Posts Tagged ‘Holiday’

Ain’t no sunshine when you’ve gone…

June 14, 2013

In the absence of proper sun in the sky, it falls upon each of us to create some of our own, for life is no good without it.

At Alice’s school some of the children have created some much needed sunshine on the walls and it is a bright and cheery sight indeed…

kids sunflower painting collage

Meanwhile at home we’ve achieved our own major success, with help from a boxful of these…

box of alphonso mangoes

I like mangoes ALL the time, but life is truly enhanced in Spring and early Summer when two of the best mango varieties, which also happen to have two of the shortest seasons, arrive in town.

For a few short weeks in the Spring and early Summer, boxes of them are stacked up outside our local Asian supermarkets. Life is indeed brightened by their presence. The mango carnival has arrived, in my head anyway. First up are the all-singing, all-dancing Alphonsos and they are followed, heel hot, by the equally delicious, slightly more diminutive Honey mangoes.

You can’t buy either variety singly; not easily anyway, but who’d only want to buy just one of these anyhow? Their flesh is fragrant, sweet, juicy, velvety and totally irresistable; a boxful lasts a mere few days around here.  Last weekend we bought a precious box of Alphonsos from the legendary Taj Stores in Brick Lane and in the car on the way home as the anticipation grew, so their sweet scent wafted through from the boot to us in the front. Mmmm…

Opening a box of Alphonsos is like opening a Christmas present. Actually it’s better because you KNOW you’re going to love what’s inside. There’s a little bit of friction on lifting the lid, as if it’s reluctant to give up the treasure within, but once off there’s just a rough tissue paper cover between you and the golden jewels inside. Each fruit is carefully wrapped in its own newspaper nest, protected for the long journey from India to East End.

mangoes in paper

Usually I might say, I try to shop mindfully – I shop locally, use supermarkets infrequently and minimise food miles when I can. I also love the seasonality of food, so currently we’re also enjoying the delights of English asparagus and peas. Incidentally, earlier this week I made a delicious rapeseed mayonnaise or ‘rouille’; recipe via the Guardian, in which to dip our asparagus spears. Yum. And it’s still going strong – salad, sandwiches and supper all covered alongside a simple cooked chicken. Cooks notes: extreme patience needed for adding the oil drop by drop. And though it seems like a lot of oil it’s just right.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, I’m afraid my best efforts with food miles and local produce fly completely out of the window when the Alphonso and Honey mangoes arrive. I am definitely no saint and they are certainly a guilty pleasure.

Of course there are many delicious things you can cook and create with mangoes. Pork and mango is a great combination and mango salads are delish as are mango creams. Such dishes feature at discerning restaurants at this time of year. But in my opinion the BEST way to eat these sweet and succulent beauties is in the privacy of your own home, where you can bask in the full glory and wonder of their un-adorned flesh.

Alphonso mango flesh is sliced away from the stone, after peeling in my book. This is usually a slippery and none too elegant affair, but the resulting heap is absolutely delectable. Eat straight off the board – I do – or if you’re really restrained, transfer to a bowl, for a modicum of decorum before devouring.

A unique preparation technique for honey mangoes adds another layer of excitement and keeps everything together; until you get it near your mouth, that is. Select your fruit and (after giving it a good, deep, appreciative sniff) slice in half across its middle and around the thin stone. Twist the two cut halves in opposite directions and one half of the mango will pull away. Twist and remove the slippery stone from the other half (elegance matters not) and then simply spoon the sweet flesh straight into your expectant, drooling mouth.

mango half and spoon

Bliss.

And when you’ve finished spooning the succulent flesh into your mouth, there is still one final treat in store – as if it could get any better. Pick up your mango stone, pop it in your mouth and suck. The juiciest, sweetest flesh clings to the stone and it is your duty to leave none; not one juicy vestige, behind.

Sinfully gorgeous, it is essential to end up with juice running down your arm and a big, sweet grin on your face!

You may also find you are left with a mostly dry and slightly hairy stone. With the addition of some felt pen eyes this can be turned into a temporary pet for the children to enjoy. Honey the hamster always enjoys her short time with us. Of course she can’t stay very long though…

And when you’ve finally finished, rather than wipe any juicy dribbles away or heaven forbid, wash them off; why not just rub them in – mango is known for its skin-replenishing properties, you know. Hurrah!

Pile of Alphonso mango flesh on chopping board

No self-respecting restaurant would allow you to indulge in this kind of behaviour. Well they could, but they won’t, so this is a fine example of home food prep (I can hardly call it cooking) outgunning even the classiest restaurant.

So that means that as well as everything else, eating these delights at home actually SAVES you the expense of a posh night out!

