Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The art of letter writing - Wednesday Words pretty much dead no?  When did you last receive a proper letter? By proper I mean one that was written by a friend or family, telling you their news, asking about yours.  When did you last send a letter or a card just because you could?  I expect, like me, it was sometime ago.  But isn't there something just lovely and touching about receiving a hand-written letter? There's an intimacy present because someone has taken the time and effort to think of you and put their thoughts on paper. Phone calls are a great way to stay in touch and in this rapidly developing world of social media we have facebook, twitter and numerous other on-line communication channels, but still nothing beats a good old letter, wouldn't you say?  A letter can be read, re-read, poured over, treasured, stored in your bag, carried with you, wrapped in ribbon and placed in a special box. 

If like me, you love collecting stationary, then letter-writing becomes even more pleasurable.  My problem however, is that I hoard those pretty cards and gorgeous papers.  I can't seem to let go!  One of my resolutions this summer (see last year's list)  was to clear out my desk and organise the notelets, cards and papers and USE them.  I have a lovely collection of pens too, so I guess it's time to put them all to use...I even have some stamps ready to go...
Here are some little tips to help you on your way...
* vintage tips to letter writing
*the lost art of letter writing
*Debrett's guide to writing letters
and finally this video...
Who did you last write a letter to?  I'd love to hear...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Lazy days and beach blankets

So goes the title of the latest addition to my ever-growing cookery book collection.  As with all Rylands, Peters and Small books, it's beautifully photographed and presented and as the name suggests is full of recipes for picnics, barbeques and outdoor meals of pretty much every description.  I read it as others would read a novel.  Anyway, having just recieved it last week, I've already made two things from it and both were easy and delicious.  The first was a stuffed picnic loaf, which I took on a picnic funnily enough!  Chocka with roasted veg and creamy goats cheese, it's a healthy alternative to the mayo-loaded sarnies I usually go for.  Then, for our evening meal I made a Turkish salad (a variant on Taboulah salad) and it was so refreshing that I know it's going to become a staple.  I made double quantities too, so we're definitely going to be eating it all this week!
I don't know about you but when I see all these lovely pics in food magazines of beautifully presented picnics  I'm all enthused, but the reality is I often can't be bothered with the faff of it all.  This stuffed picnic loaf is pretty easy as I just chopped all my veg and put it in the oven for half an hour (recipe recommended using stove top griddle)  However, don't do what I did (fall asleep!) or you'll end up having to do it all over again...

Stuffed Picnic Loaf

1 round loaf
2 courgettes sliced thinly lengthwise (I used a cheese slicer for this)
2 red onions sliced into wedges
2 red peppers
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp basil pesto
goats cheese

1. Cut a lid off the top of the loaf and carefully scoop all the bread from the inside. (retain bread and make crumbs and freeze)
2.  Mix the oil and pesto together and brush around the inside of the loaf
3.  Preheat the oven to 190c and place your veg on the middle shelf
4. Layer roasted veg in the loaf; the middle layer should be the goats cheese; top layer more veg
5. Replace the lid on the loaf, wrap in cling and sandwich between two plates, topping with a weight or a tin and leave in the fridge overnight.

You could fill your loaf with other things eg salami, tomato and mozarella...

Kisir Salad

This Turkish salad uses bulgar wheat - although I used a mixture of bulgar and couscous which worked really well.

160g of bulgar wheat
1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley
half a cucumber finely chopped
4 large tomatoes, skins removed, finely chopped
1tsp cumin
pinch of chilli flakes
olive oil
1tbsp pomegranate juice or syrup

1. Soak your wheat and couscous for recommended time
2.  Finely chop all other ingredients and combine in a bowl with your dressing ingredients.
3.  Add the bulgar wheat and stir until well mixed
4. Serve at room temperature

I think next time I might well add some pine nuts, or hazlenuts, just for some added texture and crunch.
 Then all that's left, is to take your picnic along to the nearest river/beach/park and enjoy....


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

5 (easy) DIY projects for summertime inspiration

I think we all need a creative outlet now and then, whether it be writing a daily journal, cooking and baking, or creating a beautiful watercolour.  From time to time I get the urge to 'make' something and I often turn to my pinterest page 'crafty' for ideas.  Here are some of my current favs...

1.  Rose petal ice-cubes - how gorgeous are these.  Guaranteed to make your summertime drink extra special.

2. How to illustrate in ten steps. I've always wanted to be able to draw.  People say you can learn, but I promise you, so far I've failed.  Maybe this will help!

3. Gold confetti tumblers  Who wouldn't want to use these for a summer cocktail.  Easy to make and very effective.

4.  I used to love making paper mache bowls as I found it very soothing, so when I saw this project making paper mache teacups I couldn't wait to try it.

