Monday, June 27, 2005

Race for life

race for life Posted by Hello

A massive THANK YOU to everyone who sposored Susan and me to run in the Race for Life 5km at Heythrop Park on Sunday! We had a fantastic day - and completed the course in a smidgeon over 30min! There were about 2000 women and girls running and walking, raising money for Cancer Research UK. The projected total for all 2000 participants was £115,000 and between us, we raised nearly £400!!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Fennel Fiesta IMBB-16

This month's idea for IMBB is eggs hosted by Viv of Seattle Bon Vivant . With all the hot weather we're having I thought ice cream would be a fab idea, especially as the ice cream maker has been sat in the freezer waiting for any excuse to make ice cream for about a month. When I am feeling very lazy, but want a tasty pudding, I like to throw a load of muisjes and chocoladehagel (which for those unlucky folk who've never experienced them, they are a dutch specialty, not generally eaten with ice cream but on bread or beschuit (aka Dutch toasts)) over vanilla ice cream, so I thought why not try out making my own fennel and chocolate chip ice cream, and while I am at it try something a little unusual and add a ripple of tarragon puree to make it just a little bit more aniseedy! So here they are Fennel and chocolate chip ice cream and Fennel and Tarragon ripple ice cream. And whilst I was up to my eyeballs in fennel I thought I'd re-create the roasted fennel and black olive salad I made for Mum and Dad when they came down to visit at Easter.

fennel and tarragon ice cream Posted by Hello

Fennel ice creams
First I infused 300ml skimmed milk and 300ml single cream with 3 tablespoons crushed fennel seeds by bring them all to the boil and then turning off the heat and letting them sit and cool for about an hour. I strained off the fennel seeds through muslin, giving the seeds a good squeeze to get out all the flavour. The ice cream maker was ready in the freezer and so I made a custard with the flavoured milk/cream mixture 175g caster sugar and 6 egg yolks, being careful not to boil it. I allowed it to cool and then churned it to ice cream. (If you don't have an ice cream maker you could cool the custard and then put it into a freezer tub. Let it semi freeze and beat it to make it smooth and then freeze again. Just repeat the beating-freezing step a few times to get an ice cream) To make the choc chip variety I stirred a handful of dark choc chips through half the ice cream before putting it in the freezer. For the tarragon ripple, which actually became more of a thoroughly mixed element as I was a little to thorough with my rippling, I took 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh french tarragon and ground it with a tablespoon of caster sugar and a tablespoon of water in a pestle and mortar. Then simply stirred through the other half of the ice cream before putting that in the freezer too. Both are very tasty, particularly the extra aniseedy tarragon-ripple fennel variety, but I think there was a little too much sugar for my taste and would try 25g less next time.

roasted fennel and olive salad Posted by Hello

Roasted fennel and olive salad
For this I took a bulb of fennel and cut it into 8 segments, leaving a little of the base in place so that they didn't fall apart, but removing a small amount of the hard central core. I roasted the fennel on a tray at 200°C for 20 min after drizzling with a tiny amount of olive oil. When these were done I let them cool while I prepared the rest of the salad. I washed 4 large Cos lettuce leaves, tore them into bite size pieces and put them on a plate. I scattered over 8 roasted olives - I always think of them as greek ones butthat'ss probably not a good description, I get them in the supermarket without any brine on them, so they're dry and rich in flavour, and quite salty. Then the fennel was scattered over and I dressed the salad with the juice of a tangerine. The sweet, slightly crunchy nature of the fennel is just perfect with the salty olives. I can quite happily eat this salad all by myself and when I cooked for Mum and Dad I used three fennels and just tripled the other ingredients. Its good on its own or with tarragon and orange marinatedd pork chops!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Merry wives

halls croft Posted by Hello

Forsooth and verily a merry time was had!! Last night I went down to Stratford-upon-Avon with Sally, where we met with Sally D, Martin, Vicky and several other lasses, to see The Merry Wives of Windsor in the coutryard of Hall's croft. It was a beautiful evening and pleasantly warm as we sat in the round. There was wine at the interval and the fifty or so members of the audience wandered about the garden before gladly taking their seats once more. It was quite an interactive performance and in the searching of the 'buck basket' clothes where thrown with abandon over the audience! The star performances of the evening came from Dr. Caius, who had a very Allo Allo accent and kept saying what sounded like bugger but was probably "by God"! And from Master Ford, who was a dead ringer for Michael Palin and had us in stitches as he leaped about the coutryard!

