Girls in Their Summer Clothes

New York is heaving with visitors at the moment.  The students have left and have been replaced by summer school students and the first wave of the summer tourists.  A couple of days ago, the weather was sunny and people were dressed accordingly – colours had replaced the NYC working woman’s all black uniform, and it was all rather lovely.  This last couple of days have been less summery but the temperatures are due to rise again tomorrow.

Our family summer holidays were always spent in Scotland.  Grandma and Papa wanted to go home, and they wanted to see their families.  So every summer until 1972 (when Gran and Pop moved to Northallerton), the car was packed and we drove up.  There were no radios in cars then, the roads were slow, and the journey was long.  It was the only time we were officially allowed to chew gum.  And chew we did as we tried to look at registrations and every year we would try to spot all the year identifiers issued up to then.  Each year Papa warned us as we drove north that the first letter (A, of course) had been issued mainly in the south and that we’d been jolly lucky to see one.  Every year we found one and duly considered ourselves exceedingly fortunate.  As a result of this game I am still more likely to notice a registration plate than notice even the colour of a car.

I can just remember having to time the trip to catch the car ferry from Queensferry to Fife.  Papa didn’t want to get there too late and so get caught with the people commuting from Edinburgh.  I remember very clearly being poked in the arm by Grandma and told to look up.  Above me was the almost completed Forth Road Bridge.  “Next time, we come up, we’ll be going over the bridge”, I was told.  I have never lost the excitement of going over that bridge.  When there was still a toll (2/6d), Papa tried very hard not to actually stop the car when he was paying the toll.  Generally he succeeded.

I don’t remember Gran and Pop’s first home, Craiglyn, where Uncle Johnnie, Grandma, Vi, Suzy, Alastair, Kenneth and Alan were born.  Kenneth and Alan are two of my cousins.  Gran and Pop sold it when they returned from New Zealand in 1961 after being away for a year.  Craiglyn and its gardens had become too much for Pop.  I do remember the first trip to 24 Spencer Place, their new home.  I loved visiting that house.  The back garden had a lawn, and then sloped sharply downwards to the Dysart road.  Alan and I made dens down there and spent ages playing amongst the trees.  We even created a burglar trap which I’m sure would have been hugely successful if any burglar had decided to climb the slope by that route.

TBT 1

Alan and I in the garden of 24 Spencer Place, before we were old enough to build traps for burglars

Spencer Place was very near to the Ravenscraig Park, and Grandma used to wake up early, wake me up and we would walk through the park, past the mynah bird who yelled “aye” in a broad Fife accent or whistled the opening notes to Laurel and Hardy, and onto the beach.  It wasn’t a beautiful beach, but there was a lot of sea coal which is great for skimming.   Skimming stones is one of those pastimes which is absolutely absorbing and, even if you’re not that good, you might be, and so you continue.  Back to Spencer Place and breakfast.  Afternoons, if the weather was good, were spent on nicer beaches, generally Lower Largo where the main dangers were the cold of the sea (and no it doesn’t get warmer when you get your shoulders under the water), and the rocks which I always seemed to tread on.

TBT 2

Playing on the beach at St Andrews

But what I most looked forward to when staying with Gran and Pop was Gran’s baking.  Gran baked the best gingerbread I have ever tasted.  It was a moist, dark, rich cake which really was neither a cake nor gingerbread, but it was so delicious.  I have a passion for ginger in all its forms – fresh, powdered, preserved, pickled – it doesn’t matter to me.  My mouth is watering at the thought of a slab of Gran’s gingerbread spread with unsalted butter.  After Gran died, we all wanted the gingerbread recipe from her recipe book.  You have no idea how sad we were to discover that she used cups mixed with imperial measures.  No-one knew which cup she had used.  My cousin, Carole, thinks that she has worked it out, but I haven’t tasted her gingerbread yet.  So you might have an idea of how delighted I was to find in Edinburgh a recipe for gingerbread written in Gran’s handwriting, and totally in imperial – no untraceable cups!   So here it is.  I haven’t converted to metric.  Gran used lard, according to this recipe, but I will probably substitute butter.

