A Pillow Book

I wanted a blog to reflect my life and, as with most people, I do and am many things, decided to create a Pillow Book. It will have thoughts, ideas, observations and little snippets of my day to day life. So, thank you Empress Consort Teishi....... I bow to you and your great work and hope, in some small way, mine might be great too.

Friday, 26 August 2011

And now he is 18!

What a week, what a week! Not only did we have my son's exam results and acceptance into university it was then his 18th birthday!! Now to my American readers you will need to know that here in the UK 18 is our Coming of Age. We can marry (without  parental consent), vote, drink legally, stand for Parliament, go to an 18 film..... or a casino...(some/most of the above he has, no doubt, already done)....oh and have a birthday cake with 18 candles!  
Mad Hatter's hat!
Little sister's black and white creation!
Now Nat, unlike his sister, chose not to have a party, instead he decided that he would like to come out to dinner with us, then legally go to bars in Bournemouth with friends.  But a cake? His sisters have always had cakes, big brash showy ones, but Nat has never been that bothered, is it a boy thing? Not sure, but I just couldn't let his special day go without one. But what to make... Nat is a little bit of a chocolate fiend, Christmas morning breakfast tends to be the selection pack from  his stocking, yes the whole selection box....and Easter....well lunch is no more than a mouthful for Nat because of the brightly wrapped chocolate confection he has gobbled during the course of the morning....Decision made, it had to be chocolate!  I usually make a easy Ina Garten recipe it is moist and delicious but very big, not great for transporting surreptitiously into a restaurant. Instead I decided on a Nigella Lawson recipe, basically a foolproof all-in-one, plain but ready to be adorned with almost nausea inducing amounts of chocolate...
So, cake baked and placed in a box was taken to the restaurant, I can't pretend he didn't know we had it with us, but he did  feign surprise when the staff came in singing 'happy birthday' and out he blew, for the first time, 18 candles......

Boys' Own 18th Birthday Cake


  • 200g plain flour
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 40g best-quality cocoa
  • 175g soft unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
  • 150ml sour cream 
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 175g best quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces(for this cake I used a bar of Cadbury's Milk chocolate)
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 125ml sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract 
  • 2 packets of chocolate fingers
  • family packs of Maltesers
  • Good amount of any chocolate you like, Munchies, buttons etc
  • 18 candles and holders and a sprinkling of edible stars (optional)


Serves: Makes about 8 slices
  1. Take everything out of the fridge so that all the ingredients can come to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C and line and butter two 20cm sandwich tins with removable bases.
  3. Now all you have to do is put all the cake ingredients - flour, sugar, baking powder and bicarb, cocoa, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream - into a mixer and beat until you have a smooth, thick batter.
  4. Divide this batter, using a rubber spatula to help you scrape and spread, into the prepared tins and bake until a cake tester, or a thin skewer, comes out clean, which should be about 35 minutes, but it is wise to start checking at 25. Also, it might make sense to switch the two cakes around in the oven halfway through cooking time.
  5. Remove the cakes, in their tins, to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes before turning out of their tins. Don't worry about any cracks as they will easily be covered by the icing later.
  6. To make this icing, melt the butter and chocolate in a good-sized bowl either in the microwave or suspended over a pan of simmering water. Go slowly either way: you don't want any burning or seizing.
  7. While the chocolate and butter are cooling a little, sieve the icing sugar into another bowl.
  8. Add the golden syrup to the cooled chocolate mixture, followed by the sour cream and vanilla and then when all this is combined whisk in the sieved icing sugar. 
  9. When you've done, you may need to add a little boiling water - say a teaspoon or so - or indeed some more icing sugar: it depends on whether you need the icing to be runnier or thicker; or indeed it may be right as it is. It should be liquid enough to coat easily, but thick enough not to drip off.
  10. Choose your cake stand or plate and cut out four strips of baking parchment to form a square outline on it (this stops the icing running on to the plate). Then sit one of the cakes, uppermost (ie slightly domed) side down.
  11. Spoon about a third of the icing on to the centre of the cake half and spread with a knife or spatula until you cover the top of it evenly. Sit the other cake on top, normal way up, pressing gently to sandwich the two together.
  12. Spoon another third of the icing on to the top of the cake and spread it in a swirly, textured way (though you can go for a smooth finish if you prefer, and have the patience). Spread the sides of the cake with the remaining icing and leave a few minutes till set, then carefully pull away the paper strips.
  13. Place the chocolate fingers (flat side against the cake) all the way around the cake, these should be slightly taller than the cake, then arrange all the chocolates on top of the cake, the fingers will contain them, sprinkle with stars and add the candles.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

