What Next?

 

Long post alert.  I know…I have been away a long time.  I may have forgotten who I am. I turned 73 in February. Whoa. How did that happen? I must admit it caught me a bit by surprise. I did have a second or two when I thought…so now what?  Is it time to shift gears? Change my expectations? Maybe aim to do less? But no, I concluded almost immediately – keep going, carry on.  See, smell, savour and enjoy.

Since we last connected, I’ve run three 10K races, in Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Tregaron. As always, there are not enough ways to say thank you to Lina Land, and all my running buddies in Team Land.  I visited twice in Paris, my wonderful colleague, friend and former student Dr. Ilona Boniwell, founder of Positran.fr. Ilona has been a pivotal force in bringing Positive Psychology to Europe. On my second visit, she and I and a few others had dinner with Martin Seligman, a founder and father of Positive Psychology, after an event she organised for him at which 1,100 Parisians attended. I will say more about his new theoretical model of happiness shortly.  I travelled to St. Petersburg to see my family where my wallet was stolen. That experience was truly a temporary loss of identity and took some time to sort out. But the family are great, and St. Petersburg, dazzling in its elegance as always. I’ve been putting the finishing touches on Badly Chopped Carrots: Recipes for Life, in collaboration with Pencoed Press. I’ve taken on for 6 months, a voluntary role as chief executive of HAHAV (Hospice at Home Volunteers Aberystwyth.)  I am a founding board member and have been part of its extraordinary journey over these last three or four years.  And I am working on my next project ‘Pathways to Well-being’. This is a smaller project, that includes some art work, some life enhancing quotations and short activities to take us through the seasons.   I am combining my code for good living: See, Taste, Touch, Smell, and Listen with Martin Seligman’s model for achieving happiness: PERMA.-Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationship, Meaning, Accomplishment.

Here is an example: Keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of life. (Kahlil Gibran)

For one week pay attention to what you SEE. How does what you see make you feel? Just notice and perhaps jot some notes on how what you see may interact with your level of engagement, relationship, meaning in your life and what you may accomplish.

Here is one of my responses.

This week, I’ve been seeing all the birds in the garden.  It’s spring. They are flying in and out constantly enjoying the nuts and seeds we put out for them. I love watching how the different species interact. The small tits, the big jays, the bull finches. Some are quite polite and wait their turn. Others are a bit pushier.  I have to say I feel a sense of joy when I see them. A sense of the busyness of life. That Life goes on. Watching the birds interacting makes me want to get out and meet up with colleagues, friends.  In a small way, putting out the nuts and seeds feels like a deliberate act of care, of giving, and I am pretty sure, some of those birds have gotten significantly bigger, healthier, more energetic in the last few weeks!

Of course, you may not be spending a significant part of your day watching birds! Perhaps you take the train to work and back and you see people as they convey themselves on and off the train.  Or  you sit in the park occasionally and watch dogs of every description, sauntering, running, chuntering past.  The point is, where ever you are, whatever you do, take a few moments to really see and notice how you feel this week.

For me, busy is good.  Of course, too busy is not good! It’s about finding the right balance between life sustaining, life affirming action …and…enough down time to appreciate, to savour it all.

Speaking of savouring, I know I go on about my two very favourite life enhancements and this post is no exception: Home Décor and Home Cooking.  At this time of the year, winter, wind, sleet, maybe a little snow (a lot of snow for the people in Ottawa!), all of this is getting a bit tiresome.  My personal remedies have been to create as comforting, welcoming, nurturing, dare I say beautiful home environment as I can…always – flowers, candles, warm coloured cushions, and …space….which of course  requires MASSIVE DE-CLUTTERING.

And…I know you’ve been waiting for this…Home Cooking.

Since we last connected, I’ve been following daily, two blogs, SeasonsandSuppers and SmittenKitchen.   You met Seasons and Suppers last year on this blog when I introduced my variation on Jennifer’s Pear Almond Cake.

Shortly before Christmas, I discovered (I know not how) Smitten Kitchen.  There are not enough positives in the English language to do justice to Deb Perleman’s effervescence, humour and humility, not to mention her outrageously delicious recipes.  So much so, I am forced to share not one but two of my adaptations of her recipes.

Before I do that, I want to bring some of the outside in especially to conjure up a little hope for my family and friends in Ottawa, Vancouver, St. Petersburg.  I know you can’t go out right now to ‘steal’ daffodils from the local hedgerows, but don’t despair… your chance is coming!

daffodils on the table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now…you all know the problem I have with pumpkins. Too many of them, seized and displayed throughout the autumn until Halloween is long gone. What next?

Here is one amazing solution. Deb Perelman’s:

Pumpkin Cheesecake.

This is quite a long, somewhat complicated recipe, but I have to tell you it is so worth it. I have frozen most of it. It thaws perfectly and remains utterly scrumptious.

I have adapted it by making double the amount of crumb and scattering the top with them. I know the picture doesn’t show this but trust me…a real enhancement if you like a little more crunch and crumb.  I have also left out her extra creamy topping.

Ingredients

For the crust and topping:

1 ½ cups gingersnap crumbs

1 cup (about 100 grams) pecans or walnuts, chopped finely.

1/2 cup (90 grams) packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

8 tablespoons (110 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Two or three pinches of salt.

For the filling

1 ½ cups pumpkin (You can use either pure canned pumpkin or if you have a problem like mine, chop up and bake those chunks until tender. Scoop from skins and puree in food processor or blender.)

3 large eggs

½ cup (95 grams) packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons (approximately 30ml) double (heavy) cream

1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla

1 tablespoon (15 ml) bourbon (I wasn’t sure I could get this in rural Wales, but sure enough…)

½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon fine salt

24 oz (three 8 oz packages) cream cheese, room temperature.

Directions

Heat oven to 180C/160Fan/350F/ Use a 9 inch springform pan or in my case, a 9 inch round pan with a removal bottom.  Pat firmly half the crumb mixture into the bottom and slightly up the sides (possibly ½ inch) of the pan. Chill between 20 minutes and one hour.

For the filling you can either use an electric beater or a food processor.  Deb recommends the following order for ingredients if you are using a beater:  Whip together the pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and bourbon in a bowl until well mixed. Mix together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt in another bowl. To this bowl, add the cream cheese and beat for 3 minutes at high speed. Reduce speed to medium and add the pumpkin mixture beating all together until smooth.

Alternatively, you can use a food processor.  This allows you to use cold cream cheese in case you have forgotten to take it out of the refrigerator. You will be putting the ingredients together in a different order from above: Put the sugars in the bowl and the cream cheese which you have cut into chunks. Blend together until completely smooth. Then add: pumpkin, cornstarch, salt, and spices. Once again, blend together. Add eggs, one at a time, blending briefly after each addition. Add cream and bourbon. Mix.

Either way, pour the mixture over your now chilled crust. Place in the middle of the oven on a shallow pan in case of leaking.  Bake 50-60 minutes until centre is just set.  Remove from oven for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the other half of the crumbs pressing down slightly just so they don’t fall off. Return to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes.

Cool cheesecake on rack about 3 hours.  Chill covered at least four hours.  When you are ready to serve, remove the cake from the pan and let it come to room temperature.

Deb says the cake keeps well, covered and chilled for up to one week.  As I have already mentioned, it freezes beautifully. Truthfully, if you live in a small family, or are entertaining a small number of guests freezing is an important option. This cake serves 12-14 people!

The picture you see here is one I took before I put the crumbs on top.  I have blurred out a slightly unseemly background with a new ‘app’ (for me) called Snapseed.

pumpkin cheesecake (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t have a picture of the second of the Smitten Kitchen desserts I promised you.  But it is so unusual, so delicious and so easy I just had to share it. By the way, Deb says this is a variation on a Nigel Slater recipe.   Don’t you just love how our worlds have become so positively connected through food!

Chocolate Pear Raspberry Crumble

Ingredients

Topping

1/3 cup (40-50 grams) chopped dark chocolate (around 70% is good)

½ cup Dorset muesli (I am afraid I went off-piste here. I didn’t have rolled oats on hand)

¼ cup maple syrup.

Pinch of salt.

Filling

3 tablespoons (40 grams) butter

3 tablespoons (40 grams) sugar

2 pears, peeled, halved, cored and diced into small chunks (about ½ inch). It’s good to use firm pears.)

1 cup (115 grams or 4 oz.) raspberries

Directions

Heat oven to 180C/160Fan/350F/

I used a small cast iron Creuset dish about 8×5 inches.

First, mix the topping in a small bowl and set aside.