5. Tray styling is just a fun thing to do.  I hadn't realised, until I saw this tutorial, that you're meant to divide your space into quadrants.  I guess that would work for other areas too...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Megan's, Chelsea

When the days are hot and the nights are balmy, there's nothing better than al-fresco dining and I've found the near-perfect spot only ten minutes away from home;  Megan's in Chelsea.  We trooped up there over the weekend after a very hot and clammy day.  To be honest I wasn't even feeling like going, I was so hot and bothered, and the thought of eating wasn't doing it for me at all.  In fact, I think I was probably a bit grumpy en-route!  Anyway, once inside this unassuming little deli/restaurant, my mood lifted instantly.  The front of house is home to a coffee/deli style eatery, but the real gem lies behind in the courtyard.  Overshadowed by a huge and beautiful oak tree, the small garden is decked out with white hydrangeas, climbers, lots of mirrors and fairylights.  All the tables are covered with blue and white checked cloths with an assortment of mismatched chairs.  The overall effect is just totally magical...
The menu is simple and delicious, but be warned, it's definitely a meat-lovers kind of place.  We had a beautifully tender cote de beouf, served with chips, salad and bearnaise sauce.  Puds were equally delicious; we sampled the chocolate brownie and affogato.  The portions are generous, the wine was thoroughly drinkable and if you're into people watching...well...let's just say I was in heaven.  Perhaps the only criticism would be, that because the garden is so small the tables are very close together, but that's not a problem if you're nosy like me!

So, next time you're in the mood for a bit of al-fresco, head to south west's a real treat.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Champagne Risotto

I love to make a's comfort food and stress reliever all rolled into one and this recipe is truly a winner.  I usually like my risotto's to have a couple of ingredients but this works just fine with the champagne and extra parmesan on top.  If you've never made a risotto before, don't be afraid of's actually the one dish I love to cook when I'm feeling stressed out.  The trick is always to use HOT stock and ladle it in bit by bit, not adding more until the liquid has been absorbed.  Stay by the pan and stir, not continuously, but enough to ensure that the rice is moved around and doesn't stick.  Settle your guest(s) by your side, with a glass of champagne of course, and chat whilst you stir. I don't think it gets much better than this...

I would serve this with a really crisp green salad and an Italian dressing.  Mmmmn mnnn....

images: here

Friday, July 05, 2013

Friday Fiction - Sisterland

I first came across Curtis Sittenfeld when I read her novel The American Wife.  I devoured this book practically in one sitting, so lifelike were her characters I completely forgot I was the reader and they were merely characters.  It felt like we were one great big family.  That's the way a good novel should be don't you think?  Anyway, when I read on Good Reads that she'd released a new novel Sisterland I downloaded it in a flash to my trusty Kindle.  I wasn't disappointed.

Identical twins, Kate and Vi live in St Louis.  Vi has developed a career as a psychic medium, whilst Kate has settled into life with two small children.  Both Kate and Vi were born with innate 'senses' that gave them psychic abilities that Vi embraced and Kate renounced.  These abilities enabled them to see the future and others' secrets.  When Vi predicts a large earthquake in St Louis, neither sister was prepared for the overwhelming publicity and intrusion into their lives and both women had to confront the reality of their 'gifts'.  Although Kate has rejected her psychic abilities, a large part of her worries that Vi may be right and in the middle of all the turmoil she falls into bed with the husband of a friend...there is of course some fallout!  I'm not going to tell you anymore...Get it and find out for yourself.  Just make sure that you don't need to be anywhere, do anything, or talk to anyone before you finish it...

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Rhubarb and Rose Syrup

Just like the Lilac sugar recipe, this gorgeously fragrant syrup makes good use of things that are around us abundantly at this time of year.  Growing in my back garden are two large, spreading, sprawling climbing roses in cream and damask yellow.  They smell divine and the blooms although they flower for a fairly longish period, once they open they're only good for a few days before my garden is sprinkled with petal confetti.  I always mourned the loss of these flower petals but here is a wonderful use for them...similarly rhubarb.  Can't get enough of it, I love it stewed until just tender in a little sugar and cassis, then stirred into creamy greek yogurt, or accompanying a vanilla panacotta, or just piled high on it's own.  This is a new use for it and one I'll be making and giving  to friends!

You can even use it to make rhubarb/rose bellini's by adding it to prosecco, or pour over ice and add's up to really is summer in a bottle....

images: here

Monday, July 01, 2013

Tea-cup Meditation

It's very early on a summer's morning and I'm sitting in the garden, well before the rest of the household stirs.  It's quiet and so very, very still.  I've written about my love for early mornings here - although we want to be up and about by choice, not insomnia!  Anyway, the air is cool and my early morning tea is hot and steaming and the birds are singing with delight as the sun edges its way into the new day.  But I'm not alone.  That old friend 'The To Do List' is ever present, trying to nudge its way rudely into my thoughts. Come on, the old friend urges; things to do, places to go, hurry, hurry, no time to stop.  Hey!  Who's in charge here? I'm stronger than my old friend and there's a rule that accompanies this first cup of tea and it's this;  there's no planning, scheming, list making or worrying whilst drinking my first cup. This is my meandering, creative, daydreamy time, when I can indulge in crazy thoughts and ideas with no self-censoring. Just let it all unravel and follow wherever it wants to go.

It's important to build stand-still time into our lives.  We are all so busy 'doing' that we need to consciously give ourselves the time to pause and slow down, to sit and loosen the noose of preoccupations, worries and responsibilities.  We are all hostages to life's business to some degree; I have a full-time job, family and other responsibilities and for me, this morning cup of tea is when I can find some 'moodling' time; time to just sit and be.  It's not exactly a classic meditation, but it does require your presence in the present, rather than thinking ahead about your day.  So, here I am, sitting quietly, watching the widescreen of my mind, waiting to see what it brings me today.

I hope you'll try it too...