Thursday, 24 September 2015

Why are you listening to...

UCB Radio?

That was the question Nick asked me when yet another Christian pop song, of a style i'm not a fan, came on the radio.

The answer is, of course, a long story.

I don't listen to secular music stations anymore, and barely any secular music on CD.  On the occasions when an old favourite of mine comes on the MP4 in the car, I remember why I don't listen to it.  

From the Backstreet Boys, through Ocean Colour Scene and Paul Weller, to Dido, Faithless and Massive Attack, run my emotions as a teenager and young adult.  Mostly these emotions were related to my idolatrous heart, and most specifically about the boys and men I worshipped and desired.  Every pop song wove its way through my mind and heart and related itself to someone.  Perhaps musical lyrics don't have that effect on you, but they certainly do to me.  

So when I hear a song from my early 20s which was related to any specific person, I am overwhelmed by a return to all the emotions of that time.  So how can Iisten to it now?  I can't.  It is wrong for me to return to the past. 

So that's why no old secular music.  Why no current secular music?  Because I am incapable of not singing along, and since I only want the truth to come out of my mouth, how can I sing the songs now in the charts? How can I give my mouth emotions which aren't mine?   As I said, if music doesn't have this effect on you, listen to it, but I just can't.

So.  Back to UCB radio (a digital radio station.  Our car has a digital radio, which I guess they all will eventually).

There are 2* reasons why I listen.

1.  Because many of the songs are awesome!  Josh Garrels, Phil Wickham, Strahan and Izzy Ray are people I never would have come across without UCB, and I love to sing along with their tunes.  Because I am happy for my heart and my mouth to be singing songs devoted to Jesus.   Because even if I am feeling nothing, my mouth gives voice to truth.  

2.  Because I won't listen to secular music, my children also don't. Nothing wrong with that, but I do want them to experience the best of the culture we live in.  Through UCB they have heard dance music, pop music, folk music, rock music.  And Cliff Richard.   At a (listening) glance the songs are indistinguishable from what you might hear on your local radio station.  But the songs have words of truth, so any joy in the music can also teach them the joyful truth of the gospel.

3.  Because they broadcast news!  And they have a particularly christian focus on what is happening in the world, which I like.  I haven't stopped listening to BBC news, but it makes a great change to listen to UCB.  

4.  Because the presenters find infinite matters to discuss on air which are cheerful, upbeat and inoffensive!

The slight downside to UCB is that you sometimes have to listen to Christians taking the bible out of context.  It's not all relentless truth.  But it is mostly.  So that's why!

* i realise there are now 4 in the list.  As I wrote I realised there were more than 2 reasons.

Monday, 21 September 2015


Recipe book recommendations

This isn't a new book, and perhaps you all have it already, but I would just love to enthuse about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book "Every day Veg" (or "Veg everyday"?).  Alongside our incredible lamb joint (from New Close Farm Shop in Sacriston) which we were eating for the third day (I'm fairly sure this is the cheapest way to eat meat), this evening we had caramelised carrots with gremolata (much easier than it sounds) and sweet potato and peanut gratin (also very easy).  And it was just delicious.

I've mentioned before that we have been getting a Riverford veg box for a decade, and still love it.  But there are always veg that I find uninspiring (carrots, again), and veg that some of us don't like (nick is not a sweet potato fan).  My good friend Fiona, also a longtime Riverford customer bought me HF-W's book for Christmas last year.  It took me a while to use it (scared of an entire recipe book with no meat!), but it has revolutionised my veg cooking.

It's £10 from the Book People at the moment.  A bargain to help you get more excited about vegetables.

A year or so ago, I picked up Nigella Lawson's Feast in a second-hand shop.  This is a really old book now!  It is lovely to look through though, because she has compiled and invented recipes for festivals and occasions when you would want to cook for.  From Christmas to Easter via Passover, Thanksgiving and Eid, and many others.  She even has an entire chapter on chocolate cakes.  I have been so impressed with how easy many recipes she has included which turn out incredible tasting food which usually feeds a large crowd.  

I'm including it here now because I recently whipped up 3 decent veg recipes from Feast in about 30 minutes for a  barbecue at which there was a vegetarian.  That makes it a winner!

You can buy a second-hand copy of Feast for 1p (plus postage) from Amazon Marketplace.  Or if you object to Amazon, an old copy will set you back 66p (plus postage) from my favourite online second-hand book seller, alibris .

It's hard to eat veg, but good recipes make life a LOT easier!  

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Why we do what we do

Living in the North and Home education

I have started this blog partly to journal our life with the kids, so that if anyone were to ever ask me to show we've been educating the kids, I'll be able to look back and find out!  It has been overtaken by recipes the last couple of weeks, but this post is an attempt to balance the recipes with the two biggest time-consumers in my life.  The biggest thing is the Lord Jesus, but the time-consumers flow from my (our!) relationship with him.

