Wednesday, 19 December 2007
Thursday, 13 December 2007
As you can see we aim for the 'jumble-sale' effect with our tree. Yes, it's a little crowded; no, it's in no way co-ordinated, but nonetheless it brings a smile to my face every time I see it. Christmas is no time for good taste and elegance now is it?
Something Rob and I both enjoy - the snow, and snowshoeing. We had a fabulous snowshoe walk last Winter, using snowshoes borrowed for a weekend from Base supply, and hope to do the same again this year. We bought these mini snowshoes in the LL Bean flagship store in Freeport, Maine, whilst on our Fall road-trip. I love to pick up Christmas tree decorations from around the world, so each one brings back memories. Mind you, I give thanks to the great LL Bean every time I put on my fantastic down-jacket that I bought there on the same trip. It's been incredibly warm over the last few weeks when Winter arrived here with a vengeance. You can see a mini-cardigan in the shot too.
As you can see from the mantelpiece, we like to have lots of real greenery in the house, and had an expedition out on the cross-country skis last weekend to gather some. Most is over the fireplace, but lots of our pictures are adorned with a good sprig of it too. Or an entire branch... I don't go for subtlety here.
And what am I listening to whilst decorating the house for the festive season?! Pure Christmas kitch of course. My favourite ever Christmas CD is the one on the left, bought in Bath and Body Works in Las Vegas last December. It's a charity double CD, a compilation of old and new, containing such delights as 'It's a Marshmallow World' by Bing Crosby, and 'Green Christmas' by the Barenaked Ladies. I love it. A recent acquisition is the Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers album, a treasure unearthed in Walmart recently. 'Hard Candy Christmas' is my favourite song. And of course Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without John Rutter. Perhaps you won't have heard of him, but anyone who has ever sung in a choir will be familiar with his gloriously harmonised carols. It became trendy in the singing world to dismiss his work as slightly 'naff', but that's all part of its charm. It's fabulous to sing, and really accessible to listen to.
I'll finish with another new purchase - this wonderful Santa's washing line, bought recently in Canadian Tire. It's hanging across the kitchen window and actually brought a spontaneous smile to my face this morning as I staggered down the stairs, half asleep, in search of my morning cup of tea. And after all, that's what Christmas should be all about - bringing a smile to your face in whatever way works for you.
Happy Christmas to one and all.
Friday, 30 November 2007
What then has brought me to this? A morning happily spent mixing, baking, icing and finally eating a large slice of a Pillsbury 'Funfetti' cake. Once again I can quite happily blame some of my fellow food enthusiasts who have raved about this cake, and persuaded me to throw aside my prejudices and try it.
I purchased a box of Funfetti cake mix, along with the accompanying tub of Funfetti Frosting (in for a penny, in for a pound...) on my last trip south of the border, adding it to the list of groceries stockpiled in an already full-to-bursting car. Even if I had not previously been primed to purchase this cake the jaunty box and, most importantly, the picture of the vibrantly-coloured cake would have been enough to land it in my trolley. The claim that 'a cup of pudding' was a part of the mix only added to the intrigue. How sweet is that Pillsbury man?! (Mind you, having read the ingredients, I can now only assume that the cute little chap is formed from pure lard). He had been peering at me out of the kitchen cupboard for far too long, so armed with my new sillicone bundt pan, I felt the urge to bite the bullet and bake the cake.
As you can see, the baked sponge looked gorgeous, even to me with my inate distrust of blue food...
I went for the 'artfully casual' style of icing the cake (cake-decorating not being one of my culinary strengths) and had great fun literally throwing the sprinkles at the sides of the cake. I will be finding them on the kitchen floor for weeks I'm sure.
And the proof of the pudding? Well, I actually thought it was quite nice! Teeth-achingly sweet, as Nigella would doubtless say, but deliciously moist, vanilla flavoured and excitingly speckled with colour. I'm not sure I would go out of my way to purchase it again (and considering that I need to drive to a different country to buy it, it would be quite far out of my way) but it has been hugely fun to try.
I could say that it's at this time of the year that our thoughts turn to puddings, but that wouldn't strictly be correct... my thoughts are more or less permanently turned to puddings, although I rarely make them. However, it's at this time of the year that a very particular type of pudding comes into its own; yes, the School Dinner Pud. Stodgy, starchy, rib-sticking, custard-doused, but above all warming and filling. I suddenly felt a desperate urge for a pud like this last Tuesday evening. The problem with most such puddings however, is that they take a long time to cook - a steamed syrup sponge would have hit the spot, but I wasn't going to wait 3 hours for it.
