Sunday, March 23, 2014

R I P Chuffy

RIP Chuffy Within my family, no matter who I visit, everyone has bird table and a couple of feeders. We are no serious birders, no, running after elusive quarry. But we all knew our backyard birds. At the Folly, on the river Medina (Isle of Wight) our backyard birds included the sea birds. We could tell what sort of winter we were going to have by the variety of birds that were on the river, birds that we would not normally see that far South. My father spent more time and money on his birds and red squirrels. A number of summers and Fall they would house sit on the South of the Island. My father drove back each day to make sure the birds got their nuts and whole wheat bread. There were 8 different Red Squirrels and he knew each one, we could not make a noise or move too quickly if they were around. His favorite was an old Cock Pheasant that would arrive, calling to dad and would eat nuts from his hands, they would chat away to each other, two old soldiers communing. Sue, my cousin in London, has different feeders for different birds and gets numerous varieties, rare and common. I can happily sit drinking coffee watching the Pine Siskins at their feeder. When we moved to Harlem and had a garden, I was aware of the different birds that flew in and out, as I worked on making beds in our garden. Off I went to get a feeder, working out the seeds they preferred and the other critters that enjoyed seeds. Our most frequent visitors were the Cardinals, we mostly seemed to have 4 - 5 pairs, and late summer the newest fledgling would appear among the sparrows. Happily flying and eating among them. At that time we were really the only people outside in our garden, so the birds and squirrels had the run of the backyard area of our block, many tree’s and shrubs, providing protection and food. One of the big surprises was the day I was talking to my brother Simon on the phone and a Hawk dropped into the garden, caught a Dove, flew up on a branch of the tree and ate said Dove. The squirrels were something else. Harlem squirrels, good and bad, one even acted like a crack addict. For a couple of years we had Scaramouche, he was easily identifiable with a big chunk of fur missing half way down his tail. He was clearly the most dominant male, no one messed with him, except the feral cats. In his last year 2012, he had a young female mate. At some point of that Summer, we did not see Scaramouche any more - run over, lost his last fight to the cats? But the female who was nursing would come and sit by me, if I was reading in the garden. That Fall our new young male Cardinal showed up. He was different from the other fledglings. Vocal, chatty. Announcing his arrival, peeping away during his visits. Cardinals are always the first and last bird in the garden. When I heard Chuffy, calling I would go and scatter a few safflower and sunflower seeds for him, as soon as I closed the back door, there he would be at the table. Eating and chatting away as I cooked dinner the other side of the glass, I would talk to him through the window, he always agreed with what I said! We have always had Cardinals. I felt that there were different generations and branches of the same family group. One female was distinct because she had more red on her beak, looking like a beautiful lady with crimson lipstick. Last winter (2013) we had one big snow storm, and when I got up in the morning, looked out the window there were 8 males sitting in the trees behind us, all looking at the kitchen window, waiting for me to come out and feed them. It was quite a sight. I was half asleep and failed to take a photo. Chuffy through last Spring turned red and got a mate. I was relieved he lived through his change, 2 years earlier a young male, who was incandescent orange, flamboyant and full of himself, lasted about a week before one of the feral cats got it. I found his poor broken body behind one of the big plant pots. This winter has been terrible for everyone, but the birds really suffered. We have had so many sparrows trying to feed, that I think they have overwhelmed the other bird varieties. But I would see Chuffy and his mate sat dusk. Not the other Cardinals, which was unusual in and of itself. Chuffy even learnt to eat at the feeder. But now we have not seen or heard a Cardinal in 3 - 4 weeks. I miss Chuffy and the other Cardinals. What can have happened to them? This cock pheasant flew into the garden a month or so after my father passed.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hazelnut Meringue Cake

