Sunday, March 23, 2014
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.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Monday, February 24, 2014
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
Sunday, January 5, 2014
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
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.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
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.
As I write this in my office in Harlem I can look up at the wall above my desk filled with Victorian prints of the river, Whippingham Church, Uncles house in Cowes, but mostly the river from different angles and I am transported back to my roots. My parents, my aunt Janette and uncle Murray in a variety of partnerships and singly had the pub called The Folly Inn on the river. Originally, The Polly, a working barge in the 17th Century which had been swept aground in one of our notorious sou’westers, presumably during the equinox high tides and it had never been able to re-float . At some point it had become an Inn and so it remains. When Murray and Janette had the Folly in the 60’s, while doing some renovations they had discovered that the original hull was still fairly intact and had installed Plexiglas in the floor so you could see it. Further renovations had removed all that, but in the attic there were still parts of the original deck.
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.
It looked and felt like Christmas.I really enjoyed these times, but one year I stopped helping Pam, I forget why, I was a teenager and it probably seemed unimportant. But I never stopped making sweets. For a brief moment in my early twenties I decided that was what I would be a sweet maker. After all I would make fudge, coconut ice and sell it to my friends. My then boyfriend, older and wiser than me, said the words that I have subsequently used on many occasions. “You will have to make an awful lot of sweets to make any money,” Its true but homemade sweets, jam, cookies and cakes are really the nicest gift to give and receive. Old fashioned Vanilla fudge 1lb Sugar 2oz butter 300 ml Magnolia (evaporated milk) vanilla essence Grease a tin 6inch x 6inch. Put the sugar, butter and magnolia in a large heavy based pan, heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and butter melted. Bring to boil and boil steadily to 240 F or soft boil stage, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from heat to cool surface, add the essence and beatuntil mixture becomes thick and creamy and grains form - minute crystals. Pour into tin. Leave until nearly cold and mark into squares with sharp knife. When it is firm cut into squares. Merry Christmas Happy Hannukah Beautiful New Year