Nothing like a rich Christmas cake to evoke the spirit of Christmas!
Being in Asia, it is either impossible or expensive to buy some of the key ingredients for the traditional Christmas cake, so my friend Jane and I modified the classical recipe slightly. I also used more fruit and more alcohol to prevent mould from growing (since I am in a tropical country):
2lbs dried cranberries
4oz glace cherries
4oz candied ginger
An eighth a bottle of Cointreau, to soak the fruits in
1lb wholemeal flour (I like the heaviness)
1/2 tsp salt
1tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1tsp mixed spice
1lb soft brown sugar
3 tbsp treacle
1lb unsalted butter
2 oranges, rind grated (careful not to add the white bits)
2 lemons, rind grated (careful not to add the white bits)
The easy method:
Soak the fruits the night before. If you are teetotal, use orange juice though the cake won’t taste the same obviously and will probably not last that long.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Carefully grease and line the baking tin with parchment paper (the quantities above will yield a 11 inch cake).
Cream the butter and sugar.
FOLD in the flour and the other powder stuff, alternating with the beaten eggs. Don’t beat it, or the mixture will trap air.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Transfer to cake tin. Cover with more parchment paper and bake for approximately 4 hours, until it is cooked through.
Cool in a wine rack. Once every three days or so, feed the cake with Cointreau until Christmas. If you smash one by accident, they taste good as rum balls.
The mixture is soooo tasty raw!! You can see the goodies that went into each cake ❤
It is good to read that sale of tinned soups is falling as people are opting for either more unusual or healthier versions. Soups are actually very easy and cheap to make.
Brown Windsor soup is one of the foods of my childhood that doesn’t sound good and doesn’t look good. Tried as I did, I could not get my Brown Windsor Soup to look appetising for the photograph, so you just have to take my word for it that it actually tastes more delicious than it sounds or looks. It’s the combo of marmite and Worcestershire sauce that rock it.
This is my version:
Stock bones Any meat you have, diced
1 tbsp Marmite
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 large onion, cubed
2 carrots, cubed 1 potato, peeled and cubed
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon flour
freshly ground black pepper
Homemade beef stock
Brown the meat in butter until the juices are released. Add the rest (except the stock bones) and sweat for a bit, and then add the stock. Cook for two hours over low heat. Remove the stock bones. Adjust seasoning.
You could blend part of the soup for a thicker concoction, but I like mine just so. Serve with liberally buttered fresh bread. Simple, wholesome treat!
When my youngest child was small, she couldn’t read for the longest time. Her father used to read to her devotedly every night. He would read the old favourites to her as well as the collection of fairy stories. Later, they graduated to Jacqueline Wilson’s collection.
She went to a nursery where she was read to but not taught to read. Oh, they did letters and numbers half-heartedly, but most of her nursery days were spent learning how to speak French (and ‘proper’ English) and playing in the small compound. It suited us just fine, because she was such a happy little girl who came home each day with colourful artwork that mirrored her happy day.
Later, she went to a school where there was a selection process. Fortunately, Miss Hazel did not take a dim view of the child who told her, “I can read, but no thank you, I won’t read. My Daddy reads very nicely to me so I don’t have to.”
Didn’t matter that she didn’t do so well in school in the early years. She asked great, insightful questions and she was learning a lot.
“How do you make a Human Bean, Daaaad?” was one such question.
Her father would hug her close and told her his secret recipe with a big smile, “First, you fill her up with lots of cuddles, lots of kisses and lots of love. Then you put the lid on and …… you shake her hard to mix all the good stuff up.”
And he would shake her up and down in his arms until her laughter filled the whole house.
This was she at five. You could literally see joy emanating from her, the joy being a product of her endless happy days:
In the beginning, I was more traditional. I believed in a set bedtime and pre-discovering green smoothies, I believed in children eating up all the greens on the plate. This child just wanted to eat ice cream. My mother reminded me that I was just the same. “You got your calories from ice cream and cake,” my mother reminded me. “And look at you now, a health food fanatic.”
Once, I popped into her father’s office unexpectedly because I locked myself out of the house. To my surprise, six-year-old Georgina was sitting smugly next to him, chatting away nineteen to dozens. “What is she doing here?” I asked. “Shouldn’t she be in class?”
“I’ve had enough of class,” she piped up. “So I came to my Daddy’s office to help him with his work.”
Today, this little Human Bean is sixteen and preparing for medical school (though her parents are trying to entice her to choose a simpler life). She plays football and basketball internationally, and often struggles to balance her sporting commitments with the heavy academic workload.
