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.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

One Fine Day.......

My beloved book, that will always live in my bedside table.....

Mayonnaise smudged recipe...

Egg Salad

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'The day promised to be hot.
The village was no great distance from the sea. Hikers who went toiling up the chalk track among the foxgloves and the crooked thorns to the top of Barrow Down could see it, like a grey-blue rim to a green saucer, but Wealding turned its face away from the blue towards the green,  snug in its leafiness which the low circle of hills protected it.  Here, the presence of the sea could be felt only as a sort of salty vibration in the air, like a watch ticking in the pocket, reminding the landlubber of his islander's destiny.'

I first read these words about 30(gulp) years ago....a teacher of mine had retired early and opened a secondhand book shop in a room at the front of his house, that opened onto the street.  The shop was the other end of the town from where I lived and was all that such a bookshop should be. The bookcases were basic and lined the walls and filled all possible gaps of an already small space, sideways was the best way of negotiating the shop. There was, however, an old sagging easy chair and wooden desk  facing the window at which my teacher sat, daily, reading whatever took his fancy.  People used to turn up with boxes of musty books, and mostly he bought them, not wanting to upset the bringer, and these added to the heavy scent of the shop, old house, old book, a whiff of furniture polish, a hint of lavender.  I can't think he ever made a penny, I think mostly he wanted something to fill his days and indulge his love.  So, here was where I spent many hours reading and looking and touching the spines of old and loved volumes.  I bought poetry books, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Paul Coelho, art books and anything to do with fashion,  the beginning of my personal library. Easy pickings and affordable. Everything to me was less than a pound, I am not sure that I ever paid the real price as nothing was priced and I am quite convinced the amount was decided by some quirky calculation of the proprietor, depending on who you were and how much he thought the book really should have you as its owner.  And there is where I found  One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downs, I read that first paragraph and needed to read no more, I was hooked. It is set, as the title suggests, on one day, one year after the end of  World War 2. Its central character is Laura a gentlewoman, not only in position but nature. It is a delightful word painting of a time gone by, an England that I longed for (secretly) and fed my nostalgia and love of that time, that until then, had been  through old black and white Mrs Miniveresque films... then there was One Fine Day.  I have read it most years, if not in full, part of it, a chapter that comes to mind because of an occurrence, a thought, a day, and today it came to mind once more. 

It is unseasonably warm after a dreadfully disappointing summer, a longed for Indian Summer, and it made me recall Laura's longing to take her daughter and 'cut and run to the sea' at the same time her daughter on seeing her dash across the high street from behind the school longed too for a day by the sea  'If only we could be at the sea today, thought Victoria, just the two of us, swimming and splashing, eating hard-boiled eggs and lettuce amongst the sand dunes'  The book is full of longing to seize the moment, seize the day and not get bogged down with the ordinary hum drum of life, particularly after the savagery of war and being close to death for so many years.  A gift of such a warm sunny day made me feel that all should be put aside and I too should take my daughter out of school and spend a day by the sea as I am lucky enough to live with its 'salty vibration', maybe tomorrow, if the weather holds.

Boiled egg and lettuce would not cause much delight if unpacked from my picnic basket, instead I think egg salad sandwiches would be more welcomed.  I spent many years avoiding egg sandwiches, too many childrens' parties in the 1970's with eggy smelling bridge rolls, boiled eggs with green rims mixed with salad cream or worse one horror of scrambled eggs daintily piled onto the aforementioned bridge rolls.  We grew up with parents who were children of the war or just after so food was placed on plate and was eaten, without question.  Only in recent years after eating a friends delightful egg salad sandwich did I realise, when done well, I love said sandwich filling. So, here is my recipe, it is very good, in fact excellent, it is inspired by the one to be found on www.101cookbooks.com  and as the title says:-
Egg Salad Sandwich (the only one I'll eat) 
..........my version
6 large eggs
1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt and pepper
bunch of chives chopped
iceberg lettuce
8 slices of good bread, personal choice here, I like a nice grainy one, not too dark or it will overpower the salad.

