Tuesday 11 June 2024

Rare pockets of sunshine


May brought us flowers, a birthday, lots of days out and some very unpredictable weather. I am choosing to focus on the sunshine, the couple of weekends when it was warm and sunny enough to sit outside and - whisper it - maybe get the pizza oven out. It is really summer for me when it's so warm that I need to pull the blinds in the rooms at the front of the house to keep the sun out in the afternoon. That makes me happy, I don't know why.

When the washing dries quickly and you can potter round the garden in your flip flops.

When the garden becomes an extension of the house.

And it's warm enough for iced coffee.

We made pizzas in the oven then sat on the sofa outside under blankets as it cooled down, it was lovely.

Angus turned fifteen and we had everyone round for cake. I made two of Nigella's coca cola cake and put them one on top of the other with some chocolate buttercream in the middle. They came out really well. 

The birthday boy wanted steak so we went out one sunny Sunday evening to Chichester for dinner.

Other lovely moments included a warm bank holiday weekend in which we went to Brighton for the day with our friends who had come to stay.

The weather was perfect. 

We wandered through the lanes and to the seafront and basically felt like we were on holiday.

Equally lovely was a visit to the Bishop's Palace Gardens in Chichester, with everything in bloom.

Those moments aside, the rest of May has been a slog at times. High workload, horrible weather, a never ending to do list, money going out left, right and centre. Small pleasures have kept me going at times and I celebrate each and every one of them. They are the fabric of life. 

Winding a skein of yarn into a ball and thinking up possible projects.

Watching a bunch of peonies slowly open.

A well-risen loaf of bread.

Newly-sanded and mended garden furniture.

Rhododendron trimmings in a jug outside.

A neon manicure.

Fish and chips on the beach.

Making burger tacos with Angus.

Mantel faffing.

Walks in the woods.

All small but all very much needed and appreciated.

I've been busy with the crochet. I found five balls of this paintbox ribbon yarn which I think I bought during lockdown. I decided it was high time I used them.

I crocheted myself this large messenger-style bag and bought a strap from Oliver Bonas to go with it.

It just needs lining then it's good to go.

Talking of lining, I used a vintage pillowcase to line this crochet bag I made last summer. Things like pens and lip balm always poked out the holes of the granny squares.

It's much more practical now.

So as you can see, crochet and small pleasures are keeping me sane, as they have always done really. 

The weather is horribly cool for the time of year here at the moment, with cold breezes that feel more like April than June. I am really hoping for more weekends - days, even - of weahter warm enough to sit outside, wear shorts and cook pizzas in the oven. I would just like it to be like summer really.

Saturday 1 June 2024

Cookery Book: A Table Full of Love

Throughout the months of March and April I cooked a lot from the book A Table full of Love by Skye McAlpine. The author is British but grew up in Venice and so her cooking is heavily influenced by her time in Italy. The book is more at the aspirational end of cookery books: beautifully shot recipes arranged with abundant flowers in a beautiful home containing sometimes expensive ingredients. However, it's a really good recipe book. She knows her food, she writes very well and the recipes are gorgeous. I had a thoroughly lovely time both reading it in bed at night, and cooking from it in the kitchen.

The book is divided into the following sections: comfort, seduce, nourish, spoil, cocoon. The idea is that feeding people is rooted in love, but we want to cook and eat different sorts of food for different occasions and needs. 

From the comfort chapter, I first of all made saffron and lemon risotto and took a terrible photo of it.

I wasn't sure if a risotto without vegetable or meat wouldn't be a bit boring, but it was so good and we made it quite a few times. The saffron gave a subtle earthiness to the recipe while the lemon made it really sing. It was gorgeous, and risotto is the ideal meal that you can eat on your lap with a spoon. Heaven.

Equally comforting was macaroni cheese. Now, I know how to make macaroni cheese, it is one of the children's favourite meals, but I always like to try a different recipe. It gives me an excuse to cook what is quite an indulgent meal. This just had evaporated milk as well as regular milk in the sauce, which did make it more creamy, and a LOT of cheese, which is kind of the point. 

