Sunday, 27 November 2011

White Chocolate and Raspberry Trifle

TLH and I don't tend to give dinner parties, or even have friends over to eat very often.  In fact, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times we've done it living in this house - and we've been here very nearly 16 years!  I'm not too sure why this is but it doesn't help that our kitchen is so teeny tiny that it will only comfortably fit one human and one furry overlord at a time, and the dining area bit of our living space can barely fit a table that will seat four people, and one of them has to sit uncomfortably close to a wall.  There's just not enough space for properly comfortable entertaining.
But even though good friends of ours moved into a house literally opposite us in the close last November, we've seen nothing of them since about June this year so we figured it was time to get them over and food is always a good reason to socialise!

I decided that I would make Butternut Squash and Coconut milk soup to start with, using one of my last remaining homegrown Butternet Squashes; main course would be Pan Fried Chicken in a Cream and Oyster Mushroom sauce with mashed potates, broccoli, green beans and carrots; dessert to be White Chocolate and Raspberry Trifle.

The trifle is awesome and is so rich and substantial that I only make it when there are more than 2 people to eat it.  This means it's a brilliant thing to make for Christmas, so if you fancy something other than traditional Christmas pudding or a bog-standard Sherry Trifle, then I can absolutely recommend this.  There's no cooking, it's all just assembly and it's best to make it a day before you need to eat it so the flavours can sink into the sponge.  It's up to you how much you want to spend on ingredients but I've made this with the cheapest swiss roll and white chocolate and ready made custard I could fine, and it still tastes fabulous.

So, here we go then, with pictures and everything:

(Serves at least 6, depending on portion size)


300g Raspberries (frozen is fine)
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon of kirsch or vodka
2 tablespoons of icing sugar
1 vanilla swiss roll (not chocolate).  Get a big one, or 2 smaller ones.
120g white chocolate
150g double cream or whipping cream (this is actually optional but you need at least a tablespoon)
2 x 500ml ready made custard

The necessary ingredients.  As I'd got a bottle or two of Raspberry infused vodka that I made back in 2010 kicking around, I thought I'd use that.  And I also misread my own ingredients list and bought both double and whipping cream (you only need one kind!).

1.  Place 1/3 (i.e., 100g) of the raspberries in a sieve over a bowl.  Push through with a spoon until only the pips remain.  I'll be honest, this is a bit of a pain in the bum to do as it takes quite a long time.  Apparently you can now buy readymade raspberry coulis and if I'd known about it, I would definitely have used that instead.


 The puree you end up with.  You need to keep scraping the puree off the underside of the sieve.

 2.  To the puree, add the icing sugar:

And the juice of 1/2 a lime and the tablespoon of kirsch or vodka:

 The bottle of Raspberry Vodka I used.  Why, yes, of course I sampled it.  And massively yum it was too.

 3.  Slice the swiss roll(s) into 1cm slices and use most of them to cover the sides and base of a bowl in a single layer:


 4.  Moisten the slices with most of the raspberry puree, and scatter in another 1/3 (100g) of the raspberries:

5.  Set aside a few squares of the chocolate for grating later, and break up the rest of the choc into small pieces.

6.  Place the chocolate in a bowl and melt over a pan of boiling water, ensuring the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl.  Do not overheat or the chocolate will start to go gritty.  Stir until melted:

7.  When melted, take off heat and stir into it one tablespoon of the double/whipping cream, then stir in both cartons of custard:

8.  Pour/ladle half the custard over the swiss roll in the bowl and lay over it the remaining swiss roll slices, like some fabulous lasagne:

9.  Dribble the remaining raspberry sauce over the slices and scatter over most of the remaining raspberries:

10.  Completely cover with the rest of the custard:

View from the side.

There are now a few options.  You can whip the cream until stiff and spread over the top of the custard, or you can pipe it on decoratively.  I hadn't decided what I was going to do and feared that if I did this now, the raspberries on top might leak colour into the cream.  So I left mine unadorned and popped it into the fridge overnight.

The next morning I decided that, actually, there was enough risk of cardiac failure from eating this without adding more cream so just grated the set aside squares of chocolate over the top and added the rest of the raspberries.

Inexpensive, easy and your family will think it's one of the best things EVER.  I guarantee it.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Cross Stitch Ta-Daa!

This Autumn I rediscovered cross stitch.  I used to do a bit of it in my late teens, just simple stuff - I wonder what happened to the things I made?  Oh well, lost in one of my many house moves, no doubt.

I can't remember what sent me off looking for patterns, but I recall reading an article somewhere about Dame Judy Dench who starts a piece of some kind of needlework - embroidery? needlepoint? can't remember - every time she begins a new play or film, that she presents to the director at the end, and it always has the word 'fuck' worked into it in an elaborate font somewhere.  I remember thinking what a brilliant idea that was.  Then I came across 'Subversive Cross Stitch' (which does exactly what it says on the tin) and discovered their website where you can buy kits.