n this winter of deep cold, snow, ice. It has been hard to be inspired about cooking. We have been eating stews, casseroles for weeks. I had thought about writing about them, but I tend to assume that everyone knows how to do this.. If not let me know and I will write a few recipe ideas. Last night we had a few friends over. I wanted to make something different for dessert. The Shepherds Pie was an easy Supper item. I love meringues in almost any shade or form. In fact it is one of the only ways I eat egg. It has always surprised me that Americans don’t eat them like we do in England. Mum often made them and all you need is a quick bowl of whipped cream to go with them. Our friend Sally Newbury makes one of my favorite desserts, Hazelnut Meringue cake. Last summer Sally gave me the recipe, I carefully wrote it in my notes, came back from England and got a new phone. Now I cannot access it. I looked at a few recipes online and came up with a recipe that worked for me. Hazelnut Meringue cake 5 egg whites 4 oz/125 grams of Bob’s Red Mill Hazelnut Flour - you can also use whole Hazelnuts, by placing the Hazelnuts on baking sheet, roasting until lightly browned in a 375 degree oven, then grind in a food processor. I wanted to try the Hazelnut flour and found it worked perfectly and was certainly easier. 8 oz caster sugar vanilla essence a few drops 1/2 tsp of vinegar. Whisk the egg whites until they hold their shape, then gradually beat in the caster sugar, a spoonful at a time, add the vinegar and vanilla essence with the last spoonful. Grease and line with parchment paper 2 8inch cake pans. Divide the meringue mixture between the two tins, and place in a 375 oven. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes. Remove, let cool in the pans. Whip 1 cup of heavy cream with caster sugar to taste. Spread whipped cream over the meringue, I put raspberries on top of the cream, but you can add sliced strawberries or peaches or nothing. Put the second cake on top of the cream, add the rest of the whipped cream to the meringue. Add more fruit on the top. Serve.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monk Parrots

The Monk Parrots returned over the weekend. Almost a year from when they first appeared. I am guessing their food source ran out. No idea where the nest is...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Food traditions

Back in September, when Rosh Hashanah fell on a 90 + degree day and I was preparing Matzoh Ball soup, Brisket, Roast roots and the like. I began to contemplate our food traditions. Clearly, what many consider the traditions of Rosh Hashanah here in the North East of the US are based on the Jewish immigrants of the 19th Century who were escaping the persecution, pogroms in the Slavic Eastern European States. By late September in Northern Europe it was probably starting to get quite cold, and what was available were roots: Beets, carrots, turnips.
Whereas if you were a Jew from the Middle East your food and Holiday traditions probably erred toward, Humus, eggplant, falafel and the like featuring a lot of pomegranate, dates and figs. In fact at one point a few years ago I was given a Syrian Jewish cookbook and asked to find a menu for Rosh Hashanah within it. All suggestions were declined as non traditional. Thanksgiving I tend to be rather ambivalent as I had no family food tradition involved with it. Some friends traditions I was not familiar with: Mashed sweet potato with marshmallow or in an orange with marshmallow. I did not entirely understand adding sweet to sweet. Our Thanksgiving is based on Num’s family traditions of which there are a few, and we use his Grandmothers recipes. Dinner rolls, cornbread dressing which makes me think of a rich polenta; green beans, mashed potatoes. I have been to a few different Thanksgivings and the menu’s are all quite similar with perhaps differences in seasoning and cooking. Rather like the British and Christmas. I always want to add Succotash as it is So American and may be one of the foods that we still eat based on Native American food.
I am taken back to the first time I took Num to the Isle of Wight to visit my parents. I am sure you know I had been telling Num how my mother was a much better cook than I, and what he might expect. Mum always cooked all my favorite foods when I went home , as I am sure most mothers do. I want to say that I ate and loved everything my mother made, although that was not necessarily so. Simon always wanted Steak and Kidney pudding, whereas I wanted a traditional roast, Lamb or Chicken being my favorites, and then all the vegetables that went a long with them. When Num and I went out that afternoon, mum was roasting a chicken. All afternoon I was thinking and looking forward to this roast chicken, and even beyond to the soup she would make for lunch out of the carcass the next day. Roast chicken, herb stuffing, bread sauce, greens, roast potatoes and parsnip, mashed carrot and swede, gravy. Arriving home, I could smell the meal, but there was something else. As we sat down to eat, Mum had made garlic roast potatoes for a change, instead of regular roast. I felt my bottom lip stick out and start to quiver as if I was 8 years old. Mum looked at my face and explained she and dad liked them for a change! Me too, but I can make those any time and what I had dreamed of was my mums roast potatoes... This Christmas I had set my mind on making more of a mum Christmas. Truthfully, Simon does a better job. Roast turkey, I bypassed the herb stuffing for Num’s corn dressing. Bread sauce, Greens, Roast squash, mashed potatoes - the american potatoes do not roast as well as some of the older breeds from England like a King Edward. I even got a small Christmas Pudding from Myers of Keswick, along with their Cumberland sausage meat to stuff the rear cavity with. We bought out the flamng Christmas pudding along with Brandy butter, for Johnson our nephew, to show him how we Brits celebrated Christmas.
Now it’s time for Soups made from the Ham bone. Minestrone; Black bean just in time for the bitter cold. Turkey and vegetable pot pie, Turkey soup. I have just put the Black eyed peas in to soak. Num will cook them tonight and bake corn bread. A new tradition for me. I have assumed this tradition came to America with the slaves. Black eyed peas are so old they are in the Bible and mentioned for good luck. I imagine that our ancestors the Hunter Gatherers carried the food/seed with them as they left Africa along with our DNA... Our oldest food tradition?! Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas newsletter "06, Vanilla Fudge

