Snapshots: October 10th, 2016

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Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers
2015, Clue Publishing
Old October by Thomas Constable

So where have I been?  Well, I’ve been moving house.  We moved from one county to another, as well.  As I’m sure you guys know, moving house is THE WORST, we’re still living out of boxes, and so I haven’t been reading a lot or making much food that doesn’t come out of a box or a tin.

However, I thought a little update was in order.  So here is what I have been up to lately.


I don’t know if I ever mentioned it, but my favourite thing to read, besides kid’s books, is a good Golden Age mystery.  And while I do prefer paper books, the Kindle app can be useful during busy times.  I’m currently reading this:

Seven Keys to Baldpate by the interestingly-named Earl Derr Biggers. Image from

I’m only a couple of chapters in, and I’m not sure what I think of it yet.  While it’s hugely entertaining and has a great tone and sense of humour, I’m not quite sure where it’s going.  It was written in 1913, and one of the chapters seems to be anti-suffragists, but that’s a risk you run with old books.  Also, that chapter is narrated by a character who may be being made fun of by the author himself, so you never can tell.  I am still really enjoying it, but I am thinking of waiting to finish it until the Winter, because I like my books to be seasonal, and it has a great snowed-in atmosphere.

I do recommend reading mysteries in the Fall.  They are an inexhaustible resource; even when you have got through Christie and Sayers there are so many more obscure authors to read, and you might find a hidden gem.  Seven Keys to Baldpate, for example, is free on the Kindle app, and you never know what you might find cheap by having a nose around Amazon or your library book sale.


We are having to be very frugal in our new circumstances, but two things which are cheap and comforting are tea and oatmeal.  If you don’t eat oats I still recommend the lovely comfort of a hot bowl of something: soup or broth, for example.  And tea is the best for making you feel like you are treating yourself!  It does not need to be fancy.  Here I am having Good Earth Sweet & Spicy tea which is maybe the yummiest tea ever made.  And for bedtime you cannot beat Sleepytime.

The pumpkin spice cookies are from a mix so we won’t talk about them🙂 Although I did make the frosting with honey, butter, and pumpkin spice liqueur.


As I said, moving takes over everything so we haven’t had time for much. But we have made time to explore the countryside around our new house. We are so lucky to be able to live in the cutest little village now, with lots of fields and hedgerows. But no matter where you are, there is usually a field or a park or a pick your own or a community garden where you can:

img_2654It’s a bit late in the year and a lot has been picked over, but we found rose hips, haws, sloes, bullace, damsons, and of course blackberries.  There will hopefully be enough to make at least one jar of hedgerow jam or chutney for the Winter.  And it is just fun to do!

What are you reading/eating/doing this October?

I will hopefully be back with another post before the end of October, as things settle in.  As soon as the books are unpacked I will have to have another read of Squashed, for sure!

I’ll leave you with a poem for those of us who are all about this time of year and the coziness it brings!


Little House in the Big Woods: Bread, Butter, and Honey


Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams
1971, Harper & Row
August is the month of first harvests. The 1st of August is Lammas, or Loaf Mass, when people used to bless loaves of bread made from the first crops.  Although this is in some ways the longest, sleepiest month of Summer, we are already looking forward to Autumn, and gathering in the rest of the harvest.grain1If you go out into the fields now you can see what is growing.  Around here it is oats and barley.

oats & barley
Top: oats. Bottom: barley.

Nowadays we don’t usually see the full process that turns these grains into flour.  In Little House in the Big Woods, however, harvest, like everything else, was very hands on.  In the chapter entitled “Harvest”, it describes how Pa Ingalls harvested the oats.

Pa Ingalls and Uncle Henry helped each other with their harvests.  They cut the oats with a tool called a cradle, tied each bundle with a band of oats, stood five bundles together and then covered with two more bundles, spreading the stalks to make a roof and shelter the five underneath.  This is called a shock (as in, “the fodder’s in the shock”.).  All this had to be done before dark when the dew would fall.
The main drama of this chapter is how the disobedient Cousin Charley gets stung a by a load of yellow jackets.  However, I think the grueling description of the harvesting of the oats is more interesting.  In the next chapter, “The Wonderful Machine,” Pa sends for a newfangled horsepowered separator to help with the wheat harvest.  Pa, who is “all for progress”, is very pleased with this modernisation.

farmhouse cookery
Fodder in the shock! And a harvest picnic including bread & butter. From Farmhouse Cookery: Recipes from the Country Kitchen, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, 1982

harvest2But while the oat harvest was hard work, I’m sure the result was much appreciated.
One of the best aspects of the Little House books, and one which is perhaps best enjoyed by older readers, is the detailed description of life back then.  It really is fascinating to see the hard work which used to go into every little part of life.  It provides useful perspective on our own lives.

Little House in the Big Woods is a fun and interesting read.  It is a bit long, with some technical/historical language, so it would be difficult for under eights to read on their own.  Reading with an adult would also be helpful to deal with some of the harsher realities of that time period.  For example, Laura’s family  lives with the danger of wild animals actually killing them, there is a quite detailed description of hog butchery, and there is also corporal punishment, when Laura is hit with a strap for slapping her sister.  But I think all of these things are not negatives in and of themselves, they just have to be discussed and put into the context of the time period and situation.