Going there just now to find and post the link, I see they have a whole lot of new Christmas kits, and this one made me hoot with laughter, as it's how I generally view the season:

There are ones you can get that are just rude phrases stitched in a modern typography which is fine, but I also really like ones that look like old fashioned cross stitch designs but say something unexpected (and not necessarily rude) like this one which has a sentiment I think we can all agree with:

And I've just discovered this one which I rather like and shall add to my future projects file:

Then there's ones like this which are more Scandinavian in style and use a single colour (like the one above):

And how about quotes from Charlie Sheen.  This one is magnificent and so totally sums up my life:

Hmm - seems I'm going to have to add ALL these to my queue.

However, I wanted to show you the ones that I HAVE actually finished.  While searching for patterns on Etsy, I came across quite a few that tickled my fancy.  So I bought a few and got started.  You get a .pdf file sent electronically that you print out that give you the graph and also lists the colours of DMC embroidery thread that you'll need.  You'll also need to get a size 24 needle (or at least a big one with a large eye), some Aida fabric (14 holes to the inch is the standard size) and although I didn't use one for this design, an embroidery hoop is a good idea (I used one for the others I did).

This was a very simple one to start with, only using about a dozen colours.  I got the pattern from Steotch's store on Etsy - check some of their other patterns out, they're brilliant.  I've not got round to framing this one yet.

Then while I was wandering around on Etsy looking for other patterns, I found Bombastitch's shop, and instantly fell in love with the Mexican Sugar Skull designs there.  I selected four of them.  The designs are more complex and I love them all.  And I've just seen from going to her page that there are a couple more designs there that weren't there before!  But I think I'll leave them there, I've enough crafty things (including some crochet owls, birds and christmas stars) in my project queue as it is, without adding any more.

I also decided I wanted to frame them in a suitably black, gothic and ornate frame - sleek and contemporary wasn't quite right for these, I felt.  Searching on the intertubes brought me to Ayers and Graces who do fantastic mirrors and picture frames, and who had exactly what I was looking for and at a ludicrously affordable price as well.

Each one took a week to do and kept me busy while sitting in front of the gogglebox.  I framed them myself.  I got that really thick card stuff that are used to make 'mats', i.e., the inner flat frame that you put over pictures before putting them in a proper frame (does that make sense?) and cut it to size.  Then I used double sided sellotape to secure the finished cross stitch to the front of the mat, and then on the other side to stick the overlaps down and keep them in place - the traditional way to do this is to lace the overlaps together on the back to keep it in place; I tried this with the first one but it took ages and was unbelievably fiddly.  Double sided tape works just as well and is infinitely quicker.

So let's have a look, shall we.  This is what one of the charts looks like:

And this is the finished product:

And in its 8x10 inch frame:

The frames are all identical.  Sorry I couldn't get the picture of the frame any clearer but the flash just reflected back off the glass so these were taken without flash, but hopefully you can click on the picture and see more detail.

These are the others:

Then we had the dilemma of where to hang them.  I wanted originally to put them together in a square but the logistics of trying to get them to hang accurately, butting up against each other, was more than we could cope with.  So then I thought about hanging them in a long vertical line but couldn't think of a suitable place in the house.

Then The Lovely Husband suggested the perfect spot - the little bit of space between our bathroom door and the wall, and that's where I've put them.  The bottom one seems a bit low down but you see them as you're coming up the stairs, so you start to view them from the bottom up as you ascend anyway, so it's all gravy!

I hope you like them as much as I do!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Who needs 'The Archers'?

There are some peculiar people in this world.  I realise this may come as a bit of a shock to you, for which I apologise.  I advise a cup of tea and a bit of cake to steady the nerves.  It is a panacea that cures pretty much all ills.  I have drunk a LOT of tea and eaten my bodyweight in cake over the last few days and now feel (and look) as stately as a galleon.

Loyal readers of my increasingly sporadic scribblings will be aware that I have an allotment.   I used to have one in the 1990s but gave it up after a couple of years because it was quite a way from my flat at the time, and I was working full time and had a social life.  Cue 20 years later, a different husband, a different town, no job and no social life, and I decided I wanted to revisit growing my own veggies and found there was a large 4-acre allotment site no more than 5 mins walk from my house.  So I put my name down for a plot and, within a few months, was allocated one.  I started a blog about it - From Weeds to Seeds - where I posted about starting the plot from scratch, what I planted, a bit of local history, interacting with the foxes and discovering a buried cache of weird religious photographs.

If you can be arsed to head on over there, you'll see that the last posting on that blog is in February this year, at the beginning of the season.  This was because I was beginning to fall out of  love with the allotment.  I'd been there since the beginning of 2008 so this year would be my fourth season.  I do it all myself which is both a blessing and a curse.  It's nice to have a space outside that is my own, where I can sit on my green plastic garden chair outside my little shed and watch the birds wheeling in the enormous sky while I think my inconsequential little thoughts.  But also because I'm female and naturally lack a great deal of physical strength, as well as having a bit of a rubbish back that will dislocate parts of itself if I, for instance, have the audacity to pull a shopping trolley behind me, I find the necessary heavy digging to be difficult.  I'm not whinging about it, it's just the way it is.

