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January, 2014

  1. Caribbean Coconut Curry

    January 24, 2014 by sarah

    With the horrible cold long winters’ nights I like to turn to spicy recipes to warm from the inside as well as out as they cook on the stove or an excuse to put the oven on. This recipe from the Caribbean, courtesy of Levi Roots, fits the bill perfectly. Wouldn’t life be so boring without these exotic spices that can transport us half way around the world in one sniff, even if we haven’t been there ourselves?

    Even the cat, Brian, is around more and more, even if it is mostly quick stops for drying off on the bed linen or an extra portion of cat food! I wonder if he would like butternut squash soup? Some sad news this week though; two of the chickens were taken by a cat in the early hours of dawn at the weekend. Poor Gertrude and Mrs Speckledy and now Mrs White is all alone. I will have to get her some friends in the spring.


    Martinique Coconut Curry by Levi Roots (Caribbean Food Made Easy) with some alterations by yours truely. Serves 4.
    2 tbsp sunflower oil
    6-8 chicken pieces (thighs and drumsticks work best)
    2 medium onions roughly chopped
    500g butternut squash, peeled and cubed into 3-4cm cubes
    1 large aubergine, cut into cubes 3-4cm
    6 new or baby potatoes cut in half
    400ml can coconut milk
    300ml chicken stock
    1 tbsp tamarind paste
    3 bay leaves
    1/2 tsp ground turmeric
    2 tsp ground coriander
    2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
    3 garlic cloves, peeled
    1 hot chilli – fresh or in vinegar
    1 tsp sea salt flakes
    juice of a lime
    1 tbsp of rum
    mango or papaya cut into chunks
    Grind the spice mix in a mortar and pestle until a smooth paste.
    In a large flameproof pan, heat the oil and brown the chicken on all sides, in batches if necessary. Remove the chicken and set aside.
    Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions; cook until soft. Add the squash, aubergine and potato and cook until slightly softening. Now add the spice mix and stir constantly for a few minutes until the aromas are released. Add all the other main ingredients, including adding back the chicken. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer and cover. Cook like this for 30 minutes then remove the lid and cook for another 15 minutes to thicken the sauce. Finish with any combination of the finishing ingredients; if using the fruit, cook until the fruit is hot through. Serve with boiled rice.

  2. Spice 1 – Star Anise – ox tail stew

    January 16, 2014 by sarah

    So here is the first recipe in a series of forty on spices. This time we are looking at star anise, that pretty star shaped spice with a hidden powerful punch.












    Star anise, or Chinese anise, is the star shaped dried fruit (and seeds contained within) of an evergreen tree (Illicium verum, part of the Magnolia family) native to Vietnam and Southwest China, so it is not surprising that it is widely used in the cooking from these countries. It imparts a deep and warming licorice flavour to dishes, like the Vietnamese soup Pho,  and is an essential ingredient in Chinese 5 spice mix. But perhaps more surprisingly, it is the flavouring in several liquors such as Sambucca and Pastis and even, until relatively recently, used to manufacture antivirals such as Tamiflu!

    I like to use the spice whole, partly because it is so pretty and partly because it is easier to control the flavour level and pick out the bits after. You can buy ground star anise but be very careful with how much you add to a recipe as it is very pungent and will easily overpower any other flavours in the dish. I like to add a star or two to poaching fruit such as plums or pears and I add it my mulled cider recipe (but not to my mulled wine – I like to taste the wine).

    Ox Tail Stew with Star Anise

    Recipe from ‘River Cottage Everyday’ by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with a few of my own additions. Serves 4. Tastes even better on the second day, like most curries. Although it contains spices other than the star anise, the later is the star of the show and the predominate flavour but not over powering.


    1kg oxtails, cut into thick slices (get the butcher to do it so you don’t chop off a finger trying)
    1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
    2 medium onions, finely sliced
    4″ cinnamon stick
    3 star anise
    2 bay leaves
    1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
    thumb sized bit ginger, finely grated
    up to 1L of good quality beef stock
    couple of squares of dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum)
    salt to taste or a splash of soy sauce
    Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based casserole and brown the meat all over, doing it in several lots so as not to overcrowd the pan and end up stewing up. Remove the meat to a plate and turn the heat down to low and add the onions and a sprinkle of salt. Cook until soft and translucent.
    Return the meat to the pan and add all the other ingredients and enough beef stock to just cover the meat.
    Bring to a slow simmer and then let is cook very gently for about 3 hours. If easier, you can do this in a low oven (120 C) or a slow cooker.
    After this cooking time, remove the meat from the sauce with a slotted spoon and pick out the whole spices and bay leaves. Leave to cool so the fat rises and you can skim it off with a slotted spoon and some paper towel. Reheat the sauce and boil until slightly thickened. You can either add the meat back in as it is or remove from the bones with a couple of forks (may be a good idea to do this for ‘fussies’). Stir in the chocolate.
    When you want to serve, heat through thoroughly and serve with mash. It was even better the second day.