Gran’s Gingerbread

Ingredients

  • 6 ozs plain flour
  • 2 ozs sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 level tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbp treacle *
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ozs lard
  • fruit and nuts

Method

Melt treacle and lard slowly.  Sieve dry ingredients and beat eggs.  Stir eggs and treacle into dry mixture.  Bake in greased and lined tin in moderate oven** for 1-1.25 hours.

* Treacle = Black treacle in England or molasses

** A moderate oven is 180-190 C / 350-375 F

Enjoy!

A la Recherche du Temps Perdu

I started writing this blog a couple of days ago, but managed to depress myself while doing so!   I am restarting, with the same title, but a couple more days of reflection have turned my sentiments around.  The last few months have not been straightforward with the challenges of Auntie Aileen’s move into the care home, and Belle’s death.  I have been reflecting on two very strong women who fought hard to stay alive, but then realised that their lives weren’t at all what they wanted them to be.  I’ve also been thinking a lot about sorting out the flat in Edinburgh, and how sad it is to break up someone’s home while they’re still alive.  This was the starting point of my last draft – yup, it was that cheerful!  As my next trip to Edinburgh fast approaches, though, I was thinking of the benefits (from our point of view) of Auntie Aileen still being around so that we can ask her questions.

I do not really need to say again how many things are in that flat.  We still haven’t gone through everything to sort out obvious rubbish from charity donations to what is being distributed amongst the family.  That should be completed by next week.  What has helped though is being able to ask Auntie Aileen what things are.   Her short-term memory may be shot, but her long-term is still spot on for the most part.   She was unable to see many things clearly, but she felt them and told us immediately what they were.  It was quite emotional too on occasions as certain things brought back memories for her.

It did feel wrong but to be going through someone else’s possessions and dividing what we found into piles, but there were occasional joys.  We found several fur hats in a wardrobe and immediately recognised one as having been Nana’s.  Strangely even after 27 years, it still smelt of her, and that smell took me back to being a child, having cuddles and her sweet, sweet smile.   We found more photographs than you can imagine – most of them Auntie Aileen’s holiday snapshots, but some family ones.  We will take these in to show her, and hopefully with her new magnifying glass (with a light no less) she will be able to identify some of the people for us.  I wonder if Auntie Aileen remembers that she was the first person to show me how to use a camera?  One summer after Grandma started work, I was judged too young to be left on my own during the school holidays and so was sent to Scotland for the summer.  I spent most of the time in Kirkcaldy with Gran and Pop, but had a few days in Edinburgh with Nana.  Auntie Aileen took me to the zoo, and taught me how to hold the camera and position the lens.  My first photograph was a black and white shot of a bear.  I wonder if I’ll find that photo in amongst all the others?

Today’s recipe has nothing to do with Auntie Aileen or Nana, it’s Belle’s recipe for Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding, a recipe I brought back from London especially for you.  Reading the recipe makes me laugh because Belle once made the pudding and took it with her one day to the Friendship Group at church.   Everybody ate it, and everybody said how marvellous it was.  The following Sunday, however, one of the ladies (who shall remain nameless) collared me in the Church Hall and gave me some of her bread pudding.  “Now, isn’t this bread pudding better?” I was asked.  I claimed that my mouth was full, smiled in a vacant sort of way, nodded in a non-committal sort of way, and she seemed satisfied that I was in agreement.  Not a terribly friendly act or indeed Christian but the idea of bread pudding rivalry still makes me chuckle!   This is a great way to use up old bread, and Belle has written on the recipe ‘An approximation of a recipe from childhood’.  I have copied exactly what she wrote.

Old Fashioned Bread Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) stale bread of any sort crusts on
  • 1 pint of milk (550 ml) or water
  • 4 oz butter melted (100  g)
  • 6 oz soft brown sugar (150 g)
  • 4 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 12 oz (250 g) mixed fruit and cherries or other fruit to taste
  • Rind of one orange and one lemon
  • Nutmeg

Method

Soak the break in milk (or water) for at least 30 minutes and mash with a potato masher.

Preheat oven to gas 4 (180 C)

Add eggs, melted utter, sugar and mixed spice and mix in with a fork – make sure there are no lumps.

Add the mixed fruit and orange and lemon rinds.

Pour into a suitable sized tin, grate some fresh nutmeg on top.

Bake for about an hour and half.

