Happy Holidays

Dear Sam,

 

Mmm, the roast chestnuts  you were telling me about sound very tempting – I will add them to my Christmas shopping list!  Your post started me thinking about all the delicious aromas that we associate with Christmas and it’s also one of the themes of a book I’ve been reading lately, Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles.  As I mentioned on Instagram , I first read about it on Nikki Garnett’s blog, midlifechic and then ordered it from my local library.  It offers an inspiring view of winter as a season to be savoured and enjoyed rather than endured and, to help with this, it suggests filling the house with the scents of the season.

Evergreens, bay and hyacinths

christmas evergreens
Evergreens fill the house with the scent of the outdoors at Christmas

As well as the Christmas tree and evergreen garlands, Nigel Slater suggests using bay leaves, bay oil or candles and, my particular favourite, hyacinths.  If you haven’t planned ahead and planted your own to flower at Christmas, they aren’t expensive to buy, ready potted and in bud, and they’ll add colour and scent to the house for several weeks. I think they always seem like a promise of spring, which I can always do with at this dark time of the year.

As this is our last post in 2018, I’d like to wish you and everyone who reads our blog a wonderful Christmas and all the very best for the new year.  I will see you here again on January 18th. Until then,

Much love,

Claire

 

 

A delicious recipe for hot spiced apple juice

Dear Sam,

 

Hello again! I’m back because I wanted to share a quick recipe with you which I tried at the Neighbours’ Lunch that I was telling you about last time.  It’s perfect for this time of year and I thought it might come in handy during your Thanksgiving celebrations.

Warming mulled apple drink

Pour a 1 litre (1 quart) carton of apple juice (or, in the U.S, cider) into a large saucepan and add a cinnamon stick, broken into pieces, a quarter teaspoon of cloves, 2 star anise and 3 – 4 slices of fresh orange and lemon.

Then add 3 thin slices of fresh ginger root. Cover and heat gently until the mixture starts to steam, then leave for 15 minutes to infuse, tasting regularly until you are happy with the flavour.

If extra sweetness is needed, add brown sugar to taste.  Remove the fruit and spices with a slotted spoon and serve, garnished with slices of apple.

mulled apple juice
Serve in warmed glasses or mugs. You can sprinkle extra cinnamon on top.

If you try it out, do let me know what you think!  As you know, over here, we have Bonfire Night coming up on November 5th, and this would be a good recipe to serve at a firework party as it’s a handy alternative to mulled wine.

Much love,

Claire

 

A postcard from Liguria

Dear Sam,

 

I enjoyed reading about the difference the Free Rice game has made to so many children and it was nice to start September with some good news!

Boat trips, food and sunshine…

For us, since W left school, the autumn has become a time to take a break and, you’re quite right that by the time you read this, we’ll be on our way home from Italy.  We’re visiting Liguria, in the north west, for the first time. I’m looking forward to exploring and our plans include a boat trip to Portofino, walks around the Cinque Terre and perhaps a visit to Boccadasse where some of my favourite Inspector Montalbano series has been filmed.

Cinque Terre

Of course, I’m also looking forward to some good food.  I gather Liguria is known for its olive oil, focaccia bread and seafood and that snacks called stuzzichini are popular, so those will all be on our menu!

Stuzzichini
Stuzzichini – snacks – perfect with a glass of wine.

When we get home, it will actually be time for me to go back to school myself as I’ve signed up for some classes, including Italian. I’ll have to try to get in some practice while we’re in Italia!

Much love,

Claire

A success story

Dear Claire,

 

Happy September! I hope you’ve had a nice break over the summer. We’ve been very busy so it’s almost a relief that it’s back-to-school time….

I saw a back-to-school post on Facebook today from Free Rice. Funnily enough it’s just about a year since we wrote our own post about about Free Rice, who host an online quiz and donate 10 grains of rice to the UN World Food Programme for every correct answer. Part of their mission is to enable education for children who would otherwise go hungry, and their news today is that over the past year the game scores have provided 275,000 children in South Sudan with free daily school meals. So I do hope everyone will keep playing and spread the word, and perhaps encourage their children to play too, if they want to get online once their homework is done!

This is another nice article to share with children about how the WFP’s Home Grown School Meals initiative links schools with local smallholder farmers. I know many of us might have been inclined to take our own school meals for granted, or joke about them being an endurance test (my school’s semolina-and-jam was my personal dread), so it’s a good reminder of how lucky we actually were.

If you recall, the UN World Food Programme is headquartered in Italy, and I know you are off to Italy again soon. Have a wonderful trip – I shall expect a postcard!

Love,
Sam

Helping a honey bee

Dear Claire,

 

It was so lovely to see you in Oxford, and I do hope it won’t be too long before we meet again. We were certainly blessed with nice weather that weekend. Since our return here it’s been very hot indeed – and much the same for you, I believe!

We’re not the only ones flagging in the heat. The other day a friend of mine shared a post by Sir David Attenborough:

“This time of year bees can often look like they are dying or dead, however, they’re far from it. Bees can become tired and they simply don’t have enough energy to return to the hive, which can often result in being swept away. If you find a tired bee in your home, a simple solution of sugar and water will help revive an exhausted bee. Simply mix two tablespoons of white, granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water, and place on a spoon for the bee to reach.”

