Monthly Archives: September 2011

Recipe for a poorly lass: ham shank and cabbage soup

I have this soup simmering on the hob right now, and let me just say, this is the cure-all remedy I’ve been needing all week. Few things can beat a smoky, warming soup when you’re feeling poorly, and you can’t beat throwing in the odd ham shank either!

Ham shank and cabbage winter soup

3 tsp rapeseed oil
500 g smoked ham shank
1 head spring cabbage, shredded
1/2 head white cabbage, shredded
4 carrots, roughly chopped
3 onions, chopped
1 head garlic, chopped
5 large tomatoes, quartered
2 L water
A beef stock cube
Salt to taste
5-6 slices jalapeños
A splash of balsamic

Sauté onions in oil until softened, then the garlic, cabbage and carrots. Add the ham shank to the pot and add stock cube, then water to cover. Also add the rosemary and thyme. Season.

Simmer for at least 1 hour, but preferably for as long as possible. Remove the ham shank and shred the meat before returning to the pan.

Add the tomatoes to the soup and simmer gently a further 15-20 minutes. Serve with crusty bread, under a cost blanket. Preferably with a dog at your feet.

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Home decor: my dream colours

I’ve been thinking about paint colours a lot recently.  Half the flat is almost ready for decorating and I am very excited!

I am in love with the Earthborn Paints range of environmentally friendly, breathable interior colours.  I painted my kitchen ceiling ‘Just White’ last year, a lovely soft, creamy colour.  I plan to paint the kitchen walls in ‘Lemony’ once my new kitchen has been built, as I have lovely burnt orange roller blinds with a dark cork trim.

I am thinking of  ‘Eiderdown’ for my living room/dining room, as my new Sofa Workshop Dali 4-seater will be arriving in the next couple weeks in an amazing shade of grape.  The look I’m going for is Laid Back Parisian, with loads of comfy seating and inviting colours.


For my drawing room, a more dramatic colour might be in order.  I found these colours by Zoffany,  ‘Violet Dusk’ and ‘Grape’ .  I like the effect together, warm and cosy.  I always thought I’d stick with theme of blue and green for my drawing room, but the more I look at the grapes, aubergines and violets, the more I start to fall for them.  I’ve always been partial to a purple room, and the nonconformist in me has noticed almost every drawing room on my street is painted a shade of blue!

Years ago I had an antique Victorian high-backed sofa reupholstered in blue striped velvet.  The material suited the shape of the sofa, which is very traditional.  I do regret having the seat cushions changed from feather to high-density foam, but at the time I was young and naive, and the upholsterer said these would require less maintenance.  The original material was a sickly pink striped velvet, whih I was glad to be rid of!  I’m not too sure what could be done to tie it in wth the rest. It stubbornly refuses to coordinate with the scheme I have in mind, and is far too expensive to reupholster again!

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Alice’s Tea Party, a work in progress

I have been obsessed with Alice in Wonderland since I first read the books as a child. I read the original when I was about six, and “Through the Looking Glass” not long after. I have yet to read “Exeunt Alice”, though it’s on my TR list at the moment. Unfortunately my TR list, along with my cycling gloves, 10 pairs of Bridgedale bamboo socks and all my nice underwear (plus two Valentino dresses that don’t fit me at the moment), is lost somewhere in my landfill of a sitting room.

Anyhow, the obsession only grew after I saw Heston Blumenthal’s Alice in Wonderland themed feast – though I wouldn’t agree with some of the things he put on the menu, and I have my doubts about the edible garden with insects; the mock turtle soup with pocket-watch “consommé” looked amazing, and the “drink me” potion was fascinating. I have the most beautifully illustrated Alice in Wonderland book – it’s more a coffee table book rather than a bedside table one, as it’s quite large – which is quite dark, and I always fancied having an Alice themed dinner party.

