Crystallised Flowers.

crystallized flowers.

And breathe.

Last week was a bit nuts. I interviewed Darina Allen (Genie Mac, I can still hardly believe that really happened), published what is without doubt my favourite of my Cooking The Books projects so far ( I truly adore that book) and, AND saw my name in print, for the first time, in a magazine.

Great British Food Magazine. April 2017.

 

Actually, I have been published before. My last publication was in 1997, in the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiolgy, and looked like this:

A Mutant of Listeria monocytogenes LO28 Unable To Induce an Acid Tolerance Response Displays Diminished Virulence in a Murine Model
LYNDA MARRON,1 NATHAN EMERSON,1 CORMAC G. M. GAHAN,1,2 AND COLIN HILL1,2* Microbiology Department1 and The National Food Biotechnology Centre,2 University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
Received 27 June 1997/Accepted 25 August 1997
Exposing Listeria monocytogenes LO28 to sublethal pH induces protection against normally lethal pH conditions, a phenomenon known as the acid tolerance response. We identified a mutant, L. monocytogenes ATR1, which is incapable of inducing such tolerance, either against low pH or against any other stress tested. The virulence of this mutant was considerably decreased, suggesting that the acid tolerance response contributes to in vivo survival of L. monocytogenes.

Feel free to indulge in the full article here. Are we still awake?

I’ll put it on the record here that L. monocytogenes LO28 nearly killed me. I so desperately wanted to be scientist and I really thought I could be. I was really good at learning stuff but it turned out that I wasn’t very good at the nitty gritty of discovering stuff and that flipping bug refused, stubbornly, for three stinking years, to do what it was supposed to do. Anyway, I think we can agree that my more recent publications are a good deal prettier and probably more useful too.

Great British Food Magazine. April 2017. Sultanabun.

That’s Mark Diacono, by the way, of River Cottage and Otter Farm fame, who’s sharing my page! My only grip is that they never used that bio pic that Middle Daughter and I went to such great lengths to produce.

Sticking with a theme of prettiness, I want to share the method I used to make those crystallised flowers on top of my ultimate chocolate cake (for recipe see Cooking The Books, here).

The ultimate chocolate cake.

Fittingly, the method is from Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery Course book but she shares it in this Easter Baking post from the Irish Examiner. (Honest to God, the good people at Ballymaloe are not paying me to advertise for them!)

crystallized flowers

Crystallising  flowers is not difficult, only a little fiddly. You simply paint the flowers gently with egg white and then sprinkle them with very dry caster sugar (dried in a low oven to make sure). The flowers should then be allowed to dry in a warm place.

You can learn from my mistakes: I grew impatient (a perennial flaw of mine) and stuck my flowers into my oven at the very lowest setting. It worked well enough but the colour was dulled and they lost their vibrancy.

Teenage Daughter made a much better job of hers. The Small Girl made some too but ate them before she could be asked to pose for a photograph.

crystallized flowers.

Teenage Daughter has the practical part of her Junior Cert Home Economics exam today. Her task (it’s a lottery) is to make a main course and a dessert from fresh fruit or vegetables. Her dessert will be her own variation of Lilli Higgins carrot cake , this time making one layer carrot and one of courgette cake – it really works! We’ve been eating it on a regular basis for the last few weeks while she practised. My expanding waistline is evidence of my daughter’s diligence. It’s a delicious cake and she will decorate it with this icing and her gorgeous flowers.

I’ll collect her later on with all her bowls and paraphernalia and, fingers crossed, a successful cake with just one neat sliver eaten by the examiner!

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The Ultimate Chocolate Cake and an Extraordinary Book.

Kate Atkinson. Life After Life. Cooking the books.

Kate Atkinson. Life After Life. Cooking the books.

My small girl was born half-strangled, the umbilical cord wrapped four times around her neck. Unlike the birth days of my other children, it’s not a memory I like to revisit. What-ifs crowded so closely against reality that I can’t think about what happened without also re-living the nightmare of what nearly happened. My small girl was born on…

Click here to read more.

