Red Sky in the Morning

It’s bloody freezing out there. I just on’d my wellies and armed myself with a black plastic bag. It was time to do a ‘poo patrol’. I figured that with the frozen frost and all else out there as solid as ice, things would be a lot easier! On with my fur lined trappers hat and white, schott, fleecy hoody and a pair of old gardening gloves, I went out to brave the elements. I glanced myself in the mirror and thoughts of captain Scott’s last expedition flashed through my mind. But twenty minutes later, I returned to the warmth of the living room, greeted by Becky, our cleaner. I’m now staring at the fire hearth, it’s pretty full of ash! I think I should give it a clear out, I’m too embarrassed to expect Becky to tackle it. That just seems far too Dickensian. Back to the title of today’s post, if we get any precipitation later today, it could just well fall as snow. Wahoo! Let’s wait and see shall we. I am a big believer of ‘Red Sky in the Morning, Shepherds Warning’. I remember last winter with the couple of snow showers that happened here in the Shires. Aaliyah and Caleb went back inside as it was much too cold for them, but Tara, Amritsar, Thor and I built our very first snowman together. I’ll treat you to a look at the video I recorded later, it’s very comical…

The Sense of Taste and Smell

These two senses, that us as humans are gifted with, really have the power to transport us back in time, though in the wink of an eye, you revisit a place where you associate that smell or taste! For me today, after we got the children fed and packed into the car for their school runs, I raided the fruit bowl. On this occasion, not to make one of Dadda’s Jams, rather a fruit salad that would transport me back in time. Not to just any single moment, but a plethora of moments and places. I have waited a couple of weeks for the honeydew and Cantaloupe melons to ripen sufficiently, also the large, plump mango has sat there for several days to maximise its sweetness. The already ripe papaya arrived in the Tesco shop yesterday, meaning that today we had lift off! I imagine that you all remember your last tropical holiday and the breakfast buffet you grazed on each and every day! Well it’s the fruit selection I am thinking about today. The sweetness of these four fruits seem to make them firm favourites in hotel, breakfast catering, the world throughout. But when I think of these fruits, when they are fully ripened, I feel the warmth around me and the sun on my face. With closed eyes, I am transported back, to memories of India and Thailand, even the elevated heights of Kathmandu, above the world and at that time, also above the monsoon clouds over the Indian sub continent.

In Kathmandu it was summertime, I had just arrived and it was clearly mango season. You could see old men on bicycles, with large round racks on the rear, piled so high with ripe, yellowing mangos. It was always a matter of haggling, but by that point, I was not naive and always got a good price, so unlike my earlier days in Mumbai, where it seemed that absolutely everybody wanted to make something out of a gullible westerner. Well the hotel I stayed at on my arrival in Kathmandu was quite spacious and built in the traditional Newari style. There was just me staying there really. Most of the aid workers that had arrived, post earthquake had gone home, so just me for breakfast then. Coffee, toast with home made mango jam and a bowl of fresh mango on the side, that was breakfast. Delving back further to the Marriott apartments on Langsuan in Bangkok, I always enjoyed a hearty breakfast of a full English, but preceded by a large bowl of locally grown melons, mango and papaya. There was always pineapple as an option, though I do like it, I found the sweetness of the melon, butteriness of the papaya and the melting texture of the mango, just the right combo. Further back still, my time in India saw a profusion of fresh fruit. Many memories, too many to recount, but from within the fruit bowl I have just enjoyed, I saw my own route and the steps I took towards fatherhood and the moments that both John and I encountered, in order to make our family complete. All that from a bowl of fruit. I should probably stick to cornflakes…

Crescent Moon

Today’s been a slow one! John in Dublin tonight, so just me and the dogs snuggled up on the dog bed (children’s cushion as the dogs much prefer the sofas)! They have just jumped up in favour of the sofas and left me lying here, besides the television. The heating is on but it feels cold now. The children have only just settled, they were holding a leadership debate themselves, up on the top floor. Tara of course, remains in control of the not so famous five (as does Theresa at no 10), well, for now at least. One of the mums from school, called over this morning and very kindly purchased some of Dadda’s Jams. Thank you Anthea! A real shame that none of the other parents from our school year turned up to the Schools Christmas Fayre to see the array of options available on my stall. Most of the day spent catering as usual, along side some Kiss and Hugs form Amritsar, Tara, Thor, Aaliyah and Caleb. No big dramas, some drawing before dinner, really quite non eventful. I made three fish pies and a pot full of Dal (lentil curry) to freeze for later consumption. Yes, the chest freezer is rather full. I kept one of the fish pies for John and I tomorrow for dinner and had a bowl of dal with paratha for myself tonight. This wasn’t just the usual dal that I would throw together (I added sugar, crushed cardamom and lots of extra garlic), so it became a Dhansak recipe, one you might find at your local Indian restaurant. An ancient Persian dish that found its way into Indian cuisine, via the Parsi Zoroastrian community. This is my historical, all time favourite dish if eating out at an Indian restaurant, made with either lamb of chicken. That is if you exclude tandoori king prawns! Once frozen, I can of course thaw it out and use to cook pre marinated chicken or lamb. I attached a picture of the fish pie above as I mentioned this morning to Anthea, don’t use a fork on the top and definitely hold off on using grated cheese. Use a wet pallet knife and get creative. It too easy not to. It’ll put a smile on ‘hubby’s’ face at the very least if you make individual portions. To be honest, I’m a frugal man if truth be known! With only me here, just the simple lentils and Indian flat bread fed me well.