I’ve been to the Alice in Wonderland Café in Tokyo, which was fun but the food was pretty bog-standard. Yes it’s a gimmick, but it inspired me to go for a slightly Alice-tinged theme throughout my flat – mostly with unexpected pocket-watches hanging from the walls at the moment, but soon to feature murals and art, as soon as the walls and ceilings get sorted!

I’ve toyed with the idea of oversized vs. undersized with relation to my menu, and having thought about it have come to realise there are so many options without even having to fiddle too much with nature. I have read a few interesting blogs about Alice in Wonderland tea parties, especially this one, which totally inspired me.

I think I would serve a “drink me” potion before my starter. I wanted something less ordinary than wine glasses, so thought a cocktail of some description served in vintage apothecary bottles, labelled with “DRINK ME” in old fashioned lettering. I like the idea of mismatched bottles, plates, crockery. Food served in vintage tea cups and saucers maybe. So after my guests have finished their “DRINK ME” potions, I’ll be ready to serve the starters – which could maybe be quails eggs, baby carrot lightly steamed with their tops still attached, some roasted baby onions and a hollandaise sauce or a mousseline on the side, served in little bitty tiny jugs.

Next we would have an itty bitty mozzarella and tomato salad, made with tiny bocconcini mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes, with a bit of balsamic glaze and a sprig of basil.

For the soup course I would go for two different kinds – a mock-turtle soup served in dainty teacups with a cheap pocket-watch placed on the saucer (not as elaborate as Heston Blumenthal’s edible pocket-watch, but then again I don’t have minions), and a cullen skink also served in teacups, with small toast fingers cut in the shape of hearts or diamonds.

This would be followed by a small piece of cake – maybe carrot cake iced with cream cheese frosting and a tiny sugar carrot (I just found a box the other day). The piece of cake would be served in a vintage tea cup, and at a jaunty angle. My other possible idea was to bake a savoury cake somehow – I’ve not looked into it enough, but to have a savoury cake iced with…cheese maybe – with the words “EAT ME” in balsamic glaze or even brown sauce. I might even stretch as far as a small meatloaf or a wedge of focaccia. Thinking about it now, a savoury “cake” might be better.

This will be followed by a sorbet – not made by me, but I would love to be able to serve a scoop of Belhaven’s gooseberry ice with a sprig of mint in a tea cup and saucer – I just wish they sold the tubs of gooseberry! Maybe garnish with the odd poached gooseberry or two.

Then would come the next course, or my usual “second starter”. Following the “EAT ME” cake, the second starter would have to be oversized. One thing that comes to mind is possibly a huge pie – I thought it might be un to make two pies, one steak and ale and one chicken and mushroom with marmalade – my two usual suspects- but to make each one half of the pie. I haven’t thought this one through as much as I have the “mini” food.

The oversized course would be followed by a glass of wine or another cocktail, again in some interesting receptacle with the “DRINK ME” label. That would segue quite nicely into our first main course…

…the mini lamb roasts from Puddledub – one for every two people, so probably a total of 3-4 roasts, glazed with the amazing sweet chilli jam I got off a friend at work. These would be served with tiny potatoes, maybe cut to look like hasselback tatties with the smallest bay leaves I can gather up snuck into the tiny crevices. I’d serve alongside some baby carrots again, lightly glazed in orange juice, butter and honey. The entire lot would be served between a vintage cake plate and a glass cake plate, with a playing card placed between the two. I’ll garnish with a few redcurrants and a sprig of mint. Redcurrant gravy will be served alongside, and in teacups – I think one teacup for every two people would do. I’ll have one of those teacup and pot sets where the pot sits on the cup, with a horseradish cream from Stichill in the cup half, and some fresh mint sauce in the pot. A selection of chutneys will be laid out on the table in mismatched teacups.

