Goodness me.

Goodness me.

When we start being kinder to ourselves a virtuous circle is created. We begin to feel our own goodness just as we are … and that makes it easier to be kind … and that makes us feel good. Being good to yourself makes you feel good and it makes you feel much less aggravated by other people too.

Letting yourself alone, just appreciating yourself as you are without trying to change a thing allows you to sense your own goodness. In not trying to change a thing, space arises for change to happen naturally.* The more we nag at ourselves the more we rebel. Try easing off and see what happens.

*I’m not talking about those of us in a place where we need specialist help with an addiction or an eating disorder that is harming our health. Today I’m just talking to the averagely dissatisfied amongst us.

Italy is a great place for learning this lesson as Italians seem to have a natural gift for appreciating their own beautiful country and the huge pleasure of being alive. The photo above is of a large campo in Venice called Santa Maria Formosa and this is the church. In the photo below you see a lovely scene unfolding opposite the church one Italian morning. A young man is stripping off like Michelangelo’s David. He has come with all his kit to mend the pavement  but that doesn’t stop him giving directions to the tourists that ask him for help or performing a little for the ladies shopping at the vegetable stall. He is Italian after all. He wasn’t actually singing Mozart as well but it was touch and go.

stall

Beneath this photo again is a breakfast I prepared recently for a bunch of young people staying with us. They were such fun to feed, so full of life and enthusiasm, such beautiful creatures to have around and they devoured this spread with vigour. I think the goodness of the food, most of it raw local fruit, fresh bread and cheese can be seen from the photo. The little black grapes are called fragole because they taste of strawberries.

fruitbread and cheesecaponataIn this last photo you can just see next to the local sheep’s cheese a dish of caponata and this is the recipe I’d like to share today. Quite like a French ratatouille, the Italian caponata has the added sweet and sour agrodolce taste that speaks of a multicultural heritage.

 

Caponata

2 x aubergines cut into small cubes

2 sticks celery cut into small cubes

2 small onions, finely sliced

1 large red pepper, deseeded and cubed

A bottle of good passata or fresh tomato sauce

balsamic vinegar

red wine vinegar

2 tsps sugar

salt and pepper

olive oil

10 black olives, stoned

a handful of capers (ideally the ones that come salted)

 

Cutting the vegetables into cubes is worth doing carefully so that they are reasonably small and of a uniform size. It makes a better finished product.

First salt the aubergine cubes in a colander and leave to drain for at least half an hour. Wash and pat dry before frying in a good plug of olive oil in a large frying pan. Fry until the water is all gone (the sizzling stops) and the aubergine cubes have browned. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add more oil to the pan and add the celery, pepper and onions. Cook over a low heat until they have softened (quicker with a lid) and then add the passata. and simmer for 15 minutes. Put the aubergines back in. Add the two vinegars , the sugar, the capers and the olives. Start with a tablespoon of each vinegar and 2 tsps of sugar and then taste. See whether it needs more acid (lemon juice or vinegar) or more sugar. A drop of red wine might not go amiss. It will need salt and pepper as well. Cook another ten minutes and then cool. Serve at room temperature.

I made a large quantity of this and served it one evening on tiny bruschetta before dinner, then in this breakfast buffet and finally (when the guests had gone) on pasta with some good Parmesan. A dish with sufficient flavour for a vegetarian main course. It is also fabulous with anchovies on the side but the is very little, I find, that isn’t improved by a few anchovies.

Stormy Weather

Stormy Weather

About two months ago things went wrong for me visiting Lisbon for a wedding.  I ended up in casualty with a bad UTI and when I eventually saw the twelve year old doctor and got my hands on some antibiotics (you could get Ecstasy easier) I thought that was that. But no. There has been pain and panic ever since.

A major attack of IBS followed and by the time I was back in England a horrible burning pain in my side which especially played up at night when I had all the leisure in the world to worry about it. A trip to casualty in England (and let me tell you Lisbon makes the National Health look like Los Angeles) established that it wasn’t a kidney stone and then they sent me home with the pain which was now a hundred times worse courtesy of lying on the scanner and worrying.