For the main body of the work, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar and cook together until the edges start to turn golden. Add the pear chunks. Watch quite carefully so they don’t become overly mushy cooking about 5-8 minutes. Scatter the raspberries on top.  Then sprinkle with the chocolate oat topping.

Bake 20-25 minutes until the oats in the topping are crisp and the chocolate melting.

Serve warm.  With ….yes…a ball of vanilla ice cream.

This does offer 4 people an earthy, freshly memorable end of dinner treat.

…And…don’t worry, spring will come!

Enjoy!

single daffodil (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow is the scent of spring in Wales.  A.M. Rogers

 

Anitaxx

Hope and Generosity

The greatest use of a life is to spend it on something that will outlast it. (William James)

DSCF2483

Life is like badly chopped carrots. Far from perfectly sliced batons of equal length and breadth, badly chopped carrots are ragged, irregular, lumpy and bumpy. So too is life. But badly chopped carrots have a way of absorbing more readily the intensity of flavours, enhancing the colours and the interest of the dishes that surround them.  And, life, in all its ups and downs, its sheer wonkiness makes living more intense, more memorable, more beautiful.

I started this blog a couple of years ago out of sheer despair, living the isolation and loneliness of a foreigner in rural Wales.  The blog was my way to reach out, to connect with as many or as few of you who cared to read and comment.

Since then, my life has changed, partly because of the blog and those of you who read it, generously comment, and reach back to me. Reaching out works. One thing leads to another.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, I started to meet with Lina Verseckaite for some personal training sessions just before my 70 birthday, because I was too afraid to join any kind of fitness group.  That was 2 ½ years ago. Six months ago, still attending weekly sessions, I felt I needed a goal to keep our mutual interest and positive energy intact. Lina is a passionate and accomplished runner and coach and so …on my 72nd birthday, on a dark winter’s night, in rain and some sleet, I took up running. I made it half way around the track.  I joined both of Lina’s groups. Couch Potato to 5K at the Aberystwyth Leisure Centre and 10K to Half Marathon at the University Sports Centre.  I have met people of all ages from their 20’s to their 60’s (and beyond), administrators, dentists, students, nurses, becoming fit, becoming healthier, becoming friends. All of this happens under the aegis of Lina’s unflagging support, utter commitment, uncommon wisdom.

If you had told me last summer, that in May of this year, I would have run the 5K Race for Life, that I would regularly do the Park Run and that I would be signed up for a 10K race in Cardiff for September…well….my first thought would have been….a few ice cubes short of a tray…

It is hard to describe the tectonic shift that running brings about to soul and psyche, the sheer exhilaration, the sense of empowerment, of actually just surviving a run, being alive.

And then there is painting with Karen Pearce, at: karen-pearce.com, one of Wales foremost contemporary artists. She has gathered together a group of 5 who paint at her studio every two weeks. Under her guidance, her exquisite artistic eye, endless patience, we have developed each in our own way. Just recently, at Karen’s suggestion each of us hung two of our paintings in a small gallery at the Treehouse in Aberystwyth.  You will see mine shortly.

Finally, there is Eddy Webb at InSynch: insynch.co.uk.  His staff put together my original website, EdgeworkConsultancy, and then this blog. Nothing is too much trouble for Eddy. Just the other day, I walked into the InSynch offices, unscheduled and unannounced with a small but pivotal request. Eddy knew just the people I should talk to. With a smile and few moments out of a day I know is crammed full, Eddy came up with absolutely vital information that will take me to the next steps on  my journey.

Hope and generosity.  These three people have given me hope through their generosity and helped me change my life.

Perhaps too it’s the lifting of the clouds both metaphorically and in reality in this glorious sunny summer, but all has come clear to me. First, I noticed my thoughts. Just stood back and noticed. And guess what?  When I started to count, my negative thoughts outnumbered my positive thoughts outrageously.  So I started to catch those negative thoughts, acknowledge them, and put them aside.

Then I learned about a Positivity Jar, at one of Lina’s Life coaching sessions.  The power of putting different coloured Post-Its, each containing a positive thought or one of gratitude, watching them pile up in the jar, is extraordinary.

Finally, and just to make it easier for you, what has come to me from it all, through it all are 3 steps to survival and success:

1) Develop a mental attitude -this too shall pass. Catch those negative thoughts.  Acknowledge them. Put them aside. Catch your positive thoughts and put them in your Positivity Jar.

2) Keep trying, keep doing, keep reaching. Never give up. I may be the only person on the planet who didn’t know about the 5 second rule developed by Mel Robbins, but just in case you too have missed the boat on this one: Don’t procrastinate. Count backwards-5,4,3,2,1-GO.  This incredible technique helps you to outsmart the part of your brain that overthinks, procrastinates.

3) Challenge the notion- ‘It all comes from within’. No it doesn’t. We need people. We need each other.  And here is the challenge to those of us who live in rural Wales. Step up to the plate. Notice your neighbours, distant acquaintances, people you run into occasionally or often in the road, on the street.  Pay attention to who they are. How they are.  Say something nice to them, about them.  Be warm, be compassionate, be supportive.

I took Lina to see my paintings on one of our regular power walks through Aberystwyth.  The first is called: Winter Near Tregaron and the second is: Summer Joy. Here they are and here is what she said:

 

winter near tregaron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

summer joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘After winter comes summer. After a bad day comes a good day. Weather goes still after the storm. Whatever is overwhelming you now-there is a change waiting to happen. There’s power in patience. That’s when summer tends to make an appearance.’

Karen Pearce celebrated a birthday this weekend.  The party was like no other I have ever attended. People just kept streaming in. All friends of hers or family, all people Karen has touched positively in some way-life at its best, most joyful, peaceful, playful.

She asked me to bring a cake.  Here it is. Naturally I have been massively influenced by Ina Garten and of course, I have made many adaptations. It was so delicious I was able to bring my serving dish home empty before the party ended!

Fresh Peach Raspberry Celebration Cake

Ingredients

  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract.
  • 2 cups plain or all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
  • ½ cup raspberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180C/160Fan/. Grease a 9-inch-square baking pan.

Beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar with a hand held electric mixer for 3 to 5 minutes on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and vanilla and almond extract, and mix until the batter is smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until combined. In a small bowl, combine the  1/2 cup brown sugar and the cinnamon.

Spread half of the batter evenly in the pan. Top with half of the peaches and raspberries, then sprinkle with two-thirds of the sugar mixture. Spread the remaining batter on top, arrange the remaining peaches and raspberries on top and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and the pecans.

Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Of course, a ball of clotted cream vanilla ice cream to accompany this gorgeous treat never goes amiss.

 

Fresh peach raspberry celebration cake

 

Ee Enjoy!

Anitaxx

Moments

 

This will be a really short piece. I just wanted to reconnect with you after a long absence, to celebrate the spring equinox in date if not in climate and to share with you a delicious Pear Almond Cake recipe.

The ‘beast from the east’ has visited twice in a short space of time, and even now is lurking for a possible return.  In other words, where is our promised spring?

Surprises are about the unexpected and often bring us precious moments, if we take note and savor.   The day after the equinox was one of those moments, ‘time out of time’. Yes, it was a little windy, a little overcast, and yes, a little chilly as I walked around Lampeter, waiting for the installation of new wheels on my car. Yet there was a softness to the day, a quiet peace, a sense of utter timelessness, normal life just carrying on.  The lovely people at Huw Lewis completed the job, no fuss, no problem amidst the warm chat about…the weather of course! ‘How was it up there where you are near Tregaron?’ And the inevitable question: What brought you to rural Wales?

Then a drive to Aberystwyth. I didn’t bank on the bank being closed in Lampeter on Wednesdays.  For some reason, my usual irritation, frustration, huffiness at the inconvenience to my very important life simply wasn’t there.

Barclays Bank was quiet too. They were only too happy to help me out. What was an impossible problem 5 days ago, today was no problem at all.  All sorted out amidst some light banter and gentle exchange.

And then, to No.21, the flower shop.  Yellow, of course, was the presiding colour-Narcissus, the ever -present Welsh daffodils. And then, I spotted in the back, lying forlornly on the floor, piles and piles of giant yellow tulips.  ‘You can have them’, said the young owner of the shop. ‘They’re from last week and I am not selling them’.

So laden with tulips, daffodils, and narcissus, with a heart singing in gratitude, appreciation, celebration, I made my way home through the hushed lanes of rural Wales.

yellow tulips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What better way to end this ‘pause’, this last, gentle moment of winter than with a Pear Almond Cake.

