Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dinner, 28/2/13: Stir-fried duck breast with noodles and hoisin sauce

This was one of Sarah's cooking nights - I didn't eat this dish, as I went to yoga, but everyone else said it was lovely, except she forgot to trim the beans - something to remember for next time!

What I read, February 2013

I didn't read quite as many books in February as I did in January, but then I did start January with a substantial chunk of Christmas holidays...  We had a week off in February, but we did more going out and about, I think.  Also, the first book I read in February was really long, which didn't help!  Anyway, here's what I thought:

  • The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff.  A novel about several Mormon women who have been wives of polygamists - a modern day, fictional woman who was a wife of a leader of a polygamist, breakaway sect and a fictionalised account of the experiences of a wife of Brigham Young, whose experiences were important (among other things) in leading to the banning of polygamy within the main body of the LDS church. I wasn't sure about this at first, but I found it well-written and interesting and not quite as vitriolic as it might have been given the issues involved. However, it was really long.  I mean, really, really long. Not in a bad way, exactly  - it almost never felt as though it were dragging, and the flipping between history and modern times helped with the pace, but it's sure not a quick read. 
  • Guard Your Daughters, Diana Tutton.  A novel somewhat in the vein of Nancy Mitford, etc. Light and yet serious as well. Not, however, quite as witty as Mitford. Also been compared to I Capture the Castle, but I didn't like it as much as that. I can see it's a similar type of coming-of-age in that sort of family novel, though.
  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman.  A book probably technically aimed at young adults but eminently readable by all.  As with all of Gaiman's work, the world he's created is interesting and compelling. I didn't like this quite as much as Neverwhere or Stardust, but it's darn close.
  • The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey.  Not quite sure how to describe this one - on the one hand, it's quite a realistic depiction (though not so brutal as some) of settlers in Alaska, but on the other hand, it's almost a fairy tale.   I'm a fan of magical realism and books that combine the real world with other realms (in fact, thinking about all, almost all of my favourite fantasy novels do this - perhaps not quite all of them, but most), so this was definitely up my alley.  I also liked that the resolution was somewhat ambiguous, but not so much as to frustrate you - it just didn't answer all the questions in easy, obvious ways.
  • Watership Down, Richard Adams. A re-read - not sure how many times I've read this - loads. Sarah had loaned our copy to a friend and I thought - Hey, I haven't read that in a while - so I did. Watership Down is a classic - if you haven't read it - do. No matter how many times I do, I still hold my breath during the tense bits - as though I didn't know how it was going to come out!  It's saying something when a book can do that even on re-reading...
  • The Pirate King, Laurie R King.  The latest (or at least, the latest I'm up to) in Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. These are always clever and witty and this was no exception, though it had a few more flights of fancy than some of the Russell/Holmes books (which actually, was a bit of a relief as the last two were pretty heavy going in theme). Plus, I'm a sucker for Gilbert and Sullivan, so I enjoyed that aspect of it.  If you've not read the rest of the series, I think you'd feel a bit bemused by much of this - but I do love the series (first book: The Beekeeper's Apprentice) and am always happy to read another - I'd been saving this for a treat.
  • Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck.  I'd read this ages ago - probably when I was about 15 or 16. Sarah is doing an essay on it as a large part of her English GCSE, so I offered to re-read it to better be able to read through her prep-essay and offer comments. (They know what the assessment question will be, so they can write to that theme in advance as much as they like, though of course they can't take any of that work into the assessment with them.)  Anyway, I knew it was a short book, so I didn't mind re-reading (and anyway, I like Steinbeck).  I had forgotten just how cheery the book was (not) but also, had forgotten the beauty of the sparsity of Steinbeck's prose and the poignancy of aspects of the novella, so it was lovely to revisit it.  There are reasons (usually - I could argue otherwise in a couple of cases) why the classics are classics.
  • Cross Bones, Kathy Reichs. Number 8 or so in the Tempe Brennan series.  I enjoy this series for light reading - they are usually well constructed and the characters aren't too annoying.  This wasn't one of my favourites as the plot seemed a bit silly (for those of you who read the series - this is the one set in Israel), but it was a good way to unwind.
  • The Distance Between Us, Maggie O'Farrell.  Technically, I still have about 20 pages of this to read, but I expect I'll finish it tonight or tomorrow at the latest, so it counts for February. I've read some of O'Farrell's other books - definitely After You'd Gone and The Hand that First Held Mine and also, I think, My Lover's Lover, though I can't quite remember it.  I remember finishing After You'd Gone and thinking it was really fantastic; this one is similarly good, though not quite as page-turningly tense - it's building up at the moment, though, so who knows.  Definitely worth reading, though.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dinner, 27/2/13: Pasta with Bacon and Artichokes

A standby sort of recipe, especially for a busy night, when we don't get home until nearly 6...  Technically, it's our wedding anniversary tonight, but there's no point trying to go out on a weeknight - we'd not enjoy it -we have a table booked for Friday!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dinner, 26/2/13: Enchiladas with Sweet Potato

This is the filling I used - a slight variation on the recipe (from a booklet called "Vegetarian 30 minute Mexican Cookbook" by Sarah Beattie, which apparently came free with issue 26 of Vegetarian Living - a magazine I buy occasionally, usually if I am caught out without reading material or if the cover looks particularly good).  I added the kidney beans because I felt it needed a bit more substance to it.   Anyway, it was excellent - Alex raved about it and we all really liked it - the sweet potato was, once again, particularly nice, as it still had just a little resistance to it. 