Personally, I am certainly not going to be harvesting my own grain anytime soon.  My family doesn’t usually eat bread, either.  But if you are going to, homemade is best, because you can choose what goes into it.  And more important than the bread, to my mind, is what goes on top.
LHBWspreadbook, bowl, butterOne of the nicest things to go on bread is honey, and that is also something that the Ingalls family harvested for the Winter.  In the chapter “Summertime”, Pa finds a bee tree, and comes running back to grab his ax, the two wash tubs, and all the pails and buckets they have.  He has to scare a bear away first, but he then is able to chop down the tree and split it open, and bring home lots and lots of honeycomb.  It should be remembered that store-bought sugar was a real luxury in those days, so everyone must have been very excited to have all that honey!

Laura is sorry for the bees, but Pa says that he has left lots of honey there, and there was another hollow tree nearby.  The bees would take the old honey, turn it into new, and store it up for the winter.
honeyIf you can it’s best to buy local, raw honey, that still has all of its goodness.  Honeycomb is a bonus!
honeycomb on toasthoneycomb on toast2Honey is really lovely with butter, and that is another thing which the Ingalls family had to make all by themselves.  This time it was Ma Ingalls who did all the work.  The chapter “Winter Days” describes what happened every Thursday, which was the day of the week for churning.  Because it takes place in Winter, the cream wasn’t yellow as it was in Summer (when the cows were eating fresh grass).  Because Ma liked everything to be pretty, she colored the butter with a carrot that she grated on the bottom of a pan that Pa had punched full of nail-holes for her.  She put the grated carrot into hot milk, poured it into a cloth, and squeezed the yellow milk into the crockery churn full of cream which had been put it by the stove to warm.  After that Laura and Mary eat the grated carrot as a treat!  Next, Ma scalded the wooden churn-dash, put it in the churn, and dropped the churn-cover on top.  She would have to churn for a long time, as the cream began to look grainy, and finally there would be a big lump of butter in buttermilk.  Ma then took out the butter with a wooden paddle, and washed it many times in cold water, working it with the paddle until the water ran clear.  Then the butter was salted.  Ma had a butter-mold with a strawberry and its leaves on the bottom.

Laura and Mary watched, breathless…while the golden little butter-pats, each with its strawberry on top, dropped on to the plate…Then Ma gave them each a drink of good, fresh buttermilk.

I would love to have a butter-mold!  But even without one you can make butter at home.  And you don’t need a churn either.

Home-made Butter

1/2 pint heavy (double) cream
Salt to taste

There are various ways to churn the butter.  You can use a mixer or a blender, but my preferred method is the good old-fashioned jar.  Just pour your cream into a jar which is big enough to leave at least a third of the jar empty.  Screw the lid on tightly and shake!  It’s a bit of a workout, but it actually only takes a few minutes before you will feel that the cream is not sloshing around anymore.  When you check, you’ll find the cream has thickened right up.  Keep going a little longer, and you will see the cream has become granular.
butter1-2.jpgThis is normal: those are actually tiny grains of butter!  Eventually they will coalesce into larger lumps and a milky-looking liquid. 

You have your beautiful yellow butter!  Now it’s time to wash the butter, pretty much like Ma Ingalls did.  Pour off the buttermilk into another container.  Don’t throw it away!  You can use it in baking or just drink it (Note: this traditional buttermilk, so it is not sour like the cultured buttermilk you can buy in stores)!  Put the butter in a bowl and add cold water.  Swish and mash the butter around in the water with a wooden spoon.  The water will turn cloudy.  That’s OK, it’s the last of the buttermilk coming out.  Pour the water off and add fresh water.  You may have to repeat this a few times until the water stays clear.  butter3-4.jpg
Pour off the last of the water and your butter is done!  You can salt it to your own taste, then all there is left to do is shape the butter.  Since I don’t have a butter press or mold, I packed it into a silicone cupcake case and left it in the fridge to harden up.  In a couple of hours it was ready.LHBWspread1bread&honeyMaking butter may seem superfluous nowadays, however I can promise you that homemade butter tastes a million times better than store bought!  It is also a fun, easy Science or Home Ec project for kids that doesn’t take more than 20 minutes altogether.

Make some bread to have with your butter and honey, and have a harvest feast.  It tastes even better when you have done the work yourself!grain3
beeRemember to thank the bees!  They need our help!

Brambly Hedge: Honey Creams


The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge by  Jill Barklem
1990, Philomel Books

dahliaWe are in the dog days of Summer.  The garden is a jungle, and the freezer is full of popsicles.  In The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge, the Summer Story begins with a description of how the mice spend their time by the stream to keep cool.


BHSaBy the banks of the stream was the dairy mill, powered by the flowing water.  Poppy Eyebright looked after the Dairy Stump.
BHSdFurther down the stream was the flour mill, run by Dusty Dogwood.


The two meet walking by the stream and eventually get engaged.  What follows is the story of the preparations for the wedding, which is on Midsummer’s Day.