The roast lamb would then be followed by a poultry course – a couple roast poussins, decorated to look like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and a couple roast quail per person, surrounding the poussin. I think I’d roast the quail very simply with plenty of garlic, rosemary and salt. The poussin I will do with lemon, garlic, rosemary and sage. I don’t want to do anything too fussy, but I’ll have a few sauces to go with both – a creamy sauce, one with cider, gravy…

For pudding I’ve fallen in love with this idea. Red velvet cupcakes with red frosting and white chocolate buttons, made to look like mushrooms.

Throughout the meal we will have wine and cocktails, poured from teapots of varying sizes. There will be tea and biscuits to finish, maybe shortbread in the shape of hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs.

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Gilmore Girls, wistful looks and soft-focus memories

I just finished watching an episode of Gilmore Girls that always makes me a little sad.  It reminds me of missed opportunities, and I inevitably start thinking about the way my life could have been.  How melancholy.

In “Chicken or Beef?” (Episode 4:4), Rory is home from Yale or the weekend, and is unexpectedly invited to her ex-boyfriend’s wedding.  This guy was her first love; they met when they were teenagers, and she traded him in for a guy who turned out to be a bit of a jerk.

Years ago, I dated a guy; we were very young, and at one time I believed we’d be together forever.  He was a good guy.  On our first date, we weren’t allowed into the movie we wanted to see because we were too young; so he took me to see some random film that was utterly boring except for one uncomfortably saucy scene.  We shared popcorn and held hands, and after we left the cinema we walked about in the snow for hours, still holding hands.  He walked me home and kissed me.

I went away to finish high school in another city, because I wanted to get into a good university.  We stayed in touch, and he promised to visit me.  School was so busy, my classes were super-hard, I was on the track team, and as a senior, was doing plenty of volunteer work to occupy my time.   We still saw each other at holidays, but by the time it can to sending off my university applications, we didn’t decide to factor each other in.  He’d never considered leaving the city to study, and I had my heart set on going somewhere thousands of miles away.  I don’t know if he was upset by this, but he never let on.  By the time I left for college, we’d split up.

When Rory looked wistfully on at the wedding, from a safe distance, I couldn’t help thinking about the-one-from-way-back-when.

Memories are strange; some moments appear so clear and precise, whilst others linger as such hazy recollections you begin to wonder whether they ever happened at all.

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Shopping on a rainy day in Edinburgh: Jigsaw (George Street)

The winds are picking up, here in Edinburgh; I had to rescue some of the more delicate herbs from the balcony this morning, and my poor potted lavender nearly drowned.  I’ve been doing mostly back-to-school shopping of notepads and fresh pens.  I am fully prepared for the crappy weather armed with new cosy jumpers, cashmere layers, stupendously long scarves and soft woollen mittens.

I stopped in at Jigsaw this afternoon and fell in love with the new collection.  Loads of super-soft knits in shades of aubergine, plum and forest green. Bow-tie blouses a la ingenue, and my ubiquitous Breton striped top.  Curvaceous draped jersey dresses and prim French Roman Catholic schoolgirl-esque frocks (minus the obscene skirts, almost nun-like in simplicity).  Pencil skirts, secretary skirts, sexy schoolmarm skirts.  And beautifully tailored trousers, in a easy slouchy fit or my new favourite – neat and cropped, with button detailing at the dainty ankle.  All finished off with the most adorable pair of velvet trainers and a chunky wool scarf woven through with satin ribbon.


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Review: ‘Every last one’ (Anna Quindlen)

I have just finished reading a slew of Very Good Books recently.  The kind that I lose sleep over, staying up until silly o’clock to finish just one more chapter.  Lisa See’s “Dreams of Joy” and its prequel “Shanghai Girls” had me in tears.  Kristen Hannah’s “Night Road” was heartbreaking and impossible to put down.  I have a huge TBR pile, and last week I picked this little number up.

I felt in the mood for something with a plot, something fiction.  To be honest I was looking for something a bit more lighthearted, which this book is not. The narrative centers around Mary Beth Latham, a suburban housewife and mother of three teenagers.  On the surface things seem peachy…Mary Beth owns and runs a successful landscape gardensing company; she has a loving husband, twin teenaged boys, and a daughter about to go off to university.

