Friday, December 22, 2006

Well folks, its only two days to Christmas and I have a huge number of things to do, presents to wrap, mince pies to bake, glasses of bubbly to drink, carols to sing, friends to see, etc etc etc; So I am declaring the next week a blogging free zone, and instead of my usual reading and ranting and whilst filled with the feelings of peace and harmony appropriate to the season I will leave you with this excellent recipe for Smoking Bishop. I always have a big bowl of it ready to drink late on Christmas Eve when family and friends come back from Midnight Mass chilly but happy and needing something very cheering before bed. This had been a tradition of ours for many years, the recipe coming from a great aunt,imagine his surprise when re-reading Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", my DH came across a reference to Smoking Bishop. It comes right at the end of the tale, when Ebenezer Scrooge has seen the error of his ways - "A Merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!"


Makes 12 glasses

2 large unwaxed lemons (or 3 Seville oranges)

8 cloves
1 ½ bottles inexpensive port
50g sugar
550ml water
½ teaspoon mixed spice

Pre-heat oven to 180°C

Stick the cloves into one lemon, place it in a baking dish and roast it in the oven until it is soft, collapsing and starting to go brown – about 30 minutes.
Put the sugar and juice of the other lemon into a large heat-proof glass or ceramic serving bowl.
Pour the port into a large saucepan and bring it almost to the boil. DO NOT LET IT BOIL.
In another saucepan bring the water with the spice to the boil. Add the boiling spicy water to the hot port, and pour the whole lot into the serving bowl. Add the roasted lemon, stir and serve as hot as possible.

I wish you all a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas, and hope to see you again in 2007 !

Monday, December 18, 2006

NOW THAT WE ARE OFFICIALLY THE MOST SPIED ON NATION IN THE WORLD I do hope that someone is watching me and noticing that I really need a week or two of total peace and quiet, preferably in a sunny climate with my every need catered for...otherwise I might become a danger to the public.

Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud is the story of a journey of self-discovery and faith written by a friend of ours, Sun Shuyun. Sun grew up in central China during the Cultural Revolution, but her paternal grandmother to whom she was close had never lost her Buddhist faith, and told her the story of Xuanzang a Buddhist monk who was the inspiration for the monk in the Chinese classic 'The Monkey King'. When Sun arrived in Oxford many years later she discovered that Xuanzang had really existed and determined to find out all she could about him. Eventually she decided to retrace his epic journey from Xian in China all the way to India and back - the journey Xuanzang had made to find true Buddhism. Ten Thousand Miles without a Cloud is the story of her travels, through China past and present, to find her own soul. It is an intensely moving and spiritual book, and at the same time a vivid account of the landscapes and people she meets along the way.


Whether you were for or against the war on Iraq (and I was vehemently against for reasons I won’t go into now), it is inexcusable that our military personnel were sent into a theatre of war without the equipment needed. Enhanced Combat Body Armour is a basic protective flak jacket, and is an essential piece of kit for soldiers

It is totally outrageous that the reason the soldiers in Iraq didn’t have the basic equipment was a political decision. Politicians decided to send our troops into conflict, and then decided not to let them have the basic equipment because if they did have it, it might have political implications for them (the politicians). The Secretary of State at the time, Geoff Hoon, delayed the decision to supply the requested equipment for 8 weeks – although it was available – because government advisors didn’t want to make it obvious that Britain was about to go to war. As a result Sergeant Steve Roberts, on active duty in Iraq, was ordered to hand over his ECBA jacket for another soldier to use as there were not enough to go round. This left him unprotected and he was killed by a shot that the jacket would have deflected. I hold our Government totally responsible for his death. It is unforgivable, and my heart goes out to his wife and family.

Millions of Britons will be shocked and appalled by this, and we will NOT forget. Eventually there will be elections, and then we must show them how truly despicable we consider this behaviour by our politicians.


