My Little Shilton Kitchen

rachels-kitchenSome of you may know of Rachel Khoo, who is an English chef, writer and broadcaster, with her own BBC series. She had a tiny flat in Paris in which she whipped up impressive meals inside her cramped tiny kitchen. I am now a big fan of hers and I base some of my recipes on her books.

When I was in Paris for three weeks in 1997 with my partner, Pat Yeomans (she was there with an Irish Folk Group playing several gigs in some shady joints!), I attended workshops at the Cordon Bleu School of Cookery, for ‘French Regional Cuisine’ and ‘Domestic Food Preparation’ just for something to do. That changed my life, so I stopped living on frozen ready meals and started to live a little and cook my own food.

My kitchen isn’t as tiny as Rachel’s, but it is very small. Big enough for one person, two at a struggle, but I couldn’t cater for a party! Sorry, fellow bloggers, maybe another time.

The majority of the kitchen remains the same as when the first occupants moved in in 1934. It still has the red quarry tiled floor and the huge cupboards from that time, masses of storage space. I wasn’t until 2003 that I had the original gas cooker, a ‘New World 34′ taken out and bought a table top electric cooker. (couldn’t get spare parts for the old cooker any more).

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These original cupboards, made of real wood, are so much better than modern kitchen units made of vinyl-covered chipboard that are available these days. I wouldn’t dream of changing the existing ones because they are so roomy inside.

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The floor is original, except for the three relacement tiles. I like it because it is so easy to keep clean. Especially as I seem to drop more food on the floor than I eat.

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The window in the kitchen/hall door was just opaque glass when I moved in so I replaced it with a stained glass panel in the style of the 1930′s. It’s not an original, just a copy I made.

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The cooking corner. Not a very big oven, but it does the job and is just right for me. Notice the cup on the window sill. I saw it on an Etsy.com site and noticed it had the same pattern on it as the kitchen wall tiles, and it was in the Art Deco style so I just had to buy it

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The top section of my French Dresser, the bottom cupboard is where all my cooking utensils are stored. I don’t like have them on display, very common! I couldn’t afford to buy a dresser in France and have it transported to England, so I scrounged a load of pallets from a local builder and dismantled them, planed them up and made my own dresser. I know it looks crude, but I was a stained glass artist, not a carpenter (or wood butcher as I call them!). I did make some leaded panels for the doors with butterflies in them, but they proved to be too heavy for the frames so I put chicken wire in. This is traditional in rural French houses. Not for keeping chickens in the dresser, but to prevent the crockery from falling out during a major earthquake.

The calendar on the wall has pictures of cats on it, who bear a remarkable resemblance to Betsy’s cats.

Posted in Cookery, Food | 13 Comments

Simple dough proving box

Following on from the last post I will explain how to make a proving box with a few simple components. The cost is virtually nothing.

If you live in a cold house like me, and can’t afford to heat a whole room just to get your bread dough to rise then this is a project for you. I found it was too costly to keep the oven on a low temperature to do the job, even then the lowest temperature in the oven was just too much.

So I put my Thinking Hat on and came up with this little gem of engineering excellence. My friend Phil, who is always showing off his ingenuity at making ‘Smoking Boxes for Ham and other Things’ and ‘Gadgets for Curing Various Meats’ will be proud of me, and who knows, he might even make a copy of this ‘Dough Proving Box’ himself!

proving-box[1] Find a suitable cardboard box large enough to accommodate your bowl. If you can’t find a big box then order something large from Amazon, when it arrives throw the contents away and keep the cardboard box. Next find a room thermostat, there’s usually one on a wall in the house somewhere, remove it and fit into the box with a batten bulb holder, again there is usually one in the outside toilet or the wine cellar that is no longer in use. I use a 25 watt bulb which I find is sufficient to maintain the correct temperature. Wire the two in series and attach a mains cable with a plug on the end, and you are ready to go.

[2] Place the bowl containing the bread dough into the box and cover with a damp tea-towel. Switch on.

[3] Set the thermostat to around 20ºC and make sure the bulb is a good one. The results will be poor if you use a dud bulb, or you forget to plug the lead into a convenient power socket. Keep an eye on the thermometer and adjust to keep the temperature between 22ºC – 30ºC.

[4] Note: This step is important. Close the box! Every few minutes open the box and check to see if the dough has doubled in size. If it has, then you are on course to becoming a master baker.

After the dough has risen, take it out of the box and place it on a floured board and give it a good pounding to show it who is the boss, and then stuff the resulting mass into a bread tin and place it back into the box, again remembering to close the lid, Let it rise until it reaches the top of the tin. At this point put it into a preheated oven at 210ºC for 30 minutes.

