Monday, December 14, 2009


Yesterday we were at Jean and Dick's for the annual Higgs Christmas party, and this is the Christmas cake decorated by Jess, Anna and Lucy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Evolution round up

Well it's been an exciting year doing the evolution project. I have looked at all the ingredients that have been used and made this wordl - as you can see aubergine was the most popular ingredient and made it in to 7 of the 12 recipes, closely followed by garlic in 6 of them! And here's my idea of an evolutionary tree - the distances between the months represent the number of ingredients carried on and the branch lengths represent the number of additional ingredients!

Evolution December - Christmas cookies

For the final recipe in the evolution series I have made a great shift to Christmas cookies using a few of the ingredients from Dougal and Soazig's contribution. The recipe can be found on this earlier blog entry.

Monday, December 07, 2009


On Friday we went down to Bristol so that I could make some more fused glass for an up coming Christmas fair. While it was 'cooking' we walked all round the city, up to the Christmas steps and Clifton and the suspension Bridge, finishing off in the Olive Shed for delicious tapas overlooking the river.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Evolution November - Afghan dish and Honey and oat bread

This month the evolution recipe comes from Dougal and Soazig over in Stavanger, Norway. They have revisited the aubergines in this Afghan dish and made some very tasty breads too!

Afghan dish

4-5 aubergines
1 onion
tomato paste
bouquet garni
4-5 garlic
mint, parsley

Grill the aubergines in oil (or in the oven - I like the latter better). Sauce: Put oil, onion in a pan and let the onion turn golden. Add the tomato paste. Let it cook for a while and add some water and the bouquet garni and the cumin. Let it cook until you get a thicker tomato sauce. In a bowl mix the yogurt with the garlic and the mint . Add salt and pepper (lots). In a dish put 1 layer of aubergines, 1 layer of yogurt, 1 layer of tomato sauce and do it twice more. Put in the oven for 20-25 min at 180°C. Serve with rice that has been in the oven for 10 min to dry it a little bit. Add Cardamon seeds.

Honey and Oat Bread

65g (2.oz) jumbo porridge oats
450g (1lb) strong plain white flour
2.5ml (1 tsp) salt
7g sachet (1 tsp) fast action dried yeast
30ml (2 tbsp) honey
30ml (2 tbsp) golden syrup
50g (2oz) butter
120ml (4fl oz) milk
120ml (4fl oz) water
75g (3oz) dried cranberries / or raisins
40g (1 oz) chopped walnuts milk, for glazing jumbo porridge oats, for sprinkling

1. Mill the oats. Add the flour, salt and yeast.
2. Place the honey, golden syrup, butter and milk in a saucepan and heat gently until the butter melts. Stir in the water. The mix should now be just warm; if necessary leave to cool.
3. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix on minimum for 1 minute and 4 minutes on speed 1 to make a soft dough, which is smooth and elastic. Remove the Bowl with the dough inside, cover with oiled clear film and leave to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until doubled in size.
4. Lightly oil 2 baking sheets. Gently knock back the dough. Mix in the cranberries and walnuts. Transfer to a lightly floured surface, divide in two and shape into plump rounds. Place on the prepared baking sheets.
5. Cover with oiled clear film and leave in a warm place to rise, for about 30-40 minutes, until they have doubled in size. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6.
6. Brush with milk, slash across the top of each loaf and sprinkle with oats. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until risen and golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


This week I am working at the University of Alicante, last night I hot footed it down to the city to climb up to the castle. I just amde it as the sun painted the horizon red. On the way down I joined Anke, Cristoph and Alejandro for tapas after we all got a little lost! This was all after having a traditional lunch with my host at the university, so am feeling very full but delighted by all the tasty food, and kindness of strangers, again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Evolution October - Rosemary Mushrooms, Prawn and Apple Quiche, Limy lentils and Seared Tuna and Thai Green Curry

The latest in the evolution experiment is from Laughing Magpie on Chattering Chough, what a splendid selection of recipes! They include something for everyone, and one of my all time favourites Prawn and Apple Quiche, pictured above!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Food Bloggers Connect

If you're a food blogger in the UK check out Mowielicious's Food bloggers Connect coming soon to London!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Glass fusing in Bristol

Just a few examples of the glass I made at the Creative Glass Guild last weekend on their slumping and fusing weekend course - absolutely brilliant, and great fun with Vicki, and joining the boys for dinner in the evenings!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Evolution September - Prawn and lentil curry

This month I have been inspired by Wampe's ingredients and a recipe we've been enjoying from the Siansbury's magazine, a light coconut milk based curry with prawns. I would have liked bigger ones, but couldn't lay me hands on any!

200g big prwans, raw
a little oil
a thumb of ginger, grated
1 red chilli,chopped, medium strength as the coconut milk will counteract quite a lot of the chilli
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon shrimp paste
200ml coconut milk, the lighter version works well too
1 400g tin cooked green lentils, drained and rinsed

In a wok heat the oil and then add the ginger, garlic, chilli and shrimp paste and fry for a couple of minutes without browning, add the prawns, lentils and coconut milk and simmer for about 5 min or until the prawns are cooked and everything is bubbling and hot. Then serve and enjoy! Very simple!!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Village Cafe

It was Charlie's birthday yesterday so we all met up in town for a wee trip to the Electric Cinema to see Away we go, splashing out and sitting on the sofas with a nice cup of tea or a bottle of beer! But first we went to the Village Cafe on Ladywell Walk opposite the Arcadian centre in Birmingham where they served me the best Mee Goreng I have had in years, the rest of the food was delicious too and such an authentic feeling place! Highly recommended!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pitt Rivers Museum

A fleeting trip, on Thom's first birthday, to see the eclectic Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, full of so many treasures, and even a cleft stick, though it wasn't on show, I found it in the catalogue! The wart medicine was fantastic - first find a black slug, then secretly rub it on your warts and then impale the slug on a thorn! Everything had gorgeous labels, another visit is a definite thing

