Cooking with a Girl Called Jack – Soda Bread

This is my first attempt at Soda Bread.Image

 

Looking Good. Thank you Jack.

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Cooking with Jack – Sausage and Lentil One Pot Dinner

I often make a sausage casserole loosely based on a recipe from this book.The Student Cookbook

I used to use fresh carrots and potatoes, turning my nose up at tinned veg, until I started to read A Girl Called Jack.

I wanted to make Jack’s recipe as I have a cupboard full of lentils that need to be used. I wasn’t sure that The Gamer would take to lentils so I made both versions. All left overs are used for lunches so, don’t worry, there was no waste.

All my ingredients are from Aldi although I get most of my fresh and dried herbs from a local grower, Urban Herbs. Ingredients gathered

The sausages I used are from the Aldi Specially Selected range and are high in pork content. I will not compromise and buy nasty cheap value range sausages. You may as well just mush up some bread, lard and salt. If I cannot afford good meat I would rather not eat meat.

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I am experimenting with a lot of recipes and noting prices of everything as I am planning for my week of living on a £1 a day for the Live Below the Line Challenge. It was while looking at the recipes suggested by the organisers that I started to write more about food. I was shocked to see how unhealthy some of them were (think of value white bread and sausages) so set out to come up with a healthier way to eat and drink on a pound a day. I wish Jack Monroe had been blogging then!

One of my very early posts was written for Blog Action Day 2011. Written at Heathrow Airport waiting to fly to San Francisco, those taking part had been given a theme to write about, in 2011 we were asked to focus on the many issues related to food, such as health, hunger, quality, culture, farming, access and waste to coincide with World Food Day.

So back to the sausages.

Sausages with baked beans

Student sausages with baked beans

My version uses baked beans instead of lentils and tinned tomatoes with a bit of mustard, tomatoes puree and Worcester Sauce to give it a bit of kick. A bit of flour was added to the sausages and onions before adding the other ingredients to thicken it up.

Sausage and Lentil One Pot Meal

Sausages with Lentils

The lentils in Jack’s recipe absorb the liquid from the stock, which as well as thickening the casserole, give it its texture.

As ever, I decided to tweak the recipe, and added some curry powder to the one with lentils, as I thought it would work. It did. I am sure Jack won’t mind.

The verdict, The Gamer still prefers the original as it is sweeter (that will be the baked beans) but he didn’t hate the lentil version. Vinyl Man loved the lentil version as did I. 2-1 to Jack. And I am at last using those lentils.

Night off tomorrow as The Gamer is cooking.

Saga Louts invade the Electric Cinema

For our wedding anniversary I booked a sofa at The Electric Cinema to see The Grand Bucharest Hotel. We went to the Wednesday Matinee as later we were dining at Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse Bar and Grill. We don’t do gifts we do experiences to celebrate special occasions.

I have written before about how I struggle with cinemas and the behaviour of the people in them, which prompted me to write about why I avoid cinemas. When I do go I choose times that I hope is too early for the yobs to be up, usually the first showing on a Sunday morning. It still doesn’t stop people taking toddlers to see 12A films which I ranted about here in my guide to cinema etiquette.

The Electric is a small independent cinema and the people who tend to go are there to watch ‘intelligent mainstream,independent, foriegn and classic films’. i.e. They don’t go to snog, indulge in heavy petting or throw sweets at the audience. Here I expect to be able to watch a film without anyone talking, texting or fornicating.

Yet on the last two visits, I have been severely let down by the clientele. Last time it was a couple who thought having a sofa would be a chance to indulge in a snog, and, that the film Before Midnight would be erotic as there was some nudity in it. They also seemed to disapprove of anyone over 30 as the looks we got from them were to kill. Not only were there people on the next sofa to them but they were old people. Halfway through they left thank goodness, after spending the first half on Facebook.

This time is was the turn of the Saga Louts to annoy me. Saga Louts with tech. Tech they couldn’t use. Lazy Saga Louts.

Let me explain. If you book certain sofas at The Electric you have the option of ordering food and drinks by text and have it delivered to you. I have mixed feeling about this to be honest. It is a novelty, and is convenient, but IMHO why? If you are on a sofa in Screen 1 you are les than 20 steps to the bar. If you get there early, ie before the film starts, you can order what you want and take it in with you, settle down and not interrupt anyone once the film starts. And, for those that know me, I am the slowest texter on this planet, so by the time I had remembered what sofa I was on, checked the menu and texted the order, the credits would be rolling and I would have missed the film.