good cateress, newsletter. Nov/Dec 06 When I started to write the newsletters I knew the November and December would be the hardest to write, as they are my busiest months. So I have decided to combine them. As a caterer any sense of joy for the Christmas season is lost, but in my teen years I still had it. I need to write a little explanation here, about where I am writing about. For the most part it will be the Isle of Wight, and in particular the River Medina area from Cowes up the river to Newport. My cousin Diana, an archivist, has traced my mothers family back to the 14th Century; we are all christened, married and buried in the four parishes along the river, Cowes, East Cowes, Northwood and Whippingham. It is still for the most part a beautiful river valley although Cowes and East Cowes continue to grow along it, but much of it is unchanged for centuries. Pastoral farm land for the most part, with a public footpath that runs along the East bank.
Also living on the river were the Cundall family. Pam and Allan with their sons, Robert, Colin and Philip ran sailing holidays on their boat the Rene Phillippe. The Rene was a large wooden motor boat, I thought she went to Dunkirk, but everybody tells me I am wrong. People came from around the world for the sailing holidays and Pam's amazing cooking. It was a wonderful life for all of us, particularly the children. We lived on a tidal river, played around on boats, Simon fished and so dug for rag worms for bait in the river silts at low tide - he was always being rescued from the gooey sucking mud. There was a copse behind the Folly for us to play in, during the Spring there were
Come early December their would be an invitation from Pam to help her make sweets/candy as Christmas presents. Some years the Rene would be tied up along the jetty, but one year I do remember rowing out to the Rene. Pam and Lucy, my mother would have worked out all the ingredients ahead of time, and of course, what I would be doing, my job was to show up. I always showed up I loved this day. One of m favorite things, was candy making. Fudge, coconut ice, truffles, marzipan fruits, chocolate corn flakes. Anything with sugar and butter.We started with fudge. As the sugar melted into the condensed milk,the tangy air of the river faded as the sweet smell pervaded the boat. I had to stir almost continuously to stop the sugar from burning onthe bottom of the pan; something that with Pam's gentle reminders never happened, but when I was alone frequently did. This was a job that called for patience, something I didn't have much of, as I stirred and watched, stirred and waited for ‘soft ball’ phase to be reached. Pam would talk to me, distracting me from my impatience with a small chore here and there that could be done during the stirring. Then without warning we were there. The smell would change. It was exciting pouring the molten mixture into trays to cool, ready to be cut into squares. Of course, I wanted to try it hot from the pan, burnt fingers and certainly scalded tongue followed. My next sweet was coconut ice. I enjoyed making it but I could never quite get my mind around laying the pink and white on top of each other, I wanted them to be side by side. Chocolate and cream turning into ganache for truffle, with each year a different flavor. Sometimes chopped apricots, always some liquor. It was put away in the fridge to solidify ready to be scooped with a melon baller and rolled in cocoa. By now the portholes were running with condensation from the steam. The water lapped against the boat as the tide turned. The following week we would get together again. Pam was very creative and had found small trays to pack our sweets on, with colored doilies as a liner and sprigs of holly with berries from the copse.