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A trip on the Metro

I took the Metro for the first time, up to Wolverhampton to the Art Museum to see their exhibit on Andy Warhol, which turned out to be not as interesting as the exhibits on Works on Paper and The Northern Ireland collection. On the way back I got off at Bilston to visit the Craft Gallery, which was brilliant. The travelling Playing with Fire contemporary exhibition was fabulous. Then to round things off I popped into the RBSA to see the Friends Autumn exhibition!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tissington Trail

A quick blast along the Tissington Trail from Parsley Hay to Ashbourne and back, splendid countryside! Whilst having my lunch on a bench just outside Ashbourne Bet stopped for a chat, admiring my independent spirit, as she seemed to be staring into the face of an imminent loss of her partner at 73, we talked for a while and parted with a hug, I hope all goes well for her.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Hadrian's Wall

Over the bank holiday weekend I dragged Nick off to the north of England to cycle Hadrian's cycleway route 72. Starting off from Ravenglass, on the coast of Cumbria, we first visited Glennaventa roman baths and then cycled to our first campsite, battling the wind but enjoying dinner in Seascale. Then off north, along the coast past Sellafield, I had no idea it was such a big complex, and the BNFL owned their own trains. Onwards we came through Whitehaven, past the coast to coast marker and along the Solway Coast to Silloth, stopping at a Roman museum along the way. After our second night of camping we came to the start of the wall at Bowness on Solway, making it to Carlisle and hitting 100miles, but peddling on to Haltwhistle, in the rain, for our final camping spot, and a fine dinner in Rowfoot. The last leg took us across the Northumerland National Park and via Vindolanda roman fort and acheaological site, before peaking at 225m, followed by a glorious 7mile downhill run. Finally we cycled in to Newcastle under a threatening sky, and celebrated with a wee drinkie by the river before the train home, after a mere 195miles.

Dougal Pu me on to mapmy ride - and here is the approximate elevation for our trip!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Evolution August - Sajor Curry of Terrong & Sambal Goreng of shrimps with petebeans

This month the evolution recipe comes from Wampe in Zutphen Holland:

"Here's my contribution to the food evolution...It's indonesian, I hope people will like it.

1) Sajor Curry of Terrong (aubergine) (Cooking time 30 min - 4 pers.)
- 6 small or 2 large aubergine
- 6 potatoes (in small pieces)
- beef stock (1/4 liter)
- Coconut milk (100 ml)
- 1 piece of lemongrass
- 2 limeleaves

Grind the following spices together:
- Grind 10 small onions / 3 large ones
- + 3 garlic + Terassi Powder (1 teaspoon)
- Brown sugar (Tsp), Tamarind (Tsp)
- Piece of Ginger, Kurkuma/Koenjit (Tsp)
- Coriander seeds (2 Tsp)
- Cumin (1 Tsp) + Salt

Peel potatoes & cut in pieces, boil for 10 min. in beefstock + ground lemongrass + limeleaves
Put on the water for the rice
In a wok fry the ground spices, till oil separates. Add this mixture to the stock + potatoes
Meanwhile, peal the aubergine (not necessary is optional) & slice in small pieces. Add to stock mixture.
Add coconut milk and cook till aubergine is ready (never put lid on pan when coconut is added)
After this you start with the next dish.

2) Sambal Goreng of shrimps with petebeans (4 pers.)
- 400 gr. Prawns medium sized
- 2 or 3 red chili's
- 1 slice galingale
- Tamarind juise (concentrated) (1/2 Tsp)
- Same amound of Terassi/Trassi (Shrimp paste)
- Concentrated coconut milk (100 ml)
- about 15 petebeans
- 6 small onions

Grind & mix all the spices together (except the Petebeans), add bit of brown sugar
Heat some oil in wok, fry mixture till oil separates (about 8 min.)
Add Coconut milk + prawns. Add bit of water
Cut Petebeans in pieces and add in mixture
Let the sauce thicken & stir every now and than
The sauce is ready when it is reddish

I hope people will like this. Some ingredients will be hard to get hold of in England, but there are still a lot you can use for the next month."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hanbury Hall

We had a lovely trip out the this National Trust property near the Jinny Ring.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lampwork bead making

At the weekend I drove up to Enderby and attended Diana East's Introduction to Bead making course - what a lot of fun! I learnt many techniques and made about 20 beads! This picture is just a few of them made into a bracelet.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Cheesy Chicken Schnitzel by Patrik

A little while ago I was contacted by Ronja from Pitaya Media to review their newest application for the iPhone, so with iPhone in hand I downloaded Parik's Easy Cooking. Brwsing thorugh the recipes I saw that they were divided into various catergories and levles of cooking skill (easy to advanced). They sll looked like they were quite quick too, so I pottered off to the supermarket and bought the ingredients for Cheesy Chicken Schnitzel - chicken, eggs, parmesan cheese, butter, oil and tomato sauce. It was easy to butterfly the chicken breasts and dregde them in a cheese egg mixture, but not so much stuck to my chicken, so I had a cheesy omlete too, by frying everything off in the oild and butter. The tomato sauce warmed in a separate pan and soon it was time to serve. We had made a potato salad with chives, pepper and celery to go with the chicken. It was tasty and easy to cook, and there are plenty more to try, though I'm not too sure about chocolate noodles, but hey, why not try it!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Evolution July - Turkey Herder pie

This month Helen makes Turkey herder pie:

'I promised Mel I’d do the foovolution (sounds like a kylie song!) in July and after trying very hard to come up with something exciting I failed and went for a variation on ‘Sheppard’s pie’ as that is what the ingredients screamed at me. (Can’t help it I’m just not good at savoury, cake I can do but savoury usually get a ‘well it’s edible’ response from he who does the shopping). So ‘Turkey herder pie was made on Saturday with the help (and I use this in the loosest sense of the word) of boy and girl. Mince featured in March and April and made a come back in the form of turkey mince influenced by the fact that I don’t eat mammals (it’s a dissection room thing!). So while the kids ‘cooked’ pasta for mummy’s dinner (e.g. chucked half a pack of dried pasta around the floor with diggers!) I proceeded to create tea. I think most things used have appeared before but this time they have ‘de-volved’ into a simpler form.