First comes church.  More specifically, church in the North-east in a new-town which replaced about 15 pit-village collieries.  

We received excellent training, the best possible, at Oak Hill College.  It couldn't have been better.  But what we have learned since moving here, even more so that Middlesbrough, was that there are parts of England which are so different that ministry has to be different.  

I'll admit to feeling clueless and ambivalent about the mining industry for most of my life.  In fact, I would say I was unsympathetic.  Two recent experiences changed that.  The first was a visit to the Woodhorn museum in Northumberland, and the second was a trip down a drift mine at Beamish museum in Durham.  Both those trips changed how I saw the people among who I live.  For two hundred years our nation became advanced and wealthy off the backs of men, children and ponies who worked in unimaginable conditions to provide coal.   Conditions were shocking, pay was meager... but the country ran on coal.  Move forward to the middle of the 20th Century, the decreased need for coal and the cost of extraction mean the mines start to close.  Two hundred years of hereditary jobs and identity is removed in one fell swoop.  No wonder born-and bred locals can resent change. No wonder we're a Labour safe seat.  No wonder it is hard for new people to fit in.  One granny I spoke with said she felt like an outsider in our part of town after 20 years.  She originated 1 mile away, in another part of town.  But it was a different pit village 50 years ago, and many still see the distinction.

This means Nick and I know that vicars here cannot just come and go.  They need to come and stay.  There are very few evangelical churches here, far fewer than any place I have lived, and the job requires phenomenal time, relationships and commitment.   God might move us from here one day, but for the moment, we've chucked our lot in with our town and that takes time.  

Secondly, educating the kids.

Home education can be divisive.  My aim is not to divide, but to try to describe the life we live and why do it.

We decided long ago, before having children that we would educate them at home.  Nick and I are naturally non-conformers.  My dad said we were only doing it to be different, and i think he is only 90% wrong!  We knew a few adults who had been home-educated and it appealed to us in itself.  Then, when our gifts of children came along, and we loved them, our natural inclination seemed to be with them all the time.  I never felt like leaving them in a creche on Sunday, for example. I wasn't working out of the home, our parents lived miles away, and we were used to them being wherever we were, and we enjoyed that.  Not sending them to nursery or school wasn't, therefore, a decision.  It just wasn't ever really a consideration, except in those times when I panicked about ruining their education.  It has nothing to do with local schools.  

I am often told by people that they couldn't home educate.  I have no opinion on whether that is true or not, but I would say a few things.  I am not patient, I am often unkind, I am not a genius and I struggle to impart mathematical concepts to my children despite having maths A level.  I am disorganised by nature, and I am not a completer-finisher.  I am weak, I am sinful.  However, I know that the Lord is with us in our journey with the kids.  In a way, educating at home is just a different way of discipling the children in their walk with the Lord ( With maths thrown in).  We read the wonderful word of God together like any family, we sin against them and repent, we are sinned against and forgive.  And we do addition equations.  The point it, as the Lord is with families in their struggle against the fallen nature of everything, so he is with us.  My fallen mind struggles with maths but he provides help.  My fallen heart struggles to be patient with a new reader, but He provides strength.   We just choose to do it 24/7.  Not because we are better Christians, but because He is in it with us, every minute.  And it is a great privilege.  Germans, Dutch, some Scandinavians, they are not allowed to home-educate, so we give thanks that we have the freedom to choose.

The other help is social media, and the other is the PLETHORA of curriucula to choose from. More of which, another time!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Cakes! Ginger and Apple. But not in the same cake...

Farm shops

Friday is Nick's day off and today was an errand day. Prescriptions, broken glasses, haircuts, banks...  But after all that we did the rounds of farm shops.  Lunch at one, where the children could run around outside, and then shopping at New Close.  Of course we could have shopped at the first, but we love the second, they love our kids and it is still the best shop ever.  I am tempted to see if we could live on just the groceries they sell there, alongside their meat, and Riverford veg (we've been Riverford customers for 10 years and love them still).  

Buying local (or from a supermarket which we're sure of) has become more important to us over the decade we've been married.  I can't really explain a lot of it, but I do know farmers shouldn't be losing money on feeding us, just as a carpenter shouldn't lose money in his job, or anyone else.  I've no idea where this puts me politically or economically, but I'm glad we're able to do it because we have a local shop which sells meat the way we want to buy it:  VERY local, animals which were cared for well in life, and direct from the farmers, with no middle man.

