Sunday, November 30, 2008

Exporting Thanksgiving to Devon

BFFs (Beautiful Fucking Friends)

Last Thursday it was Thanksgiving. Last year in New York, this was my favourite holiday. And it made me very sad to think that it just doesn't exist in England. I mean, what can be better than a whole day, set aside to do nothing but eat yourself silly and get some serious down time with the people you love. I mean, you don't have to buy presents or decorate really, it's literally pretty much all about the people and the food. Or even really just the food. Let's face it, the reason I loved it was essentially the food. Who am I kidding!

This year, my lovely friend Holly, had planned a trip back to her parents house in Devon and invited me and our friend Laura along. It was then that I realised that this trip just so happened to coincide with ThankyG!! And when you combine that beautiful coincidence with a mother that just loves to bake, what you get, is in fact an amazing four days with amazing food (I'm still dreaming of the sweet potato pie), with amazing people. In the cutest village in the West Country: Salcombe.

I wish to own window boxes such as this

Now, I went to university in Exeter, Devon. So I am well informed, and have researched thoroughly the fun factor of most of the Devon coastal towns. And Salcombe wins hands down.

It's got sun, sand and sea. It's got the cutest boutique shops. It's small and village-like, yet even in the wintertime it's still got life and character.

The steps to Dusters, where we had lunch one day

I love the flowers in the window boxes, and the many, many, yummy places to eat.

Who doesn't love bunting?! 

I love the ferry that goes back and forth across the water to take sunbathing tourists to and from the beaches on the other side of the bay. I love the quaint village vistas that greet your eye every way you turn.


I love the ice cream colours of the houses and shops. And I can literally not get enough of the hot pink institution that is Cranch's Sweet Shop.

But most of all, I love the seascape views of the bay.

Especially when the sun is going down.

This Thanksgiving, I am goddamned thankful that there are places like this in the world. A little slice of lovely.

Oh and for those sweets at Cranch's.

And oh yeah... for that sweet sweet potato pie.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pikelets Are Not a Small Fish (Alternate Title: How to Make Your Dogs Jealous)

Look at that face. He wants what my sister has. But he's not getting it. Oh, it's hard being a dog.

It's late autumn. And it's getting way cold. The leaves have given up, my fingertips have given up, and quite frankly, we could all do with some warmth in our lives.

That is why, there is nothing better than late afternoon tea on a late November day. With rounds and rounds of crumpets and pots and pots of hot tea. It really warms the cockles.

The other day, I decided I would make crumpets from scratch. Except I didn't decide that at all, I decided I would make the cousin of the house of Crumpet: the humble Pikelet.

I always thought pikelets were a small fish. Kind of like a scampi/whitebait type deal. So whenever anyone offered me some pikelets, I turned my nose up and said "No FREAKING way! Fish, in the afternoon?! You be crazy!".

Imagine my surprise when I found out yesterday from HFW (literally loving his book) that they are in fact the lovechild of  a crumpet and a crepe! Continental! And that making them from scratch seems distinctly simple. And something that I should attempt. 

All you need for pikelet fun

Now, to get the lovely crumpet-esque holes to form when you cook pikelets, you need yeast in your batter mixture. And yeast is special because it's alive. Which kind of freaks me out. But because of this, it needs to be activated and nurtured, coaxed and cajoled into releasing its rising powers into your batter.

Which all this essentially means you should make your batter in the morning, if you want to have pikelets as it gets dark (which these days is around 4.30).

Apparently fresh yeast is better to use, but I didn't have any, so used some dry yeast. Which worked just as well.

Now, this is what I had to do, according to the mighty Hugh, and it made more than enough to fill up four people so that they could hardly move and make two dogs very jealous.

Step 1: Measure out 250g of strong white bread flour and 250g of plain flour. Wonder what the goddamn difference is.

Step 2: Sift this floury goodness into a large bowl, along with 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar and 1 teaspoon of salt. 