• New potatoes (bigish one bort by mistake by he who does the shopping) were cut up and put on to boil in their skins. (I could claim some sort of added fibre benefit but I just couldn’t be bothered to do any peeling!)
• Olive oil put in a pan and diced onion added to soften.
• 1 clove chopped garlic added
• Sliced carrot, courgette and diced yellow pepper and aubergine added. (Boy said yuk to every thing but the carrot and returned to his pasta)
• Pinch or 3 of mixed herbs added (Athenian mix)
• When all veges soft (ish) they were transferred to a waiting dish.
• More olive oil added to pan
• Minced turkey put in pan with 2-3 teaspoons of bisto best chicken. (paper from the bottom of the turkey mince also added as girl was wedging herself between my legs at the time.)
• Paper removed!
• When turkey cooked the veges were returned to the pan
• 1 tin chopped tomatoes and 1 teaspoon of smooth peanut butter were added.
• This was mixed well and put into an oven proof dish.
• When the potatoes were cooked they were drained and mashed with milk and a knob of butter.
• The potatoes were then put on top of the turkey and vege mixture using an ice-cream scoop. (boy will only eat mashed potatoes if they are in ‘scoops’.
• This was covered in cheddar (the mildest and most bland white cheddar available to mankind – boy will only eat this sort!)
• They whole thing was put in the oven (~200 degrees) till the top went brown and it was bubbling
• Served with cranberry ‘red’ jelly.

He who does the shopping said it was quite nice (which is praise indeed). The kids were less impressed, but then anything that isn’t chocolate or spaghetti hoops usually fails to impress them. Girl tried it but started to fling turkey chunks around the room. Boy did eat the cheese covered potato and red jelly. He tried a carrot but pulled the ‘yuk’ face, at least he tried it! I though it was fine. And so on to the next person………'

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Tower of Time

This afternoon we popped down to Perrott's Folly, near Edgbaston Reservoir. Its the last day of Yukio Fujimoto's Offsite installation for the Ikon gallery. He has installed 1111 clocks within the tower (which may be one of the towers that Tolkien used as inspiration for his Lord of the Rings trilogy). On the first floor just one clock sits on the floor ticking very quietly away, then up the circular stairs again and there are ten in a row, and you can hear them quite well, then up another revolution and there are one hundred in a square and there is a rhythm to the ticking. Finally on the last floor there are one thousand clocks. There's a holding room on the floor below as there's only space for a couple of people to stand in the room with the clocks now, and as you come out of the holding room and start up the stairs it sounds like its raining quite hard upstairs. This last room is also the most beautiful room, with decaying splendor and plaster reliefs on the ceiling. The clocks cover every surface and form a 'white noise', its harder to decipher any rhythm too. Great stuff, I recommend you go and see it, but they shut at 5, so you have about two and a half hours!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

La Banca, Cotteridge

A new restaurant opened about a month ago, just down the road from us, La Banca in Cotteridge. I went with work a week ago, and thought it would be a good place to go with Mum and Dad, so we walked down to have dinner last night. The building used to be a Barclays bank and has be tastefully turned into a restaurant, retaining the old safes as features. When we got there it was already quite busy and so we were ushered upstairs to our reserved table. This smaller dining room felt quite private, and a million miles away from the hub that is Cotteridge with all the buses going by outside. Dad ordered us some very tasty wines (La Joya sauvignon blanc and a Verramonte Merlot) and we all had different dishes. I started with the Gigante pasta filled with ricotta and chard in a tomatoey sauce, then a very tender rib-eye steak with pepper sauce and finally a light tasty tiramisu. Great stuff, I recommend you have a try, and I hope they will continue the way they have started, with friendly waiting staff and lots of good reasonably priced food.

Chaddesley Woods

Dad has a book called Living Britain and having enjoyed our trip to Thursley common we had a look in the book and found various places to visit near Brum. So our first outing was to a Worcestershire Wildlife Nature Reserve at Chaddesley Woods. As soon as we arrived we could see there were lots of butterflies and we could hear lots of birds. Walking through the reserve we saw long tailed tits, buzzards and butterflies of many kinds, including the sliver filigree, which we were told by the passing butterfly surveyor is the biggest in Britain. What a super outing, and then we had lunch at the Jinney Ring too.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Weekend fun

Last Friday Nick and I went off to the Hampton Cort Palace flower show, enjoying the recycled orange juice cartons as plant pots and more, then on Saturday it was off to the Summer exhibition and Tas , a Turkish restaurant, before The Winter's Tale at the Old Vic. None of us new the story so it was all a wonderful surprise and the setting was beautiful - lots of candle lanterns for the palace. Then on Sunday we went to Thursley Nature Reserve to see the multitude of sundews that they have! What a weekend!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Marina Abramovic Presents......

