Hail king cauliflower!

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that seem to be back in vogue all of a sudden due, in part, to some bad publicity. It recently hit the headlines when a supermarket received criticism for selling ‘cauliflower steaks’ (thick slices to you and me!) for more than the cost of buying a whole cauliflower! A case of ‘clever’ marketing – and the need for the consumer to shop sensibly, if ever there was one.

In these days of trying to eat more healthily and to consume less meat, the cauliflower has got quite a lot to offer. In my youth, I was not a fan. It was usually served soggy and grey having been overcooked or slathered in a tasteless cheese sauce. It’s only recently that the dear old cauli has been recognised as having a lot more potential.

I think its texture has much to do with its resurgence – it is substantial and can stand up to pickling, pan frying, roasting and even barbecuing. You can marinade it whole and roast it for a rather impressive looking vegetarian meal, or go completely the other way and break up the florets into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles couscous to create cauliflower ‘rice’. This is a really clever option as it creates a low calorie, healthy, low-carb meal or side dish and has only about a quarter of the carbohydrates of traditional rice.

While cauliflower has a distinctive taste, it also takes up other flavours well. I particularly like it in a curry as the florets stay firm and it tastes great with curry spices. The idea of steaks is a clever one – cutting big slabs of cauliflower and then cooking them in oil and herbs creates a lovely main course. Cauliflower cheese, when made properly – pre-cooked cauli mixed into a rich cheese sauce and then sprinkled with extra cheese and browned under the grill – is a super comfort food.

Cauliflowers are available pretty much all year round, which makes it extra useful when so many other veg have given up for the winter. Predictably, supermarkets demand their cauliflowers white and pristine but look out for cheaper creamier coloured ones from a greengrocer or farmers’ market. As long as they are clean and firm, they are perfectly fine. Of course, cauliflowers don’t only come in white… there are purple and orange varieties and the stunning looking Romanesco with its lime green pointy florets that look like some clever architectural design. It’s not strictly a cauliflower but is closely related.

Sadly, growing them yourself is not that easy and you need to be a pretty dedicated veg grower to succeed. They need plenty of space, a rich soil and then a cage or netting to try and keep cabbage white butterflies and greedy pigeons away! It’s one of those veg, like sweet corn and asparagus, that I find it easier to just buy when I fancy them. But if you want to have a go at growing them, you’ve still got a few weeks to get them planted. You’ll find lots of advice on how to grow them online, as ever the RHS website has it covered.

 

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Final fans

I know I have been going on about fans for a couple of blogs now, but it’s really difficult when you are surrounded by dozens and dozens of mind-blowingly gorgeous samples not to be super enthusiastic!

So here’s one last peek at some of the projects in the new Joanna Sheen boxed set which will feature on my Create and Craft shows on Thursday 17thand Friday 18th May – and obviously on our website here while stocks last.

What do you think of that cute little cake box? I don’t have any weddings in the family for a while but I thought Grace might enjoy cooking a cake with Granny and then taking a piece home in a specially made Grace themed box. I have backing papers with alphabets on and we can mix learning letters and spelling her name using die-cuts, with cooking and eating cake – sounds fun to me!

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A fan of fans!

I have been a fan of fans, so to speak, for ages and I was thrilled when Practical Publishing chose fans as the theme of my latest boxed set with them. The set (and it’s fantastic value) will be available on the website for pre-orders on Thursday 10th May and then on my upcoming Create and Craft shows on the 17th and 18th May. But back to being a fan of fans…

While there are endless possibilities for crafting, fans were, and still are, extremely useful devices for cooling yourself down on a hot day. Both highly decorative and practical, I think the loss of the fan as an everyday accessory is a great shame as it makes a great prop. You can fiddle with it (in lieu of cigarettes!), flirt coyly from behind it and use it to make a point by snapping it shut or perhaps even prodding someone with it!

Archaeological ruins show that the hand fan was used in ancient Greece at least since the 4th century. Christian Europe’s earliest fan dates from the 6th century. This was used during services to drive insects away from the consecrated bread and wine. Hand fans were absent in Europe during the High Middle Ages until they were reintroduced in the 13th and 14th centuries. Fans from the Middle East were brought back by Crusaders while Portuguese traders brought them back from China and Japan in the 16th century, and fans became popular. Fans are well displayed in the portraits of the high-born women of the era. Queen Elizabeth I of England can be seen to carry both folding fans decorated with pom poms on their guardsticks as well as the older style rigid fan, usually decorated with feathers and jewels.

In the 18th century, fans reached a high degree of artistry and were being made throughout Europe often by specialised craftsmen. Folded fans of silk or parchment were decorated and painted by artists.

It has been said that in the courts of England, Spain and elsewhere fans were used in a more or less secret, unspoken code of messages and that these ‘fan languages’ were a way to cope with the restricting social etiquette… However, modern research has proved that this was a marketing ploy developed in the 18th century by a fan manufacturer! I am going to pretend I didn’t discover this fact on Google as I think the language of the fan sounds wonderful and should be reintroduced!

I always associate fans with Jane Austen’s novels and there are lots of fun and interesting fan references on the Jane Austen’s World website.

The website contains the following ‘quote’ supporting the language of fans story, which I am going to repeat here as I’d really like to be able to snap my fan shut to end an argument!