To begin with, the plotline is reminiscent of Kirsten Hannah’s “Night Road”.  By the end of that book, I found it quite painful to read, because I knew the outcome.  I found myself still awake at 3am unable to put it down.  In some parts the plot was confusing – the author leads us to believe all through the beginning of the narrative that Mary Beth’s estrangement from her neighbour and former best friend Deborah was down to an affair, then later the “event” that set off the detoriation of their friendship was the tragic death of Deborah’s young son.  I found it disconcerting and anticlimactic to find out it was the affair that had set the chain of events in motion, as if taking away from the impact of the child’s death and replacing it with yet another ubiquitous bored suburban housewife’s affair.

I have to admit, I didn’t get into this book until quite near the end, after the catalyst leading to the total destruction of Mary Beth’s Stepford Life.  So though I knew the outcome, I found it difficult to stop reading.  Though I enjoyed reading it, I feel the author glossed over some aspects and spent a little too much time establishing Mary Beth’s “perfect” existence. The second part of this book deals almost enirely with Mary Beths feeling’s, with little to nothing in the way of actual events.  If you’re the type of reader who likes to find a neat conclusion at the end, this is probably not the book for you.  I don’t know if this will lead me to read other works by the same author.

I enjoyed reading this, though I have to admit if it hadn’t been on offer at Waterstones, I probably would never have chosen it for myself.

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Review: Opus One in Perth

Tonight I took a friend out for a belated birthday dinner at Opus One at the New County Hotel in Perth. I am now sitting on the last train to Edinburgh a little tipsy, with a full belly.

When we arrived, my friend made a joke about the restaurant being a bit heavy-handed with the romantic atmosphere. Mood lighting, candles and Michael Buble piped into the dining room.

To start with, ordered the chicken liver and foie gras parfait with a pear and fig chutney. My normslly vegetarian friend asked for the risotto and spelt grain with wild mushrooms.

We were presented with a simple cauliflower veloute amuse Simple, effective, though lacking in imagination. Maybe I’m overly fussy, but I am quite bored with the ubiquitous veloute. Pureed soup in a minuscule cup does not set my heart racing.

My parfait was lovely and silky, garnished with cress and served in a mini Mason jar on a slate platter, with a smear of sticky-sweet pear and fig chutney. My only complaint was the single slice of toasted walnut bread was not adequate for amount of parfait. Otherwise a near perfect dish.

My friend’s risotto was deemed fabulous, though I didn’t try any. She’d polished it off before I had a chance! I think that speaks for itself.

My main course was a vegetarian gnocchi with figs and lemon creme Fraiche. The dish was slightly oversalted, possibly from the water the gnocchi had been poached in. The creme Fraiche tasted very strongly of lemon, almost overpoweringly so, though the sweetness of the figs (disappointingly semi-dried rather than fresh) complemented the two and helped tone down the excessive saltiness and citrus tang. It was garnished bizarrely with fresh coriander.

My friend ordered the loin of cured roe deer with pan fried liver and braised cabbage. She is normally s vegetarian, but is partial to the occasional piece of well prepared venison. The liver was lovely and savoury, without the gaminess or slight metallic aftertaste of some. Her venison was tasty and tender, though not spectacularly so. It was, however, very very good. The braised cabbage was sweet and still had a bit of texture to it, perfectly cooked and absolutely fabulous.

For dessert, I had the locally foraged plum tarte Tatin with mulled plum sorbet. My friend had the poached autumn fruits with rosemary ice cream. Both were nice, but overspiced. Her poached fruits tasted almost overwhelmingly of cardamom, but luckily she loves the stuff. The rosemary ice cream was overshadowed, drowned out by the screaming cardamom. My tarte Tatin was lovely, with a sticky tartness to the plums in what would otherwise be a sickly finish. The sorbet was delicious, but the taste of mulled spices lingered long after I’d finished my meal.

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