Monday, 18 January 2010

kitchen closed

Or, more accurately, kitchen demolished. The day we left for our christmas break with our families in Belgium, the builders moved in and started tearing down our kitchen/bathroom extension. And this is what's currently left of it - some of those beautiful (not) dark blue wall tiles, lots of rubble and especially lots of dirt and dust in the rest of the house. Not to worry though; shiny new kitchen (and new bathroom, and extra bedroom) coming soon!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


A bowl of blackberries does not a blog post make. Not even when I gathered them myself while on holiday in Dorset. And not even with a gratuitous picture of bebe enjoying said berries thrown in. It will have to do for now though, since S and I are getting married next week and there are a million tiny little things to sort out still. After the wedding I'm hoping to get back into the swing of blogging, but right now I need to go sort out table arrangements, centrepieces and more of that...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

figs after easter

This post won't have anything to do with figs whatsoever. Or food for that matter. It's just that, when you do something so late that it's really no use anymore - say announcing the birth of a baby when said baby is four months old for example - in Flemish the expression for this is 'figs after easter'.

Our baby girl was born on 7 March, a week after her due date. At which point I was convinced we 'missed our window' and she would never ever come out. But that's a whole different story altogether. Delivery was smooth and easy (as was my entire pregnancy), the three of us settled nicely back into some kind of normal life at home and bébé is an absolute joy to have around. She's very alert and inquisitive, and it seems she will be as stubborn as her mummy. Having a baby is a lot of work though, especially when combined with renovating a house and planning a wedding (a combination I do not recommend by the way). It's not that I don't have time to cook or bake - I can't remember how often I have made my chocolate fudge pie in the last few months, it's the easiest cake to make and a real crowd pleaser - but having time to try out new recipes, write, photograph and blog is something else entirely. All the pics on our camera these days are of the little one. But I will try to change that, if only because the world should not be deprived of a recipe for a wonderful chocolate cake.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

a weekend away, an easy dessert and nesting

Last month S and I decided to leave our dining room/building site and all the DIY as it was and go away for a long weekend - just the two of us, one last time before the arrival of our little one. So a week after the big snow - I do wonder how Britain ever managed to colonise half the world, when something as normal as snow in the middle of winter brings the entire country to a complete standstill - we set off for a relaxing countryside weekend. We found a lovely B&B in Happisburgh, Norfolk; a beautiful Georgian farmhouse and barn owned by the wonderful David and Rosie, about a half hour's drive from Norwich and only five minutes from the sea. We saw seal colonies at Horsey Beach, where volunteers were very happy to answer all our questions about the seals; had a nice walk at the Hickling Broad Nature Reserve; had a superb pub dinner in Ingham; and visited the grounds of Blickling Hall, which made us feel very Jane Austen!

Of course both S and I were a bit paranoid about me going into labour while away (even though I was still 3 weeks away from my due date) so we packed my hospital bag and baby car seat as well, just in case - we both reasoned 'if we take the bag, we won't need it, but if we leave it at home we will'. We decided to have dinner at the B&B the first night, so this tired pregnant woman wouldn't have to go out foraging for food at night after the long drive there. After emailing back and forth with Rosie about all the good things I'm not allowed to eat, we were served a delicious and hearty home-cooked meal, perfect for the cold February month. Dessert was either a sticky toffee pudding - S's choice - or lemon posset. Which I'd never even heard of before, but I like anything lemony and am always keen to try new things, so that's what I went for. A quick google didn't return much information, other than it seems to be a very old English dish and something about MacBeth. Of course I just had to try and make it myself at home, and I can tell you it is most definitely the easiest dessert in the world. All you need is cream, sugar and lemon juice. I would love to understand the chemistry behind it - when you add the lemon juice the mixture thickens instantly - but for now I'm happy having this recipe on stand-by should I need a delicious dessert in a pinch.

