Sunday, July 13

The best spice biscuits ever

These are actually not just ginger biscuits, although that's one of the main ingredients. In fact they contain no fewer than eight spices if you make it the way I do, with your own homemade spice mix. 

The recipe is a Dan Lepard invention for Tamarind Spice Biscuits, but I pimp it thoroughly with my own garam masala, and I strongly recommend that you do the same. I can't guarantee they will be as gorgeous otherwise!

Firstly the ingredients for the garam masala are as follows:

1tbsp cardamom seeds (taken out of the husks, this is definitely the bit that takes longest)
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cloves
A third of a nutmeg
5cm cinnamon stick, broken up

Grind them all together in a coffee or spice grinder till they are quite fine. I usually make double quantities and save the rest in an airtight jar for curries, dal etc.

For the biscuits you will need:

125g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
25g tamarind concentrate
1 medium egg
3tsp ground ginger
2tsp garam masala
200g chopped glace or crystallised ginger
250g plain or gluten-free flour
Three quarters of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

Beat the butter, sugar, egg and tamarind concentrate into a smooth brown paste in a large bowl. Stir in the spices and the finely chopped ginger.

Mix in the flour and bicarb to make a thick mixture of putty-like consistency. Roll small walnut-sized balls and place them on baking paper on a baking tray leaving some space for them to spread.

Bake in the oven (gas 3, 170C/335F) for about 15 minutes. Leave them to cool for a few minutes then peel off the paper and cool on a wire tray.

I like getting people to try and guess what spices are in them. They rarely guess the black pepper.

Tuesday, July 1

North Downs Way; Farnham to Dorking

I never thought I would be the sort of person who would do long-distance trails, but I suspect I might start getting into this type of walking.

Nearly two years ago I signed up for a Meet-up group called 'Joined up hiking' which is dedicated to doing long-distance trails a bit at a time. Although they don't really do the well-known routes such as the North Downs Way, the leader does seem to enjoy seeking out the little-known paths (whoever heard of the Three Castles Path, for example?!) and the idea of walking the full length of a trail can be quite addictive.

In early May, Jon and I set out for two days on the first section of the North Downs Way - yes it was ages ago but I've only just got round to writing about it!

We were blessed with good weather along the way and since we did the first day on a Friday, it was relatively quiet.

We came across this interesting road bridge which looked like it had been widened in a rather strange way, with increasingly-wide brick arches built out from the smaller arch in the middle.

The river path into Guildford, our overnight stop, was delightful - quiet and calm, with clouds reflected on the still water.

There were plenty of glorious woodland paths like this one, and we seemed to be constantly surrounded by birds chirruping and flitting around, wonderful May flowers, and the scents of spring.

Ah, a stunning tree. I do like to photograph trees!

On the second day from Guildford to Dorking we seemed to be stalked by rain, but most of the time it hung over the adjacent ridge and the clouds skittered along a few miles away. There were a couple of times when we pulled on our jackets expectantly but the deluge never materialised till we were back in London that evening.

By now I bet the route is lined with teeny wild strawberries - lovely to snack on but you'd rarely have the patience to pick a bowlful!

Monday, April 21

Hastings to Winchelsea

Taking advantage of the long weekend, Gareth and I took a trip to the south coast on Friday to walk from Hastings to Winchelsea. It's a walk I've been meaning to do for some time, having heard how lovely the coastline is in that part of Sussex, and I wasn't put off by Gareth pointing out that it was labelled 'the toughest walk in the book'.

The full walk (the one we were following in the Time Out book of walks) goes from Hastings to Rye but by the time we'd got to Winchelsea, and having stopped several times and had a few diversions around landslips in the Hastings Country Park, we were ready to go home. All the same it was a good ten mile stretch with plenty of hills to get the blood pumping.

I love the slight weirdness of the Royal Military Canal which borders Romney Marsh, and the first part of which we followed from Fairlight to Winchelsea - there's a real stillness and eccentricity about its presence in this forgotten corner of the country. Maybe one day I'll walk the full length in one go.

Winchelsea itself is also an interesting little village, its semi-ruined town gates standing alone some distance from the centre and its train station just as remote out the other side.

At the centre is a fascinating church built half of ruins and featuring some striking 20th century stained glass windows designed by Scottish artist Douglas Strachan.

Monday, January 20

New jumper on the go

I cast this on last year but have only just got to the really (really!) easy bit - acres of knitting, not even any purling as I'm going round in circles on my lovely Knit Picks needles!