On Sunday I dodged the rain drops to catch the train up to Manchester and after a little meandering randomly through the streets of the city centre found my way to the Whitworth Gallery for Marina Abramovic Presents.... part of this year's Manchester International festival. My friend, co-worker and current artist in residence Kira O'Reilly was one of the innovative artists selected by Marina to perform in this exhibition. The show will take place over the next 2weeks, with the artists all preforming for 4hours each day.
When I arrived I was given a white lab coat, containing a small paper cup in the pocket, and I wandered into a large gallery, the walls nude of the regular hanging and lit by the enormous picture windows down one wall, it felt a little like a gymnasium. Along the window lined wall there was a dais, putting me in mind of a catwalk/runway. Milling around were my fellow participants, all clad in white lab coats too. This uniform was good, it made me feel part of the crowd even though I had come on my own, as it seemed many others had, though there was also a large party of teenagers, most likely on an 'A' level art trip, who giggled nervously. A gong rang out and we were all instructed to take one of the camping stools from the back wall and line up in rows facing the windows. I was quite surprised to see that there must have been something like 200 people in the gallery and eagerly awaiting the start. Marina and 4 helpers, all clad in the lab coats, stood on the dais before us and Marina started to explain the ideas behind her exhibition. The idea of body or performance art had started in the 70's and she wanted to use it to get us to appreciate the little things and to become comfortable with our boredom. She talked eloquently for a while and then we got out our little cups to be filled with water and then took 10min to drink the water, not just snatching at it as may be what happens in our busy every day lives. Staring out into the park beyond the windows, allowing thoughts to drain away, I felt very relaxed in a 'yoga-esque' way. Then we looked into the faces of 3 strangers, appreciating their features and trying to remember them. I first looked at a young girl with lots of freckles, then an older lady with wrinkles and finally another young girl with her fringe in her eyes. Finally, we walked from the room, considering each movement as Marina chanted lift, stretch, touch, move, which to start with was very fluid but as time passed took on a weird quality that put me in mind of dictatorship, quite peculiar.
As we were released from the room an irregular pounding started up and an occasional scream/screech could be hear from somewhere else in the building, and these continued throughout the rest of the exhibition. We all dispersed into the surrounding areas and galleries of the exhibition. I first encountered Terence Koh dressed in white sitting on his heels staring out into the foyer, he moved very slowly and different emotions rippled across his face. I spent some time watching him and then moved on into the adjacent room where Nikhil Chopra stood in a pair of white baggy pants scribbled arcs of charcoal onto the wall. Through all of his movements he drew a charcoal line on the wall or floor. The floor and surfaces but not the walls were wrapped in brown paper, meaning as we walked through the gallery there was an audible rustling. At one end he had scribbled six foot high letters reading Sir Raja III, and around the room with brown paper parcels and a table with an opened parcel of charcoal sticks. He moved with purpose but also in a slightly frenzied manner. By the end he had covered much of the space and I wondered if the room would be set back to its untouched state or would continue on from here for the next day's performance.
The screaming sound was louder here, and as I passed into the next area by one set of stairs I came across Amanda Coogan in a yellow dress, poised on the banisters above a large 'haystack' which I found out must be made of crash mats or mattresses, for she screamed and then threw herself on to these. Then slid down from them and walked up the stairs again and to her perch. Through a glass door, I came into a room that smelled a little unpleasant, as the few people in front of me moved to the side, I could see a large triangle of shoes, singularly pointing towards the rear of the room, down the diagonal was a long long trestle table laden with earth, and my initial thoughts were that this is where the smell was coming from, but then I saw that atop the dirt was a pig's head at each end. Not that this was offensive in any way but it lent the air that smell of a butcher's shop, which I happen not to like very much. Rounding the table there were more shoes and a chair holding a pile of shredded paper. Walking on I found Alistair MacLennan sitting, dressed all in black, with a large black boot balanced on his head and two pairs of spectacles on his nose in front of closed eyes. He never moved, and when I returned later it seemed that he had stayed this way for the entire exhibition. The collection of objects and the stillness didn't connect with me as other elements of the day did, and I wonder what I couldn't feel/see.
The next room, also entered via a glass door, was full of the sound of untuned radios. Eunhye Hwang, with her long dark hair falling into her eyes, dressed in a peculiar combination of dark blue shirt, creamy stripy skirt and white kitten heels, was moving four radios emitting static noise around her body, allowing them to open up so that she was making changes in the depth of the noise. It was brilliant to watch and she moved with deliberate actions, involving the audience in her performance too. There was also a fridge in the room, with a plate of green jelly on top and a large radio, which I presumed wasn't on. Later on there was a large piece of the green jelly on the floor and a man was eating jelly from a plate and the artist continued to make her noise music.
I then went in search of the source of the clanging, finding muscly Nico Vascellari in black t-shirt and jeans at the bottom of a stairwell bringing a large gold coloured rock/piece of metal down on to a smooth stone. He was sat in a pool of dust, and had remarkably beautiful feet, coated in the dust. Behind him were a couple of microphones, and as he brought the rocks together a reverberation was heard and felt through out the building. The banging was incredibly loud, and I felt the need to put my fingers in my ears, but he had no protection. I couldn't linger too long as it did hurt my ears, but the feeling of the vibrations through the floor were good. In the stair well at the other end of the building I found Kira, slowly falling in a very controlled manner down the stairs. When I got there, she had made it down about a quarter of the staircase and was upside down sprawled across the hard stone stairs, wearing just a pair of black driving gloves and a bruise across her shoulder. From being upside down her face was a deep purple and she was deeply concentrating on her slow slow movement. The deep purple colouration really made it look like she had been falling down the stairs, in perhaps a nasty accident, but as she righted herself, still lying across the steps her face returned to a more normal colour. Then upside down again, I moved closer and she opened her eyes to look at me and I felt a great connection, that she was observing me too.
Going past Ivan Civic clad in black climbing a wall displaying a video of his return to Sarajevo after ten years, I went upstairs and came across Marie Cool moving from table to table and other areas of the gallery, where she was re-enacting sculptural pieces, rhythmically moving string or papers or piles of salt, or walking past a line of folded paper so that her movement caused it to wave in the eddies of the air. The light here was beautiful, filtering through high windows onto the white walls. This was a very tranquil exhibit, and in great contrast to the dark room I next visited. Here, I was first read the 'rules of engagement' by a lab-coated assistant, I was to go in and 'worship at the alter' or words to that effect. Inside was an auditorium in the dark, with only lighting around a plywood construction on the stage. There were several other people inside in a cue before this, and one at the top of the steps feeding a mouth through a small 'glory hole', this was all we could see of Fedor Pavolv-Andreevich, who was making a homage to Vitaly Titov who had lived for twenty days attached to someone else's body. There was a mechanical voice-over too. I felt uneasy, whether this was because of the language used to describe what was to happen or whether there was something more I don't know, but I made myself stay and was instructed to wash my hands and then given a price of card that indicated I should feed the mouth a piece of cheese and tell it a nursery rhyme. Never one to remember nursery rhymes I eventually dredged up hickory dickory dock and felt particularly foolish reciting it. Not a comfortable experience all round, whereas all the others were so.
Jamie Isentein was barely visible beneath a pile of sheep and bears skins, playing and Melati Suryodarmo had yet to make it through the visa system so this left one artist to see, Yingmei Duan, naked moved in a vulnerable way around a darkened gallery. May be because I had already seen many things I spent just a few minutes with her and then seeing I only had half an hour left made another circuit of the performers, until a gong sounded again and we were all gently ushered towards the exit. Relieved of my lab coat I wandered out into bright day light and hot footed it back to the train station feeling contemplative and relaxed. All the artists had looked weary by the end of the 3hours we had been observing them, and I wondered how they would fair over the next two weeks as the exhibition continues.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