Now I have a vague recollection that the difference between Belle’s bread pudding and the competitive bread pudding was that for the second the fruit had been soaked in rum.  My memory isn’t as good as Auntie Aileen’s but even if it isn’t true, it sounds like it might be a good option.

Enjoy!

Pancakes

I am a bit late in writing this blog.  Life has been complicated recently by Auntie Aileen in Edinburgh, and Suzy and I have spent a lot of time worrying how it will pan out, and doing whatever is necessary.  It now appears that events are overtaking Suzy and me, and that Auntie Aileen will be moving permanently into a home, undoubtably a home that neither Suzy nor I will have had the chance to look over first.  When you weigh this against the situation Auntie Aileen finds herself in – extremely lonely and unable to leave her flat – it is obvious which is more important.  So as Suzy and I comfort ourselves with the fact that we will find another home if it doesn’t work out, please forgive my tardiness.

I always looked forward to Shrove Tuesday as a child.  Not for the eating of the pancakes per se but for the annual attempts by various people to toss the pancakes.  There were always tremendous cheers as someone succeeded or groans at failures.  Despite this fun, I have never been a huge fan of the traditional English pancake with lemon juice and sugar, and so it was wonderful when I realised that you could put other things on them, like bacon, and cheese, and more bacon if necessary.

I wanted to make pancakes on Tuesday but I didn’t want the traditional wheat flour ones.  For some reason I wanted oatmeal pancakes.  Maybe it was because I had so enjoyed making and eating the oatcakes?  I don’t know but nothing else would do.  As before, I opened The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill where I was disconcerted to find a recipe which began ‘Boil a chopin of milk and blend it in a mutchkin of the flour of the oatmeal thus …’  Even notes which explained that a chopin equals a quart and a mutchkin a pint didn’t inspire me with confidence, and that was before I realised that this would make far more pancakes than I could eat on my own.  So I did some calculations and this is the recipe I made – not quite as F Marian McNeill describes but oh my they tasted good.

Oatmeal Pancakes – Ingredients

Makes 4

  • 180 g rolled oats
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 300 ml milk
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • nutmeg
  • grated rind of half a lemon

Method

Heat the milk, and add to the oatmeal a little at a time until it is thick.  Add the salt.  Set aside.  Beat the egg with a pinch of nutmeg and the lemon rind.

When the oat mix is cool, add the bicarb.  Stir well.  Add the egg mixture.  Leave to stand for at least two hours.

Lightly butter a flat griddle pan, and ladle four equal amounts onto it.  Cook over a medium heat.

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Just before I turned them

I ate them with a bit of unsalted butter – I had wanted honey but we didn’t have any, and I wanted something more British than maple syrup.  F Marian McNeill suggests beating together butter, sugar and orange for the top which sounds scrummy.

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Just before I transferred the pancakes to the plate.

 

Enjoy!

 

Needs Must When The De’il Drives

I am the first to admit, and I know I’ve written before, that I often found it difficult cooking for you boys when you were young and awkward.  (Though, in fairness to Andrew, I have to say that he was never as difficult as a child as the rest of you.)  There was no fun in creating something that I thought was delicious and tempting, only for it to be pushed away, mouths closed determinedly and heads shaken in disgust.  It was particularly irritating when this happened with a dish that had been enjoyed on a previous occasion.  We reached a sort of modus operandi when I agreed not to try and poison you with things you truly hated and you agreed to properly try what I’d made.  From my point of view, though, life improved quite dramatically when you started going on play dates.  It seems that peer pressure is what pushed you all into eating a wider choice of food.

The quid pro quo of you going on play dates was that we had your friends coming to the house.  Some of them were nothing like as willing to try my cooking as you were prepared to try their mothers’ food, and there were also some rather demanding mothers.   I will never forget those who couldn’t eat anything without it being smothered in ketchup, and the mother who blamed me for not having any; the mothers who wanted their children to only have organic food; and the boy who only ate plain boiled rice in Wagamama’s – these are particular standouts.  I was never as bothered by friends who had genuine food requirements – varying levels of Kosher adherence; nut allergies; or genuine dislikes of which I was forewarned.