My boy is leaving home.....

Well, after months of waiting and worrying, and a totally sleepless night and a very early morning, an hour of much trauma, we got there,  my son Nathan got his place an University!! Not quite sure how it happened, as his grades weren't quite what they needed to be but somehow, call it luck, much prayer, or that it was just 'meant'  he is University bound!  After the initial euphoria and feeling proud enough to burst, the house buzzing and him going off with friends to celebrate, the enormity hit. My little boy is leaving home..... I know they come back but it is never quite the same.  The thing is I love my son....now I know that we all love our children, but I love the way he has about him.  He is funny, smart, thoughtful and the kindest boy you will ever meet. Not to say we haven't had our moments. The police calling me to collect him from the beach (cider confiscated), but he was caught because he stayed with  a girl who had passed out. Or the time I called him to check he was at his friend's house. Hearing very loud traffic noise in the background, "What is that?" I asked  "Oh the windows open." said Nat, "Close it." said I,"I can't." said Nat. I KNEW he was soemwhere he shouldn't be, doing something he shouldn't be .....and in the morning on collecting him and driving him silently home, on arriving at the house he jumped out onto the drive and vomits Cheerios EVERYWHERE....."Bad milk." said Nat, "Get the hose"said I.......... 

  I can recall his first days at school, just 4 years and 2 weeks old, so grumpy on the walk home, falling asleep eating his lunch and wanting a cuddle and a story before it was time to go back to collect his big sister. Being cross  as I had no lap, I was very pregnant with the new baby.  One of his favourite stories was 'Love You Forever.' In it the mum sings 'I'll love you for always, I'll love you forever, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be'. Now, he loved it because the baby threw his granny's watch down the toilet and he had a messy room....and then his own flat...but every night when he was asleep the baby/boy's/man's mum would go into his room and sing him the song (even taking a bus across town). Now I promise not to be quite that mad, but I will, as I do now, even though he will be far far away, think of him and Jess and check in on Milly before I go to sleep....because as long as you're living my babies you'll be.

So, to my quiet house.....and thoughts of fostering...adoption.....a B&B, foreign students here for Christmas...... at least I still have Milly....when she is not on a horse that it!

Nat has asked for recipes from my book (my own recipe book, details in a blog sometime)...he can already cook chili well, and spaghetti, but macaroni cheese is one  he is not too sure of. So for you Nat:-

Madre's student recipe for mac and cheese.....

Dried pasta shapes (use a dinner plate or serving bowl to measure 2 portions by eye)
Bacon (as much as you desire)
Cheese (at least a mug full) mixture or what you have, grated
2 tablespoons of plain flour
2 tablespoons of butter (measure flour first otherwise the flour will stick to the spoon) I know you won't have real butter like me, so use the spread that is in the fridge!
1 pint milk (use a pint glass...yes the one you stole from the Uni bar!)
Salt and pepper to taste
Set oven to 180deg
Butter a cooking dish...