When the loaf has cooled down take a large knife and carefully scrape the burned bits off the top crust.

Posted in Cookery, Do-it-yourself, Just kidding, Only partly true! | 6 Comments

Good Morning World

bread-01Today I had a lazy morning baking and cooking. Two loaves made with real French flour from France would you believe! They use a different variety of flour to us, which is much softer, and you can actually feel the difference when kneading it. It feels very silky and lovely to work with. It’s called T65, and the bakers in France can only use this type by law to make Baguette loaves. True. The supermarket ‘baguettes’ in this country are more often than not made from the same flour ordinary bread is made from, and tastes the same; awful.

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Just out of the oven and cooling off, and me as well, it does get a bit warm in my tiny kitchen. I always keep a glass of wine on the side and have a slurp every so often [A tip I picked up from watching Keith Floyd]

bread-03Now to try some, with my homemade butter. Although I used the specialty flour to make ordinary loaves the taste is the same as a true baton; heavenly! Even my butter tastes much better than shop bought butter, I don’t know why, perhaps it’s because I don’t put additives in it. It is expensive to make, both in the use of electricity (it takes ages in the mixer!) and double cream, so I only make it for special occasions. When I separate the buttermilk from the finished butter I use it with self-raising flour to make soda farls.

Phil – If you are reading this I gave up making sourdough bread, it takes too long to make and it didn’t always work out.

gratinFinally I sorted through the fridge for left-overs, like pasta, parsnips, courgettes, mushrooms, etc and invented a new gratin. It tastes a bit strange, but otherwise is OK. [Yeuk!]

Posted in Cookery | 5 Comments

At the Docs

waiting-room copyAbout every two or three weeks I have to go for a blood test to have my INR (International Normalised Ratio) level checked because I take blood thinners. Don’t ask, it’s a long boring story.

Every time I go, no matter which day of the week it is, it seems there is always the same two old ladies in the waiting room. On my last two visits I noticed that one of them was missing, so naturallyI thought she had kicked the bucket. This week Maud sat busy knitting as usual when Betsy arrived.

Maud asked Betsy why she hadn’t been there for the last two weeks. “Well, I’ve not been very well dear; the old trouble you know”.

[That's not really their names.]

Posted in Medical, Only partly true! | 6 Comments

Bang, Crash. . . .gone!

I’ve lost my template! After spending a lot of time customising it my computer crashed!

It has given up the ghost big time. It is no more. It is an ex-computer now. It was due for the chop anyway, to give you an idea of how old it was when I bought it it had Windows 98E installed. Of course I updated it as newer versions came out, and I finally installed Linux Ubuntu a few years ago.

So I had to rush out and buy another all singing, all dancing modern computer and program it up. I scrapped the installed Windows 7 and put Win XP in one partition and Unbuntu 12.04 in another partition. Now I have the best of both worlds.

I tried to recover my template from WordPress, BlueOutdoors, (which I had customised to suit my needs) but to my horror I found it was no longer available so I have had to use the nearest equivalent, this one, which needs a lot of work doing on it. First I’m off to scour the net to see if I can find the right template.

Posted in General, Gone | 1 Comment

Special Christmas Day Post

old-man

Since my partner died 10 years ago I have spent every Christmas, bar one, on my own despite having a lot of relatives who always have a get together every year, but I’m never included. Not even a phone call or email to check that I’m OK.

As far as I can remember I have never done anything to warrant this. I have often wondered why I’m shunned at this time of “goodwill-to-all-men”. I found the truth on the webpage of “The Huffington Post” and I quote some facts and figures from it below.

Half a million older people will spend Christmas alone this year as relatives and neighbours shun them in favour of smaller family gatherings and shopping, a charity has revealed.

The Friends of the Elderly charity said many older people will be isolated by younger generations, who said they were too busy to include them in their plans.

In a survey commissioned by the charity, nearly one in four people (24%) said they would not be inviting any elderly relatives or local residents to their Christmas celebrations.

Only 1% of those surveyed said Christmas was a time to help others, while well over half (60%) thought it meant spending time with family and friends. About 11% said “the birth of Christ” represented the meaning of Christmas – about the same number (9%) who plumped for “shopping”.

More people would volunteer to help animals (28%) than the elderly (26%), according to the survey. Nearly half (44%) of respondents said they did not have enough time to visit the elderly, while 13% said they did not want to and 11% said they thought the older people around them got “plenty of visits already”.

More than two-thirds (68%) agreed that the worst thing they could imagine at Christmas was being alone, but only 13% said that they would consider having a lonely older person spend Christmas Day with them.