Monday, June 20, 2005


On Saturday morning I was up bright and breezy to visit the market in the city centre for a spot of shopping. I pottered down to Dan's and then we cycled on into town. Dan suggested a different route that I hadn't taken before and we found some fab balconied terraced houses on the edge of Moseley. In town, the market was just opening and I bought salmon, local asparagus and lots of fruit - bargin of the day 4 papayas for £1! We breakfasted on bacon or sausage sarnies before heading back to Moseley, where the annual village festival was heating up. A couple of hours of browsing through the stalls and a smoothie later and I had to fly back home as Eric and Michelle were getting married and I need to to change! The wedding, held at the Boot in Honiley, was beautiful - the sun shone (it must have been about 30°C) and both bride and groom looked radiant - in fact they are expecting another addition to the family in December. So big Congratulations to them!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Elderflower Gin

elderflower gin Posted by Hello

Inspired by my Holmegaard decanter, which came with instructions for amateur spirit makers, I decided to make some elderflower gin. The tree at the bottom of the garden didn't yield enough inflorescences so I took Toulouse down the canal and collected about 250ml of flower heads. This is a bit of a vague measurement but its as many as I could squeeze into a 250ml Tupperware pot! At home I debugged and then put them into a 1 litre Kilner jar with 700ml gin. As recommended by the booklet I left them infusing for three days and then strained through muslin. It was rather a pretty green colour to start with but by the end of the three days it had mellowed into a rich yellow. Its quite dry and tasty too, if you like elderflower cordial it'll be right up your street.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Scary Saturday

Today was a very cultured day - I met up with Susan and Julian to see a adaptation of Dracula at the Rep, though first we indulged by having tapas at La Tasca, with sherry and vino tinto. As we entered the theatre, there was a spooky voice saying short sentences, though I didn't quite fathom what was being said. The whole theatre was plunged into darkness and the play began. Now it was billed as being fairly scary and that under 14s may not want to go and see it - but quite frankly it was all a bit silly. The modern use of mobile phones and email was fine, but the messages were displayed on a large screen that was just distracting, as we couldn't read all the words. And Count Dracula himself had regular funny little quips that undermined his character. We did jump at the gun shots though! Afterwards, we decided to try out the Havana Bar on the canalside. A narrow boat pulled up complete with 'Life of Brian'-esque characters clad in underpants and false beards! Dan met me there and we said goodbye to Susan and Julian. Very kindly Ann had donated a pair of tickets that she couldn't use, so we were off to see Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle and pieces by Wagner and Strauss at the Symphony Hall, performed by Opera North. Dan hadn't been to the opera before and I only just stopped him from dropping off, but I thought it was great! The Wagner was very rousing before the darkening of the tone with four songs from Strauss. Then the Bartok - we had the newly knighted Sir John Tomlinson as the duke and Sally Burgess as Judith. They too, however, had a distracting screen with digital images projected on to it, which I thought unnecessary. The singing was beautiful and the full force of the orchestra when the fifth door was opened nearly blew my socks off!!!

