gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Strata

 I’m always on the lookout for new ways to cook eggs, and while staying a few nights with our hosts in Annapolis, Maryland, we were served a warm dish called Strata. We actually had it for dinner and for breakfast again the next morning. 

To me, having studied geology in school “strata ” is different layers of rock, not a food. Our host described it as “Southern food”, and as she was preparing it I was intrigued by the box of pure white eggs, since here our hens produce brown eggs, I don’t think I’ve ever seen white eggs before. I explained that egg shell colour is determined by the colour of a hen’s ears. I don’t think our host believed me. She told me she would have to pay more money to buy brown shelled eggs, they were considered to be something rare and quite unusual! 

Anyway, Strata reminded me of a cross between cheese fondue and a pastry-less quiche. Definitely winter food. 

I found this recipe online. I will be trying this at home, with my own rather special brown shelled eggs.

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Keeping Christmas Traditions

Red cabbage on our table is one of the changes that have occurred in my house at Christmas since we married 24 years ago.
Every family has its own traditions for this special time of year. Family traditions are all part of the build up to Christmas Day. Christmas traditions are important. Children need to feel they belong and shared memories help reinforce that and helps them to develop their own sense of identity says psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer, an expert in play and parenting and Director of The Good Toy Guide. She acknowledges however that when two people come together to form their own family, they both bring with them their own traditions that might not be compatible with each other.
Mr Gs family had stockings for gifts, we always had pillow cases! We always got a shiny red apple and a mandarin orange as well as other treats in our pillow cases.
Some trees have white lights, others prefer coloured.
We had a Gene Autry Christmas LP that was always playing as we decorated the tree. A few years ago my brother found it on the Internet and I still play it, though I do prefer Michael Bublė!
Our family put up their tree really early in December, Mr Gs waited to the very last minute! We now love to put the tree up early, but once Boxing Day is over I can’t wait to take it all down again.
Though I do prefer a real tree, they have got so expensive that we invested in a really good fake tree, and I burn lots of tree scented candles and rejoice that come July I won’t still be vacuuming pine needles from the carpets.
Some homes must be seen from space they have so many outdoor lights and decorations. This year we have no outdoor lights, must to Mr Gs disappointment, and as a compromise to our boys delight I have put the coloured lights on the tree, with my one remaining working set of white LEDs.
On the Festive table we always had a jar of pickled onions and a jar of those yellow-green mixed pickles. And my dad’s awesome brandy butter.
On Mr Gs family table they had bread sauce, red cabbage, sprouts with bacon and hazel nuts, brandy cream.
Over the years we have combined all that we loved from our two families at Christmas, and added some traditions of our own that we hope our boys will take with them when they have homes of their own.
My mother faithfully stocks to recipes she has used for many years for the Christmas pudding, the brandy butter, the Christmas cake, the stuffing for the turkey. Yes, always has to be Turkey.
I roasted a goose one year and was very disappointed with the results. It was very expensive, and gave very little meat in return. I do find Turkey meat boring and tasteless. But am overruled every year when I suggest any alternatives!
The one thing I do adore is Turkey broth made with the bones.
Although Mr G and I are celebrating our 24th Christmas our own family traditions are still evolving. And as the Gillyboys get older, change is in the air as we no longer have that frenzy of excitement and anticipation of a visit from the red suited gentleman.
A chilled glass of prosecco goes nicely with the Queen’s Speech and some canapés before serving the main course I’ve found, now that we are not inserting batteries into noisy toys and hiding the contents of selection boxes lest some child spoils their appetite.
It’s all very civilised.
A few years ago I made Nigella Lawson’s chocolate Christmas cake. It had prunes in it. It was vile.
This is now the third year I have used Paul Hollywood’s White Christmas cake recipe. Mr G is very partial to Christmas cake and we may well cut into it in the next few days. He hates marzipan. I love it. I compromise with a very thin layer under the delicious pure white icing. However much he insists though I will not leave out the cherries in the cake batter. No way. I am the only one in our house who eats cherries, but part of my Christmas tradition is eating the cherries all the others leave on the side of their plates! Yum.
Christmas cards are becoming much less of a thing. Just as well as I have lost my Christmas card address book faithfully kept up to date since about 2002. Never Mind. There is alway the Internet for keeping in touch quickly and less expensively than posting a card. But I do miss cards for adding further festive decor to our home.
This year though I’m thinking- it’s less about giving presents, more about being present.
Less about wrapping the gifts, more wrapping those we love in a hug.
Less about shopping for food, more about donating food to those whose cupboards are bare.
Less about seeing the Christmas lights, more about being the Light.
In these dark times, when daily there is news of terrible evil across the globe, let’s choose to be present, to show love, to reach out, to be the Light.