If it had been a choice for John, on an evening without me, definitely the fish pie. This time I didn’t add white wine or cream to the sauce of the fish pie, as the base of the sauce was a combination of the liquor from mussels (frozen after I last cooked mussels and frits) and a strong, reduced crab stock. Leave things simple. But as I stressed to Anthea this morning, avoid making a roux and use the beurre mannet method of whisking in a butter and flour mixture to the enriched fish cooking liquor. So much more refined in its consistency than a gloopy bechamel type sauce.

Okay, onto the crescent moon, the heading of today’s diary entry. I just spotted the early crescent moon from the window. And I thought ironically that my fish scales on my fish pies looked a little like a succession of mini moons! So I have talked about the moon on a couple of occasions now and I have seen two full moons blossom and slowly ebb away, this new crescent moon being the third moon cycle since starting my blog. Just like my definition of the start of Winter in yesterday’s writing (Astronomical Winter), to me the moon is a commodity of time. I am not so surprised that pagan man (and woman) idolised and worshiped it. I am definitely no ‘Tree Hugger’ But the moon, like the Sun is always a constant that is always there, along side us! Though unlike the sun, the moon does sneak away, but it always comes home to us…

Red Sky at Night

Red sky at night, a phenomena I have not seen in some time! But the largely sunny, yet cold skies of yesterday, lead way to a colourful sunset of mottled cumulus clouds, radiating a pink to red hue. Today has been a clear and sunny day here in the Shires, if not a tad chilly. Living in the countryside does have its bonuses. I am no ‘Birder’, but I do appreciate the abundance of summertime bird song. This last springtime on our terrace, gave rise to not just the robins nest, but one built by blackbirds and a song thrush pair nested in the ivy behind the grapevine. Lots of chirping and melodic birdsong. All much quieter now with winter on our doorstep. Do you go with meteorological (1st December) or astronomical (21st December) Winter? I like to go with the astronomical one, on the winter solstice. So for me, the first day of real winter starts on 21st December, the day before Thor’s Birthday. He was born around 11am in Bangkok, seven hours ahead of us, here in the U.K. so (do the maths) he was four hours late of the Winters Solstice. With a name like Thor, trust him to be running a little bit late. Think about the lighting and then the wait on the crash of thunder! Our time in Thailand saw many a thunder storm, especially in the latter months before coming home. I do miss our nanny Ameena. She was very good to us and loved Thor unconditionally. Did I say he was a very loud baby? Well, to settle him, she would walk around the apartment with him in her arms and play that tune ‘little donkey’ on her phone. That would usually do the job, but running water was the other option to getting him to sleep. Just eleven days to go before his fourth birthday. Doesn’t time fly? Mind you, it sucks to have a birthday so close to Xmas. We’ve hired the village hall and a magician to entertain the twenty or so that have been invited. Four is a good age and his sense of reason has come on a lot in recent months. Mind you, there’s not been a day as yet that hasn’t involved at least one major breakdown! Beware the might of Thor! Lol

The Smell of Branston

This smell has been with me now since four o’clock this afternoon. I googled for ‘Branston Pickle recipe’ and found one that said it was as close as I would find! Okay, I read the ingredients on the side of my Branston Pickle jar in the fridge and yes, this recipe seemed close enough. Of course I tweaked it, as I always do. Things were made simpler as we only buy ‘small chunk’ in this house, with the little ones only liking the less chunky consistency. So chopping all of the vegetables in the food processor made light work of it. I decided that I would make my own, partly due to the fact that our nanny, Sindy isn’t a big jam consumer, so there will be a new chutney to add to ‘Dadda’s Jams and Pickles’ range, so she can also enjoy something, lovingly hand crafted, along side her main gift! The other reason why I made ‘Branston Pickle’ was the fact that Thor absolutely loves cheese and pickle sandwiches. His all time favourite ‘combo sammy’. That is, until yesterday lunchtime when he screamed that he hated cheese and pickle sandwiches. I know that children just love to rub you up the wrong way, but Thor was adamant and ended up spending time on the ‘Thinking Chair’ before returning to the table and asking to eat his sandwiches. A similar thing happened with Aaliyah’s lunchtime today. Pate on toast – she loves it, but the tantrums were paramount to world war three. Enough of this and back to the heady aroma of pickle. I’m not going to list the ingredients, just look at the side of your jar at home, in the fridge. But there was over two and a half hours of actual cooking time. So I was marooned I the kitchen for a while, as you have to stir, every now and then. Being out of jam jars, I froze two thirds of the mixture in two one kilogram freezer bags and bottled three 12oz (318g) jam jars.

