Sunday, 25 September 2011

A (Molly) Coddled Egg is a tasty egg

I have recently purchased a pair of egg coddlers. Three weeks ago, I didn't even know what such an object was, but have jumped on the Vintage band wagon and started collecting mismatched cups and saucers, for making jellies and housing small plants. Ironically, I've recently got the living room looking quite themed and now I'm going for completely uncoordinated stuff (think it's a rebellion against uniformity or something). Anyway, heard that all the chicest vintage tea party eggs are cooked in coddlers these days, so decided to get one and try it out. Apparently they've been around since the 1800s, and the principle is similar to poaching- just in pretty little porcelain pots with silver tops.

The word "coddle" has been around since about 1598 and means "to boil gently", and this then led to the term "mollycoddle"- which means "to treat with an obsessive and absurd degree of indulgence and attention". Dictionary definitions of a mollycoddled individual have included "sissy", "pampered weakling" and "pathetic, ineffectual man" (Watch out Stephen Fry, I can do old fashioned words too). As a mother I have to suppress my quite strong urge to mollycoddle my child, but I figured that as an egg was going to be eaten anyway it didn't matter if it became a bit of a pathetic weakling, unable to live in the big wide world. At last I could totally smother something without the fear of it being bullied at school the next day.  

Anyway, here's how you coddle an egg. It's very easy, quite delicious, and makes you feel a little bit like a proper cook from the past. 

  • Boil some water in a pan
  • Butter the inside of the coddler and the inside of the lid 
  • Break the egg into the cup and season. You can also add other ingredients like cheese and bacon, which will come out in a little eggy parcel.
  • Screw the lid on and stand the coddler upright, with the water level halfway up.
  • Simmer for about 5 mins. 
  • You can eat them straight from the coddler with a spoon or arrange them artistically on top of something savoury

    Oh.. apparently there's this thing called Health and Safety that means I should tell people not to put the coddler WITH ITS METAL LID in the microwave...but you wouldn't do that anyway would you? Nope, thought not.

    You can buy coddlers in antique shops, car boots or on that online auction site I'm not allowed to mention. Mine cost 99p for the pair and are allegedly antiques (I would get them checked out but am a bit worried I'll be laughed out of the shop- they look a bit 70's to me). I think they taste better than poached, and they don't take any more time, so if you like eggs, and have an urge to obsess over something, my advice is give it a go.

    Saturday, 24 September 2011

    A Nightmare on Cambridge Street

    Ever tried to give eye ointment to a kitten? If you like impossible challenges and stomach churning gore, it may be for you. If not, don't even think about it.

    Three days ago, Lily, our four month old kitten, appeared on my lap looking like she was auditioning for a horror film, with a grotesquely swollen, bloody right eye. I won't go into details here because people will have come on thinking they're about to read something about food, but it was enough to take her immediately to the vets. He thought it was probably an infection, gave her a jab and administered some ointment. This would have been fine but I had to witness him poking, prodding, and pointing out to me what was going on inside the eye, which was one of the most repulsive things I have ever seen in my entire life. I don't do eyes.

    Despite all the probing and bunging stuff into her injured eyeball, she just sat calmly in his arms and let him do it, as he explained that we had to do the same at home twice a day. I later came to the conclusion that vets are hypnotists, and normal human beings cannot successfully give eye ointment to cats. Even with two of you, the only place that ointment is going is all over yourselves, the furniture, and possibly the ceiling. I can't say I blame her; being held down while someone pokes a plastic nozzle milimetres away from your painful eyeball cannot be a pleasant experience, but each time we tried we were beaten by her iron will and ended up shredded and desperate. By the fourth attenpt she took to hiding under the stairs for an hour, with a big lump of medicine hanging off her nose. Next day we went back to the vets and again he managed it without the slightest bit of hassle.

    The key here is clearly don't panic. I've had loads of pets over the years and spent probably thousands on pet medical bills and insurance, and have never once seen a stressed looking vet. Everyone I've ever encountered has been an oasis of calm, with an added dollop of "don't mess with me, cat". We've since attempted to take the same approach, swaddling her in a towel and just calmly, assertively going for it. She's getting better.

    But I'm still never going to be able to look at an eyeball ever again.

    Tuesday, 20 September 2011

    A serious post for a change- No Child Born to Die

     Thanks to my friend and fellow blogger, WelshWalesMam, I've just been on the Save the Children Website to read about their new campaign,  No Child Born to Die. Every year, 8 million children under 5 in the world's poorest countries die because of they do not have access to healthcare. I know it can seem like we are bombarded with such stories and in times of financial pressure it's easy to become de sensitised- but just think about that for a moment. No matter how bad things get for us here, we still have access to healthcare for us and our children. For those born into poverty, that basic right is not available.  
    My story..
    At age 6 I started coming home from school with different shaped and coloured bruises on my head. Upon further investigation it transpired that I was blacking out;  running along fine one minute, then going into a dream state and tripping up the next. Some days I’d be out cold for 10 minutes before coming to in the middle of the playground, dazed and confused. It was slightly alarming that nobody had paid any attention to my strange behaviour and egg shaped lumps on my head before, but this was the late 1970s and Health and Safety wasn’t so high on the agenda.

