Wildflower wonderland

After a pretty fraught day, it was lovely to go for an evening stroll yesterday and to feel the warmth of the sun, listen to the birds singing and enjoy the fabulous wildflowers.

I think we all know Devon is a beautiful county but, in the month of May, it really comes into its own. The hedgerows, banks and woodlands are full of wildflowers – bluebells, red campion, stitchwort, wild garlic… the list is endless.

My own garden is starting to look pretty good, but there is something so magical about the display nature can produce all on her own. Yes, I know you can see tropical blooms and exotic birds in other parts of the world but for me, there is nothing to beat the English countryside in May.

What’s your favourite wildflower?

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When food gets weird…!

I always find it interesting how dishes and styles of food go in and out of fashion and how, sometimes, food gets weird! The Elizabethans had their sweetmeats while the Victorians used oysters in almost everything. Obviously, recipes reflect the cost and availability of ingredients – oysters used to be cheap, while chicken was a luxury.

I love reading about food and I was chuckling over some funny terms recently…

Fusion
A few years ago, ‘fusion’ cookery was all the rage. This always sounded a bit too much like physics to me, but it was the combination of various forms of cookery, so you might have South Asian and Pacific Rim, or Texan and Mexican (Tex-Mex). This is fine it theory, but chefs do get a bit carried away. I remember reading about curried porridge, spaghetti tacos and Japanese Scotch eggs. Hmmm…

Chocolate soil, copyright www.epicurus.com

Soil
One of the very ‘on-trend’ additions to posh restaurant dishes at the moment is soil. I think our friends on Masterchef are probably responsible for introducing this one! Call me old-fashioned (and people do!) but I instantly think of my flowerbeds, and I’m not sure I want a version of this, no matter how delicious, on my plate. It’s just… odd. Mostly, it is dark chocolate and I’d be a lot happier if we stuck to ‘sprinkles’ or possibly even ‘shavings.’ If you want to have a go at making some chocolate soil, there are recipes online. Here’s one from www.epicurus.com

Hand salad
Yes, I know, weird! Apparently, it’s just a salad you eat with your hands, dipping lettuce and cucumber into dressings. So really, it’s simply an American term for what we used to call crudités – dipping veg into dips and sauces. Here’s a recipe idea for hand salad from www.bonappetit.com

A nice bit of hand salad with buttermilk, grapefruit, and mixed seeds, copyright www.bonappetit.com

There are so many trendy terms out there, I sometimes feel I need a translation app to find out what’s on the menu!

Jus ­– why can’t we call it gravy or sauce any more?

Pithivier of chicken, squash and sage by Sally Abé, copyright www.greatbritishchefs.com

Pithivier – it’s a pie! If you want to make a posh pie, have a look here at www.greatbritishchefs.com

Foam – this isn’t quite as bad as soil, but… Anyway, it applies to things that are full of air bubbles… we used to call them things like whipped cream, meringue or mousse!

Deconstructed – this one makes me smile! All the ingredients of a classic dish, but the chef didn’t want to assemble it!

Big dipper
I had to sneak this one in as it left me speechless! For Easter this year, a certain supermarket was offering ostrich eggs for sale. They recommended 50 mins cooking time to produce a runny yolk, perfect for dipping into, like a large, vegetarian fondue. They even suggested using a baguette as a ‘soldier’ I don’t know why… but that struck me as very peculiar!

 

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Bring a ‘Get well soon’ smile!

Never underestimate the power of friendly or loving messages when someone is under the weather, be they seriously ill or just down with a nasty old sniffle! If you are feeling sorry for yourself, it’s amazingly cheering to know that someone cares enough to not only send you a card but to have made it especially for you too. Because we are all so ‘into’ card making, I think it’s easy to forget how impressive a handmade card can be.

I recently gave a ‘Good luck in your new house’ card to someone I only know a little –and they were amazed. I guess I take cardmaking for granted. So use your skills and share them to make someone’s day!

This card shows yet again how very handy dies can be. There are so many ways of using them and you can always rely on the finish looking professional.

You only need lilac/mauve cardstock and cream/white card to make this, which is always a bonus. Obviously, you can use any colour you have in stock. It’s a bit like reading a recipe and thinking ‘oh good I’ve got all those ingredients’, the limited colour palette makes it much easier to use as inspiration!

Ingredients:

Cut some Grace Borders in cream, and the Get Well die in your second colour, obviously lilac here. Cut some lilac card smaller than the card blank leaving a reasonable sized margin. Then a layer of cream card a tiny bit smaller and a further layer of lilac.

Attach the Grace lace along each edge (I use a quickie glue pen or glossy accents) and trim neatly. Now place the oval shape on the centre of the card using foam pads or glue gel. Stick on the Get Well Soon (using same glues as I have already mentioned) and decorate the sentiment with a few flat backed pearls. Finally, add the chiffon bow at the top. Hey presto!

 

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We eat with our eyes…   

Mmm… I instantly think ‘yum’ with this delicious rich coloured dish of risotto, the pretty addition of nuts, mushrooms and herbs scattered on top is the finishing touch.