And here's the whole enchilada.  So to speak.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A coffee with my name on it...

We were out for a bike ride and just had to stop - clearly it was a sign from the heavens...

I skipped the whipped cream, personally, though Alex and Olivia didn't.  The problem with taking pictures on my phone is I forget to take them OFF the phone and share them (unless I upload them straight to Facebook, of course) - this one isn't too old, only last weekend...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dinner, 24/2/13: Italian Pot Roast, with polenta

This is a recipe from The Gourmet Slow Cooker by Lynn Alley. I'm very fond of my slow-cooker, especially in the winter. Not only is it a good way to use cheaper cuts of meat and have them come out well, but it fills the house with fantastic smells and also, especially on Sunday, means that instead of having to get up and go cook right at the time I'm enjoying my last gasp of relaxing-and-doing-nothing before the end of the weekend (and in this case, week's holiday), I can carry on sitting and relaxing.  Yes, you have to do a bit of cooking in the morning, but that's ok, you have more get up and go then!

Anyway, this was a lovely pot roast, with a rich tomatoey sauce. I served it with polenta (I bought the ready-cooked kind and just fried it a little in a frying pan), which was a perfect match - the texture was great with the sauce. We'll be having this again for sure.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dinner, 23/2/13: Sweet Potato Gumbo with Cornbread Muffins

Another excellent recipe from Simon Rimmer's The Seasoned Vegetarian.  The kids only eat okra under pain of death, so I put in slightly less okra and slightly more sweet potato than the recipe called for and used spring greens, which I had in the house, rather than cabbage - same basic principle. This was quite spicy, but in a good way. A definite winner.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Roast dinner

Not an exciting photo, is it!  But it was tasty...

Random Cake

Olivia had a friend over today and one of the things they did was bake a cake. I think it took longer to decorate than actually to make it...  And in case you think Olivia is being pushy having her initials on the cake, the other girl is called Nina, so it's really both of their initials - just happens to be Olivia's proper initials...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Playing Tourist

Took some time uptown today to play the tourist - the original plan was to pop into the Transport Museum in Covent Garden as we have a free entry (it's one of those where you get a year's free return if you've been once - we went in August)  - but when we got there, there was a HUGE queue, so we decided to skip it.

Instead, we had a wander around Covent Garden, starting with a trip to the Moomin Shop and taking in some Valentines themed sculptures (the metal tags have individual messages written on them, and they are padlocked to the frames. There were also a giant L, O, V and E). 

And we spent some time watching the performance artists - always a bit of fun.

We then wandered along to Chinatown, where there were loads and loads of red lanterns out still from the Chinese New Year, so that was fun - and colourful.  After that, we walked through Leicester Square down towards Trafalgar Square - it was freezing cold, so we decided to spend a little time inside the National Gallery to warm up a bit - and look at some paintings, too, of course. 

Then we walked down the Mall to have a look at Buckingham Palace

And finally, walked through Green Park back towards Picadilly, where we had a brief stroll through Fortnum & Mason before hopping on the Tube back to Waterloo and so home. It was a nice day, but really, really cold.  We were very impressed with this woman eating lunch on a park bench - a bit heartier than we were - and we are pretty hearty!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dinner, 20/2/13: Sausages with onions and chestnuts

served with lots of mash.  We all agreed that the chestnuts were ok, but didn't really add anything, so weren't really worth putting in. Would be better with something else, like mushrooms.  Otherwise, nice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dinner, 19/2/13: Cumin Crusted Vegetables with Lamb Steaks

The veg (& potato) recipe came from the Hairy Bikers' Diet Cookbook (The Hairy Dieters) and was really lovely. Definitely would do it again.  Worked fantastically along side a bit of meat. 

Ham House Afternoon

It was a lovely, sunny (!) day, and it's the half-term holiday, so we headed out to Ham House, where I'd read there was a display of costumes from Anna Karenina on show (part of the film was shot there - something in Vronsky's house). As Ham House is a National Trust property and we are members, free admission!  Always a good thing.

As the exhibition (and related tour of the house) were ticketed events, we had some time to kill - we got there around noon and couldn't go on the tour until 2.15.  So we had some lunch. And then, as it was lovely and sunny, we sat outside at the tables and drank tea. 

And then, we drank some more tea. 

