Not just cheese

There can be few people in the world who haven’t heard of Cheddar… but most of them will think of cheese! Cheddar is home of the cheese, which has been made in the area for at least a thousand years. if you asked all the people who know the cheese, if they know anything else about Cheddar, they will probably say Cheddar Gorge, the deepest gorge in the UK, and at its deepest nearly 450 feet from the dizzy heights to the bottom!

However, there is also a town of Cheddar, a very old Somerset town; apart from the fact that human remains dating back nearly ten thousand years have been found, people have always lived in the area, and the Romans when they arrived, had various farms and settlements nearby.

During the Saxon times, the people who gave the place its name , from ceodor meaning a deep dark place, it was a place of some significance and royal palaces were built there. Saxon palaces would not look much like our modern understanding of such a building, it would have been a wooden structure, a great hall,  with a thatched roof, and would have had outbuildings and defensive features no doubt.

During the middle ages, Cheddar became an important and quite wealthy place, there were up to thirteen water powered mills grinding corn and other grain, and later making paper.

Now if you visit the actual town of cheddar, you’ll find it an interesting and lively place with plenty going on, but many, many interesting buildings going  back into the town’s history.

CHEDDAR TOWN 29.02 (10) Look at this lovely and elegant house.

CHEDDAR TOWN 29.02 (15)St Andrew’s church has some most interesting features, inside and out – it dates back to the fourteenth century.

My featured image is of the market cross, which dates from the fifteenth century; over the years it has suffered accidental damage, most recently when a taxi drove into it because the driver sneezed!

Not quite up to the mark…

I’ve mentioned the little National Mark Calendar of Cooking several times; a booklet of recipes produced by the Ministry of Agriculture through their National Mark scheme to raise the quality and standards of an promote British produce, fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and fish…

Considering it was written nearly ninety years ago, it is remarkably current, and many of the recipes which i have tried are very good, work well, are economical and tasty. Some have not been as successful, and some I think probably are so out of fashion and out of our present taste that I can’t imagine many people even trying them.

I like chicken, and I don’t mind spinach… but look at this recipe… What do you think? Apparently, it is rather an amusing way of presenting a boiled fowl… are you amused?

Boiled Fowl with Spinach

  • National Mark boiling fowl
  • spinach
  • white sauce
  • 1 National Mark egg
  • butter
  1. boil the fowl
  2. cut it up and cook for a few minutes longer in a little butter
  3. drain the portions very carefully and lay them in a dish
  4. pour over them some good white sauce flavoured and coloured with spinach (boiled and then drained and passed through a hair sieve, if not a cloth)
  5. You could garnish the dish with rounds of hot, hard-boiled egg

Entertainment on the Train

I have just bought a book, an e-book – which isn’t unusual, but what is unusual is that it is written by a friend of mine! He is Richard Kefford, and I have read several of his stories, and honestly, I’m envious of how good a writer he is, how original, and what different experiences he brings to what he writes!

In case you were thinking I was going to read it on a train, well, I may, but in fact, that is the title… “Entertainment on the Train: 25 Stories for you while travelling”. It’s only just published, and I’ve only just bought it so I will review it properly later… but can’t wait to plunge in!

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Entertainment-Train-Stories-while-travelling-ebook/dp/B01CBJ1UEW/ref=sr_1_1_twi_kin_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1456767599&sr=1-1&keywords=richard+kefford

A little exerpt

As I’ve mentioned several – no, many times, many, many times, I am editing my next eBook to be published, ‘Lucky Portbraddon’. it’s a complicated – and at the moment very long novel about the Portbraddon family.

I thought I would share a rather risqué excerpt with you…

Ismène, a friend of the Portbraddon family, has been commissioned by them to work on their grandmother’s papers and to sort out seventy years worth of memoirs, letters,  diaries, a family tree, recipes and receipts, and much more. She is working in the big house belonging to one of the old lady’s grandson’s Alex, and his wife Ally. They have an au pair, who looks after the children, and on her first day ‘at work’, Ismène is trying to work out how to undertake the massive task she has been given.