Brambly Hedge Wedding Menu:
Cold watercress soup
Fresh dandelion salad
Honey creams
Huge baskets of wild strawberries
Primrose, meadowsweet and and elderflower wine

The first drama of the story is when the groom (“Dusty by name, dusty by nature”) accidentally gets flour all over himself and his best man.  But of course, as in real weddings, once everything gets started those sort of things don’t matter.

BHSgThe wedding is held on the stream on a bark raft.  The second drama is that during the reception the enthusiastic dancing causes the raft’s moorings to break and they drift in to the stream.  But this doesn’t cause alarm either, the dancing carries on and eventually they catch on some rushes and forget-me-nots and are able to tie up again.  When evening falls, the party breaks up and heads home  Poppy and Dusty slip away to the primrose woods, to a cottage surrounded by wild roses and honeysuckle, “the perfect place for a honeymoon”.
honeycream8Summer Story is a sweet little story and the perfect representation of an old-fashioned Summer wedding.  Like Spring Story, it is suitable for all ages and has very interesting illustrations.  The flour mill and the dairy mill pages in particular are fun to pore over, trying to see how they work.

Poppy and Dusty’s wedding menu of “cool summer foods” offers a lot to choose from, but I decided to make honey creams, because I had never heard of them.  It turns out most people haven’t!  In the end the only recipe I found was this one, which reveals honey creams to be a sort of ice cream.

honeycreams1Honey Creams

4 Tbsp thick honey
4 egg yolks
Half a pint whipping cream
1 Tbsp honey liqueur (optional)

The original recipe calls for grated chocolate, but i didn’t use it because I don’t think they have chocolate in Brambly Hedge.


Heat the honey in a pan until it is a bit runny.  Let it cool slightly.  Beat the egg yolks and drizzle in the honey, mixing until it is a bit thick and pale yellow. Whip the cream.  You could use pre-whipped cream or thick cream as well, depending on how light you want your creams to be.  I just put it in a jar and shook it until it was thick, which led to very set ice cream.

Whip together the egg yolk mixture and the cream mixture.  At this point you can choose whether to add the liqueur.  The original recipe calls for 4 Tbsp of whiskey, but I omitted that in case people wanted a less boozy dessert.  I divided the mixture in two and made a plain a version and one with 1 Tbsp of honey liqueur.  Divide into ramekins.  I used silicone cupcake moulds for ease of removal.  Freeze for at least 4 hours, until set.

honeycream7Without the booze, this is definitely ice cream.  I have never made a proper ice cream with egg yolks before, and the combination of the rich custard with the honey is delicious.  Be aware that this does contain raw eggs.  Here in the UK most eggs are safe raw, but be careful anyway.

The way I made them (without proper whipped cream) the honey creams are very dense, like those ice cream blocks you can buy for ice cream cakes, but they only take a couple of minutes to thaw enough to eat, and in fact melt pretty quickly, so if you are bringing these somewhere you will need a portable cooler.  They are very sweet and taste strongly of honey, so I might recommend only using 3 Tbsp honey if you don’t have a sweet tooth.  Both the plain and the liqueur version are equally nice.

You could add any topping you want; I added blueberries.  Overall they are an amazing and luxurious Summer treat, perfect for a day on the river.

Take your ice cream outside and enjoy it in the Sun, preferably by a body of water, or even a paddling pool to rest your feet in.







Summer Party: Fairy Bread and Bubble Tea

The cooked tapioca pearls

Summer Party  by Cynthia Rylant; illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
2002, Aladdin Paperbacks
Fairy Bread by Robert Louis Stevenson
How is everyone’s Summer?  We haven’t had many nice days here.  It’s been rather cold.  But Summer is fleeting and you have to make the best of it!  We have had a couple of barbecues and similar festivities.  One Sunday we even got out the pool but it was too chilly!

Recently I read a book about making the best of things.  Summer Party is about Lily, Rosie, and Tess (a pair of sisters and their cousin, all aged nine) who live with their Aunt Lucy for a year while their parents are travelling with the ballet.  They get to live in an attic and it’s all very bohemian and charming.
Although this is a short book, a lot of detail is put into every character.  Rosie is the most sentimental, Lily writes poems, Tess wants to be an actress, etc. Aunt Lucy has a flower shop, and her boyfriend Michael, who is from a wealthy family but is studying to be a botanist, always looks a bit shy and crumpled.

