Thursday, December 27, 2007

What a lovely few days of friends and feasting!

Christmas Day lunch we took a vegetarian GOAT'S CHEESE & POLENTA PIE along as our contribution to the festivities. Capricorn is a mild cheese, but nevertheless it does permeate the dish so this is not for those who dislike its distinctive flavour. Jam-packed with mushrooms and chestnuts it is rich and creamy and goes perfectly with traditional sides of parsnips, roast potatoes, brussels sprouts etc. Every year the GOOD FOOD magazine does a special Vegetarian Christmas magazine and this recipe came from one a few years ago. The polenta slices go nice and brown and crunchy on the top, while inside is rich and luscious. Meateaters can't resist and add it to their turkey.

Boxing Day also happens to be St. Stephen's Day - a commemoration of the first christian martyr. We had friends over for dinner and pulled the last of our Christmas crackers (Oxfam does lovely ones with fairtrade cracker gifts, although the jokes are just as bad as regular crackers! This year they contained tiny sari-clad ladies as Christmas tree ornaments and beautifully carved wooden spinning tops...)

We changed the menu from our original plan as one of the guests had broken his arm and needed one-handed food. This left us in the rather dodgy position of a meal line-up, none of which we'd cooked before! Luckily everything turned out fine - more to do with the chefs whose cookbooks we used than any culinary expertise on our part! I love cooking when I can putter through the whole experience. We have a fabulous farmers' market and an equally fabulous wholefood shop in Canterbury, so all the veggies were all local and seasonal (including a great big lance of brussels sprouts!)

Our starter was a WINTER MINESTRONE (Minestrone Invernale) from THE RIVER CAFE COOKBOOK (Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers run The River Cafe in London). I neglected to pay attention to the phrase "add more stock if needed, but resist the temptation to add too much; this should be a thick soup" and so was somewhat thrown to discover that it is basically a solid soup, like a chunky veg stew with a tiny bit of liquid. However, it tasted wonderful, was still easy to eat for our one-handed guest and, more importantly was a cook's dream. I substituted deep, dark purple kale for the required cavolo nero, and the farmers' market also provided us with rainbow chard - the leaves are standard green but the stalks are bright yellow, pink and purply red. Once I'd cut the stalks off (2 kgs worth!) and chopped them up in preparation for cooking, I found myself with the most fabulous kaleidoscopic bowl of veg.

We had a simple leaf salad, followed by the main. My favourite chef of all time (and he's a vegetarian too!) gave us our main and dessert courses. Denis Cotter's new book, WILD GARLIC, GOOSEBERRIES AND ME: A chef's stories and recipes from the land, is any foodie's dream and I highly recommend it, but the recipes we chose actually came from his earlier books (Denis is the Chef/Owner of the amazing Cafe Paradiso in Cork). We made a RISOTTO OF LEEKS, BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND SAGE WITH PUMPKIN SEED OIL from PARADISO SEASONS - seriously divine and so easy, bringing groans of pleasure. In the actual eating you find mouthfuls of roasted butternut squash, sauted leek and snips of sage, with lashings of parmesan. Cleverly, the accompaniment was braised puy lentils. Nothing stodgy about this.

Dessert was GINGER-SAUTED PEARS (from Cotter's THE CAFE PARADISO COOKBOOK) - perfectly ripe pears from a local orchard sauted with ginger and gingery syrup and served with vanilla ice-cream. Deceptively simple and oh so moreish.

Other than the soup (which produced vast quantities, and which we did well at vanquishing, but still only finished half; it is a meal in itself rather than a starter), we had absolutely no leftovers - that says everything really.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Given, not lent,
And not withdrawn - once sent,
This Infant of mankind, this One,
Is still the little welcome Son.

Even as the cold
Keen winter grows not old,
As childhood is so fresh, foreseen,
And spring in the familiar green -

Sudden as sweet
Come the expected feet.
All joy is young, and new all art,
And He, too, Whom we have by heart.

Words: Alice Meynell (1847-1922)
Music: Richard Rodney Bennett ( b. 1936)

Anthem sung this morning in Canterbury Cathedral by the Cathedral choir.
A blessed Christmas to you all!


Friday, December 07, 2007

Much grovelling on my part for vanishing from blogdom, but I hope you might find that the reason why is a jolly good one.

I have been a pale shade of green for three months now. From dawn to dust (not exaggerating) a relentless cycle of throw up, get the shakes, lie prostrate, fall asleep, and wake up in time to do it all again. Every two hours. I have become best friends with my toilet bowl and developed an overly sensitive sense of smell (even my beloved coffee is foul on the nose)... As you may have guessed, I am pregnant! Four and a half months along now, and the nausea finally subsided last week, and this week I actually feel "normal" again.

Considering how often I've been prostrate of late, you'd think I'd have read my way right through my entire To Be Read pile by now. Not so, however, instead I've felt so poorly that they've gathered even more dust, along with the rest of the house. But I have read some, at least, and now that I feel well again, hope to post on all things bookish and African as usual.

I promise not to turn this blog into Mother & Baby central, but I'll undoubtedly be unable to restrain myself from time to time. Like yesterday - I had a midwife appointment (a male midwife-in-training also present - how cool is that?!) and for the first time I heard the baby's heart thundering along like a little racehorse - thrilling!