Now, I’m sorry to bring the tone down at this point, but I feel that amid this joy we must spare a thought for a group of sad individuals who, according to our learned friend Rod, suffer a strain of dermatitis that arises from skin contact with mangoes. These tragic souls come out in a nasty rash, bless ’em. Mind you Rod assures us that they can still eat mango, so long as it doesn’t touch the sides on the way in. Where there’s a will there’s a way, I say.

So there we have it; my suggested sunshine substitute. I utterly, utterly recommend, encourage and cajole you to seek out your nearest Asian supermarket or greengrocer and find out what the fuss is about for yourself. I know you have to buy a boxful, but I promise you won’t regret it; why not share the love with your friends and neighbours.

The Alphonso season only lasts a couple more weeks, then the honey mangoes will arrive for even less time. So hurry, while stocks last! Between these two delectable fruits we should be kept in sunshine through much of this miserable season that is, or at least may be, our summer. And should the sun actually come out then you can enjoy these little beauties outside, in the sun. Even more heavenly.

Very important note. Please, please, don’t be under any illusion that the average supermarket mango is an adequate substitute for this slice of heaven.

It. Is. Not.

Why not let us know how you get on AND share your top tips for bringing some much-needed sunshine into your life.

Happy weekend everyone.

poppy in the gutter

Finally and by way of a special bonus I offer you my secret recipe for an instant and really cheap holiday – we all need one of those from time to time. When going to bed switch your sheets and pillows round and sleep at the other end. In the morning you’ll awake in unfamiliar surroundings and for a few blissful seconds, you’ll think you’re on holiday. Joy.

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Happy Easter

April 1, 2013

Row of Easter chicks

 

Like loads of families we’re relishing four days off in a row. Four days to relax a bit and eat a lot, in this house anyway…

We decided to make some Easter biscuits. Fishing around in my shoebox of biscuit cutters I discovered I’ve accumulated seven bunny cutters. Seven! I think I’ve probably bought a new one each year, each year thinking to myself “It’d be nice to make some Easter biscuits”; but failing to do so because of, well I don’t know what, but something, always something.

Row of bunny biscuit cutters

Each cutter is a best laid plan gone by the wayside

So anyway THIS year it’s going to happen and inspired by a biscuit book we were given at Christmas (thanks Oli and Vics!) I started off with the idea of making perfect-o gorgeous-o creations that would be worthy of sale in Selfridges or Harrods.

Of course right when I first opened the pages of that book I should’ve known that we would end up doing something totally different.

The joy of cooking with children is that if its going to truly be a family activity then you have to let go – the pursuit of perfection, finessed techniques, presentation; all these disappear in favour of making sure that the finished article is edible, that everyone involved still has all their fingers and that you have managed to keep your cool throughout the process. You also need to let go of any usual concept of time. It all takes an inordinate amount of time.

But it’s so worth it. The act of making the biscuits in itself a joy – the kids delight in the qualities of the ingredients and the concentrated effort when weighing, measuring, spooning, stirring and rolling means that this is so much more than a biscuit-making session. It is a maths lesson, a science class and a masterclass in texture, design, taste and touch. No wonder it takes so long!

Making biscuits collage 1

‘Wow, the syrup’s like liquid gold!’, ‘Do you like how I’m cutting the butter’, ‘I need my goggles to zest lemons’, ‘Uurrghh! I stuck my fingers in the egg!’…

I should mention that as well as inspiration, the aforementioned book; The Biscuiteers Book of Iced Biscuits provided a few gems of culinary usefulness. For example: roll the dough between two sheets of baking parchment rather than use flour, which will dry out the mixture and secondly: use two lengths of dowel (or wooden spoons, they suggest) to roll the mixture to an even thickness before cutting.

rolling and cutting collage

Et voila! And it’s only 3 o’clock.

We ALL got involved with the icing. But you see that little sentence, yes that one there that I just wrote. Seven innocent little words. Well it hides about 3 hours work! To get all the icing ingredients weighed and mixed. To find and choose the colours, to divide all the icing into little bowls and tint carefully – not too much now! Try not to spill it. Oh. You have. All down the cupboard door. And yourself. And me. Sigh. Find enough squeezy bottles and piping bags to contain all variations; dark, light, pouring and piping. We even had to make some piping bags.

So after all that, some three hours later, we iced. We iced for all it was worth. And we had fun. And the results? Well the results speak for themselves. We will not be selling them in Harrods, they are too good for that. We each put a little piece of ourselves into these fellas (creativity I mean, not fingernails) and we’re very proud. What d’you reckon?

collage iced biscuits


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