Sunday, February 28

Tomato borscht

A lovely colourful soup for a winter's day. And let's face it we've been having quite a few of those of late!

Three notes:
1. If you do not have a food processor in which to grate the beetroot, think carefully before embarking on this recipe. I don't have one, and the grating almost broke my spirit. Think about it carefully especially if your grater is rather old and not very sharp. Luckily I had a sharper one in the cupboard that I was obviously saving for this very occasion!

2. If you are grating by hand, wear an apron and surround your pan with some large sheets of newspaper to catch all the little bits that will inevitably fly off onto whatever happens to be nearby and stainable. On no account wear your best white frock.

3. I paired it with some homemade (breadmaker-made) bread - a standard white loaf but with added pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds, linseed and chopped walnuts. Delicious!

The recipe comes from the New Covent Garden Soup Company's book 'Soup and beyond'.

25g/1oz butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
225g/8oz raw beetroot, grated
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
225g/8oz fresh ripe tomatoes, skinned & finely chopped
275ml/1/2 pint tomato juice
1 tbsp tomato puree
570ml/1 pint vegetable stock
1 tbsp soy sauce

Melt the butter and cook the onion, garlic and beetroot in a covered saucepan for 10 mins on a low heat. Add the cumin, cinnamon, tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato puree and stock.

Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add the soy sauce and check the seasoning.

Cool, then blend until smooth.

Serve either hot with a swirl of creme fraiche, or you can even serve it chilled on a hot day.

Friday, February 26


Remember that?! This blog seems to have morphed from knitting and London life to cooking, bikes and London life over the last few months!

There has been knitting throughout, but I've cut back on the amount I do for various reasons - the wrists are not always willing, travelling time has been very limited (and most of it on bikes or driving) and I have been weaving and spinning instead.

But just to prove that I can still knit, here's a couple of recent sock projects.

Firstly a simple pair of gift socks for a friend's birthday - Kaffe Fassett Regia sock yarn done to the regular sock pattern; toe up with a short-row heel and picot cuffs. I had to cast off twice on the first sock, couldn't get it loose enough.

Second project is Cookie A's Pomatomus socks - a 'piquant' pattern if ever I tried one! The pattern is fairly straightforward but I never really got the hang of it properly. Everytime I had to start a new pattern repeat it was a struggle to get it right for some reason, and there are a couple of bits where it has been fudged. Luckily I now know enough about knitting to get away with the fudging. Also for some reason my toe cast off looks like it's the wrong way out. Couldn't be bothered to rip it back and do it again, after all it's only me who's going to be seeing it! Have just cast on for the second sock. I'm glad I've tried it because I've been wanting to make this for a long time, but I don't think I'll be making any more! Tick the box and move on!

Wednesday, February 24

Fresh mint tea

Later on today I'll be treating myself to a pot of fresh mint tea.
1. Take large handful of fresh mint
2. Place in teapot
3. Pour on boiling water, leave to steep for 5-10 mins.

One of the best things about Deptford High Street (and there are many, believe me!) is the accessibility of fresh herbs. I grumble that you can't get basil or oregano, but luckily my balcony/lounge windowsill is ideal for these so it's not a great hardship!

Bunches of fresh herbs like this cost just 75p each, and are sold at three or four of the many greengrocers along the street. If the herbs at one shop are looking a bit limp, you'll likely find a fresher bunch a couple of shops further along.

Anyone else have a favourite local shop(s)?

Tuesday, February 23

Still a veggie at heart

From the age of about 15 for more than 20 years, I was a vegetarian. I say vegetarian with some caution since I was not a proper vegetarian for more than a few years. For most of that 20 years I ate fish occasionally but I usually told people I was vegetarian to avoid any embarrassing situations with catering. My job sometimes involves attending formal dinners, and quite a bit of travel, so it's always been easier to mark myself out as vegetarian from the start rather than have to explain that actually I quite like sausages when they are good quality, but hate bacon of any quality and would eat fish but prefer it to be sustainably sourced and I'm fine with non-veggie cheeses blah blah blah. Then you just end up sounding like a total food snob or a very fussy eater.

Shacking up with the Curse ('a-meal-is-not-a-meal-unless-it-contains-meat-and-all-pulses-are-the-devil's-work') coincided with the boom in farmer's markets and easier access to responsibly-farmed, good quality meat, and I decided to reintroduce certain meats into my diet. I still don't like bacon although I will tolerate it chopped small in a sauce - never has a food promised so much in its smell, and delivered so little in its taste!