Step 3: Next you get your yeast (fresh or otherwise, prepared as per the instructions on the packet) and crumble/pour in. A bit at a time add 500 ml of lukewarm water. The fact that it's lukewarm is very important, as I discovered. If it is too hot, the yeast gives up the ghost and dies all up on your batter. And if it's not hot enough, then, like me, it just won't get out of bed and be active at all.

Step 4: Beat it all together for a couple of minutes, then cover the bowl with a warm, damp tea towel. And then put it somewhere warm. I put it in one of our kitchen cupboards which is next to the boiler pipes. You're going to leave it there for up to two hours for the yeast to work it's magic, so if you're anything like me, you'll give the yeast a little pep talk, say "Good day sirs", and close the cupboard door.

Step 5: Wait two hours, or until the sky is a lovely shade of pink/purple:

Step 6: Get your bowl out of the cupboard, or wherever you put it. The batter should have risen some what, if the yeast heeded their pep talk at all.

Step 7: Dissolve 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in 150ml of lukewarm whole milk. To make the milk lukewarm I just popped it in the microwave for about a minute. In case you haven't noticed these crazy yeast boys are fussy when it comes to temperature. Stir the milk mix into the batter a bit at a time, until the batter is the texture of thick paint. You probably won't need all of the milk, I didn't, but that's ok.

Step 8: And now! The fun part. Grease up a nice big frying pan, or, like in my case, a griddle pan, if you have one.  Get it all nice and sizzling hot.  And make like pancakes. Ladle a small amount of batter at a time in smallish circles on the pan. 

Step 9: Once the top gets little bubbles forming and drying out, its time to flip them over.

Step 10: Cook them for about another minute on the other side, and serve straight away whilst they are still way hot.

Step 11: You can serve them savoury, with cheese, and butter. Or sweet, with sugar or jam.  But I warn you of this. If you serve them anywhere near your springer spaniels, they will not leave your side, or take their eyes off you.

Step 12: Make said dogs jealous by tucking the heezy in.

Ah, pikelets, fun for all the family, on an autumn afternoon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Seafood on the Seashore

Mudeford Quay. Which I thought was pronounced 'Kway' until I was about 13. I'm special.

Today, my dad and I did something that I haven't done for years. Literally, many moons. And it's something that always reminds me of being a little girl.

We took a trip to Mudeford Quay.

Mudeford is a little seaside village between Bournemouth (my home town) and the next town along the south coast of England, Christchurch. 

I was always really scared of falling in and drowning in this bit of water when I was little.. I think it was because of this sign..

When I was a young whippersnapper, my dad would take me and my sister (and later my brothers) to Mudeford every so often. 

I'm not really sure why, as there was not really a lot there for kids to do, apart from crabbing. In the summer, there are always group after group of kids hanging over the railings, dangling crab lines into the sea.  Each group, had a bucket of water, ready to house the crabs in when they caught them.  From sun up to sun down, the lines would go up and down, and there would be periodic cheers every time a crabalicious bounty was secured and carefully transplanted to its temporary home.  And then at the end of the day, when it came time for tea, the crabs were counted, scores tallied, and all thrown back in.

Lobster net sunset

Thinking about it, it's a pretty goal-less endeavour. But I do remember it being hours and hours of fun. Especially when you caught too many crabs, and they formed an escape committee, climbed on top of each other and out of the bucket, scuttling sideways off into the distance, and freedom.

Oh, fun times.

Back of the net

But that's a summer activity. In winter time, there's nothing here. Yet I always loved coming. I think it's the beautiful views, the tempestuous sea that makes me feel so alive, and the food.

Oh yes, the food.  

There's a cafe at Mudeford, for you to go to, if you wish to have a cup of tea. 
But we never go there.

There's even a pub, if you wish to have a pint of beer. 
But we never go there.

We go to the best place.
Mudeford Quay Fish Stall.