So…The first thing was to read and sort; and then what? Perhaps a coffee was needed after all.

She opened the door at exactly the same time as Silky emerged from the sitting room opposite. Ismène was about to call a greeting but there was something so furtive in the young woman’s behaviour that she remained silent. Silky didn’t see her in her in her rush to get upstairs; she was clutching something to her as she dashed up the stairs… a slam of a door and then silence.

How mysterious! Then it seemed Silky’s hurry was suspicious rather than mysterious – as if to get upstairs before anyone saw her. What had she been doing in the sitting room? What was she clutching so furtively? Ismène stood indecisively. Should she follow Silky? She crossed the hall and went into the sitting room.

Alex was there, slumped back on a couch; he was wearing a dressing gown but was obviously naked beneath, it scarcely covered his hairy chest and legs. He stared back at her, his eyes heavy lidded and knowing, his lips red and full. His hair was tousled and curling round his face. In silence they looked at each other; he blinked slowly, languidly, the only movement the rise and fall of his naked chest. He looked replete, sated.

While Ally took his children to school, Alex was having sex with the au pair…

Ismène said not a word but withdrew, pulling the door quietly closed. She returned to the study and sat at her desk. She looked at the nearest crate and took out a book at random. A diary. 1963. She opened it but although her eyes travelled across the lines of small neat copperplate handwriting she read not a single word.

She was shocked, horrified, and actually very angry… and she was waiting for Alex to come in, to make some comment, some excuse; to explain  what needed no explanation. Minutes before she’d entered the room, Alex and Silky had been making love – except it wasn’t love. He was unfaithful to his wife, with a girl younger than his own son.

I don’t often write ‘intimate’ scenes – and this is only alluded to… but it has huge significance on what follows!

If you haven’t read any of my other books, here is a link… however, there aren’t any similar scenes in any of them!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

Rather a splendid evening!

Last night I went to a venue in Bristol I hadn’t visited before, the very intimate and cosy little theatre at the Alma Tavern. I went to see a favourite performer, Kevin Montgomery, a man not only of talent, but an impeccable musical heritage – oh and a great guy too!

Kevin’s father, Bob, to whom he often refers during his shows, was born in 1937, and sadly died last year at the age of seventy-seven. Bob’s best friend from school, and a man with whom he wrote many well-known songs, was Buddy Holly – they actually sang together as ‘Buddy and Bob’ and had a weekly radio programme. Some of the songs from those days which Bob wrote with Buddy were ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Wishing’ and ‘Love’s Made a Fool of You’. Bob also wrote ‘Misty Blue’ and ‘Back in Baby’s Arms’ which patsy Cline made famous. Bob went on to become a record producer, and perhaps his most well-known hit in this country is ‘Honey’ sung by Bobby Goldsborough… I had the honour of meeting Bob’s wife, Kevin’s mother once, and had quite a long and pleasantly ordinary conversation with her; she is a remarkable person and was a backing singer for many of the ‘greats’, including Elvis Presley, Jimmy Buffett, Dolly Parton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan and Marie Osmond.

Anyway… back to the Alma Theatre, a tiny venue – for an audience of about sixty. I bought tickets for the show as soon as it was announced, and lucky I did because they soon all sold out… if you want to see Kevin you have to snap up the tickets quickly!

Kevin came onto the stage… stage in the loosest possible terms, a small area at the front of the seats! I was in a perfect position, in the second row and head a perfect view of Kevin and his guitarist, the very talented Sean Snook. Kevin performed many old favourites, and new numbers too, and we were treated to his wonderful, rambling but funny stories about all sorts of things, from life on the road, to the inspiration of songs, to memories of his dad. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of singing along, a lot of nostalgic and moving moments, and it was just brilliant!!!