The final turning point in your eating habits was a proposed trip to Hong Kong in 1999.  We were all invited to Uncle Steve’s 40th birthday bash, but Dad and I explained to you that one of the great joys of Hong Kong was the food, and that we just weren’t comfortable taking you when you were quite restricted in your choices.  The carrot of a trip to Hong Kong turned it all around, and I don’t honestly think we have looked back since.  I have always known that no-one eats absolutely everything, but my hope was that we would be able to travel and go into any restaurant and find something that any one of you would eat and enjoy.  I believe we’ve achieved that.

Now as I get older, I find increasingly that it is rare to have people to dinner who don’t have some kind of food request.  Some of these are medical requirements, some religious, some feel better for avoiding something, some are pescatarian or vegetarian.  Unless there are many varying requirements at the same meal, I must say that I quite enjoy the challenge.  Last Sunday, we had friends over, one of whom cannot tolerate wheat, not just the gluten, all wheat.  The starter was simple, spicy tomato soup; the main course was a roast; and for dessert we decided on cheese (because Dad tries to avoid carbs …).  I wanted to serve oat cakes with the cheese, but Whole Foods didn’t have any.  So I decided to make them.  I haven’t done this for some years, but I knew it wasn’t difficult.  I knew that my trusty The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill would have the recipe, as indeed it did.  However, that recipe was imprecise even for me, the queen of imprecise recipes.  I remembered that there had only been five ingredients – oats, salt, fat/butter, baking soda and water – but I didn’t remember the proportions.   Much searching of the internet, and much rejection of recipes that I felt were too complicated or inauthentic, but eventually I combined a couple and made the following.  I thought they tasted good.  They could perhaps have been cooked for slightly longer in the oven so that they were dryer and browned, but all in all I was pleased.

Oatcakes – Ingredients

Makes 20

  • 125 g / 4 oz rolled oats
  • 125 g / 4 oz pinhead oatmeal (steel cut oats in the US)
  • 125 g / 4 oz oat flour (which I didn’t have so I blended 125 g of rolled oats until it looked flour-like) plus extra for rolling
  • 60 g / 2 oz butter (I used unsalted as I always do), melted
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp / 5 mg baking soda
  • hot water

Method

Heat the oven to 150 C / 300 F.

I used a mixer for this once I had mixed the oats.

IMG_1817

Rolled oats

Mix the oats, salt and baking powder in a mixing bowl.  Add the butter and mix well.  Add 4 tbsp of hot water and mix well.  The aim is to have a mixture which is not too wet and which sticks together as a lump, so add more hot water, a tablespoonful at a time, until you have the desired consistency.

Sprinkle some of the oat flour on the counter, and roll until it is about 5 mm / 1/4 inch thick.  All the recipes I read warned about the mixture sticking to the rolling pin, but this didn’t happen.  I suspect that my mixture was slightly too dry.  The cutter I used was about 6 cm in diameter.

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Cutting out

 

I then placed them on my pizza stone, put them in the oven and cooked for about 40 minutes which is way longer than any of the recipes said.  Nor did they brown particularly.

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Just about to go into the oven

 

An alternative is to cook on a flat griddle.  I thought about this, since it is more traditional, but decided against because we have a very sensitive smoke alarm!

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Ready to be served

If you want to add herbs, only use dried herbs because fresh will burn.  Hard cheese such as Cheddar or Parmesan can also be added.

I will definitely be making these again.  I was really pleased with the result.

Enjoy!

 

Feeling Flat

I’m in New York City, it’s January, and it is of course cold.  The Accuweather app on my phone tells me that it is going to start snowing in 12 mins which seems astonishly accurate (which is, I suppose, why it’s called Accuweather – hang around and I’ll tell you if it’s right).  I was in Edinburgh last week where it was a balmy 8º C.  Since it had been well and truly in the minuses over here, I felt quite warm.  Some of you know that I was there to visit my aunt, Aileen, who had a stroke in October and has now returned home.  She will be there until Suzy and I have sorted out everything necessary for her to move into a home.  She’s lived in her flat since she was 7 – 81 years.  It will undoubtedly be a wrench for her to leave her home, where her mother too was brought up from the age of 2.