In Conversation with Darina Allen.

Darina Allen with kale. Credit. Kristin Perers.

How nervous do you think I was about speaking with Darina Allen?

Double that. Husband spent last weekend re-assuring me that we know Darina is a lovely woman. I mostly ignored him and studied every scrap of information I could find, cramming like I haven’t done since, oh let’s see, 1994 or thereabouts. I don’t know why I imagined Darina Allen would be inclined to quiz me but I was determined that I should not be found wanting.

I may apply for Mastermind now, specialist subject, ‘Ballymaloe 1964-present.’

Interviewing Darina Allen.

Well, yes, he was right. He usually is.

Darina Allen couldn’t have been nicer. She was generous with her time, informative and, to be honest, downright inspiring. She reminds me of all the best teachers I ever had. The ones who truly scared the living daylights out of me, not because of any threats of punishment but because their expectations were so high.

Darina Allen’s gift is that, like all great teachers, she will make you believe you can do better.

Read the full interview by clicking here.

Darina Allen with kale. Credit. Kristin Perers.
Darina Allen at home in her 100 acre organic farm. Credit for photo: Kristin Perers.

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Bee Friendly: Let’s Save Our Bees!

It’s snowing! The kids are ecstatic, the dog is in shock and I can’t help feeling just a little thrill of excitement myself. Sound is muffled today and light is subdued. It feels as though we are wrapped in a huge, thick duvet that’s spilling feathers.

Last week, I was outside in balmy sunshine taking photos of bumblebees. I can’t help but wonder where the poor bees are hiding out this morning.

I’ve been working on an article about bees for Bookwitty.com. We are all aware of the worrying fall in bee populations worldwide but many people don’t seem to realise how critical it is to arrest the decline NOW and how vital a contribution we can all make to saving some bees. We don’t need to volunteer time or donate money; we just need to make a few changes in the way we think about weeds and wildflowers and gardening in general.

I did a lot of research for this article and put a lot of time into it because I really, REALLY would like to do my bit. Please, do read this and please, please, spread the message. Read the full article here.

How to make people like your food more without making your food better.

Gastropysics by Charles Spence

I reviewed a book called Gastrophysics by Professor Charles Spence.It’s a fascinating book which left me, by turns, excited and appalled.

Gastropysics by Charles Spence

Everyone who eats in restaurants or buys food in a supermarket, basically anyone other than self-sufficient farmer/foragers should read this book.Anyone in the business of selling food, or writing recipes, or posting photos of food on Instagram, must read this book. At the very least, read my review here.

Soup and a good book.

I have forsworn cake for lent. It’s not that I am worried about my eventual entry through the gates of heaven (though it could be a tight squeeze) but that I am concerned with the close-fitting nature of my jeans.

I have tried re-introducing the family to salads but the family was having none of it. They complained vociferously and informed me that it’s still too chilly for cold dinners. They have a point. It is surely the season for soup.

Aztec Soup

For my March edition of Cooking the Books, I have devised the ultimate soup recipe. It was almost too easy this time. The book, Umami by Laia Jufresa, practically spelled out the recipe to me. It all came together like some sort of literary magic.

 Find the review and the recipe for Aztec soup here.

Today is World Book Day. Small Girl is very excited about finally qualifying for a free book voucher and I’m happy to have an excuse for a bookshop outing. The books look great this year. Take a look at the list on WorldBookDay.com. I won’t be able to resist the Famous Five stories and I suspect Small Girl will want the one about underpants.The gallery of World Book Day doodles by well known illustrators is also well worth a look.

