Friday, April 20, 2018


I'm sitting watching Boo and Skibe sitting, crosslegged, on the living room floor, peeling protective plastic from the pieces of a model of a steam engine.  It was one of the gifts from the Gathering last weekend, and they decided this evening to put it together.
What a wonderful, lovely, sight! They're co-operating, chatting and helping each other out. 

Yours, parentally heart-swelled,

Monday, April 16, 2018


Every two years, for a little while now, I've attended a conference of mathematicians, puzzlers, juggles, sceptics, neuroscientists, magicians and other similarly fun folks.  This past weekend marked the latests such gathering, and as always it was incredibly exciting, inspiring, and fun.

Highlights included meeting lots of new people (from each of the categories listed above), learning about new puzzles (and especially the Hanayama collection) and watching amazing magicians and performers do things that are plainly impossible. 

Watch Twenty Toes.  Then tell me that she's a human.  Just impossible!
And the Smirnov quick change duo.  Likewise. 
I'm not providing links -- you have the google (or bing, or duckduckgo): use it.

Yours, not puzzled, just unsure how any of it is possible,

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Here in the wilds of the slightly rural deep south, we see raptors on a fairly regular basis.  LOML, of course, being a naturalist, is better at spotting them than me, but today a colleague came down to my office.  "N", he said, "have you seen the hawk outside?"
We went out to the stairwell of the building, and sure enough, there was a large hawk.  It sat there, occasionally changing branches, for a good hour or so.  It was completely aware of us, and completely unconcerned. 

Yours, in awe of this amazingly beautiful bird!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Big soup

I remember, growing up in Britain in the 60s and 70s, that food was beginning to change.  At some point, when I was around 7 or so, I guess, my mum took a Cordon Bleu cooking course, and got more adventurous with what she cooked.

I was then (as Skibo is now) a food sceptic.  I didn't like very many dishes, would screw up my face and make unpleasant comments, and no doubt drove my parents crazy.  Skibo, as I say, is following in my footsteps.  Unfortunately, he's too old to fall for the trick my father played when I was nine or ten: he announced a family competition to see who liked the most different foods: somehow he convinced me that it would be a prestigious competition to win, and sure enough, I declared that I liked this, that, and the other.  And of course, he rigged it so I would win.  From then on, I was open to eating most things: there are still things that I actively dislike (melons, for example!) but I'm somewhat more open to trying new foods.

For a while now, I've been attempting to recreate a soup my mother used to make: her version of minestrone.  Since it's a sense memory, and I don't have her recipe, it's been a bit of a struggle.  I have not succeeded, but I have succeeded in making a delicious soup.  It's not so much a recipe as it is a method: the two keys for me are pancetta and parmesan rind: the rest of the ingredients can be chosen and played with according to what is in season or available in the store.  The pasta should be small, so it is a feature, but not the star: and remember, pasta swells immensely when cooked.

Old age is beginning to take its toll: I went to write this recipe up after I made the soup this week, without a recipe to follow slavishly: only to discover that my other (newer) laptop already had the 
following recipe written down.  The only small difference is that this time I didn't include the potatoes, and the pasta that I used was small rings, perhaps 6-7 mm in diameter, which swelled to about twice that with loving application of heat and liquid.

This soup is not a delicate shy dish: it is a big, bold, brash, full of flavour meal.  I found one site that claimed that the name translates as "big soup": I don't think that that is quite the case, but it is descriptive, hence the title above.

This post may seem to be about food, but it's more about family.  I'm deeply grateful for the love of food that my parents helped me learn to find, and for the love of cooking that my mother sparked!

Yours, in gratitude, to two people I can no longer say thank you to,

Minestrone Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 oz pancetta, chopped small
1 medium onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 yellow squash, diced
6 small red potatoes, diced
Handful of green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
Parmesan rind
4 cups stock
Couple cups spinach or kale, chopped
Red wine vinegar
1 cup small pasta, such as orecchiette

Heat the oil in a large soup pot.  Saute the pancetta until it is beginning to crispen,
and has rendered its fat.  Add the onion, and saute for a couple of minutes.  Add the garlic,
and stir for a minute, then add the carrots, and celery.  Saute until the celery is softened.
Add the tomatoes and cannellini beans, thyme and salt and pepper to taste.
Add the squash, potatoes, green beans, parmesan rind and stock.
Bring it to a simmer, and simmer for an hour or so.  Add the chopped spinach and a splash of
red wine vinegar.
15 minutes before serving, add the pasta, making sure that the soup is at a simmer.

