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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Mother's Day 2012 and more.....

Last weekend Dawn and I had a ride up to St Pancras and Islington Cemetery to visit my parents' grave for Mother's Day.  Even though we lost Mum over fifteen years ago, it was still an emotional occasion.  Visiting the cemetery now reminds me that not only is Mum no longer with us, but also that Dad and my eldest brother are no longer around either.

We only lost Dad and George in the last eighteen months and it's still hard to accept that they are both gone.   We had always worried what would happen to George when it was Dad's time. We never dreamt that he would go first.  I'm also sure that his heart attack also played a part in Dad's time too.  I think he stayed around to be there for George and with George gone, Dad felt he could go too. He hadn't been well for quite a while and went downhill pretty quickly after George was gone.
Our visit to the cemetery also gave me a chance to clean up my great-grandparents' grave too. I'd found it on my previous visit and it was pretty overgrown.  Clearing away the moss, weeds and even a few branches from trees close by made me think about our mortality and those we leave behind.   Over the last 15 years (while I have been in England), I have made a point of paying my respects on special occasions like birthdays, Mother's and Father's Days and anniversaries.  But what about my great grandparents?  How did their grave get so overgrown?  They had three sons who each had children.  My grandfather being one of them.  And they had grandchildren, too.
But at least there was a memorial stone for them. 
My grandparents (who passed away in 1936 and 1957 respectively) were both buried without a memorial stone. When I first visited their grave in the 80s , it came as a shock to stand over their last resting place with no visible sign that they were either buried there or had existed.  Thankfully, as their grandson, I was able to take ownership of the grave and get a small stone laid.  There was a place for Dad too, but he bought a grave for him and mum.  So when George died, it was decided to lay him to rest there and we got a new stone like Mum's.

But spending time around these memorial stones made me think about our future.  And not only ours, but others like us.  There were hundreds of graves with memorial stones completely overgrown having not been visited by loved ones in years, if not decades.  Which I found extremely disturbing.  How many generations must past before these memorials to our descendants become neglected? Visiting my parents' grave gives me comfort, but what will happen when I am no longer around? 

And what will happen to me?  I think I'll get cremated and have my ashes spread on the beach at Hayle.  This means that I'll have no overgrown memorial stone.  No grave for family to grieve over either.  I just hope this is the way in the future.  So I'd better lose some weight, get some exercise in and make sure that I look after myself more than I have been of late.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Pico de Gallo

Many moons ago the range of cuisine that adorned my dinner table was limited to meat and two veg.  Foreign food was limited to either home-made spaghetti bolognese made from canned mince meat, tomato puree and bay leaves; a pizza; or a curried take-away from the local Chinese shop.  No wonder the Brits had a reputation for eating bland food. Today my stomach cringes at the thought.

Then I met Dawn and my taste buds were exposed to pleasures they never knew existed.  In addition to Chinese, there was now Thai food with its coconut milk curries, spicy Indian jalfrezi, paellas, risottos with creamy rice, frogs' legs, raw and fried oysters, crawfish, pulled pork, cornbread, and an assortment of vegetables I'd never heard of let alone eaten. 

However, it was Mexican food that really opened my eyes to the concept that food could be pleasurable, nourishing and eye candy.  And the one dish that captures this more than other is Pico de Gallo.  This simple salad (or salsa, as it is better known) combines a handful of diced ingredients and spices and can compliment an enchilada or taco or another Mexican dish you choose. 