The charity said that 500,000 older people will spend Christmas alone, based on ICM research for Help the Aged in 2007.

Richard Furze, the charity’s chief executive, said: “The effects of isolation on older people – including loneliness, depression, feelings of low self-worth, poor health and diet – can be devastating, with isolated individuals being less likely to obtain the services they need or seek help.

“Small things such as simply checking in on an older neighbour regularly, popping a card through their door or having a chat with an older person at the shops is enjoyable for both young and older people, only takes a moment and can make a real difference.”

“We understand that people are incredibly busy today, and especially at Christmas, but we urge people to get more involved with the older people around them – and not just at Christmas”.

Yeah, right. Guess what I’m going to do when Christmas is over . . . . . .

Posted in Anti-Social Behaviour, but not forgotten?, Unbelievable | 6 Comments

Just an experiment


If you are interesting as to what the video is about, it was taken at “The Merrie Monk” pub several years back. It closed down.

It was taken on a Sunday lunchtime when the landlady provided lots of nibbles and other goodies for her loyal customers.

>~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~<

This is a video of Dinky watching herself playing “Catch the laser” when she was a kitten, and getting bored with it.

Posted in Good Old days | Leave a comment

Texting vs Picturing?

VodafoneAfter a lot of pressure from my friend(?) and enemies I reluctantly bought a cell-phone, or mobile as some unenlightened folk would call it. I had been resisting buying one for a long time, because being an old “stick-in-mud” I value my privacy when I’m out and about. Nothing irritates me more than people around me having their ear (or fingers) permanently glued to that nasty piece of plastic, the scourge of modern day living!

Someone pointed out to me that perhaps it would be wise to have one at my incredible old age (Cheek!) in case of an emergency i.e., the car breaks down halfway across the Sahara desert, I fall off a mountain and there’s nobody around or my yacht starts to take on water halfway across the Atlantic, and other such minor emergencies.

It seemed the sensible thing to do, so I bought a pay-as-you-go phone with a “qwerty” keyboard thinking that it would be good for texting. Wrong! Even with my new glasses I have a terrible time trying to read the tiny symbols. I don’t mean the normal a to z ones, It’s the alt+something to get the second function on each key! So I gave up after a while and just replied to text messages with a phone call. That is until I “Stumbled Upon” a page that had the answer to my problem. Click here.

texting 002Being very observant I noticed that my cheap Nokia had a camera in it so I tried out the idea of scribbling my answer on a bit of scrap paper and then taking a picture which I sent in reply. It worked!

Now I carry a small notebook and pen with me and just reply or send a picture, Yes I know it’s more expensive this way, but I get about one text a week and send about the same number, so what the heck? I don’t have to strain my eyes trying to use the sub-miniature keyboard.

On the plus side your recipient gets a more personal reply in your own handwriting, instead of that ‘orrible Arial font that is usually associated with texting. There is no need to use “text language” either, like LOL, CUL8er etc., just scrible it out “that made me laugh!”, “See you later”

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Do you get the picture? (Pun intended). The examples above are just quick notes jotted down in my “scribble handwriting”, if I am at home and have time I letter the texts out neatly in various handwriting styles with little cartoons or drawings if necessary. Now I have complete strangers texting me just to get a handwritten note back. Obviously the word is getting around.

Posted in Calligraphy & Lettering, Handwriting | 3 Comments

Lest we forget . . . .

John_McCrae_1915

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Garlic

Giant GarlicI am a big fan of garlic. I use it in practically all my cooking, whether or not the recipe calls for it.

I don’t buy the insipid horrible little bulbs you see on the Supermarket shelves. They are enough to put people off garlic for life. No, I buy from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight.

There are so many varieties of garlic that it is sometimes impossible to decide which to buy. My own personal favourite is the “Solent Wight” (click on the pic above to see an enlarged view). Fortunately my local garden centre shop stocks most of the types available from The Garlic Farm so I don’t have to go to the Isle of Wight to buy when my stocks are low!

Garlic is a bit like Marmite, you either like it, or you HATE it. Me? I love it, and can’t get enough of it. It’s good for the digestion and your heart, and further more, when you eat it your breath keeps away vampires, zombies and predatory women!

You can even buy Roast Garlic Jam, Roast Garlic Mayonnaise and even Garlic and Herb Popcorn.

I tried to give my cat Dinky some garlic flavoured cat-food, but she just sniffed it, spat at it and fled across the fields sneezing. That’s the trouble with cats, they just don’t appreciate good food.

Posted in cat-astrophic, Cookery, Food, Herbs | 5 Comments