This is what the Sage Louts did.

They were on the Harlow sofa and we were on the Baker Sofa.

The Electic Cinema Screen 1 Image from their web site https://www.theelectric.co.uk/booking-info.php

The Electric Cinema Screen 1 Image from their web site https://www.theelectric.co.uk/booking-info.php

You can see how close they were to the exit. The Box Office and bar is located very near to this exit. As they sat down the woman asked her male companion if they were going to get a drink. He told her that there was waiter service. The lights had dimmed and the adverts had started, so to see the menu they had to use one of their smart  phones to read the menu. Then they had a long and loud discussion about what to order. I am surprised the bar staff did not hear them and bring the order through there and then to put them and me out of our misery.

They begin to text hunt and peck the order. He cannot see his keypad so she uses her phone as a torch to help him.

At this stage I am losing the will to live. I can see the funny side. It would make a great comedy sketch.

Here comes the BUT. In bullet points. And it is all about me.

  • I am here to see a film
  • I chose this cinema to see a film with like minded people
  • I paid a lot of money to have a sofa
  • It is our wedding anniversary
  • It is my birthday
  • Get off your fat asses and walk ten paces to the bar and place your bloody order

The film starts, they are still faffing. I am distracted.

Finally they settle, shut up, put phones and spectacles and torch away. Yes she had a bloody torch with her. It wasn’t her phone.

Oh flip, I just realised I carry a torch in my handbag.

Ten minutes later their order hasn’t arrived so he get off his ass, and walks ten paces to the bar to enquire where it is.

Saga Louts.

The Electric Cinema needs a door policy. Here are my suggestions.

  • have you been here before?
  • you do realise it is not longer a porn cinema (yes it used to be)
  • no this is not the lap dancing club (they get asked this all the time)
  • have you booked a sofa?
  • you know the sofas don’t mean you can make out, right?
  • do you know how to text?
  • if the answer is no we have to take your refreshment order now please
  • if the answer is yes, you can use you phone to order food and drink but not to text your mates
  • go to the loo before the film starts
  • we don’t show loads of trailers so take you seat now please (this advice is on their web site)
  • you may be a hipster (really) but old people ie over 55 like films too and they grew up in the sixties and seventies mate so are already way cooler than you will ever be
  • while cooler than a hipster, people over 55 are usually crap at texting so place your order now please
  • put your torch away
  • and don’t talk at all through the film

That is all.

Disclaimer: I am over 55 (just) and lived on the Kings Road in the sixties. I have a Saga insurance policy. I don’t hate young people or hipsters (I dont actually know what a hipster is). I can’t text. I am probably a grumpy old woman. I don’t care, I wear purple, have red shoes instead of a red hat and eat sausages and butter. I have not yet run my stick along the public railings. I am however my mothers daughter so let that be a Warning to you. Yup. I like to offer a poem now and then.

PS The film was very good. Go and see it.

Melbourne for Free Part 2

We found Australia a very expensive country to visit. I posted while we were in Melbourne on our quest to find things that were free in Melbourne, here. We were house and dog sitting in Melbourne so our accommodation was free which saved us lots of money. Food and the cost of transport using Myki (think Oyster but complicated and expensive) really took a chunk out of our budget. We wanted to make the most of our time there, yet we needed to find free things to do and see. Fortunately my old uni friend, whose house and dogs we ‘sat’ for a month in Melbourne advised us to bring our National Trust card with us as we could use it in Australia.

And this is where we visited.

The Old Melbourne Gaol

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This would have normally cost $25 per adult if not for our trusty National Trust Card.

To visit the Gaol you need to book a timed tour. This is no ordinary tour as there is a lot of role play. We were taken into the police station, assigned names and had our charges read out to us. The police officer then accompanies you to the cells and divided up the men and women and then locked us up in separate cells. Even though you knew it was  all part of the ‘experience’ and fully participated in this, it was still very unnerving. I was glad to hear the key turning in the lock to set us free.