The refreshing tomato and lime juice bring the taste buds to life, while the red onion gives you a bite, the jalapeno adds heat, and the cumin and coriander takes you to exotic lands of warmth only dreamt about on a cold winter day in England. Best of all is that there is no cooking involved.  All you need to do place diced the tomatoes and red onion in a bowl.  Add a finely chop a jalapeno (remove the seeds if you don't want too much heat), squeeze in the juice of a lime, stir in the minced garlic and ground cumin and leave in the fridge for an hour or two (the longer the better) for all the flavours to mingle.
Credit for this recipe must be given to my mother-in-law, Brady Kerr.
6 Roma tomatoes or two large regular tomatoes diced
1/2 red onion diced
1 jalapeno pepper seeded and minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 clove garlic minced
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt and Pepper to taste

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Paying respects

Last week while I was at home during the day on my own, I idled away some of my time watching a film on TV while our contractors got on with renovating our hallway and dining area.  Little did I realise how emotional this film would get me, or that it would lead to me going to Islington & St Pancras Cemetary in North London yesterday. The film title isn't really important, or even the story.  What is, though, is that it reminded me once again how much I miss Dad. 

Usually I jump in the car and head down the A10 and around the North Circular, give or take.  And it takes just over an hour on a good day.  But with my weight increasing with each loaf of bread and cake I bake, I thought it would be better to let the train take the strain and walk the rest. This time it took three trains to make the same journey. Hertford North to Finsbury Park and Finsbury Park to Kings Cross using the overground network and then the tube to East Finchley and 25 minute walk from there.

Arriving at Dad & Mum's grave, I was pleased to see that their stone had been put back.  It had been over a year since we laid Dad to rest and it wasn't nice laying flowers on the soil where they had been buried while the memorial stone lay five feet away.

I then made my way to my brother George's grave about fifteen feet away.  A day does not go by where I don't look at his photo next to our television set and think about about him and how tragic it was that he left us at the young age of 57.  Writing this I am just half a dozen years away from his age, which really puts it into persepective.

George's grave and memorial stone is also a reminder to the tragedy that was my own father's childhood.  My grandfather purchased the grave for three people when my Dad was just a child.  This was because his wife, my Dad's mother and my grandmother, passed away when my Dad was just 8 years old.  Married on Christmas Day, my grandfather lived for another 21 years with this festive day weighing heavy on his heart. Adding insult to injury, the family could not afford a memorial stone when either of them passed away.

How I found my grandfather's grave
Standing over Dad's grave, I remembered how he used to tell me his grandfather's grave was at the other end of Randall's Path. I'd seen it over 20 years ago but couldn't find it the last time I'd looked.  But something told me to try again from this end of the path. 

I recalled the headstone was like a bible and checked the first one I came across without success.  However, when I came across the second, I knew that this was the one.  However it was covered with moss with weeds. After a little effort I was able to scrap some of the moss off to confirm my gut feeling. My great grandfather George White.

With the moss cleared, I was able to make out the soft lead letters.  And again I was reminded of the tragedies that the previous generation of Whites had endured. 

Next to my great grandfather's name were the names of his two wives who passed away less than 3 years apart.  My grandfather's mother passed away a few years before his father and step mother within a year of him. She had inherited his estate which had included the dairy business and several houses.  However she took her own life before the estate was distributed.
As sad as this is, the greatest tragedy was for the two generations of grandchildren who never had the chance to know their grandfathers.  My father lost his grandfather when he was four.  And my brothers were 4 years, 2 years and one year old respectively when my grandfather passed.  As for me, I hadn't even been born.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Remembering Dad, Sunday 15th Jan 2012

Yesterday was the anniversary of the day we lost Dad, or should I say Dad meeting Mum again.  Life goes in cycles, so I shouldn't harp too much on a single day.  But I will never forget that morning at the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead.  Of all the events I have been privileged to attend, I honestly feel that being there that morning was at the top.  Before we lost Mum, she asked me to be there for him.  So I was happy that to his last breath I had made an attempt to keep my promise.

After we had laid some flowers on Mum and Dad's grave, and also my brother George's (who would have celebrated his 59th birthday Tuesday week), we headed over to Hampstead Heath for a walk.  As kids Mum and Dad would often take us over the heath for a walk on a Sunday afternoon.  But we rarely ended up over West Heath.  So Dawn and I drove to Jack Straw's Castle and made our way to the Pergola.  Here there were long corridors of trellises built on the earth that had taken out of the tunnels that had become the Northern Line on the London Underground.

