Archive for April, 2009

Playing along

pears1It’s not often I play cyber tag as I’m usually exhausted from chasing the anklebiters around all day. But as I was wondering what to post, a game of tag seemed the ideal way not to have to think too much to work off some of that Easter chocolate! (OK! I confess  – there were some teeny tiny choccie eggs pouting at me in the pantry, begging me on their bare knees to be enjoyed! Who could resist such a challenge?)

I feel myself sliding away on the slippery slope of red herring-dom. So – to business! The very talented Maria-Thérèse of afiori snagged me in her silver net of charming notebooks and photos. The stuff she sells is just darling!

But wait – where is that tag and why is it itching my neck?

Five things I’m looking forward to:

  • Shared moments of joy.
  • Finishing off my next textbook and seeing it in action in schools.
  • Delivering a brilliant translation of a book that looks at developments in the developing world.
  • Having a day in pajamas.
  • An end to poverty.

horses

Things I’ve done over the past few days:

  • Admired two grass snakes swimming and a couple more lazing around in the garden.
  • Had my peace shattered when a neighbour suggested we kill the snake near her house. (We didn’t, of course!)
  • Had a terrifying Hitchcock moment when a bird went wild inside the house.
  • Entertained a huge bunch of wild children. (Where do they all come from? And who are they, anyway?)
  • Ate home-made Polish apple cake. (And yes – you’re so right! I did not make it!)
  • Sneaked downstairs to watch an episode of Life on Mars – superb!

two_birds

Things I wish I could do:

  • Make the world a happier place.
  • Speak at least a hundred languages.
  • Travel in time and space and dimension.
  • Slide down a rainbow.
  • Put laughter in a bottle and give it out to people when they need it.
  • Wear stars in my hair.
  • Invent a new season.
  • Cook?

All the photos in this post belong to Maria-Thérèse and are taken from her site at afiori.


Bursting that bubble

Dear Readers,

Some of you so sweetly suggested that I was downplaying my culinary skills by clothing myself in a dress of false modesty. As you pointed out, many good cooks do indeed say, “Oh! That’s just a little something I whipped up for you in five minutes!” when in fact they have taken days to lovingly and carefully concot a three-course meal that is so startling in its deliciousness that you might well think you just saw a pig go flying by.

Sadly, I am not one of those cooks.

In fact, I am not even falsely modest as I believe that this really is just a sign of pride. When I say I am bad at cooking, I mean it. And as we are such a loving family, I would like to present the testimony of my baby younger sister, who writes:

“Sorry to burst the bubble but those of you who think that LadyFi is secretly a good cook ( and I can hear the guffaws of SirPe and the kids all the way over here in sunny Perth, Australia) – think again!!!!”

Yes, those earth-shattering thuds you heard were, in fact, my family laughing their heads off. (Oh – there goes one rolling down the drive now…)

marsh_garlic

Melted marshmallows on garlic bread

I’m what you might call a ‘creative’ cook. I let my kids make up their own dishes – and then photograph them as evidence. My son gave marshmallows on garlic bread 9/10.

And this dish scored 100% in the ‘unusual but absolutely deliciously bizarre’ category:

Marmshmallow pizza - A la carte!

Marshmallow pizza - A la carte!

I know what you’re thinking now: My goodness, she wasn’t downplaying her skills – they are even worse than I thought possible!

At last – you are on the road to enlightenment!

Yours,

The Non-cooking Cooking Guru


Blog Fodder

measuring1

How I measure stuff

After my post with the recipe about scones and clotted cream, I got a lot of questions about.. erhem… cooking!

Please, dear readers! Get a grip on yourselves! You do remember my tale of little burnt cabbage, don’t you? Yes – the one where I thought you could actually boil something without using water!

I post a humorous look at scone making and I suddenly turn into a guru! Hang on a minute – hold onto that thought: I like it. Lady Fi the guru. Smacks of modesty, don’t you think?

I need to make something clear: as I told you in my post, I didn’t actually make the scones myself. I just told you how YOU could make them! That’s right: I have to live vicariously through you, dear readers.

My cyber pal with the sharp wit and the beautiful dog, Far Side of Fifty, had a whole range of questions. I think she just likes teasing me because she knows all about my culinary skills… After all, she made some kind of reference to giving me some blog fodder. Actually, I think she was referring to the food I make. Well, never mind. Let’s move on swiftly.