I happened to have some pears that were perfect today but tomorrow would be ‘past perfect’. What to do?   I googled pear desserts and up came the ‘Italian Pear Almond Cake’. As it happens, the origins of this unbelievably delicious cake, are with one of Canada’s foremost food bloggers at www.seasonsandsuppers.  Naturally I sent an email, as she is located in the town of Bracebridge, out ‘in the bush’ in Muskoka, Ontario’s hinterland.  We visited often as children, because my mother’s best World War 2 nursing buddy lived there.  Jennifer, the food blogger, emailed me back. Her grandmother came from Rural Wales!

Of course, I have added my own adaptations.

Pear Almond Cake

Ingredients

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

9 tablespoons white sugar

2 large eggs

7 tablespoons plain or all-purpose flour

4 oz ground almonds

½ teaspoon baking powder

3 medium pears, ripe, peeled, cored, halved

1.5 oz flaked almonds

½ teaspoon almond extract (my addition)

1 tablespoon mixed chopped peel or more to suit your taste (my addition)

1 teaspoon lemon zest (my addition)

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 375F/190C/170Fan/

Grease 8 inch spring-form pan and line bottom with parchment paper

Prepare the pears (as above)

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add almond extract and lemon zest.

Sift flour and baking powder together.

Fold in flour, baking powder mix, ground almonds, mixed peel.

Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Arrange pear halves on top of cake. (Here is where the size of the pears becomes important. If they are medium sized, you will have a lovely design of six pear halves laid out in spoke fashion. Mine were too big and I had to chop off the pointy tops.  Not so pretty)

The instruction say to bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with flaked almonds, and return to oven for an additional 8-10 minutes.  I am not sure whether my oven might have been set a little too low, but I actually had to bake the cake for slightly over 1 hour.   Do not worry. Keep checking the cake by poking a skewer in the middle. This did not harm the eventual, delicious outcome.  In fact, it may have added to the slightly crusty, crunchy fine layer atop the cake.

Enjoy!

Anitaxx

pearalmondcake

 

JUXTAPOSITIONS

Daily life is where life happens. (Jack Shoemaker, in MFK Fisher, The Art of Eating, 1937, xxii)

autumncolours

autumnlandscape20173

REDTREEINAUTUMN

REDBERRIES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raw gold, deep amber, sparkling ruby, emerald, bronze. The colours of precious jewels. Autumn in Wales.

I know the seasons are often compared to the flow of life, with autumn a time of winding down and the prelude to winter, the last of the year. For me, autumn, in its ravishing vibrancy, no matter what the weather, is a lavish celebration of life in all it richness, and its juxtapositions.  This has been a roller coaster time -of unexpected deep emotions, from momentary and intense anger (watch out anyone in my path!) to profound sadness, to joy and wonder and an absolute commitment to appreciating every moment of life.  In fact, I’ve agreed to run the Race for Life this coming spring. Lina, my trainer says I am her oldest running experiment!

More than ever, I am aware of juxtapositions. A three- hour delay and then one ‘standing room only’ train from Birmingham to London after ‘an incident on the track’. Yet, two extraordinarily generous people gave up their seats for my husband and I as ‘they weren’t travelling so far’. After being robbed by a street gang in front of the Louvre in Paris at 10:00 in the morning, the privilege of witnessing with my daughter and granddaughter, a luminescent moon as it emerged from behind the glowing steeples of St. Clotilde Basilica (some of you have seen my account on my Instagram at amrbul69). The gentleman who spontaneously picked up my suitcase as I stood at the foot of a staircase at St. Pancras Station.  The touch on my hand from our local pharmacist, who said: ‘we all lose it sometimes’, after I had a small ‘melt down in the pharmacy. The absolute healing peace, freshness of air, space, softness, normalcy of rural Wales after the wildness of traffic, noise, congestion in that glorious city Paris.

I’ve just read an article in the Guardian about the perils of the ‘clean eating movement’ and it strikes me that what seems to be missing from their equation is balance and perhaps juxtaposition is another way of looking at, of finding-balance.  As some of you know, over the last year and a half, I’ve written a cookbook and a homage to life in rural Wales, based partly on these blogs.  The idea of balance is at the very heart of the book: Badly Chopped Carrots: Cooking My Way to Sanity.  However, as my Tai Chi teacher once said, there is no perfect balance.  Finding balance is always a process of moving in one direction, then another.  As you know, badly chopped carrots is a metaphor for the tendency to focus on the negative, the ‘not perfect.’  It is also a beacon of hope because what can emerge from imperfections and quirkiness,  are new revelations, creativity, edge.    The book explores balance through contrasts-of colours, textures, ingredients both in the surrounding countryside and in food. So rather than just offer recipes, the book has taken the form of menus and recipes for each season that reflect the seasons. You have already seen a few of the recipes in this blog over the past year and a half.  It is now in the hands of the publisher Graffeg, who create the most gloriously evocative treasures. They are ‘considering the project and their response to me.’ I’ll keep you posted!

Cooking is my form of positive action, of nurturing, of creating beauty, of experimentation, and although you may have your own preferred ‘positive actions’, we all have to eat, so why not make cooking a joy.  You can check out a whole range of positive actions that may surprise you on the website of my friend, former colleague and former student Dr. Ilona Boniwell at: www.positran.eu.

The Positive Action Cards have been selling like hot cakes around the world!

positive actions

For now, I’ve been busy painting. Not finished-of course!

squashpainting

 

I’ve been ‘bringing the outside in’, harvesting the last of the rosehips and lighting those so evocative, scented candles. Here are a couple of my favourites-in combination. Why go half way!

candles in autumn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, I have to find a way to do justice to those 25 pounds of perfect apples that our generous friends harvested from their trees in Milton Keynes to give to us. So come and join me for a quintessential autumnal dinner. It involves apples of course!

apples20173

THE MENU
Beef Cottage Pie
Beetroot and Celeriac Salad
Apple Frangipane Tart

BEEF COTTAGE PIE
A Tribute to Mary Berry’s Venison Cottage Pie
Ingredients
• 2 tbsp oil, for frying
• 6 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 1 large carrot, finely chopped
• 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
• 600g/1lb 5oz lean beef steak mince
• 1 heaped tbsp plain flour
• 300ml/10fl oz red wine
• 500ml/18fl oz beef stock (I use a capsule of enriched beef stock putting it right into the mixture with no water)
• Six large brown mushrooms sliced quite thinly (my addition)
• A jar of chestnuts marinated first in beef stock and red wine (my addition)
• salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the topping
• 1kg/2lb 4oz potatoes, chopped into 2cm/¾in cubes
• knob of butter
• splash milk
• glug of truffle oil never hurts

Directions
1. Heat the oil in a large deep, lidded casserole or a heavy-based saucepan set over a high heat. Add the bacon and fry until crisp. Remove and set aside.
2. Add the onion, carrot and rosemary and fry for a few minutes until softened. Add the mince and stir until golden-brown, breaking it up while stirring.
3. Sprinkle in the flour and cook for a minute, stirring. Gradually add the wine, and, stirring all the time, boil for a few minutes until the volume of liquid has reduced by half. Add the stock and the cooked bacon, bring to the boil and season with salt and pepper, stirring for 5 minutes. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes or until tender.
4. Preheat the oven 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.
5. Spoon the mince into a 3 litre/5 pint ovenproof dish. Set aside to cool.
6. To make the topping, bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Boil the potatoes until tender. Drain and return to the pan. Add the butter and milk. Season with salt and pepper and mash until smooth.
7. Spoon the mash on top of the cold mince, level the top and mark with a fork. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden-brown and bubbling.

BEETROOT AND CELERIAC SALAD
I know that the following salad is technically classified as a ‘summer salad’. But truthfully, the ingredients are readily available throughout the year, and once again, it is fresh, light, yet earthy flavour that juxtaposes so well with the deep, dark, rich cottage pie. And, the mint in my garden is still amazingly prolific.
Beetroot and Celeriac Salad (House and Garden, Autumn 2016)
Ingredients
• 400g beetroot, peeled and cut into 1.5cm chunks
• 400g celeriac, peeled and cut into 1.5cm chunks
• 2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon of red onion, finely minced
• A scattering of rocket leaves or other green leaves
For the dressing:
• 4tbsp chopped mint
• 2tbsp lime juice
• 1tbsp Dijon mustard
• 2tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Directions

1. Heat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/mark 6. Use a 30×40 cm dish or pan. Mix the beetroot, celeriac and olive oil directly in the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste, using your hands to coat everything well. Bake for 20 minutes, or until soft. (I find I like these to cook longer than directions specify, around 35-40 minutes)
2. Meanwhile, for the dressing, put all the ingredients, except the oil, in a small bowl. Whisk the oil in gradually. Once the vegetables are cooked, allow them to cool. Before serving, toss them in the dressing, adding the red onion and leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper.