The moral of my tale is twofold. Doesn’t worrying make things so much worse (and actually produces physical sensations to order)? Secondly cause and effect is usually so much more complicated than we imagine. After months of osteopathy I was still not able to sit and meditate nor go to my piyo classes. I foresaw a future of sloth and a balloon shaped me wearing shapeless dresses. Utter misery. I tried meditating lying down and other versions but it wasn’t the same. Opening the French doors and sitting on my cushion, semi-exposed to the elements, has become a precious way to start my day and I was very sorry for myself contemplating that this might be a thing of the past. Also I had a wardrobe full of clothes I felt too bloated to wear.

Gradually I came to accept what the osteopath gently broke to me : there was a disc involved which was causing referred pain. I can’t tell you how I fought against this diagnosis but I did stop exercising and it did stop being absolute agony and reduced to miserable. But I also realised that the IBS was also still shouting its head off. So I have stopped looking for one simple treatable-give-me-a-pill-or-an-operation cause. As ever it is my spine and my bowels playing up under stress. So not even the glamour of something serious.

I am sharing this with you (and you may well say I am sharing way too much) because it can really help to stop looking for a cause and resign yourself to kindness and forbearance as a way of treating things (once serious illness has been ruled out by scans and so forth).

Arriving in Venice yesterday in stormy weather (see picture) I felt the stress fall away and this morning I did some yoga and obtained some clicks from my poor spine which may just have set things on the mend. There was no hurrying this – I just had to wait and to all those who have put up with me patiently while I learned to wait : Thank you!

I’m not sharing a new recipe today but I include photos of porridge in its different guises, sweet and savoury and risotto which seems to help the IBS big time.

 

 

Cool as a …

Cool as a …

In this hot weather cucumber soup is an easy, cheap, delicious and cooling lunch or starter. You can control the calorie count easily by adjusting the cream or yoghurt quotient as you serve it. Cucumber on its own produces a pale green soup but if you want the colour to be a bit more vibrant add some raw baby spinach leaves at the blending stage. The more spinach you add the better from a nutritional point of view since it is chock full of vitamins and minerals. You can use cooked spinach but it won’t give you that lovely bright green. This is a painless way for the non-spinach eater to get the benefits of eating spinach! And remember that making your own food from scratch is super nutritious for your self-esteem as well.

Cucumber Soup

2 x medium to large green cucumbers

1 x large onion

handful of baby spinach leaves or more (optional)

single cream or yoghurt to taste (optional)

1 litre Marigold vegetable stock or home-made vegetable or chicken stock

 

Chop up your cucumbers and onion – this doesn’t have to be a work of art because it’s all going in the blender – and sweat in a tablespoonful of olive oil in a heavy pan with a lid.

Be careful not to let the onions catch as it will affect the colour of the soup, turning it brown.

When the onions are transparent add the stock and bring to the boil.

Turn down and simmer for 20 minutes.

Allow to cool and the liquidise completely adding the raw baby spinach leaves if you have them.

Chill for six hours and then taste for seasoning. Add salt and/or pepper as needed.

At this stage you can freeze the soup or put in back in the fridge until needed. When you come to serving you can add a whole carton of cream or just a splash, or a spoonful of yoghurt in each dish and the beauty of it is each person can have it how they need it. For those of us watching the calories and feeding others this is a great boon.

A few thin slices of cucumber as a garnish and some fabulous bowls can make this a dinner party soup you can prepare two to four days in advance.

Hot hot hot

Hot hot hot

The heat wave continues in the UK and I wanted to share one of my all-time favourite hot weather recipes, good for lunch or dinner at the table, on the terrace or in picnic form. It is my version of Coronation Chicken and fair to say I have never had it anywhere else since I pinched the recipe from a friend back in 1982 so unless Annie’s coming to supper you will take your guests by surprise. It is a sure-fire winner and the left-overs are possibly even better next day.