  3. Isn’t it a lovely day

    January 12, 2014 by sarah

    Yesterday, I made myself go for an almost proper walk and I am glad I made the effort. I almost wasn’t going to go; I’d been in the garden all morning cleaning out the chicken run and putting a fresh coat of wood preservative on the coop and run and really didn’t feel like more exertion. But I am so glad I did. These pictures were taken at Wendover reservoirs just outside Tring on my new compact camera, a gift from my husband.

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  4. I’ve never felt better!

    January 10, 2014 by sarah

    I bought this lovely merino wool tunic/jumper in a charity shop a few months ago and I fell in love with the colour. I didn’t see at the time it had a hole near the bottom hem, but as it was a bargain and the money goes to charity when shopping in such shops, I didn’t feel hard done by. But I was wandering what I could do with the tunic until I flicked through a couple of books on embellishing clothes, a form of up-cycling. And this is applique in wool felt is what I ended up doing; half an hour of work and I have a totally personalised and cute top to wear! I am now tempted to embellish a few other slightly worn items…

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  5. Heart Felt

    January 7, 2014 by sarah

    Here are a quartet of heart shaped decorations from around our house. The red felt heart I made about 10 years ago, originally as Christmas decorations but I love them so much they spend the whole year on the wall in the bathroom. The drift wood heart I made a few years back after a holiday to Devon and Cornwall; I fell in love with the drift wood hearts that were for sale in the touristy shops but not with the attached price tags so I made my own. The ‘love’ heart is one of the favours I made for our wedding; the back is stamped with our names and the wedding date. The embroidered heart is on a card I made as a valentines card for my husband; I found it while tidying up over the New Year break.

    Do you have any recurring themes of decorations?





  6. 2014 Project number 2

    January 4, 2014 by sarah

    Part of my Christmas present from my better half was a sewing machine to replace a very old and knackered hand-me-down that was on its last legs. It had its first try out a few nights ago as I needed to shorten my new trousers for work. It worked like a dream! Isn’t it wonderful when you have been using a worn out piece of equipment past its sell by date then get the new version, it suddenly seems so much easier? This applies everything to sewing machines to cars to ultrasound machines. Thank you to Patchwork Corner in Hemel Hempstead for helping me chose the machine; they were very friendly and helpful. It is, however, a dangerous place for someone like me as there are piles of beautiful fabrics.


    So project number two for this year is to make a quilt. I am starting with a small quilt, which will hopefully be ready in time to welcome my new niece into this world and be taken half way round the world by my parents to her in Richmond. This will not be my first quilt. A long time ago, about 15 years ago, I made a quilt from scraps of material I found in my mothers sewing stash. It took me the whole long summer before I went to University but has been with me ever since and is still used almost daily as it lives on the bottom half of my side of the bed (my husband is always too hot so I need the extra layer on my side only). It is starting to look a little dirty (the cat likes it too) so this summer I will need to pluck up the courage and wash it. I love how every bit of fabric has a story to tell and particular meaning to me; there are scraps from clothes my mother made myself and my sister (including my prom dress and my sister’s communion dress) and the ones she didn’t get round to making, the curtain off cuts when I remember being with my mother choosing and buying the fabric and some fabric from old dresses she used to wear. I don’t remember the design process or even why I made it but I still the love the way it looks, that it is useful too and has personal meaning.


























    I have already bought some bundles of fabric to start the baby quilt but I haven’t decided on the colours yet. I don’t think it is giving anything away by showing them to you as I haven’t decided on which lot I am going to use. I think I was secretly buying for myself too, especially the yellow/orange set, so I guess that will be the next project after I finish the baby quilt. I have found another sweet fabric shop which is even closer to us. I had to drag myself away from it today otherwise I would of ended up with another bunch of fabrics. This little shop is upstairs in the ‘Barn Courtyard’ in Wendover.

    Have you got any projects lined up for this year?

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  7. Spice Up Your Life – Masala Chai

    January 1, 2014 by sarah

    Here is my first new project for 2014; 40 spices in 40 recipes in two years. This was inspired by the spices seen (and smelt) in Morocco; the lines of market stalls piled high with multi-coloured powders, roots and barks, the pungent spiciness tickling the nose. If you have ever seen inside my ‘flavour additive’ cupboard you will know that spices and the like feature frequently in my cooking. But in this series of blogs I want to take my use of spices to new places so each recipe will highlight one spice, though the recipe may contain other spices and flavour additives the ‘main’ spice will be the predominant flavour. Also, I want to discover new spices and unusual ways of using familiar ones, so look out for traditionally sweet spices in savoury dishes and visa versa.