The stories about that flat are legion.  As you enter the door and walk up to the flat, you’ll notice that there are brass nodules set into the bannister.  These were put in by my great-grandfather, John Mackay, to stop my grandmother from sliding down the bannister.  Since there is a drop of two stories to stone slabs, Nana was braver than I, I tell you.  Nana used to be able to throw a ball over the building (three stories) from the street onto the grass behind, much to the irritation of her twin brother, Angus, and Albert, my grandfather, who could never do it.  Dad swore to me that he saw her do this once, in 1938 when Angus had returned from South Africa for a visit.  The flat was bought in the late 1880s by John Mackay (Grandpa Mackay) and, apart from a period when it was commercially let after Grandpa moved to Friockheim in Angus, and Nana and my Papa were living in Arbroath, it was essentially occupied by Nana, Papa, my Dad and Auntie Aileen.  Various other family members came and went, but Auntie Aileen was always there after 1933.

Nana’s mother died when she was two, and she and her elder sister, Peggy, and Angus were brought up by two spinster aunts, Auntie Katie and Auntie Aggie, sisters of Grandpa Mackay.  Nana met my Papa not long after the Moyes family went to Edinburgh from India, I believe at college, and they wrote to each other during World War I when he was stationed in France.  Papa enlisted in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders but when it was discovered that he spoke fluent Urdu, he was sent for officers’ training.  The war, of course, ended in November 1918, and Papa immediately applied to be demobbed.  He was back in Edinburgh by the beginning of 1919.  He felt he was too old to go back to school, but sat the Civil Service exams.  Auntie Aileen told me proudly last week that thousands of people sat these exams, but that only the top ones were accepted into the Inland Revenue.  Papa went to work for the Inland Revenue.  He married Nana in 1922 and they lived in Arbroath until 1933 when he was posted to Edinburgh, and they returned to Nana’s childhood home.  Initially, renting it from Grandpa Mackay, but after his death in 1949, they bought out Nana’s other siblings’ interests and it was truly their home.

Auntie Aileen told me that she has always slept in the small bedroom.  She was supposed to share the front bedroom with my Dad, but she was scared because she was too far away from her parents.  She said that people have asked her why she doesn’t move into the large back bedroom, but says she could never sleep in her parents’ room.  (By the way, it hasn’t started snowing – should I delete the app?)  During the war, Dad slept in the box room/junk room (always called the Glory Hole).  Even though Suzy and I sorted out some of the stuff last year, there certainly isn’t room for a single bed in there any more.  Auntie Aileen also told me that there used to be a quarter-sized billiard table in the dining room – a proper slate one – and that the family hid beneath this during bombings.  I know that my Papa offered that billiard table to my Dad (after Dad had moved to England) and Dad told me that he’d always wished that they’d had room to take it.

My memories inevitably include food and I was thinking of the milk lollies that Nana used to make (https://chinupdeepbreaths.com/2013/04/12/spring-has-sprung-well-no-not-really/) and of her plastic strawberry.  I was also remembering a lunch in Edinburgh where we all sat around the dining table, and Auntie Aileen gave us each our own cruet set.  Mine was a couple of squirrels, and was definitely my favourite.  Some years ago, Auntie Aileen gave me that cruet set and I was thrilled to pieces.  The thing I didn’t remember correctly though was the size of the table – I truly believed that it was a 12-seater.  When we cleared all the bags and stuff, there was a very ordinary 6-8 seater.  I must have been much smaller then.  We all have memories of playing Rocket Ship, a bagatelle game that took the place of a television.  I can honestly say that I don’t miss having a television when I’m there, but golly this time I missed wifi.  Every time I go, I find a new and interesting book that I haven’t seen before, and the china cabinet contains such treasures as decorations from Grandma and your Papa’s wedding cake, African bead work and Indian silver.

And now the flat is going to be sold.  Doubtless it will be described as being full of period detail, a doer-upper, and in need of some attention.  Suzy and I will have to sort out the contents.  We will have to open those cupboards, drawers and presses that we ignored during the big clear out of last year.  I know there will be some tears, a lot of laughs and probably some astonishment that Auntie Aileen has hung onto something for so long.  What can’t be taken away are our memories.  So if anyone of my family would like to come up to Edinburgh to help with this mammoth task, we can guarantee some good food, some whisky and a heap of ‘Oh my goodnesses’ and ‘Oh heavens, I remembers’, let me know.  Suzy and I will supply the tissues.