APPLE FRANGIPANE TART

Ok. I admit this is a tad ‘fussy’, but so worth it!
Pastry (Makes 1 9inch/23cm pie crust. This recipe is a variation from a Canadian cookbook called Brown Eggs and Jam Jars. It works. It has a delicate flaky texture and a mellow flavour)
Ingredients
3 tablespoons (45ml) ice cold water
1 egg yolk
½ tablespoon lemon juice
1 ½ cups (325ml) all- purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup(125ml) butter cut into ½ inch/1cm cubes

Directions:

To make in a food processor
Pour water into a measuring cup and drop in the egg yolk. Add lemon juice and beat with a fork. Drop in ice cube to chill liquid while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, salt to combine. Add butter cubes and pulse about 5 times to cut the butter into the flour. Butter should be pea- sized pieces.

Drizzle ice water mixture through feed tube and pulse about 10 times until the liquid is incorporated.

Empty the contents onto a lightly floured board and form a disc of dough 6 inches (15cm) across. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap (cling film) and chill for at least 2 hours or up to two days.

The Frangipane Filling (this is a melange of Mary Berry’s recipe in her  Foolproof Cooking  Book and a Waitrose recipe found on line from 2005.)

Pre-heat oven to 200C/180Fan/400F

(Remember-you are using a 23 cm pan. First roll out the pastry and fit into the pan. Return to refrigerator until you have made the filling. Then you can take it out and fill it with the following ingredients.)

4 eating apples

1 tablespoon apricot jam

75 G (3 oz) butter, softened)

75 G (3 oz) caster sugar)

2 eggs

100 G ground almonds

1 tsp almond extract

1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest

Directions

Beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. You can also whiz in food processor. Add eggs one at a time, then add lemon zest and almond extract. Fold in the almonds.

Halve and peel the apples, carefully cutting out the cores. Place flat side down and slice thinly across the width.  After you have poured the frangipane filling into the tart,  plant the apples on top and spread out the slices slightly. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon caster sugar. Bake approximately 35-40 minutes or until frangipane is puffy and golden and the apples are just cooked.  Paint apples with apricot jam. Leave to cool 15 minutes and then remove from pan.

 

unnamed

 

enjoy!
Anitaxx

A Homage to Cafe Havens

Or is that heavens?  Early morning.  The deep, dark, warm coffee scent, hints of chocolate.  The promise of peace. Momentary solace.

This past summer, for reasons some of you already know, was not spent in rural Wales.   In between trips to Ottawa, there were also flying visits to St. Petersburg, Vancouver and always, just in passing, London.  Such is the price we pay for far flung families. And, through it all, three cafes sustained my soul and spirit- BWCHE in St. Petersburg, Planet Coffee in Ottawa, and Café Nero, in Aberystwyth.  Through it all, they kept their gentle arms around me, offering comfort, serenity, sustenance, revitalisation. 

I cannot detail the blends and brews, the roasts of the innumerable cappuccinos and macchiatos I drank, always in the mornings. But the earthy, homey scent, enhanced by baking bread, warm scones, straight from the oven, the sight of cherry pastries the size of small platters, never failed to wave me in.

There are BWCHE cafes sprinkled all around St. Petersburg. One found itself right on my daughter’s doorstep, near Park Pobedy, just off Moskovsky Prospekt.

bwchelamp

parc pobedy2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, you can always have an omelette, but why would you when those cherry pastries, are shouting out ‘choose me’. This is Russia. You would expect giant pastries and so they are, covered, no, slathered artfully in apple slices, raspberries, and… cherries. But the BWCHE specialty has to be the incredible range of rustic breads, round loaves, oblong loaves, seeded loaves, dark crusty rye loaves piled mountain high in early morning, diminished to a small hillock by late afternoon. Local residents, very much in the French style, replenish their bread supplies daily.   All the BWCHES have an intimate feel, low hanging lights, little pops of whimsy -in this café, the papier mache lamb with a red bow sitting in the window looking out onto the street.                                                                                                                                  

bwche lamb

Little touches of comfort. BWCHE, uniquely offers, with every order, sealed and freshly scented hand-wipes. The cappuccino at BWCHE is the gentlest of all the cappuccinos I drank across the world this summer.
Very berry and date pecan, the best scones in the entire world, (trust me!) were my ‘go to’ breakfasts for several weeks, moments of pure joy at Planet Coffee, or ‘the Planet’ as I renamed it. A melange of warm, soft, crunchy, with chunks of sweet dates or hints of tart berries. The size of small planets. After all, this is Canada. Cappuccino- absolutely the best in Ottawa. It’s impossible once you have been to the Planet, to go anywhere else. And, I have to mention the London Fog tea drink, on offer once I had consumed my daily coffee allowance. I was always there at 7:00 sharp, maybe a little later as jet lag wore off. Just down from Parliament Hill, you can reach Planet Coffee from a little lane, where it sits on a tiny square ringed with 18th century, grey stone buildings.

planet courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low hanging lights, the fish painting on the back wall, fresh water in the pitcher on the counter, the daily newspapers.                                                                                                                                                 

the planet coffee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And…finally, on the high street in little Aberystwyth, Café Nero.  In some ways, the most ‘homey’ of the three cafes I celebrate here, Café Nero, the country over, makes a point of offering a range of hard chairs, big, soft enveloping chairs, little coffee tables, bookshelves with real books.

cafenerochair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And…while they are of a more modest size, the crispy, flaky, pain au chocolat, or the pain au raisin, slightly heated, are quite simply, the best.  The cappuccino positions itself somewhere between the ‘pow’ of the Planet coffee and the more café au lait style of BWCHE.

What do these far flung cafes, these homes away from home have in common? What makes them so welcoming, so comfortable, so compelling? BWCHE is a local chain, Planet Coffee is stand alone and of course we know about Café Nero. Yet they share a certain ambiance, a modern rustic feel, simple, pale woods, grey walls, soft, lovely lighting, coy little touches of interest.  For all the industrial quantities of coffee drinks they offer in a day, each is remarkably quiet, no jarring noise, of grinding machinery, crashing cups, indeed, even loud conversation.  There seems to be a respect built into their very fabric. 

Their ambiance is supported always by music in the background….not too loud of course, but audible.  In Café Nero, it’s often mellow jazz, of the Ella Fitzgerald or Stan Getz variety.  BWCHE seems to favour quiet, French chansons.   Planet coffee, offers a totally different experience from day to day, depending, I think, on the mood of the manager, some days energizing, other days, soft…but somehow always a perfect fit for the day.  Now I realise these choices of music may simply be to my taste, but I am obviously not the only one who appreciates them. Because these cafés are busy.  Of course, there is an ebb and flow but throughout the day there is a steady stream of coffee lovers. Yet there is rarely a ‘line-up’ at the most, two, three or four people at the counter.  There is little ‘waiting around’ for someone to come and take your order at the table, prepare it and return with it.  For someone who wants their coffee -now- this is the perfect arrangement.  Seating is always adjustable, whether you are alone, or accompanied, there is a place to sit comfortably, not too crowded, and yet close enough to be cozy if you wish.

Not drafty, damp, chilly, overheated or under-heated, the climate is usually just right.  In summer, a soothing coolness. In winter, utterly welcoming warmth. In an odd sort of way, the same can be said of the staff.  The twinkle in the eye of recognition.  A nod. A smile.  Perhaps a passing comment about the weather outside.  The care for each and every cup of coffee.  A slow dance, the patient swirl of foam with just the right amount of air.  Here is your cappuccino and your scone, or pain au chocolat, or cherry pastry.  Renewal, revitalisation in a bubble, an oasis of time away, of time out of time.

Thank you.

Anitaxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She did it her way. April 29, 1920-August 16, 2017

I know I’ve been away a long time.   Here is why.

Born in Limosano, a commune in the Italian region of Molise, Mary (Pat) Incoronata, Mariglia, Mongrain, my mother arrived with her family, in 1924, in Niagara Falls Canada. She recalled biting an immigration official when he insisted she take off her clothes for a medical check. And so it began….

Though always vulnerable to the prejudice of the 1920’s and 1930’s, at 5 feet tall, she was a high school basketball player and stellar student. When she overheard a classmate’s mother say to another that her greatest dream would be to see her daughter become a nurse, at that moment, Mary decided she would become a nurse.