She wanted to know the following:

1. Who did I pay off to prepare the tea time pictures?

Google!

2. Is caster sugar like white sugar?

Yes. It’s a very fine sugar and we usually whisper sweet nothings to it as it is so fine: Oh, sugar baby, you’re so sweet! In the US, I believe you call it ‘superfine’ sugar.

3. What is clotted cream?

Well, you find some clots (a good place to look is politicians’ offices, for example), plonk them all in a big bubble bath – and there you have it: clotted cream. And if you don’t believe me, then you’re less gullible than I thought! Another explanation is that clotted cream is a very thick yellow cream that you get when you heat up milk and then leave it in a pan for hours and hours. For example, if you somehow forgot you were cooking milk and went off to play mini-golf all weekend, then when you came back, you would find lots of lumps or clots floating on the surface of the pan – not to  mention the smell of off milk!

Go to Google for the recipe of how to create your very own clotted cream…

4. How do you all measure that g and ml stuff anyway? Well, I use scales to measure grams. In Sweden, we measure millilitres and decilitres with measuring jugs and measuring spoons. (Yes, I went to all the trouble of photographing my measuring utensils for you, dear reader!)

guru

I’m exhausted. Being a guru is hard work.


More cooking tips…

I’m going away for the weekend. To an old manor house where even my phone doesn’t work. Next to the banks of a river. For some mental stimulation – and some work (if you can call something this fun ‘work’.)

I’ll be back in a couple of days. So until then – here is a very important cooking tip to help you get through the weekend.

dont_cook_keyboard

There you have it: breaking news! Do not cook, grill, bake or microwave your keyboard. However, if you do succeed, then let me know…


Cream teas-er!

I was most disturbed to hear that many of you have sad gaps in your culinary experiences. Your taste buds have definitely not lived if they haven’t had a proper cream tea – or even an improper one! And who is more qualified than your own dear Lady Fi to give you the ultimate guide to cream teas and scone-making? Answer: everyone on the planet is more qualified, except perhaps the kitchen staff at British schools who still insist on feeding kids with powdered potatoes and ready meals…

But I digress! A cream tea looks something like this: freshly-brewed tea (made with the finest tea leaves you can find), delicate china (make sure you are not expecting visitors in the form of bulls or other bovines in a china shop), thick clotted cream and strawberry jam.

perfect_tea

Stuff you need (to make scones, that is!):
225g/8oz self raising flour
pinch of salt
55g/2oz butter
25g/1oz caster sugar
150ml/5fl oz milk

What is self-raising flour? Well, it’s white stuff that makes cakes light and fluffy. If you can’t get the self-raising stuff in your country, then use ordinary flour and try adding 2 teaspoons of baking powder. (What’s that? Did I just take the figure of 2 teaspoons out of a hat? Of course I did! You don’t actually expect me to know how to turn ordinary flour into the self-raising variety, do you?!)

You’re aiming to mix up all the ingredients above so that they end up looking like this. Good luck!

devoncreamtea

What to do with the ingredients so that they more or less (probably less) resemble scones:
1. Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Actually, I would use some of those baking sheet thingies that you can put on the baking tray and then throw away later…

2. Mix together the flour and salt and rub in the butter.

(Rub is a weird word in this context – you’re not doing a belly rub here! You have to have soft butter that you then rub with your fingertips together with the other stuff so that it resembles crumbs.)

3. Stir in the sugar and then the milk to get a soft dough.

(Duh! Who would want a hard dough?)

4. Put dough on a floured work surface and knead very lightly. Pat out to a round 2cm/¾in thick. Use a 5cm/2in cutter to stamp out rounds and place on a baking sheet. Lightly knead together the rest of the dough and stamp out more scones to use it all up

(Forget the cutters! Just use the top of a glass or cup. Make sure you have drunk all the liquid inside first, though!)

5. Brush the tops of the scones with a little milk. (No, you don’t use a hairbrush or even a toothbrush! A paintbrush works well…)

Bake for 12-15 minutes until well risen and golden.