But I believe that I will always be a vegetarian at heart, and the main reason for this is my passion for all pulses! Whenever I'm home alone I usually take advantage and cook something with peas, beans or lentils. Or all three.

Last night I tried out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's fabulous recipe for potato, chick pea and kale curry, and hereby declare it an unqualified success.

I substituted savoy cabbage for the kale, since the only kale I could find was a bag of it in Sainsbury's. Why do they insist on selling it ready chopped? Every piece was already brown at the end!

Also I didn't have any yoghurt, so substituted with soured cream.

Otherwise I used half quantities of everything except the onion and it gave me enough for two quite hearty meals. A word of warning - be careful as you toast the spices - I burned the first lot and had to do them again.

For two people :
400g tin of chickpeas (or dried if you are well organised - soak overnight and then boil till tender)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1 dried chilli, crumbled
1/2 tsp turmeric
peeled and grated root ginger - some
1 onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
350ml veggie stock
some potatoes, peeled and chopped (I used four medium)
some savoy cabbage, very finely sliced (I used a quarter of a cabbage)
sunflower oil
soured cream or yoghurt to serve
chopped coriander leaves - as many as you like

Dry-fry the cumin, coriander, chilli and mustard seeds until they start to pop (not until they burn!)

Grind them in a pestle and mortar then add the turmeric and ginger. Fry the onion in a saucepan in some oil till soft, then add the garlic and the spices. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the stock. Simmer for a few minutes then add the chick peas and potatoes, and cook until the potatoes are starting to go soft.

Add the cabbage and cook for a few more minutes, then stir in the chopped coriander and serve with a spoonful of soured cream.

Saturday, February 20

Pink and green

The only space at the bike racks in Greenwich today - right next to another Raleigh 20! Identical except for the colour and slightly different accessories - a folder of the same age with the same pannier rack and decals. I was so excited I had to leave a little note on the pink one when we left!

In the meantime, can you see what's sprouted on the back of mine?! Fabulous tartan saddle bag that I bought on ebay last week - paid over the odds for what is essentially a bit of cardboard and some plasticy covering, but still less than the repro versions you can buy. Fits beautifully and I believe it led to the bike's first compliment last week. You just can't ignore her with that tartan bag in your face!

Tuesday, February 16

Grey day out

A day off gave me the chance to take a trip to North London and pick up a little something for the Raleigh 20 (of which more news soon - as soon as the weather improves for photos!). She came into her own at Moorgate station where I was told 'no bikes on the train!'. 'Do you carry folding bikes?' I asked rather which I knew the answer was yes!

On the way back I got off the train at Essex Road and picked up the Regent's Canal for a pleasant few miles back to the Isle of Dogs, then the Thames path down to Island Gardens and under the river at the Greenwich foot tunnel. The tunnel is due to be closed soon for refurbishment (although Greenwich Cyclists have lobbied hard and successfully for this to be restricted to night-time closures) and for the lifts to be replaced. Apparently the Raleigh 20 will also be allowed on the DLR during this time - hurrah for folding bikes! Even if it doesn't really fold much and is a bloody nuisance and much more difficult to move around once folded!

Part of the canal along by Victoria Park is currently closed and drained for refurbishment works until the end of March. Looks quite forlorn!

However the detour in Hackney took me along some interesting back streets with crumbling buildings giving a flavour of its past.

No doubt soon to be replaced by this kind of thing....

Monday, February 15

The Valentine potato

Found in the bag of spuds when The Curse was cooking me dinner last night. We roasted it and shared it with dinner while watching a whole series of The Smoking Room! Who says romance is dead?!

Sunday, February 14

Surrey Canal remnants on Evelyn Street

Lovely battered old parapet of the bridge that used to cross the Grand Surrey Canal on its route from Surrey Dock to Camberwell. A new residential development is planned for the site, but although the proposal aims to restore some of the canal as a water feature, it will block off the possible future extension of the canal as a route under the busy road for pedestrians and cyclists. In my opinion this would be a huge missed opportunity.

Thursday, February 11

Reasons to be cheerful

I've not had to use my bike lights on the way to work (7.30am) for a couple of weeks now, but the last couple of days have been particularly noteworthy since there has still been some light in the sky as I've been leaving work too.