Fortunately a brain-wave hit - semolina! Even more fortunately I had a packet of it in the cupboard, so within 5 minutes Rob and I were tucking into a bowl of it. It's hard to believe that 3 simple ingredients (semolina, milk and sugar) can create such a satisfying pudding (sorry, but 'dessert' just seems far too fancy a name for this), and in such a short time. A dollop of raspberry jam (Rob's topping of choice was Golden Syrup) and my joy was complete.
I'm not sure that I ever ate this at school - although Rob did, and hadn't eaten it since, so emotionally scarred had he been by the experience! - but I do remember eating it at home as a child, and loving it even then. I think now it ranks with rice pudding as one of my favourite Winter puds, and is probably old-fashioned enough to be lovingly thought of as 'retro', only adding to its appeal.
'Trashy food, in its platonic ideal, should contain at least one brand-name product... it should use a low-rent ingredient, one that gastro-snobs would never normally even consider keeping in the house". (Nigella Bites, 2001)
Although I am fascinated by food that can be described in such terms - and often read cookery books that are full of such recipes - I rarely actually cook in this way. I read with awe about my fellow bloggers' forays into the world of 'trashy' dishes (Lisa) - the food always looks so good (even if the ingredients don't immediately suggest that it would!)
However, on discovering cans of the legendary French's Fried Onions in my local supermarket (by all accounts a superbly declasse ingredient all on their own) I felt compelled to purchase some. Printed jauntily on the side of the can is a recipe for 'Green Bean Casserole'... a recipe of which I'm sure Nigella herself would approve whole-heartedly, for amongst its ingredients are listed a can of French's Fried Onions, a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup and 500g of frozen (or canned) cut green beans. Brand-name products? Check! Low-rent ingredients? Check! A nightmare for gastro-snobs? Check, check, check!!!
I set about making this with great gusto, and was delighted (and somewhat relieved) to find that it was genuinely good. Not just good really, but excellent. I had made it as part of our Thanksgiving meal - we had been away for Canadian Thanksgiving in October, so decided that the weekend after American Thanksgiving was as good an excuse as any for a large meal. Although we didn't eat that much of it during that particular dinner (not enough room on our plates, plus it didn't seem to be quite right on a plate swimming in gravy) we both enjoyed it the following day as a vegetable accompaniment to the leftover chicken.
Now bring on the frozen meatballs in grape jelly...
Sunday, 18 November 2007
I believe that manners maketh the man, and that good manners will ultimately do you a lot of good. For example, I'd like to think that it was my politeness and smiling banter with the check-in girl at La Guardia airport last week that was responsible for me moving up the list of passengers on stand-by for the earlier flight that I managed to get onto. It seems that it's human nature to be nice to people who are nice to you (and how I snickered - politely of course - at the surly businessmen sitting in the departure lounge, grumbling that they hadn't been put onto the earlier flight. Perhaps if you'd smiled I wanted to say).
Being a 'Brit Abroad' certainly seems to be a bonus too, much to my surprise. It seems as though as well as having a reputation for beer-swilling loutishness, there is also another stereotype of the British as being highly intelligent and well-mannered... a stereotype I'm more than happy to be labelled with! A Canadian told me recently that upon hearing a British accent he immediately mentally ascribed extra IQ points to the speaker - it seems that speaking the Queen's English has its benefits.
It turns out, however, that politeness also has a darker side... As I boarded the aforementioned flight to Toronto, I clutched my boarding pass and searched for my seat before noticing with dismay that someone was already sitting there.
"I'm sorry, but I think you may be sitting in my seat" I said.
The woman concerned proceded to huff and puff, and make a loud performance about finding her boarding pass in order to prove me wrong. When she realised that she had in fact made a mistake she continued to huff and puff whilst gathering up the belongings that she had spread all around her.
"I'm so sorry" I simpered.
She stood up and trod on my foot whilst moving to her correct seat.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" I said... and at that point had the kind of out-of-body experience more usually reserved for those on the verge of death. I looked down at myself, apologising profusely for a litany of things that weren't my fault and suddenly realised - there is such a thing as being TOO POLITE.
It continually surprises me that people can be very rude. I'm with Lynne Truss on this one with her astonishment at the 'utter bloody rudeness of everyday life'. (I share her views on punctuation too - and YES, I know the address for this blog should have an apostrophe in the contraction it's but apostrophes don't appear to be acceptable in website addresses). However, I am beginning to realise that some people's excessive politeness merely allows rude people to be even ruder without fear of reproach. Sometimes a little straight-talking might be more effective. If I had simply said "Ow! That's my foot!" when hatchet-faced-aeroplane-woman stood on it, perhaps she might have been jolted out of her grumpiness for long enough to apologise and realise that she was in fact speaking to a real person instead of some kind of idiot only capable of uttering the words "I'm sorry".