For these:

Check out my immaculately manicured nails. On second thoughts, don't.

Always a pot of prawns, a cocktail stick and lashings of secret seafood sauce.

Ever since I can remember.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Cozy Soup & Crazy Sparklers

All the ingredients for a great Bonfire Night: HFW, shroooms and a cozy scarf

So, on Wednesday it was November 5th. Yeah, ok, so tell me something I don't know right? But! November 5th in England is a special day, because it's Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawke's Night.  I'm not about to give you a detailed history lesson on why we crazy English celebrate this: suffice to say, essentially, some crazy guy tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder hundreds of years ago on November 5th, but was foiled at the last minute. He was burnt at the stake. 

Or at least, I presume he was, because otherwise our tradition of making a fake Guy Fawkes (or just "guy") and chucking him on the bonfire at this time of year is a little fucked up and quite frankly, weird. Other ways we celebrate this momentous occasion in our nation's history include letting off a pant-load of fireworks at an organized event.  Back in my childhood days, we were allowed to do this in our own back yards, but health and safety laws seem to be making this more and more impossible, or at least frowned upon. 

And also, we play with sparklers! (But more on this later).

On Bonfire Night, (which I love, and was sad I missed out on last year, because America has no clue what it is, and why would they to be honest..), I also enjoy all the cozy food that people seem to make to warm you up for standing out in the cold watching all the pretty lights and bonfires... like hot dogs, burgers, soups and toasted marshmallows.

This year, my family were taking it easy, after the exertions of the Ween party, so just the sparklers for us.  So I decided I would make a nice lovely seasonal mushroom soup as the preamble to said sparklers.

Shroom soup, to be found on page 202, apparently

I had been re-reading one of my favourite cook books this week: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'The River Cottage Year', saw his recipe for mushroom soup in the autumn chapters, and realised it was so easy, and therefore perfect for tonight. 

Here's how it all went down:

Step 1: Persuade brother to walk with you to the shop to buy the vast amounts of mushrooms needed for the soup. Seriously, I've literally never seen so much fungi...

Step 2: Enlist your father to chop up the, what can only be described as, mountains of mushrooms, whilst you attend to other things such as finding the non-existent thyme in your dismal herb garden

Step 3: Watch father walk off when he gets bored, shout out "You loser! Get back here!". Be ignored.

Step 4: Continue chopping mushrooms on your own.

Step 5: Tip all chopped mushrooms into a nice big massive pan with some garlic..

Step 6: Think, "That is a pantload of mushrooms". Take a picture.

Step 7: Stir around so that all the mushrooms get to do their share of time on the bottom, heated, warm part of the pan.

Step 8: Season with salt, pepper (pictured), lemon juice, bit of parsley, and thyme. Or if, half way through chopping the mushrooms you are told by a relative "Oh, that's right, we planted rosemary not thyme!", grab the next best thing. Which in my case was a packet of Herbes des Provinces. I have no idea what that means. And I did French at school.

Step 9: Peer into pan. Have your glasses steam up. Wipe glasses off, and see that lots of nice lovely shrroooom juice is appearing. Take pan off the heat.

Step 10: Now for the fun part! Hold your hats. I was making like, double what the recipe was for, because I have a large family, so not all of my shrooms were able to be zsuzshed (yes, its a word.. its the sound a blender makes) at one time. So I had to go in shifts. Put about 3 ladles-worth of cooked shrooms in the blender, add a nice amount of stock, a knob of butter, and a tablespoon or so of cooked rice (I have no idea why, but HFW told me to, and it didn't fuck anything up). 

Step 11: Zsuzsh. Until it's as smooth as you like it.

Step 12: Pour into another pan. Lather, rinse and repeat until you've got through all your shrooms.

Step 13: Admire your mad zsuzshing skillz. Realise you didn't zsuzsh enough, and add more stock. Decide you want to live life in the fast lane, and add some sherry. 

