Friday, May 23, 2014

Reasons to be Cheerful...

Roses, being fearless and scents in the air

1.  My garden is suddenly bursting to life; the honeysuckle and clematis fighting for space and at night the unmistakeable sweet, sweet smell of my jasmine that hasn't flowered for the last two years...In amongst all the greenery a swathe of yellow climbing roses that nod their full-blown petals in delight.

2.  A child tells me that she wants to thank me for helping her not to be fearful of life.  What a joy and privilege.

3.  As I wander up the hill in the early evening light, the scents of the earth, released by a sudden downpour earlier, assail me.  I pick up hints of lavender, heady roses, box hedge and other sweet blossoms that I can't quite identify.  It makes the meeting I'm heading to, and slightly dreading, a little easier.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dish of the Day - Shakshuka

I recently came across a recipe for a dish called Shakshuka which is a North African dish that is ideal for a brunch or light supper.  Traditionally made with a thick, chunky and spicy tomato sauce, the beauty of this dish is it's versatility.  You can add preserved lemon, feta, different vegetables, it's your choice.  On the top you crack some eggs and this was the winner for me as I love eggs in every guise.  So...

Green Shakshuka

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced or micro-planed
1 spicy pepper (any variety would work here), sliced
1 bunch of swiss chard, cut into 1/2 inch ribbons
1 cup spinach (tightly packed)
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin 
Salt and pepper, to season
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 375°F.
Over medium heat, warm the olive oil to a 9-inch cast iron skillet. Add the sliced leeks and celery. Cook until leeks soften, about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and sliced spicy pepper, and sauté for another 3 minutes. Toss in the swiss chard, spinach, oregano and cumin. Season to taste with salt and pepper (make sure not to over-salt the mixture, the feta adds saltiness as well).
Once the swiss chard and spinach have wilted, scrape down the sides, and pat down the mixture. Sprinkle the crumbled feta over the greens mixture and carefully crack the eggs over the top, one at a time and spaced slightly apart. Add some more freshly ground black pepper.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 7 to 10 minutes (longer if you prefer your eggs cooked more, or less time for runnier eggs). Serve immediately with fresh crusty bread. 

You can be creative with the cheese you add - maybe mozarella, a goat cheese or even a blue cheese like gorgonzola.  

Here is a tutorial from the wonderful Yotam Ottolenghis with his more traditional version of Shakshuka.

Images: 1/2

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Five Top Hot Lip Balms

I am rarely without a lip balm.  If I find myself sans balm it's enough to induce a feeling of mild panic!  I have tried so many different balms; some are too sticky, others not moisturising enough.  The best will nourish and give a light gloss and some even have an in-built tint, killing two birds with one stone.  Anyway, we all have our favourites and here are my top five recommendations...

1. Eve Lom's Kiss Mix has long been a favourite of mine.  It goes on smoothly and doesn't leave a sticky residue.  It has a slightly pharmaceutical smell to it too, which makes you feel it must be doing some good!

2. Lanolips is one of my newer purchases.  It looks like a lip-gloss and comes either as a neutral balm or tinted with a variety of berry colours.  My favourite is rose, a slight tint that just stains the lips.

3. Now Burt's Bees isn't my favourite but it works well, leaving lips feeling moisturised and it's all natural too, which is always a consideration.

4. I guess Elizabeth Arden's Eight Hour Lip repair cream speaks for itself!  Part of the infamous Eight Hour range, I use this every night before I go to sleep.  It has a wonderful eucalyptus scent and leaves a very subtle sheen. 

5.What can I say!  Good old Vaseline - I know, I know, petroleum...BUT it works.  It goes on smoothly, not too sticky, gives a subtle sheen and comes in a variety of shades and flavours.  I have a different one in every bag I own and couldn't be without it.

So, those are the balms I'm loving right now.  What about you? Which balms do you use and recommend? I'd love to hear...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Books by my Bedside

For months I've hardly even picked up a book, never mind read it...couldn't concentrate; too much else going on that took up all my brain space...but just recently, maybe, just maybe, I've begun to find the joy in words again.  I  hope so.  Anyway, the books that have lured me back had to have been pretty special to block out everything else.  I'm a sucker for a brilliant storyline.  Is it just me, or are good stories just hard to find these days?  I need to be completely transported and forget where I am - that's the litmus test of a good book for me.  I rarely just have one book on the go - often I have two or three. So, to my first choice..Louise Doughty's Apple Tree Yard.

 If ever there was a story that would occupy all your thinking room, this is it.  I've read some of her other books, but none drew me in as this did.  Politics, genetics, sex, murder - it has it all.  The characters are completely believable and being set in London, for me anyway, I knew all the places she was talking about.  I read this in one sitting. Or actually, lying down, in bed.  I started it at 7am and finished it by lunch.  Without so much as a tea-break.

Next up is The State We're In by Adele Parks.  I've read quite a few of Parks' books and always enjoyed them.  The plots are weighty enough to be satisfying, but not so demanding that it's exhausting.  Her latest offering follows two characters Dean and Jo as they meet on a plane to New York.  Both are dealing with difficult lives, loves and families.  Jo is in search of her eternal soul-mate and has decided that her ex is really 'the one' and is heading for a showdown as he prepares to marry someone else.  Dean is a defensive, cynical business man and unlikely tho' it seems, they find out that they have more in common than they'd thought.  It's a light read, but perfect for when you don't want to try too hard.

I've been a fan of Chris Evans for a long, long time.  TV shows, radio shows, through the ups (and several downs) of his career and now drive happily to work listening to his latest breakfast show on R2.  So just how did the cheeky chap from a council estate in Warrington become so successful.  If you're curious then his two autobiographies Memoirs of a Fruitcake and It's Not What You Think are a must.  Candid and compelling, he takes you through his early life, his first marriage, through to Billie Piper and his now wife Natasha.  He is honest about his weaknesses and excesses, his successes and his failures.  It's a good insight into a life that is certainly never dull.  As a complete aside, his pub in Chiddingfold, Surrey, called The Mulberry Inn is definitely worth a visit if you're in the area - the best Sunday lunch I've had in an age!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Reasons to be cheerful...

Feather sofas, friendship and sunshine.

1.  To arrive home tired and grouchy, to find the cleaner has been.  Shirts are ironed, floors are clean and the whole house smells fresh.  Even better, the feather filled sofas have been plumped and they wrap themselves around me comfortingly when I finally sit down.

2.  To get an unexpected message from a bestest friend on the far side of the world, with a promise to skype later on.

3.  Watching the green, green branches and leaves outside my office window as they tap and dance in the breezy afternoon.  The late sun glances off the bark and creates a lime glow that bathes my desk and chair; my back is warm and the weekend is nearly here.