Which brings me to the nesting bit. Maternity leave is a wonderful thing: I'm cooking and baking a lot and even bake my own bread most of the time - that Kitchenaid mixer sure is getting a regular workout and S isn't complaining, as his dinner is on the table by the time he gets home from work. I've been having fun with some knitting and sewing projects (our sitting room now has proper curtains, yay), the nursery is all set up, and once in a while I even have time to meet up with girlfriends for coffee. And of course I've been nesting: scrubbing floors like there is no tomorrow, doing laundry like it's going out of fashion, re-organising the kitchen cabinets and wardrobes, cleaning out the fridge and defrosting the freezer, and then spending a whole day making soup and healthy meals to restock the freezer. Now the house sparkles, my laundry basket is empty and the freezer full, so all that remains now is put my feet up and wait for our little one to arrive. And maybe have another lemon posset...

lemon posset
serves 4

300ml double cream
75g caster sugar
juice of 2 lemons

Pour cream and sugar into saucepan and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Boil for three minutes while stirring continuously. Remove from heat and add lemon juice; mixture will start to thicken instantly. Leave to cool for about five minutes and pour in small glasses. Chill in fridge for a few hours, until set.

I added a layer of lemon curd at the bottom (I used Duchy lemon curd, but of course you can make your own) and decorated with a lemon peel curl. The posset would no doubt be even better with some lavender shortbread, but that will have to wait until another time.

Friday, 9 January 2009

sugar and spice and all things nice

Happy New Year everyone! Santa has been very good to me and brought me not only a subscription to the Donna Hay magazine, but also a Kitchenaid stand mixer! With a note from Santa saying I can now bake him lots of bread and cookies.

I haven’t had any time to use it yet though, S and I are still spending every spare moment doing DIY – I know, the story is getting really old now, but what can I say. S and I are both perfectionists, we want everything to be done properly. With my parents’ help, we did actually get our sitting room finished, decorated and furnished in time for Christmas. There is now a sofa, armchair, cabinet, tv, and even some pictures and ornaments above the fireplace. And we even managed to put up a Christmas tree. We don’t have curtains yet (the windows are still covered with newspapers, very classy) and there are some details to sort out, but the room is finished enough to enjoy spending time in there.

Now we only have the dining room to finish and we really want to get that done before our little one arrives. Yes, seems like I’m part of the baby boom in blogland. Must be something in the flour. Or the eggs. Less than two months to go now and only one more week until my maternity leave, so hopefully I’ll get some use out of that Kitchenaid before our little one makes her appearance and my days (and nights) get filled with bottles and diapers.

We’re trying to hold off on the pink (and plastic Dora/Bob/Disney/…) invasion for as long as possible, but a bit of sugar and spice never hurts. I baked these sugar and spice cookies for our antenatal class (pre-Kitchenaid), where they were demolished in the blink of an eye. I fully intended to make these cookies again for Christmas, in nice snowflake shapes with some icing swirls, but that of course never happened. They taste just as good though without any fancy shapes and go perfect with a nice cup of tea on a cold winter’s day.

sugar and spice cookies
makes 24

100g butter
1/3 cup muscovado sugar
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 cup plain white flour
1 egg, beaten
Demerara sugar

Cream butter and sugar together. Add flour and spices. Roll in a log and put in fridge for about half an hour. Cut off 24 ‘slices’ and pat those slightly out with your fingers. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with Demerara sugar. Bake for about 12 minutes at 150˚C. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

a busman's holiday*

A few weeks ago, my parents arrived at our house for a week’s stay. But unlike Aran’s parents, they didn’t find lavender sachets under their pillows, or beautiful chocolate pistachio cakes waiting for them. Instead they found sanding paper, a heatgun, paintbrushes and tins of paint.

Just in case you’re wondering, of course we don’t make all our houseguests work for their stay – my parents had offered to come and help us out for a week. So, while S and were sitting behind our computers at work, mom and dad were hard at work in our house, leaving us with beautifully painted ceilings and woodwork when they returned home a week later. We still haven’t finished renovating the entire house, but at least all the big jobs are done and a few more weekends of painting and decorating should be enough to get us nearly there, so we can finally put up christmas decorations and a proper tree for the first time in years. Thanks mom and dad for helping us!

Until a few hours before my parents arrived, our house was completely upside down. Luckily I managed to make our guest room look decent enough for them to actually stay there, but with our big sofa stored on its side in our kitchen, I wasn’t able to do any baking at all, so no fancy cakes or desserts for the parents this time. To keep up with all the DIY, they needed something more substantial anyway, so I made a big pot of soup to get them through the week (and of course we cooked them proper dinners every night as well). It’s one of my favourite winter soups: hearty, warming and filling. I originally found the recipe in a 2002 christmas supplement of LivingEtc. (as a way of using up left-over turkey) but have changed the recipe quite a bit over the years. My version takes a bit of prep work, but it’s absolutely worth it. And it will keep you going all day when doing DIY.

spiced chickpea soup

1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
10g cumin seeds
10g coriander seeds
40g harissa
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
500g dried chickpeas
1.5l chicken stock
2 chicken breast fillets

Soak the chickpeas overnight (8-10 hours) and then boil them for 2 hours. Dry roast he cumin and coriander seeds in a pan until they start popping and release their fragrance, then grind them roughly with a pestle and mortar. Boil the chicken fillets in water, when cool enough to handle, tear them by hand into small strips.