The most famous prisoner here was Ned Kelly who was hanged there in 1880. After the tour you are able to explore the rest of the gaol, and learn more about some of the prisoners held there. There are some very sad stories. While highly recommended, a visit to the Gaol comes with a health warning; you will probably leave with low spirits. I recommend that you line something up afterwards that is outside and cheers you up such as …

Polly Woodside

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As you enter the visitor centre you are assigned a role and then treated accordingly on the guided tour. We were the only ones on our tour, the upside was we got the guide to ourselves, the downside was that some of the role play was impossible with only two of us. This wasn’t the only time when visiting attractions that we had a guide to ourselves visiting Melbourne attractions. The Polly Woodside was built in Belfast and was sold to the National Trust for one cent in 1968. Great for families, children, big kids and history buffs alike. A good place to visit after the Gaol as it is in the open air and fun, and you can purchase a combined ticket with the Gaol for $30.

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Once more this is by guided tour only and according tp the web site:-

Como is not open to walk up visitors in the short term however, the site will continue to be available for bookings covering group tours of 10 or more people (a minimum of 20 people on weekends), as well as events and private functions.

We were lucky as we turned up on spec and joined the a small guided tour of just four. The house and gardens are beautiful, a real insight to how the privileged lifestyles of the rich. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, it is a shame that they have limited opening now.

Rippon Lea House and Garden

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Our tour guide informed us that the family that built this house had made its fortune in Manchester. As there were only two of us on the tour (do you see a pattern emerging here?) I gently pointed out that most, if not all Brits, would think she was talking about the city in England. The guide was surprised to learn that it is only in Australia and New Zealand that bed linen and towels are referred to as ‘manchester’.

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Once we had cleared that little misunderstanding up, she went on to tell us that this house, amongst others mentioned in this post, had recently been used as a film set for Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Labassa

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Labassa was closed when we visited. It was within walking distance of where we were staying, and is surrounded by residential properties.We did manage to get a few photos of the interiors. Stunning house and disappointed that we were unable to go inside.

Use them or lose them Melbourne folks

What struck me was how few visitors most of these really interesting places were getting. By far the most popular was Melbourne Old Gaol. At most of the other places we were often the only ones there. Why is this? Was it the time of year, mid December, just before the school holidays? Do visitors to the area not know or are not interested in this part of Australian history? In the UK most National Trust properties are full of visitors. There has to be timed entrances due to the volume of visitors. Yet these beautiful properties are struggling to remain open due to lack of visits.

The guides at Como and Rippon Lea were baffled, as to why people from England were interested in these houses, when we had much older and grander properties to visit in the UK. We explained that we knew very little about the history of Australia, I frankly had no idea that we would find properties to visit like this. My limited knowledge of Australia was that it was hot, had kangaroos, spiders that would kill me and sharks that would kill me. And what I had seen in Neighbours and Home and Away. I thought everyone would have swimming pools and that most people living there were descendents of criminals or £10 Poms. OK I may be over exaggerating just a bit, yet Australia was full of surprises for me, (rain, cold, bad tv, heritage properties) despite reading Down Under by Bill Bryson who writes:

‘It was as if I had privately discovered life on another planet, or a parallel universe where life was at once recognizably similar but entirely different. I can’t tell you how exciting it was. Insofar as I had accumulated my expectations of Australia at all in the intervening years, I had thought of it as a kind of alternative southern California, a place of constant sunshine and the cheerful vapidity of a beach lifestyle, but with a slightly British bent – a sort of Baywatch with cricket . . . ‘

Yes, he loves Australia as much as I do. The rich culture, the amazing food, the skyscrapers in the CBD and these beautiful properties to visit, all knocked me for six. I cannot wait to get back there and spend some more time in this beautiful country.

Have you been to or live in Melbourne? What would you recommend to a visitor?

And if you live in or are visiting Victoria, go visit these properties, while you can.

Melbourne Memories -St Kilda

The far sickness has kicked in big time today. I think it is because I have committed myself to a paid job, which means that the travelling plans are truly on the back burner. But that’s another post for another day….

Time to revisit some memories of a very happy time in Melbourne. IMG_4658

We loved St Kilda. We were there every week as we were volunteering at Lentil as Anything.

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After our shift we usually had a wander around. There was always something to see.IMG_4673

We loved this community garden.

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And the cakes.IMG_4657

And the record shop.IMG_4662

And of course Lunar Park.IMG_5967IMG_4738

Hope to see you soon St Kilda.IMG_4787

Cooking with A Girl Called Jack – Pork Kokkinsito

After last nights success with the Mango and Chickpea curry from this book,

A Girl Called Jack

A Girl Called Jack

I asked The Gamer to choose a meal tonight as curry and chickpeas are not his thing.