    What is it about spices? Any flavour additive (a term of my invention) turns a basic dish into something extra-ordinary, something special. Think of the sensations of eating a warmly spiced curry; the burning feeling in the mouth that is exciting and somewhat shocking, dangerous even. But then subtleties of a delicately spiced Christmas biscuit or the richness of vanilla in ice cream.

    So first we need to know what we are using i.e. what is a spice? Well it turns out not to be an easy question to answer. The fountain of all knowledge that is Wikipedia (wink, wink – they like to think they are the bible but some of the information is flawed so take it with a pinch of salt) says a spice is ‘a dried seed, fruit, root, bark or vegetable substance primarily used for flavouring, colouring or preserving food’. So a dried part of a plant other than the leaves because the leaves are herbs. Ok, I think I’ve got it. But what about fresh spices like ginger root or garlic, they don’t HAVE to be dried do they? If they aren’t spices (or herbs) then what are they in a culinary sense? Ginger can be fresh or dried but both forms taste and act differently. Looks from a whiz around the internet that things like ginger, garlic, horseradish and capers are considered vegetable or flavourings rather than spices. Ok, we will stick to dried forms then.

    So we come to our first recipe. I am not going to call this one of the official recipes of the project, because as the name implies, it contains several different spices and not one over-riding flavour. This recipe is adapted from a packet of ‘Chocolate Chai’ I bought in a Whittards shop and had been languishing in the back of the cupboard for a year until I made a pot a few weeks ago and discovered how delicious it was. The bought version was based on coco kernels which look and taste exactly like coco nibs (available from health food shops) so feel free to substitute them for the black tea. It made a fantastic mildly spicy and faintly chocolaty drink.


    Masala Chai

    You can add or substitute in really any spice you like, typically things like coriander, fennel, black pepper, star anise.
    3 cups loose black tea (about 100g)
    36 green cardamon
    1 teaspoon pink pepper corns
    2 teaspoons cloves
    4″ piece of cinnamon broken into small shards
    8 pieces of candied stem ginger in sugar, finely cut up
    Mix all the ingredients together and then store in a kilner jar or other similar jars for gift giving. I bought some empty tea bags with drawstrings which can be filled and then used like regular tea bags.
    Brewing Instructions
    tea for one
    200ml of water
    100ml of milk (preferrably whole milk)
    1 tablespoon of Chai Mix placed into a tea bag
    Sugar or honey to tasteBring the water to a boil and add the teabag. Turn off the heat and let steep for about 5 minutes. Add the milk, turn on the flame and reheat until hot. Remove from heat, discard teabag, sweeten to taste, enjoy!

  8. Happy New Year

    January 1, 2014 by sarah

    Happy New Year to you all! Thank you for finding and following my blog as I find my feet with this new experience over this first year. And here’s to finding out new things together over the year and years to come.













    I feel 2013 has been a good year for me. I think it is because I have had to be much more focused this year, but in being more focused I have also achieved a lot more than just pottering around life, switching from this to that as the mood took me. I think the restlessness inside me has quietened for now as it has purpose. I am much more busy than I have been for years because of the study for the certificate course I am doing. I knew before I started it would be hard getting my now ten years older brain back into its learning gear for proper studying, which I hadn’t done since finishing vet school. I have to admit that in the summer the pressure nearly got too much for me but luckily I got a lifeline (a half day off a week to commit entirely to studying) and help (thank you Anne-Marie) and took stock of my life before it was too late. When I was young I really thought that excelling in my career was the best way to be happy, that it would somehow make me into a “successful adult.” But now I’m not so sure. I get so much pleasure from the other things in my life, and from having the time to cook and make things. I’m starting to really believe that it’s those things that make me feel successful because the only real success is true happiness. I also realise how lucky I am to have my husband to support me, though sometimes I wish the support could transpire into more practical help such as cooking and cleaning but we can work on that.

    This year I have gained a whole lot of new knowledge and conglomerated knowledge I already had but was fragmented. It has also been good to focus my cooking and baking for new aims, namely for posting on this blog and entering the local show. And to have a weight lifted in finally finishing a long abandoned craft project, the scrapbook of our holiday in 2005. And as usual, as one project is finished, the hole is filled with at least half a dozen new ones. At least I am never going to run out of ideas to blog about and I am never going to be bored. Only boring people get bored!

    This year has also involved a change of mindset. Primarily realising that I am changeable; I can mold me to be more effective, more useful, more focused.













    I am looking forward and planning for the year ahead.  I have two new projects lined up for this blog so look out for them over the next few days. I am so excited about them and I hope you will be too. My brain is over flowing with ideas, currently hastily scribbled in my notebook so now I need to form them into fully fledged ideas that can take flight (oh, that was a bit poetic).

    As always for this time of year, we make New Year resolutions to revel and delight in the prospect of a new day, a fresh start, one more try at life. So my resolution is to promise to make the best of any moment I have, any situation I am in and with any friends I am with. Life would be boring if it stayed the same, lets change it for the better, one day at a time.

    Sarah xxx