As the story opens the girls are all quite sad because when their parents get back they will have to leave their aunt and each other.  They are feeling very conflicted and weepy in the first couple of chapters.
But their aunt and Michael try to help them cheer up, not by ignoring their feelings, but by addressing them in an active way.  Their aunt says that a good way to do this is to find something to look forward to and make plans for the future.  The girls realise that they will be able to have reunions with each other and the whole family every year.  They are also encouraged to do something fun now, and so they plan a summer party.  The girls plan the food and the entertainment as well.  Lily writes a poem, Tess plans a song, and they make little funny fortunes to go at each table place.  Rosie wants to make “little vegetable people” although she eventually changes her mind, thinking they will wilt.
Here is their menu:
Pink lemonade with colored ice
Cookie cutter sandwiches
Lemon cookies
A punch called the Cousins’ Crayon Concoction
SPcThe girls are nervous to see their parents after so long, but when they arrive everyone is happy.  The party is a great success, and at the end Michael proposes to Lucy.  Although everyone is still sad to say goodbye, the last line of the book is “There was so much to look forward to!
SPfThis is quite a fun little book.  It is not long, but it is a chapter book and might be difficult for under sevens to read on their own.  The subject matter is interesting and could be helpful in discussing with children how to deal with sadness, particularly that of a friend moving away, or themselves moving away.  The children’s feelings are acknowledged, and they are helped to think of things that they do have control over, such as making the party and arranging meetings in the future.  Aunt Lucy’s mantra of “Be brave.  Have hope.  Make plans for the future!”  is pretty good advice for that stressful situation (and many others).  Since we are moving house in a couple of months, it was certainly helpful for me to think about.

And if it is cold outside I think it is perfectly fine to have a Summer Party inside!  I was inspired by the cousins’ menu but made a few changes.  I didn’t make the little vegetable people, although that would be fun, particularly with children.  To make the cookie cutter sandwiches even prettier, I made fairy bread.  For anyone unfamiliar, fairy bread is just bread with sprinkles on top.  I made some the usual way (as in just one slice), and some as sandwiches with the sprinkles then added to the top.
Cookie Cutter Fairy Bread Sandwiches

Bread of choice (I used Schär’s gluten free seeded loaf)
Sandwich filling of choice (I used Nutella)
Sprinkles of choice (these should be small and colorful.  Too big and they won’t provide even coverage)
Whipped cream
First make the sandwiches (I figure you all know how to do that!).  Then cut out desired shapes using cookie cutters.  You may have to be very careful extracting the sandwich from the cutter if it is a complicated shape.  Don’t waste the crusts you cut off, just save them for bread pudding or something!  Then spread the whipped cream on the top of the sandwich.  Butter is traditional but I wanted something that would preserve the white color of the bread and also spread very easily, without being soggy.  You need a thin, even layer all over the top slice.  Then cover with sprinkles!

Yes I made Stegosaurus fairy bread.
Yes I made Stegosaurus fairy bread.

The second idea that I had was to attempt the Cousins’ Crayon Concoction.  Presuming this does not contain actual crayons, I wanted to create something that contained multiple bright colors, and the only way I could think to do that was bubble tea.
Cousins’ Crayon Concoction Bubble Tea

3 black tea bags or equivalent in loose tea
4 cups milk, almond milk or coconut milk
3 -4 Tbsp honey to taste
1 1/2 cups colored tapioca pearls or boba, preferably multicolored.

The uncooked tapioca pearls
The uncooked tapioca pearls

First make the milk tea.  Boil a cup of water and steep the tea for 5 – 10 minutes.  Remove the teabags, add honey to taste, and let the tea cool for another 15 minutes or so.  Then add the tea and the milk (I used coconut milk, but if you prefer it not to taste coconutty, then use something different) into a large container with a lid.  As you may guess this makes a very weak tea, but I did not want the color of the tea to interfere with the color of the boba, so I intentionally made it pale.  You can make it stronger by using less milk or steeping the tea longer.  Put the tea in the fridge to cool for a couple of hours.  You could add ice and have it ready right away, but I prefer it this way.  While the tea is cooling make the boba or tapioca pearls (If you can’t find multicolored ones I would recommend looking in an Asian grocer or online, but any color will do).  Boil a large pot of water, add the pearls slowly, and stir.  In a minute or so they will float to the surface of the water.  Cover the pot and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes.  Turn off the heat and simmer another 2 -3 minutes.  Strain the tapioca and rest in cold water for half a minute, then strain out and roll in a little sugar or honey.

The cooked tapioca pearls
The cooked tapioca pearls

Next, take out your cold tea and give it a good shake. You can use a cocktail shaker, froth it with a mixer or just shake it in the jar.  Put a portion of tapioca pearls in the bottom of each glass and top up with the tea.

And if you are me, you then add whipped cream and sprinkles, just because!

And lastly, the pink lemonade.  I used this recipe from last Summer, but I added 1 1/2 cups pureed strawberries.  You can use a blender, but if the strawberries are ripe you can also use a mortar and pestle.  I personally like to have a little strawberry pulp in there.
SP_strawberriesThe only thing to remember is that you might need less sugar if the strawberries are very sweet.

The full spread!
The full spread!

Enjoy your Summer party and remember, there is so much to look forward to!





Brambly Hedge: Rhubarb Crumble

Rhubarb has such pretty colors for this time of year.

The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge by  Jill Barklem
1990, Philomel Books

yellowflowersThe other day we went to the first country show of the year.  It’s always a lot of fun, with tractor and hedgelaying displays, dogs, falconry, sheep shearing, sheep herding, and much more.

bh2I was excited to see that the May was in bloom, which means it really is properly Springtime!