So, to be honest, I found myself last year doing less and less down there, and began to feel that the allotment was becoming more of a burden than a pleasure.  I started to give serious thought to giving it up, even though we have both hugely enjoyed eating the veggies and fruit that I've managed to produce over the years.  And when I remembered that, I started thinking that maybe I should hang on to the plot after all.  But then I thought of the back problems I'd suffered and how disheartening it is to spend hours working there only for it to look as if you've not even touched it and I wanted to give it up again.  And then I started thinking about the economic climate and how Western civilisation looks like it's about to crumble and that, perhaps, it might just be sensible to hold onto the plot after all so that, if necessary, we would have food to eat (we like to be prepared in our house!  And we do possess a fine sense of impending catastrophe....).  I was, as you can see, oscillating wildly from one perspective to another.  Wanting to give it up but not give it up.  A conundrum, if you will.

So, as of last week, I'd grudgingly decided that I might as well give the plot one more year and see how I felt after that.  I went down there - I'd not been for about a month or so - in order to tidy the plot a bit, dismantle the bamboo pole wigwams, pull up the sweetcorn plants and bolted lettuces, that sort of thing, and start planning where to lay the black weed-suppressant fabric that I bung down over the winter and which makes spring weeding that much easier.  I felt quite good about it, especially as I noticed that quite a few other plots on the site were just as overgrown and tatty as mine had got (they always get grotty at this time of year anyway).

Then, last Friday, I received a letter in the post, from the Allotment Committee, basically telling me to 'vacate or cultivate', as following a recent inspection mine wasn't up to standard and that I had a month to sort it out or they would take it away from me and give it to someone on the waiting list.


And then I thought about it and decided it was very odd.  The annual inspection of all the plots takes place in June or July and if anyone's plot is not up to standard, then a letter is sent out shortly afterwards.  I received no letter in the summer and had been quite confident at the time that the plot would be okay, as I had put a lot of hours into tarting it up for the inspection.  I don't like the fact that there's an inspection as I don't particularly like being judged, but do understand the need for it - if you're not actively cultivating your plot then it'll grow weeds that will set seed all over the rest of the site, onto others' plots, and if there's a waiting list it's unfair to those on it if you can't be bothered to do something with yours so you might as well free it up.  There's also the not inconsiderable point that the local council is always on the lookout for building development sites and we know for a fact that they'd love to get their hands on our site - they were fended off successfully a few years ago.  A 4 acre site in greenbelt Surrey would be worth an absolute fortune.  By not actively using your plot, you're playing into their hands and once the site has gone, it will never come back again.

But this letter read as if there had been a second, later, inspection, one that no-one had known about.  And I had been judged and found wanting.  I was pretty pissed off about this but grudgingly accepted that I had let the plot slip post-inspection, as I was thinking of giving it up anyway, so, obviously, I must have failed.  I decided, then, that I would give it up after all, especially now after receiving this damning letter.  Yes, I was feeling a bit flouncy about it.

The letter said that I could clear the plot of whatever plants I wanted to, and remove any structures, so I contacted my brother (who has a veg plot in his garden) and told him I was giving up the plot and did he want my fruit bushes and also my shed?  He most certainly did.

My next port of call was to drop an email to the steward of my half of the site and let her know that I'd received the letter and was confirming that I would be giving up the plot, and that the site would be cleared as soon as possible, but bearing in mind that my subs were paid up until February 2012, could it be confirmed that I would have until then to do the work, rather than the 28 days as stated in the letter?

This is where this long rambling blog post starts to get interesting.

The steward I contacted replied by email a few days later to all the plot-holders saying that several people had received the same letter, including - bizarrely - herself.  She said that even though the letter had come out on official notepaper, it had not been officially sanctioned by the committee who had, in fact, known nothing about it at all!  There had been no second  inspection (the reason it's done in the summer is because that's when the plots will naturally look their best and most productive - everyone knows they look rubbish at this time of year) and there currently isn't a waiting list for a plot.  And my plot had passed the summer inspection, as I thought it had.  It transpires that someone else - we'll call him H - on the site had taken it upon himself to perform his own, personal, inspection of everyone's plot and then managed to get the letters sent out.

The poor steward that I had emailed had been contacted by a load of extremely pissed-off people who had, rightly, got the hump about the letters and now she'd been burdened with having to do a lot of fire-fighting that was not of her - or the committee's - making!  I've been informed that I can ignore the letter completely.

How bizarre.  And just how power-crazed do you have to be to do that sort of thing?  And to what purpose?  If everyone that he wrote to decided to leave their plot, and there's no waiting list, then the site's just going to get more and more overgrown.  Is there some kind of vendetta going on here?  I have no idea.  I've only spoken to him a couple of times - a brief chat, nothing more, and he seemed perfectly affable at the time.  But obviously something about me has annoyed him - could it be my pink hair?  Who knows?

But I've now swung my decision completely the other way.  I'm most definitely NOT giving up my plot now, I refuse to give some would-be tin-pot dictator the satisfaction!  I've had to apologise to my brother, though, as I'm keeping my shed and plants now, but I'll get some fruit bushes for them next spring instead, some new ones, as part of their christmas present.

Who needs The Archers for agricultural-based soap opera?  Just get yourself an allotment in a middle-class, affluent Surrey town!