Tomorrow, we  head to beautiful Alnmouth in the Northumberland, home of my favourite beach.  And Alnmouth Priory.  A large group of the older folk from church are spending the day there and Nick will join them.  The children and I will lunch with everyone, but will either hit the beach or the famous Barter Books in Alnwick (depends on the weather).  The lovely ladies love my cakes, and there are a couple I have been meaning to try, so I made them this afternoon, and have just had a slice of each so I can report back here!

Gluten-free Sticky Ginger Loaf

The first was waitrose's Sticky Ginger Loaf.  This is a gluten-free recipe and I've been very excited about making it.  I have to say, it isn't quite as good as I was hoping.  I also burned the top.  The recipe does talk about covering it but I lost track of time.  If you are gluten-free and love ginger and like less sweet cakes, this is for you, but just watch the top!  I'd probably also turn the temperature down to 160C.  

You'll find the recipe here.

Gluten-free Apple Fritter Traybake

This is even better than the last apple cake.  The original recipe was from a facebook post, and I have made it.  But my poor husband didn't get to try it since he is the wheat-free one. I prefer to make a cake in its original form before trying it gluten-free so I know what it is meant to taste like, but today was the day for the experiment.  I reckon converting plain or self-raising flour to Dove's Farm self-raising GF flour and ground almonds, and adding an extra egg does the job in converting cakes, so I did that.  And it's yummy!  (I'll post the original too when i find where it came from, for all you wheat eaters). Oh, and it's not as faffy as the list of ingredients suggests.


Cake mix

120g butter, melted
240g Dove's Farm Self-raising Wheat-free flour
130g ground almonds
200g caster sugar
4 tsp baking powder (make sure it's wheat-free)
360g milk*
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
5-6 small eating apples, peeled, cored, chopped into small pieces

Cinnamon topping

230g butter, softened in the microwave 
200g caster sugar
2 Tbs wheat-free flour, as above
1 Tbs cinnamon


240g icing sugar
5 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla extract


Heat oven to 170C, line an A4 sized, 5cm deep baking tin

Put all the cake ingredients into a bowl, APART FROM THE APPLES, and mix together.  Pour into the tin, then sprinkle the apple chunks evenly over the cake mix.

Mix the topping ingredients together then blob all over the top of the apples.

Bake in the oven for 40 minutes.  Leave to cool for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir together the glaze ingredients.  When the cake has been cooling for about 20 minutes, pour the glaze over the cake.  It doesn't need to cover it like an icing, and it sinks in to the cake.

Cool completely and cut into 24 pieces.  Then try not to eat it all at once.

* if you weigh your liquid it is more accurate.  If you weigh it straight into the mixing bowl you save washing a jug.  What's not to love?

The original recipe is here

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Squab Lamb Casserole

For the day when a pie is too much effort

A few years ago I found a recipe for Gloucestershire Squab Pie in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's mum's recipe book.  This is a lamb pie with apples, and seasoned with allspice and nutmeg.  I adore this pie!

This week has been pretty tiring, mostly mentally, with a church event this afternoon to prepare for, and I didn't really have a grip on what I was going to cook when I bought a small lamb joint from New Close Farm Shop (have you visited yet?).  

When I got home, and remembered the vast quantity of apples we have been given this week (both cookers and eaters), I wished I had bought lamb pieces, because then I could have made that wonderful pie (albeit it with gluten-free pastry these days).  Then I thought, I couldn't really face making a pie anyway.  Then I had my ah-ha moment.  Perhaps I could just potroast the lamb joint in the pie gravy ingredients.  So I did, and it was delicious!  The original recipe didn't have carrots or celery in, but since they needed eating, I added them in.  They aren't essential.

Squab Lamb Casserole

Serves 6

1 lamb joint (ours was 1kg shoulder)
1 large onion, finely sliced
3 sticks celery, finely sliced
Carrots, chopped into chunks
4 small/2 large cooking apples, pealed, cored and cut into chunks
1 Tbs flour (gluten-free if necessary)
1tsp ground allspice
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 150C

Heat 2Tbs oil in an ovenproof casserole pot which has a lid.  When hot, fry the lamb joint for a couple of minutes each side until browned.  Remove the lamb to a plate.

Add the onions and celery to the pan and cook gently for about 10 minutes until soft and beginning to brown.  Add the apples carrots (and any other veg you have lying about, I guess!) and cook for a few more minutes.  Add the flour and spices, salt and pepper and fry for a minute, stirring.  

Replace the lamb, making sure it nestles down with the veg.  Pour in some hot water until it covers the veg, but is below the top of the lamb.  Put the lid on and bring to the boil.  Transfer to the oven and cook for about 2 hours.  Serve with some potatoes and green veg.