Class valedictorian, she graduated from the University of Ottawa in 1941.  She worked at various hospitals in the Toronto region and then, on a whim, decided to move to Twillingate Newfoundland, then a separate Dominion of the British Empire where she worked as a district nurse.  It was there, she joined the army in 1944 as a Lieutenant nursing sister. It was there, she met a handsome, dashing French Canadian officer, Edouard, who was to become my father.  Demobbed, they lived first in Quebec City where I was born, and then variously in remote regions of Northern Manitoba  and Northern Quebec, where he worked on the big hydro- electric projects of the 1950’s.  They finally settled again in Quebec City for several years, where my siblings and I ‘grew up.’

Having travelled Canada, upon my father’s retirement, they travelled Europe. She paused briefly to care for him in his last year, before carrying on to Samarkand, Egypt, Russia, Paris and London, well into her eighties.

She was a woman of enormous paradox- sociable, entertaining, charming gathering people to her wherever she went. She was also fiercely private.  Financially cautious, she believed in serendipity, following her intuition (though she never called it that) and had the largest collection of 4 leaf clovers ever seen.  She emphasized to her children, hard work, discipline, and delayed gratification. In her own life, she threw out that rule book. One of her favourite expressions, where she met a frustration she couldn’t be bothered to overcome, was -phfewy…

She was not domestic. She took great pride in the fact that she had never worn an apron in her life.  The story of the cold peas is one of the family favourites.  She was known to regularly open cans of peas and serve them directly from there. Her reasoning-my father didn’t like his food hot anyway. But there was always dinner on the table at 5:30 sharp.

After living for several years in Vancouver, she returned in the year 2000 to Ottawa, the real place of ‘her coming of age.’ Surviving breast cancer at the age of 85, she was asked to write a brief account in a charitable publication. This drew her to the attention of Max Keeping, a local celebrity. It was through him that she was honoured as one of Ottawa’s 100 amazing people, for the publication of her first book at the age of 92, ‘As It Was In the Beginning’.

Indomitable, intrepid, she was frustrating and loveable in equal measure.  She drank too much, smoked too much, kept herself thin as a rail, until she was 80. Then….phfewy….she decided to get fat.

She loved food, chocolates, peaches, and especially meat. Red meat. She didn’t feel right unless she had her meat. She violated every known principle for living into a healthy old age.  She donated her body to science and the University of Ottawa will no doubt discover important learnings from that study.

She lived independently in an apartment in the Byward Market in downtown Ottawa until three months ago. However, with the advance of congestive heart failure, her habit of calling an ambulance when she was feeling anxious, her decreasing mobility, and much against her real wishes, my brothers, sister and I ‘helped’ her settle into Ottawa’s most luxurious retirement home. She hated it.  After more trips to emergency ( where she always introduced herself as a nurse), and threats to move to the Chateau Laurier where she would drink Manhattans at Zoe’s, she organized by herself, a move to the Perley Veteran’s Retirement Hospital.

I spent three weeks in Ottawa, visiting several hours with her every day, during July and August, while my noble brother, his incredible wife and son took a much needed break.

We chatted, sat, she slept, I walked the corridors.  We took the final trip to Zoe’s, the timeless cocktail lounge at the Chateau Laurier, where she had been a frequent visitor since 1938.

The last day I was with my mother, she driving her motorized chair, we went outside into the beautiful grounds of the Perley.  Bird feeders dot the grounds. Their chatter and singing fill the air.  She raised her face and it just lit up.  She loved birds. I didn’t know that, until now.  We shared a non-alcoholic beer in the pub inside. With her walker and her oxygen, she came with me to the door. I bent down and put my arms around her gently. I couldn’t help myself. I said: I love you. I love you. She said: triple that.  She didn’t like being overly demonstrative.  She said: I am not going to cry. I said: I’m not going to either.

She was the last of her classmates, the last of her generation, one of the last veterans of World War II .

pat

She is survived by 4 children- Anita, Susann, Lester, Steven, 3 grandchildren- Lisa, Kevin, Alexander, 3 great grandchildren -Andrew, Anya, Anton.

So tonight, to honour Pat, it’s red meat- Ina’s Sliders and Peach Cake.

Anitaxx

 

 

Deep Winter

All may look dormant out there but in fact, the countryside is busy making its own splendour.

Often considered the bleakest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, (and what could be bleaker than recent events of which I will say no more!) here in the Welsh countryside, there is always a surprise or two to shake things up.  A quintessential white winter’s day can give way almost immediately to another sort of experience.  The extraordinary colours, when I have finally bothered to look and see, are quite simply, breath-taking.  Of course, green is my favourite colour and as you can see, there is an almost infinite variety out there.

moss on a tree midwinterwalk

ivyAs you know, I am working on the project ‘Pathways to Well-Being’- Simple, everyday things we can do to lift the spirit. Looking, seeing and of course, appreciating are among those simple things. Over the past few weeks I have been asking myself what all these discrete, small activities and experiences have in common that so make a difference to me. I have more and more recognised that there are two or three keys  to what helps  improve my sense of well-being in dramatic and lasting ways.   One key is viscerality.  The extreme example for me, is the experience of a very good massage.  I have had two or three experiences that have been transformational and have had a lasting impact, not minutes or hours, but months and years. ( I relive the effects of them even now as I tell you about them). The first occurred when I was caring for my very elderly and very ailing mother.  I was having palpitations that were lasting all day every day.  Fortunately, my mother lives in the centre of Canada’s capital city, Ottawa and right across from an Aveda salon.  I booked an appointment and explained a little of my circumstances to the masseuse. The love, care, skill, the music, were such that I left with a soaring sense of well-being. The palpitations were gone and did not return.   Another key is that something needs to be distracting.    Distraction can be momentary of course, but really, I am talking about the distraction that some kind of project, or focus can provide.  There is nothing more powerful for getting out of those Badly Chopped Carrots moments than an abiding distraction, a long term commitment to something. Or course, being visceral and being distracting are not discretely different experiences.  They are tied together. The massage was definitely distracting!  Finally, and I know I bang on about this-connection– to understand and to be understood deeply and caringly by someone else.

Our culture does not necessarily lend itself to authentic connection. I came across this article a while ago and it captures for me the sense of perpetual bewilderment, confusion, alienation, second guessing caused by being at the other end of communication at a personal level that is not truthful or straightforward.  The article is commenting on British culture but the problem of obfuscating communication is more widespread than that.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-37799805.

By Damien McGuinness

BBC News, Berlin

30 October 2016

If you read the full article, you will see that it is written as a political commentary but it is in fact so much more than that.  For those of you who may not have the time or inclination to read the full thing, I have copied some of essentials here.

___________________________________________________________________________

Theresa May had her first EU summit in Brussels last week. But her after-dinner address to other leaders was greeted with a frosty silence and even Germany appears to be losing patience with London. Could a different understanding of some very simple words be part of the problem?

There’s one thing about the German language that if you’re British, you never really quite get used to.

It’s how to say yes. And how to say no.

An English friend of mine, Jessica, once told me a story which sums up the problem.

When she was at school in London she was about to go on an exchange to stay with a family in Germany, and the teacher sat them all down for a talk.

“Now girls,” the teacher explained, “when someone offers you something to eat, and you want it, you say yes, not no.”

Germans baffled

These well-brought-up young ladies would usually say: “No, I couldn’t possibly” to that plate of biscuits the first time round, and wait to be persuaded before giving in with a gentle: “Oh, go on then.”

“In Germany,” the teacher went on patiently: “No actually means no. You won’t get offered again.”

Crazy, Jessica remembers thinking. Obviously the school had had experience of pupils coming back famished.

In British English, of course, no means yes, yes means no … and “maybe,” “possibly” and “would love to but” can mean either.

A group of British people trying to decide where to go to for dinner will say things like “I’m easy” or “I don’t mind” – even though everyone blatantly does mind.

This is all quite straightforward to Brits, and the subtext is clear. In Germany it’s baffling.

And I suspect it’s a cultural difference which partly accounts for the communication problems we’re seeing right now over Brexit.

Last year David Cameron tried to persuade German Chancellor Angela Merkel to let the UK have a special deal to opt out of free movement of people, while staying in the single market.

Westminster chatter

She said no. And she meant, well, no. Not “no-but-ok-if-you-push-hard-enough-maybe-yes”. Just no.

Rhetorical bluster

In the rough-and-tumble world of confrontational British politics, we’re all used to hearing things which sound like one thing, but mean another.

Politics needs to be exciting in the UK to keep voters and journalists interested. So rhetorical bluster and the odd showy, overblown promise, with a bit of backtracking later, is often forgiven, especially if you’ve managed a witty gag or two along the way.

