Monday, May 27, 2013

Life Begins at 80!

Back again after a hectic weekend.   The Indian Feast went very well, and I coped with it better than I expected to, probably due to me taking my time over all the preparation (details given below in case you are interested).  Although it has to be said the Friday and Saturday were one continuous cook-in as I began working at 9.00am Friday, right through the day, all through the night and right up to 7.00pm on the Saturday (a total of 46 hours) with an occasional break of one hour now and again. Thankfully, most of the work being done was when sitting at the table or perched by the hob, so not THAT tiring.   Even sat down by the sink when I washed up!   Believe me there seemed to be more hours spent during that time clearing up, washing the pots and utensils, putting them away ready to start again, than the food prep/cooking in between. 

It had been an absolutely gorgous two days of good weather (sunny and warm on the Saturday and the Sunday), but didn't get a chance to have a sit down outside to enjoy it, and today has turned very windy again and rain forecast shortly.  Ah well, one day perhaps I can get outside to sit and gain a bit of a tan. 
The drive to the sailing club was sheer delight as the view across the bay at 7.15pm (Sat) was one of the best I've ever seen, as clear as a bell, with range after range of the Lake District hills being visible (normally we only see a few, and often not even these due to cloud and mist). Grange over Sands was 'lit' up by the sun, and the tide being out, the occasional pools also reflected the sunlight.

Returning home, just after midinight, managed to see - again over the Lake District - the strange sight of the dark night sky above but with still blue sky behind the hills across the bay as though dawn had broken.  This was because it was the reflected light from the sun that never goes far below the horizon at this time of the year because we are so far north I suppose.
As we turned off the prom road to drive up towards our own place of residence, we saw the full moon, almost yellow, the largest I've ever seen it.  Quite a magical drive home.

By the time we got home, I was wide awake, so sat and watched TV for a couple or so hours before going to bed, then woke at so got up to do my blog and speak to Gill, but after sitting down with a cup of coffee just 'flaked out', and couldn't find the strenght to get up from my chair.  Didn't even want to get up to speak to Gill, so had to send apologies to her via B.   Couldn't even bring myself to write my blog.  All I wanted to do was sleep - which I did until about 4.00pm!! 

Once I got up, the clearing up of the kitchen was my main task.  B had done some washing up for me, but he was out all day and had to leave at, so loads more to do and lots of things to put away (some more tidying to be done today).  Because I was watching some late TV, fell asleep in my chair and didn't wake until 5.00am this morning, did get up and after coffee and a watch of the Food Network, felt bright-eyed and bushy tailed enough to come and write my blog, but tonight really MUST have an early night.

The menu for the Indian Feast was as follows:
Three main curries:  Lamb Biryani;  Chicken Tikka Masala; and Beef Madras.  To make sure there was enough I also served some meat balls with a very, VERY hot Phal curry sauce.  So there was a choice of mild, medium, hot and VERY hot curries.

It was the first time I'd made a Biryani, and didn't eat any myself other than sampling the lamb part, but many 'guests' came up to me and said it was very good.  Everyone seemed to like all the curries and said how much they enjoyed them, but then they probably would say that even if they didn't like them. People are kind like that.  Most of them went back for seconds (and thirds) it all got eaten so can't have been that bad.  However, did as B to get me a bit of the Tikka and Madras and have to say even I thought they tasted good.  So perhaps they were!!
Eileen was able to sample some of the dishes so hope she gives her HONEST opinion, I don't mind criticism (she says behind gritted teeth!).

Although I used long-grain rice with the Biryani, the other curries were served with Basmati Rice (flavoured with crushed cardamom pods and a few bay leaves), and I tried the tip I learned at the cookery school on the Thursday: wash the rice well under HOT running water, stirring the rice well with your fingers to help release the starch, drain well and repeat four times until the water runs clear.  It's surpising how much more starch comes away when washed with hot water.

After the final draining,  cover the rice with plenty of COLD water and leave it to stand for at least an hour before cooking.   Add a knob of butter or dash of oil to the water to help keep the grains separate, then boil, uncovered, for about 8 minutes (or less) until just 'al dente', then drain most of the water away, cover and leave to stand and the rice will continue cooking in its own steam.  I found this worked well as I didn't want the rice overcookes by the time it got to be eaten.  Always stir rice with a fork to keep the grains separate.  Have to say this was the best rice I've ever cooked, so the above tip really did work.

The above curries were easy enough to make, it was the 'sides' that took the time.  I'd made loads of triangular filo-pastry filled samosas that I was able to freeze, but these then had to be thawed on Saturday and fried just prior to leaving - it took over an hour to fry the samosas and as long again to fry the bhajis.  At least I'd bought the poppadums ready-to-eat instead of frying these myself.

To make sure I'd provided enough food, I'd also made a dhal, but using split peas instead of lentils.  This worked well, and I was able to let it carry on cooking in the slow cooker whilst everything else was being heated or prepared.  Also made a big dish of 'Bombay Potatoes'.  Both the dhal and the spuds AND the meat balls were able to be on the 'help-yourself table as I'd bought a set of four insulated serving dishes (keeps food hot for 4 hours) from the Indian lady who was doing the demo on Thursday evening, she let me have them for trade price, and how useful they turned out to be).