This is from a house concert… a great favourite, Tennessee Girl…

http://www.kevinmontgomery.com/

http://www.alancackett.com/bob-montgomery-obituary

Icing

I  love making cakes, in fact, I probably like making cakes more than eating them. The first cake I can remember making completely on my own was a coffee and walnut cake I made when I was about nineteen and a student living in the worst, filthiest, most disgusting rented accommodation you can imagine. Instead of a proper food cupboard there was a sort of tall bureau with a lid which let down and on which I guess you were supposed to write your letters and see to your accounts. This however, was the work surface on which we (the three of us) had to prepare our food.

On the occasion that I made this cake – I think it was on this occasion, I opened the bureau and a mouse jumped out… Yes, it was that sort of accommodation… Oh the good old days of student life before fancy flats and halls or residence… Anyway, I had no kitchen tools to make anything, and I used a glass casserole dish to make and cook the cake, beating the mixture with a fork. I had finished making it and the last thing to add was the walnuts – and I realised they were in halves not pieces… I think I broke up each walnut half with my hands, saving some to put on the top as decoration. I can’t honestly say I remember that cake, but it must have been ok because I’ve been making cakes regularly ever since!

By the way, my featured image is of me at that age, with the friends I shared the ‘flat’ with – here I think we are serving spaghetti Bolognese – having had a disaster when someone tried to cook in a Pyrex dish on a gas cooker… glass on top of flame… it’s a miracle no-one was hurt…

I’ve made large cakes such as those for our children’s naming days,, my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday, Christmas cakes, simnel cakes, cakes big and small. Mostly they are fine, sometimes they are really good, occasionally something goes wrong but they are always edible, and nearly always enjoyed! Just recently I’ve had great success with gluten-free flour; everything I’ve made so far has come out wonderfully – and sometimes better than the non-gluten free flour…

However, one thing, in this whole cake-making thing that I consistently have disasters with – worse than going wrong, absolute catastrophes, is icing – mixing icing sugar with something to make a filling, topping or covering for the lovely cake or buns I’ve made.

So, on Friday, a small group from my creative writer’s group came for a get together to talk about publishing… and as one of our number, a very good and clever writer, is gluten intolerant, I made a lemon and poppy-seed cake. I thought it would be lovely with a sour frosting, so looked up a recipe using crème fraiche which I happened to have in the fridge… To use a cliché, which I always urge my writers to avoid, it was an unmitigated disaster… I won’t go into the sad details, it’s enough to say i was left with over a pint of runny gloop and no icing sugar, none at all out of the new packet I had opened, to dust the cake…

later, looking at the pint of gloop, which actually tasted very nice, I was reluctant to just throw it away, to waste it… My husband suggested I tried to reduce it by boiling it… but that wouldn’t work… but wait a minute…!!! I had mixed sugar, butter, crème fraiche and lemon zest, maybe I could make a sort of fudge by boiling it down… and that is what I did! it is actually more like an adhesive which welds your teeth together and your mouth shut, but… at least I’ve not wasted it!

here’s the recipe I used for the gluten-free lemon cake:

  • 4 oz butter
  • 5 oz gluten-free self-raising flour
  • 5 oz caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsps lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp lemon essence (best quality)
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds (or more if you love them)
  1. beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy, and light and fluffy
  2. add  the eggs, lemon juice, zest and mix thoroughly
  3. add the flour and poppy seeds
  4. our into a buttered and  lined 1lb loaf tin.
  5. bake in a preheated oven for 40/45 minutes or until sponge springs back when touched – I had to cover mine with a piece of foil for the last ten minutes so it didn’t get too brown on the top
  6. leave to cool an a cake rack
  7. if you have a fabulous and fool-proof recipe for lemon frosting or icing, make it and apply to the cake when completely cool!

Just love this…

Seeing Kevin Montgomery tonight in Bristol… will he play this favourite? This is a very old recording, and times have changed a great deal for both Kevin and Robert who is singing here with him… I feel a little sad as I watch and listen to them… but seeing Kevin later will cheer me up!!