6. Cool on a wire rack, but hey – don’t let them get stone cold!

Scones should be eaten warm with strawberry jam and clotted cream. Traditionally, in a Devon cream tea you do not use butter. If you want butter as well as all that cream, then by all means feel free – this is called ‘a traditional Cornish cream tea’ should anyone ask you what you’re doing…

Please note that I have never tried out this recipe so I cannot be held responsible for: explosions in the oven, very tall scones due to over-use of some of the ingredients, singed eyebrows or the inadvertent making of rock cakes or scones that look nothing like the pictures shown.

No scones were harmed in the making of this post.


Indecent food

flagonforkA friend of mine is attending the London Book Fair and enjoying literary meetings and cherry blossom in the park. (No – I’m not green with envy… that’s only a bit of mould!) However, one of the things she is not enjoying is British food. Although, what exactly is wrong with eating chips in a bread roll or potatoes with pizza, I’ll never know!

Actually, it is a myth that all British cuisine is bad, but this story is not the one that explodes the myth. Quite the opposite. There were explosions – nasty ones, but not of the myth-busting variety.

Have I whetted your appetite?

A couple of years ago, when we were over in England visiting our families, we suffered at the hands of motorway stops and fifth-rate restaurants at tourist sites. Remember that we are hopeless cooks, so that anything below our standard really is low!

Anyway, towards the end of our stay, we went to M & S (an upmarket high street store called Marks & Spencers) to stock up on essentials like underwear and books for the kids. While we were there, we decided to have a bite to eat at their newly-renovated and very expensive in-store café. It was coffee and cake all round except for Sir Pe, who suddenly developed a craving for a scone with jam and clotted cream.

cream_scones

Traditionally, the scone is served warm and is light and fluffy inside with jam and cream that melts in the mouth and over your clothes. The one that Sir Pe took out of the chilling cabinet was cold and hard. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this was the scone David used to knock Goliath out with.

Sir Pe politely asked for a fresh scone. Preferably one that would allow him to keep his teeth in his mouth after eating it. The serving lady gave him another scone that was just as hard. He then asked her for a scone that had been baked that day.

“They are all baked right here on the premises.”

“OK. Can you warm this up please so that it is a little softer?”

“Sorry! We only have industrial ovens that can’t warm up food. Anyway, this is what scones are supposed to be like.”

comfort_cartoonThat’s when it happened: the stretching of patience as taut as the nerves of a terrified patient at the dentist; the twang of nerves unravelling like knicker elastic; the sound of tempers exploding.

“What do I have to do to get some decent food in this [swear word deleted] country? Can’t I even get a fresh scone?” he shouted. Loudly. So that even the several hundred old dears in the queue behind us could hear us without having to switch on their hearing aids.

There is nothing a store likes less than an irritated customer telling everyone what bad food it serves.

The manager emerged swiftly. Took away the offending scones. And brought back a freshly-baked warm one.

What’s the moral of this story? If you want some decent food in England, you’ll have to shout louder than everyone else!


The 19th Wife

19-wife A couple of weeks ago, I came to the end of the fascinating book The 19th Wife, written by David Ebershoff. It was a big, sweeping read – part history lesson about Ann Eliza Young and the roots of Mormon polygamy or plural marriage; part contemporary murder mystery and part exposé of current First Latter Day Saints’ sects in the USA that still practise plural marriage to this day.

The novel contains two parallel stories: a modern-day murder mystery set in a mysterious sect that practises polygamy, and a historical saga based on the real life of Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Prophet and Leader of the Mormon Church in the late 1800s.

The contemporary story is a gritty one in which Jordan returns to visit his mother in jail after she has been accused of killing her husband. His mother is a plural wife (number 19) and Jordan, her gay son, was expelled from his community, a secretive sect still practising polygamy, six years previously.

The story of Ann Eliza Young charts the story of her parents’ plural marriage, the foundation of the Mormon Church and how she fought for her freedom from her powerful husband. She started the crusade that ended polygamy and ulitmately – so some say – saved the Mormon Church.

It is a compelling read as it raises questions about the effects of polygamy on all those involved: the loneliness and objectification of the women, the brutalization of the men and, above all, the abuse and neglect of the children of plural marriages. The book also examines faith, why we believe, and what happens when you lose your faith.

It is an entertaining, fascinating, dark and compelling novel. I found it engrossing – and yet chilling too in the way it examines the broader landscape of faith, and the spiritual crimes committed in the name of religious conviction.