 

Chicken and Almond Salad

1 chicken breast fillet per person or maybe 3 between 3, remove the skin and slice into generous slices.

A small handful of toasted whole almonds (for 2) or more to taste

A small handful of raisins soaked in hot water and drained.

A mayonnaise sauce made from mayonnaise itself (I use Hellman’s) and reduced fat sour cream (or yoghurt, or fromage frais or double cream depending on your taste and waistline). Proportions about half and half.

Cos lettuce or your favourite crispy lettuce.

Method

Toast the whole blanched almonds in a dry frying pan until they are toasty golden brown at least in places.

Poach the chicken slices in water with peppercorns, fresh herbs if you have them, half a carrot and a little salt. When the chicken goes white it is cooked through and you can turn the heat off.

Soak and drain the raisins to plump them up.

Cool the chicken and remove from the water. Cut the slices into chunks.

In a large bowl combine the chicken chunks, almonds and raisins. Add the chilled mayonnaise and grate a little raw onion on top. Add black pepper and combine all gently. Keep in a tupperware in the fridge until needed. It keeps well for 48 hours.

When the salad is needed arrange the lettuce leaves beautifully on a large white plate or in a large white bowl and then tip the chicken mixture on top leaving much of the lovely green lettuce leaves showing around the edge. The picture below is only in a picnic box but it can look rather elegant!

chicken and almondIf you don’t eat chicken you can make quite a nice Waldorf salad with walnuts and apple and if you want to bulk it out add some cooked vegetables of chunks of raw courgette or newly podded broad beans.

Flageolet Beans

Flageolet beans are my favourite bean, reminding me of life as a student in France a lifetime ago. When I’ve been overdoing the animal fats and the spending in restaurants, these beans put me back on the road to financial and physical health without feeling like fasting. Once in a while are a much healthier accompaniment to roast lamb than roast potatoes and yet they’re ultra satisfying to eat.

Here are the beans we had with our Easter Lamb. I’m popping them in the freezer until they are needed for a quick supper because that’s how versatile they are. At £2.19 for 500g (enough for about 8 people) they are also satisfyingly frugal. So you can feel like an Elizabeth David original and feed a large family or a table of friends for the price of a cappuccino.Beans

Here is how to cook them.

Start the night before and soak the beans in plenty of cold water. When you’re ready to cook them next day drain the beans and think what deliciousness you are going to add. If they are an accompaniment to roast meat you can just cook them in stock and some fresh thyme if you have some. A glass of white wine never hurts either. If they’re the main event then finely chop and onion or two and sweat them in a heavy pan with some olive oil. You may even have some soffrito or mirepoix in the fridge, homemade or bought. If you’re a carnivore then some finely chopped smoked bacon or ham really adds magic at this stage. Sweat your vegetables etc until they are softened and then add the beans and plenty of Marigold stock to completely submerge the contents of the pan. Bring to the boil and then cover and turn the heat down to a bare simmer and cook for a couple of hours. Add more liquid from time to time as needed. If it’s too runny remove the lid and allow the stock to evaporate once the beans are cooked.

You can cook this on the hob or in the oven but it’s easier to keep an eye on the hob.

This dish is real comfort food with some good bread and fresh green cabbage. Grilled radicchio can make it more sophisticated. Eat with a good spoonful of yoghurt or creme fraiche. It’s high in protein, low fat and cheap to make. Soak your beans tonight and get started.

Beetroot – great tidings of comfort and joy!

My first day at school introduced me to two things I immediately fell in love with. My Kindergarten teacher Mrs Heilbron who smelled of Yardley’s Apple Blossom was the first object of my adoration. Unlike my precarious relationship with my mother, she was predictable and easy to please. Sadly Mrs Heilbron with her exciting name and her delicate beige shoes for difficult feet of a certain age passed out of my life at the end of the year when I moved up to Transition. (Enter Miss Mainwaring, another name that fascinated me but not an easy woman to fall in love with which sadly, may be why she remained grey-haired but unmarried.)