He chose this. DSCN0754

The only shopping I had to do was to pop to Aldi and choose the pork. I had the option of belly or loin. The cookery snob in me wanted the loin, yet at £5 something for 400g (I think) that seemed a tad expensive, so pork belly it was at £1.99 for 500g. Everything else, bar the wine, I had in the house. I have rosemary growing in the garden.  I don’t need an excuse to buy wine.

This is a doddle to cook, all in one pan, browned off the pork, added the onions to sweat and then chuck everything else in. I did add a bit of flour in to absorb the fat and to thicken the sauce, before adding the wine and tomatoes, but I always tweak recipes. That is what I do, control freak that I am. DSCN0755

It says it serves four, but with a generous portion of mashed potatoes it served three adults tonight and there is enough for two lunches tomorrow.  DSCN0756

Not only delicious, jolly good value too.

Thanks, Jack.

Be a tourist in your own back yard – Up The Cape

Last Sunday my husband and I went ‘Up the Cape’ with Ian Jelf, a Blue Badge Tourist Guide.

Ian Jelf

Ian Jelf

This is an area that my grandparents grew up in. My first Saturday job was in Woolworth’s Cape Hill and it is about a 20 minute walk from where I now live. Much of my childhood was spent around this area, as it had a thriving market and I had a favourite Auntie Renee who in the early 70’s lived in the then, modern, high rise flats. She had been moved from a prefab and considered herself very lucky to have a place with all mod cons including underfloor heating.

Yet I knew very little about the history of the area. A tour of the area was in order.

It would be fair to say that The Cape is not without its social and economic problems. It is an area of low wages, high unemployment and low educational attainment. A high number of the population are immigrants, from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Caribbean and more recently from Eastern Europe. The shops on Waterloo Road and Cape Hill reflect this rich diversity, and it is the best place to shop if you want Asian ingredients, quality fruit and veg and wonderfully colourful materials.

Fresh produce

Fresh produce

As ever there will be somewhere that bucks the trend, and throws statistics and predictions out of kilter. One primary school in the heart of this community, has a long reputation of educating young people who eventually go to university.

Two hundred and fify years or so ago, it was an area that was ‘highly desirable’. The Cape was where wealthy industrialists would make their family home, to the west of the city, avoiding pollution, on a hill overlooking Birmingham. It is hard to imagine that this was once pretty much rolling countryside. Yet my Grandad’s first job in the 1920’s was as a farm hand. His father was a highly skilled gilder, hand applying gold leaf to frames, many of which hang in the Birmingham Art Gallery, according to my Nan.

The group met on a very sunny Sunday in March at McDonald’s, at the junction of Dudley and Grove Lane. Not a place where you would normally expect a guide to the history of an area to begin. There was a good reason for this however (in addition to the practicalities of parking, toilets and refreshments) as this was the site of a former public house, The Cape of Good Hope which gave the area ‘The Cape’ its name.

Ian began by explaining that this would be an unusual tour because most of the places he would be talking about no longer existed as they had all been knocked down. DSCN0726

And of course we got some odd looks from passers by, a posse of middle aged white people, following a man with an umbrella, a trade mark of a Blue Badge guide, all wearing sensible shoes, and carrying cameras. In Smethwick on a Sunday. We may as well have had a placard declaring ‘History Geeks R US’. And we would have held it proudly!

The Grove

The Grove

And so we began. The Grove, a beautiful Art Deco Cinema now a bathroom show room.

A road named after Arthur Keen of Guest Keen and Nettlefolds (GKN).

Keen Street

Keen Street

A description of Smethwick Grove, a beautiful home to the Kier/Molliet family that used part of the canal as a boating lake, with swans and grazing cattle. James Kier was a member of The Lunar Society had been a friend of James Watt.

The Grove

The Grove

Then on to a now derelict pub (one of many in this area) The London Works. this pub would have served the workers who made the metal frames for The Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition. The Glass was made just up the road at Chances of course. Yes, The Crystal Palace. Made in Smethwick.

A meander around a housing estate (more baffled looks from residents) crossing over from the land of Grove House to the estate of The Woodlands. The only remaining evidence of this is a run down Working Mans Club and the name of the street. New housing built in 1968 have one reference to history, the first moon landings.DSCF7964

Smethwick Windmill

Smethwick Windmill

As we go around the back of Asda and the Windmills Shopping Centre, named for the original windmill that once stood nearby, we find yet another beautiful and listed building.