The rusty patched bumblebee was listed as an endangered species in the US for the first time last year and according to the UN it’s a global trend, with about 40% of the world’s pollinators under threat of extinction. Yet they are all so critical to us for pollinating the crops that keep us alive! So it strikes me that if each of us helps even one small bee recover, we’ll be making a difference to us all.

jars-2614897_1280.jpgOf course, without bees we wouldn’t have honey. And if for no other reason, that’s worth helping a bee on its way. As Piglet understood well, all good friends need a little honey sometimes.

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.
“There, there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”

Much love,
Sam

Banana bread – an easy recipe to try at home

Dear Sam,

 

Hearing about your day in the fresh air and your trip to the farmers’ market inspired me to get out to our local market this week, too. Amongst the various stalls is one which sells fruit and veg; I’m always intrigued by a selection they have of produce which is a bit wonky or slightly past its best. Rather than letting all this good food go to waste, it’s sold off at bargain prices and is perfect for cooking up soups, pasta sauces or fruit puddings. I often pick up some battered bananas to make a breakfast favourite of ours, banana bread, and I thought I’d share the recipe with you this time. In fact, I always think about you when I make it, as the recipe is adapted from a National Trust cookbook you gave me about 30 years ago! Here it is:

Banana bread – delicious and simple to make

Ingredients

UK

125g butter or soft margarine

125g caster sugar

225g mashed bananas – perfect if they have gone spotty

1 egg, beaten lightly

200 g plain flour

Quarter teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

Quarter teaspoon vanilla essence

US

4oz or 1 stick butter 

1/2 cup superfine sugar

8oz overripe bananas, mashed 

1 large egg, beaten lightly

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

spotty bananas
Overripe bananas are particularly good for this recipe

Preheat oven 180 C, 350 F, gas mark 4

Grease and line a 450g/1lb loaf tin.

Cream together the sugar and butter until they are pale and light and fluffy in texture. 

Stir the mashed bananas into the creamed mixture and add the beaten egg. It’s likely to look curdled at this point, but don’t worry, that’s fine.

Fold in the dry, sieved ingredients little by little, then add the vanilla essence. Spoon the mixture into your lined loaf tin and bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes. When the banana bread is ready it will spring back when you press it in the centre with your finger.

Let it cool in the tin for around 10 – 15 minutes, then turn it out and put it on a wire rack to become completely cool. Store in an airtight container and it will be fine for 4 – 5 days.

morning coffee
Perfect with a cup of coffee

I love to eat this cut into thick slices spread with a little butter. If you find you like it, it’s worth making two loaves at a time as it freezes very well.

I’ve just checked online and, according to Zero Waste Week an incredible 1.6 million bananas are thrown away in the UK every day! This recipe goes to prove that with a bit of effort, you can turn even the least appealing food into something good. As the saying goes, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade* and I think you could add, if life bruises your bananas, bake banana bread.

Until next time, I will leave you with that profound thought!

Much love,

Claire

* or a gin and tonic.

 

 

A postcard from Florence

Car on road among trees in Italy

Dear Sam,

 

Ciao from Florence!

We’re here for a few days to explore and enjoy some sunshine, good food and gelato.  I’ll take your advice and avoid plastic by choosing a cornet in place of a tub!

When I go on holiday, I like to take a book that suits the destination, so before we left home I downloaded the audiobook of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View from Librivox and it’s proving to be the perfect soundtrack to our trip.

Florence, Italy skyline
A view of the river Arno in Florence, as requested in ‘A Room with a View’.

A presto!

Much love,

Claire

 

 

The cup that cheers…

Dear Sam,

 

I trust you had a  happy Day of Happiness, too? And, speaking of things that make me happy, I want to talk to you today about something very simple that certainly cheers me up – a refreshing cup of tea.

Blue Planet 2 was mesmerising

Earlier this year, it seemed like the whole of the population of the UK was glued to our television screens watching Blue Planet 2, the latest wildlife programme presented by Sir David Attenborough. Has it been broadcast in the US yet? As well as marvelling at the wonders the series depicted and the talent of the team involved in producing it, we were appalled at the story it told of the damage that plastic pollution is doing to the seas. Like a lot of people, I found that watching it made me rethink the way that I shop, in a bid to cut down on how much plastic I’m buying.  Although our local council has a good recycling programme, it’s clear that the less plastic we consume, the better it will be for the planet.

No more plastic in my tea

That may sound like a digression from the subject of tea, but I was even more shocked to learn that the teabags I’d been blithely putting in the compost bin also contained plastic (as part of the seal around the seams, apparently). So, in a bid to cut this out, I decided to try using loose leaf tea again.  Although tea bags are very convenient, I’ve discovered that I quite enjoy the ritual of making a cup of tea with a bit more effort.  It was also an excuse to go for a browse in a kitchen shop to choose a tea diffuser, which makes dealing with the used leaves a bit easier.

 

Tea leaf diffuser
Tea diffusers come in all shapes and sizes

 

Since I’ve started this, I’ve read that several tea companies over here have announced that they are bowing to public pressure to remove the plastic from their manufacturing process; there are also companies that produce biodegradable bags – this is usually listed on the box.

As I also take milk in my tea, I’m lucky that I don’t need to buy lots more plastic thanks to our doorstep delivery. I think that the milk round has been seeing a bit of a resurgence in popularity recently – as it brings the milk to you in reusable glass bottles delivered (even in the snow!) on an electric milk float, it’s a pretty green option.

So, I think thanks are due to Sir David and the wonderful creatures we all discovered in his programme for doing more to change people’s behaviour by entertaining and educating us than any information campaign could have done.

That’s it for today – time to put the kettle on.

Much love,

Claire