From here we spent a good hour or so wandering through woodland that was open and sparse with the trees barren of leaves that in the spring would create a blanket of green.  But even in the winter months the view of this natural landscape was beautiful.   Incredibly Dawn reminded me that despite having lived in London for eight and half years (either side of our time in Florida) she had only been to the heath once before.  And that was when I took her there when she first arrived in London over 15 years ago.

Hampstead Heath is more than just woodlands.  It has several large meadows, as the map calls them.  Above you can see the fields in front of Kenwood House.  This, I will add, was not on our planned route.  We took a little detour (we're still not sure how) and ended up a little off course.  Let's just say we enjoyed the walk rather than using the "L" word or that someone misread the map.

Below is the fabulous building that is Kenwood House.  Somewhere in my collection is a photo I had taken during one school trip in the late 60s.  I can picture myself posing with my classmates.  We (all boys) knelled and stood like we were a football team after a kick around on the heath.  We were no more than 8 or 9 and all thought we would be footballers one day.  Kenwood House was also the destination of one of the many trips we took with Dad and George after we had returned from Florida.  Memories I will cherish for as long as I live.

Anyone that knows us knows that at some point during the day there will be food on the agenda and that the camera will also be present.  We did try to grab a bite at Spaniards Inn where we once celebrated Father's Day with Dad.  But it was way too crowded and we couldn't be bothered to wait for a table.  So we headed towards Hampstead High Street and grabbed an Indian instead.  I know that Dad would probably not appreciate this type of food. But I think he would of the rest of the day.  RIP Dad.  We miss you.

These are just a handful of the photos we took today.  If you want to see the rest please feel free to click on the link below to see the best of the rest.
More Photos

Monday, 9 January 2012

LM Burgers on Holly Bell's Walnut Bread

Over the last few momths my obsession with cooking vegetarian food has grown to include baking. In fact, baking bread has been a dream of mine for quite a while. And thanks to Holly Bell and a Kenwood Chef Santa got me for Christmas, it's now become a reality. Holly, The 2011 Great British Bake Off finalist, maintains a blog called recipesfromanormalmum with loads of recipes and frequently tweets with her many followers of which yours truly is one. This was how I came across her recipe and decided to give it ago.  And to my delight it came out perfect first time.  I have since tried it a few more times and each time the bread has got better and better.  I'll giver you a link to her page shortly.  But here is what I do to end up with a loaf like this.

Ingredients :
500g Strong White Bread Flour
50g Soft Dark Brown Sugar
60g Chopped Walnuts
13g Easy Bake Dried Yeast
5g Salt
250ml Milk (I use soya)
60g Unsalted Butter
4 Tbs luke warm water

1. Put the flour, salt and sugar into the mixing bowl of your mixer and with the dough hook combine the ingredients by using the lowest speed for a couple of minutes. I usually stop the machine half way to scrape the sides.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat until it starts to turn brown, then pour into a measuring jug.
2. Warm the milk in the same saucepan until it is about blood temperature, then pour this into the measuring jug, add the water and then stir to combine.
3. Ensuring that the milk mixture is not too hot, add the yeast to the milk mixture and stir.
4. Allow the milk mixture to rest for around 10 minutes.  This will allow the yeast to go to work and will result in a bubbly froth on the top.
5. Again turn the food mixer on to its lowerst speed. As the dough hook stirs the flour and sugar mixture, pour the milk mixture into the flour. After about 2/3 minutes the mixture will become sticky; at this point add the chopped nuts while the mixer is still stirring the flour and milk mixture.
6. After about 4 minutes the dough should have formed around the hook. Stop the machine and press the dough with your finger.  The indention should bounce back and the dough should not be sticky.  If it is still sticky, give it another minute or so.
7. Now pull the dough off the hook, roll into a ball in your hand and place in a large bowl.
8. Cover the bowl with cling film and a tea towel and place in a wamr place away from droughs.
9. Allow the dough to double in size.  This should take about an hour.  Maybe a little longer if the room is cold.
10. Now punch the dough while it is still in the bowl to deflate the ball. Remove the dough and roll into an oblong shape in your hands by folding from the ends.
11. Lightly grease a 2lb loaf tin (or as I do, place a silicon loaf liner in the tin.)
12. Place the dough into the tin (or liner).
13. Again cover the tin with cling film and tea towel and allow to double in size (around 45 minutes).
14. About five minutes before the dough is ready, turn the oven on 240 degrees.
15. Once the dough has doubled in size, remove the cling film and tea towel and place in the middle of the oven.
16. After about 10 minutes, I turn the oven down about 20 degrees and turn the loaf around.
17. Bake for another 25 minutes and then remove.  The bread should look like the loaf above.
18. Tip onto a wire tray and allow to cool.  You're done bar the slicing, buttering and eating.