Made a big bowl of Raita flavoured with finely chopped fresh mint and grated cucumber.  Also a huge bowl of lovely 'Indian' salad.  This made with a mixture of finely chopped iceberg lettuce; chopped cucumber, radishes, spring onions, red and yellow bell peppers; finely sliced red onion; a can of (drained and rinsed) chickpeas; and a punnet of pomegranate seeds.  For the dressing used a small tub of tamarind paste (bought from the cookery demo along with a lot of other spices etc) this I diluted with a little oil and juice of a lemon.  Drizzled over the salad then tossed together it was just perfect!  Finished the salad with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

On the table was also a big bowl of (home-made) mango chutney, and a smaller bowl of (bought) lime pickle.  B had bought some desiccated coconut (he likes sprinking this over his curries) and some bananas (he likes this sliced and eaten with curries), so he put those on the table as well.  Think that was all on the table, the main curries/rice served from the kitchen hatch..

For dessert I'd made two cheesecakes, one was mango flavoured with (canned) tropical fruit cocktail on top, the other strawberry and rose flavoured with a topping of whipped cream into which I'd folded some finely chopped rose-flavoured Turkish Delight, and then sprinkled chopped pistachios on top ( one of the guests said the latter was one she would die for!).  All got eaten.

As a 'back-up' I'd also made some Semolina biscuits' (from a recipe in an Indian Cookbook), Eileen -who was at the 'do' - asked me for the recipe, so here it is.  A slightly crisper version of our English Shortbread biscuits, and although at first glance you think the mixture is far too dry (no liquid included) once kneaded - for at least 5 minutes BY HAND - it suddenly becomes 'putty-like' in texture so can then be easily rolled out and cut.
The weights are given in 'the metrics' as I'm not into using fractions of an ounce with 'the imperials' and it necessary to be accurate because no liquid is being used.  It is the heat of the hand that brings out the oils to help the 'dry' to cling together.
As cardamom seeds don't seem to crush easily, I tried crushing them in my pestle and mortar with some of the sugar, and this seemed to help, it also added more flavour to the sugar.

Semolina Biscuits: makes 16 - 18
80g caster sugar
80g unsalted butter
3 drops vanilla essence
4 pods cardamom, seeds only used, crushed.
155g plain flour (sifted)
50g fine semolina
Cream the sugar and btter together until light and fluffy, then beat in the vanilla essence and cardamom seeds, then work (or beat in) the flour and semolina.  It will end up looking like breadcrumbs.  Gather as much as you can with your fingers and start kneading it in the palms of your hands for a few minutes, then gather up another 'lump' and do the same.  Once all the mixture has been kneaded, then bring together (or keep in original lumps) and continue kneading until the mix has softened and becomes like 'putty'.  Roll out (a lump at a time if you wish) to about a quarter inch thick, and use a scone cutter (or other shape cutter), and place on a greased baking sheet, leaving space between each, and bake at 180C, 350F, gas 4 for about 12 minutes or until golden.
Cool on a cake airer.  These will keep well in an airtight tin for up to 3 weeks.

After baking I found the biscuits seemed over-crisp, so left them out, uncovered, overnight in the kitchen. The next day they had softened slightly to shortbread texture, so packed them into a freezer bag, where they kept well (I'd made them on the Thursday).
I've always found that too-crisp biscuits will tend to soften if left at room temperature, especially if there is a bit of moisture in the air for them to gather (I dry the washing on the radiator close by, and there are often pots boiling on the stove, and we live close to the sea anyway, so even if the radiators are not on, the biscuits the air is never too dry.  Another way to soften crisp biscuits is to put them in a tin, place a slightly damp cloth over the top then lightly place on the lid.  Leave for a few hours then remove the cloth and the biscuits should have softened slightly.  Then close the lid tightly.

Your mention of saving just 10p a week buttercup, adding up to £5.20 over the year, really does prove how even a small BUT REGULAR saving can mount up.  Saving  £1 a week (not a lot of money in this day and age) will come to £5.50 over the twelvemonth, and that IS a lot (well it seems a lot to me).  
How many of us do find we have at least £1 of small change in our purses at the end of each week? Why not put most of it into a piggybank and see if we can carry on like that.  "Out of sight, out of mind" works just as well with small coinage as it does with those tins and packets we have shoved at the back of our cupboards and forgotten about. 

It's not too late to make a start with the above saving, still seven months to go before Xmas  so let's just see how much small change we can 'store' by then.  Thanks buttercup for inspiring me, I needed a new challenge.

Am surprised Pam why so many timber framed houses are built in the US, even in the town areas. Perhaps because they were so easily erected by the original 'settlers' that the tradition remains.  In the UK only the holiday 'chalets' are wood-framed, all residential houses seem to be brick or stone built, usually from local stone.  Stone built properties seem to last forever, the Tower of London is stone built I presume, and that is over 1,000 years old I believe.  The Pyramids of Egypt have also come to mind, they are thousands of years old.