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I’ve just realised you can spot me in this photo of our hall decorations!

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Un oeuf is enough

This Thursday marks the end of the birthday season in our house with son number two turning 18. The thought of having two “adult” children is bizarre! Anyway, as part of birthday celebrations I decided to delve into Michel Roux “Eggs” and have a bash at raspberry roulade. Now roulades hold no fear for me, I have been rolling up Delia’s Bouche de Noel complete with chestnut creme for years, and Michel’s sample on p272 looked delicious. Also I had by now 6 fresh eggs just itching to be transformed into something wonderful. And a hungry family to impress too.
It’s the night before the birthday. It’s getting late. Hands washed, apron on, ready to go. Ok, oven on, baking paper prepared. Now the first thing the recipe requires ‘one quantity genoese sponge mixture’. A quick search of the index, flick to p268. Sponge requires plain flour, 4 of my 6 beautiful eggs, sugar and melted butter. No trouble there. The process is followed as per page 268. 30 minutes later we have a beautiful Genoese sponge. As with Delia’s Christmas recipe I covered the sponge with a damp tea towel, headed for bed and quietly confident, left the rest until the morning. BIG MISTAKE.
Now some of you may know that I trained as a lawyer. What do they always drum into you? Always Read The Small Print. Don’t assume anything except that Your Client Is An Idiot. (yes really). Well I fell down on both counts. Guilty as charged your honour.
Up early to let the girls outside the next morning I return to Michel and flick back to p272 to proceed with the roulade. To my dismay I read the following –
Make the Genoese sponge mix. Bake in the oven for 6-8 minutes. Set aside to cool for 5 minutes only.
Arggh. My lovely sponge, cooked for 30 minute has been cooled for 8 hours! Never mind, the damp cloth should have kept it moist enough. Hopefully.
I read on.
For the filling, whip the cream and add the creme patissiere.
Oh. I hurriedly turn to p220 and my heart sinks. Creme Patissiere requires 6 egg yolks, sugar, vanilla pod, milk, boiling AND cooling. I have two eggs left. Briefly I wonder if squeezing the hens firmly in their nether regions would make them lay any faster this morning. But in the interests of hen protection I decided to reduce the quantities of the other ingredients accordingly and started whipping madly. Soon the tiniest quantity of creme patissiere is resting in the freezer. Michel would be tutting loudly.
I turn back to p272.
Fill the roulade as soon as it has cooled otherwise it will be difficult to roll.
Oops. Never mind. ( Looking back at this stage I should have cut the by now stone cold sponge in two pieces and served it as a cake, but panic and a fear of failure kept me fully in “roulade mode”. In future I should stop and ask myself “What Would Nigella Do?”)
Raspberry jam was spread, fresh raspberries added, and the almost /nearly /not quite chilled creme was thinly spread over the lot. Well, a hint of creme patissiere is better than none I thought.
Then the rolling. No trouble there. It had no intention of being rolled, it just broke. Not pretty. Never mind. A sprinkle of icing sugar, a couple of candles and it’s finished. If it was the Great British Bake Off I’d be hanging up my apron and packing my bags for home.
Back to the recipe. Michel reminds me to “chill for 3-4 hours”.
I think he means the roulade, but after that baking fiasco I think I’ll be the one to do the chilling, merci.

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This is what you would be served chez-michael!

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