As I said, it’s cold, I’m clearly feeling sad, so what did I cook the other day?  Soup, I hear you chorus.  Indeed – you know me well.  I found a head of something called Elephant Garlic in the fridge and see below for why it is called this.  Does what it says on the tin!  I also had a basil plant, some rosemary and a tin of tomatoes so I created Basil and Rosemary Tomato Soup.  I was very pleased with it – Dad was very complimentary and it will be made again.

Two elephant garlic cloves alongside a whole head of normal garlic

Basil and Rosemary Tomato Soup

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • Oil – I used ordinary olive oil
  • A medium onion, sliced
  • One clove of elephant garlic, crushed and sliced – probably two cloves of ordinary garlic
  • Two stick of celery sliced with the celery leaves
  • One large tin of tomatoes (approx. 800 g)
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, shredded
  • Two sprigs of rosemary with the leaves taken off and chopped
  • Vegetable stock
IMG_1692

The ingredients, except for the tomatoes, of course!

Method

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a saucepan.  Add the garlic.  Do not allow to burn.  Add the onion and the celery, and soften.

Add the tomatoes and the herbs.  Add about 450 ml / 20 fl oz of vegetable stock.  Bring to the boil.  Cover and simmer.

After about 20 minutes, blend or liquidise the soup.  Check the seasoning.  Serve with a couple of basil leaves.

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Enjoy!

 

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

Like most kids, I was always excited about my birthday, but unlike most kids I was also excited about the rest of the family’s birthdays because Nana would not only send down a present for the person celebrating the birthday, but would also include a poke of sweets (a bag) for each of the other members of the family.  Nana used to go to Mr McDonald’s shop, and I remember visiting it.  There were glass jars upon glass jars of different sweets waiting to be weighed out (usually in 1/4 lbs) and I could never decide what I wanted.  Sadly Mr McDonald moved on a long time ago, and the shop is now a launderette.  Times change, as do tastes.

When we discovered Annie’s Sweet Shop in Letchworth, I was delighted.  There were so many sweets from my childhood and I was that child in a candy shop.  I used to enjoy taking you in there partly because of the memories that seeing those sweets evoked, but the tastes didn’t seem the same.  I tried several of my childhood favourites – sherbet lemons, iced caramels (Grandma’s favourites too), sugar bon bons (classic, lemon and strawberry), dolly mixtures, midget gems – and all fell short of my memories.  The iced caramels were a particular disappointment – I really didn’t remember them as being so sweet.  I persevered though.  I still enjoyed looking at the jars, and each time I hoped that the taste would be as good as I remembered, but it never was.  Until one day when Annie had Scottish tablet on sale.  Tablet, that hard hard Scottish fudge, was never easily available in England, and so whenever I went to Scotland I would buy a bar.  Maybe I never lost the taste for it.  Even when it set my adult fillings on edge, it still tasted of heaven to me.  Annie’s tablet was perfect.

Annie had never heard of my other Scottish favourite – the macaroon bar.  Again it was never easy to find south of the border and so it remained a holiday treat.  I was surprised when Auntie Aileen told me that they were made with mashed potato.  In fact, I didn’t believe her – I thought it was a plot to spoil my enjoyment somehow.  Years later with the advent of the internet, I found out that there was no plot, macaroon bars are in fact made with mashed potato.  Luckily this didn’t spoil my enjoyment of them!  Commercially made macaroon bars aren’t made with potato, by the way, because the shelf life would be too short.

Earlier this year, I heard about Irish Potatos, a Philadelphia sweet made, unsurprisingly, to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.  I learned that they too are based on mashed potato, and I was eager to taste them.  I was thrilled when Jimmy from Philly’s wife, Lisa, made some for us and brought them to NYC.  They were really scrumptious, and Lisa made some more for me this week.  This time I took a photograph before I inhaled them, so that I could share Lisa’s recipe and keep my promise to George of including photographic evidence.  I am told that they are really easy to make – I know that they taste good – so here is Lisa’s recipe for

Irish Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium potato, peeled
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 lb / 450 g icing sugar
  • 3 cups / 280 g shredded coconut
  • Ground cinnamon as needed

 

Method

Cook potato, drain and mash.  Measure 1/2 cup (105 g) into a bowl.  Stir in butter and vanilla essence.  Gradually add in icing sugar.  Mix until smooth and stir in coconut.  Roll into walnut-sized balls, and roll in cinnamon.

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Enjoy!

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.

Enjoy!