In Germany – where the tradition of consensual, coalition-building means co-operation and compromise are more highly valued than macho posturing – not saying what you mean is not forgiven. It’s seen as dishonest, confused and ineffective.

The German political debate would send most British voters to sleep. Whereas to German sensibilities the British debate looks bafflingly inconsistent.

In fact, that’s the word that explains the whole point: you hear the German word “konsequent”, which roughly translates as consistent, a lot here.

And it’s a highly prized virtue. It means you’ll do what you say, and live by the consequences if you don’t.

__________________________________________________________________

So my remaining friends from the former Tuesday group have agreed that ‘straight talking’ is our motto.  We all need feedback, positive and at times ‘constructive’.  When it is delivered in a balanced, caring, clear way our relationships are enhanced. We are enhanced both individually and collectively.  Of course finding out why we don’t talk straight, finding that balance, finding the language of appropriate delivery,  this is all  a part of the life long journey.

Well, that was pretty heavy.

I want to mention a few other essentials in Pathways to Well-being.  Beauty.  I know beauty is different for each of us, but take some to recognise what your ideas of beauty are.  Beauty is not a luxury. It is not an indulgence. It is an essential Pathway to Well-Being.

My sister-in-law worked for many years for Canada’s International Development Agency.  She forged life long links in Nepal and pondered for many years how best to continue to be of service. Shenecklace amethyst decided to set up a business in Ottawa where she lives, to sell necklace silverstunningly gorgeous hand made  fair trade objects which she has brought back from recent trips to Katmandu and beyond.  Here are just a few of them.

 

 

earrings topaz

 
Flowers.

 

 

 

Almond tea from Mecca.
Coffee.
Food. Food has it all. It’s why I love cooking. Viscerality, distraction, connection beauty.

Menu for a Mid Winter Night

February 1st 2017.

I’ve just returned from Aberystwyth, grocery shopping and coffee with a friend at the Café Nero.  It’s 3:30. The last grocery parcel is unpacked when the lights go out. It’s been really windy  but the lights don’t usually go out around here. When they do someone pretty quickly manages to get them back on.  The message from the electric company is 5:30. Oh oh. I am going to have to make something fast and simple for dinner tonight.  Now you know I am a pretty diligent follower of recipes.  This one is absolutely, completely, fully one I have created myself.  We loved it.  Light and richly mellow for a deep winter night.  I hope you like it to.  By the way, the lights came back on at 4:15.  Bravo to Western Power.

Salmon and Salmon Pasta

Ingredients

Serves 2

120 grams smoked salmon chopped into 1 inch squares

120 grams skinless salmon chopped into 1 inch squares

4 scallions (green onions) chopped about 1/8 inch thick

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup white wine

Juice of half lemon

2 -3 tablespoons fresh dill

½ cup coarsely shredded parmesan cheese

1/3 package of white and green pasta.

Directions

Heat a large cast iron or other heavy fry pan on medium high.  (I use a Creuset. In truth any heavy pan will do. I don’t think it even needs to be a fry pan. )

Throw 2 scallions in and saute lightly.

Toss the fresh salmon chunks in and sear on all sides.  It takes a couple of minutes only.

Add the juice of half a lemon and scrape up the brown bits which have started to accumulate.

Throw in the last two scallions.

Add ½ cup of white wine. (I used very left- over Prosecco.) You can use more but you should bubble it down until there is still some liquid in the pan but its starting to get slightly gelatinous.

Add the smoked salmon and stir around until it just changes colour from bright pink to soft pink.   Any more and it will start to dry out. Not good.

Add grated parmesan.  (I know the young Montalbano would be horrified.  Fish and cheese don’t go together in Sicilian cuisine-but hey…it tastes really good and adds a bit of body and tang. )

Add the fresh dill very roughly torn.

Meanwhile you have boiled a large saucepan of water and cooked the pasta for about 4 minutes, one minute or so less than the package suggests.

Drain the pasta.

Add the almost cooked pasta to the pan and stir until everything is evenly distributed.

Serve.

Made up salad

I have a small rectangular white dish (a Matalan purchase I believe)

It lends itself so well to an artful arrangement of ‘mixed vegetables’.

In this case:

3 or 4 sliced juniper flavoured, cooked beetroot.

One small sliced avocado.

A handful of mixed colour tiny tomatoes sliced. (yellow, red, purple)

Balsamic vinegar (to taste)

Extra virgin olive oil

A bit of salt.

Pepper.

Roughly torn basil leaves.

…and now the piece de resistance….Ina’s Apple Tartlets (a variation of the on-line variation of the tart in her Back to Basics 2008 book).  This is so easy and fun to make!

 

Damson Apple Tartlets

Ingredients

1 sheet puff pastry

3 Granny Smith apples

1/3 cup sugar (approximately)

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced into small squares

1/3 cup warm damson jam or preserves (I made this last summer)

3 tablespoons rum (I made a mistake here. Usually I divide recipes in half but I added the full amount of rum here.  It was truly wonderful)

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/180Fan/

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper

Cut the sheet of puff pastry into 4 squares. (For me, this is the most inspired part of the recipe.  I am not sure why…but having the individual ‘tartlets’ makes it all very special and I think it allows each piece to gather the candy like sticky parts that melt onto the sheet as they cook.)

Peel, cut the apples in half and then into wedges about ¼ inch thick. Toss them in the sugar. (I think this works better than sprinkling after you lay out the slices and it means you leave the pastry at room temperature for less time)

Place overlapping slices diagonally across the pastry and use one slice along each side in the corners of the pastry. (you can see this layout in the picture)

Bake 40 minutes until pastry and apples are starting to brown.

Some juices will leak out and caramelise as I have already mentioned but that just adds delight.

Heat the damson and rum together and then brush onto the tops of the tarts.

Remove tarts from the parchment paper (they peel off very easily) and set onto a wire rack to cool.  I know these look more ‘rustic’ than beautiful.  But wow…delicious!

apple damson tart

Enjoy!

Anitaxx

 

THE TIMELESS MAGIC OF ABERYSTWYTH

mecca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The doors of the train slide open, and the air, whatever the weather, is a balm, the welcome, always benign. Relief, relaxation, a sense of ‘all is well with the world’ descends. Aberystwyth carries on, enduring and mostly unchanging. I am back in this self- contained world, this parallel universe, this Aslan’s land, beyond the mountains, at the end of the line. Renovation and renewal for the soul and the psyche is at hand. Here is a world where centuries peacefully co-exist. When I look around Aberystwyth I am reminded of a kaleidoscope. A slight twist of the lens and a different pattern appears. One twist, I see an ancient castle, the next, a Victorian seaside town. A third brings the medieval facades of the town into focus and a fourth, up the hill, overlooking their own roots, the university, the Welsh National Library, the hospital, the present and future Aberystwyth. Above and beyond all that, the spirit of the people here prevails. I have met their warmth and generosity, their personability and non-intrusiveness, grace and tact in the best coffee emporium anywhere, the best dress shops, the cook-shop, the Arts Centre, the hospital, the flower shops and more. In a large world, where news is synonymous with trouble, news in Aberystwyth is balanced with acknowledgement, appreciation and celebration of a coherent community in action.’
I wrote these words over 15 years ago, when I made the gruelling train trip weekly from London to Aberystwyth. The Cambrian News, still that bastion of all news local and beyond, kindly published it. Not much has changed. Aberystwyth is about 15 miles from ‘the cottage’ or a half hour by car and when I need anything, a large grocery order or a boost to my spirit, I go to Aber.
No time is more magical than Christmas. From the moment I see those feathered creatures hanging outside Rob Rattray’s butcher shop, I know Christmas is on its way.
robfeathers-2

 

 

 

no21
columbine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are Christmas fans and Christmas foes. I am well, truly, firmly in the fan camp. What a glorious feast for the senses-colour, scent, sound, taste, and for the spirit- generosity, humour, fun, joy.  Mecca,  No 21, Columbine, Polly’s and  many more. They capture it all. And so, the timeless magic prevails.

pollys

 

 

 

 

 

Most of all, Christmas is a time of connection and it sparks for me an immense sense of gratitude-

  • For my children, Lisa and Kevin -they are truly lovely human beings.
  • For my friend Mary Ann in Los Angeles who brings passion to everything.
  • For Karen Pearce who brings joy to art.
  • For members of the Tuesday group- for being there.
  • For Lina who brings love to action.
  • For Dr. Carl Langley for being a true healer.
  • For my sister Susann for her everlasting wisdom.
  • For my sister-in-law Laurie who brings inspiration and determination.
  • For my dear husband -for his absolute integrity.