For the past week I have been suffering from the most ghastly fluey cold which has turned into a horrible cough, so Christmas preparations have taken a nose-dive (ha ha). Tomorrow I must get myself going again and I thought I'd start with two prepare ahead recipes. B is for Bread Sauce and Brandy Butter. The Brandy Butter will keep well in the fridge for ages - providing I cover it with clingfilm and put a label on it threatening immediate death to anyone who decides to "test " it. In the past a whole bowl of the stuff has mysteriously disappeared before Christmas Day so I ended up making a fresh batch at the last minute. The Bread Sauce can be made one or two days ahead and kept in the fridge and then reheated on the day with a slurp of cream and knob of butter stirred in at the last moment. I suppose you could freeze it, but I never have.


150g fresh white breadcrumbs
(use day-old loaf of good bread, and do NOT use horrible sliced white bread which tends to go all slimey)
1 large peeled onion

6-7 cloves

1 bayleaf
6-7 peppercorns
2-3 pieces of blade mace

600ml milk

60g butter

3 tablespoons double cream

Salt to taste

Cut the onion in half and stick the cloves in to it. Put the onion, mace, bayleaf and peppercorns into a saucepan and pour the milk over them. Bring to boiling point then remove from the heat, cover the pan and let the milk infuse for a couple of hours at room temperature. When the milk has infused long enough, use a slotted spoon to remove the onion and flavourings from it and put them on one side, and then add the breadcrumbs with half the butter. Give it a good stir and place the pan over a very, very low heat; stir every so often while the breadcrumbs swell up and start thickening the milk - this takes 10-15 minutes. Put the onion back into the sauce, and tip into a bowl . The sauce can now be kept in the fridge until half an hour before you serve the meal. At that time tip the sauce back into a pan, remove the onion, heat gently and beat in the second half of the butter and the double cream. Put into a pre-heated sauce boat to serve.


175g unsalted butter - room temperature

125g icing sugar

2 tablespoons caster sugar

6 tablespoons brandy

Beat the butter and icing sugar together until light and fluffy, stir in the caster sugar, then beat in the brandy little by little. Taste to check there is enough brandy - if not, add more! Put directly into a serving bowl, cover with clingfilm and store in the fridge until needed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

CHRISTMAS SEEMS TO BE RUSHING TOWARDS US like an express train, and I don't seem to have got a grip on the situation. There are still presents to be bought and everything to be wrapped, cards to be posted, tree to be installed and decorated, mince pies to be made and most importantly, a turkey to be ordered from the butcher.... how did I let myself get burdened with all this stuff? Next year I'm going minimalist, and reining in all the excess and the family can like it or lump it.


In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar is his first book and was short listed for the Booker Prize this year. Set in Libya in 1979 this story is told through the eyes of nine year old Suleiman, but is narrated by his grown-up self, a voice that never quite convinced me and at times seemed downright clumsy and artificial.
Suleiman is the only child of his parents, a businessman father who is often away, and his unhappy mother who has become a secret alcoholic. They are comfortably off and live in a new development of houses in Tripoli. When his mother has been drinking her “medicine” as Suleiman calls the grappa she obtains illicitly, she tells him stories of her childhood. How when she was fourteen she was seen with a group of other adolescents having coffee together after school and reported to her family, resulting in a severe beating, being locked up for a month and then forced to
marry Suleiman’s father who is 13 years her senior, Suleiman was born 9 months later when she was only 15. The relationship between mother and son is extremely fragile, he is adored by her, but is a constant reminder of how the life she had hoped to have was taken away from her.
One day Suleiman sees his father in the centre of Tripoli when he is supposed to be abroad, and cannot understand what he is doing as his father has told them he is abroad on business.
There is a growing swell of resistance to the harsh realities of life under Muammar Ghaddafi, and many students and others are involved in secret attempts to oppose his government. In the summer of 1979 his regime cracks down on anyone suspected of being linked to opposition, and the father of Suleiman’s closest friend is arrested and taken away, and shortly afterwards Suleiman’s own father is also arrested, some of his business trips have been a cover for organising the dissidents. Those who have been arrested and tortured a made to give public confessions on television, public executions are held in Tripoli’s main sports stadium in front of immense crowds of cheering and jeering Libyans. These hangings are also televised in order to frighten and subdue the population. Given his age and the fact that none of the adults in his life explain things to him, Suleiman cannot fathom what is going on, and often misunderstands what he sees and hears. In his confusion he becomes angry and distressed, especially after he sees his friend’s father hanged, and yet his own father, who has been badly beaten and tortured is returned to the family home a broken man.