Where we live it takes a long time for the warm weather to arrive, and even when it does, you can never trust it to stay nice, so we take advantage of the sunshine whenever we can.  And one of the best ways to do that is to have a picnic, like the mice do in the “Spring Story” in The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge.
BH7The Brambly Hedge stories involve the daily lives of a community of mice.  Kind of like Redwall, but without the fighting and violence.  The edition of Four Seasons that I read has an interesting introduction which includes the author’s description of how she came to write these stories.  She says that one of her favorite pastimes as a child was to observe the tiny lives of little creatures in the grass, which is something that I used to do as well.  Another interesting point is that she cites Arthur Rackham and Leonardo da Vinci as her main influences.  Arthur Rackham is a wonderful illustrator, but it was da Vinci who inspired her architectural and technical interests.
Apparently all the various dwellings and technology in Brambly Hedge was designed to actually work in real life, “apart from the occasional problem of scale.”  Everything the mice use could in theory be provided by the countryside in which they live.
bh3You can see this thought and attention in the lovely illustrations, which are fun to pore over to try to see every little minute detail.
bh5I thought the introduction was very interesting, and while the stories themselves are obviously for younger children, older children who are interested in illustration, writing, or general world building might find it useful.
bh4But on to the story!  “Spring Story” is the tale of what happens in the mouse community on a Spring day which happens to be the birthday of young Wilfred Toadflax.  The rest of the mice conspire to make a surprise picnic for him.  That is the gist of the plot, but the appeal is in the details of the various characters, their homes, and the exciting comestibles they come up with for the picnic.

This chapter is a fun read, and while the text may be difficult for under sevens to read on their own, the pictures are really the star of the show anyway and should be interesting for all ages.  And it would be good inspiration for young children to invent their own world, maybe inspired by watching the minibeasts in the grass.  It is certainly a great inspiration for a picnic.

The mice seem to really like jam tarts.

Just some of the things described in this story are: bread and bramble jelly, buns, cheese, bramble brandy, hazelnut cake with cream, and primrose puddings.  Bread and jam, buns, cake, and cheese are all great picnic foods.  And it would certainly be interesting to make a primrose pudding! BH6However, without a community of people to carry the picnic, and without access to such ingredients as primroses or clover flour, I think it’s better to pack something simpler.  Here are two picnic menus that can be carried by one person.
Picnic 1: Cream Tea
(serves 2 )

  • Small jar of jam
  • Small jar of clotted or thick cream
  • 4 crumpets, toasted
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • A pinch of coarse salt in a screw of wax paper
  • A bottle of raspberry cordial
  • A bottle of May wine

Pack in a hamper with two spoons, cloth napkins, and a container for the egg shells.  May wine (or Maiwein or Waldmeisterbowle) is a wine steeped with sweet woodruff which might be difficult to get hold of outside of mainland Europe, plus it is not for the kids, obviously.  You could substitute any other floral drink like elderflower cordial.

Picnic 2: Sausages & Crumble
(serves 1 )

  • Italian sausages fried with onions & peppers, and topped with fresh basil
  • Rhubarb crumble cooked in a mini ramekin with a lid
  • Bottle of water or apple juice

Pack the sausages, onions and peppers in a ramekin or tiffin with a flat lid. Put the rhubarb ramekin on top of the other tiffin.  If you don’t have these exact containers you could use any sort of stackable containers.  Put the stacked containers and cutlery (a spork is most useful) on top of a large cloth napkin and tie two corners tightly on top, and then the other two corners over again, like a furoshiki.  This is really convenient and easy to carry.

Another thing to consider is entertainment.  In Brambly Hedge, after the picnic the grown-ups napped while the children played hide-and-seek, which is totally valid depending upon the circumstances.
But you can also bring a book, which is another benefit of having a hamper.

English Folk Songs edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams & A.L. Lloyd, Penguin Books Ltd., 2009

I brought a book of folk songs because it seemed appropriate for a country show in May.
robinhood&thepedlarFor the second picnic I packed a rhubarb crumble, which is definitely seasonal and an easy dessert.  This one is grain-free.

Grain-Free Rhubarb Crumble

4 stalks of rhubarb, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp butter or other fat
1 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup raw honey or sweetener of choice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp ground ginger
1/3 c. coconut sugar or other coarse sugar
2 Tbsp gooseberry liqueur or gooseberry jam (optional)

Rhubarb has such pretty Springy colors.
Rhubarb has such pretty Springy colors.

Put the chopped rhubarb in a baking dish (you can also put some in little ramekins like I did for the picnic; everything else is the same, it just cooks in about a 3rd of the time).
Dust with the ginger and dot with the honey.  Drizzle over the vanilla and the liqueur or jam if using.  Put the rhubarb in the oven under the grill for 5 minutes, just until it starts to soften a bit.  For the topping, mix the butter into the almond meal with your fingers until it is fully incorporated, then add the sugar.  Sprinkle over the top of your rhubarb.  This makes a soft, English-style crumble, if you prefer crunchy you could add flaked almonds, coconut flakes or oats.  Bake at 175 C or 345 F for 20 to 30 minutes (10 to 15 for a ramekin).  The crumble is done when it is golden and a little bubbly.

With Summer on the way and a long weekend this week both in the UK and the US, now is a great time to pack up your picnic of choice and go find someplace to enjoy the sun.