This little film is a time lapse of photos taken every minute over a 3hour period of the area where the hedgehogs are living in Sarah and Juul's garden. I tried to bait the area with a slug found trying its best to demolish some tomato plants, but it had other ideas and is seen speeding away at the start of the movie, the little hedgies are in there too, the best shot is right near the end!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Chocolate cells

After finding the 1696 article on medicinal uses of chocolate I was chatting with Kira in the coffee room at work. We got to a point where we decided that may be we should try feeding chocolate to adipocytes (fat cells), though now I can't remember what all the connections were. Naomi is an expert on adipocytes and kindly said that we were welcome to use some of these cells that she would extract from stored tissue. The aim would be simple, we'd incubate the cells in the presence of some chocolate and hopefully they would expand in size as they took in the fat from the chocolate. A nice circular idea whereby the cells, which had been discarded to remove 'fat' would get fed fat. Kira was also interested in embellishing them with gold or other precious objects. After some research I reckoned that the easiest way was to add so cationic gold (positively charged) that would adhere to the outside of the cells through an electrostatic interaction as the cells are slightly negatively charged. Rachel generously said we could visualise them on the scanning electron microscope (SEM) too, which meant we'd be able to see the gold and the structure of the cells.

So first off Kira and I spent the afternoon trying to get chocolate into solution. I had hoped that just warming it to 37°C would be OK but this had a tendency to sit as gloop at the bottom of the tube. After a lot of fiddling we decided upon grating some high cocoa solids content chocolate (85% Green & Blacks in these experiments but later Kira sourced some French 100% from Cortes Ingles in Valencia) and melting and mixing it into standard serum supplemented media.

Adipocytes in culture

Then Naomi kindly supplied us with some cells, but the transport between labs caused massive infection and they all died, so we decided to go to them and spent a couple of days over at Aston. We helped to process the tissue and extract the individual cells before adding the chocolate solution. We gave them an overnight incubation to see if they would take up any fat. The next morning the chocolate stimulated cells certainly looked different from the non-chocolate stimulated ones, but it was more that they had a fine coating of particulates rather than having swelled in size.

To add the gold we had to tether the cells. They were floating atop the liquid in which they were growing so using poly-D-lysine coated coverslips (making use of electrostatic interactions again) we captured the adipocytes. Once isolated we coated with the gold solution, taking only 10min, before fixing in preparation for the SEM. Further dehydration was required, as the SEM works under partial or near vacuum, before we could 'see' the fat cells. Rachel and I had a quick look-see under the low vacuum instrument before using the higher powered one over in the microscopy suite with Naomi. And ta-dah!!! We found lots of things, mostly bits of chocolate particulate but also a fat cells that had adhered and then subsequently lost most of its cell contents. It looked like the nucleus had been ripped from the cells, looking like a fried egg missing its yolk. Using back scatter electrons we could also see the gold - looking like constellations sprinkled across the membrane!

Whole fat cell missing its insides

So what does all this mean I hear you cry? Well, according to Naomi, its the first time anyone's tried to visualize adipocytes under SEM and hopefully we can use further experiments to characterise these cells. So from a scientific point of view this 'Friday afternoon experiment' has been incredibly useful. On other fronts, this has been totally mind blowing - I've never used such high powered microscopes before and seeing a cell in such high magnifications is really quite something, and add in the gold stars/sparkles and I'm very excited! So the cells didn't do what we expected, but then as Prof Einstein said 'If we knew what we were doing it wouldn't be research' and as such trying something different has brought out something new and exciting, not to say broadened all out horizons.

Magnification of the mambrane using back scatter electrons to see the gold labelling, like little stars

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fresh Garden Salad

To accompany or BBQ on Sunday I picked some pea shoots and borage flowers to go into the green salad, I just need the courgettes, cucumbers lettuce and beans to be ready at the same time and then everything will come from the garden!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sylhet Spice Cuisine

My favourite curry restaurant in Birmingham - the Sylhet Spice Cuisine in Kings Heath - just yummy! This was Nick's fish dish on Friday night - complete with chilli 'green beans' ala Dougal on the Bramaputra!