    Several trips to the hospital for brain scans (complete with sticky wires all over my head, connected to a beeping machine) later I was diagnosed with epilepsy by a paediatrician who always made my visits to the children’s ward fun- he’d put by toys and books especially for me, and even put on little puppet shows to make me laugh.  If this had remained undiagnosed, I could have been hit by a car, drowned in the bath, fallen off a climbing frame..  it’s quite possible that this doctor saved my little life. Had I been born in another country, I may not have been so lucky. My little girl is off school with a bug at the moment, but I can dose her up with Calpol and I know she'll be better in a couple of days- if we lived in East Africa, it could kill her. No mother should have to live with that constant fear.

    Here’s what you can do to help:

    2.       Help @Helloitgemma and @Michelletwinmum get 100 blog posts up by Tuesday 20th September by telling your friends, retweeting and sharing.. blog posts just need to be 100 words about the positive impact a health professional has had on you or a member of your family.

    Thanks to @welshwalesmam for sharing this with me.

    Monday, 5 September 2011

    Rosie, the birthday cow pat and the embarrassed poodle

    This one was quite nice. I didn't make it. 
    Soon, it will be Rosie's 9th birthday, and I expect I will bake a cake. Recent additions to my baking repetoire suggest that this year the cake may turn out ok, but previous years have not gone so well.

    I don't remember doing much baking for her first birthday, as she was only capable of eating mush and my cakes have always required an invincible set of teeth. Birthday number 2 was more memorable. My mother in law had given me an Australian birthday cake book, full of elaborate baked goods in the shape of castles, planes and football pitches, all cemented together with multi coloured buttercream and bejewelled with sweets.

    Apparently the designs, although impressively complex by appearance, were relatively foolproof so I embarked upon the chocolate Thomas the Tank Engine with enthusiasm. The added bonus of the cakes in this particular book are that they often don't require you to make them from scratch, and in some cases actively encourage you to use shop bought madiera cakes, swiss rolls, biscuits and chocolate fingers. The Airfix-esque approach to the instructions attracted her dad, who took charge of the construction of the engine (please don't get uppity about gender roles here, that would be silly given how generally dreadful I am at the whole domesticity thing), and he seemed to be enjoying his role in the celebrations.

    Having previously been incredibly dismissive of parents who bought their children's birthday cakes from the supermarket, it soon became evident that they probably had the right idea. By 10pm the thing still wasn't finished, and the kitchen looked like some demented teacher had decided to cross a home economics lesson with geometry- every surface was covered with cakey triangles, squares and rectangles- I think I even saw a sponge based dodecahedron at one point, but may have been hallucinating by then. Just before midnight we stood back to observe the train and it's fair to say Jane Asher didn't need to lose any sleep that night. The basic train shape was there, but the colour of the icing had a distinctly exra terrestrial glow, the jammy dodger wheels were falling off and the buttercream looked like gangrenous pus. All in all it wasn't especially appetising, but one of the best things about very small children is that they don't yet care too much about aesthetics and Rosie thought it was great- which only served to spur me on for following years. This is something she now regrets.

    Since then, we've had a luminous fairy castle with ice cream cone turrets and wine gum windows; a fire engine; a lop sided Tardis; a disfigured Spongebob Squarepants;  one very nice chocolate cake (from a supermarket- I was ill} and, last year, a giant puce cow pat. Obviously that wasn't how it had started out; it was supposed to be a delicate pink, heart shaped spongecake with raspberries on top, but the cakey biscuits/biscuity cakes phenomenon really came into its own this time. There may have been some timing and temperature issues and it's quite hard to make a heart shape out of a cow pat, although that didn't stop me trying.

    As with every other time I've made coloured icing, I overdid the food colouring- what had started out in my head as powder pink didn't translate well into reality and it ended up a sickly deep purple. The raspberries on top, which should have added that extra patisserie style glamour, just made it look even more absurd, and put me in mind of of one of those poor poodles who get dyed ridiculous colours by their owners. We always go out for dinner when it's someone's birthday, and take a cake with us, but by her 8th birthday Rosie had now become much more aware of aesthetics and embarrassment than when she was 2, and went into mild hysteria at the thought of being seen in public with something quite so, PINK. This cake could have been wonderful,  wanted to be dignified and special, but had been reduced to a laughing stock. A bit like my poor friend here...