We had a very simple dinner of thin French fries and burgers in seeded baps. Some of Dadda’s tomato chutney beneath the burger and salad with mayonnaise on top. The girls enjoyed a whole, mega burger and I cut one in half to accommodate Aaliyah and Caleb. I asked Thor if half would be okay with half, as I was looking forward to munching on the surplus half myself. They were very large burgers. No he screamed, M’Want a whole one. I asked again if he was sure and yes – a whole one was the reply. He got a whole one and then proceeded to eat only the French Fries. He picked at the burger, I helped him take a number of bites, but it was clear that it would end up in the bin. Thank you, I exclaimed. I would have really enjoyed half of the burger. He laughed uncaringly, so I fed the burger to the dogs, he screamed and was sent to ‘The Thinking Chair’. He didn’t care, but finally said ‘Sorry Dadda’. As hungry as he may be the next time we do mega burgers, he will only be offered a half portion, as are the other little ones. I’m about to serve up homemade pork mini meatballs (in tomato sauce) and spaghetti for John, but all I can think about is cheese and pickle sandwiches… I wonder why!

The Sunday Roast

Tonight’s update is a very positive one. We all ate a ‘Sunday Roast Chicken Dinner’ together at 5.30pm this evening. Oh dear lord (I’m not at all religious). Not a morsel remained. The hounds were most unimpressed, just a few gravy licks as I was loading up the dishwasher. I believe it’s called ‘the pre-wash’ in households with dogs. The good eating might have been down to the promise of chocolate cake for dessert! Aaliyah was a bit screamy to begin with, but like an Olympic Tri Athlete, she went for gold (with the help from daddy), cutting up her chicken, potatoes and glazed carrots. It is true that I have not served boiled carrots throughout my entire adult life. Many moons ago, as a young man, I considered ‘what must I know, to improve myself in life’ and qualifying as a chef was at the top of the list. So I did so, back in the day (when celebrity cheffing was not really an option as a career) and since then I have chosen to eat well in life and share the outcomes with the people I care for! I believe this aspect is one of the reasons that John and I stayed together as a couple through thick and thin over the years. I did give up cheffing a lifetime or two ago in favour of design. Catering wise, I ended up in catering management and that was the end of being an underpaid, overworked idiot. The majority of my life was spent in the fields of designing clothing, accessories and jewellery. My degree was actually in silversmithing, but I guess it’s like ‘Fine Art’, your passion and persuasions find you. Let’s not get too conceptual here and I’m not going to drop the word ‘juxtaposed’ into the conversation. I’m smiling at the memory of certain, condescending, empty headed (or big headed) college lecturers at the moment! Anyhow, we ate roast chicken, roast potatoes, glazed carrots (please note the last paragraph), steamed Savoy cabbage, cooked in its own juices and crushed garden peas (everything well seasoned) – so much easier than regular peas with the little ones still fumbling with peas and a fork. We all ate well and I think we are at a point that the experience of a Sunday roast is a lot less stressful than in the past. A more regular event then. Just like curry nights. And the children used to hate the word ‘Spice’, yet now love their vegan curries and the the various accompaniments that make an authentic Indian meal. Regarding ‘Glazed Carrots’ I have to share something with you. Stop cooking carrots if you aren’t available to the idea of glazing then. They taste crap when just boiled and eating vegetables should not be a chore. I used to follow the traditional recipe for Glazed Carrots’ but bugger that. Just steam them until soft but still with a bite. Stop them cooking by drenching with the cold water tap. Once chilled, put them in a bowl and in the fridge. Now just before service, in a frying pan, a slug of stock or water, a punch of salt, teaspoon of sugar and a knob of butter – melt and reduce until a syrupy consistency is reached, then toss your chilled carrots in the syrup until hot, steamy and glazed. Delicious, tasty and a big goodbye to boring old boiled carrots. A thing of the past. So back to tonight, there was bath time and bedtime and now, almost mine, so more to follow tomorrow, so I bid you farewell.

The New Tent

You know how little ones love it when there are deliveries that come in large boxes! The hours of fun they have playing with the box(s) and the packaging. In this house, bubble wrap utopia to be found and five little pairs of hands pop, pop, pop into oblivion. When the chest freezer arrived a year ago, the massive box became their house for two weeks. We cut out a door and windows for them, but you know how cardboard becomes more and more ragged as the days progress. Well, we now have a permanent residence in the form of a pretty indestructible tent. We can thank Auntie Sara for it as she sent it over from Dublin a couple of years ago when Amritsar and Tara were little. When we moved to the Shires three years ago, the tent was left behind in London. John brought it back from London yesterday, at my request and the hours of fun that have thus far, produced five very happy children. I was taken aback last night when I looked up and even Remus had snuck into the tent, sat there looking as happy as Larry. He was soon ‘hounded out’ and the children regained permanent residence. At present Aaliyah, Thor and Caleb are sat in there selling ice creams, though it has been a castle and a boat also this morning. On another matter, I’m going to make a family ‘Roast Chicken Dinner’ later, so I will add to the diary, if it went well or that I swear that I’m never going through all the grief, ever again. Watch this space!