If you want to follow Holly's recipe, click on the link here.  Even if you you're happy with my interpretation, please check it out anyway.  Her narration alone is worth the visit. And my apologies for tweaking Holly's method.  As Dawn knows, I never ever stick to the recipe.  But thankfully it works.  Apologies Holly.

Anyway, once you have baked the above bread, you can then create your open-faced veggie burger dish with sliced tomatoes and caramalised onions.
To make my open-faced burgers for two, you'll need the following:
A box of Linda McCartney's Mozzeralla 1/4 pound burgers, a large juicy tomato (sliced), a large onion (sliced), your favorite mayo, some ketchup, olive oil and butter (or margarine). Not to mention four slices of walnut bread.

1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees (160 fan).
2. Place the frozen burgers on a baking dish and cook for 20 minutes, turning once half way through.
3. While the burgers cook, drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a hot pan and add the sliced onion. After a few minutes, turn the heat down to medium and add a knob of butter and allow the onions to caramalise. I usually turn the onions with a spatula every few minutes and add a couple of tablespoons of water every seven minutes to keep the moisture in the onions. Then season with salt and pepper before removing from the heat.
4. Just before the burgers are done, throw the four slices of bread under the grill and brown lightly on one side.
5. Lay the bread toasted side face down on a plate and spread some mayo over the bread.
6. Slice the burgers in half and lay a slice on each piece of bread.
7. Lay the sliced tomotoes on the burgers.
8. Spoon the caramlised onions onto the sliced tomtatoes.
9. Top the onions with a dollop of ketchup and enjoy.

Give it a go and see how it comes out.  And please drop me a line, as I'd love to know what you think of both the bread and the meatless burgers.  Healthy and tasty.  Definately a win-win.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

A day in the kitchen, Sunday 8th January 2012

On New Year's Eve I completed a list of things for my 2012 to-do list.  Some would call it resolutions, but seeing as these normally end in failure, I called it my to-do list.  This means that things will usually get done.  However, not always in the time frame that I had planned.  Two things on this list related to food. To be honest, many related to food.  But for the purpose of this blog posting, the one that reminded me that I was going to cook a new recipe every week and the one that said bake a new recipe every week were the ones I was referring to.

The new recipe of the week was last night's dinner.  The sausages were Linda McCartney's, the greens were just cooked in vegetable stock for around 10 minutes and the black eyed peas had been a new recipe on the 1st (but were leftovers I'd got from the freezer).  The macaroni cheese was my new recipe.  Dawn's mum swore that this was the best she'd ever had, so I gave it a go.  It completed the meal and was good.  We have leftovers this evening.

This week's new baking task turned out to be two-fold.  The first was from an EAT IN magazine.  I had asked Dawn to list dishes that she would like to me to try and this Cranberry & Sunflower Nut Muffin was on her list from the January/February 2012 edition.  The cake tray, by the way, was Mum's.  I think it will get plenty of use now.

