Wanted: Three Scarecrows

Wanted: Three Scarecrows for heavy-duty work minding extensive vegetable plots in a thriving kitchen garden. Training will be provided.

Experience of catching bunnies in the lettuces …

… is desirable but not essential.

Sorry, no recipes this month, with or without the lettuce. My three newly-appointed scarecrows became sick shortly after their trial period in the organic kitchen garden at Knightshayes Court (no causal effect implied) and I have spent the rest of May cleaning carpets rather than baking pans.

However, I do have one piece of good news. Rose is coming to stay with us again in Devon in September this year, and she’ll be bringing Woody with her this time, too! So – if anyone would like to be included in our reunion, please do leave a comment below and I’ll make sure that I email you nearer the time with details of when and where we’ll be having a get-together during their visit 🙂 .

The Curry Corner

Back in 2007 when I first unleashed my slightly obsessive baking traits on an unsuspecting worldwide web, I knew that I would never be able to manage posting daily or even weekly to my newly-founded blog. My three young children and their activities leave little time for sitting in front of a computer, whilst my perfectionist streak ensures that I lose any infrequent occasions for creative thinking to procrastination and unnecessary googling.

Since the beginning however, I have followed an unwritten and entirely arbitrary rule of making sure that I never let a month go by without at least posting once, no matter how short that post may be.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to understand why I’m a tiny bit worried right now. September arrived nearly a month ago and I still have nothing more to offer than a few half-baked ideas and blurry images. Am I about to break my own self-imposed posting principles?

But wait – here comes my little sister with a fully-written guest post crafted especially and in the nick of time for A Merrier World. Call it telepathic communication or hypersensitivity to sibling stress if you will – as Lucy says, it’s what sisters are for!

And so, it’s over to my sister saviour Lucy (of Italian-style Chicken Casserole and Raspberry Fluff fame) …

The Curry Corner

I was feeling guilty because my sister asked me to write a blog entry for a meal we ate when we were on holiday in the Cotswolds back in August but I hadn’t got round to doing it yet. Then I realized that I hadn’t heard from A Merrier World in a while, so perhaps she can’t criticize me too much for my tardiness! I have been asked to write a blog entry by my sister before and I never got round to it. This time, it was my (rather small and ineffectual) camera which took the shots of the evening so Kate blackmailed me into agreeing to write an entry for her. I hope I can do the evening justice (this is my first blog entry of any kind).

On a family holiday we had the rare opportunity to go out as sisters with our respective husbands, sans children as our own parents kindly offered to take care of the brood for the evening. When the children were content with the thoughts of a trip with Granny and Grandpa to those ‘golden arches’ the four of us set out for a wander into Cheltenham. Earlier in the evening we’d researched likely places in a restaurant guide and we settled upon The Curry Corner which was described as “the best curry from pole to pole” by Michael Palin! It was a Tuesday evening so we were sure of getting a table without having to book, weren’t we?

The Curry Corner is on the corner (no surprises) of two quiet residential streets on the edge of Cheltenham. It has to be the most stylish curry restaurant I have ever visited: and it was packed, even on a Tuesday!

Luckily, the friendly waiters were happy for us to sit at their outside tables and have some beers whilst we waited for a table to be vacated inside. We were very pleased to spot some local real ales on the drinks menu and enjoyed the Cats Whiskers!

We read the menu thoroughly and planned our feast. The dishes were imaginative and unusual and the restaurant uses only the highest quality local ingredients from the lush countryside … including Newent chicken, free range Cotswold farm eggs, rare breed meat, bread made from the finest quality locally milled organic flour and ice cream churned at the restaurant using the creamiest local milk and cream. In fact, I have since discovered that the restaurant has had the same chicken supplier and egg producer for the past 32 years. They buy their eggs from a local lady who is now 93 years old! The dishes focus mainly on Bangledeshi home-cooking style with elements of Hindoostan woven in.

The Curry Corner was opened in 1977 by the Krori family. Thirty years later, they are still the chefs and the whole family is involved with the restaurant. The restaurant has won several “Best Taste” awards and has gained critical acclaim from famous names such as Rick Stein, Michael Palin and Richard Branson. The restaurant has also participated in Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word. From over 10,000 nominations, the Curry Corner made it to the finals for Britain’s best local restaurant. They were pipped to the post by the restaurant Lasan, from Birmingham. In an interview with Channel 4, the Curry Corner’s second chef explains just how family orientated they are:

We’re a family run restaurant and it’s a genuinely family run place so although Dad’s now 60 he still cooks every single night and my mum, I think I can confidently say, was probably the only Indian woman cooking in a professional kitchen back in 1977. (Monrusha Krori, http://www.channel4.com)

We placed our food order, enjoyed another local ale and waited with a heightened sense of anticipation at our table inside. Our poppadums arrived and we dug into the imaginative selection of chutneys and pickles. The mango chutney was delicious: the addition of whole fennel seeds made it very special and we quickly ate the lot.