Had to smile when we visited our daughter in America.  She was working as a nanny for a family who lived in upper New York State.  They were living in a barn conversion, and when we visited, they were so proud of the place (it really was lovely), and kept boasting how old it was "nearly 100 years", so hadn't the heart to tell them that we lived in an Edwardian house that was even older than their barn, and we didn't consider our home to be 'old' at all.

Your mention Pam of the building of the home by the Methodist community reminded me of the 'barn-raising'  (seen in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - and other films), that seems is so much part of the rural American tradition.  Doubt anything like that would be allowed here now due to all our 'elf and safety rules and regs, but almost certainly in our past history people did build their own homes.
When we went to Wales for our holiday we saw a small cottage on a plot of land that was of 'historical interest' as it was one that was built in a day.  Seems that in the past, if you chose a plot of land and began buildaing a single-story cottage with a chimney and get a fire lit in the grate so the smoke went up the chimney,  all within 24 hours then you could claim the property and land as your own.  Think I've got that right. Hope a Welsh reader (if I've got one) can let me know the correct story if  I've got it wrong).
In some places, here in the UK, if we 'work' some spare land (normally 'waste' land in proximity to our home) for 12 years, then we can claim this land as our own.  But it needs to be regularly tended and used to grow things.  Am sure this rule still applies.

Regarding my 'witchery', wish I could tell you, but like a lot of 'thing's like that' I've forgotten how to do it.  It does seem that the Fates have often allowed me to 'do things' and even let me know how, then take away my memory.  Am sure we've all had flashes of 'I know the reason why we are on this planet' and by the time we've dashed to the phone to tell someone, the memory has left us.  But then I can go to the supermarket just to buy one thing and when I've got there forgotten what it was I went for.

Sorry I got your anniversaries mixed up Jane, of course the 25th is the Silver.  It's the 40th that is Ruby, and the 50th that is Gold.  60th (ours next year) is Diamond, and what is after that?  Is the 70th Platinum?  People can still be living (and married) at that age. 

Almost every day there has been a mention of Paul Hollywood in the newspapers.  He does seem to have made a much bigger impact with his recent actions that other TV chefs who have done the same.  As Mary Berry says 'men will be men' (and this makes me think she has had a bit of experience re this).  Most men will 'wander' (it's in their genes and they can't help it), so am hoping that Paul will very soon see what a silly man he has been and realise which side his bread is buttered (excuse the pun) and return to his (hopefully) still loving wife and son.  It's the only way he can redeem his credibility before the next series of the G.B.B.O is shown (currently being filmed, so he's still in it, and if he doesn't return to his family then will viewers stop watching because of this?).  Thing is, IF he does comeback and ask for forgiveness, am sure he will be greeted with open arms by all of us ladies who just love to see a man crawling, and we'll all be watching G.B.B.O again. 

Forgot to mention that our daughter and I went to the Indian cookery demo and meal last Thursday. Learnt quite a lot and brought back (bought!) a huge box of assorted spices, and other bits and bobs used by the cook.  At least this got me to roast the seeds then grind on Saturday rather than use the already ground that I had at home, and have to say that dry-frying//oasting the seeds really does give a much better flavour.   Used several of these seeds (mustard, cumin, fenugreek...) when preparing some of the curries on Saturday, although have to admit to using some of the 'quality' ready made bottled sauces to save time.  In future will try to make from scratch. 

It's interesting to watch a lady from India cooking a traditional curry (she was demonstrating Chicken Jalfrezi), and also preparing other dishes, using so many different ingredients - already assembled by her 'helper' - from small dishes arranged in front of her, and then taking small amounts of different spice powders that were in large canisters at the back of her.   I can remember some things in the dishes:  grated ginger, grated garlic, diced red and green peppers, diced mango, lime wedges, sliced/chopped onions, dried bay leaves, dried red chillies, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, tomato paste, tamarind paste - and a whole lot more.  The spices were garam masala, red chilli powder, dried chilli flakes, a special spice mix, turmeric, fenugreek seeds, ground coriander, cumin, and have forgotten the rest.  The lady does do cookery courses, but these are expensive, but probably worth it.

Also had to fit in a trip to the medical centre last week for my 6 month blood test and foot check.  Won't know the results of the test until I see the diabetic nurse early in June.  With Norma now going on holiday this coming week, won't even have hair appointments for s while, so can start taking it a bit easier after my marathon 'cook-in', not that I mean to as I've found great enjoyment in my month of 'activity' and want to continue.  From now on have decided that life (for me) begins at 80, so fully intend going out a lot more, perhaps returning to painting (pictures) again, and even starting decorating cakes again.  But of course, still cooking and writing my blog.  
Hopefully this will give me something more interesting to write about than the rather boring life I've had since we moved here. 

Think the above should have brought you up to date, and fully expect to be back blogging again tomorrow now that my 'jet-lag' seems to be over.  Being that it is still the long Bank Holiday weekend and that most of the country (except the North West where we live) should still be basking in sunshine and warmth, expect most of you haven't even bothered to check whether I've even blogged today, but do hope that you will eventually catch up and send me a comment or three (or even more, please more, I love to hear from you all).  Enjoy your break and we'll meet up again tomorrow.  Hopefully.  See you then.