Around about mid-October (not coincidentally: around the time I last updated the blog), we upped stakes and moved to lovely East Lothian. The move has been…an adventure, to put it euphemistically, but we’re now settled in enough for me to get really excited for the holidays. I love Christmastime. Especially over here, because Britain gets really into Christmas. Our town had a whole big ‘Christmas … Continue reading Cranberry Cake and Christmas Trees
Getting ready for Easter (or just have some sourdough starter discard you need to use)? These muffins are a quick, delicious way to get one of your 5 a day! Continue reading Sourdough Carrot Muffins
Like just about every member of the upper class, the Downtonians are heading north to start shooting some grouse. The 12 August–The Glorious Twelfth–was and still is the official start of grouse-hunting season, when eager sportsmen (and women) hit the heather moors of Scotland and the north of England to hunt this delicious bird which, as it flies low to the ground at up to 80 mph, also offers sportsmen a significant challenge. Red grouse is the type most commonly hunted in Britain (of the four species of grouse to be found here, one is protected, one so rare that most sportsmen avoid shooting them, and one lives in areas so inhospitable hardly anyone seeks them out), and its meat is flavoured by its diet of heather, blueberry, cranberry, and bog myrtle. All the grouse you find for sale is wild: attempts to rear it in captivity have all failed.
Wealthy people like the Sinderbys and the Crawleys would often rent shooting estates in the north from hard-up aristocrats, or buy one of their own and host lavish shooting parties that saw astonishing numbers of birds killed over just a few days. King Edward VII was a keen sportsman and made the rounds of the great shooting estates along with his son, George, who was known for his rather distinctive shooting style: one arm straight along the barrel, turning to shoot birds behind him with a quick, jumpy step. Shooting weekends were highly formal: after the morning drive the guns would meet up with the ladies somewhere on the estate for a multi-course lunch. After that, the ladies would sometimes join the drive, typically as observers, before returning to the house to change into gowns for tea. At the end of the day came dinner–tails and tiaras were de rigeur, and there was usually a ball the first evening. On other evenings, non-shooting guests would stage amateur theatrical performances rehearsed while the men were out on the morning drives.
What with Mary’s ‘sketching trips’ and Edith’s creepiness and Robert’s pouting, you may have missed the little tidbit that Rose has started volunteering. Her chosen cause: dispossessed Russian aristocrats. While perhaps not a demographic one thinks of immediately when the words ‘in need’ come to mind, she’s pretty dedicated to them, and it’s nice to see her getting out of the house and doing something … Continue reading Downton Dish: Russian Tea
Because her sexual encounters always end so happily, Mary has decided to embark on a weekend-long bonkfest (sorry, ‘sketching trip’) with Gil. And apparently she let him make all the plans, because he chose the romantic city of…Liverpool. Oh, Gil. You sweet idiot. Well, while they’re there, they might as well enjoy a hearty bowl of scouse, Liverpool’s well-loved local dish. Scouse, originally called Labskause, was brought to the city by Northern European sailors. The dish was mostly eaten by Liverpudlian sailors and their families, so gradually the sailors themselves came to be known as ‘scousers’ and over time the term came to refer to anyone from Liverpool. Typically, scouse consists of meat (beef, lamb, or a combination of the two), vegetables, and potatoes, though a vegetarian version, known as blind scouse, is also fairly common. Whichever way you make it, it’s a hearty, filling dish, perfect for cold winter nights or multiple days of erotic gymnastics. Girl’s gotta keep her strength up, you know.
Welcome back, American friends! Time for you to get caught up on Downton, and this first episode’s a doozy. You get scheming, illicit sex, fireworks over the dinner table, and an honest-to-god bonfire. So what could be more appropriate to snack on this episode than that Bonfire Night favourite, cinder toffee?
Also known as honeycomb, puff candy, and hokey pokey (for reasons unknown), cinder toffee is a sweeter, more widely appealing Bonfire Night treat than bonfire toffee, which is made with treacle and can be a bit bitter. Either one can be part of the menu as people gather around to watch the fireworks and burn Guy Fawkes in effigy every 5 November.
Since the Little Anglophile started solids a month ago, I’ve been having a lot of fun trying out new things in the kitchen. Making food for a baby has some special challenges: no whole nuts, no honey, very little salt and sugar. I stumbled upon a recipe for banana bread made without sugar, which he’s taken to like an adorable bald duck to water, and I thought surely I could find other baby-friendly bread recipes like it. How about pumpkin bread? It’s fall! Surely there must be one out there!
Ha, no. Every pumpkin bread recipe I came across either had sugar (quite a lot, in most cases) or honey. So much for that.
But I was undaunted. Nay, said I. The Little Anglophile shall not go without some pumpkin bread, thus discovering the very elixir of autumn. I myself would go forth, armed only with a sack of plain flour and a can of Libby’s and I would make this work.
I love the autumn. I love the colours and the crispy air and the golden light. And I love the food. Man, the food! Warm stews, roasted vegetables, squash of all types, game birds, pears and apples. So, so good.
This time of year, I tend to go on a baking binge. Cooler temperatures make me want sweet comfort foods, and it’s no longer uncomfortable to have the oven on. Last week I ushered in October with some pumpkin muffins. But this week, it was all about the apples. I love apples. And I love caramel. And the two together…oh, man. Amazing! Now, I know some of you are looking askance at this recipe and thinking: I dunno, that’s gonna take, what, five hours or so of pilates to burn off? But you know what? It’s the weekend.
This happens every year. I settle down to watch the Great British Bakeoff and happily spend an hour absorbing images and descriptions of deliciousness, thinking vaguely, at some point, ‘oh, it’d be nice to have a bit of cake/tart/giant croquembouche.’ And somehow, within 24 hours (typically more like 12 hours) that desire becomes an all-consuming need, and by the time my husband gets home from work the next day we’ve got something cooling on the countertop while I’m frantically beating icing or melting caramel and our son’s giving his dad a look that says, ‘I dunno, dad, she’s been muttering about proper sponge consistency all day. I think she may have a problem.’
But at least we grownups get cake at the end of it.
I’m the type of person who takes ‘this is a very hard thing to do/get right’ as a personal challenge. For example: I heard that socks are really difficult to knit, so I learned how to make them. So, it was inevitable that macarons, with their reputation for being hard to make, would be on my hit list at some point. Turns out, the socks … Continue reading Chocolate-Chili Macarons with Cinnamon Buttercream