Chop up the bacon and fry until it is how you like it.Or grill it, or put it on a baking sheet in the oven. Set aside.
Cook pasta as per instructions on packet, remember to leave it 'al dente'
Make cheese sauce as follows, warm milk in microwave. Place butter in a saucepan, melt over a med heat, add flour and stir well for a couple of minutes. Gradually add the milk, I use a whisk to do this as it is easier to combine, stir, stir, stir, until you have a glossy sauce of sauce consistency..... Stir in the cheese, add salt and pepper to taste (go easy on the salt as the bacon and cheese may be salty). Add the pasta, and bacon, place in the dish sprinkle with a little more grated cheese, bread crumbs (like you will have breadcrumbs, he he) cook until browned on top, not too long or it will dry out....serve....with, what is that stuff you like?....Oh yes, ketchup!!


Tuesday, 16 August 2011


My very first 'pin'
Have you come across Pinterest? Be warned..........it will become an addiction....it has for me....but a delightful one.
It is an amazing but simple idea, an  on line pin board. So many times I have seen pictures of interiors or crafts or well just things and sent them to myself in an email only to be lost in time to my 'inbox'.........now after a simple set upto create an account, one little button applied to your bookmarks 'click' and there it is on your pin board.  If that were all the time wasting bit wouldn't exist, but the problem is, there are thousands of other people who have Pinterest boards with absolutely gorgeous ideas, pictures, art, locations ready for you to 're-pin' on your boards.....and there lies the problem....the wasted hours....BUT I do not have an amazing on line ideas source.....for when I eventually get round to decorating, crafting, painting photographing....travelling.......cooking......is it bed time already???

Here is a link to my boards......click if you dare.....

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Courgette anyone?

Courgettes in the garden...

Picked and waiting.....still life

Looking for inspiration...

Pestle and mortaring....is that a technical term?


Posted by PicasaI ate courgettes or should I say zucchini for the very first time in 1977. It was one of those mid seventies long hot summers, when standpipes could be found and Hertforshire was turning into a dust bowl. I can be so precise as it was the summer my Aunty Jenny visited, she was by dad's sister and my Godmother.  She  had, few years before, moved to Georgia in the USA , and had established a bountiful kitchen garden full of exotic (well to us) vegetables.  I can't tell you how happy her visit made me. I was 11 and she made me feel so special,  arriving with gifts, American clothes ( cool) and pens. But more than that, she spent time talking to me, and helped me with my school project (about our family history). I still have the pictures she drew of a girl and boy in traditional Polish costume.  She was, very much like my dad, full of stories and talked to me about her life and wanted to know all about mine.  In the town where I grew up Wednesday is market day, that warm afternoon, whilst I was at school, she had walked down to the market and there she found zucchini, something she grew at home, and brought them home to cook for dinner.  Now I grew up in a meat and two veg household, as most of us did, and the veg was usually frozen peas and carrots, cauliflower on a Sunday and that was about it! I can't tell you what else we had for dinner that night but I do remember the courgettes, sliced thinly, seasoned and sauteed in butter.  This simple act planted a seed and made me realise there were more flavours out there than I had experienced before and that it was good to grow your own vegetables.....

This year, for the first time, I have a vegetable patch.  Last summer I had, what could only be called a vegetable strip, I was frustrated by lack of space so, one sunny April day, I set to digging a bigger one.  I can't say it has been a great success my beetroot and spring onions failed to thrive and my carrots have been pretty poor, but my courgettes, well, what can I say! Despite heat at the wrong time, too much rain when not needed, ta da.......here are my courgettes! Glossy and bountiful, yellow flowered and well, just there! Dependable and ready to eat on a daily basis....now I love sauteed courgette heavily seasoned with pepper, or with some fresh herbs, a good olive oil and cherry tomatoes that burst with flavour in your mouth, but with such abundance I felt the need to find some alternative recipes.  Nigel Slater has a good one for breadcrumb dressed and tomato strewn, but that wasn't so very different to what I had been doing, then I recalled Molly Wizenberg's recipe for zucchini noodles with pesto....After a rummage I found everything I needed, well kind of, Greek basil rather than the usual, although I must say I have a preference for pesto made with this, the flavour is subtler not so overpowering, as pesto can sometime be.  So here is the recipe, a delightful mid summer supper, served with a fresh crisp cold glass of white wine....and accompanied by thoughts of my lovely Aunty Jenny, who sadly died after a long battle with breast cancer. I last saw her when I was  18 and she drove for many hours to spend the day with me. Another hot summer, this time in Pennsylvania. Thank you for introducing me to zucchini and thank you even more for just taking the time to make me feel special.