“In the eighteenth century, wealthy Georgian ladies, especially English ones, waved fans at masquerade balls and wore them as a fashion accessory with almost every outfit that they owned. There were daytime fans, white satin bridal fans and even mourning fans. As well as drawing attention to beautiful and perfectly manicured hands, these items played a big part in delicate flirtations. In fact, a whole ‘language of the fan’ had developed in England in Tudor times that became especially popular for middle and upper-class Victorian women who were courting. A folded fan placed against a lady’s chin told a gentleman that she found him attractive, for example, while snapping a fan shut was a curt dismissal! No wonder that the 16th century English writer, Joseph Addison, stated: “Men have the sword, women have the fan and the fan is probably as effective a weapon!”

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“Rhubarb rhubarb!”

I do enjoy Gardener’s World – an hour of delightful diversion, relaxing and thoroughly good for you. Whenever Monty Don so much as mentions a plant that I have in my garden I instantly feel as if this makes me a Proper Gardener. So, imagine my excitement last Friday when he was talking about picking your first rhubarb of the year and went on to say how a breakfast of stewed rhubarb and yoghurt was one of the most delicious breakfasts you could eat… that was just what I had tucked into myself earlier in the day! The combination is so yummy (a top culinary term!) the creamy yoghurt and tart rhubarb – and what’s more, it makes you feel virtuous as a healthy breakfast choice.

I think rhubarb is a bit like beetroot or avocado, a very distinct taste and you either love it or hate it. I love it, and it is so easy to grow! Our rhubarb is only about three years old (you shouldn’t harvest from it in the first year), but it is huge! Wrestling the stalks off the plant can be quite hard work (you have to carefully pull and not cut) and the enormous leaves need to be cut off and put straight in the compost bin, as they are poisonous. Unfortunately, people have been poisoned after eating the leaves. This was a particular problem during the First World War when the leaves were mistakenly recommended as a food source!

Rhubarb is such an easy thing to grow and you get so much back from it and I, for one, like its rather exuberant appearance. Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable but it is treated as a fruit, despite its tart flavour, you really can’t eat it raw and must add sugar. It goes well with ginger and strawberries… as well as custard and cream! And let’s be honest – is there anything more wonderful than a rhubarb crumble? Do you like rhubarb? If so, what do you make with it? Do share!

Rhubarb grows in two crops, the first arrives early in the year and is ‘forced’, or grown under pots, or those lovely tall terracotta forcers made especially for the job. The ‘rhubarb triangle’ around Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford is renowned for its production of delicate forced rhubarb, grown by candlelight inside sheds… I saw a TV programme on it once – fascinating!  You can read more about it here.

Forced rhubarb is a lovely pale pink, with lime green leaves, and it is the more tender and delicately flavoured of the two crops. The second, called main crop rhubarb, arrives in the spring and is grown outdoors and is what most of us have sprouting in our gardens. Its stalks are a deeper red, tinged with green, and its leaves a brighter green. It has a more intense flavour and a more robust texture than the forced crop.

Rhubarb is a fruit (or vegetable!) that has many health claims attributed to it. As ever, I think we have to take some of these with a pinch of salt – or spoonful of sugar in this case! Rhubarb is packed with minerals, vitamins, organic compounds, and other nutrients that make it a good healthy option. Some of these components include dietary fibre, protein, vitamin C, vitamin K, B complex vitamins, calcium, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Every serving of rhubarb provides 45% of the daily value in vitamin K, which supports healthy bone growth and can limit neuronal damage in the brain.

And if you’ve ever wondered why we use the term ‘Rhubarb rhubarb’… it goes back to 1852, when the theatre company of English actor Charles at the Princess’s Theatre, London would say the word rhubarb repetitively to mimic the sound of indistinct conversation in any crowd scenes, the word having been chosen because it does not have harsh-sounding consonants or clear vowels. So there you have it!

 

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Buttons, buttons and more buttons…

My memories of my grandmother and mother are of two very resourceful women that used and reused everything. Recycling is so ‘trendy’ now but honestly, it’s nothing new, is it? Can anyone else remember Christmas or birthday present being unwrapped carefully and the paper being whizzed away by an adult as they ironed it and reused it on another occasion?

Buttons and zips were another part of unwanted clothing that would never have been wasted, Granny had a sewing treasure trove with pre-loved (another trendy word) zips, hooks and eyes, buttons and the old favourite… school name tapes. There had to be an economy there too. The eldest child had a full name tape with both Christian name and surname, second child had new but with the Christian name cut off so just the surname was used and then poor old third child had just the surname carefully unpicked from older sibling’s clothing, so even less in the way of borders at each end. I was the eldest by the way so – ha ha ha – I got first and last names!

I would love to say that I am currently just as thrifty and take care of all the treasures handed down to me – but I’m sorry I don’t. Replace a zip …. Nope …. Sew on a button yes, maybe, but recycle hooks and eyes? Not on your nelly.

However, I have found a very happy use for some of the treasures – I add them as embellishments to cards.  Whether you like making vintage style (me, me!) cards or prefer a more contemporary slant to your creativity – buttons can still make great additions. Bright primary coloured plain buttons look fun on modern style cards – and the smaller pearly buttons look great on a vintage card – so keep saving and keep recycling, even if it is in 21stcentury style!

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