated by things military and was a fine shot.  He joined the Officers Training Corps at Heriots School, and later he and a university pal trained some of the Home Guard.  I don’t know how many of you have seen the BBC sitcom, Dad’s Army, which is about the Home Guard.  Well, there is a character, Pike, whose mother is always checking that he is wrapped up warm and wearing his scarf.  Papa used to say that that was him, except that it was his father who used to embarrass him by checking that he wouldn’t get cold!  Papa also used to say that it was a bloody good job that the Germans didn’t land in Edinburgh because the Home Guards’ guns were useless!  Still he used to guard the Forth Bridge diligently and every time I see it I think that it’s only there because of my dad.  (Actually because of the barrage balloons flying from it.  The narrowness of the bridge from the air combined with the balloons made it impossible for the Germans to hit it, and thus communications with the northern part of Scotland remained in place).

After graduation, according to Auntie Aileen, Papa had the choice of working for the government or working for SAI (a division of ICI in Scotland).  He chose the latter, and quite quickly his call up papers for National Service arrived.  SAI managed to prove that Papa was indispensable and he remained employed.  Again according to Auntie Aileen, this happened at least once more, but ironically the man who had wanted to join the army never did any military service.  He remained a fine shot though, and had a great knowledge of firearms.  He ruined several films for me by saying such things as ‘Well there’s no way he could have hit him with that from that distance – it only has a range of x’.  Thanks, Dad.

So today’s recipe is one that Grandma used to make but this isn’t her recipe.  Stupidly I never asked her for it.  This recipe is Belle’s, my 94-year old friend.  It is a war time recipe and I give it to you in the original version (with some notes), though I expect that you won’t have to use dried eggs!  It is cheap, easy and is lovely with green vegetables or a salad.  It is also vegetarian and so George can eat it during the coming Lent.  Sadly I can’t.

Cheese Pudding – Ingredients

(Serves 4)

  • 1/2 / 450 ml / 10 fl oz pint milk or household milk
  • 2 eggs (2 level teaspoons dried egg mixed with 4 tablespoons water)
  • 4 oz /100 g grated cheese – I suggest Cheddar
  • 1 breakfast cup breadcrumbs – use a mug
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

Add the milk to the eggs or egg mixture and then stir in all the other ingredients.  Pour into a greased dish and bake for about 30 mins in a moderately hot oven (200 C / 400 F / Gas mark 5) till brown and set.


Post Christmas Blues

You will maybe have noticed that I haven’t written for a while.  To be honest, I got fed up of extolling the virtues of soup (which I still love) and I simply couldn’t think of anything else that I wanted to eat.  I had a wonderful Christmas at home with all of you, followed by a lovely New Year in Canada with Tom and George.  Coming back here wasn’t what I wanted at all.  I don’t mind cold weather, but what I really hate about this city is the fact that the drains don’t work.  They are old and cannot cope with the amounts of snow that have been dumped in recent weeks.  So as the weather warmed slightly and the snow started to melt, there were enormous puddles everywhere.  I know this but even so the depth of the puddles can be a surprise.  This will probably never be sorted out because of a resistance to paying the extra taxes necessary to update the drainage.  Anyway, once I started thinking that maybe I could write about something that wasn’t soup, I got myself into that cycle of ‘well this is going to have to be a pretty good post after all this time’ and not actually writing anything.  So thank you, Daisy, for texting me this morning and asking if I could give her a recipe (more of that later).

What have I done since Hell froze over?  Well we’ve had visitors, and a jolly good time we had too with John and Eric.  We went shopping and walked and ate and walked and drank and walked even more.  Great fun!  I have also re-started my classes and I seem to have overestimated my capabilities.  I am doing Spanish on Monday evenings; exploring the Metropolitan Museum on Tuesday afternoons; French contemporary conversation on Wednesday lunchtimes; Catalan on Thursday afternoons.  I have been full of how I wouldn’t confuse the languages – well, no, it’s sort of true but basically French comes more naturally to me, and I really have to concentrate on the others.  I am enjoying myself though and am busy for the first time since I came here.  I am still going to the gym very regularly and have lost the 4 lbs gained over Christmas.  Sadly, I’ve discovered that I just need to look at a glass of alcohol to put on a pound, but I live in hope!

Last Thursday, my friend Lorna and I went to explore the newly refurbished City Hall, built in the early 1800s and one of the oldest buildings in NYC.  The tour was free courtesy of the Mayor and we enjoyed ourselves very much.  It amused me to see New York referred to as Novi Eboraci on the seal – somehow I didn’t expect them to use Eboracum.


City Hall – look at the blue blue sky – this is typical of New York


The inside of the cupola – not a great photo but you get the idea


The Council Chamber


And this amused me a lot – apparently it was misplaced for a while and so that it wouldn’t happen again, this was stencilled onto the desk.

So back to today’s recipe – I was woken up today by a text from Daisy asking if I had any recipes that include red split lentils.  My immediate thought was to text back and ask if she likes dahl (dal, daal, dhal are all alternative spellings).  Daisy doesn’t know but she’s willing to try!  One of the culinary surprises in India for me was how prevalent dahl is.  When we travelled around Rajasthan, we had dahl in some form with every dinner.  Basically dahl is a dish made mainly with lentils but also chickpeas or split peas, which is served just with rice, or with other dishes.  I really like dahl, but often find that there is too much food if we order it in an Indian restaurant.  Anyway, here for Daisy, is Red Lentil Dahl.  Madhur Jaffrey has been my guiding light with Indian cookery for many years now and this is her recipe

Red Lentil Dahl – Ingredients

  • 8 oz / 225 gm red lentils
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tbsp oil or clarified butter
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 small dried chillies
  • Half small onion, thinly sliced
  • Half large clove of garlic, thinly sliced


Wash the lentils well in water, drain and put into a large pan.  Cover with a pint / 750 ml cold water and bring to the boil.  Skim off the grey scum and remove.

When boiling, stir in the turmeric, turn down the heat to the lowest, and partially cover the pan.  Cook for 40 mins.  Check and stir occasionally.  Add more water if you think it is sticking or is getting too thick.

Heat the oil and add the cumin and chillies.  When the chillies are crisp, add the onion and cook until browned.  Add the garlic and lightly brown.  Immediately pour into the lentils and cover completely.  Turn off the heat.  Eat.