In totalitarian regimes there is always a price to be paid by the family for the actions of a dissident, and Suleiman pays it by being sent out of harm’s way to stay with friends in Egypt where he grows up, whilst his parents have to remain in Libya. I thought the title was extremely apt; Libya is a nation entirely ruled by one man and his henchmen, and even on a personal level families in Libyan society are totally ruled by the menfolk, and all life revolves around them.
As a piece of writing, this book is very patchy and Matar is far from a mature author, in fact I am surprised it made it onto the Booker short list; however it is worth reading for the portrait it paints of life in a country of which we know relatively little.

Polyglot is one of the words often used to describe London, and I would certainly agree. In the east end Youth Court where I sit regularly we see people who speak many different languages, and if their ability to speak English is poor or non-existant we have a duty under the Human Rights Act to ensure they are provided with a translator. I have often wondered how much this provision must be costing the justice system. Translators are paid around £75 per half day, and frequently the work involved only takes ten or fifteen minutes. some of the languages for which I have recently seen translators provided in our court are Romanian, Turkish, Bengali, Serbo-croat, Lingala, Somali. I presume that the same situation applies in hospitals, surgeries, clinics, local housing departments and so on. It must be costing us a fortune. Now I don't expect everyone who is visiting London, or who has just come to live in London to speak English fluently if at all. What I do get fed up about is the large number of people who have lived here for years, and who may have become British citizens, who have not learnt to speak it. At long last the government is making noises about how much translation services are costing the nation. If there was a requirement for British residents to pass a basic English exam before being granted citizenship and the money used on some of the translation services was spent on intensive compulsory English language classes, I for one would be much happier.

Tonight we're having Bobotie for supper - and for anyone who doesn't know, Bobotie is a Cape Malay dish dating back to the 18th century, and it is practically the national dish of South Africa. You will be served it all over the country in homes and restaurants. I made this yesterday as I am going off to meetings this afternoon and then on to my Bookclub in the evening, so I needed something easy that I could leave for the rest of the family to eat. I know that there must be a zillion recipes for Bobotie in the blogosphere, but this one is excellent, I've made it for umpteen years. BTW Bobotie is pronounced "Boh-boor-tea"


Pre-heat oven to 180° C Serves 6-8

1 Kg minced beef or lamb
25ml oil
12.5ml butter
2 medium onions, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon curry powder
10ml spoon Tumeric
25ml smooth Apricot Jam
3 thickish slices crustless white bread
3 eggs
375ml milk
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
3 Bay leaves (my recipe called for Lime leaves but I don't have them)
Salt + Black Pepper

Flaked almonds (optional)

For the Topping: 2 eggs + 180ml milk

Sauté onions in the oil and butter, add the chopped garlic and grated ginger and cook for a few minutes until the onions are translucent. Stir in the curry powder and turmeric, add the minced meat and brown it, breaking it up with a fork.

Soak the bread in cold water. Beat the eggs with the milk and add the lemon juice and rind. Squeeze all the water from the bread and crumble it into the milk and egg mixture. Once the meat is well browned add the bread and milk mixture together with the apricot jam. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. If you find the curry flavour too mild, stir in 5ml curry paste.

Spoon into a well buttered oven dish and push the bay leaves into the bobotie. Bake at 180°C for 30 mins.

For the topping, beat 2 eggs with 180ml milk and pour over the top of the Bobotie. Bake for a further 30 mins.

Serve with yellow rice, chutney and tomato and onion sambal.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

HOW COME THERE ARE ONLY 24 HOURS in a day, right at the moment I could use an extra 5 or 6. At least we should have the option, don't you think?


The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell

The six Mitford sisters were born into an aristocratic English family between 1904 and 1920. They had an unconventional, some might say eccentric, childhood and adolescence with no formal education of any kind but all grew up to be well known as individuals. Nancy, the eldest, was a highly regarded biographer of Madame de Pompadour and Louis IVX, who spent the later half of her life living in Paris; she also wrote wonderfully sharp and witty novels and articles on English manners and mores, and coined the phrase "U and Non-U".