“Chill a bit,” I would advise her. She spent the whole of her Saturday studying Chemistry instead of going to the beach with her friend.
‘I’ve chilled all my childhood, Mum!” She exclaimed.
Her father sneaked up on her and grabbed her into his arms. He then proceeded to shake his 60kg heavy child up and down. “How do you make a happy Human Bean?” he asked merrily, shaking her like he did in the old days though he is now 57-years-old.
“Stop it, Dad, you’re going to hurt your back!”
How come she’s not lazy and undisciplined? I asked her father.
His answer, which I thought was very insightful is something and that I wish to share: “Because we kept her busy all childhood long, and because all that sunshine, laughter and cuddles in her are just bursting to get out.”
The storms in her teenage years are short and temporary. Her over-riding joy rules.
Here’s the face. Her father is right. My own mother is right. Happiness comes first – always! – when raising a child. The rest will find a way, as surely as night follows day.
I am a great believer that the most important meal of the day is the breakfast, and have always made it a habit – as far as possible – to have breakfast with my loved ones. I think it’s a sign of love to get up that little bit earlier to serve …. a beautiful start to the day.
This one is inspired by my Norwegian friend Bente, who mentioned in conversation that when she was a child, her mother would make oat porridge, wrap the pot in old duvet and when they came back from skiing, there would be warm porridge waiting for them.
This is my cheat’s version of a hot, cooked breakfast for the days you want to lie in bed: you make it the night before, and an hour before breakfast, you just put it in the oven in a bain-marie for the most delicious hot breakfast ever.
Mix together the following:
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/w cup full cream milk
1/4 cup maple honey
Butter a loaf tin. Roughly cut a French loaf into cubes, layer the bread cubes with berries, and pour the concoction over the bread and berries layer. Ensure that the bread is immersed in the liquid. Leave overnight in the refrigerator. About an hour before breakfast, cook in a low oven in a bain-marie until the mixture and the bread meld together. Serve whilst it’s still hot, drizzled with honey and with a sides of fresh cream.
Having baked an apple cake yesterday, I saw that I had some over-ripe and blackened bananas in the fruit bowl, and in a cake-baking mood, I decided to bake a banana cake with the little butter I had left, I subsisted the dairy with sour cream (which was going off anyway, having been sitting around in the fridge for quite a long time):
I only had about 100g of butter left, so I used 100g (less a little for greasing the loaf tin) 1/2 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
3/4 cup organic brown sugar
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 large ripe bananas
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf tin. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour into the loaf tin and bake for about 1 hour until the insides are no longer sticky when poked with a fork.
Very yummy indeed.
(I served mine with ice cream and drizzled with dulce le leche)
My friend Jane and I jokingly call ourselves the Leftover Queens because we specialise in magicking up meals from leftovers. Being British, our speciality is Bubble & Squeak, of course.
Why is it that leftovers always taste nicer than the original? My fondest memory (and favourite food) is my father’s leftover turkey soup that we would eat for days after Christmas. I don’t know what the secret ingredients are, but the soup is simply out of the world. When I asked my dad for the recipe (which I do almost every year, deviously sometimes), he won’t tell me. “You have to come back to my house for my soup,” he would say with a twinkle in his eye. “That’s my insurance.”
Nothing I make could ever taste as good as my daddy’s turkey soup made from leftovers – and expensive wine, no doubt.
Though I love my leftover cuisine. Not only does it save money, it saves a lot of time, too: whenever I am cooking something, I would put the ‘inedible’ bits in a container, to be boiled up into a soup by either adding some beef bones or chicken carcass. Sometimes, I would just boil up the vegetables for a clear consommé. These were the end bits that our rabbits used to eat in the days we had eleven rabbits, but now, it ended up in a healthy soup (the veggies, not the rabbits):
From this humble bits, you could make either a simple rice and grain porridge or a healthy alternative to instant noodles. The recipe for the instant noodles is here.
So when you are preparing food next, don’t throw bits away – either bag them up for future use (freeze it) or chuck them into the pot to boil up.
One of the best kitchen tips I give folks is always have home-made stocks handy in the fridge. Because they are soooo easy to make, and they are the foundation of such delicious, simple, healthy dishes. Look differently at a carrot stub the next time round.
A couple of friends and I were sitting in a cafe in our children’s school yesterday and we commented on the fact that Facebook news feeds are full of posts such as “Seven things to do to avoid cancer”, “Drink this and you will be fine” or “If you don’t do this, you will die a painful death”.