Ringing ears

Our little anklebiter turned six last week.

Last year's birthday cake: a snow cake!

Last year's birthday cake: a snow cake!

Today, he shared a birthday party with one of his best friends. Nobody wanted to have 14 pre-school kids on a sugar high in their homes tearing pictures off the walls or swinging from the ceiling lamps like Tarzan and Jane (too late: this has already been done at home!) – so we did the only sensible thing – and held the party at a soft play area where they are used to kids smearing ice cream all over their hair and faces (four kids did this), screaming their heads off so that the windows shattered (all kids), throwing their juice on the floor (2 kids) and littering the floor with so  much wrapping paper that it looked as if a confetti factory had exploded (the two birthday boys).

argh

All in all, it was a successful party.

The only problem is that my ears are ringing… but I refuse to answer!


A little hide-away

I’ve been keeping something from you. A little secret. Hidden away in the middle of nowhere. Somewhere with lots of room outside, but not so much inside. Enough for simple needs: a fireplace, a small kitchen and living space and two tiny bedrooms.

main_cottage3

Somewhere with a huge garden to get lost in and exciting trees and hidey-holes to explore. And even a little guest cottage with its own deck where you can stay; and where you can sparkle and dazzle in the candlelight for the guest wing has no electricity.

guest_cottage

And what’s this? The quaint little wash house with a sauna, shower and dry earth closet. (Toilet paper in the basket, please!)

wash_house1

You see, dear reader, we have decided to rent a summer cottage in a tiny neighbourhood with four or five gravel paths – in the middle of the woods. But just a 45-minute drive from where we live. A bumpy drive down a two-kilometre lane will, I hope, take us to the shores of a lake with crystal clear water for swimming.

Many  Swedes like to get away from it all by going to their summer places with no electricity or running water and just relax. We’re not going totally native as our rented place will have water in May (optimistically known as ‘turning on the summer water’) and there is electricity in the main cottage.

Oh – what’s that? No, you have to bring your own dogs along as they are not included in the rental!


Blogger loses her marbles during her 200th post!

This is one of those long, rambling blog posts that make no sense I like to think has been lovingly put together with no some semblance of madness and wit. It is a eulogy to … Erm, before I get too pompous, let me just say, this is a celebration of my 200th post! And even though it looks like a hotch-potch of vaguely amusing pictures, it is isn’t is isn’t is!

First off, the obligatory cake…

no_sprinkles

… As you can see, I’ve been waiting for those sprinkles since last year!

Now, you might think that you can’t have your cake and eat it. But living in Sweden, has taught me that you can. They are masters of the art of compromise. You wouldn’t believe how many meetings you have to go to before everyone finally agrees to agree!

compromise

But it’s worth it – really it is. Avoiding controversy is not yet a lost art.

As you all know, I was at a company conference recently where someone let off wind. Loudly. The diplomatic silence was only  disturbed by my childish sniggering. I was going to suggest that we went away next year to an outdoor venue. But I guess that is out too.

fart

I love the quirky things in life, so could definitely see myself wearing one of Aya Tsukioka’s superb and wacky pieces of urban camouflage clothing. Apparently, she designed this item in response to the rising street crime in Japan. Instead of using mace or alarms, she invented this cool vending dress. If you feel threatened, you just lift up the skirt and – voilá – you’ve turned yourself into a vending machine!

vendingskirt1

I love this idea for its quirkiness, wackiness and sheer originality! She has also designed a purse that becomes a manhole cover and a bag that you can turn into a fire hydrant. (Do not use when in the vicinity of dogs, though!)

How did I manage to make it to 200 posts? Well, it’s all down to you. Yes – YOU, dear reader. I’ve been carried away on the wave of your madness comments and support.

funny-visitors-way

And even more bewildering is: how did you guys manage to read my two hundred posts? OK – I know you haven’t read all of them. But some of you have come pretty close. Thank you very much… now go out and get a life give yourselves a big round of applause for sticking with me! You’re the best… and to prove it, I made you all this badge out of sand. Wear it with pride – well, at least until the tide comes in…

sand_winners

Oh – and if you find my lost marbles, please feel free to use them. If you’ve made it to the end of this post, you’ll probably need them…


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