We eat with our eyes… That may sound bizarre but it is true! I think most of us recognise that a bland plate of something a bit beige or white isn’t very appetising, so we add a garnish of parsley or lettuce and tomato. Today’s chefs are taking ‘decorating’ to new heights – did you see any of the Great British Menu on TV recently – I mean, wow! Theatre as much as dinner!

Well apparently, there is scientific proof that food that looks good tasted better. Really. There is an emerging new science called ‘gastrophysics’ – sound like an area of science I might actually be interested in LOL – and Oxford University has been looking into how the appearance of food affects how we react to it. Not only does a beautifully arranged plate ‘taste better’, we are also likely to be happy to pay more for a dish laid out artistically than one just plonked on the plate.

Even more strangely, where things are on the plate matters too. While turning the plate around to a different angle can’t possibly affect the flavour, it does influence our appreciation of it.

We also like things prettily laid out on a plate. The current foodie trend to lay out a dish on one side of the plate is, so the researchers have found, not popular with diners!

Left: A fun and interestingly presented portion of fish and chips that you can’t wait to bite into… or (right) a pile of mushy stuff plonked on a plate. Which would you choose?

So, you are thinking, what has all this stuff got to do with me and my day to day cooking? Well, the same principles apply to what you produce at home. So if you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to produce something delicious, ensure maximum appreciation from your friends and family by taking a moment to make it look interesting on the plate. Even if you are producing something ‘bog standard’, like spag bol or a simple salad, pause to pretty it up a bit and it will, apparently, go down better with your diners!

If you are cooking a special meal for family and friends, you might want to think about what you serve your food on and eat it with as this also makes a difference. White plates and bowls seem to make people rate dishes as being ‘more tasty’, and using heavy cutlery as opposed to light, plastic handled designs also makes people enjoy their food more. What a funny lot we humans are!

What can I say? Seven artfully placed dots and a white pud on a black plate… all wrong surely? Well, I’d still like to eat it though, especially given all the strawberries!

And having said all that… here’s one design idea that you DON’T need to worry about. When I am planting in the garden, or arranging flowers etc. I always go for odd numbers of things (I’ve written about this before), so a cluster of three, five or seven, and so on, it looks more natural and attractive. So, you would think that three, five or seven strawberries or potatoes or whatever would be best on a plate… but no! Gluttony will out and research shows people simply opt for the plate with the most on it! That made me smile :o)

 

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The sands of time…

Copyright Wikipedia

Rummaging around at the back of a kitchen drawer last week, I was puzzled to find my fingers covered in sand! On closer inspection, I found that an old egg timer had given up the ghost and leaked its contents everywhere. This caused an instant attack of nostalgia and set me thinking about old-fashioned gadgets, as opposed to the new ones, like spiralizers and omelette makers, that I have been writing about lately.

I think it’s fair to say you would find an hourglass egg timer in most people’s kitchens until a few years ago. Boiled eggs were a staple for breakfast and hard-boiled eggs regularly appeared in packed lunches and afternoon tea and party sandwiches. Whether you like your boiled egg runny, soft or like a bullet is a very personal thing and using a three-minute egg timer produced a slightly runny egg. Egg timers, or hourglasses as I should really call them, came from a much slower era. You had to pause and keep your eye on the sand as it trickled gently down – none of this multi-tasking, rushing around and waiting for an ear-shattering bleeping to tell you your egg is cooked.

As a child, I found the hourglass my Mother had quite fascinating. I loved the shape and can remember watching it intently, convinced it would stop flowing if I took my eyes off it! The design is simple – two glass bulbs connected vertically by a narrow neck that allows a regulated trickle of material (often sand) from the upper bulb to the lower one. What period of time the glass measures is defined by sand quantity, sand coarseness, bulb size, and neck width. So you can buy three-minute, or four-minute and so on, egg-timers to suit your tastes.

Copyright www.eggrecipes.co.uk

The origin of the hourglass is unclear, but the use of the marine sandglass has been recorded since the 14th century. Marine sandglasses were very popular on board ships, as they were the most dependable measurement of time while at sea as the motion of the ship while sailing did not affect the hourglass. Sailors used the hourglass to help them determine longitude, distance east or west from a certain point, with reasonable accuracy which was of vital importance when you are trying to sail around the world or make accurate maps!

The hourglass also found popularity on land as it was relatively inexpensive, as they required no rare technology to make and their contents were not hard to come by, and their uses became more practical. Hourglasses were commonly seen in use in churches, homes, and work places to measure sermons, cooking time, and time spent on breaks from work.

The sandglass is still widely used as the kitchen egg timer – for cooking eggs, a three-minute timer is typical, hence the name ‘egg timer’ for three-minute hourglasses. We still often use sand timers when we play games such as Pictionary and Boggle.

Rather wonderfully… unlike most other methods of measuring time, the hourglass represents the ‘present’ as being between the past and the future, and this has made it an enduring symbol of time itself. The hourglass, sometimes with the addition of little wings, is often depicted as a symbol that human existence is fleeting and that the ‘sands of time’ will run out for every human life. And that’s a fact that none of us can dispute.

 

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