Of course, I can’t let you go without a little morsel to sustain you and to share with others.  It does make 60 cookies.

Ina’s Fruitcake Cookies

Ingredients
1/2 pound dried figs
1/4 pound raisins
2 ounces candied cherries, coarsely chopped
2 ounces dried apricots, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons (approximately of chopped peel) I think this adds a bit of extra zip.
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces chopped pecans
Kosher salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 extra-large egg
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

Directions
Snip off the hard stems of the figs with scissors or a small knife and coarsely chop the figs. In a medium bowl, combine the figs, raisins, cherries, apricots, honey, sherry, lemon juice, pecans, and a pinch of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, cloves, superfine sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg and mix until incorporated. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt just until combined. Don’t over mix! Add the fruits and nuts, including any liquid in the bowl.
Divide the dough in half and place each half on the long edge of a 12 by 18-inch piece of parchment or waxed paper. Roll each half into a log, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4-inch thick, making an 18-inch-long roll. Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or until firm.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
With a small, sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices 1/2-inch apart.
art on ungreased sheet pans and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly golden.

Another wonder from my sleepless friend Fran

fransnow
May you have a peaceful and joy-filled Christmas.

Lots of love,
Anita

How bad can that be?

Oh blackberry tart, with berries as big as your thumb, purple and black and thick with juice, and a crust to endear them all, that will go to cream in your mouth, and both passing down with such a taste that will make you close your eyes and wish you might live forever in the wideness of that rich moment. (Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley, p. 85)

dscf1836
Holy smoke. Autumn is here. How did this happen? I apologize for missing summer, but so did the weather. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the various around the world political machinations went unnoticed. Mostly, a cause for discomfort if not downright despair. The one highlight for me was Obama’s speech. I haven’t cried since 2012 but this speech moved me to tears. One phrase is seared in my memory: The audacity of hope. (Barak Obama, July 27, 2016).
And this is what autumn is for me- the audacity of hope. The freshness of the air, the promise of new beginnings. Look around. What do you see? Kids heading back to school, often decked out in something new. Parents smiling…in the secret joy of liberation. Work is in full gear. After the stops and starts of summer, everyone is back, energized, full speed ahead. My sister once told me that most of the work on the planet is accomplished between September and Christmas. Shops are stocking up on new autumn and winter styles.

What do I see? Warm, bold, burnished colour- the flowers all decked out in oranges, golds, reds.  

dscf1891

There is not a single pear on my once prolific pear tree, but the apple trees are laden.

dscf1830dscf1833
I can hardly wait to make Ina’s APPLE CRISP…but we’ll get to that in a moment. I’ve been working on a couple of paintings. Some of you who have been in my kitchen will recognize this one from an earlier version.

dscf1887
I am calling it Apples Reloaded, because I have doctored it up as a result of reading Carol Marine’s book Daily Painting. I discovered it on Penny German’s website, a well known artist who sends out email alerts of her daily paintings. I learned about Penny’s work a few years ago in Country Living magazine and was so taken with it, that I attended one of her workshops in Northampton back in January. The other painting currently in progress is called  ‘Out to Pasture‘ (Those of you who live around here will recognize it). It will be in the next blog. .
My daily walk is now a contest between getting the heart rate up to the requisite pace, and being waylaid by the bumper crop of blackberries. Not to mention the need to pause in sheer awe as various bushes and trees compete in their lavish displays.

dscf1869

 

 

 

 

 


dscf1838

Slow Gin is definitely on the menu this year!

Well, as you know, I do a lot of thinking on these ‘excursions’ into the countryside. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the power of ‘naming’, the central importance of vocabulary, emotional vocabulary in being able to articulate our deepest feelings and experiences.  I don’t know about you, but for me, when I am having a badly chopped carrots moment,  such as-  Ok, the scene is lovely, but I’ve seen it all before. What’s new? I’m bored- it helps to talk to a friend.  Because boredom is often a signal that something else is going on. Something inside that needs attention.   Most often, it’s my friend in Los Angeles to whom I talk.   What is it she does that helps?  First, I know she cares about me-unconditionally. We’ve known each other 30+ years and seen each other through thick and thin. So I trust her. Second, she listens so deeply that she can hear and name for me what I am feeling, what’s at the core of what’s bothering me.  She gives me words to describe to myself what I haven’t yet been able to name. And then, there is a sense of ‘aha’ -that’s it- and something shifts inside of me, lightens up. The air clears a little.   I can move on.

I’ve been involved for several years in a process called Focusing which helps to do this same thing when I am all alone with my badly chopped carrots roommate.  You can find out more about it at www.focusing.org.uk.

 Of course, it’s also about the power of connection which I want to talk to you more about and get your thoughts on in my next blog  Because that’s really the purpose of the blog- to connect with you and hopefully, you with me.  I have to mention to you right now, two people with whom I do  have contact pretty regularly. They represent for me the essence of autumn -new beginnings, reinvention. They always inspire me to action. One has single-handedly helped me move from potential couch potato to a member of the fully mobile species (mostly). Lina Verseckaite is a coach, personal trainer, zumba teacher, marathan runner and a project worker with Ceredigion County Council.    There is nothing she cannot do.  Check her out on Facebook as her posts have profound messages.  

 For many of us, our ‘badly chopped carrots moments’ often involve health issues. Anthea Wilson, , scholar, nurse, friend and colleague has created a  brief on- line course called: Navigating the Health Information Jungle. Please check it out at: www.udemy.com. Informative, reassuring, empowering.

‘For now, there is very little that a half a pound of butter, three cups of sugar and some fruit won’t cure.  Those of you who know me,  also know that I am crazy about Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, and I know this would be her recommendation.  I love her style, her recipes,  and most of all, her joy.  Oh, and of course….her favourite sayings like: How BAD can that be?

So, in homage to Ina and because I have so little time, due to blackberry harvesting and writing you this blog, I am going to make for dinner, one of her fastest, easiest and supremely delicious chicken dishes. Oh, I know, I promised you the apple crisp too.

Lemon Chicken Breasts (From:The Barefoot Contessa. How easy is that? 2010)

(Serves 4- I divide it in half)

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (this is pretty much the only olive oil I use for cooking)

1 tablespoon minced garlic (she uses three. I like it lighter)

1/3 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (two lemons)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

Kosher salt (I use coarse sea salt) and freshly ground pepper

4 boneless chicken breasts (skin on)

(6-8 ounces each)

1 lemon

Directions

Pre-heat a oven to 400F/200C/180Fan

Use baking dish approximately 9×12 that you can also heat on top of the stove (I use  le Creuset)

Warm olive oil over medium low heat, add garlic and cook for just 1 minute but don’t allow it to turn brown.  Off the heat, add the white wine, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, thyme, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

Pat chicken breasts dry and place them skin side up over the sauce. Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper (I know these are Ina’s instructions, but it is a bit much on the salt so I skip this iteration of salt). Cut the lemon into 8 wedges and tuck it among the pieces of chicken.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the breasts, until the chicken is done and the skin is browned.  (I’ll be really honest with you. I have done these without the skin on and they are still delicious)

Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. (this is one of the most important things I have learned from Ina.  Cover the meat and let rest. It makes such a difference to moistness and dare I say-flavour.)

Serve hot with pan juices.

OK. Here it is. APPLE CRISP!

Old Fashioned Apple Crisp. (from: Barefoot Contessa. Parties! 2001)

Ingredients

(serves 10- I divide it into half and usually freeze some after its cooked. It works.)

5 pounds McIntosh or Macoun apples. (I use Granny Smith)

Grated zest of 1 orange

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice.  (of all  Ina’s ‘innovations’ I think its her use of lemons and oranges in so many cups her recipes that makes all the difference!)

½ cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the topping

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup light brown sugar, packed

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup oatmeal

½ pound cold unsalted butter, diced (I warned you didn’t I?)

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C/160F/

Butter a 9x14x2-inch oval baking dish

Peel, core, and cut the apples into large wedges. Combine the apples with the zests, juices, sugar and spices. Pour into dish.

To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment.  (I use my fingers and rub together until crumbly and the butter is the size of peas.) Scatter evenly over the apples.

Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for one hour until the top is brown and the apples are bubbly. Serve warm.  A scoop of vanilla ice cream nestled up in your bowl of crisp and melting slowly into the sauce, does not go amiss!

apple-crumble

 Autumn is a time of ‘hunkering down’, cosying up, lighting the first fires of the season. It is a time of Hygge, a Danish word for all that autumn evokes.  Check out www.hellohygge.com.

Enjoy!

Anitaxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do we do around here?