Evolution June - Aku Shaak

This month the evolution baton passed to fellow food blogger Sabine of A lot on my plate who has summarized the progress so far and made a fantastic contribution with Aku Shaak - stuffed vegetable curry. Go and read her blog entry for more info!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some lovely foodie pictures from our Gothenburg trip!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

First potatoes

Today we dug up the first of our potatoes - variety rocket - that we planted back in February in a big pot in the garden. They were delicious made into a Spanish omelette!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ireland surprise

It was Dougal's birthday at the weekend and Soazig organized a surprise - that we would all meet up in Dublin and spend the weekend staying at Ballyknocken cookery school. We couldn't have been more lucky, the weather was magnificent and the food was fantastic. Late on Friday night we tucked into tapas in Al's Diner in Wicklow and then snuggled down in the very comfortable hotel, to be greeted the following morning by the chucks and brilliant french toast at breakfast. Then a whistle stop tour of the region, calling in at Glendalough and Powerscourt. The back to the cookery school where Catherine created beautiful antipasto, potato and lemongrass soup, pork tenderloin with stuffing and polenta cake.

The following day we celebrated Dougal's birthday with another splendid breakfast, followed by a walk along the coast from Bray to Greystones, in the sunshine, we really didn't need lunch but had ice creams on the beach. Then to Bates in Rathdrum, behind a lively Irish pub, for a delicious locally inspired dinner - Wicklow crab ravioli, Dover sole, lamb and creme caramel with orange sorbet!

Our final day took us back to Dublin to the Guinness Storehouse and a little Guinness tasting, and to Trinity to gaze at the Book of Kells and the evocative Long Library.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Evolution May - Aubergines everywhere

This month Kira has taken the evolution idea to another level!

"I guess evolution had its dead ends and abandoned experiments, organisms that shifted and drifted into various and variable embodiments before environment and circumstances rendered obsolete, extinct and no more. I’m intrigued by the possible short term species that didn’t become more, longer and established. And that’s kind of how my May cooking evolution has been.

I was inspired to take the aubergine forward, but to find it a new circumstance and context, and likewise the ricotta. I fantasized about ricotta pudding, custards and pana cotta, and all kinds of recombinant aubergine/tomato type things but really I wanted to depart from that combo. It’s sturdy presence in cooking all over the world is there for a really good reason, it adapts to multiple favours and environmental factors, but I wanted another thematic to intrigue into June. Perhaps.

So my final dish was Aubergine, halloumi and asparagus, with lemon/oil dressing. Accompanied by Ricotta and dill Bread, and here are a couple of the species that also evolved along the way.

Baba Ghanoush
the aubergine/tahini combo – which was utterly divine with a crunchy green salad wrapped in a warm chapatti.

Here is a version slightly adapted (amounts scaled down) from Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett, an excellent info/cook book on nutrition according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

1 Aubergine
1/3 cup light tahini
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons of water
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
2 tablespoon of olive oil
1/4 paprika

Cook aubergines under grill or in a hot oven until soft.
Scoop out the insides and mash.
Combine with tahini, garlic, water, and lemon and stir well.
Add salt and pepper.
Drizzle olive oil over and garnish with paprika and coriander.

I found it was even better after a night in the fridge, the flavours combined wonderfully.

Baked aubergines with coriander yogurt dressing

Adapted from

I didn’t have cous cous so I used quinoa which worked fine.
I also scored the aubergine too deeply so I wasn’t able to preserve the skin to refill with the final mixture, so my presentation was not so pretty. It was an OK meal, again somewhat better once the ingredients could sit and combine. Interesting that.

1 medium aubergine
2 tsp olive oil
juice 1 and zest 1/2 lemon
100g couscous
300ml/1/2 pt boiling vegetable stock
85g ready-to-eat dried apricots, roughly chopped
4 sundried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
3 spring onions, finely sliced
25g pine nuts, toasted
pinch ground cinnamon

For the dressing
4 heaped tbsp Greek-style natural yogurt
2 tsp lemon juice
1 fat garlic clove, crushed
small knob ginger, finely chopped
small handful coriander, roughly chopped

Heat oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5.
Leaving the stem on, cut the aubergine in half lengthways and score the flesh deeply with a sharp knife in a criss-cross fashion.
Place in a shallow baking dish.
Mix the olive oil and lemon juice then brush over the scored surface of the aubergine.
Season with freshly ground black pepper and bake uncovered for 25-30 mins, until the flesh is tender.

Meanwhile, put the couscous in a large bowl, pour over the boiling stock and leave to soak for 10 mins until all the stock is absorbed. Fluff up with a fork, then stir the apricots, tomatoes, spring onions and pine nuts into the couscous. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and toss well together.

Remove the aubergine from the oven and scoop out the flesh, taking care to keep the skins intact.
Chop the flesh and toss into the couscous mixture. Place the aubergine skins back in the baking dish and spoon the couscous mix into them, piling it up to
hold a generous amount in each.
Scatter any left over couscous mix around the edge of the dish.

Return to the oven for 10 mins to heat through while you mix all the dressing ingredients together - add a drop of water if the dressing is too thick. To serve, heap the loose couscous mix under the stuffed aubergines so they're propped up on a slant.
Drizzle over dressing and serve with mixed leaf salad.

Ricotta and Dill Bread (adapted from The Art of Handmade Bread by Dan Leopard)

1 1/4 cups (300 g) water at 68 degrees
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 packet)
1/2 c (125 g) ricotta cheese
2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups (250 g) bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping T very finely chopped fresh dill
1 tsp olive or vegetable oil

1. In a bowl or pitcher, beat together the water and yeast. Wait for the yeast to get bubbly, and then stir in the ricotta cheese. In a large bowl, combine the two flours, salt, and dill. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and stir to form a soft, sticky dough.

2. Rub 1 tsp oil on the work surface (I used a big cutting board) and knead the dough 10 seconds, ending with the dough in a smooth, round ball. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and leave for 10 minutes. Remove and knead once more on the oiled surface, returning the shape to a smooth, round ball. Place it back in the bowl, cover, and leave 1 hour in a warm place.

3. Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan. Shape the loaf into a baton and lower it neatly into the prepared pan. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until almost doubled in height.

4. Preheat the oven to 410 degrees. Dust the top of the loaf with flour and bake 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 25-30 minutes, or until the top of the loaf is a shiny dark brown and the loaf has come away from the sides of the pan. Remove from pan and cool on a rack.

Aubergine, halloumi and asparagus, with lemon/oil dressing.

This is so simple but I really enjoyed the combination.
As it’s asparagus season, the bite of the fresh green worked well with the stodginess of the other ingredients. But it would also work with rocket or something equally green and zingy.

Amounts variable depending on how many and ones love of asparagus and halloumi.

Aubergine, 1/2 per person.
Halloumi cheese, 1/3 – 1/4 block per person.
Asparagus tips, as many as you can eat.
Olive oil
Freshly squeezed lemon.

For the dressing:
Olive oil.
Freshly squeezed lemon juice.
2 cloves garlic at least.
Chilli flakes.
Whole grain mustard.

What to do:

Make up the dressing: I do it by taste, adding lemon juice to the oil, then adjusting, then adding a tiny bit of honey and mustard and a pinch of chilli, salt and pepper. I let it stand for a while to allow the flavours to meld.

Cut an aubergine in half and cut into long slices.
Paint each slice on both sides with a mixture of olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice with seasoning added.
Add halved cherry tomatoes.
Bake for 10 – 15 mins in oven at 180, turn half way though.
Alternative do on a griddle if you’ve got one, or fry.
Slice the halloumi cheese and fry in olive oil, remove to kitchen towel to soak up oil when done.

Steam the asparagus shoots for 3 minutes until tender but with some bite!

Wrap asparagus shoot and halloumi cheese in a slice of aubergine, add tomatoes, drizzle with dressing, soak up oils and flavours with a thick cut of bread.


Sunday, May 24, 2009


Last week I went to Milan for work and had a fabulous time eating all sorts of new things. I had a panzerotti for lunch - a sort of pasty thing filled with spinach and brie, the pastry was very light and almost tasted of doughnuts. Then for dinner we went to t Garba, sole with courgette flowers and pistachio cake for pud!! Very delicious.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Vanilla Oil and Peas shoots

I keep forgetting to blog about the weekend we spent in Newark - we were very decadent and in between painting and decorating we went out for lunch at Ann et Vin and for dinner at Cafe Bleu. Both were lovely - I quite fancy going back to try the tapas at Ann et Vin, though the pate I had for lunch was scrummy - Nick had to restrain me from licking the plate! We were lucky to get in to Cafe Blue - apparently they normally have a 3 week waiting list but managed to squeeze us in at 6.30. I now can't remember everything we had to eat but Nick's starter came with vanilla oil to dip his asparagus in and pea shoots. These were so pretty and very tasty, unusual for me and dedicated pea hater!! I may have to start growing some to put in my summer salads.

Friday, May 08, 2009

1696 - Chocolate was good for you then too!

I have been leafing through William Salmon's 1696 New London Dispensatory and found this entry on cacao and chocolate - it seems that even then it was known to 'fortify nature' and 'preserve health'....and boys - 'create sperm'!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Evolution April - Hunt Family Moussaka

This month Laura has taken the project further - which she has termed foovolution‏ which is rather fab!!

"I wanted to continue the meat theme for April (sorry veggies...although this is easily converted by using veggie mince into an awesome veg friendly dish) as I have only been non-veggie for a year or so and I'm still rediscovering the wonders of meat! The minced meat from the previous sparked my memories of spiced meat full of cinnamon and nutmeg stuffed into pittas with salad that my mum used to give us for tea as kids, and actually prompted me into asking her to cook this recipe for my birthday meal a fortnight ago. In the spirit of foodvolution I hope you can see where I'm going on this - although lots of the ingredients are new, the methods of using minced meat and some of the original staples (oregano, aubergine and tomato) as well as layering are still there.

Moussaka is such a homely dish for me: full of lovely smells and tastes - it just makes me feel like I'm 10 again! And although it's quite labour intensive and time consuming in parts, it's the kind of dinner you would make every week if you could just because it tastes so wonderful!

Unfortunately, I can't take the credit for this: it goes to 3 women: my mum, Delia Smith (who she took her original recipe from) and Tessa Kiros (whose book 'Falling Cloudberries' inspired a few additions by me). Mum reckons hers always tastes so good because she doesn't bother with the measurements - and just goes on taste. But, for those of you who don't trust your palate, here's the recipe!

450g minced lamb
2 medium sized aubergines
6-8 medium sized peeled potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions peeled and chopped small
2 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
1 heaped tablespoon chopped fresh mint, 1 heaped tablespoon chopped parsley, oregano
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 rounded tablespoons tomato puree
1/2 can chopped tomatoes
125ml red wine
salt and freshly milled black pepper

for the topping:
100g ricotta
275ml whole milk
25g plain flour
25g butter
1 bay leaf
1 medium egg yolk
salt and freshly milled black pepper