From the same section was this chocolate, coconut and cherry cake. The batter contains both desiccated coconut and coconut yogurt, as well as cocoa and lots of tinned cherries. 

The cake itself is quite heavy, very dense and moist, so you do need the cream cheese frosting to add sweetness and lightness. 

The cake is HUGE. I loved this cake but the kids did not enjoy the coconut. John quite liked it, but not enough to want to eat it over and over again. I ended up giving slabs of it away to people to eat it up. A cake to serve to a big group of people or a family who like coconut.

Other things from this chapter I wanted to cook: cheese Tiropita, a kind of cheese pie with filo pastry, but I could never get filo pastry from the supermarket when In wanted too cook it; creamy saffron chicken pie; coffee and ricotta cream roulade, but my children would not eat this so John and I would end up eating the whole lot; s'more pie; salted chocolate chip cookies. So many good recipes!

The next section in the book was "Seduce", which is very decadent and impressive first date food. Cocktails, souffles, and desserts full of chocolate. All delicious looking. I would like to try the nutella tiramisu. 

The "Nourish" chapter is very much about family meals - lots of pasta, store cupboard ingredients and cakes for the cake tin. We tried - and very much liked - pollo alla pizzaiola, which is chicken breast cooked in a tomato sauce then sliced mozarella is stirred in at the end. 

With this, and from the same chapter, we had  melanzane alla parmigiana. This could be a meal in itself, but it went well with the chicken, along with some salad and bread. There were lots of leftovers.

You just bake the aubergines, sliced, rather than frying them.

Then you layer them in an oven dish with passata, mozzarella and parmesan before baking.

I realise it looks terrible here. It caught a bit on top, but it really was absolutely delicious.

I also made an orange loaf cake from this chapter and I know I took a photo of it but I cannot find it anywhere. Other things I plan to make from this section of the book: tomato, mozzarella and black olive tart (perfect for picnics or summer lunches); honey roasted chicken thighs with golden potatoes - essentially a tray bake; rhubarb and almond cake.

The next chapter, "Spoil", is so lovely and tempting but I couldn't really justify any of the ingredients or recipes. The idea is food for gifts, to treat someone and make them feel, well, spoiled. Jams, jellies, preserved fruit, truffles, biscuits and some show-stopper-style tiered cakes. I wanted so much to try the pistachio butter (pistachios and white chocolate blended together into a very decadent nut spread) but all the ingredients added up to £10 and, at the end of a food shop, looking at an already full trolley, didn't really feel I could justify adding five bags of pistachios to the bill. Food is so expensive. I also would like to try the mimosa truffles, little yellow treats made from leftover sponge cake and melted white chocolate, then rolled in limoncello and coconut. Someone make these for me. Or maybe I will just make them for myself. I also liked the sound of the lavender tea cake and rose shortbread as I do like anything with a floral flavour. But I think this chapter might have been my favourite as everything in it was so tempting, to make and eat.

The final section, "Cocoon", focuses on the pleasure of cooking for one. Because I have the privilege of eating with my family daily, I do enjoy the very rare opportunity to eat a meal alone, cooking just what I want for me. Not thinking about anyone else's tastes or preferences but my own. I usually make marmite spaghetti as only I like marmite in this house.  I made myself saltata di risotto which is leftover risotto fried like a pancake until crisp on both sides.

I've never tried frying risotto: I would usually just reheat it but the texture is never quite the same. It was, predictably, delicious. How could it not be?

I think this last recipe may have been my favourite in the whole book: sourdough toast with dark chocolate and olive oil. Not even a recipe, just an assembly job, Toast the bread, sprinkle over a little chopped chocolate while the bread is still warm so that it begins to melt, then top with a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil. It was incredible. Like the best chocolate spread on toast you've ever eaten. Not too sweet or claggy, but balanced, with the rich chocolate on the crunchy, chewy bread. 

A treasure of a book.