Friday, June 10, 2005


June saw the start of the IgorFest in Birmingham. The CBSO, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) and others are going to perform the complete works of Stravinsky over the next three years! My little participation, along with Susan and Sarah, started with a visit to the newly renovated Hippodrome to see the BRB perform four short pieces. The Dumbarton Oaks took a contemporary start, the dancers had their arms curved back behind their heads like antennae. Indeed the music is supposed to invoke the flutting of moths around a light. The four movements were totally captivating, lots of angular movements and a finalae of all the dancers 'dying' in a pool of light and a flash of fire. The backing cloth was beautiful - a giant wallpaper print reminiscent of William Morris. For the second piece, Duo Concertant, a violinist and pianist came on to the stage and a pair of dancers watched them and then seemed to improvise repetitive movements to go with the music. After a short interval, where I met up with a friend from University, Vicky - quite by accident, isn't the world a small place! - we were treated to a more traditional imterpretation of Scènes de ballet, complete with pattering points. I was particularly found in this piece of the 'be-tututued' group of ballerinas who moved almost like waves, as the lead ballerina swooped between them. Lastly, after another interval, we watched the Nijinsky's interpretation of the Rite of Spring, only the second time it had been performed in this country (the first was on Wednesday night)! The dancers were all wearing loose fitting tunics, in a sort of native American style, though also sort of Vikingesque too. It was set in an open field with a backdrop of hills, and as the ballet progressed I wondered if they had any plans to do it outside as it would be magnificent. There was much slapping of the stage and dragging of feet on the floor cloth to create sounds to feed into the orchestral music (which was brilliant throughout!). The sacrificial victim at the end finally died on stage and was lifted high by 6 bear skin wearing men! The performance was magnificent and all of us came out saying what a wonderful evening we had had, which had started with Steak frites and red wine at Michelle's La Bastille!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Travels in the Cevennes

Back in March I popped into the Oxfam shop at the Custard Factory and bought a 1907 copy of Robert Louis Steveson's 'Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes' (for £1!). RLS acquires a donkey, which he names Modestine and loads her with all his baggage, though quite quickly he finds its easier if he carries some of the load himself. They tramp through the hills between the Massif Central and Montpellier, over a period of two weeks in autumn, sleeping in both local inns and under the stars ( a al belle etoile).The book is a beautiful mix of descriptive narrative and commentary on the region's reglion and history. After spending 'a night among the pines' RLS writes:

I hastened to prepare my pack, and tackle the steep ascent that lay before me; but I had something on my mind. It was only a fancy; yet a fancy will sometimes be importunate. I had been most hospitably received and puntually served in my green caravanserai. The room was airy, the water excellent, and the dawn had called me to a moment. I say nothing of the tapestries or the inimitable ceiling, nor yet of the view which I commanded from the windows; but I felt I was in some one's debt for all this liberal enterainment. And so it pleased me, in a half-laughing way, to leave pieces of money on the turf as I went along, until I had left enough for my night's lodging.

RLS became quite attached to his beast of burden, as it seems Dervla Muphy did with Juanna and Jock in Peru and Ethiopia. And I, too am terribly attached to Toulouse, even though just a bicycle! Its such a fabulous read - I would bever have though it was written over 100 years ago (my copy is a sixth edition).

Thursday, June 02, 2005


pastie bap Posted by Hello

Over the bank holiday weekend I went home with Sally to Carrickfergus. We had a fabulous time doing all the touristy things - shopping in Belfast, visiting the Giant's Causeway on the north coast and catching the raft race in Portrush. I even got Sally to see the Beaghmore stone circles ove near Cookstown, which she didn't even know were there! There are seven circles uncovered, all paired, save one which is filled with 800 smaller stones called the dragon's teeth. This is totally unique and, to me, was quite a surprise. We also got to visit the Mountians of Mourne taking a walk through the Donard forest up past the ice house and to the saddle between Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh.
Whilst away I was introduced to Northern Irish pastie. Now, I thought it was a mashed potato patty that had been battered and deep fried. But no! I find that it is in fact a pork and potato delight! Sally took me to the Victoria Hot Spot for a pink pastie - there was slight confusion before we arrived as I thought we were going to a shop called the Pink Pastie! But pink they are - and that's Beth's pastie bap!
I am intriguied by the diversity of pasties around the world. I encountered this new form in NI but there is, of course, the good old Cornish variety and also the very tasty empanada which I enjoyed greatly in Chile! There is a wealth of info on the history of pasties - they were a good way of taking food with you all in one package, in the days before lunch boxes. And would you know it there is even a band called the pasties!
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