Friday, 11 September 2015

Gluten-free Apple (and Blackberry) Cake

I don't really understand this recipe thing... a recipe becomes yours when you change the words a bit.   I suppose there aren't many new cake recipes which would actually work, but I have spent the evening (while Hama beading) pondering how to introduce this recipe. 

2 days ago I remember seeing a recipe for apple cake on facebook.  The urgency to use it arose when a kind congregation member gave us a LOT of apples, which needed to be used quickly (and a few hours later another kind congregation member came round with lots of blackberries, hence the optional extra in this cake)*.

I searched for the cake, and the person who had posted it then gave me another, simpler recipe for apple cake.  I looked at it, reckoned it could be made gluten-free, adapted it as such, made a few errors along the way, and had delicious cake for dinner.  So whose recipe is it?  Have I written a recipe, or should I credit it?  I think it is actually mine, but i still feel a little guilty, but probably not as guilty as when I'm eating it in bed later.**

It was easy, it was delicious and youngest child had 3 helpings.  Both children refused to eat Apple and Blackberry pie last week so I felt this cake was something of a triumph in the children-eating-cooked-fruit challenge.

Easy Gluten-free Apple Cake

3 Eggs

350g caster sugar 
1 tsp cinnamon
110g oil (It's MUCH easier to weigh liquids!)
180g Doves Farm wheat-free self-raising flour
120g ground almonds
6 apples

Heat oven to 170C.  Line an A4 tin, 5 cm deep, with parchement

Stir together the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, oil, flour and almonds.

Peel, quarter and core the apples.  The slice each quarter thinly widthways and stir into the cake mixture.  Stir in blackberries if using them.

Put into the tin and spread into the corners.  Put into the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until nicely brown on top.

I left it in the tin to cool a bit, but we ate it warm with creme fraiche or yoghurt.  

* The Bible doesn't command giving homegrown fruit to pastors, but many people act as though it does, for which I am grateful and feel very loved!

**Gluten-free cake goes stale a LOT quicker than normal cake, so should always be eaten in bed at night, for breakfast, morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and pudding again.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Flapjacks. yep

Not the most interesting biscuit...

But I'm very glad for flapjacks.

Today was the start of a new year of our after-school club.  Each session I like to provide some yummy homebaking.   For the first 2 1/2 years the yummy homebakes revolved around favourites like mars-bar cake, brownies and malteser fridge cake.  Our club was also full of VERY LOUD children who found it difficult to sit still.

Have you spotted it?

Yep.  After 2 1/2 years we did a food craft which involved filling wraps with spready cheese, raisins, pepper, dates, cucumber, etc.  During this session, the children sat and listened.  Soon after we made bread rolls.  And again, calm children.  Unbelievable that it took me that long to realise that I was making it impossible for the children to listen by giving them an immense amount of sugar as they came in.  Now we've switched to scones, rock cakes, cinnamon rolls and similar which are much lower in sugar.  

I'm not sure where flapjacks come on the sugar scale.  However, they take 3 minutes to make (not including baking time), are enjoyed by everyone, and are easily gluten-free.  On a day like today when I have not got everything ready the night before for craft and visuals, and when you open the cupboards for dried fruit for rock cakes and there isn't any, flapjacks are the only thing to make.  Here is my recipe:

Gluten-free Flapjacks

250g Butter
250g sugar (I like light brown soft but i don't think it matters)
1 Tbs syrup
300g gluten-free oats
60g gluten-free self-raising flour
60g ground almonds

Heat oven to 170C.  Line an A4 sized tin with baking parchment.

Put butter, sugar and syrup in a microwaveable mixing bowl.  Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes until all melted.

Stir in all the other ingredients.  Squish into the tin and cook for 15 minutes.  It shouldn't look too cooked!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Social media (and bolognese)

The Net at its Best

At a recent family wedding I had a lovely conversation with the girlfriend of my cousins' cousin.  I always worry at weddings about ending up sitting near people to who I have nothing to say, but this one worked well.  My dear beloved big brother, Daniel,  was on my left, and since he is the member of my immediate family I see least of, I was exceptionally grateful for this.  On my right was the cousin family of my cousin.  My brother and I were overheard by the lady (whose name has left me) who was working on a TV programme about social media.   Daniel and I were discussing the way Facebook has enabled very isolated farmers to finally network and be encouraged by shared experiences and support.  Our chat also included the amazing benefits to our home education journey because using Facebook I can find out about curricula which I never could have known about, and I have found a whole network of local home educators for the children and I to hang out with and mutually encourage.  

Overhearing this conversation, our fellow guest joined us because in her research for the telly, she has only found negative stories.  Infidelity and Divorce caused (in part) by Facebook.   And worse.

I added in the fact that Nick and I met on the internet (although in the days before social media!), to say that social media is brilliant.  