Following this we had ordered a selection of starters, making sure we each had something we liked (I don’t like lamb, Kate doesn’t like prawns…the husbands eat anything…very quickly). The food was beautifully presented and began to fill me up somewhat!

I didn’t need to worry though because when the main courses arrived they looked so delicious I miraculously had plenty of room: particularly for the honey and pistacchio naan. It was melt-in-the-mouth.

We did a good job of eating most of the feast we had ordered when our eyes were larger than our bellies (after finishing, our bellies were certainly the larger) and Kate asked for the rest of our naan to be packaged up to take home for the children. As we were loosening our belts and sitting back, our waiter arrived with a small plate with four white tablets placed upon it.

We were slightly confused, I have to admit. I did consider that they might be taking precautions and be giving us some large ant-acid tablets, given how much we had consumed. The waiter performed a little ceremony with a teapot of water which he trickled over the four tablets. They miraculously grew…and turned into face towels!

You are honoured indeed as Kate said she might allow me to post a picture of her, as long as her face was covered with her now expanded white tablet!

I’m sure I speak for us all when I say what a fantastic evening we had. It was going to be great anyway, to be out with Kate and O on our own for the first time in eight years, but The Curry Corner made it really special. If ever you’re in Cheltenham and feel peckish, it’s certainly the place to go: but do book ahead unless, like us, you have plenty of time to while away drinking beers on their patio!

La Vie Avec Rose: Part III

Continued from Part II on the first anniversary of the events…

Driving through the night, we smuggled the Queen of Cakes into deepest, darkest Devon where she fell asleep soundly in an awaiting attic room.

Rising the next morning to clear, blue skies and a burgeoning summer warmth, we prepared gifts of ginger scones …

… for friends over the estuary. While the princesses swung lazily in hammocks in the dappled light of a forest clearing, we feasted regally on wholesome hog roast and mouth-watering crackling.

Fortified against adversity, we set off for adventure amongst the ancient, granite tors of Dartmoor. Whether the little prince and princesses searched for fairies or the fearsome hound among the jumbled, weathered rocks was uncertain, but candy prizes were discovered in hidden places and celebrated with joyful cartwheels.

It was a time for magic to unfold effortlessly …

… in the soft bubbles that left smooth, large holes in the crumb of the bread …

… and in the sunlight that danced on the gentle waves and warmed the round pebbles on the beach at Budleigh Salterton.

The Bridge Inn was sleepily unaware of its second royal visit in history while the Queen of Cakes gracefully sipped from her first pint of Real Ale.

We were transported to a Land of Cakes on the sweet, comforting aromas that filled the kitchen and drifted through the house and out into the streets.

In a final act of mischief, the Queen of Cakes arrived unannounced for tea with Melinda and Jeannette, causing great surprise and excitement among the shelves at Dart’s Farm.

With luxurious spoonfuls of West Country ice-cream …

… and moist slices of Golden Lemon Almond Cake …

… stories were swapped and tales were told.

As the shared meals became no more than treasured memories …

… we reluctantly released our hold on the Queen of Cakes and returned her with promises of everlasting friendship to her homeland.

Apple Day at Rosemoor

And the wind sprang up and the sky grew dark … and it rained …

clothesline-web

and rained …

leaf-web

and rained …

leaf-on-wood-web

and rained …

sprouts-web

and rained.

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But small children never seem to mind the rain. They eagerly pull on their welly boots and rush outside to splash and jump in muddy puddles. Soaked through and dripping, they are unconcerned by such grown-up worries as colds and coughs and sneezes, and are unburdened by the practicalities of ensuring they have a dry change of clothing packed safely away in rucksacks on every outing.

Which is perhaps just as well, since our visit to the annual Apple Day hosted by the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Rosemoor last weekend was certainly a wet one.

I had only been to Rosemoor once before, nearly five years ago when we first moved to Devon. Back then, we were a family of three, although we were only a few months away from becoming a family of four. In my heavily pregnant state, I waddled around the gardens one afternoon with L while O was busy in his new job. There was little to see – it was March and the beauty of the gardens was still deep in its winter sleep. Only the name tags marking places in the soil gave a hint of what the gardens would become in the Spring.

On that visit, I was particularly intrigued by the fruit and vegetable gardens. Although they were seemingly populated by nothing more than empty, dead twigs, my imagination was kindled by the sheer variety of fruits that were planted there. With each step I took, I discovered apples and pears with magical, evocative names that never appear on the supermarket shelves. Barnack Beauty, Shenandoah, Lady Sudeley, Yellow Ingestrie.

Last weekend, I finally had an opportunity not only to see these fruits growing at Rosemoor, but also to taste them. Despite the steady rain that poured persistently throughout the day, we joined the damp, waterproofed crowds at the garden’s annual Apple Day. Inside a large, dry marquee, tables were stacked high with a myriad of different varieties of apple. Slices for tasting were laid out on paper plates alongside tasting notes and harvesting information. Some apples were soft and sweet while others were crisp and tart. Each variety left a different aftertaste, from nutty to aniseed.

apple-tasting-web

There were dessert apples, cooking apples, juicing apples and apples for making cider. Stalls around the sides of the marquee provided a platform for producers and artists from Devon to show their apple-related products. At one stall, rivers of the purest apple juice gushed from a noisy mulching machine.