Step 14: Watch as your father tries to take over and adjusts the seasoning. Your father will make it too peppery. Send brother to the store to pick up some cream. This will counteract the pepper. 

Step 15: Serve before anyone else can interfere. With toast if possible.

Step 16: Finish then run outside to play with sparklers:

Actual love.... from me to you..

My sister has fireballs for hands!! Wicked cool...

My bro-fo is mad crazy with a sparkler... watch out..

Don't try this at home folks, that's a sparkler... by my face. Don't call health and safety: I'm a professional..

Step 17: Be sure, when you are done with your sparklers, that you put them in a bucket of water. Else I'll call Health and Safety on yo' ass...

Bucket.. Very important.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I knew you'd do it...

So proud, America... so frigging proud...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Come on America, Make Me Proud...

Star Spangled Banner in stormy skies - Liberty Island Feb 08

I'm excited. I'm so excited. 

Not in my lifetime can I remember an American election being so important, and meaning so much to so many people, both in America and beyond.

I have been following the race to the White House all through my time in New York in the past year, and even more avidly since I came back. It was my link back to my second home, and I felt invested in it.

Above anything else, this election, has been so inspirational. It has made me so happy to hear reports of states predicting unprecedented voter turnouts. So many people feel so passionately to come out and queue up, in the longest voter lines, to stay in line for hours, because this matters so much. So many people are expected to vote that states are actually concerned that there may not be enough voting ballot papers, or that the lines will be too long and they just won't be able to accommodate the sheer number of people that want to vote before polling stations close. 

Obviously these resource problems aren't what is making me happy, and I hope that it all works out, but the fact that so many people are planning to exercise their right and their goddamned responsibility to vote. To change the nightmare of the last eight years, to have their say, to find their voice. 

It is such a welcome change from the voter apathy that makes me so mad.

Come on America, make me proud.

I know you can do it, make the change we can believe in....

Mr Obama's new home?... Please?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Grave things are afoot

Wow. So here it is, as promised my full post-party report. It was a big group effort to put together. Everybody in my family, cousins and aunts, uncles and grandparents helped out, making the food, moving furniture, wiring up laptops, decorating every available picture frame with pretend dust (a task which it turns out, my sister is a closet genius at! That fake dust is actually a very difficult thing to work with, but Eleanor has the knack it seems), and just generally pitching in to pull it off. 

And then people showed up. Lots of people. Many people we'd seen recently, and many more we hadn't seen in so long.  It was lovely.  And so many people made such an effort with costumes! Halloween isn't as big a deal in the UK as it is in America, and I know from when I was in New York last year, it is so much fun when everybody dresses up, so I'm really glad that people did! It was fantastic to see, and really good fun to guess who everybody was. 

Below are a few of the costumes that I managed to get good pictures of:

My friend Holly as a witch; I'm really feeling her facial spiderweb.. directional

My friend Laura, as another witch

My friend James, as some sort of creature of the night, and I don't mean a hooker

My lovely sister; she's just a devil woman, with evil on her mind

My youngest bro-fo Ed as Alex from A Clockwork Orange

My uncle, as Heath Ledger's Joker, one of my favourite costumes of the evening

My lovely mummy, as a Batwoman. With really shiny earrings.

My sisters lovely friends, Matthew and Pete, as Doctor Who and The Master in their signature "mortal enemies" pose.

See? Didn't everybody do well? I am now going to 'play you out' with some more generic party time type photos that I took that I like, which summed up the good time everybody had. And you may even see the results of my blood-making Carrie-inducing efforts in the form of my very own prom-queen nightmare costume in there as well.

My cousin Sophie (as a mummy) and my brother Ed. Cuteness!

Me and Holly: Blood, it's so AW08

My sister Eleanor and her friend Liam (not dressed up = upsetting)

I'm sure she loves me really. I'm sure...

L-R: Holly, Some joker, my lovely friend Esther as a 20s flapper, and Laura

Big fun!! Same again next year?