During the last few months, our maths home education has been dominated by my lack of ability to explain a concept which I felt eldest could probably grasp.   We tried and tried and tried, and then gave up and turned to Khan Academy to fill the gap.

Returning in September began miserably.  Exactly the same problem, but it was very clear to me that the issue was mine.  I didn't know how to explain this concept in a way which worked with her brain.  And it was frustrating.  The happy ending to the story comes from the very large, american Facebook group I am a member of which follows a particular guide to home education.  I stated my question.  I had 20 answers within a couple of hours.  I checked them all, looked at the different ways of explaining the concept in one evening, spent a few minutes digging through my craft pile in the loft the next day, half an hour colouring balls and cutting up egg boxes.  2 maths lessons later and BOOM.  Cracked it.  

And without Facebook, I would still be sitting here sobbing, my relationship with eldest strained by my inability.  Social media has transformed our world, and I imagine it has transformed mums' abilities to educate their kids at home.  For which I am grateful.


Bolognese sauce

Some recipes develop over years and this is one of them.  It has evolved from the one my mum frequently cooked for us as children, and is one I make frequently.  It is much complemented when I feed it to others, especially when it ends up in a (very cheesy) lasagne.


1 onion, chopped
Optional extra veg: mushrooms, sliced; courgettes, peppers, in 1cm cubes ish!
500g beef mince (full-fat!)
Optional extra meat: chopped pancetta or bacon; chopped chorizo
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1/2 the tomato tin filled with water
2 Tbs tomato puree
2 Tbs sun-dried Tomato puree
1 tsp herbes de provence

Heat your oil in a large saucepan, then add the onions.  Very gently fry for 10 mins or so, with the lid on, stirring from time to time. Add in any other veg.  This makes the sauce go much further.  Fry til everything is soft.  I keep the lid on.

Add all the meat and stir obsessively to break up the mince into tiny pieces.  I cant bear lumps of mince!

once it is all broken and no longer looks raw, chuck in the rest of the ingredients, stir and leave on a very low heat to gently bubble for 30mins-1 hour.  It does get better with a good bubble.

Serve on pasta, with lots of cheese, or make lasagne (particularly yummy with chorizo).  Buen apetito.  Or something!

Sunday, 6 September 2015

All those in Adam...

A lovely lightbulb moment (with a recipe at the bottom)

Since ten weeks have passed since I last had my regular children's group on a Sunday, and since most of the regulars weren't there, and since I've been feeling unreasonably tired this weekend, I decided to just do a recap timeline of where we're at in the Old Testament.  In Click books 2 & 3 we go through Genesis and Exodus to see God's power, His sovereignty, His grace and love.

After we had completed our scratch timeline, the girl looked at it and commented, "It's like, we all sin because we're all in Adam's family.  He sinned, so we all sin."  It was delightful to take her to Romans and show her that is pretty much exactly what it says in the Bible.  It also enabled me to show that God didn't leave us in Adam's condemned family, but sent another man, whose family we join, with all its benefits, when we put our faith in him.  

Then another delightful lightbulb moment when she followed on: "So, all the people who believe in Jesus, they are like another family we have joined?"  


What was also lovely, in a a culinary sense, was the recipe that I see as a gift from God.  I've said this before on facebook, so I apologise for repeating myself.

One day the Waitrose man arrived with the shopping.  As he left he pulled the magazine and a recipe card out of a folder.  Handing me the recipe, he said, "I don't know why they have sent this."

Because the Lord is kind, that is why.

A true one pot recipe.  A recipe which needs hardly any work, but is FUGE (as younger child says) on flavour.  A meal which everyone loves.  Even elder child devoured it, and she normally only nibbles.  A recipe to fill you with goodness and joy even when you're exhausted.  I put it in the oven before church and it was ready to eat on return.  I did have to dig potatoes to put in in, but when they are as crazy as our spuds, even that couldn't diminish the happiness.  I've done this recipe lots, and I am continually grateful that something so satisfying can be so easily made.

Slow-cooked lamb and bean stew

I double or triple it, and normally just put a whole lamb joint in rather than pieces.  Garlic also goes in whole.  And water is fine, no need for lamb stock.  

And I cook it in the oven on 150C for 2 1/2 - 3 hours rather than the slightly harsher stove top cook.  Spinach goes in after church for a couple of minutes.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

More yumminess from Nigella

An obsession with Nigella

for lunch today I did a Nigella triptych of One-Pan Sage and Onion Chicken and Sausages, accompanied by her sticky Garlic Roast Potatoes and Cauliflower Cheese, all from Feast.  Fortunately I can give you  a link to the chicken because I pretty much did exactly as I was told.  Apart from boiling potatoes for half an hour, because, ug!  Soggy potatoes.