Serve with freshly baked bread and butter.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Blogs on hiatus

I sometimes  wonder about blogs that appear to die, for months without a post.  I'm well aware that this one has gone for stretches like that, and then I have an idea  for a post --- and either it inspires me to write several posts in quick succession, or I write one post and wait months for another.

This afternoon I was inspired to look at a blog I used to delight in reading: Syllabub: a delightful, intensively evocative, beautifully written series of posts about food and cooking.  The author is an academic, and  writes about food in an historical context as well as other topics.  I suspect that her energy for blogging died after realizing that she had to write for her job as well as for fun.  She stopped posting in 2009, and hasn't been heard of since (at least by me).  But her old posts are still there!

So now, nearly a decade since her last post, I'm delighting in re-reading her four years of erudite posts about food. 

Yours, in salivation,

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Some food experiments

This weekend, I've been playing with some things that I haven't made before. 
Yesterday, at LOML's urging, I tried my hand at pho.  I'd not had a great deal of success with Vietnamese food in the past --- the results always turned out too subtle for my tastes, and without the Asian notes that I wanted and expected.   The recipe I tried, a simplified version, used store bought beef broth rather than spending a day making a (super expensive) slow version from bones and meat.
I thought that it turned out really well: everyone loved it, and it's going in to my keeper list.  When I get a chance, I'll put up the recipe here (as always, I used several recipes online, decided what bits I liked, what I didn't, and mixed and matched).
Tonight, I made pad thai.  I'd only ever made it from packet kits before (and truth be told, to an extent I did tonight too: I used a jar of "pad thai sauce", since none of the stores in a 20 mile radius seem to stock tamarind).   It too turned out really well: Boo was skeptical, and took only a small portion to taste, then immediately returned to the kitchen to fill her plate a little better.  Skibo claimed to like it, but as is his wont these days, only ate a bit.  I'm looking forward to him developing a teenage appetite, even if it does eat us out of house and home!

Yours, with a south-east asian inspiration tonight,

Friday, January 26, 2018

Pork Pies

One of the things that I miss most about living in the US rather than the UK is food and drink.  Not that anything is necessarily better over there: but there are options that cannot be found in this country, or are hard to find.
For example, we've recently managed to find places to buy crumpets (at much less than four times the price we'd pay in the UK), and I've persuaded a brewer friend that making British style bitter is a fun thing to do (and he's produced some wonderful beer for me).
Pork pies, though, are unknown here.  So this afternoon, I embarked on a journey of at least two steps.  I made hot water pastry, I filled tins with pastry and pork, and once they were cooked, I poured pork stock into the pies to gel into aspic.

No, it wasn't a success.  I was worried about the pastry, but it turned out to actually be really good.
But the filling wasn't the nice, jelly-wrapped gentle pork goodness I'd hoped for.

But at least I'm batting .333 (to put it in a US perspective).  All I need to do is fix the rest:-)

Yours, in failing, inspired to fix the issues,

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Playing with ancestry

I've been enjoying playing with for a few years now: Boo's particularly delighted that it claims (with several dubious links) that she's Cleopatra's 63rd great grand-daughter.  She likely is, just not from the path they claim!

My favourite find so far is perhaps that I'm related to Jim Callahan, former prime minister of the UK.
How, you ask?  Oh, let me tell you:
Rt Hon Leonard James Callaghan, Baron Callaghan of Cardiff, KG is my 6th great aunt's second great niece's husband's son's wife's first cousin's husband's great niece's ex-husband's great nephew's wife's grandfather.

Yours, Feeling connected,

Sunday, January 21, 2018

And it's not just Boo!

This week, Skibo has been following in his sister's footsteps.  He's  currently in the kitchen making waffles.  Independently.  Well, largely independent: he's come through to ask where the salt is (and then, finding several different types, to ask which sort to use).
He's making a mess, and he's yet to learn how to clean up all his bowls and jugs and spoons and whisks, but that will come with time. 
The big thing is that he's cooking!

Yours, celebrating this new thing in the New Year,