Pamela the most domesticated of them all, was the sister with whom John Betjeman fell in love. Diana was the elegant beauty, who first married a member of the Guiness family, and then fell in love with and married Sir Oswald Mosley M.P., leader of the British Union of Fascists, she became a figure of hate, imprisoned during WWII for supporting the BUF. The middle daughter, Unity, an unstable young woman who went to Germany in the 1930s, was in love with Hitler and totally obsessed with Nazism. When war was declared she shot herself in the head and survived handicapped for several years. Next in line was Jessica - always known as Decca - who eloped at 19 and went off to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War where her husband was killed. She then married an American,

became a member of the Communist Party and was active in the Civil Rights movement in the USA; she too, like her sister Nancy, became a writer of some reknown. Finally there was the beautiful Deborah who married the Duke of Devonshire and became chatelaine of Chatsworth, one of the greatest houses in England.

Now widowed, she lives in an old Rectory and is famous for keeping hens amongst other things.

Their lives have been covered partially and individually several times by other writers, but Mary Lovell has managed to write about them in the context of their sisterhood, yet gives a clear picture of each of these rather extraordinary women. An absolutely fascinating read about a fascinating family of women.


What is the problem with the British Transport Police? they seem to have had collective common-sense failure, or maybe they are just being badly trained. Of course it could be that some members of BTP are right little dictators and love the power rush they get from officiously hassling people.
A few weeks ago the Director of the Institute of Engineers,Tom Foulkes -a former Brigadier who used to work at the Ministry of Defence, was arrested when bording Eurostar en route to a business meeting in Paris. His crime? at the bottom of his briefcase was a
Swiss Army Card*.

He was charged with carrying an offensive weapon.

Today, a lawyer who plays cricket as a hobby, was stopped at Belsize Park tube station
by a member of the BTP. His crime, carrying an offensive weapon. What offensive weapon was that? a cricket ball. A CRICKET BALL - for crying in a bucket. Apparently a spokesman for British Transport Police said: "What if the ball was dropped and hit an old lady further down the escalator? “We would advise passengers to be careful, both for themselves and other people at this busy time."

Now I carry a lot of heavy stuff. My handbag, which seems to contain everything bar the kitchen sink, is a prime example. What if I dropped it on the escalator and hit an old lady,

or, scary thought, what if I took leave of my senses and used it as a cosh and smashed some cretin of a BTP officer over the head? My handbag obviously falls within their definition of an offensive weapon - I await my arrest.

* Just in case Santa is reading this blog rant, here's a wee hint - I wouldn't mind one of these in my stocking this year, it would be so useful and I believe it is available in a variety of fashionable colours.


Friends coming for supper tomorrow evening and I have a busy day, so I'm making the starter tonight; as I know them quite well I know they will all eat mushrooms, this is not a recipe to make for non-fungi eaters! When my darling daughter was little she wouldn't touch them, I think the texture put her off; now she has become a real foodie and eats absolutely everything. This is a dish I love, in fact, left to my own devices I could scoff the whole lot! The recipe comes from a famous Jewish cookery writer, the late Evelyn Rose, via her eldest son with whom my DH and I shared a house many years ago.


Serves 6-8

750g mushrooms – choose medium/small closed-cap
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons sunflower oil
6 Tablespoons water
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons wine vinegar, white or red
2 teaspoons tomato purée
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 large Bay leaf
15-20 coriander seeds, roughly crushed
12-15 peppercorns, roughly crushed
10 grinds of black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or a large pinch of dried thyme

Wipe the mushrooms clean, if very small leave them whole, cut in half if medium sized, and quarter if bigger.

Put all other ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Uncover, put all the mushrooms into the pan and spoon the liquid over them, cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes. The mushrooms will shrink in size and produce a lot of liquid.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms from the sauce and place in a serving dish.

Bring the liquid up to the boil over a high heat and cook until it is reduced by ¾ and has become quite thick and syrupy. Pour over the mushrooms and leave overnight to marinate.

Serve as a starter with warm Pitta bread, or as part of a salad buffet.