Here is the chicken.  This was the first time I'd made it and it was delicious!  Surprisingly so!

Pudding was Blackberry and Apple Pie - Gluten Free!  One of our lovely guests asked about Gluten-free pastry because it is so hard to make.  I completely agree.  The best GF pastry I make is using a rough-puff recipe which contains as much butter as flour.  That's twice the amount in normal shortcrust.  I think i also add an egg to help bind it.

And the flour.  I haven't experimented with flours, but I do go for the slightly odd choice of Dove's Farm GF Self-raising flour.  It is much less dry than the plain flour, and perhaps because of the xanthan gum in it, it is much easier to use.  The raising agents don't seem to make any difference to pastry, or inded gravy.  No more lumpy GF gravy once I moved to self-raising.  How odd!

This is my favourite Pie recipe 

Oak Cottage Blackberry Pie

And I do exactly what it says apart from subbing the flour.  Oh - and don't expect it to roll out very well.  It'll crack and fall apart and drive you nuts, but cracks can be patched, and once it is glazed and sprinkled with sugar you'll barely notice.  Possibly!

Today though, I had some yummy fresh bramleys from Maureen at church (Thank you!) and some blackberries from the garden (thank you Lord for brambles and free food).

So I found this online

Jamie's Blackberry and Apple Pie with a hint of ginger

(See, it's not all about Nigella)

And it was VERY YUMMY.  I think i overcooked the filling though, it was totally lumpfree and perhaps some chunks of apples would have been nice.  But I could have eaten the whole lot, especially since the only thing I had in the fridge to accompany it was clotted cream.


Friday, 4 September 2015

Persian Delight

A Day in the Big City

There is a not a great mix of ethnicities in our town.  Most people are from the same ethnic background as we are. I imagine 98% would tick "white, British" on their census.  

When we are out and about elsewhere, I catch my children staring at people who look different.  That is what children do, in many situations, and it's often fine. They have also been known to ask loudly about why "that lady" is wearing a particular item of clothing, or ask about the colour of a man's skin.   This is normal for children, however, we don't want them to constantly be shocked into silence whenever we leave home for somewhere like London, or Newcastle.  

So, when the need arises for spices and rices, we head to west Newcastle for our favourite asian supermarket.  It is such fun looking at wacky fruit and veg, huge bags of spices and dazzling number of different brands of Basmati rice.  It is a great reminder to the kids that life in the UK is not really reflected in our town.

After that though (and this is the best bit), we head for the Persian Delight Restaurant a little further north.  Each day of the week they serve one main dish.  Since we always go on a Friday, we have only ever had the same dish.  Lamb cooked with lots of lime, coriander and pink beans.    A lovely bowlful with a huge side of rice.  In addition to the dish of the day, they serve a variety of chargrilled meats, either with rice or GIANT flatbread.  We asked for lamb chops for youngest.  EIGHT arrived!  And a similar quantity of chicken kebab for eldest!  You may be surprised to know that they ate most of it...

Nick and I agreed that we would love to eat food like this every day.  I remarked that it is similar, in some ways, to Colombian food.  A bowl of something delicious, with other delicious things on the side, with lots of flavours playing with each other.  When I lived in Bogota for a year I just loved going out for food because it was so delicious and so tasty.  A big bowl of soup, with some rice, some fried plantain, baked, salted south american potatoes, an array of interesting raw veg salads, freshly squeezed juice of any fruit you can imagine.  And street-food of charred, unidentifiable meat and offal-filled blood sausage, deep fried coconut chunks, hot cornmeal-arepas filled with melting cheese, obleas (circular wafers) with caramel and colombian cheese between them.

I love food, and decent english food is great, but we miss something of the incredible foods of other nations.  Hence the joy of living near a big city and going to the Persian Delight and revelling in simple, delicious food from all nations.

Now I just need to find a Colombian restaurant in Newcastle...

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Elevator Family

I have been encouraging eldest to read to me this year* (we're 3 days in!) because I realised that since she has been able to read I haven't really felt it necessary (even though the books say otherwise).  However Nick and I have realised that she has words in her head which are mispronounced because she hasn't heard us saying them (although how we've failed to have dungeons in daily chat, I'm not sure).  Plus we've had sneaking suspicions that her "reading" of a book doesn't actually enter her head.  I read Middlemarch at secondary school, and by the time I reached the end I couldn't tell you what had happened or the names of any of the characters.

I'm not kidding.

So I know that lack of retention could be an issue.

So, using the Sonlight and Veritas catalogues and some other online helps, I have chosen some highly recommended, short chaptered books for her to read with me.  Given a choice between The Elevator Family and Dolphin Adventure, she chose the former.  Hilariously, it's because Dolphin has pictures, she prefers books with pictures, and she wanted to get Elevator over with!