    Add caption

    Keep calm and carry on

    This past week, while trying to make my usual disasters for your amusement, I have created one perfect chicken, leek and bacon pie, a tray of delicious flapjacks (ok, so a chimpanzee could make flapjacks) , a completely delightful red fruit and pear crumble (ok, so a chimpanzee etc etc) and a molto bene homemade pizza, complete with dainty sprigs of basil.

    For the first time in my life I have actually been disappointed that my baked offerings have been edible, and it's caused me to scratch my head and wonder what on earth is going on. The possibilities so far are:

    1. I've been abducted by aliens and replaced with a perfect housewife-this seems unlikely because I still have an airing cupboard rammed full of clothes that need ironing and my favoured method of tidying continues to be "bung things out of the way and hope nobody opens the door/looks under the bed". Think it's more likely that we watch far too much Doctor Who in this house.
    2. Sod's law- now I actually WANT to be bad at baking, I've lost my mojo
    3. Less stress brings better results- this would seem to be the most logical explanation. Now I've accepted my rubbishness with all things bakey and come to terms with the fact that I'm never going to join the W.I, I'm putting less pressure on myself. There are some situations where an element of stress can be good for you but baking isn't one of them- the more you panic, the more wrong things are likely to go. This has always been particularly true of me, and I don't cope well when the pressure's on- driving tests, exams and unprepared presentations at work have turned me into a wobbly, incoherent mess and I'm always better if I've had time to plan and stay calm.
    Chances are, there will be plenty more disasters to the meantime, however, I shall be basking in the glory of my perfect pie and polishing my halo.

    Saturday, 3 September 2011

    Depressed Sunflowers

    This is what happens to nearly all plants and flowers that come into my care:

    Could this be this the best ever representation of Van Gogh's state of mind...? I bet Brian Sewell wouldn't have thought of this.

    Friday, 2 September 2011

    There's nobody quite like Keith

    I recently bought 3 second hand Keith Floyd cookery books from a well known online book supplier that sounds like a rainforest or a big boned fighty lady. I was particularly pleased with one of them, which cost me the grand total of 70p including postage, especially when it arrived and I found it was signed by Mr Floyd himself-

    "to Jo- Jo,  love Floyd xxx" (there's also a little scribble of a wine glass next to it )

    Looking at this inscription I felt three things:
    1. Ridiculous and inappropriate excitement  (I may have sqeaked slightly)
    2. A tinge of sadness that he's not here any more, and that something so special could be sold for 2p
    3. Intrigue as to who Jo-Jo is/was, and whether she knew her book was to be posted off to a stranger In Buckinghamshire. Despite the likelihood that it was probably a 2 second meeting at a book signing, I decided that Jo Jo had been a glamorous, tousled, 40 something blonde who talked like she lived in an Agatha Christie novel and met him in a far away bar in the early 80's, where they spent the night dancing, drinking and tasting exotic food. Now, in her 70's, she lay back on silk sheets with a long cigarette and said to her handsome son (who looked remarkably like Keith) "I have no need for this book anymore, the memories of that stolen night will stay with til I die, sell it to someone fabulous who will love it forever"....
    And love it I do.

    In my humble opinion (and I accept that I'm not exactly an expert in this area) he was the best telly chef there's ever been.  I'm avoiding using the term "celebrity chef" because I remember him saying on Keith Allen's documentary, 'Keith on Keith' that he hated that phrase, and everything it stood for, and the whole idea of celebrity is quite depressing at the moment. But if we're talking about those who've had their own television programmes, it's all about Floyd for me. I really miss him.

    There are plenty of others I admire, and whose programmes I enjoy watching- Michel Roux Jr and Raymond Blanc probably my favourites at the moment, but I remember being fascinated by this brilliant, funny, charismatic and slightly bonkers man one cold, boring night in the mid 80s. Flamboyant is a word that gets over used when people talk about Keith Floyd, but with his wonky red bow tie, braces and loud, booming voice it's easy to see why they say it, and I was transfixed by him cooking on a rocking boat in Hong Kong, all flames and shouting and swigging rice wine.

    Jo-Jo's donated  book, "Far Flung Floyd" tells the story of that episode in Hong Kong, and his travels around the Far East- Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. Like him, it's funny, informative and makes you want to cook- AND feel like you can create something really impressive. That, for me, was the best thing about him- he spoke of food with passion, but was never elitist about it- he made mistakes and wasn't afraid to show them; he was a human being and his energy and enthusiasm were addictive.

    For someone like me,  he's the one telly chef who reminds me what it's all about. Cooking is about love and creativity and fun- I cook because I love it, and even if it goes wrong sometimes, nothing will stop me trying. I'm sure I'll never dish up anything anywhere near as good as he did, but as long as I have the ability to give it a go, I will.

    Thanks Jo-Jo, I love it.