“Four parts Cox to one part Bramley,” the producer proudly told us. Whatever the secret, this was the most glorious apple juice I have ever tasted. Its sweetly crisp aromas filled my senses with apple even as the juice was being sloshed from the jug into my glass. It was as if I’d buried my nose deep into the apple blossom and drunk from the very essence of the fragrant fruit.

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And then out into the rain to the orchards where the bare patches of soil of my last visit were now bursting abundantly with redolent apples of all varieties.

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That evening as the geese flew overhead on their journey out to sea, I made a spiced autumnal apple cake in celebration of this rainy Apple Day.

applecakeslice

Apple Day Cake

3 ounces seedless sultanas
100 milliliters dark rum
2 ounces unsalted butter
5 ounces castor sugar
2 ounces light muscovado sugar
7 ounces peeled, cored and diced apple (1 medium Bramley apple)
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces eggs, weighed without shells (3 medium eggs)
5 ounces plain (all purpose) flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Put the sultanas in a small bowl and cover with the rum. Leave to soak for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees F / gas mark 4 with a rack set in the centre of the oven.

Grease and base-line a 20 cm (8 inch) round cake pan.

Melt the butter and sugars together in a small saucepan (or in the microwave, stirring frequently) until smooth and runny.

Place the melted butter and sugars together with the apple, grated orange zest and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat to combine.

Add the eggs gradually, beating after each addition to incorporate. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a separate bowl and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until well incorporated.

Drain the sultanas well and reserve the rum (set aside). Add the sultanas to the apple mixture and stir to combine.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes. A tester inserted into the centre of the cake should have few crumbs attached when removed (it is a moist cake, so the tester will not be completely clean). Remove from the oven.

Let the cake stand in the pan for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and placing on a wire rack.

Brush the top of the cake with a small amount of the reserved rum. Cool on the wire rack before slicing and serving.

La Vie Avec Rose: Part II

We journeyed tirelessly and brought the Queen of Cakes to our chateau in the heart of the Normandy countryside.

chateau

As evening drew close, we told stories of Parisian adventures while the little prince and princesses drifted sleepily into dreams of dashing duels and swirling sword dances on the steps of mediaeval castles.

A bracing breeze blew across the now-deserted beaches of Operation Overlord in the morning …

Operation Overlord

… and my elder princess tugged urgently on Rose’s sleeve to show her the marker she had found among the dunes.

New York 5700km

We warmed our chilled toes and icy fingers back at the chateau by feasting on tender slices of magret of duck in an orange marmalade sauce. Throwing caution to the wind, the sauce-maker deftly pilfered Rose’s perfectly-fried pieces of garlic and was only spared an untimely death by the perfection of his sweet, griddled courgettes.

duck and courgettes

Our time together was filled with the yeasty aromas of freshly baked bread …

rose making bread

… the magical knotting of colourfully beaded strings …

beads

… and the joyous convivial sounds of laughter on the terrace.

fun on the terrace

We visited the local outdoor market and discovered gastronomic riches among the brightly jewelled stalls.

market scene

After covertly sharing a crêpe swathed in deep, dark salted caramel …

pancake

… we approached the fish stall with anticipatory thoughts of the evening meal ahead.

“How should we cook a turbot?” we asked, looking with anxiety at its large, irregularly-shaped flat body.

“Dans une turbotière,” came the reply. Ah, how silly – of course, a pan shaped like a turbot would indeed be the simplest way of cooking such a fish.

We did not possess a pan shaped like a turbot.

“How else can we cook a turbot?” we asked.

“In white wine on a bed of onions and tomatoes, covered with foil and baked in the oven for thirty minutes at two hundred degrees centigrade,” came the reply. Our helpful fishmonger then offered to cut the fish into pieces so that such unfortunately turbotière-challenged people as ourselves could still enjoy the delicacies of its firm white flesh.

turbot

“A whole bottle of wine?” I asked Rose, watching helplessly.

“A whole bottle of wine,” she mercilessly replied.

all the wine

Whilst too many cooks may sometimes spoil the broth …

too many cooks

… on this occasion a smooth, velvety sauce appeared wondrously from the strained and reduced juices of the baked fish and its voluptuous bed. With the addition of a large spoonful of thick, soft Normandy crème fraiche and some small pieces of butter, even those who normally disliked fish were nearly (but not quite wholly) converted.

fish on a dish

The shadows lengthened, darkness fell and the moon rose over the chateau.

moon over the chateau

We packed our belongings once again and carried our fond memories home with us across the water.

ferry cartwheel

Our time in France may have come to a close, but our adventures together in Devon were about to begin …

on the ferry