 

I had this blog all ready to go and then the referendum happened. Overnight, the world had turned upside down. At least that’s what it felt like to me…that sense of vertigo…when you don’t quite know where you are any more.    It took me a few days to get back some semblance of my bearings.  Mainly, I feel sad for the country and the inevitable difficulties it will face.   I feel particularly sad for the most disadvantaged people.  What the whole thing has catalysed in me is a profound desire to do something for someone else.  I was telling my trainer Lina about this as we were doing laps around the field  at the Aberystwyth University Sports Centre and she told me they were in desperate need of of some assistance where she works.  So I decided to volunteer for this local organization that works with learning disabled people.  My application is in process. I will keep you posted. 

Back before it all happened I was checking out one of my favourite websites: www.notsalmon.com and discovered this ‘grounding tool’. Look around you. Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.  What a lovely, light -hearted approach to managing stress and anxiety.

Alternatively, you can move to rural Wales.    The dormer window of the bedroom is fully open. I can hear a rustling in the hedge between the back garden and the field beyond.  A loud rustling.  Or is it munching?  I spot the source behind the hedge. I can just see the white of their coats flashing through the bushes. A small herd of cows enjoying a mid-afternoon snack. I can smell a pot of Beef Bourguignon bubbling gently on the stove- wine, carrots, garlic, thyme.  I can just about touch the soft elusive breeze that wafts through the cottage carrying with it the scent of fresh hay, grasses, earth.

Here is something I wrote when I first came.

Every time my car pulls into the back garden and I switch off the engine, the utter sense of peace, beyond silence descends. The absolute unchanging nature of life here from year to year, no new roads, no new developments brings a reassurance beyond words.

So now I am just starting down the hill from the cottage for my daily walk. My neighbour who owns the farm land around the cottage is sitting on his quad bike in the middle of the road.  He is making some ju ju sounds and is shaking a plastic bag in the direction of the lane to the left. I can hear a few moos and sure enough as I move a few more steps down the hill, I can see a small herd of black cows and calves clustered in the lane-obviously unimpressed with his bidding. I stop for a quick chat.  My neighbour is 88 years old and is now suffering from macular degeneration.  This is on top of the Addison’s disease he has had since his 30’s, the heart condition that emerged later, and of course the inevitable hip replacements.  So he apologises for not recognising me right away. However, he is going for shots on Friday at Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth or Aber as it is known around here.  The shots may help.

I ask about his wife, who is 80 and had major heart surgery around Christmas.  He asks after my dear husband.  The requisite medical bulletins having been exchanged, we get down to business.  Could I stand guard on the hill while he gets his bike up behind the cows and tries to herd them down the road? He doesn’t want them going up.  So can I stand guard to make sure they go in the right  direction?  Ok… I wait a few minutes. No problem really as it is a glorious summer day, with just a slight breeze.   There are no cars on the road. It’s silent.  Then my neighbour is back. The cows have decided to go into an adjacent field.  ‘Nice to see you.’

DSCF1713

Walking a little further down the hill I reach a T junction.   The little sign with the arrows points right to Llangeitho, straight ahead to Lampeter and backwards to Aberystwyth.   My neighbour’s oldest son and his family live in the white house on the corner. A former school teacher, he and his wife have a building business which also allows them to help me out with various and sundry things around the cottage from time to time.

A few minutes later, having passed some of the most glorious scenery anywhere on the planet, I head down another hill.

DSCF1791

 

This one is a 10% gradient and it feels like 45%. At the bottom sits the home of three brothers. There was an incident a few years ago when the county council sent an officer out to insist they move the fence adjacent to the road. One brother was having none of it.  He got out his cross bow and the officer left in short order.   I understand the brother spent some time away after one or two further incidents. Invariably one or other of them is out busying himself on a piece of machinery or in the shed. We always extend to each other very brief cordial greetings about the weather conditions as I continue without pause on the three  mile trek. 

The next leg involves the navigation of a very small, deeply rutted lane. Always the source of some seasonal harvest, branches for kindling in winter and early spring, wild roses in summer, rose hips in autumn.  I pass the home of my artisan neighbour and her husband, the one who makes in felt the gorgeously whimsical local scenes. In spring, summer and autumn they are busy in their pristine garden, built on a slope, lavishly filled with every imaginable flower and shrub.  Most of what I know about local floribunda, I have learned from their garden. 

Then a right turn, and I am about to embark on the dreaded 11% incline-upwards.  But not before I pass another neighbour’s dwelling.  A retired policeman from the former Rhodesia, his ‘compound’ hosts a menagerie of the wild and wonderful- guinea fowl, runner ducks, geese, alpaca sheep, and a three legged dog.   Many displaced and some thriving. Such is west Wales. 

DSCF1695

Right across the road from the house is a holly tree which partially overhangs the road and a field. It’s the only berried bush in the area that I have been able to find, so I always help myself to a few branches around Christmas.  And, right in front of the house, is a lilac tree and again, my neighbour has graciously invited me to help myself ‘as long as I don’t load up the back of a pick- up truck as some have been known to do.’

Then….and there is no escaping it…The real work of the walk begins.  I have tested out an infinite number of ways to ease the inevitable pain.  Here are a few: stopping every few minutes to ‘admire the view’; focusing only on the next step; focusing only on the middle distance; weaving from right to left and left to right; following the curves.  You get the picture.  What seems to be most distracting from the anguish is if I am in the middle of resolving a particularly intense current or possibly even past issue, usually an interpersonal one.  Then I have a tendency to keep going, resolutely straight ahead, perhaps even a bit too fast. Of course, being a consummate hypochondriac, I’ve been known to be so breathless as to become quite terrified that I am going to expire on this luscious but deserted hill top.  So far- as you can see- it hasn’t happened.  And there are absolutely incredible rewards. The banks in spring form a bluebell ‘carpet’, followed shortly thereafter by stalwart, upright foxgloves, lining up like lavender sentinels along the way, not to mention red campions, little yellow butter cups, white daisies, tiny violets.

DSCF1790

And today has been a ‘mid -range’ day.  I’ve been considering what finishing touches I might put on my latest painting.  A ‘painting’ colleague found the picture in an art magazine and brought it into the studio where we paint a couple of times a month. We each did our own version.  I find it really really helps to work alongside someone.  I have learned a lot from her.

DSCF1810

 I have been thinking hard too about a book I’ve been reading -‘Capital’ by Thomas Piketty and wondering what, if anything, the individual can contribute to resolving the age old tendency that Piketty identifies: wealth accumulates wealth. ‘How can we reach a fairer distribution of resource?’ is the central focus of Piketty’s work.

DSCF1805

   I haven’t quite reached the solution when I am back at the T junction. I turn left, up what now feels like a very small hill, and, after about 5 minutes I arrive.  There- silently, benignly waiting, sits the cottage.  The Beef Bourguignon has bubbled its way to perfection.  It’s time to taste!  All is well in west Wales. 

I am not going to keep you waiting another minute for the recipe:

This comes from one of my all time favourite cookbooks: Long Nights, Log Fires. Not just a whole range of terrific recipes but wonderfully evocative pictures that  envelope you with warmth and welcome.

DSCF1811

Boeuf Bourguignon (attributed to Fiona Beckett)

Serves 6
Ingredients

900 g braising beef or steak
3 tablespoons olive oil
130 g cubed pancetta (I use smoked back bacon)
3 white onions finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
450 ml full-bodied red wine
4 carrots chopped into one inch chunks (my addition)
1/2 cup beef broth (this is also my addition)
a bouquet garni made from a few sprigs of thyme,
parsley, and fresh or dried bay leaf
25 g butter
250 g chestnut mushrooms cleaned and halved or quartered if large.
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

a large flameproof casserole

Directions
Pat beef dry. Trim off any excess fat and cut into large cubes. Put one tablespoon oil into the casserole, set over medium heat, fry pancetta or bacon until lightly browned. Remove from pan with slotted spoon. Add beef in 2 batches and brown in fat that remains in casserole. Remove. Add remaining oil to pan and fry onion gently for 25 minutes until caramelised. Add garlic at the end. Cook one minute then add flour and cook for another minute. Add wine, and broth and bring to a boil. Return the beef, pancetta, and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer over lowest heat for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the meat is just tender. The instructions suggest leaving the casserole over night but I hardly ever do this.

Next saute the mushrooms in butter until lightly browned (about 5 minutes) Add to casserole and simmer another 10-15 minutes. Salt, pepper, chopped parsley. Served with mashed potatoes or boiled new potatoes.

 

Enjoy!

Anitaxx

Boeuf-Bourguignon