Like-mother, like-daughter (I eat the veg first on that basis).

Happily, she loves the Elevator Family, the story of a family who mistake a large, plush lift for a hotel room.  My eldest is now desperate to read it each day.  

Note:  Obviously, it's an American book, since we don't use elevators in this country.  I have pondered whether American books are a good idea or not.  Someone at church also asked me a question about American spellings, and what we'd be teaching.  So here's an attempt to outline my thoughts on using A LOT of American books.


1. America has produced some seriously good children's literature.

Madeleine L'Engle & Elizabeth George Spear are 2 authors i have been enjoying getting to know this year.

2.  The US have valued children's literature highly for years.  See the Caldecott and Newbury prizes.  

3.  They have a lot more depth that most of the (recent) British stuff I have looked at.

4.  It gives us an opportunity to talk about differences in cultures.

5.  This should be #1, but I only just thought of it, that American books (from the past) have a lot more truth in them. That is, biblical truth.  Say what you like about the often bizarre (to a Brit) behaviour of American Christianity, at least Jesus has made it into their literature.


1. They use different words

2 They spell differently.  Traveling, for example.  Odd, isn't it!  Marvelous... Savior.  And all that!

I think that the Pros outweigh the cons, no?

* it is also an easy thing to do.  Home educating, alongside the responsibilities I have elsewhere is REALLY HARD.  I am not superwoman, and me reading to children, and them reading to me is not hard on me.  And beneficial.  See Charlotte Mason...

New Potatoes

If you like spending nearly an hour cooking new potatoes

Then this is the recipe for you.  It's based on a recipe on the Guardian's website which in turn stole it from Elizabeth David.  I love that recipes have no copyright, because slightly changing one tiny aspect of it makes it new enough to be yours.  Happy Days.

Anyway.  Earlier in the year I filled one of the giant clay-mud-filled raised beds (side of a pit heap from Harraton Colliery days) with fresh horse manure.  The kind that comes with lots of stinking sawdust.  Part of it was set aside for courgette growing (fine as long as you protect the leaves) and the rest remained for spuds.  Pink Fir Apples since they are delicious and seem to grow up here in the cool dry North East.

Planting the spuds took a long time to get round to, and they hadn't impressed me with their chitting, so one day in the spring I shoved 12 of them into holes in the manure and hoped for the best.  Fastforward a few months, and in particular the day we came back from 3 weeks holiday.  The peas (planted 3 feet below the spuds) and courgettes had vanished underneath potato foliage.  I assumed that the nitrogen in the manure had given us super-foliage, but thought it would be all leaf and no potato.  Until I started to dig them!

Incredibly, I'm getting a mixing bowl of potatoes from each plant.  I have no idea if this is good or not in general, but it's the best potato crop I've ever had.  And this from potatoes grown in 6 inches of manure. Today I discovered that the potatoes hadn't penetrated the clay at all.  In the shallowest manure there was a mat of root and potatoes.  All beautifully whole, not green at all (despite no earthing up).  A miracle of potato growing. 

So, not wanting to just boil them (boring!), i googled, and came up with this.  Risky, but in the end, worth it. Delicious!

Fondant New Potatoes

Choose your heaviest pot with a lid.  These need LONG SLOW cooking, so you don't want a pan prone to burning.  

Melt a chunk of butter in it (50-75g I guess) then add your (whole) new potatoes. Put lid on.

Turn down to lowest heat and let cook for 10 minutes.  Turn over and cook for another ten, and repeat until you reckon they are cooked and have a lovely colour.  Mine took about 40 minutes. Maybe 45.  I was talking to my mum and dad on the phone simultaneously so couldn't be exact!  You could turn the heat up a little near the end to give a more caramelised outside.

They were sticky, buttery, salty (from the butter) and completely delicious, nicely complementing the outstanding lamb chops (from New Close Farm Shop.  You should definitely visit), the buttered balsamic beetroot (I should probably post this recipe), and the never-ending runner beans from the garden.

I feel hungry again now just imagining it!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Ethelred the Unready

Am I allowed to post twice on my first day?

My eldest and I are reading through a book called "Our Island Story".  It is an OLD narrative history book for children.  My copy has Queen Victoria on the throne and ends with the Boer War, eldest's copy has George VI reigning and ends after the Great War.  The author, HE Marshall, frequently references Jesus and asks what greater thing the Romans did than bring news of him to Britain.  I love this book!  I'm SURE there is bias in the history, but it's a great story, and each chapter is the right sort of length for eldest's concentration span.