First the eggs, this is the definitive way to get them cooked to perfection without even a hint of mouldy green rim....and spookily enough I watched a Barefoot Contessa programme today on eggs and this is how Ina does it too......
Place the eggs in a pan, cover with cold water and bring to a gentle boil. Once boiling remove from the heat and lid the saucepan.  Leave thus for 7 minutes. Meanwhile fill a bowl with iced water. At 7 minutes put the eggs into the prepared iced water and leave for 3 minutes. Crack and peel each egg, shell comes off better if you roll the egg under slight pressure over the counter. The fresher the eggs the harder they are to peel, mine were straight from under the hen fresh, thanks to my friends Karen who gifted them to me on my way to work!
Place eggs, mayo, salt and pepper in a bowl and mash with a fork, not to much at to make a mush but well enough so all the egg is covered with a slick of mayonnaise.  Stir in the chives taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Assemble the sandwiches by placing lettuce on a slice of bread and topping with the egg salad, add second slice and cut in half.  
Makes 4 sandwiches

If you care to look closely at the picture you will say 'they are not chives' and you would be right, it was parsley as my chive plant has disappeared from the garden (ok died) parsley is an adequate substitute but does not have that wonderful flavour that lifts the richness of the egg and mayo, you could add watercress or rocket for a wonderful peppery addition but only use iceberg because its crunchy coldness is exactly what is needed here.

So, I hope this becomes your favourite too and that the weather will hold so we all get chance to pack a picnic 'cut and run to the........sea or park or river or....paddling pool in the garden.... just be outside this weekend, winter really is just beyond sight waiting to roll in.....

Post Script
One Fine Day can still be found published by Virago.  Also the wonderful Persephone Books has published other works and gives a wonderful bio of her- http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/pages/authors/index.asp?id=55

Monday, 26 September 2011

Chilli Jam....

Tomatoes, chillies, ginger, garlic, ready to go....

Bubble away....

into the jar......but not for long....

Chilli Jam.....what can I say, once you have made it you will, I promise, make it again and again. Why, you may well ask? Because you will consume it in great quantities and give it away, and then have to  make it again. Mostly because there really is nothing it doesn't go with! Cheese? Yes! Fishcakes? Yes! Hamburgers? Most certainly! Stir fries..pasta sauce....sandwiches....Yes, yes YES! It is, I fear, slightly addictive...but good for you I am sure.... So easy to make....go on give it a go!

Chilli Jam
850g tomatoes
4 chillies (with seeds or without up to you)
6 garlic cloves
2 small knobs of ginger (no need to peel)
30ml Thai fish sauce
450g white granulated sugar
8 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Blend 400g tomatoes, chillies, garlic and ginger in a food processor with fish sauce.
Put in a saucepan with the sugar and vinegar.
Bring to a simmer.
Finely chop remaining tomatoes and add to the pan. Simmer gently for at least an hour or until jam like. Fill sterile jars and seal. Refrigerate once opened.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Food parcels......

My family has a long history of sending food parcels. Way back in the 1940's my GI Bride aunt used to send big boxes of things from America to her family in a spartan England. My mum still speaks of her first ever real chocolate Easter Egg which arrived in the spring of her sister's first year across the Atlantic. When things got better

favourite foods would be sent from England to America, Cadburys chocolate, Battenburg cake, proper tea bags, Christmas cakes and puddings. Food travels, as long as it is packed well. When my daughter left for University in Cornwall two years ago, she begged that I not forget her when doing my Sunday baking. So now I keep boxes of various shapes and sizes in which to send delights from home. To me food is love, feeding my children is loving them. I burst in to tears in Sainsburys the day we dropped off my son, because I could see my nurturing coming to an end.....he didn't want the trolley filled, just milk and bacon.... But then there is the food parcel, my way of sending love to my children far away.... and I can't tell you how happy it makes me when I get excited phone calls from now two children when they receive their box of goodies.....seems my job hasn't ended just yet, only changed slightly.