I like lists. I am a maker of lists and a dedicated ticker of lists. Best of all the lists, of course, are book lists and there are some fantastic book lists out there. If the internet had been invented just for the book lists it would have been worth it. These are some of my favourites:
The Agnes Reading List. I’m blowing my own trumpet here since I compiled this list of books for teenage girls. My all-time most loved books are on this list.
The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge. Rory Gilmore is one extremely well-read young (and fictional, by the way) lady. These are all the books she reads or mentions over the seven seasons of The Gilmore Girls. You can tick the books you’ve read on this VERY good list (SO satisfying, I’m at 64 of the 339 books).
The Guardian’s list of 100 best novels ever written in English is a SERIOUS list, developed over two years by Robert McCrum. It’s compiled in chronological order. I’ve read 25 which is hardly very impressive.
The 100 Best Children’s Books from Time.com is a thing of beauty. I could flick through this quite contentedly all day long.
The 25 greatest cookbooks of all time is calling to me. So much temptation. The only one of these I own is Moro. My birthday is coming up soon…hello, family…can you hear me? Hint, hint, etc.
My favourite cookbooks are listed here.
Barack Obama’s Reading List: The 79 books recommended by a very bookish president during his time in office.
J.K Rowling’s Reading List: The books which have most influenced the world’s most successful author.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for in any of those lists you could take a glance through the books I’ve read since starting this blog in May 2015.
I hope you find a book you love today.

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When kids take advantage of Instagram.

Happy Pancake Tuesday.

‘Great news, Mum,’ announced Middle Daughter late last week.
‘Hmmmn?’ I might have had my head stuck in Instagram.
‘It’s Pancake Tuesday next week.’
‘Oh, great.’
‘And we’re off school so we can have pancakes All DAY LONG!’
‘OK.’ Like I said, Instagram.

The seed was sown. I got up on Tuesday morning and I made pancakes. I made pancakes ALL DAY LONG!

img_4463-2

A workman was painting the wall at the front of our house and, feeling proud of my copious crêpe creation, I brought him a pancake with his three O’Clock cuppa.

‘It’s not Shrove Tuesday, is it?’ he enquired with a concerned frown, as if he should have been at mass or something.
‘It is!’ I replied wondering if he would judge me for not being at mass or something.

I got straight back to the cooker to stack up more pancakes for dinner.

Three crêpes later (time having become meaningless, my day portioned into piles of pancakes) my workman returned his tea tray with a smirk.

‘Your kids are having you on, Missus.’
‘Excuse me?’ Mother Lion, ready to leap.
‘I’ve asked five different people walking by and they all said Pancake Tuesday is next week.’

So, not only had my children fooled me, maintaining straight faces all day while they debated the virtues of chocolate/cream over jam/yogurt or lemon/sugar, I was pilloried across the neighbourhood as the woman who doesn’t even know what day of the year it is.

Happy Pancake Tuesday.

I clearly need to leave the house more often.

I repaid my children by layering up the dinner pancakes with salmon, steamed broccoli, béchamel sauce and a sprinkle of cheddar (half an hour at 180ºC). They were less than pleased but Husband and I agreed that the dish was a triumph. I’ll take my wins where I find them.

pancake lasagne with salmon and broccoli

While the kids have been a-lazing (and a-scheming) in front of the TV, I have been hard at work (ahem) reading books.

The Rituals of Dinner by Margaret Visser is a superb book, the sort that stays with you and changes the way you see the world. I wish I could make it required reading for schools, for parents, for politicians…for everyone who eats. Read my full review here.

The Rituals of Dinner, Margaret Visser, book review

I’ve read most of Robert Harris‘s books and always look forward to a new release but Conclave was a big disappointment. I had heard Harris interviewed and loved the idea of a novel based on the election of a new pope. He writes with great style but the plot went completely awry. The full review is here.

review: Robert Harris, Conclave.

Storm Doris  is still swirling around the garden in a most menacing fashion so I’m about make a massive cup of coffee and retire to bed with Kate Atkinson‘s Life After Life. It’s shockingly good.

(PS. The pantry is done but it’s been so dark, I can’t get any photos that do it justice. Next week, I promise!)

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