And ate some cake. We originally had planned to have a stroll in the garden, but it was so lovely out and warm (for February) that we ended up just sitting. And drinking tea.

Although the sun is still quite low, it does really make a difference - especially as the weather has been so foul recently and looks likely to get yucky again from tomorrow. 

There were a few - very few - this little anemone was in a very sheltered spot

and of course snowdrops are among the earliest spring flowers - I did spot a few crocuses (croci?) across a lawn, but didn't photograph them. Even the daffs weren't out yet, though they were budding...

After the tour (which was interesting - the house isn't officially open yet for the season, so it was just a tour of a few rooms and a talk) and exhibit (which was good as far as it went, but had fewer costumes than I expected it to - this due to Universal Pictures, not Ham House itself, though), we had a little walk along the river  - not for long as the path was quite shady, so it wasn't as warm as the gardens had been.   Still it was nice to catch some scenic views, 

and to see some other folks enjoying the sunshine!

This is Ham House from the river side.

And this is the view across the river from the car park - not bad for a view from a car park!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lemon Drizzle Cake

I almost feel like this is cheating - it's a cake mix - but hey, it's still cake, right?

Dinner, 18/2/13: Chicken roasted with leeks and fennel

This was nice, although we all agree it could have cooked a little longer and been even better - especially the potatoes, which were cooked, but a little al dente, particularly for Geoff, who likes his potatoes quite well done...  I used drumsticks, because I had a package in the freezer, but in future, I would use thighs, which are easier to eat - and I would put a second bulb of fennel in - but then we really like fennel.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dinner, 17/2/13: Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

A family favourite. Served with new potatoes.

A bit of spring colour

I decided to change my kitchen windowsill today - the candles had been all white/clear/silver but I wanted some colour, so dug out all these bright spring ones. I could really use another pink or purple one - will have to keep my eyes peeled in my travels...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Dinner, 16/2/13: Braised Root Vegetables with Barley

... served with mashed potato.  This was pretty good - the veg were cooked in stout. It was a little bit bitter, so we felt maybe some carrots in next time would help balance it a bit. The swede is a very strong flavour and the parsnip perhaps wasn't quite enough on its own to balance. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Good fortune

After a very long day, most of it spent dressed as a pirate (a school thing), I decided that cooking was not on the cards. After some debate, we got Chinese takeaway from our local.  Anita, one of the owners, knows the kids well as her son and Alex are great mates, so when I sent Olivia & Alex to collect, she threw in a bag of fortune cookies for free. I forgot to photograph most of them...well, I did say it had been a very long day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dinner, 12/2/13: Meatballs with Chunky Tomato Sauce

This is another recipe from the Hairy Dieters Cookbook. I used a combination of beef and pork mince for this one, and although the taste was nice, I found the meatballs a little tough. If I make them again, I might only use pork mince; I might also put a little breadcrumbs in, despite the additional calorie count for doing so.

Official pancake flipper...

with butterscotch sauce... mmm.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Dinner, 9/2/13: Mango Chicken with Sticky Rice

This is a family favourite (except Sarah, who doesn't like cooked fruit) from Chinese Food Made Easy by Ching-He Huang. We've had it several times and most of us really love it. I've added carrots to the original recipe as well as increasing the quantities. Tonight I served it with sticky rice, which was very nice.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Dinner, 8/2/13: Stilton and Broccoli Pasta

This was a fantastic, quick supper. The sauce was very creamy and the broccoli broke down into the sauce with just a few bigger bits, giving a nice texture and taste. The little bit of crispy bacon (I used pancetta, as I had some left from another meal) on top was a perfect contrast. We'll be seeing this again!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Happy birthday (not so) little boy!

Here's  my "baby" when he really was - not sure how old, just a few months. He's a lot bigger than that now, of course - hard to believe he's 10 today. In this photo, he's in his little bouncy chair - he loved that chair (as did I) - it held him upright so he could see what was going on, while keeping him out from under foot. Being a third baby, he spent quite a bit of time in it as we were very busy all the time with two other small children in the house - although there were times when both of them were in school and Alex and I did stuff together, like baby swimming.  Ah, those were the days (though given the choice, I don't really think I'd go back to the  days of changing nappies and having to carry half your life with you everywhere you go)...

Monday, February 04, 2013

End of the nine...

[I know he's out of focus, but it's too late to retake it - he's asleep now]

Last day of being 9.  Yep, my "baby" is turning 10 tomorrow. Don't ask where those years went; I have no idea.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Have your cake...

It's not technically Alex's birthday until Tuesday, but as there are dozens (ok, 6) of extra boys coming to tea on Tuesday, we did family birthday cake tonight. The boys are getting a bought cake with Yoda on it - Alex is pleased as he can have it both ways...

Anyway. This is only one stage of the cake - there was also

some cracking of eggs

and slicing of sponge into very thin layers.

There was frosting - done by me - 

and decorating - done by Alex. 

and of course, there was eating.  With more eating predicted for tomorrow...