I have tried and tested many brownie recipes over the years, and time and again have returned to this one. It is very easy, can be tweaked without things going badly wrong, it comes from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook, with a few changes, but as my son and now his flatmates say these are the......

Best Brownies Ever

200g chocolate (the recipe calls for dark, I use good old Cadburys for my family, but choose what you wish to your taste)
175g unsalted butter
325g sugar (the original recipe says caster, I use a mixture of soft light brown sugar as all white sugar it too sweet)
130g plain flour, sifted (I will quite often replace a couple of tablespoons with same of cocoa powder, again to give a bit more depth rather than teeth shocking sweetness)
3 eggs (at room temperature)
icing sugar to decorate (optional)
23cm square x 4cm deep tin lined and buttered (or equivalent 33 x23 x 5cm)

Preheat oven to 170 deg C (150 fan) 325 deg F Gas 3

Put chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave until melted and smooth.
Remove from the heat. Add sugar and stir until well incorporated. Add the flour and mix well, finally add the eggs and stir until smooth.

Spoon mixture into the prepared tin, bake for 30-35 mins until flaky on top but still soft in the centre. Be careful not to overcook. Leave to cool completely then dust with icing sugar.

I cut the whole thing into squares and place each square into a muffin case, looks good and travels well.

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Monday, 12 September 2011

Grief is the price we pay for love.....

We each of us have a handful of days that live vividly in our minds eye, but mostly these are personal, times of birth, marriage, death or exceptional occurrences. But this day, ten years ago, we  can all recall exactly where we stood and how we felt as we watched the momentous events unfold before our very eyes.  In a moment the world changed. Ten years on the rawness has gone, a more reflective mood in its place but still a dreadful sadness that could be seen in the eyes of each family member who stood today by memorials  and with faltering voices uttered the  names of lost loved ones. Today will be etched in my mind as it was the day I took my son to university for the first time. I came home, stood in his room and cried because he was not there, but he will come home and my heart ached for mothers and fathers who have done the same  but in bedrooms of those who will never come home. Miles of words have been written in the past ten years but I couldn't let today go without putting some thoughts down. When faced with death the victims made calls and spoke of love, not money, position or possessions, just pure and simple love.  What we should take from this tragedy is  to daily remember that very thing and not wait for the clarity of imminent death to recall it. LOVE is free, gives greater pleasure and is worth more than anything else in the world, but don't be reckless with it, abuse it or leave in unattended, cherish it and delight in it. But most of all, most of all share it with a generosity of heart, you won't regret it......

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
                                  i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

ee cummings

Monday, 5 September 2011

Sublime music...............


There is a piece of music that I have, for many years, loved.  It is not a piece to be hummed along to, or have playing in the background, it needs your time. A few minutes concentration to really listen,  allowing its beauty to lap over you like  waves from a lazy sea.  The piece I am referring to is Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror) by the Estonian composer Arvo Part. The simplicity of the score belies the great skill needed to perform it.  Originally written for piano and violin, there have been other variations, but the original is my preferred version, surely it is the sound the composer had in his heart when composing?

Last Saturday it was the subject of a Radio 4 programme called Soul Music.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0137vv2
This series takes a piece of music and various people share their memories, emotions and thoughts, the previous week had been Wichita Line Man. Personal favourites from the archives include Simple Gifts, and Bach's Goldberg Variations. Popular and classical music all have their turn and each programme is a delight.  This weeks,  however, proved to be amongst the best. Stories of loss, delight, misery and a happy ending. Particularly poignant was artist Mary Hustead's tale of her son, given up for adoption many years before, finding her through one of her exhibitions partly inspired by Spiegel im Spiegel.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-11124004 ( follow this link to a recent article)

I am sure that most of us have  music or songs that have heartfelt meaning to us, take a little time in your day to listen to Soul Music and know that you are not alone.