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!

Philadelphia Freedom

Philly is to my mind a much-maligned city.  Last week I was told by my friend that it was obvious I wasn’t American because I had said ‘I’m very much looking forward to spending Thanksgiving in Philly’.   I would like it on record that I did defend Philly quite vigorously.  There are some unsafe parts of Philly, just as there are in most large cities (metropolitan Philly has a population of over 4 million), and like many western cities it has declined in recent years.  However, from an historical and architectural point of view it is incredibly interesting.  This is the city where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed, and Independence Hall (the former Philadelphia State House where both documents were signed) is well worth a visit.

We have watched the political situation in this country over the past couple of years with increasing incredulity.  We were both well aware of the system of checks and balances put in place by the Founding Fathers, but it seemed unbelievable to us that a handful of people could bring government to a total halt.  Having visited the National Constitution Center and read the history of how the Constitution was discussed and drafted, after it became clear that the then prevailing Articles of Confederation were not working, I now have a much better appreciation of the hope in which the Constitution was drafted, and how the Founding Fathers believed that it wasn’t a perfect document, but that it was one which could be amended over time to suit the needs of this new country.  I’m sure that current claims that the words they wrote are ‘God given’ would have surprised them, particularly since many of the Founding Fathers were very critical of Christian dogma.

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The room where both documents were signed, and where the Constitution was discussed and drafted.

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George Washington’s chair – Benjamin Franklin was unsure during the discussions whether the United States would survive, and at the end he said had watched the sun on this chair, unsure whether the sun was setting or rising on the new country.

Philadelphia has many other claims to fame.  At one time it had the only Catholic church in the British Empire where people could attend Mass openly.  It has the oldest Methodist church in the world, and the Jewish community was trading in Pennsylvania before William Penn was granted the land.  All in all we had a wonderful time.  Apart from the superb Thanksgiving spread, we ate in two marvellous restaurants, Kanella, a Greek Cypriot BYO, and Han Dynasty, a Szechuan restaurant which has just opened a branch in New York (and very excited I am too).

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Dad doesn’t like this photo but it’s the only one I have of the Thanksgiving table

Anyway, as promised, here are Jimmy’s two recipes.  The measurements are in Imperial cups.  The first, I think, will particularly appeal to Andrew!

Pumpkin Bread Pudding – Ingredients

(serves 8)

  • 8 oz French bread, torn into small pieces, about 5 cups
  • 2 cups half-and-half, or half milk and half cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup dried raisins (or cranberries or combo of both)
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • cinnamon sugar

Method

Butter an 11×7-inch baking dish.  Heat oven to 350° F / 180 C.

In a bowl, cover the torn bread with the half-and-half; set aside.

In another bowl, combine eggs, sugars, pumpkin, cranberries, melted butter, spices, and vanilla; blend well.  Pour pumpkin mixture over soaked bread and stir to blend.

Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle top with cinnamon-sugar, if desired. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until set.

Serve with a vanilla dessert sauce or brown sugar sauce, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

Remoulade Sauce

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
3 tablespoons Creole whole-grain mustard
3 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process for 30 seconds.  Use immediately or store.  Will keep for several days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!