So here's my resolution. I'm going to start being just a little less polite. Not to the point of rudeness, but just enough to make sure that I'm not treated as a doormat. It'll be a difficult habit to break, but as the obsequious blandishments spring to my lips, I'm going to try to consider whether they're entirely necessary.
Thank you for reading my blog!
And so, Julie Andrews style, I'll skip back to my kitchen now and smile when I use some of my favourite things. Because it's true what she (nearly) sang: "When the headache bites, when the excess-glass-of-wine-last-night stings, when I'm feeling sad, I simply remember my favourite things, and then I don't feel so bad".
Saturday, 17 November 2007
The Buttercup Bake Shop, home of some of the most famous cupcakes in New York.
I think that I'd like to work here... although would probably be fired within the day for excessive consumption of the stock.
Here's what I chose from the aforementioned Bake Shop - a Red Velvet Cupcake. They're justifiably famous, and you'll be pleased to hear that the excessive amount of red food colouring that must have gone into it had no ill effects the following day.
This is Dean and Deluca - the deli beloved by Nigella Lawson, and therefore a place of pilgrimage for all of her fans. I gasped in delight upon finding tins of 'Nigella' seeds (actually black onion seeds) on the shelves, and bought many, therefore forced to spend the duration of the flight home hoping my bag wouldn't be searched at customs. Explain that... I can almost hear the rubber gloves being snapped on in preparation for the full-body search reserved exclusively for international drug-runners...
It's a true mecca for the serious foodie. Imagine the hole this place could make in your bank-balance if it was your local supermarket... ouch!
It was at the moment when I was taking this photograph when a member of staff approached me with the words "No photography please Madam"... Upon giving this some further thought, I remain baffled as to why this rule should be in place. Did they think I might be stealing their ideas in order to open a rival delicatessan? Have they been besieged by over-excited Nigella Lawson fans, clamouring to be immortalised in a photograph inside this famous shop? Did they think I was some kind of journalist, hell-bent on writing a poor review of their store? Well, I'm no journalist, but this stupid rule leads me to give D&D a serious black-mark. Being scolded for taking photographs inside what is basically a glorified supermarket (OK, it's very glorified, but...) just made me cross. And didn't stop me anyway. Pah!
No such worries in The Food Emporium, a wonderful supermarket tucked underneath the 58th St bridge. Just look at the architecture there. Rather puts my local Sobeys to shame!
Saturday, 27 October 2007
Sunday, 21 October 2007
Anyway, supermarkets have been much in my thoughts this month as we have just returned from a fabulous trip to New England. This provided opportunities for visiting supermarkets in SIX different US states, and we took full advantage of this. Whether or not you think I am odd for enjoying supermarket shopping, it's becoming apparant to me that my habit of taking my camera into supermarkets to photograph things on the shelves is verging on madness, but I have no shame where this is concerned! Here are a few things that really excited me:
I had never heard of French's Fried Onions until recently, when I discovered that they are in fact a staple of American retro-cookery. I now have 2 cans in my kitchen cupboard, and I'm trying to pluck up the courage to use them in the slightly-scary-looking 'Green Bean Casserole' recipe on the tin. I like the idea of these Cheddar ones though, especially as a crispy coating for chicken. Sadly the purchase of these was also vetoed by Rob, for the admittedly very good reason that we had barely enough room in the van to sleep, let alone carry bagfuls of trashy American groceries. Spoilsport.
I am an advertising agencies dream as I am SO easily swayed by packaging. I have a cupboard full of 'Jiffy Corn-Muffin Mix', simply because I love the boxes. This Bell's seasoning is beautifully packaged. I love the 'Old Bay' seasoning tins too. And as for this wonderful My-T-Fine' pudding mix - wow! It saddens me that manufacturers feel the need to update their packaging so regularly - I love the fact that this has probably remained unchanged for 30 years.
Back on the Hallowe'en theme again... in the form of the infamous 'Funfetti' cake. More to come on this topic in another post...
This just made us giggle. I'm not sure if the Brawny-man has cause to fear for his job just yet...
And finally, a quick mention for possibly the most fun supermarket in the world, ever - Trader Joe's. I had heard some of my American friends raving about it and we stumbled upon this branch in Massachussetts. It's full of local produce and some really unusual foods, all at excellent prices. I also love to see a retailer with a sense of humour - the food is labelled with variations on the Trader Joe's name; e.g. the Spanish sausages that we bought were 'Trader Jose's', the Clam Chowder 'Pilgrim Joe's', the noodles 'Trader Ming's', etc. It's so good to see the injection of a little humour into the potentially banal job of grocery-shopping. Although when you shop with me it's always fun.