On my Christening day...

With my brother in the garden of our house 1977

Me, Aunty Jenny and my mum....1993 outside my mum's sisters house in Hatboro Pa

Aunty Jenny x

Courgette noodles with pesto 
For the pesto
Buy a good jar of pesto, or a fresh pot from the chiller....or make your own....
If that is what you decide you will need..............
2 cups basil leaves (well packed) washed and dried ( I had Greek basil but use what you will)
1/2 cup olive oil, good and fruity
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 medium cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Parmigiano-Reggiano

For the noodles
3 medium courgettes trimmed
3 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound spaghetti or linguine
finely grated Parmigiano for serving

If making your own pesto do this first

Put everything (except the cheese) into a pestle and mortar and give it all a good pounding....I did this for a while then put it all in my food processor.  Process until a smooth and creamy consistency is achieved. Tip into a bowl and stir through the Parmigiano. Set aside, not in the fridge, you want the flavours to develop.

Prepare the courgettes, either use a mandolin fitted with a julienne blade or patience and a knife, carefully slice the courgettes into long skinny noodles.  Cook spaghetti, whilst cooking heat the oil in a wok or some other such pan, stir fry the courgette for 5-8 mins, don't over cook.  When the spaghetti is 'al dente' add to the courgettes, make sure this is not over drained as the cooking water acts as an emulsifier to the pesto. Add 1/2 cup of the pesto and toss well, add a little more if liked. Serve immediately with extra Parmiagiano on the table (well in a bowl to be precise) and some salt to add for taste.

The remaining pesto may be kept covered in the fridge for up to 4 days.


Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cornwall Time.............

 We have only been as far as Cornwall for a few days but in crossing the Tamar/border and seeing the sign that says 'Kernow a' gas dynergh' or 'Welcome to Cornwall' always makes us feel as though we have travelled to another land. But to be honest Cornwall is another country...Cornish time is slower, people are friendlier and the light  brighter. You can still find beaches at the bottom of valleys where an honesty box in the wall of a church asks for £2 parking, or a farmer sets aside a field and for a small amount you can park all day.  The beaches run up to the roads and are often covered with sand, beach cafes are still owned by people who bake their own cakes, tea comes steaming in mugs, locally made ice cream is sold alongside  floury baps filled with crab or sardines fresh from the sea. Cornwall has a sense of otherness about it,  the Cornish are an individual race, and still do things in their own way and in their own time.  It reminds me a lot of Ireland, the Celtic roots run deep.  Who could hate a place where you are served in  shops with the salutation 'alright my love' in a soft burr as creamy as the local clotted variety.  

My daughter has been at University in Falmouth for two years and is already dreading the time, in only twelve months, when she will have to leave. Cornwall gets into your blood,from her flat on Falmouth high street, dozing in bed the last few mornings, hearing the sounds of the harbour coming through the open window, or mid afternoon buskers playing jazz, seagulls, late night revellers oh and did I mention the light? I fully understand her loathing to go from this place. Who could not love a place full of galleries  and artists, the sheer optimism of an open air theatre with the backdrop of the westerly setting sun?The Cornish love food, have always, despite Rich Stein, loved their fresh fish and crab, made ice cream to rival the best Italian gelati, cream teas and then there is the Pasty.  Jess lives for Pasties.....really I am quite serious....we had a chat and she happily said at any time of any day she has just eaten one, or is about to eat one or is thinking about the one she just ate or the one she will be eating soon!  She is still a size 8! Because as she points out, there are vegetables and lean meat and just a little bit of fat in the pastry, also Falmouth is full of hills and she has no car and walks EVERYWHERE! The traditionalist may well shudder at the new incarnation of the pasty, but things have to change with the times and not everyone likes beef and potato.....so bring on tomato, basil and brie, chicken, or my newly discovered favourite root vegetables and Stilton.... this had the wonderful addition of beetroot, delicious! The Pasty was made by Cornish women to feed their men, be they miners, fishermen or farmers, the thick crust was used to hold onto whilst eating to prevent contamination from tin dust or dirt. It is said the sign of a good pasty is one that can be thrown down a mine shaft and still be fit to eat! They are made all over the world, but nothing can beat the taste of a freshly purchased pasty eaten whilst dangling your feet over the harbour wall!