The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher: A Dish of Sardines and Cress


Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher by Beatrix Potter
1997, Frederick  Warne
Citrus and Spice: A Year of Flavour by Sybil Kapoor
2008, Simon & Schuster

eggshell1To further explore the verdant theme and make use of all the cress now growing on my kitchen windowsill, I reread The Tale of Jeremy Fisher, which is an extremely watery, green sort of story, perfect for a rainy day.
JFaThe story concerns Mr Jeremy Fisher (a frog), who lives in a “damp house amongst the buttercups at the edge of a pond.”  So close to the edge, in fact, that the water gets into his larder, but Jeremy Fisher doesn’t mind that; he likes getting his feet wet.
JFd He also is pleased when he sees that it’s beginning to rain.

“I will get some worms and go fishing and catch a dish of minnows for my dinner,” said Mr. Jeremy Fisher. “If I catch more than five fish, I will invite my friends Mr. Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise and Sir Isaac Newton. The Alderman, however, eats salad.”

JFcJeremy Fisher does indeed go fishing, but the rest of the story is a series of misadventures.  He fails to catch anything for a long time, so he decides to have his lunch of a butterfly sandwich (!).
JFeBut while he is eating he is pinched by a water-beetle and hears a mysterious splash which he is afraid might be a rat.  Then he catches, instead of a minnow, Jack Sharp the stickleback, who flaps around with his prickly spines, and a shoal of other little fish laugh at Mr Jeremy Fisher.  Worst of all, Jeremy is then eaten by a big trout.  Thankfully, the trout doesn’t like the taste of Jeremy’s a mackintosh and it spits him out.

Poor Mr Jeremy Fisher can’t offer his friends minnows for dinner, but it turns out all right in the end.  Mr. Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise brings a salad in a string bag, and Jeremy serves roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce, on the subject of which the author comments:

“which frogs consider a beautiful treat ; but I  think it must have been nasty.”

JFfThis story is fun for all ages, although it does have a little bit of peril for Mr Fisher.  Though he had a bad day, he managed to persevere, adapt and make a nice dinner for his friends anyway.

It would also be a good opportunity to learn about frogs and pond life.  This is a good time of year to look for frogspawn.
You could organise a child’s tea party with “butterfly sandwiches” and “roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce.”  For now, I decided to see if I could make a dish of minnows for myself and a guest.  I wanted to make a salad of leeks and eggs, similar to this one in Citrus and Spice:
But obviously it had to be a fish dish.  For the minnows I used sardines, and had them with a bit of toast, a duck egg and a salad of cress.EGG&CRESSa

Dish of Sardines and Cress

2 slices sourdough bread (I used Schär gluten free seeded loaf)
2 eggs (duck eggs if you can get them)
2 handfuls mixed baby spring greens
2 large snips of cress or mustard & cress
1 tin sardines
2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp good butter
2 Tbsp young leeks, sliced.
1 sheet nori or kombu
4 fillets anchovies
Squeeze of lemon juice
Mustard and hot sauce to taste
First make the salad: arrange baby spring greens on two plates, and top with cress, chives, and a couple of anchovy fillets (these are very salty so use caution!).  Then cut the nori into one inch strips and sprinkle on top (these are salty too so you only need two or three).  If you like you can cut them into shapes — I cut them to look like butterfly wings.  Drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil.  Next fry the leeks and slices of bread in the butter on medium heat, or you can also use olive oil.

When the bread is golden, set aside and fry the sardines.  Be careful with the sardines as they may fall apart if handled roughly.  After a couple of minutes, when they are hot and slightly crisp, remove them and the leeks to a hot plate and fry the eggs.  Duck eggs are preferable because they are very rich.  They also should take only a minute or two to cook.  Try to keep the yolk a bit runny.  Add the fried bread to the plates with the salad, and top each slice with a couple of sardines.  Then put an egg on top of the sardines.  Sprinkle with a bit more cress and chives.  At this point you can add a squeeze of lemon, although my sardines came in a tin with lemons, so I just drizzled a little of the lemony oil onto my eggs.
egg&cressbServe immediately with hot sauce and mustard.

Of course, maybe your guest is more like Ptolemy Tortoise and doesn’t want fish.  In that case, you could make this cute mini stacked omelet.
Cheese & Cress Omelet

1 handful baby spring greens
1-2 Tbsp cheese of choice (I used unpasteurized Red Leicester), grated
1 Tbsp milk or cream
A dash salt and pepper to taste
1 snip cress or mustard & cress
2 eggs (preferably duck eggs)
1 tsp butter or olive oil for frying
First add the spring greens with a dash of oil or butter to a medium pan to wilt.  This should take less than a minute.  Remove and set aside.  Add the cream to the eggs, and salt and pepper to taste.  Whisk them up and pour half the mixture onto a medium hot pan.  If you have a mini frying pan you can use that, or you can pour the eggs into a metal cookie cutter to help them keep their shape.  Flip the omelet when it starts to bubble in the middle (it should only take about a minute).  After another minute, remove the omelet to a hot plate and pour the second half of the egg mixture onto the pan.
While this is cooking, top the first omelet with the wilted greens, cress, and cheese.  When the second omelet is cooked, place on top of the first and scatter with a bit more cress, cheese, and baby greens.  Serve at once.
omelet3If Jeremy Fisher’s misadventures don’t put you off, never mind the rain and go fishing! 