Fry onion and garlic in some olive oil. When the onion has softened, add cumin and coriander seeds and harissa and fry for a further 5 minutes. Then add chickpeas, tomatoes and stock and simmer for 30 minutes. Purée about half the soup in a blender, then add chicken and coriander. Enjoy.

And you could easily substitute dried chickpeas for canned ones and use cumin and coriander powder instead of seeds, to make it easier.

* I learned this expression from a neighbour only last month; when I told her my parents were visiting for a week to help us with the DIY, she said ‘oh, a busman’s holiday then’, meaning it wouldn’t be a holiday for them at all, but work.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

a few short summer breaks...

… and a very looooooong blogging break. When even my mum remarked that it had been a while since I updated my blog, I knew it was high time I did something about it. It’s been a busy summer at casa v&c, with lots of little trips and a steady stream of visitors. And not much time for baking.

After a busy July, in which we celebrated S’s birthday (though we didn’t make it there this year, the good people of Paris put on a parade and fireworks especially for the occasion again), bought a car (after 7 whole years without, doing grocery shopping is suddenly very exciting), escaped to our friends’ country cottage (for a weekend of long walks in the woods), and lots of other things, we packed our bags for a quick trip to Greece, where we were graciously hosted by our friend G in his hometown of Piraeus.

It was our first trip to Greece, somehow we had never made it there before, and we finally got to see all the ancient monuments in Athens we had learned about in school. We also discovered why Athens is empty in August: because it’s HOT. So after a few days of seeing all the monuments – and seeking refuge in museums during the afternoons (great tip: museums in Athens have airconditioning!) – we did what every straight thinking Athenian does and hopped on a boat to one of the islands. Where it was still hot, but a beach, a warm sea and a cool sea breeze are an unbeatable combination for a perfect day.

Our island of choice was Aegina, less than an hour by boat from Piraeus, and home to a wonderful sweet shop: Aiakeion. All sorts of goodies there, so we picked a few of each: almond paste with gum mastic, sugared pistacchio nuts (the product of Aegina apparently) and of course baklava. All extremely sweet, but because of their being bitesized, just perfect. And still not as sweet as all the Moroccan sweets we had in Marrakech. Then there were also the many late and leisurely dinners, with the ubiquitous ‘Greek salad’ of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and feta, meat patties, wonderful baked aubergines and lots of olives of course. Strangely enough fish is scarce and expensive. I thought I'd be eating fish all week, but no.

Back home with recharged batteries (no sunshine or real summer in London) we hosted my parents for a week and we made it into a proper British week, with fish and chips (with mushy peas of course), a lovely weekend at our friends’ countryside cottage and a proper Sunday roast at the pub. There was also a wonderful dinner at Rules, one of London’s best kept secrets. It’s the oldest English restaurant in London, they specialise in game and even have their own estate where they shoot all said game.

In September S and I made a few trips to Belgium, for a big family reunion weekend and a friend’s wedding. And we spent my birthday in the lovely and quaint seaside town of Rye in East Sussex. Rye has lots of (expensive) antique shops, a nature reserve by the sea perfect for long walks, and lots of good fish restaurants. Having a car sure is wonderful and allows us to get out of London once in a while. It also means that, when we have to buy or rent DIY stuff, we can now bring it home ourselves, rather than having to organise and pay for delivery of everything. And DIY is all we've been doing the rest of the summer; currently S is sanding the downstairs floorboards, making a lot of noise and dust in the process. All the things we had in the living room are now stacked up in the bedrooms (note to self: stop collecting stuff and do a big ruthless spring clean); the only place in our house which is still sort of usable is the kitchen. Which means in the next few days, I'll bring my baking things out of retirement and will get stuck in making autumn goodies. Something pumpkin-y perhaps...