Not enough to be able to do without the bike lights, but a hint of what's to come!

Tonight cycling along the river opposite the Houses of Parliament I was reminded of the real beauty of winter light. The building was beautifully illuminated, sharp and crisp in the clear winter air, but backed by a deep indigo sky with a lighter halo around it as the last remnants of the day faded away.

Still effing cold though!

How to make friends and influence people

Chocolate brownies - recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen (fave place for recipes). Very easy to make, and even if you cut them up small they will still deliver a big chocolately hit!

This is the first time I've ever made brownies - I will definitely be sticking with this recipe!

5oz unsalted butter
10oz sugar
3oz unsweetened cocoa powder (eg Green & Blacks)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs (cold)
2.5oz plain flour
walnut/pecan pieces if you wish

Oven gas mark 3. Line an 8" square baking tray with greaseproof paper, leaving an overhang at each side so that you will be able to lift it out.

Heat the butter, salt, sugar and cocoa powder in a dish in a big pan of water. Melt all the butter and stir until it's all mixed in. Don't worry if it's gritty.

Remove from pan and cool until warm, not hot.

Stir in the vanilla, then beat in the eggs, one at a time until each is combined.

Add flour, then beat 40 times with a wooden spoon.

Stir in the nuts, then scrape into the baking tin and smooth the top.

Put in the lower third of the oven for 30-40 mins until cooked. A skewer should come out with slight traces of the mixture.

Leave to cool before lifting out and cutting into small squares.

Saturday, February 6

Greenwich peninsula

At last a bit of sunshine and the chance to take advantage of it. Myself and my Raleigh Twenty set out for another pootle yesterday, taking the Thames path east from Deptford to the Thames Barrier in a very leisurely fashion.

Through the grounds of the Trinity School of Music the practice rooms all had their windows open, with random sounds drifting across the grass. We headed down the narrow waterside path, past the Cutty Sark and on to one of my favourite paths, the industrial grit of the Greenwich peninsula. I need to start savouring this route more; it is destined to change dramatically in the coming years and planned development will no doubt bring a sterile glamour to it. This is where I come for a bit of head space, it seems so disconnected from the rest of Greenwich and is somewhere that offers some solitude and peace, normally so difficult to achieve.

After passing the first blocks of the Lovell's Wharf development, a major scheme that will really change the face of this route, I followed the narrow path alongside the old Alcatel and Tunnel Refineries plants, both of which are in the process of being demolished. A few other loners with cameras and/or bikes were also pootling along, as well as a group of teens who looked like they were bunking off school.

I sat on a lonely bench opposite Canary Wharf and enjoyed the sunshine while I ate my sandwich. It was pretty warm and gloriously peaceful.

Round by the Thames Clipper pier I nipped inland to explore the new plaza at the middle of the Greenwich Peninsula development. An enormous twisted stainless steel spire has been erected in the middle of it, provoking me to shudder at the pointlessness of it all (although it is in fact very pointed, as you can see from the picture!).

The big black building will become the new home of Ravensbourne College of Design & Communication, which is relocating from Chislehurst.

But first these poor saps have got to erect the 'rain shield' (er I think that's cladding to you and I) on all sides of it. Luckily the tiles don't seem to have to be put into place one at a time, as I saw them lifting in a piece made up of about ten or twenty all fixed together. But it does seem like a hideous waste of money, not to mention time, just to create a hideous building!

Here's a link to the Foreign Office Architects, the firm which designed it. Just to translate the architect-speak for you: it's a big building with not many windows; we can get away with this because many of the facilities such as film studios don't need natural etc; the cladding design is inspired by Gothic rose windows and flower patterns, but it is applied in a mathematical way (I think this means they had to use a computer and some equations to work out the design of the tiles).

I moved on to the Thames Barrier for some reflection on calmer structures, although perhaps still rather ostentatious.

A final highlight was a new bird ID - saw a few pairs of teal dabbling around on the edges of the river in the company of a few pairs of mallards. Their heads looked totally brown, I could not distinguish the green patch, but the yellow rear and white stripe along the wing was very distinctive. I was glad of the presence of the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Centre so that I could pop in and borrow one of their bird books to make an instant ID and avoid the common problem of forgetting all about it by the time I got home!