I am including a recipe for Cornish Pasties,it is an amazingly adaptable form of food, perfect for picnics, lunch boxes, Saturday lunchtime with salad or midwinter with soup. The basic pastry  shell can be filled with whatever takes your fancy, think samosas, pierogi, every country has some version of the pasty. The trick is to chop the vegetables up quite small so they will cook to a perfect tenderness the 30 minutes or so oven time. If using beef it really must be skirt, the flour can be strong and I think a mixture of butter and white vegetable fat (or lard if you have no aversion) makes the best pastry. Remember never carrot in the traditional pasty, everything is layered NOT mixed, seasoned well with salt and pepper, and if you are feeling flush a spoon of clotted cream or butter for added richness and flavour! For non traditional fillings it is trial and error until you get just what you like. Nothing too wet, or dry and always rest the pastry for a time otherwise disaster may well strike (be advised) Don't listen too much to 'The Cornish Pasty Society' about sacrilege, you are cooking at home and you can do as you please! And I should point them to the 1929 cookery book http://www.cornishpasties.org.uk/1929-pasty-recipes.htm that showed no less that 15 different recipes from the ladies of Cornwall....so go ahead don't be precious, maybe you too could try the Rabbity, Star-gazing or Jam Pasty....or invent your own...no thrifty lady of Cornwall would ever let a glut pass or a belly go hungry if a Pasty could be made!
The Traditional Cornish Pasty This recipe is for 4 good sized Cornish Pasties
1. Pastry
500 gms strong bread flour (It is important to use a stronger flour than normal as you need the extra strength in the gluten to produce strong pliable pastry.  120 gms white shortening
 25 gms cake margarine (I use butter)
 5 gms salt
 175 gms cold water
Mix fat lightly into flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. (this can be done in a food processor)
Add water and beat in a food mixer until pastry clears and becomes elastic. This will take longer than normal pastry but it gives the pastry the strength that is needed to hold the filling and retain a good shape.
Leave to rest for 3 hours in a refrigerator, this is a very important stage as it is almost impossible to roll and shape the pastry when fresh
2. Filling 450 gms good quality beef eg. skirt  450 gms potato
 250 gms Swede
 200 gms onion
 Salt & pepper to taste( 2/1 ratio)
Clotted cream or butter (optional) Chop the above finely then add to the rolled out circles of pastry raw. Layer the vegetables and meat adding plenty o f seasoning. Put your dollop of cream or a knob of butter on top. Then bring the pastry around and crimp together. Try practicing on a potato first or just flatten like a turnover and mark with a fork. Crimping is the secret to a true Cornish pasty but it really has to be taught it is almost impossible to describe. HANDY HINTS Ensure that all your veg is freshly prepared Never attempt to add carrot, this is sacrilege!!
Use a good cut of BEEF eg. skirt. This is the underside of the belly of the animal. Its juice produces wonderful gravy, has no fat or gristle and cooks in the same amount of time as the raw vegetables.
Butter or cream gives the pasty that extra richness.
 Cooking time and temperature
 Gas No6 approx 50 min-1 hour
Electric 210 approx 50min-1 hour  Fan assisted 165 approx 40 mins Posted by Picasa
 Always use a firm waxy potato such as Maris pier or Wilja.
 Put in plenty of seasoning.