Yes, it is good to be informed, especially on medical issues. Therefore I subscribe to Nature, New Scientist and BMA Journal, where the published articles are peer-reviewed before being published. Even so, for every 100 persons killed by chemotherapy/vaccines, there are 100 more who are helped by the modality. This is the nature of science – there is no absolute. Perfection or the right way is a moving target with more than one answer or solution.
When I was at Oxford, one of the astrophysics professors (a young and handsome chap) was a celebrated Fellow of The Royal Society based on his work on cold dark matter. A few years later, he fell from grace because there were doubts about cold dark matter. But these days, he’s flying high again ….does cold dark matter exist??? Who knows.
Similarly, if we were to believe in all we read back in the seventies, we would have stopped eating eggs and butter in favour of the healthier alternative called margarine. If there was Facebook at that time, no doubt the news feeds will be full of “Butter clogs up arteries”, “Eggs are bad for you”, “Eat margarine for a healthy breakfast”.
But today, we are all running back to good old eggs and butter and condemning margarine.
So we obsess, forget to live and start developing new disorders. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness of our age, and many seemingly normal people morph into hypochondriacs because they choose to be immersed in the huge ocean of articles and posts, majority with unsubstantiated claims, small sample set or statistically insignificant results. And let’s face it, if you believe that we are under attack from Martians, there will be very compelling articles out there to prove that yes, you are correct, watch out for spaceships the next time you step out.
As my super-calm partner says, “These are all consequences of the monkeys in the brain”.
How powerful are these monkeys? I had one Facebook friend, whom I don’t even talk to on a personal basis, flying from Kuala Lumpur to Phuket just for one day in desperation, to ask me this pressing question, “Do I have cancer?” Based on the large amount of time spent on social media and on Dr Google, she was convinced that she was afflicted with the disease.
More damagingly, many teenagers suffer from eating disorders these days, and that is no surprise, given that they are flooded with the message that everything they eat has harmful consequences on their health.
So bring on glamorous selfies (I like to see how the other half lives), food photos (to inspire a foodie like me) and jokes especially (because that’s why I read Facebook, to de-stress, not get more stressed up). And please think twice before sharing scare-mongering articles on health (unless it is your personal research involving hundreds of people over a long period of time) … because remember, no one knows anything for sure and it is counterproductive to get folks psyched up about something that is not necessarily accurate.
Here’s an informative article on anxiety in New Scientist – we inherit it and childhood events could well be the cause. Don’t pass it on.
I have never been a fan of sticky mango rice, though they are available on every street corner in Phuket, Thailand, where I live for part of the year. I found them too sickly and too sweet.
But when I was in Ho Chi Minh City and had dinner at the superb restaurant called Gao in District 3 (around the corner from a romantic live-music hangout place called Cafe Soi Ba), I had the most delicious sticky mango rice ever, namely one that is not too sweet and not sickly at all.
I came home and experimented, and here it is:
200g uncooked short-grain white rice
250ml coconut milk
100g brown sugar (in my final recipe, I omitted that and stirred in honey when the rice is cooked)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pandan leaves, knotted
3 mangos, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds or chia seeds (I also used dried marigold flowers)
Cook the rice in water and pandan leaves until all the water has been absorbed. If the rice is too hard, add more water. Mix the coconut milk with the brown sugar until dissolved. Stir the mixture into the cooked rice (in the rice cooking pot where heat is retained) and keep covered for 1 hour until all the liquid is absorbed.
Drizzle with dulce le leche (optional), topped with seeds and serve with a side of small chunks of mango. Yums!
There is a beautiful street, the most beautiful, in Saigon between Hotel Intercontinental Asiana and the Notre Dame Cathedral that is lined with cute little bookshops and a book cafe. For a bookworm like me, it was a gem in this bustling city.
If you are ever here, it is well-worth a visit. Though most of the books are in Vietnamese, they are lovely:
In the meantime, here’s a contest to free books for the rest of your life!!! Click here.
And after a blissful late afternoon at the cafe in Book Street, may I suggest that you take a leisurely stroll to this lovely place for an early dinner?
It is called Quon An Ngon 138. It’s a beautiful, open-air colonial building that housed stalls selling local fare. You can even watch the chefs cooking it for you!
The address is: 138 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Nghé, Hồ Chí Minh, Bến Nghé.
And for a romantic finish to your idyllic day, do pop into Cafe Soi Bar for some mellow live music. No children allowed!