The Gaumont

The Gaumont

It was originally the site of a skating rink built in 1909 which became The Rink Cinema in 1912. Demolished and rebuilt in 1928,i t is now the Victoria Suite having been The Gaumont Cinema and a Mecca bingo hall (frequented by my Aunt Renee).

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The next stop was at the junction of Waterloo Road, Cape Hill and Shireland Road. The Waterloo Pub. It is crowned with wonderful weather vane, in the shape of a Galleon. There are galleon tiles in The Grill Room. This is because the it was originally going to be called The Galleon, changed to The Waterloo due to its location.

It is a tragedy that this building is not being used. It was recently sold for £150k and yet nothing is being done to preserve it despite it being listed. Oh to win the lottery.

We continue along Shireland Road, to the site of the former Shireland Hall, another of the great houses in the area. Now a car park and terraced houses. It was the biggest house in the area as it had seven hearths (recorded due to The Hearth Tax). One of the many taxes invented to obtain revenue from house holders, such as the Window Tax, where the phrase Daylight Robbery is derived from. Oh the things you learn when on an Ian Jelf Guided Tour.

This junction was also a site of a battle in 1643. According to this article about the military history of Birmingham  ‘At the far end of the town at Cape Hill the Roundhead troopers made a stand and successfully checked the Cavaliers between the Royalists’. I think we ought to arrange a re-enactment sometime. That would make the locals look up!


And talking of looking up, above and among the shops and banks there is some amazing architecture.The Victorians made their buildings stand out with turrets and clock towers, even those to meet the needs of the poor such as The Dispensary, a now an “at risk” Grade II Listed Building. Cape Primary school is where my nan was educated over 90 years ago.

We end the tour at the site of the former Mitchells and Butlers Brewery. Now a housing estate. This was such a big site that it had its own fire station, railway network and cricket pitches. Only the fire station building, the war memorial and these gates remain.

Most of the pubs around the area were M&B pubs, my Grandad’s local was The Two Brewers (now demolished and a housing development) and the famous Blue Gates where Christabel Pankhust made a speech when seeking a parliamentary seat in the 1918 election.

Ian covered so much more than this post could do justice to. His knowledge of the area is amazing. His style is eccentric, witty and informative. And never ever boring.

If you want to learn more about where you live, find a Blue Badge Guide. If you live in Smethwick or Birmingham, find out where you can join an Ian Jelf Guided Tour.

And I will book myself on another tour of my back yard soon. Bearwood I think.

Cooking with Jack – Peach and Chickpea Curry

I finally managed to get my hands on this book!

A Girl Called Jack

A Girl Called Jack

As I am not buying books as part of my year of Not Buying It, I borrowed it from Sandwell Libraries. I checked today and I have 22 books on loan. Imagine how much I have saved already by not buying books. Many of them are cook books!

So back to my attempt to recreate this.

Peach and Chickpea Curry

Peach and Chickpea Curry

The good news was that I didn’t have to go shopping to make this. I had all the ingredients in already. Almost. I didn’t have peaches but I did have a tin of mangoes. I didn’t have a chilli either. So I used sweet chilli sauce instead. See where I am going? Substitute and tweak the recipe to make it my own. Based on what is in the cupboard.

I also added in the chickpeas before the simmering stage as I have a bit of an aversion to chickpeas. I know, bear with me here. You see I had made the Chickpea and Chorizo Burgers,

Chickpea and Chorizo Burger

Chickpea and Chorizo Burger

not in this book but the recipe is on her blog, A Girl Called Jack and loved it as the chickpeas had been mashed up. So I reckoned that they may be a bit more mushy if I cooked them for longer. Yup ignoring the recipe again.

A simmering curry

A simmering curry

Then I forgot to add the coriander so sprinkled it on at the end.

Mango and Chickpea Curry

Mango and Chickpea Curry

And I used one of the retro Tupperware rice cookers I inherited from my lovely mom Retro Joy. I have three of them.

Retro Tupperware

Retro Tupperware

Mom was a bit of a hoarder. I am really rubbish at cooking rice in a saucepan, using one of these I get lovely rice.

The recipe says it served 2 with enough for a lunch of left overs the next day. Two hungry adults delved in, and yes there is loads left for lunch tomorrow! This sort of food is not only incredibly cheap but very filling. And very very delicious.

Susan’s story

So happy to be part of this fantastic project. Who knew when I discussed with the PCT about this happeneing in Sandwell that my mom would benefit from coming to the group. In the last year of her life the group gave her something to look forward to.