What mysteries and surprises it brings, one’s first adventures away from home. There was another girl called ‘Elizabeth’ for starters! And then there were the biscuits. My mother’s kitchen ran to fig rolls (my mother’s favourites), Nice biscuits with their coating of sparkling sugar crystals, custard creams, malted milk and (high days and holidays) Huntley and Palmers milk and honey which were exotically oval and had not only a dab of cream like the custard creams but a window in the top filled with honey.  At four and a half I thought I had biscuits covered. But no! When break time came we all headed for the little cloth pockets on the wall with our names on where we put our biscuits on arrival. Bourbons, digestives, biscuits in foil wrappers, pink wafers, chocolate fingers emerged from other children’s pockets – a whole world of biscuits I had never seen.

 

 

But what about the beetroot? Get to the point, woman. Thank you, I’m coming to that, as advertised, never fear. Now I cannot share with you the kindness of Mrs Heilbron but the second revelation of that long-ago day was beetroot. In my school lunch I tasted my first beetroot in tiny delicious cubes and was bowled over by the fabulous new taste and the memorable colour. Since then I have of course encountered beetroot in other places but it’s never tasted the same as I remembered. I will draw a kindly veil over the mistake that is beetroot in vinegar. I mean, really. Vacuum packed, pre-cooked beetroot was okay but very messy and unexciting in taste. Once transported to a kitchen of my own complete with recipe books and the choice of what to eat I tried beetroot again. This time I fell prey to cooks who recommend baking beetroot in the oven and then ‘sloughing off the skin with a paper towel’. LOL. Great way to burn your fingers and stain everything within reach. The beetroot tasted okay but it simply isn’t worth it. I resigned myself to a beetroot-free life.

Step up Nadine Redzepi once more. (Yes, you’re sick of hearing about her but I’m not done yet.)  Her recipe for sweet potato cakes with cumin beetroot and salted yoghurt revealed to me that you can perfectly well eat beetroot raw and it tastes the way I remember it all those years ago.  It’s probably even better for you as well and oh boy, you won’y believe how good for you it is. You can add the cumin and olive oil and lemon juice that the recipe requires – or not. It’s delicious either way and now I discover it has its own website AND its benefits include the following :

  1. Lowering blood pressure
  2. Preventing or slowing the progress of dementia by increasing blood flow to the brain
  3. It contains a powerful antioxidant and antioxidants prevent against heart disease and stroke, slow the growth of cataracts, slow ageing and generally turn you into a bionic human being
  4. antioxidants are anti-inflammatory so good for infections and all kinds of inflammation
  5. It acts as a natural viagra by increasing blood flow to the genitals
  6. It actually makes you run quicker

I mean what more do you need? It’s not even expensive and you don’t have to buy it online from specialists. Finally this is how you prepare it without staining your hands. Peel with a potato peeler and grate or chop wearing, Ta-Da! disposable gloves. These are also invaluable for peeling and grating raw turmeric, celeriac, stoning damsons and anything else that stains.

51yIGK8N0kL.jpg

 

So I shall be introducing beetroot into every week’s menu and trying out the Beetroot and Chocolate Cake recipe on the beetroot website. I shall report back, natch. I am a great fan of things that taste great and do me good and I’m adding raw beetroot to the precious hoard.

 

 

 

Sometimes we all need Cookies

I was that girl. I was the one who sat at her corner booth eyeing your table full of mess and sticky hands. I was the one who cleared my throat a little too loud in the check out line at TJ Maxx while your kid had a meltdown. And yes, I’m the girl who turned to give…

via Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies — Wood & Spoon

 

I remember so well how children looked before I had them and I loved this post-childbearing confession. Meanwhile the recipe for cookies has wormed its way into my consciousness and will jig about there until I make them. Peanut butter and chocolate is a combination dreamed up by someone who wanted us to have a good time.