So, to Ethelred the Unready.  It is fair to say that I found history very dull at school (perhaps it was, or perhaps nobody ever told me why it was so fascinating, and I was quite a blinkered teenager).  However, I now discover that history was anything but boring.  For example, today we were reading about Ethelred's foolishness at repeatedly paying the Vikings to leave England.  After a time they would come back and demand more money to leave again.  The bloody end to Ethelred's unreadiness came when he set a date on which the Anglo-saxons should turn on their (settled) Danish neighbours and kill them all.  November 13th.  And they did.

I have various home ed plans, and one of them is to practice narration.  We read something, and the children narrate back to me what they have heard, in their own words, to help them to log it in their minds.  At the moment eldest is 5 and I ask her to tell me one thing she wants to say.  Her response today was

I can't say anything.  It is too horrible.
No doubt Ethelred did a despicable thing.  As far as I understand it the settled Danes were living quite peaceably alongside their anglosaxon neighbours, and weren't equivalent to the seafaring VIkings. 

The discussion over dinner is that humanity hasn't changed.  It was as terrible 1000 years ago as it is now.  Not everybody is as bad as Ethelred all at once, but genocide has always been present.

At the time of Ethelred there were people in Britain who knew they needed a Saviour.  The Romans brought that wonderful news with them 1700 years ago.  And the same gospel remains, that humanity is in need of something more than civilisation: we need a Saviour and a new heart.  And the Lord God has given us that.  

A gluten-free twist on Nigellas family meatball recipe

Never having made meatballs before...

...I felt a little nervous, especially as I was going to attempt a Gluten-free version.  

However, after eating spag bol on a weekly basis, I had felt an overwhelming need to make something different with the incredible beef mince which we buy lots of (from New Close Farm Shop, in Sacriston, County Durham.  You should visit when you are nearby since it is the only [what I consider to be] genuine farm shop in existence*).

So, having opened Nigella's Feast for the first time in a while, I decided I would see if she had a decent mince recipe which was not bolognese.  Or lasagne.  Or Cottage Pie.

And she has!  

In the children's section, she has a meal called Rice and Meatballs.

And it is delicious, especially with my south american/mum's recipe rice.  Nigella serves her meatballs with plain rice but i think we can all do a lot better than that.  In addition, it turns out it's great way to hide a large quantity of courgettes, which is great since we have had a lot of overly large courgettes sneaking up on me in the garden recently.  

Here is the recipe:

Rice and Gluten-free Meatballs

For the meatballs

500g minced beef
1 egg
2 Tablespoons grated parmesan
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
3 Tablespoons fine polenta/cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt

For the Tomato sauce

1 onion, halved
2 cloves garlic
A large courgette (optional,  you could try even more)
15g butter
1 Tablespoon oil (I currently like to use rapeseed oil since it is British)
1 x 700g bottle passata
125ml full fat milk

Put all the meatball ingredients into a bowl, with some pepper and mix gently with your hands.

Shape teaspoonfuls into balls and put on a tray lined with clingfilm (so they don't stick to it).  Nigella says your children can easily do this, and although i was scared of the mess, it turns out that my children could do it!  Tidily!)

there should be 50 or so meatballs.

Put the onion, garlic and courgette into a food processor and whizz to a pulp.  Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan, and cook gently for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time so it doesn't burn.

Add the passata, then half fill the passata bottle with water and pour that in too.  Add salt and pepper, then gently bubble for about ten minutes.  

Add the milk, then bring the mix back to the boil.

Carefully drop the meatballs into the red goop but DO NOT STIR AT ALL!   They will fall apart if you do and you will have bolognese.

Cook the meatballs for 20 minutes with a lid on so the sauce doesn't evaporate.

This was enough for all 4 of us (2 adults, 2 relatively small children) for 2 nights.  However it didn't taste as nice reheated so I think i'd save it for a time when the children are bigger or there are more of us.

Rice (enough for 6-8 people)

1 onion
large glug of oil
2 bayleaves
2 teaspoons fennel seeds (less if you're not wild about fennel)
salt and pepper
2 cups rice (i use basmati)
3 1/2 cups boiling water

Finely chop the onion and gently fry in a large (preferably non stick) pan (i find turning it right down and keeping the lid on stops it burning, although I did have a long in-depth pastroal conversation with Nick this evening and nearly set fire to the kitchen.)  This takes about 10 minutes.

chuck in the bayleaves, fennel, salt and pepper and rice.  Stir around a bit to coat the rice and get it hot.  Then pour in the water (which will spit!).  Put a TIGHT LID on, turn it right down and leave for about half an hour. Don't stir it and you get the yummy crispy bits on the bottom.  

Yummy!  And the children loved it.  I think they would have preferred plain white rice, but they ate it.

*This is probably not true.