Whether you fish or not, have friends round for dinner, and cook something with a lot of green.  It doesn’t have to be grasshoppers!sradines&cress6

Milly-Molly-Mandy: Mustard-and-Cress


Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories by Joyce Lankester Brisley
1990, Puffin
Citrus and Spice: A Year of Flavour by Sybil Kapoor
2008, Simon & Schuster
cressWe have been having a lot of April showers lately, which will hopefully lead to a very verdant Spring.  I looked to my stack of cookbooks for some inspiration.  Citrus and Spice is a very fun cookbook which has a focus flavor for each month.  April’s is “verdant” and the descriptive introduction mentions shoots, herbs and leaves, including the “flavour of crushed watercress.”

You can buy watercress and other cress, but it’s more fun to grow your own.  There are many different kinds, but I wanted to grow the same kind as Milly-Molly-Mandy.
MMM1I have this very cute pink and white striped copy of the Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories.  The second story in the book is entitled “Milly-Molly-Mandy Spends a Penny”.  In this story Milly-Molly-Mandy finds a penny in the pocket of an old coat.

She asks her family what she should do with it, and they all give different advice:  put it in the bank, buy a skein of rainbow wool and learn to knit, buy some seeds and grow mustard-and-cress, buy a little patty-pan and make a cake in it, save it up until she has three and buy a baby duckling, and get some sweets.
In the end, Milly-Molly-Mandy buys some mustard-and-cress seeds, which she plants.  At last they grow into a clump of “fresh green mustard-and-cress, that made you quite long for  some bread-and-butter to eat it with.” Milly-Molly-Mandy sells the cress to her neighbor for twopence, and then uses one penny to buy some rainbow wool.  She asks her grandmother to teach her to knit a kettle-holder.  She sells the kettle-holder to her mother for one penny, uses the penny to buy a shiny tin patty-pan, and bakes a little cake.  That day, a lady cyclist stops by Milly-Molly-Mandy’s cottage and asks for a glass of milk, and the patty-cake looks so good that she asks if she might have that too.  Milly-Molly-Mandy gets a penny of what the lady pays for the milk and cake.  The story goes on in this way, and Milly-Molly-Mandy manages to do everything her family suggests, and in the end puts the last penny in the bank to save up for a duckling.
mmm4This is very cute story for all ages which also has a good message about the good use of money.  Milly-Molly-Mandy’s patience and sensible use of her penny enables her to get all the things that she wanted.  You probably can’t buy most of the things she buys for a penny anymore.  But you can still get mustard and cress seeds for cheap.  I did buy some cress at first, but I couldn’t find mustard-and-cress, so I decided to grow my own.

Just a tiny sprinkle of seeds on damp paper towel or soil will grow a nice bunch of mustard-and-cress in only a few days.

To start simple with mustard-and-cress, I took Milly-Molly-Mandy’s suggestion to try it with bread-and-butter.  If you don’t have cress, you can always add whole grain mustard to mimic the flavor.
Mustard-and-Cress on Bread-and-Butter

1 slice of good bread
1 Tbsp good salted butter
1 bunch fresh growing mustard and cress
OR cress and 1 tsp whole grain mustard

You don’t need a recipe for bread and butter!  Add the mustard and cress to taste.  This needs to be served right away as the cress will wilt.
You probably can’t sell your cress for twopence, but you can grow it, snip it and grow some more!


Evening in a Sugar Orchard: Maple Ganache


A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor
1977, Rand McNally & Company.
Evening in a Sugar Orchard by Robert Frost.

mar1Goodbye March!  Thankfully, it’s going out like a lamb, as it should, since it came in like a lion.
March is sugaring season, when thawing days and freezing nights make the sap run in the trees.  Here is a beautiful poem about it by Robert Frost:
branchesThis poem can be read by anyone, but older children could really get into what Frost is doing with his use of language, rhyme, imagery, and his various references.  It’s also a fun poem to memorize and recite.  I particularly love the image of the sparks making constellations in the branches.  You could even go outside on a clear night and try to see  Leo, Orion, and the Pleiades.
TTKmar1Maple syrup is a wonderful and versatile sweetener which can be used in so many ways. In Tasha Tudor’s A Time to Keep, she shows what a big event sugaring used to be, with everyone pitching in to help, and then having a big open air feast at the end.  Many of you may not be able to  go sugaring, but if you can, you should!  I had to get mine from a bottle, but it was still great.  I used it to make a chocolate ganache.
Maple Ganache

Dark chocolate
Maple syrup
Note: To make a thick ganache, chocolate and cream should be in a 1:1 ratio or equal parts. However, I substituted a quarter of the cream with maple syrup. To make enough to frost a small cake, I used two 180g (about 6 oz) bars of chocolate, melted, 270g (about 9 oz) cream, and 90g (about 3 oz) maple syrup.