In rummaging through the fridge, I noticed that I had a carton of buttermilk and asked myself, "How could I use this?"  The response was cornbread.  Usually I bake a cornbread in an iron skillet, but over the weekend I picked up the Hummingbird recipe book and noticed their corn meal muffins.  Hence the above.  I used my own recipe and added some chopped shallots and grated cheese.  Can't wait to try this out later.

In the middle of all this, I also threw lunch together.  Sauteed an onion and sliced red pepper, grated some cheese and we have a quesadilla.  I did also make some guacamole from scratch.  But the chips were Doritos.  Can't take the credit for these.

The afternoon started by baking a loaf of Holly Bell's Walnut Loaf.  This my third attempt in eight days and I can vouch for Holly's claim that this is easy to bake.  I will also confirm that it tastes better than the one we used to get from one of the large retail chains.  Oh yea, that's another food to-do.  Make all bread eaten in our house from scratch.  Buy no prepared bread from the store.  If you're interested in Holly's recipe, you can find it here.

My penultimate stint in the kitchen was to bake some biscuits.  I'd been reading The Great British Book of Baking (from the 1st GBBO series) and came across what I thought was an easy recipe I could fit in with the rest of the baking and cooking I was doing today.  The result was the above plate of Somerset Easter Biscuits. 

So this is what I did today.  I'll be back in the kitchen shortly to dish up last night's leftovers with a corn muffin each.  I don't think I've done too bad considering I'd not really tackled baking until recently.  And like they say, practise makes perfect.  So I'll be doing plenty of practise from now on.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Hertford - A walk into town, Saturday 7th January 2012

Following our walk to Ware at the end of last year,  Dawn and I promised ourselves that we would make more of an effort to get out and explore Hertford by foot.  We've spent far too much time with our backsides fixed to the car seat instead of enjoying the benefits of living outside the capital. So this morning when we headed into town for a handful of groceries, we decided to walk in.  And as we needed to pick up some parcels from the sorting office, we went the long way past County Hall instead of along West Street.

Our walk took us around the back of All Saints Church with its large graveyard.  According to its website, there was a meeting of the Church Synod in 673 AD, so there was likely a church in the town then.  And All Saints was one of two churches listed in the Doomsday Book, the great land survey of 1086. The current structure dates back to the 1890s.  The most interesting fact is that Charles Bridgeman held the office of organist there for a record 78 years from  1792 until 1873.

The River Lea is an important landmark in Hertford and many locals get great pleasure from feeding the swans and ducks at the back of Waitrose and Starbucks on the south bank and The Old Barge pub on the north.  Although we usually grab a double tall soy latte most weekends from the coffee house that kids seem to get the most pleasure of. Not to mention the countless dogs whose walks seem to end up along this path.

Like many provincial towns, Hertford can boast a farmers' market.  However, this is only once a month.  But at least on the other weekends there are always half a dozen regulars that pull out their stalls and give the locals a chance to pick up some fresh produce and baked goods from somewhere else other than chains.

The best part of the walk, however, was the short walk along West Street. Leading into Hornsmill, it captures many characteristics which are typically English. There is Bridgeman House, which is a two story brick building dated back to the first half of the 17th century. This short road has many quaint buildings, including a quaint pub and terraced houses which are typically British. There is also Hertingfordbury Park, the home of Hertford Town Football Club and AFC Hertford. The latter were actually playing today as we walked past.  Not only could we hear the small crowd, but could also see the players on the field. Quintessentially  English is the West Street Allotment (above) where locals grow their veggies surrounded by a handful of fields where we you can always see horses.  Today, like most winter months, they were grazing in a field with blankets on their backs to keep them warm.

The final leg of our walk, which was around three and half miles there and back, took us over a little brook that runs parallel to Brickendon Lane.  It doesn't appear on the local maps, but it always seems a fitting end to our walk into town.  The other side of the bridge is a row of terraced houses that is the local neighbourhood where we live.