I've used the Drops Alpaca yarn before some years ago when I made hats and scarves for the niecelets one Christmas, and it's a lovely fine yarn that relaxes quite dramatically when washed. Hence I'm trusting that the neck is going to be a bit looser than it is at the moment when it's finally done and blocked. I did make at least three swatches for this (washed and blocked too), so I'm fairly confident it will work out.

Of course the great thing about doing a top-down circular knit is that you get to try it on as you go along. The bad thing is that by the time I get to the sleeves it's not going to be a very portable project.

The pattern is Hannah Fettig's Lightweight Pullover which you can buy as a single pattern on Ravelry or it's available in this book if you're not a Raveler (if not, why not?!)

Wednesday, November 27

Homemade mincemeat

You are probably wondering why the hell anyone would bother to make their own mincemeat when you can buy 'perfectly good' stuff in the shops.

To be honest I don't always make the effort since I don't eat a lot of mincemeat at christmas, but I did some last year and the mince pies went down so well that I decided to do it again this year.

Here's why I make my own mincemeat:

1. no candied peel. One of the few foody things I dislike is mass produced candied peel - the homemade stuff is fine, as my chocolate-covered orange peel fave sweetie attests.

2. vegetarian. Not a huge concern for me, and I believe a lot of shop-bought mincemeats are veggie now in any case, long gone are the days when beef suet was a staple ingredient, but it's good to know what's in there in any case, for those friends who are veggie. It's almost vegan, and if I were able to dig out some vegan trifle sponges or did an appropriate substitution it would be suitable.

3. no booze. You know I think booze in food is a waste and it dismays me that a lot of the better quality mincemeats are soaked in stuff that should really be served in a glass.

Making the mincemeat was also was the main foody tradition in our house at christmas, since we didn't really do christmas pudding and the christmas cake was only of modest proportions. 

So here's the family recipe, it's far from traditional but makes a very fine product and is very easy. This recipe makes half a dozen jars and if you use veggie suet rather than butter, it will keep for months. Adapt with booze or mixed fruit if you really must. 

11b cooking apples
1.5 lb sugar
1lb sultanas
1lb raisins
0.5 lb veggie suet
1 box trifle sponges
1 lemon
1tsp ground mixed spice
1tsp ground nutmeg

Peel and core the apples, grate them into a large bowl.
Grate the lemon peel into the apples, then juice the lemon and add that as well. 
Stir in the sultanas and raisins, then the spices, sugar and suet.
Crumble the trifle sponges into the mix, stir it well, cover with a clean teatowel and leave overnight at room temperature.

Stir again, then pack into sterilised jars and store in a cool, dark place. 

Friday, November 8

A view I never tire of

When I work at home I miss the morning exercise I get from the bike commute, and if I'm not in the mood for a swim, I usually ride a half hour circuit round Greenwich before I sit down at the desk. 

After nipping through the pretty streets of the Ashburnham Triangle I give the legs and lungs a workout up Point Hill, before cutting over Blackheath, against the traffic, and turning into Greenwich Park. Where all the commuters turn left and down the hill to the village, I go straight on and pause for a few minutes at the General Wolfe statue on the top of the slope next to the Royal Observatory. 

It's one of the best views in London and I often have it to myself at that time of day.

Often I take a photograph, so I have quite a selection now. 

Mist - or perhaps more likely smog? - drifting across to Canary Wharf.

Lovely autumnal scene with damp pavements and fallen horse chestnuts.

A clear and sunny morning, looking particularly grand.

Saturday, October 19

Beautiful things

Walking, for me, is not just about getting from A to B while having some exercise and perhaps seeing some nice views.

Anyone who's ever been for a walk with me knows that I am always pausing to look at things, pick things off bushes or off the floor, taste blackberries or muse about the name of a flower or tree.

On a recent walk from Cuxton on the Medway I found/picked/came across many beautiful things.

Bushes laden with sloes - gathering the sloes for this year's gin being the main aim of the walk.

Beautiful bracket fungi on a tree trunk.

A vast array of Shaggy Ink Cap fungi, which provided a welcome and unexpected foraged supper.

Evidence of chestnut woodlands being successfully managed - the coppiced shoots in the clearing contrasting beautifully with the tall trees surrounding them.

A carved bench on the edge of the woods; a pleasant and thoughtful place to pause and eat our apples.

Fabulous sycamore seed skeletons - the filigree pattern of the wings put me in mind of winter trees, which fascinate and perhaps even obsess me.