Melt the chocolate.  You can use the microwave, or you can rig up a double boiler by putting a metal or Pyrex bowl into a pan of water and bringing the water to a simmer, then putting the chocolate in the bowl, stirring occasionally until it is melted.  Remove from heat and slowly add cream and syrup, stirring until it is a glossy, even mixture.  Refrigerate for at least several hours, until set.  After this you can roll it into truffles, or eat it with a spoon.  Or refrigerate it only till cool, and frost a cake.
Bring your cake to a sugaring-off party (and have sugar on snow for a treat)!

Happy Spring!
Happy Spring!

The Willow Flute: Beef Daube and Butter Tea


The Willow Flute: a North Country Tale written and illustrated by D. William Johnson
1975,  Little, Brown and Company.

Goodbye Winter!  Many flowers are out now: snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils.  The mornings and evenings are lighter.  Now when I have to get up before 6 am there is a slight brightness to the sky, which makes it a lot easier to drag myself out of bed!

crocusesHowever, it is still very, very cold — colder than it was in December (we’ve had a very weird Winter here).  So here is a book for cold weather that looks forward to Spring.

wf1The Willow Flute tells the story of Lewis Shrew, who lives in a great forest.  One March evening, Lewis puts on his “boots and his old overcoat, his muffler and his mittens” to go out into “the white woods” to gather twigs for firewood.

When he goes out into the woods and sniffs the air, the woods seem different, even though they are still covered in ice and snow.  But “a hint of springtime swirled in the wind.”  After gathering twigs, Lewis sits down to rest and falls asleep.  When he wakes he is disoriented by the night and cold, and he longs for his house and a cheery fire.

wf3Lost and scared to go out on the surface because of owls, he starts to tunnel under the snow.  His clothes are soon torn and he loses his muffler.

Eventually he finds shelter in an abandoned cabin.  There he finds a willow flute and plays it.

As he plays, the world begins to warm and thaw.  Rain falls and melts the snow, and Lewis can now see his own house.  It’s a very interesting moment when Lewis begins to play the flute, as the black and white illustrations begin to have color, starting with himself:

wf7 wf8
This is a strange little book.  The writing is simple and straightforward:
“He paused to breathe the good air.  The sun sparkled through the trees and caught on the wonderful flute; a robin landed in a pine tree and green things were thinking of growing.”

But the illustrations are idiosyncratic and striking, done in a very bold and graphic style in black & white, with the interesting choice to bring color in gradually with the arrival of Spring.  Older children could explore these stylistic choices in art, with the creative use of hatching and crosshatching, detail and negative space, and other techniques to create an interesting image with just pen and ink.

Another interesting idea would be to explore the story itself, as the author makes the interesting choice to not really explain many things — whose cabin is it?  How does the magic flute work?  What is the meaning of the cryptic sign (“The bird, whistle please”) which is on the cabin door?  Who put it there?  Why?  These could all be good prompts for creative writing.

This is a very interesting book in and of itself, and suitable for all ages.  I myself have certainly had the experience of going out of doors in late Winter and finding that something is subtly different — a hint of Springtime is in the air.  I have felt that this year already, but right now it is cold!  It may well be where you are too.  So here are some cold weather recipes.

Maybe my number one comfort food is beef stew.  Daube is a French version, which is cheap, healthy and super comforting.  I’ve added ox cheek, which is full of collagen to make it extra unctuous and amazing.


Beef Daube

5 garlic cloves, chopped, or 2 Tbsp garlic paste
1/2 lb stewing beef
1 ox cheek (optional, you can replace it with more steak or chuck, but it’s well worth it if you’ve got it!)
1 cup carrots, chopped
2 cups onions, chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 1/2 cup red wine

Chuck all the ingredients into a large Dutch oven or casserole dish with a lid.  You can brown the meat and onions first, but I never bother, because who has the time?  Cover and put in the oven at about 300 degrees F (that’s about 150 C).  Bake for 2 1/2 to 2 hours (but check on it now and again to make sure the liquid isn’t drying out, and top up with water if it is).  Once the meat is fork-tender, it is done!  Serve on its own, or with egg noodles (I had mine with vareniki).

Since we could probably do with a hot drink, too, here is a recipe for Butter Tea!  Butter tea (or po cha) is common in Tibet and neighboring countries, and is a good alternative for people who want to try Bulletproof-type coffee but don’t like coffee!  It is very rich and nourishing.


Butter Tea

2 cups water
2 black teabags, or loose equivalent (I used chai)
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter (yak butter is traditional, but if, like me, you haven’t got it, use some good yellow grass-fed butter)
1/2 cup cream or whole milk
1 tsp honey (optional)
Boil the water and then steep the tea.  Steep for at least  3 minutes so it’s nice and strong.  Add the cream, salt, and butter.  If you have a churn or a blender you can use those, or shake in a jar.  But be careful — hot liquids can expand and leak!  Personally, I use a tiny whisk that I can roll between my hands — almost as quick as an electric mixer and I don’t have to plug it in!  I have found that the butter emulsifies wonderfully.  Drink while nice and hot!  Note: it may be an acquired taste for those not used to it.  You can add a teaspoon of honey, which changes it from salty to salty/sweet.  Not necessarily authentic, but this recipe isn’t very authentic to begin with!


Drink by your cheery fire, and think of Spring!