Slice the aubergines and place them in a colander and sprinkle them with salt.
Put a bowl on top of them and weigh it down with something heavy (i use cook books) then put another plate underneath to catch the juices.
Leave them like this for 1 hour.
Shortly before the end of this time preheat the grill / oven to its highest setting.
When the hour is up squeeze out any of the excess juice from the aubergines with your hands.
Now, you have a choice: you can oven roast them with about a tablespoon of the olive oil over them, grill them or shallow fry. Whichever way you do it, you need to be able to squash them with a fork and have a kind of pureed aubergine consistency. If they're papery to touch then they probably need a bit more oil and a bit longer in the oven .I grill mine for colour and then oven roast them for consistency. This can take an hour.
In the meantime, peel and boil some potatoes whole.
Also, heat the remaining olive oil in your largest frying pan and fry the onions, garlic, minced lamb and tomato puree gently for about 5 minutes.
Turn the heat up high add the minced lamb and brown it for a few minutes turning it and keeping it on the move.
Cook the whole lot stirring all the time for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients with a good sprinkling of salt (Maldon if you have it). Cook all this for about 20 mins, seasoning to taste.
Next make the topping by placing the milk, flour, butter and bay leaf in a saucepan. Delia reckons you can heat all together until everything comes up to simmering point and the sauce becomes smooth and glossy. I reckon you need to add a little more milk as the sauce becomes thick. Remember, you will add ricotta and egg so it will thicken again later.
Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and let the sauce cook gently for 5 minutes.
Taste and season discarding the bay leaf remove the saucepan from the heat and let it cool a little before whisking in the Ricotta and egg yolk.
Give it a good whisk to blend everything thoroughly.
Finally layer the ovenproof dish - 1/2 the roasted aubergines 1st, then the potatoes. Follow this with the meat mixture and top it off with the remaining aubergines.
Pour the topping (optional: over sprinkle the surface with the Parmesan).
Bake on the centre shelf of the oven at about 180-200 degrees for 40 - 50 minutes by which time the top will be golden brown.


I always have mine with a nice green salad, dressed simply in extra virgin olive oil and maybe a bit of balsamic. Hunks of bread make a good accompaniment too, helping to soak up the juices left on the plate. "

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On Dunwich beach

This photo was taken while we had a break in the sunshine on Dunwich beach. We had been cycling along the east coast from Lincoln to Ipswich, finishing off the English section of the North Sea Cycle route. From Lincoln we rolled through the cauliflower and daffodil fields - I'd never seen cauli harvesting before, and then from Boston round to King's Lynn along The Wash. Then up through Sandringham park to the coast at Holme-next-the-Sea and along to Sherringham. Then down to Lowestoft and on to the delights of Southwold in the sunshine, reaching our final destination after 268 miles! Oh and it took 6days!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Pitcher plants in Tallahassee

These are the first pitcher plants I found on a recent jaunt to Tallahassee - there were lots of them too - may be 6 species of pitchers and then at least 2 of sundews. Magnificent!! Corpisolve has more details.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


2 egg whites
225g caster sugar
pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon almond essence
300g ground almonds
icing sugar

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and then whisk in the salt and sugar. Stir in the zest and essences and finally stir in the almonds to make a stiff paste. Divide into 32 balls, or more traditionally diamond shapes, and lay on a baking sheet. Either leave over night to harden or place in a recently used oven with the door open, for a hour or two. Then bake at 140°C for 30min until just colouring. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Recipe from Nigella's How to be a Domestic goddess.
Today is Ada Lovelace Day

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Evolution March - Home made meatballs and spaghetti pesto

The March evolution comes from Naomi:

"In the true evolution spirit I present the next fossil in our collection, on reflection this is a bit like the Cambrian where we see a new life born from a previous ancestor that seems to bare no resemblance!

The ingredients were: (new ingredients in bold)

1 Onion
1 clove Garlic
2 Courgette
2 Carrot
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Chilli oil

Mince beef (as much as you like / veggie mince can be substituted)
3 Bashed crackers
A small egg (1/2 is better)
Few (5)spinach leaves
A slosh of soya cream
5 Hazelnuts
3 Mushroom
Mange-tout (handful)
Spaghetti – replacing the wraps!


Using the Onion, garlic, courgette, carrot, salt and pepper; with a little oil from the previous evolutionary fossil, I whizzed them all up in a food processor with the grating blade attached. Tipping the mixture into a bowl add mince beef, bashed crackers and a small egg. I combined all these ingredients with a spoon then using my hands I made 8 medium balls. Placing them carefully in a Pyrex dish lightly oiled and with a lid I put them in the oven at 200°C (not sure my oven temp is accurate but needs to be fairly hot but not enough to burn them!)

The balls were turned after 20min and the lid removed to let them crisp and harden a little. They were left for a further 25-35 min to cook fully.

In the “incubation” periods I used the garlic, cream cheese (ricotta and quark), olive oil, chilli oil and basil with the addition of a few spinach leaves, a slosh of soya cream and hazelnuts to make the pesto (whizzed in a mini blender). I also chopped up the rest of the courgette, carrot and added some mushroom and mange-tout; these were roasted and added to the pasta later.

The spaghetti was cooked when needed as directed by the packet; I used gluten free pasta because that is what we have in the house.

When the pasta was cooked and drained the pesto and roast vegetables were stirred in (I made a little too much and added a little too much but it was still scrummy)

I placed the meatballs on top and voila – my evolution creation!

Although there appears to be lots of new ingredients I only used a very small amount of each – Natural selection prevailed because that’s what I had in the fridge! (in the pic there is a sauce which was just for decoration! But it’s from Ikea)"

Friday, February 27, 2009

Violet Creams

When we were in Alpes d'Huez I came across a bottle of Violet Creme Liqueur and thought immediately of Mum's love of Violet creams. So I thought I'd have a go at making some. I used a really nice 70% dark chocolate, which was probably a bit strong for the delicate violet flavour, so next time I'll have to go for a lighter filling, but tasty nonetheless.

100g 70% chocolate
40ml milk
2teaspoons violet liqueur
100g chocolate for coating
crystallized violet petals

Melt the chocolate and heat the milk to nearly boiling, then mix together and stir in the liqueur. I put the mixture into small domed molds and set in the fridge for a couple of hours. Then melted the chocolate for coating and dipped each one in leaving on a rack to set. Then topped with crystallized violet petals. This makes about 16 chocolates.
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